Katherine Keenum

A blog about how paintings, photographs, and prints have helped me visualize my fiction—both Where the Light Falls and works-in-progress—with a hope that they will stimulate other writers and readers, too.

A small sample of the images that inspired me appears below. Click on these or any images in the posts to see enlargements. In the text, click on colored words to activate links.

Selected Works

An American woman art student meets a Civil War veteran in Belle Époque Paris.


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Picturing a World


September 29, 2014

Tags: Marville, Paris landmark, transportation

By the time her train reaches Paris, Jeanette is feeling scared, and this moody photograph helped me think about what was outside the window as the day darkened. Baron Haussmann’s remaking of Paris not only changed the physical look of the city, but also distorted (more…)

More Scandinavian interiors

September 26, 2014

Tags: rooms, Scandinavian artists

Carl Vilhelm Holsoe The Dining Room
Blog tip: Another artist of domestic interiors—Carl Vilhelm Holsoe.


September 25, 2014

Tags: Pissarro

The main thing I wanted to readers to feel with Jeanette and Effie when they landed in Dieppe was how foreign France looked and felt to them and how exciting. It also mattered to me to get the geography right. The tall houses facing the quay helped on both scores. (more…)

Images and characters

September 24, 2014

Tags: rooms

Images help me speculate about my characters. Two posts this morning on It’s About Time contain paintings of rooms from 1908—the first on interiors by Peter Ilsted, the second on interiors by Henri Matisse. One question for me is which style would Jeanette be using in 1908? Another is (more…)


September 22, 2014

Tags: apartments, rooms

When I first started researching ANONYMITY, writer Polly Shulman suggested I look for Topless Towers, a 1921 novel by Margaret Ashmun. It is set in a Morningside Heights apartment building and gave me lots of leads for details of apartment life. It opens: (more…)

Brush your hair

September 21, 2014

Blog tip: Ever heard about brushing hair a hundred strokes a night? Read The Pragmatic Costumer on how and why for great vintage photos and modern recommendations.

Morning paper

September 18, 2014

Tags: rooms

In the first chapter of ANONYMITY, my unmarried heroine sits alone, reading the morning paper. Images like this one of William MacGregor Paxton’s woman reader, (more…)

Mark Kelso

September 17, 2014

Tags: work-in-progress

CD by Mark Kelso
Having finished the first draft of a short story about a composer and sound engineer, I approached the brilliantly gifted musician Mark Kelso for help with technical details. I am comfortable with my setting, action, and the character’s psychology; but I’m no musician and certainly not a sound engineer. Mark graciously invited me to spend an hour today at his Muddy Angel Music Studio, where he composes, teaches, and records himself and other artists. (more…)

Light and rooms

September 15, 2014

Tags: light, rooms

A recent e-mail exchange with a friend about the rise of the word living-room in America in the 19th C set me thinking about how important it is in historical fiction to get ordinary terms right. Front parlor, back parlor, sitting room, boudoir, withdrawing room, drawing room, living-room, salon, lounge—they (more…)

Breakfast tables

September 11, 2014

Tags: gardens, women artists, Scandinavian artists

Here in New England, mornings are getting too cool to eat breakfast on the porch; but before summer fades entirely, I was pleased to run across this painting at the always interesting Lines and Colors blog. It is an example of blogger Charley Parker’s feature, “Eye Candy for Today,” which demonstrates the value of looking at an art work bit by bit instead of always as an integrated whole. My interest in garden history has led me to peek into backgrounds of portraits and biblical paintings to catch glimpses of gardens in the past. For writers, realistic details spring out, e.g., the single blossom in a wine glass on the table in this picture. (more…)

Girl with a dog

September 10, 2014

Tags: Morisot, dogs, women artists

This morning's post on girls with dogs in the blog It's About Time ties in nicely with a question I had for myself last night. I have just finished a short story set on a farm about a family who would surely have had a dog. Should I have given them one? I didn't because dogs have such personalities it would have to become a character with a role in the plot. Writers, have you found yourself making similar decisions? Readers, if there is a dog in a story or novel, how much do you expect it to contribute to the action or the emotions? What about a cat?

Fluffy Ruffles

September 8, 2014

Tags: caricature, publishing, workers

And now for a working woman of a different sort: Meet Fluffy Ruffles, heroine of a weekly syndicated feature of the New York Herald. An heiress who has lost her fortune and keeps trying out new jobs to make a living, she first appeared in 1906. By 1908, she'd had musical written about her—with music by Jerome Kern, no less. (more…)

Situation wanted

September 4, 2014

Tags: illustration, workers

Situation Wanted seems perfect for a follow up to Labor Day. When I first saw this picture, it interested me that illustrator Walter Appleton Clark has included a woman as one of his job-seekers because fear of losing her job drives some the (more…)

World building

September 3, 2014

Blog tip: Interested in how writers of history, sci-fi, journalism and historical fiction themselves in their subject? Check out Debbie Taylor's guest post Why writing history is like science fiction at the British daily blog, The History Girls.

Labor Day

September 1, 2014

Tags: Bellows, Henri, Sloan, publishing, workers

If you write historical fiction set in Progressive-Era New York City, there is a good argument for setting it a little later than 1908. The Masses, for instance, began publication in January 1911; and the great suffragist parades were staged in New York City in 1912 and Washington, D.C. in 1913 (with Inez Milholland on horseback). In 1908, however, the ideas, unrest, and hope for a better future that blazed out in the coming years were already stirring. To help me imagine what they felt and looked like from 1900 through World War I, I’ve just discovered a wonderful resource, The Modernist Journals Project from Brown University and The University of Tulsa. It supplied this iconic cover—and has complete digitized issues of several important magazines of the period. (more…)