I wrote last week about working on my WIP and how easily everything was coming together. I even wrote that this book was “different” than my previous two. And, after thinking on it the past week, it most assuredly is that. But, it’s different in every amazing possible way.
With The Children’s Field and The Gritty Ones, there are cycles that are repeated throughout the generations and those cycles are the main theme of the stories. And while certain cycles are a theme with my WIP, it’s not the first that comes to my mind. Rather, this is more spiritual in nature and it’s focus is on how you forgive not only others who might have wronged you, and the more difficult choice to forgive yourself in order to move on, whether in this life, or the afterlife.
So I’m going to create a little Q&A regarding my WIP. I like to pretend that I’m talking with Charlie Rose (because it’s a dream of mine to be on his show discussing one of my books) so bear with me as we enter my nerd-ville. Just picture Charlie sitting in the dark studio with that serious look upon his face. I promise, it helps.
How has the writing process been different?
When I first began writing what would become “The Children’s Field“, I simply had a vision of a teenage girl living in what could be deemed a haunted house. The spirit that tormented the girl was one of a woman who suffered tragic losses. The first scene I wrote, before I even had a concept of creating a novel, was of the girl waking in the middle of the night to discover her surroundings completely changed. Gone were 21st century novelties, replaced with 1940s decor. The girl had a sense that someone was reaching out to her from beyond the grave. It was only after I finished that scene that I began to wonder what the spirit woman wanted. What might have happened to her? And as I began researching life during WWII, the war itself, and what life was like for the women left behind, I realized that there was more to the story than I had first imagined. Suddenly, there were generations of family involved, which led to researching PTSD in WWII soldiers returning home and post-partem depression and whether or not mental illnesses can be genetically inherited.
With “The Gritty Ones“, my beginning intention was to tell, what was at least to me, the fascinating life story of my 3x great-grandmother, Mary Morton. A woman who was separated from her family following her mother’s death in the early 1870s, Mary was sent to live with neighboring farmers where she was raped by a farmhand in 1875. Mary was only 15 when she gave birth to her first child, and subsequently had her child taken away from her and given up for adoption. In 1879, she married a man 44 years her senior. She had two daughters before they divorced in 1886, something that was relatively unheard of for the times. Following their divorce, Mary was granted visitation every three months, in which she had to be in the company of others. It’s no wonder then, that she attempted to kidnap the two children, succeeding only in taking the youngest away with her to South Dakota. After I had drafted a rough timeline of her life, did I realize that there were cycles of death, separation, and above all, childhood trauma in the generations that followed, and how different choices faced by those involved changed history for my family.
But with my current WIP, perhaps because the research for “The Gritty Ones” crossed with early research for my WIP – or perhaps because when I first became interested in my family history, I had to research and discover the roots of that branch of my tree with little to go from but names and dates and what little information I could glean from census records – I feel deeply connected to the ancestors of that branch because I’ve spent so much time learning of their lives. I think that has played a large part in the creative process of my WIP. These ancestors have been marinating in my mind for years. And then, all at once, I’ll feel overcome with a need to get onto paper their stories. Which is not always fun, especially when you have competing voices in your mind fighting for air time.
The opening scene to my WIP was written on what I call a required whim as I relaxed in the bath one evening nearly four years ago. I was still deep in writing rough drafts of what became “The Gritty Ones” when the words, “I deserved to end like this” boomed loudly from within my otherwise silent mind. In fact, it sounded so loudly, I sat upright in the tub thinking that someone was in the room with me. The words repeated themselves until I reached for my phone and tapped out a long note. Just the idea of someone so willingly embracing death sent shudders down my spine. And as I tapped out the note, I knew I had another ancestral story inside me to tell.
What is it about these characters that speaks to you?
Initially, what drew me to the characters of this story, was the seemingly, dark cloud that hung around the main character, William Sutliff, who was my 2x great grandfather. His father, a defector of the Civil War, abandoned the family in the 1880s. William’s mother passed away in 1894 when he was only eighteen, and then William’s older sister died less then three years later. In researching her death, I discovered a horrifying family mystery that brought me to tears. And with his sister’s death, William was virtually alone in the world at the age of 22. He married his childhood sweetheart in 1899 and the young couple eventually settled in Manilla, Crawford County, Iowa. Together, they had nine children, but only seven survived to see adulthood. In 1918, following a family quarantine of Scarlet Fever, and complications of giving birth, William’s wife passed away. The baby, and the six remaining children were separated and sent to live with various distant relatives. At the same time, William was drafted in the last draft of WWI in September 1918.
Following the war, William and his oldest son moved from Manilla to Omaha, Nebraska. It was there that William remarried (a most unhappy pairing) and it’s also where I discovered multiple instances of William’s brushes with the law for driving under the influence. This was also during the time of Prohibition, which led me to wonder if William was only a patron of illegal speakeasies, or if there was more to the story. He passed away in 1937, dropping dead of a heart attack following a tragic and heartbreaking life.
William experienced so much loss in his life. And I wanted to delve into that loss on an emotional, human level and see what would remain once you strip away the protective barriers that we erect to keep ourselves from getting hurt. The thing is, I knew that entering his world, was going to be a difficulty. And I think that’s why I was so hesitant to begin the writing process. How do I separate the emotions, the heavy burden that he would’ve experienced? Essentially: how do I protect myself from absorbing his emotions? And, truthfully, I’m not certain that I can separate one from the other. One is required of the other. To quote Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”.
Has that been the hardest part of writing?
Absolutely. It’s a difficult mindset to enter and a difficult mindset to leave. I’ve taken to scheduling a specific time in the evening dedicated to writing. When it’s time to write, I sit at my desk, read through my previous day’s writing to orient my emotions and I can begin writing. I write for an hour – or longer if time permits – or until I reach a stopping point where I know where the story is headed for the next evening. And with that I close my laptop and leave my desk, shedding myself of the dark emotions that enveloped me. Yoga helps me to clear my mind, and I’ve become a dedicated journaler these past few weeks. There’s something about emptying all thoughts and feelings – handwritten – onto paper that’s very cathartic. And that’s what has allowed me to enter and leave what is a very depressing mindset.