Mystery and Wilderness in Fiction

By Karen Wills

My husband and I made up a personal list of criteria for good fiction. One of our essentials is mystery. By that we don’t mean crime solving. We mean the lure of what hovers just beyond the obvious. It’s what makes us tell our book club or other friends to read it so we can talk about it.

In literature it’s sometimes found in complex characters or in nature. I used the wilderness as setting that is almost a character in my historical novel, River with No Bridge. For me, books set in the wilderness often have mystery. There’s richness to that.

In Eowyn Ivey’s historical novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, to the bright edgea husband is one of the first to head an expedition to explore Alaska Territory’s Wolverine River Valley while his pregnant wife waits at Fort Vancouver for his return. In a letter to her he muses, “I suppose the wilderness does have its draw. She always keeps a part of herself a mystery.” Later he says, “It is a grand, inscrutable wildness. Never are the people here allowed to forget that each of us is alive only by a small thread.”

For authors and artists conveying the wilderness while honoring its mystery is challenging. In her novel about the artist Emily Carr, the forrest loverthe late Susan Vreeland wrote, “She looked back at the forest—more dense and tangled and full of mystery than the forested part of Beacon Hill Park at home. How could she ever paint it? No art school taught how to paint such immense, paralyzing magnificence.”

And yet, some of us keep writing about, or painting, those precious wild places that still exist. How long wilderness has existed. We marvel at the geology of places like Glacier National Park and find an awed comfort in astronomy. Poet Robinson Jeffers wrote these lines,

The stars shine in the sky like the spray of a wave

Rushing to meet no shore, and the great music

Blares on forever…

Perhaps, the meaning of wilderness is that wild beauty creates its own mystery.

river with no bridge

 

Now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kindle

https://karenwills.com

Face Book: Karen Wills Author

Advertisements

Mystery and Wilderness in Fiction

By Karen Wills

My husband and I made up a personal list of criteria for good fiction. One of our essentials is mystery. By that we don’t mean crime solving. We mean the lure of what hovers just beyond the obvious. It’s what makes us tell our book club or other friends to read it so we can talk about it.

In literature it’s sometimes found in complex characters or in nature. I used the wilderness as setting that is almost a character in my historical novel, River with No Bridge. For me, books set in the wilderness often have mystery. There’s richness to that.

In Eowyn Ivey’s historical novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, to the bright edgea husband is one of the first to head an expedition to explore Alaska Territory’s Wolverine River Valley while his pregnant wife waits at Fort Vancouver for his return. In a letter to her he muses, “I suppose the wilderness does have its draw. She always keeps a part of herself a mystery.” Later he says, “It is a grand, inscrutable wildness. Never are the people here allowed to forget that each of us is alive only by a small thread.”

For authors and artists conveying the wilderness while honoring its mystery is challenging. In her novel about the artist Emily Carr, the forrest loverthe late Susan Vreeland wrote, “She looked back at the forest—more dense and tangled and full of mystery than the forested part of Beacon Hill Park at home. How could she ever paint it? No art school taught how to paint such immense, paralyzing magnificence.”

And yet, some of us keep writing about, or painting, those precious wild places that still exist. How long wilderness has existed. We marvel at the geology of places like Glacier National Park and find an awed comfort in astronomy. Poet Robinson Jeffers wrote these lines,

The stars shine in the sky like the spray of a wave

Rushing to meet no shore, and the great music

Blares on forever…

Perhaps, the meaning of wilderness is that wild beauty creates its own mystery.

river with no bridge

 

Now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kindle

https://karenwills.com

Face Book: Karen Wills Author

Who Was She?

By Ann Minnett

A black hole blocks me from the real story of my paternal third great grandmother (ggggrandma). Every other line in my family tree can be traced further back, mostly thanks to fastidious recordkeeping by Quaker ancestors.

But not ggggrandma Merritt or Merrett or Merett or Marat as it was sometimes spelled. I am obsessed with what little we know about her and who my ggggrandfather might have been. If you have plotted your own family tree, you know how difficult it can be to locate and follow the women who came before.

Here’s what we know about her:

·       Born in SC in 1810

·       Two sons born in north GA, 1832 & 1835

·       Listed as head of household 1840 – north GA 

·       Married a Mr. Lankton in 1844 – north GA

·       Widowed in 1868 and moved to Missouri to live with her son

Possible scenarios:

·       She was a Merritt and had two boys out of wedlock

·       She had two illegitimate sons by a man named Merritt but they never married

·       She married a Merritt, had two sons, was soon widowed, and remarried 

I would like to settle on one of the above and just let ggggrandma be, but I also feel honor-bound to get her story right. So, guess who is not writing or marketing her novels? Who has conducted endless Google searches and purchased reference books on daily life and customs in Antebellum Georgia? Who has lost days reading about The Indian Wars between Georgia pioneer militias and tribes that resulted in forced westward migrations of native populations? 

