When I teach classes in novel writing, an exercise that has proven quite useful is to have my students write letters to themselves in the voice of their main character, explaining why that character wants his/her story told. In some cases these letters are quite moving, and in most cases they help to clarify the author's vision of the book under construction.
So, of course I did this for my Civil War book. But I had to write five letters.
Here's a brief synopsis of the novel:
During the American Civil War, the western North Carolina county still known as Bloody Madison was deeply divided, with the wealthier townspeople supporting the Confederacy and the poorer folk, especially in the outlying communities known as the Laurels, opposed. THE WAY OF IT follows events surrounding the Shelton Laurel Massacre -- the execution by Confederate soldiers of thirteen men and boys suspected of Unionism.
The story unfolds in five alternating voices of witnesses from both sides. Judy, the strong-willed unmarried mother of a growing brood, the descendant and keeper of traditions of the earliest settlers in the Laurels, is the voice that opens and closes the book so I'll begin with her letter. (I'll post the others over the next few weeks.)
Writing a book, are you? About the Massacre and them Thirteen buried up yon? And you want my opinioning?
Don't seem like an unlearned mountain woman can have much to say to a book writer. Still, I was there and you weren't. I know what it is to go through hard times, to hear my young uns crying for food, to fear the soldiers plundering our food . . . and worse.
When you first begun to spin the story, going back to one of the beginnings of the trouble, I couldn't see what good a book would do -- what happened, happened, and ain't nothing can change that.
But as I come to think on it some more, I thought of all the tales going around concerning them dreadful times -- and they's mostly about the men. The women don't feature much in stories about the war.
But it was the women held things together while their men was off playing soldier or hiding away from conscription up in them old rock houses and thickets on the mountain.
You tell about the women and how they kept old Laurel going. Tell as how we're still here. Now that would be a fine thing to have writ down.
And don't forget to tell about that other feller buried up yon where the Thirteen rest. . .
Probably a box turtle hatchling. Cute, isn't it? But that's not what I'm here to talk about.
Yesterday John and I did some serious adulting. We went to our lawyer and signed wills and living wills and powers of attorney and health care powers of attorney.
Not for any immediate reason other than that we're both creeping up on three-quarters of a century and sooner or later this stuff will be necessary.
It's a little grim, looking ahead like this. But we both wanted, while we were able, to get legal documents that would prevent our spending our last days being kept alive by machines. And we wanted our boys to be relieved of the burden of having to make any hard decisions.
We were trying to be adult. But first I messed up by initialing some items before the lawyer and witness and notary were all assembled. Yes, it said at the top of the page DO NOT SIGN till all witnesses are present but I didn't think initialing was the same as signing.
Wrong. The lawyer sighed and went and made some new copies, telling his paralegal that next time perhaps she shouldn't leave any pens in the room.
Each time we signed, it had to be done accompanied by the lawyer's reciting a formulaic question as to whether we knew what were were signing and whether we agreed to have them witness. There were raised right hands and solemn-ish I do's.
We did pretty well till the lawyer asked John to affirm that this was his last will and testament.
And John said, as I probably would have had I been asked first, "So far." And the lawyer got a pained expression and I think the notary giggled.
Then there was a little nit-picky discussion about the meaning of last -- does it mean final or most recent? Because, who knows what the future holds -- we might, hypothetically, want to write new wills some day.
The lawyer took a deep breath and explained the legal meaning in the case and muttered something about a surcharge for difficult (smart ass) clients.
We agreed to call these documents our last wills and testaments and signed.
After all these formalities were completed, we went down the block to the bank where we've had a safe deposit box for almost forty years. That bank is closing so we had to get all our stuff out of the lock box and move it to another bank.
With some forethought, I'd brought along a nice canvas shopping bag. But it was in the car. John went to fetch it while I went into the bank to start proceedings to open the box.
I hadn't realized though quite how it would look when John, who only rarely goes into that bank, came strolling in with the big white canvas bag. I was the only customer and I was signing my name on the vault roster. But the two tellers and the general manager were on full alert.
"I thought about saying I was here to make a large withdrawal," John said, as he got nearer to me. "But then I realized they might not think that was funny."
Adulting -- we still haven't quite got the hang of it.
In the past few days I've done a thing I really hate doing -- gone down my friends list on Facebook and asked people to LIKE my FB Author Page (Vicki Lane Mysteries.) That page is my official authorial site with links to excerpts from my books and my web site. And on the Author Page, unlike my personal Vicki Lane page, I stay away from politics (and baby pictures and dogs and cats and all that other stuff I talk about,) confining my posts to Things to Do with Writing.
Why, you may ask, why have I committed this egregious act of Blatant Self Promotion?
Well, at this moment, the manuscript (or its electronic equivalent) of my Civil War novel is in the hands of six different publishers. And while one likes to think that it is being judged on the merits of its prose alone, one suspects that the commercial side is being weighed as well.
In short, it occurred to me that a publisher might wonder if I have any sort of platform on social media -- if there were people who might be interested in my writing -- i.e., potential book buyers.
Yikes! Maybe, I thought, I'd better ask folks for LIKES on my author page -- which has lagged sadly behind my personal page.
So I began the process and have been really gratified by all the folks who've responded to my plea. (You LIKE me, you really LIKE me!)
It's one way of being proactive . . . and something to do while I'm waiting to hear if the novel finds a publisher.
Of course I'll shout it out if anything good happens. But it may take a while. Things move very slowly in the publishing world.
At times like this, I find myself thinking of the saying (Robert Louis Stevenson) that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive . . .
That's certainly true if there is nothing but rejection at the end of the journey.
Back to the garden that, thanks to John's efforts at keeping the wildlife out and spraying the greens with Bt, is now demanding that I come harvest some stuff.
Since we've had a lot of rain (till recently,) the cucumbers are a great success, running up their trellis and out all over the area (and shading out the eggplant but that's my fault for planting it in the same bed.)
My baby sitting duties are mostly in the mornings and the afternoons are WAY too hot recently to tempt me out.
When Nancy (my co-grandmother) and I switched shifts on Thursday, I made my slow and careful way down to the garden to see what was to be seen -- lots of cucumbers and greens, radishes and some jalapeno peppers. Also basil in sufficient quantity to think about making some pesto to freeze.
Above is a bronze fennel flower -- when it goes to seed, I'll save some for Italian sausage.
Below is Tuscan Kale -- my favorite green. I sauteed some with colored peppers (from the store,) onions, and garlic and used the whole colorful mess as a topping for some store-bought fresh ravioli. And topped that with a lightly fried egg.
It looked spectacular and tasted great -- I only wish I'd taken a picture.
I'll try to use Saturday and Sunday morning (when I'm not on Josie duty) to harvest more greens and basil and then to make pesto. As always, the second half of July has brought our hottest weather. Our house, thanks to electric fans everywhere, is comfortable -- unless one attempts something foolish like vacuuming. Afternoons are a good time to summon my untapped Tennessee Williams character and collapse on the sofa with iced tea (or, later in the day, gin and tonic) and fan myself with a magazine.
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