Sunday, November 11, 2007

NaNoWriMo = Fail?

If you've been paying attention to the tally in my sidebar, you may have noticed that my NaNo word count has not changed in almost a week.

I've forgiven myself, given my insane work week last week, and I'm strategizing now how I can still complete my goal of 50,000 words by November 30.

I'm 10% complete and the month is 40% gone. That's a little daunting.

I've also learned that I tend to get blocked, bored, restless, distracted, pick a few more similar adjectives, after I've written about 750 words. Which makes me a good essayist, but not so much a novelist. At least not so much a good sprint novelist.

But there are so many good reasons to keep at it. This project has been floating in my head for more than a decade. I've got so much wonderful primary source material that it should be easy. Of course, I decided to go in a much more difficult direction with the material, and this road has taken me on a much more research-intensive detour, but I've already admitted that the research is what I really enjoy most, anyway.

All this means that I've cleared my (and my family's) schedule for next Saturday. We're taking a road trip to Port Gibson, Mississippi, to look at a cemetery and to check out the scenery. It makes sense, I think, to have a look around the place where at least a large chunk of the book is set. Right? Plus, I'd like to take pictures of my late cousin-however-many-times-removed's grave. Since he, and his death due to a rather nasty wound in the Battle of Port Gibson, sets the whole story in motion.

The problem is, in all these family letters, this particular guy (who died at 22) is barely mentioned. I have letters and letters and letters from and mentioning his older brother, who was not killed in the war. That brother was eight years older, and seemed to be an outgoing, charming, and witty guy. My main guy's younger brother was much younger (I'm too lazy to walk across the room and look, but I think it's another 8 years or so), and his letters are not as well written (which makes sense, in a historical way, because he lived on the "frontier" his entire childhood, while the others lived in Virginia, so his education was considerably less than his elder siblings and cousins). (Which, when you think about it, must have been very difficult for him, to be around all these older people who seemed so much smarter and cooler.)

As a result of the lack of mention of this Isaac, I'm free to make him whatever I want. But that's a mixed blessing. I've given myself a task that kind of makes my head hurt. See, my mother and her cousin (who share the same last name but so little DNA that they're only barely related) have done a great deal of work on their family tree. This side of my lineage is very well-researched. (And my mom's cousin is a direct descendant of the older brother, the one who lived. So I feel a sense of responsibility to his character; I don't want to paint him in an unflattering light.) (Neurotic much?)

Which means I really don't want to make stuff up.

But that's what writing fiction is all about.

See my problem?

My mom and I had a good conversation about all these people and I asked a few key questions. Her answers, fortunately, confirmed what I was thinking about Isaac. He's younger than this cool group of cousins, almost a decade younger. His letters home from the war are well-written, so he wasn't dumb. But his letters are serious, guarded. He doesn't share anything, but accurately (I assume) describes where he is, who is with him, and what's happening. I don't get any sense of how he feels about the war and his part in it (he fought on the Confederate side, a whole other tangle that is messing with my head more than I should let it). And in the letter written by my main character, the woman who nursed him in a makeshift hospital where he died of his wound six weeks after the battle, the letter to his mother informing her of her son's death, the nurse reports his last words included mention of his uncle and someone named Sarah.

He had an uncle who was a General (I think, again, too lazy to cross the room) for the Union army. How interesting would it be if that was the uncle he mentioned.

And Sarah?

A girlfriend?

A cousin?

This is where you, dear readers, get to help write my book.

Who is Sarah?


Nicole said...

Well, I think Sarah would be his older brother's wife whom he's always loved.

Ms. Theologian said...

I'm using nano to edit last year's novel, and I've still done nothing. :( nothing. :( nothing :(

kdiddy said...

an "illegitimate" daughter?

Susan said...

An illegitimate daughter would be good...But Nicole's suggestion allows for a lot of story and heartache and conflict and could very well explain a lot; I like it!

(Unless, tying the two ideas together) Sarah could be Isaac's and sister-in-law's daughter, while she was married to his brother; if there's no such name in the family tree, perhaps it was his pet name for her.

But that could be dangerous, with your characters being family, so...

Certainly sounds like love, however. Perhaps she saved his life; or was a spy who betrayed him (sent by the uncle?); or had died years before, and somehow her death had come between the two brothers?

Good luck at the cemetery: I hope it brings a burst of inspiration. (can you send me some?)

--from a fellow Wrimo and busy mother, glad to find you!

mom said...

General Prentiss was his mother's cousin...EVERYBODY is a cousin!

mom said...

(Facts - he had two cousins named Sarah; one had died as an infant and the other was 11 years older than he was and already had children at that point.)

Anonymous said...

He talks to his dead cousin, Sarah, whose spirit protects him while he's in battle


winslow1204 said...

good luck!!