Thursday, May 4, 2017

To Be or Not To Be A Potbelly Stove

By Anita Mae Draper

Raise your hand if you've read a piece of historical fiction and found fault with it. Can you see both my hands waving high in the air? I'm ashamed to say I've not only found what I considered inaccuracies, but I've actually told the authors (friends of mine) what I found. One laughed it off because she'd discovered it too late, and the other disagreed with my finding saying there has to be some leeway in fictional writing.

As my stories started their publishing journey, my biggest fear was that someone would find a major flaw in my historical facts. But who is to say what is a true fact? As God's creation, we are all unique in what we see and process. Two people can witness the same event and then report it differently based on what they perceived. The New Testament is a good example of this where we find the same story of Jesus' birth, repeated several times, yet each is different in details depending on what the writer either saw, or what he decided was more important to write about.

This blog reaches people around the world. As such, we can look at the same item, yet call it by different names. How do you choose which word to use? The solution is to cater to the intended readership, right? But what if today's wording is different than what is historically known? If this sounds confusing, look at this image:

Potbelly Stove in Railway Station, WDM North Battleford
I took the photograph of a potbelly stove in a railway station waiting room at the Western Development Museum in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. It's the stove type I envisioned for my latest novella, Love in Store. The stove would be a fixture in my hero's store and is quite suited to the setting of 1890 Montana. 

However, as I worked on the final edit, I decided to see if it was called a potbelly, pot belly, or pot-bellied stove. Guess what? I couldn't find reference to any of those terms. Here's what I did find:

Sentinel, Large Cannon Stove.
Source: 1888-9
Superior Stove Catalogue
Pug, Globe Heater.
Source: 1890-1 Illustrated Catalogue of
Favorite Stoves and Ranges

Both of the above catalogue descriptions refer to it as a cannon stove and globe heater. My research in journals and writings of the time commonly refer to it as a globe heater or parlor stove. Potbelly doesn't appear until the 20th century. And surely I didn't read everything from that period in history.

So what was I supposed to call the potbelly-shaped stove in my story? If I described it as a cannon stove or globe heater, would today's readers know what I meant? Would they skip over it, or would they stop reading and wonder about it? For the full impact of the story, I didn't want them to stop reading. But if I called it a potbelly stove, would I be accused of not staying true to historical facts?

After agonizing for hours, I left it alone. Perhaps someone will mention it someday and say I was wrong. Hopefully, I'll smile and think back to when I did the same to another writer or two. May God give me the grace to ignore what doesn't matter, so I can enjoy historical fiction for what does.    

What do you call such a stove?

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Anita Mae Draper writes her historical romances under the western skies of the Canadian prairie where her love of research and genealogy yield fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details. Her Christian faith is reflected in her stories of forgiveness and redemption as her characters struggle to find their way to that place we call home. Anita loves to correspond with her readers through any of the social media links found at
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  1. Thanks for hosting me, Iola. You've done a great job making me look good. :)

  2. Thank you for the interesting blog post, Anita. Getting all the facts correct is a challenge all writers face, but none more so than those writing historical fiction. I enjoyed looking at your photos- the snowy owl is stunning.

    1. Thank you, Ruth. So funny when I looked at your post yesterday, the only bird I knew was the owl eagle, but only as 2 birds - an owl and an eagle, not one birth with both names. :)

  3. Thanks Anita. My son has the only "heater" like this I've ever seen, and it is a modern appliance. It's also not "pot-bellied" however you write it, as its belly is square. :-) Fun post.

    1. About that spelling...when I was checking my final edits, I realized I'd spelled it as potbelly vs pot-bellied, so I added a correction along with the other errors I'd found. Except at that late stage into the publishing journey, some changes are accepted as being necessary, and others aren't. When I received my author copies, I peeked at the page. They'd left it at potbelly. So if an editor left it that way, I figured for the sake of continuity, I should use it that way too. It's another one of those...which one do I choose things.

      As for your son and his square heater...I've never seen a square potbelly, either.

      Thanks for sharing. :)

  4. We've always called stoves like that pot-bellies, and if you google it, it shows stoves like these. We have a couple of these old stoves, and my mother-in-law painted a couple of pictures of the. I would have to look up Cannon stove or Globe Heater.

    1. Thanks for the affirmation, Becky. I appreciate you sharing that. Your MIL is a painter? Treasure her. :)

  5. There's always a need for balance between what the historical character would say and what communicates with the modern reader. You might call it simply a "stove" and then mention how it's shape reminded you of a pot-bellied old gentleman, or better yet, a specific character's pot belly. Just a thought.

    1. You're right, LeAnne. Unfortunately, I didn't think about that until AFTER I'd submitted my final edits, and like I mentioned in a previous comment, I didn't even think of the stove until I received them.

      Thanks for commenting. I think I'll add this to my checklist for the future. :)