Today’s report on my National Novel Writing Month project, Dixieland, which is now at 19,511 words. My protagonist couple Alvie and Edna Mae Ferguson are separated by Alvie’s World War II deployment with the Army Air Corp. He will become a POW. But I didn’t settle until today on how to depict his war experience. Tell me what you think.
Up until the first letter he writes from Stalag Luft I after being taken prisoner of war, his entire war experience is told in the letters he writes to Edna Mae. I thought it would be different, a unique approach, to tell more of their backstory — courtship, early life, etc. — in those letters. The setting for Alvie will shift to the German POW camp for the last two months of his time there, but until then the reader won’t “see” through Alvie’s eyes — only through his letters to his young bride.
This approach also presents a challenge for me to write Edna Mae’s letters to Alvie. After all, I’m not a 26-year-old woman who pines for her husband. (Talk about writing outside the lines here).
The excerpt I’m providing below is Alvie’s first letter from the POW camp, and it includes a glimpse into my creative process. As I write, I make notes to myself (see italics). The notes remind me that I’m foreshadowing, adding to earlier (so far unwritten) references, and making sure to bring some things to resolution, where the reader will say, “Aha! I remember that from back in Chapter Whatever when Alvie mentioned he was bringing his nephew a souvenir.”
As always: unedited. Tell me what you think.
My dearest Edna Mae,
You probably know by now that I’m a guest of the German army and we are very well cared for. I couldn’t eat better if I was made of cornbread. (THIS IS A SURE TIP-OFF THAT HE IS NOT EATING WELL. Earlier in the story, I’ll have Alvie make a reference to a meal that one of Edna Mae’s sisters made. Her sis will say, “Well, Alvie Ferguson, I’ll swannie. I believe you must be made of cornbread.” To which Alvie will whisper to Edna Mae, “If I was made of cornbread, I’d just soak this stuff up. Wouldn’t have to taste it then.” I’LL HAVE HIM MAKE ANOTHER “if I was made of cornbread” statement in reference to uncooked or spoiled food.)
I feel your prayers and I know it won’t be long before we’re staring at the same moon together, not continents apart. Tell my Billy that I’ve got him a souvenir. (IT’S THE SHRAPNEL lodged in his arm). Tell your folks hi. I’ve never loved you more. Your Alvie.”
EDNA MAE’S LETTER to Alvie after learning he’s alive:
Sweet, handsome Alvie, my Superman,
I’m writing this without even knowing where I shall send it, but if I don’t write these words now I’ll quite likely come unhinged. You’re alive! My darling, I weep and shout in both sadness and joy. The WAAC sisters teach us and insist that we keep our chins up and not show a sign of sadness or weakness, but I just can’t do it right now. So I might not send this. I do not desire to bring you low; just thinking of any of my words souring your handsome countenance is unbearable, but you can always see right through the platitudes. You know my heart, and that is why this separation is so powerfully unbearable.
My love, you have the most resourceful ways of taking care of yourself and bringing your thoughts to happy, gay times. I know how you care for and love your chums, and how they so look up to you and rely on your strength. Yet I cannot wait another second for you to let yourself be weak in my arms, and let me take care of you.
I simply cannot pretend with you. I truly know there was much more you wanted and needed to tell me. I am sure I have the motor mechanics in my brain well enough to build an engine, yet I now must learn how to build the fuselage and the wings. Yes, my love, if it takes me the rest of my years, if you are not here, I will build that airplane myself and come and get you. And if you return before I put in the last rivet, then you can fly our little airplane and show me something – anything away from the memory of these last months – where we can soar past this time.
You know I’m just silly. Do not fret over thinking that I am assembling a little airplane.
But if I could, my love, if I could …
It will soon be one year since your deployment. Perhaps our separation will end quite soon. I pray for you, my love. I still keep one side of the bed unslept and ready for you. And now that I lock that door, I cannot wait to lock us inside our nest. Oh, how I miss you, my Alvie.
I will stay strong. There is so much to tell you about my adventure to Kentucky and the tales of working at that little newspaper. I feel that I have become a woman in the truest sense of the word. Perhaps someday you and I will move away from here and start our own little newspaper. That would be grand!
I must sip some hot tea and say my prayers before I retire. Your caress, your strong shoulders, your mischievous grin and the boyish pranks that you play are always, forever on my mind. And in my heart.
Your bride, Edna Mae