Catherine McGrew Jaime

Author, Historian, Lifelong Learner, Teacher, World Traveler

Category: History

Thoughts on what makes history fun, exciting, and important!

Writing Timeline Games

My Writing – All Over the Place!

I know a lot of authors seem to focus on one type of writing. But like I’ve mentioned before, my writing is all over the place. While I write primarily on history topics, I often get going in a different direction – into the world of Shakespeare, science, or art, to name a few.

And even when I’m in the realm of history, my writing doesn’t fit as easily into one category as some authors. I write on different time periods (from Leonardo da Vinci to the American Revolution and beyond). And I write both fiction and non-fiction, both in fairly large quantities.

Writing Timeline Games

Because of my combined love of history and using games to make learning more fun, I also like to write timeline games. While that’s not the type of writing most people think about, I think it qualifies. Like with other types of non-fiction history writing, timeline games require a lot of research.

Our First Encounter with a Timeline Game

We first encountered timeline games in the form of Chronology, a game I found on a shopping trip to Walmart one day many, many years ago. The price was right, and the premise sounded cool – history and timelines. For the budding historians in the family (myself included) it was a great way to learn and review world history. Another thing I immediately liked about the game was that while they introduce the dates of important events, it isn’t necessary to have the dates memorized in order to play the game. (I’ll explain the basic game play below, but for now, suffice it to say that timeline games are about the flow of history, which this historian things is much more important than the memorization of dates and names.)

Years passed after we discovered that initial timeline game and we wondered if the Chronology folks would come up with any other cool games covering subsets of history, but we waited in vain. (They did come up with some topical versions – but they were things like Sports and Entertainment, so not quite what we were looking for.)

Making Our First Timeline Games

So in time my sister and I started developing our own line of timeline games. We started with the Civil War and the American Revolution, since they were history topics I had just spent significant amounts of time researching and teaching. For each of those historical topics I had already made pretty extensive timelines as we studied, so converting my timelines into games didn’t require much additional effort.

A sample page from the Astronomy timeline I made later.

The neat thing about timeline games is that they can be used with just about any history study. All you need is a list of important dates and events to put on cards. We generally put our information into the forms on our computer, but you could even hand-write them on index cards if you wanted.

Sample page of cards from our Presidents Game.

Our Current Timeline Games

Over time we’ve made timeline games on a whole host of topics. They’re currently available individually or in a bundle as downloads on CurrClick.com and my hope is to have them all collected soon in a paperback version on Amazon (currently they are only available on Amazon as part of topical studies on the various topics),

  • American Revolution
  • Astronomy
  • Civil War
  • Civil Rights
  • Leonardo da Vinci (if you know my writing at all, that doesn’t surprise you!)
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Presidents
  • Space Exploration
  • Statehood

Once again, you can see some of the variety of topics I have written about. And you can make your own timeline game on pretty much any other history topic of your choice.

Playing the Game – the Rules

It’s also a game that lends itself to small or large groups. We’ve played it with up to ten players, and anywhere between three and eight players works especially well. You can even play the game with non-readers by modifying the rules only slightly.

And explaining the rules to new players is quite simple:

Everyone starts with one card in front of them, face up – the start of their personal timeline.  The remaining cards are face down in a draw pile in the middle of the table.

One person turns over the top card and reads the event on it to the person to their immediate left. That player doesn’t need to know the exact date on the card, they just need to point out whether the card would go before or after the card currently in their timeline. If they are right, they add the card. If they are wrong, the next person gets to guess.

Play then moves around the table. Of course, once a player has multiple cards, picking the right location becomes progressively more difficult (since each card could potentially go at the beginning of the timeline, at the end of the timeline, or between two particular cards).

Play continues until one player has built their timeline of the predetermined length (eight is a nice number, but you can decide in advance on a lower or higher number if you prefer).

Modification for younger players: Have one person read all the cards aloud, rather than having the players read to each other.

