Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell, is a revolutionary book to many of us who are writing novels. It's funny how many times I've run into someone who finds it as inspiring as I have: I told Lois about it, she finished it before me and urged me to hurry up! Finish it! Then my sister-in-law, Laura, who has had a novel living in her head for years, picked it up and was amazed at how easy plotting became for her! For me, ever the random writer, it's provided me with a real structure that I can depend on. At the same time, Bell hasn't given me a set of rigid rules. I hate rigid rules when it comes to a creative process. Oxymoronic.
Writing groups are wonderful for convicting you of your writerly sin. You go along, thinking everything is A-OK, and then someone says something, the smallest little question, and it makes you think, hmmmm. I wonder ....
I decided it was time to post excerpts of my novel. I will post two excerpts from different places in the story, neither one the beginning. I'd love to hear feedback, but please know that these are still very much works in progress. I hope to be finished with the book in early 2010.
The log that I had sat on earlier was vacant and situated in a dark corner where I would go unnoticed. Gratefully I sank down, resting my weary feet. These delicate slippers were beautiful, but they were rubbing nasty blisters on my little toes. I eased them off one at a time and stretched my stockinged feet out in front of me.
The stars blinked above in an inky sky. Mama and I had always studied the dark skies together, and seeing them now, without her, made my heart ache. Was she looking at the same stars? Was she lonely for me? She understood me, like no one here did. But I never fully realized it until I left her.
The breeze was chilly, and I rubbed my arms, hesitant to leave my hiding place to retrieve a shawl from my bedroom. Just as I was reaching for my shoes, I heard Grandmother’s voice not very far away. I turned my head and listened, frowning as I heard my name.
“Oh, yes, she’s a dear girl. Will decided to adopt her . . . . you know he’s always considered himself an orphan since his father was killed so tragically before he was born . . . . he’s so soft-hearted towards orphans.”
What was she talking about? My stomach felt queasy.
A low pitched male voice said, “Well, Temperance, beg pardon, but we’d heard that she was Will’s illegitimate child.”
Who was Grandmother talking to? I leaned forward, trying not to roll the log, and spotted her through the foliage in a cluster of men and women several yards away. I could see her face, her eyes darting sharply from one person to another as they spoke. Her eyebrows were arched, her mouth pursed.
“Yes, beg pardon, Temperance, but a love child with a Cherokee woman is what folks is saying.” This input was made by the woman who stood with her back to me, her straw bonnet bobbing up and down with each shrill word.
Grandmother’s laughter rang out, unfamiliar and false. “How ridiculous. Will is a good Christian man. He would never do such an immoral thing. And Angeline – she doesn’t have a drop of Cherokee in her. She is white through and through.”
I felt my stomach lurch, and I covered my mouth. So that’s how Grandmother was presenting me to her friends. I was an orphaned white child. Despite her chilly reception, and the conversation I’d overheard between her and Papa, I thought she had accepted me for who I was.
“I saw her dancing with Sam Sherrill,” another man said. “He looked mighty taken with her. She’s a beauty.”
Though tears clouded my view, I held my breath to hear what she would say.
After a slight hesitation, Grandmother inclined her head and smiled, her voice dripping with condescension. “Well, Sam is a very kind young man.”
My thoughts swirled angrily. Kind young man? Yes, he would have to be a kind-hearted soul to want to dance with your half-breed granddaughter.
Set up for Excerpt 2: Angeline has survived a brutal rape after being captured by soldiers who are rounding up Cherokees for the Indian Removal (later known as the Trail of Tears).
A firm hand grabbed my hair and jerked my head out of the water. I came up, gasping and sputtering.
“Hey, now, ain’t nothin’ worth that.”
I wrenched my hair out of his grasp and scooted away from the soldier. “Get away from me!”
He held up his hands in surrender. “I ain’t gonna do nothin’ to you.”
I grabbed my dress from the bank to cover myself and scowled up at him. His face wasn’t familiar. He was younger, much closer to my age than the three men who had attacked me. This man had a thin, long face, brown mournful eyes which regarded me warily, and a ragged mustache that was barely more than peach fuzz on his upper lip. He was so lean his pale cheeks were hollow.
His hands, now slowly descending to his side, were blood-stained.
He followed my gaze, and brought them, palm up, for my inspection. “I was dressin’ the bear. We killed it, ’member?” He turned and thrust his hands into the water, rubbing them together while scarlet billows stained the clear water.
I blinked hard and rose on shaky legs, still gripping the dress to hide my body. He looked over his shoulder.
“Git yer dress on, miss.”
I squinted at him, humiliation filling me as I squatted behind a rhododendron bush. My modesty was needless; he had seen me. My eyes flooded with angry tears as I stepped into my shift, then made my trembling fingers work the hook and eye closures on the front of my dress – but it was no use. My dress was tattered. Pieces of my bodice yawned open, looking as surprised and wounded as I felt. I held them, pieces in each hand, marveling at how quickly it had all happened. I held them over my chest and stood very still. Maybe if I held them there long enough, hard enough. . . .
I heard voices from over the ridge, and lifted my head to listen more keenly. It was them. And Tamar. Everything registered then: the smell of food that had wafted down to me, their raucous voices and hers, calm. I’d been hearing these things, smelling meat, in the back of my mind, not conscious of anything except what was before me: my trembling fingers and taking one ragged breath at a time. Was it possible that common life went on around me? Or had they made Tamar suffer the same way I had?
I stood and craned my neck, but saw nothing beyond the bushes at the top of the ridge. The pieces of my bodice fell away, and I stood, exposed and betrayed by my tattered dress.
My arms across my chest, I came out from my shelter, and stepped tentatively toward the skinny soldier. “Wh-where are those men?”
The man shook his hands dry, then finished the job on his uniform trousers. He gestured with his head toward the camp. He looked at me with an expression I couldn’t read, which made my heart beat fast. I took a step back, watching him. He pursed his lips, sighed. He put his hands on his knees and stood, watching me the whole time.
“Don’t make me chase you, now,” he said, his voice lower than before. He walked toward me, his hat in his hand.
I shook my head, my breath coming in pants. My skirt tangled in my legs as I took quick backward steps, almost tripping before I turned and ran. I shrieked as I felt his bony hand close around my arm.
“Hey – now look here,” he said, steadying me with both hands on my arms. “What they did to you was bad, but you still gotta come with us.”
I looked up into his thin face, seeking understanding but finding none. “What? Go where?”
His brown eyes connected with mine, then fell away. “Stockade.”
It's been a while since I talked about the novel. I can't call it by name -- wish I could, but right now it is a novel without a name. I'm wracking my brain for the perfect title to sum it all up, and maybe that's the problem. I'm thinking too hard.
My story is made up. Fiction.