I was as excited as the kids when we traded our Little Tikes dollhouse for an elegant wooden one–the kind grownups like to play with. Out came the cherished Petite Princess furniture that survived my childhood. We sculpted Fimo into tiny bagels and fruit. The kids drew itsy bitsy pictures and notes for the refrigerator door. In England we bought a miniature toast rack, an umbrella stand and suit of armor to scale. At Dolly’s Dollhouse we purchased a washer and dryer for the kitchen, bunk beds for the kids’ room, roll-top desk for the study, and a piano for the heckuvit. At the Miniature Show we found a hamster cage, a menorah, a dolls’ dollhouse. The bathroom was furnished with soap dish, rubber ducky, hair dryer, potty, toilet paper, even a plunger. On the bathroom shelf tiny china were mugs printed with our names, in each one a toothbrush.
I’d peek inside, never knowing what I’d find. Tiny picture books in the bathroom by the potty? My daughter Bea told me Baby was toilet training. A teddy bear, Monopoly game, playing cards, and tissue box on the coffee table in the parlor, and Little Sister reclining on the couch? Bea said she was home sick from school that day. The hamster missing from its cage, and the Little Family searching in the attic, under the bed, behind the stove? Bea didn’t even need to explain. Been there, done that.
One year, before leaving for the Miniature Show, the kids and I checked to see if we needed anything in particular. I was amused to discover—and I pinky swear it’s true—we had everything but the kitchen sink!
Our dollhouse combined elements from my childhood and theirs; my Petite Princess trappings, their pet hamster, the messy toy box spilling onto the floor, Fimo cookies fresh out of the oven, still cooling on the cookie sheet. But while we couldn’t afford a full-sized suit of armor, our Little Family could. We had no room for a grandfather’s clock or a fainting couch, but they did. From that odd mix of fantasy and reality, Bea created miniature vignettes. The dollhouse wasn’t picture perfect, but it came alive with these messy, humorous, chaotic, often unglamorous glimpses of life.
I strive for that in my writing, borrowing from childhood memories, life experiences of my own and others, then mix it with fiction and fancy. Whether it is a miniature or a literary world, I am the creator, but the details give it the spark of life. Bea knows how to do it, and my mother did too, although she never wrote a word of fiction.
For instance, instead of telling us that Daddy loved her, my mother told us her kitchen sink story. Our house was neither big nor fancy—three small bedrooms had to do for my folks and their seven kids. But because Mom was tall, Daddy paid extra to have her kitchen sink built especially high, so she wouldn’t have to stoop to wash the dishes. In spite of all their struggles, my mother never forgot that. And now I never will.
When furnishing your fictional world, it is the quirks and surprises, the fun facts, the little twists and turns we draw from our experience that ring true, and catch our readers’ interest. And, oh, yeah, don’t forget the kitchen sink.