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NaNoWriMo Day #8: Letters to and from lovers

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

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NaNoWriMo Day #5: Taking in strays …

Here’s another excerpt from “Dixieland,” my National Novel Writing Month project that has reached 14,676 words. Tonight I wrote a scene that is, so far, the most difficult scene I’ve ever written. Unfortunately, that’s both a confession and a tease, because I can’t reveal that scene until the novel is finished.

I followed that challenging effort with something more light-hearted, and I have to admit that I’m having a blast making light of Sondra Ramsey’s pretentiousness. Sondra is Edna Mae Ferguson’s mother, and after Edna Mae’s hubby, Alvie, goes off to war, Edna Mae begins taking in strays. Her mother is present when the menagerie of cats and children begins.

In this excerpt, three of the children living in sharecropper shacks on the Ferguson Homestead have shown up at Edna Mae’s front door with a momma cat and two kittens. I realize I’ve referred to her mother as Sondra Ramsey AND Mrs. Ramsey. These inconsistencies will live at least until Dec. 1. (Inner editor, bound and gagged with duct tape, is going mad). Keep in mind: it’s an unedited work-in-progress. Comments, critiques, questions are not only welcomed but encouraged.

Dixieland, from Chapter 3 …

The raggedy little children kept their heads down but their eyes raised toward Mrs. Ramsey, who had called on her daughter in a in a tightly-wrapped, floor-length white dress. She wore a cream-colored hat – sort of resembled a nurse’s cap – on her head and two-inch high heels on her feet.

“I’m sure you were expecting guests, Edna Mae, because, I declare, it would be positively rude –indeed – to just show up uninvited.” She crossed her arms and looked down at the children. The momma cat was trying to get free. “Positively rude.” Mrs. Ramsey raised her eyebrows with the last “rude.”

Gertie Leeper, the middle child, finally spoke, never taking her eyes off Mrs. Ramsey.

“Miss Ellie, who is this lady?”

Edna Mae grinned to herself.

“I’m going to look at these poor felines,” she injected, completely dismissing her mother’s lesson in Southern etiquette and disarming her unapproving gaze.

“But, dear, you must give a reply to the invitation.” Mrs. Ramsey sidestepped the Leeper children and handed Edna Mae a press-printed, personally signed invitation to the Natchez Garden Club’s spring pilgrimage tour planning social. In addition to the where, when and what time neatly arranged on a pink-tinted card, it also bore the signature: “Dear Edna Mae, please come. Respectfully, Sondra (Mrs. G.E.) Ferguson.”

The momma cat jumped from the oldest child’s arms and dashed up the stairs.

“What impudence, Edna Mae. Really!”

Edna Mae just shook her head. “Really, mother? You couldn’t have just signed it, ‘Mom?’”

“Well it’s quite the social event, and requires …” Mrs. Ramsey sidestepped again to avoid stepping on a kitten. “It requires a formal request and a formal response.”

Edna Mae patted the youngest child’s head and thumbed the invitation. She gently directed the oldest child to go retrieve the momma cat.

“Well, they’ll just meddle in your bedroom, I just know it …” Mrs. Ramsey’s indignation grew. Edna Mae whispered to Gertie, “Go and help your sister find the momma cat,” again dismissing her mother’s haughty words.

“Mother, could you be a dear and help me make some lemonade for these children?” Edna Mae reached down and scooped up one of the scrawny kittens. She held its nose to her nose then handed it to the youngest Leeper lad.

Sondra Ramsey stomped her foot, barely making a “clink” with a high heel on the hardwood floor.

“Do you not detect the slightest bit of boorish, disrespectful incivility?” She stomped the other foot. “All this carrying on.” Edna Mae headed toward the kitchen.

“Come on, mother, let’s squeeze some lemons.”

“Well, I declare!” Mrs. Ramsey was shouting. “I don’t know how to tell your father how you’ve let this get so out of hand. Wild animals in the house – IN the house! – and colored children coming and going …”

In a flash, Edna Mae turned and was nose to nose with her mother.

“They are children, mother. Children.” She wanted so badly to put a finger in her mother’s face, in the same way she’d been raised. Edna Mae stepped back and Sondra Ramsey began to speak.

“Ah!” Edna Mae raised one hand, just above waist-level. “You, mother, are the only one who has crossed a line here today.”

Incidentally, I realize I’ve now made reference to “sidestepping” at least a half-dozen times. I take that as a sign that I’m not subconsciously making sure that my theme of racial tension is included in the fabric of the story. (The white folks in “Dixieland” sure do a lot of sidestepping.)

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