Modification when playing with an expert player: You can always handicap someone who knows the topic too well by requiring them to place more cards and/or by requiring them to actually give the date, instead of just the location.

And that’s all there is to playing a timeline game.

Happy learning! (And writing!)

Cathy

Seeing Stories Everywhere

The Stories Waiting to be Written

Do you see the stories around you waiting to be discovered? Waiting to be told? Does every location, event, or person bring questions to your mind? Questions that you want to find answers to, or in lieu of that, to write answers for?

That’s how I tend to look at things. It’s one of the reasons I can’t imagine that if I lived and wrote for another 40 years (fairly unlikely since I just turned 60, but one can dream!) that I would run out of stories I want to tell.

Fiction vs. Historical Fiction

Dred Scott

Occasionally I read or listen to a completely fictionalized story and think, “I would like to try my hand at writing “plain fiction” someday. But then I shake my head and remind myself that for every historical fiction story I write, three more seem to join the “want to write about” list. (Which currently includes specific people or events like Dred Scott, the Scopes Trial, the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II, to name just a few!) So it’s highly unlikely that I will slow down from writing historical fiction to write any other kind of fiction anytime soon. (Though I try to never say never.)

Starting the Life of a Writer

I wrote my first travel journal when I was a youngster, traveling through Central America with my family. But I didn’t really consider myself a historian or an author for decades after that.  The reality of both of those descriptive titles came to me when we lived in Wuerzburg, Germany for more than five years. It was there that, thanks to Helga, a wonderful German storyteller and historian, that history stories first came alive to me. And there I caught the desire to capture as many of those stories as possible.  (I wrote more about this in an earlier blog post, “My Growing Love of History.”)

As a homeschooling mom of many children (eight at that time), I didn’t do much writing for many years after completing my non-fiction book on the history of Wuerzburg, but the seeds had been planted. Even with little watering, they were there, and after many years and many more children (four more joined the family before we were done), the seeds finally blossomed.

More Non-fiction Writing

As with so many of my books, the next non-fiction books came from my teaching: Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci. (Another previous post, “Falling in love with Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance Man,” covers much of my fascination with one of the greatest artists of all times.)

Historical Fiction at Last

From my love of all things da Vinci came my first attempts at writing historical fiction. As someone who has always been a fan of reading historical fiction (Jeff Shaara will likely always be my favorite author), and my love of stories, writing historical fiction should have seemed like a natural leap for me. But I had held back for many years, focusing my writing on the student books and non-fiction books that seemed to leap from my never-ending study of the various topics I seemed to always be researching for my teaching. An earlier blog post on my homeschool site, “Homeschooling with Topical Studies,” describes our journey away from textbooks and into topical studies and unit studies. One of the many joys for this author/historian of doing so many topical studies was the constant “excuse” for doing more research (one of my favorite things to do) and then finding ways to share that first with my family and later with a growing number of students in the increasingly large number of homeschool classes I found myself teaching.

When I finally sat down and tried my hand at writing historical fiction, I was quickly hooked. (It took me less time, one month, to write that first historic novel, Leonardo the Florentine, than it did to find someone to edit it for me, another two months.)

The series of historical novels on Leonardo da Vinci has grown to five finished books, with the sixth one on my writing schedule for later this summer, and at least several more to follow that one over the next couple of years. In between writing the da Vinci novels, I found time to tell other stories as well: the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition told from the perspective of Captain Clark’s slave, York; the story of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, told from the perspective of a fictional British spy; and the story of George, Edith, and Cornelia Vanderbilt and their amazing home, the Biltmore, told from the perspective of a young, fictional childhood friend of Cornelia.