I’ve learned a lot. Perhaps what’s keeping me from writing domestic suspense will lead to my first novel of historical fiction.

 

Writing Historical Novels

historical fiction

By Janice McCaffrey

February’s Montana Women Writer’s meeting featured a discussion on Writing Historical Novels led by Karen Wills and me. Karen read the following quote  by Fiona Veitch Smith author of Pilate’s Daughter from M.K. Tod’s blog Inside Historical Fiction:

I build my worlds in concentric circles. The outer circle is the social, political, religious, economic and historical backdrop within which my story takes place … The next circle in will include the ‘props’ that the characters interact with … the innermost circle is the emotional core of the characters living in a particular period. 

An excellent segue into my favorite topic, research. Below is a handout listing some, I’m sure not all and in no apparent order, details historical novelists use to fill in Ms. Smith’s circles.

Facts of people’s lives – names, birth, marriage, death dates and places
Food – what, how produced, hunted, gathered, prepared, served, preserved
Water – supply, how does it get to people/animals
Other drinks – coffee, tea, alcohol, juices
Living quarters – structure, furniture, room set up

Lighting – inside and out
Social structure – social classes, details in each level, reactions, impact on society and individuals
Education – schools, apprenticeships, home learning
Manufacturing – for local use, exports
Imported/exported goods – what, from/to where, how transported

Purchasing goods – where, how often, from who, display or set up of goods, barter or currency
Money – coins, paper, denominations, country’s currency
Occupations and their how-to
Heating and cooling – homes, people, animals
Clothing – fabrics, colors, patterns, how are they made, by whom
Public Health – clean water, sewage, diseases, medical practices

Personal Hygiene – cleanliness, teeth, hair, clothing
Socials – what, where, with who
Games & Sports, pleasurable past times
Story telling – oral, books, legend, lore
Neighborhoods – city, town, rural

Patriarchal or Matriarchal – societies, families, governments, values
Rules spoken and unspoken – within family, community, groups, government
History of place – country, state, county, town
Civil laws – who writes them, how they’re upheld, justice system, consequences
Geography – terrain of land

Maps
Governments – leaders, issues, controversies – past & present
Politics – local, national, global
Military – preparedness, uniforms/armor, weapons, strongholds (fort, bunker, cave, etc)
Weather/Climate – seasons, temperatures, precipitation

Communication – (usually before phones at least before cell phones)
Travel – local and distant/international, land, sea, air, walk, ride, vehicles,
Ethnic & religious customs – national, local, family, personal
Religion – beliefs, ceremonies, conversion, spreading the Word
Stereotypes – common of the time and place

Language – written, oral, dialects
Death, burial, cremation – traditions, rites

            If you think of any that aren’t on the list, please let me know and I’ll add them.

Last Lines that Linger

By Karen Wills

 

This morning I read another list of memorable opening lines in literature. For one example, Melville’s first words in Moby Dick made the list with the famous, “Call me Ishmael.”

But shouldn’t there also be a list of novelists’ great last sentences? And if such a list could be compiled, what would make the lines memorable? I immediately think of Norman MacLean’s brief conclusion in A River Runs through It, “I am haunted by waters.”  The words are simple, elegant, and strongly connotative. They resonate as good poetry does, and they suit and conclude the story of a brother lost.

Another fine last sentence ends March by Geraldine Brooks. Brooks won a Pulitzer for her story of what happens to the father of Little Women’s Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and the husband of their mother, Marmee, when he volunteers to serve as a Union Army chaplain in the Civil War. By the novel’s end, he’s been seared, scarred, and sickened by the carnage of war and the loss of loved ones. On his first night home, grief for those he’s lost, mostly freed blacks, nearly overwhelms him. But at twilight his wife enters the room where he sits reunited with his daughters. Marmee does the peaceful domestic act of lighting a lamp. lamplightBrooks ends her novel with the words, “For an instant, everything was bathed in radiance.” Whatever the future may hold, with this elemental imagery there is the arrival of healing and redemption. And there is the strongly connotative “radiance.”

Finally, let’s look at the late Susan Vreeland’s, The Forest Lover. It’s a novel based on the life of the artist, Emily Carr, an intensely creative painter who dared to venture into the turn of the century Canadian wilderness to find her subjects. mary carrShe showed absolute courage in her life and originality in her stunning art. The last line reads, “She would drink the forest liquids and drench herself in possibility.” Don’t Vreeland’s words epitomize a brave woman in love with creativity? The image has mystery. The word “drench” suggests energy or passion. The sentence holds such promise. 

These are my favorite lingering lines. What are yours?