The painting above by Tom Lovell, “Target Practice”, is one of my favorites of all time and a large reproduction hangs in my house.
Gramps and I are pro-gun (although not pro-murder) and own a number of guns, but those aren’t the kinds of guns of which I’m speaking in this continuation of the saga of how my novel The Cedar Tree came into being.
An excerpt from a post last winter, Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part 4:
At the end of my writing dreams series, Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part lll, young Danni had unwittingly embarked on a more than twenty-year novel writing journey. Gramps–still not widely known as Gramps–kept traveling around the western United States natural gas fields working for wages with his sweet pipelining skills. Danni just worked, and the sons finally outgrew their potty chairs and started using the yard for their bathroom most of the time while the animals on the Colorado rancho soon outnumbered humans by at least thirty-to-one.
Picking up from there, my homeschooled sons beefed up their academics with classes like Life Lessons From the Livestock Auction With Mom and Her Sister, Chasing and Penning Wild Cattle 101, and Learning to Ride Rough Stock for Fun and (no) Profit.
But, it was night when I really came alive, morphing into a mad typist who sat at the Smith Corona, hammering away on my novel about a Colorado ranching family. My protagonist, Gil, was a reckless cowboy, but his love interest was Kate, a tiresome young woman who wouldn’t die. Ever.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, most first novels are autobiographical in nature, and mine was no exception. How do I know?
Because Kate–and finally Katie in her final form–had big arms.
She’d grown up milking cows by hand. And, hey, surprise…I did, too!
In my novel, Kate was older than the milkmaid above and she set her bucket underneath the cow’s udder. She’d hunker down with her cheek against the cow’s flank and get after it. Thick streams of milk rang against the metal bucket, raising a head of snowy foam. Unfortunately, the muscles of her forearms and biceps became larger and more unattractive with every squeeze-pull of the cow’s rubbery…er…handles.
Kate had something to say about her arms in every revision of my story for over twenty-years. The fact that–even though she was slightly built–she had to split the inside seams of her blouses to get her arms stuffed in them peeved her greatly. What fictional young woman would want bigger guns than all the other girls and a lot of the guys, too?
(Old people, guns is slang for biceps. I wouldn’t know except one of my favorite people in the world once said something along this line to her brother: “You’re pathetic. My mother-in-law has bigger guns than you do.”)
Kate feared she had guns like Starla’s. (above right)
I used years of time–and bottles of white-out–while I wrote at my typewriter, trying to disguise long-ago Kate so nobody would see her as my alter-ego. As a result she came across as a boring nitwit, obsessed with her arms. Trying to distance myself from her, I told my story like a news account rather than crawling inside the characters skins and writing from their viewpoints.
Kate embarrassed me every time she tried to come out of her shell, but I had a much easier time writing Gil’s character. I could write about him for days. Still, he had to fall in love with Kate or my romantic story line just fell to pieces.
As I wrestled with that knotty problem, I went about so absent-mindedly I actually endangered the wild animal population, thus:
Our rancho was an hour away from the church we attended. One night after a Wednesday night prayer meeting, I piloted our old station wagon toward home like a rocket sled on rails with my boys buckled tightly into their seats. While I drove, I gnawed on my problematic story line. A mother raccoon unwisely led her little family in front of my speeding wheels. Son #1 yelled out a warning from the passenger seat, waking me from my fictive dream, but…too late.
My goodness, what a mess.
I fought Kate throughout the passage of time until many years later when a writer–who is also my freelance editor and gracious writing mentor, Terri Valentine–taught me how to stop writing like I was in the shower with my clothes on. One of the most helpful things she ever said to me came after I explained to her I didn’t like Kate–or Katie, as she was called by then.
“But, I love Katie,” she said, and then she gave me reasons why.
Her words stunned me. Someone actually loved Katie?
After that, I tried to stop fighting her and write about her like I loved her, too. My twenty-year novel attempt finally came together.
The take-away from this odd tale? Aspiring novelists, try to find something to love about your characters, especially that first autobiographical one. (Even if she has large appendages and other shortcomings.) You might save years of your life…and young raccoon families.
For anyone interested, both The Cedar Tree and Agnes Campbell’s Hat are free downloads today on Amazon.com, or just click on the book cover images in the sidebar.
Thank you so much for reading. Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy another David Wesley performance of How Deep The Father’s Love For Us.
*This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just like him.