Historical Short Stories

Several years back I also tried my hand at my first historical short stories. While visiting Cappadocia, Turkey and the surrounding area that included some amazing underground cities, I felt like the story just had to be told. Days of research and writing quickly became the first short story in what would become my Attack Trilogy: The Attack in Cappadocia. Soon after completing that book, I was turning my attention back to one of the stories of Wuerzburg – the allied attack of the city towards the end of World War II. I had known some basic facts of that event, but writing the short story of that attack required many more hours of research. For Christmas that year by son and daughter-in-law had already bought me a wonderful book, The Siege of Shkodra. Needless to say, reading that book on the plane heading home led to the third book in the trilogy, The Attack at Shkodra.

As I researched and wrote each of those books, I tried to do two important things – accurately portray as much of the history of the time and location of each event or person, and to tell a good story.   And I have found, as I write each book, the desire within me is to write more.

So, if the world around you seems filled with stories just begging to be told, don’t hold back! Someone somewhere may be waiting for just that story!

Happy writing! And researching!

Cathy

Falling in Love with Leonardo da Vinci, Renaissance Man

Leonardo da Vinci Renaissance Man

I have enjoyed studying and teaching Leonardo da Vinci for almost twenty years now. But I had actually been buying books about him for a number of years before that. Even before I knew why, I was fascinated by Leonardo, the ultimate Renaissance man. And of course, the more I learned about him, the more fascinated I became.

Not only was Leonardo an amazing artist, he studied so many other topics, it almost boggles the mind to consider the things he was interested in, including, but not limited to: anatomy, astronomy, botany, cartography, geology, and zoology. The list seems endless, as do the pages in his notebooks on these and so many other subjects. It seems that very little was outside of Leonardo’s interests.

Drawings of various inventions by Leonardo da Vinci

Teaching Leonardo da Vinci

The first time I had the privilege of teaching a series of classes on Leonardo da Vinci, we delved into a different interest of his each week for eight of our ten weeks. After our introductory session we spent another class learning about Leonardo and his interest in the human body, another one on his interest in horses and his work on the equestrian monument in Milan, and yes, we even did a week on his amazing art. (You can see many of his paintings on this page – but please note, that page is still a work in progress!)

Not surprisingly Leonardo considered his art and his science to be mutually dependent, once saying:

“Study the science of art and the art of science.”

Sketch of a Deluge Witnessed by Leonardo da VinciAnd it is clear from looking at his work in both areas that he excelled in each of them! Had his notebook pages been published earlier, and his work in science shared with scientists that came soon after the Renaissance rather than centuries later, there is no telling what scientific advances might have been made sooner. But, alas, that was not the case, and his notebook pages were lost to many who might have benefited from his scientific work.

Leonardo’s Distractions

Botany Sketch by Leonardo da VinciIn the realm of art, Leonardo stood as one of the greatest artists of his day, in spite of actually completing only a fairly small number of paintings. It is likely that his perfectionist tendencies contributed to that low number, as well as his frequent “distractions” by work on math or science.

Non-Fiction Writing about Leonardo

As I learned more and more in my early studies of da Vinci, it was exciting to be sharing that enthusiasm with students of a wide variety of ages.  Even as I taught those first classes, I worked on my first non-fiction work about him. After six months of research and three months of teaching, I had written a short, but comprehensive, family-friendly biography of Leonardo da Vinci – Da Vinci: His Life and His Legacy. But that, as they say, was just the beginning. I was hooked!

The more I knew about Leonardo’s life and his work, the more I wanted to learn. Even after completing those first classes, I continued to read dozens of books about da Vinci, visited exhibits in various parts of the country about him and his work, and eventually made two trips to Italy to visit many of the places he had lived.

Two of Leonardo's Sketches of ChurchesAnd, as always seems to happen when I am engrossed in a topic, I wrote. The next book I wrote him was another non-fiction book – Doing Da Vinci for Kids. And then I kept learning and kept writing. (For more information on books I’ve written on Leonardo da Vinci, you can go to this page.)

Fiction Writing about Leonardo

But it would be many years and many classes later before I tried my hand at writing fiction. One summer I was at the Creative Learning Connection booth at a curriculum fair conversing with another author who had just completed his first novel. I mentioned, more in conversation than anything else, that I had considered writing a novel someday. He looked around my booth and stated matter-of-factly, “You should write about something you know. I think Leonardo da Vinci would fit that description.”

Several of Leonardo's Horse SketchesGoing home from the curriculum fair I casually mentioned the idea of writing historical fiction about Leonardo da Vinci “some day.” But my children wouldn’t hear of it. Several of them quickly insisted that I start right then, not later. And with some prodding, that’s exactly what I did.  Within a month I had written my first historical novel – Leonardo the Florentine. It would be several more months before I had found an editor for the novel and gotten it published. I’m not sure what was more exciting, holding that first paperback in my hand, or the recent release of Leonardo the Florentine as an Audible book. Both were pretty amazing!

As the years went by, my series grew, and I eventually wrote four more historical fiction books about him – Leonardo: Masterpieces in Milan; Leonardo: To Mantua and Beyond; Leonardo: A Return to Florence; and just recently, Leonardo: A Return to Painting.

500 Year Anniversary – May 2019

One of Leonardo's Designs for FlighIn May 2019 the world will celebrate the 500 year anniversary of the death of this great Renaissance man. My goal is to have my historical fiction series completed by then, meaning at least three more novels. In the meantime, I will continue to research him, continue to write about him, and continue to fall in love with Leonardo da Vinci.

And I hope I have managed to share just a little of that passion with you!

My Growing Love of History

When I was young, I think I approached history the way many people do – it was a subject I had to take in school, and not much more. I was a good test taker – so I could memorize the names and dates, at least long enough to get an A on the test. But history held no more significance to me than that.

It wasn’t until our family moved to Wuerzburg, Germany for more than five years, and I found myself surrounded by history that I could reach out and touch, that I figured out that history was more than just the names and dates in my history textbooks.

All of a sudden I was surrounded by what makes history real – the stories! And then I realized that it’s the stories behind those names and faces that make history important, that make history come alive.

Now, I find myself asking often: What happened in this place? Why did it happen? What was the context in which it happened? Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that wants to find the answers to these and many other questions. Or maybe the seeds of a historian had been planted when I was younger, traveling through Central America with my family, and I just didn’t realize it.

But whatever the reason, being there in Wuerzburg, I suddenly found the desire to learn more. In fact the more I learned about this amazing place that we had been transplanted to, the more I wanted to know. I found myself taking every tour I could find in English, tours that took me through the palace, in and around the castle, or through the historic old portions of town.

After awhile I became frustrated at the lack of English materials that existed to tell me more about this city and its fascinating history. When I complained to a friend of mine that I couldn’t find a book in English about the history of our town, she replied very matter-of-factly, “Because you haven’t written it yet.”

When I was done laughing at her (at that point I had never considered writing anything for readership beyond myself, my teacher, or my family), I looked at the pages of notes I had already compiled from the countless tours I had taken, looked at the stack of books I had been pouring over just for the fun of it, and finally admitted that it could be fun to write a short history book.

And that, as they say, was just the beginning. Over the next two plus decades I was generally busy homeschooling my twelve children, but along the way it seemed that I just kept stumbling across the wonderful stories we call history: The history of those who made up the Lewis and Clark Expedition; the history of George Vanderbilt and the amazing house he built and called Biltmore; and of course, the never ending stories I read about Leonardo da Vinci and his amazing life and work.

It seems that the stories are everywhere I go. Whether I am taking a vacation in Panama or visiting family in Turkey or Albania, the stories seem to reach out to me. They beg me to listen to them, to hear them, and then to retell them. It is actually one of the things I love the most about being an author – it gives me an excuse to do more digging, another reason (besides just for the fun of it) to travel across the country and around the world, and an audience with which to share it.

My hope is that is long as I am on this earth, I will be able to enjoy the stories of history that are all around me – and to share them with others, both young and not so young.

Happy reading!

Cathy

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