Coffee for WriMos: Day Two

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

November 3, 2014

Day two and first-day jitters remain.

The first year I did NaNoWriMo I had a manuscript in process and had completed a story-board. What I needed to do was write the gaps and missing scenes. Last year I wrote an entirely new project from a short story that was part of a bigger idea. This year, I discovered a novel among the flash fiction I had been writing to better understand an incident in history that was found in my family tree.

And I’m nervous. I had difficulty yesterday with getting ink on the blank page. So I wrote about the barn cat that’s been pestering my porch lately. Sometimes, we go with “what we know.” I know the cat. So I wondered, what would Sarah think of the cat? I even did a search online about “pioneer cats” and giggled over photos of kitties in Laura Ingalls braids. Yet, it confirmed that pioneers did bring cats on the Oregon Trail.

Did you feel jittery getting started?

Thought for Day Two:

“Most people wont realize that writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like anything else.” ~Katherine Anne Porter

Free-drafting is where I learn. I can read books about style, books about plotting and text books for writing courses. I can read what masters write. I can ask questions, deconstruct and add to my writer’s tool-bag. But unless I write, I don’t learn how to craft with this knowledge or these tools. NaNoWriMo therefore is an apprenticeship. It is where I first lean about my novel.

Today I was jittery to explore Mary. If you’ve read any of my Rock Creek flash fiction stories, then you’ll recognize Mary as the wife of Cob McCanles. What unfolded for me today was family. The character of Julia is based on my 4th-great grandmother. When she appeared on the page I felt like I was getting her endorsement.

Excerpt from Rock Creek WIP. NaNoWriMo Day Two: 2,002 words (here’s a few):

Laughter came from inside the kitchen. It wasn’t like Mary to be so lackadaisical, but the festivities were removed from her as if this gathering were a church ladies play and she no longer wanted the role of angel. Cooking angel, that is. Peeling apples, pounding corn, melting butter, frying pork. The rhythm continued without her. The play, featuring her sister-in-laws, the McCanles-now-Green-girls, went on. She could mark Julia’s loud laugh above all others. Tiny as an elf with huge brown eyes and thick hair like her brother Cob’s, Julia was one to always be outside when she could, fishing the streams and tending her garden that grew twice the size of any other kitchen garden in these parts. She had to be part elf. Her girls laughed as heartily as she did. So did Mary’s brother Amos. Though Julia had nothing spectacular about her looks, nothing striking, she was a handsome woman. Her skin was always sun-kissed something she tried to tell Julia to prevent. She’d regret it as she aged. Yet, Amos never strayed, not even in gaze. He even laughed as much as Julia. Ridiculous. What could be so funny all the time? Maybe they both drank corn liquor when no one was watching.

That’s what the men were doing. Except the twins. They were still trying to get that huge pine into the barn without any help from the other Greens. No doubt they were cozied up to a crock of spirits and no doubt her husband was in the middle of the men, crowing about his recent re-election as Watauga County Sheriff. What would he think if she told him that her own father didn’t even vote for him. Cob’s ideas about the Whigs supporting a Constitutional Union was not as popular as he thought. Towering over his neighbors like a burly beast, they were afraid to induce his ire. Mary clenched her shawl tighter around her shoulders. He wasn’t as handsome as he once was, either. Mr. Sheriff. Mr. Wife Cheater. Oh, Sarah Shull was young, her hair dark and eyes blue, but her hair wasn’t as black as Mary’s. And she wasn’t that much younger. Although she acted like it, all dreamy with her head in the clouds as if Mr. Sheriff was going to be some knight errant. He fooled her. Let her suffer with a babe to care for and no family to help.

“It’s deliciously cold out here.” Julia walked up behind Mary and wrapped a large patched quilt around her head and shoulders.

Mary frowned. The quilt would disarray her hair hooded over her like that. “That’s one of Mama’s last quilts she ever made. It shouldn’t be outside.”

“It’s a pretty one. Your Mama could hold a straight stitch.”

“I’d better check on the Baby.”

“That boy is two now and he’s happily playing with his Grandma Rachel.”

“Were the boys messy with their hoe-cakes? Sure as day comes tomorrow they make a mess with their food.”

“Oh, will you stop fussing and let me warm you up. Want some hot cider?” Julia stood beside Mary and smiled.

Mary shook her head. “Do elves not feel the cold?”

Julia busted out a laugh that seemed larger than she was. “Daddy always said I was a changeling. Must have hot blood where I come from.”

Mary shook her head and stopped shivering. “Why doesn’t someone help them?”

“Oh, Amos and Isaac probably ran off all offers of help. Those two think they can do everything themselves.”

“Sorry I’m not helping in the kitchen.”

“If you were needed in the kitchen I wouldn’t have drug your Mama’s precious quilt out here. Figured if she were still alive she’d wrap you in her arms and let you cry a spell.”

“I won’t cry. He won’t make me cry.” Mary chewed on the inside of her cheek to chase away any threat of tears.

“My brother acts before he thinks. He got himself caught up in dangerous flirtations. I’m not trying to excuse him, mind you, after all I kicked him full in the shin when he confessed to Daddy what he did. But he loves you, Mary. He loves those boys.”

“I feel like I just want to run off into the woods and wail. I can’t cry. Won’t cry.”

“No use being tough as square nails meant to hammer on a mule’s shoe. Let’s set up some crying time for you, but tonight, come join us in festivities.”

Mary looked back toward the kitchen. It was time she pulled her share of work. She nodded, but Julia grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her toward the barn. Hard packed snow crunched beneath their boots.

“Have some quilt, Julia.” Mary opened her arm and Julia snuggled into the space with her one arm wrapping around Mary’s waist and the other holding the quilt to her shoulder. Together they walked up to the twins who had the tree half-way into the barn. Hoots and laughter echoed inside.

“Need help, Boys?” Julia smiled and Amos doffed his hat in reply.

“Why it’s my wee Lady of the Mountains come to save the day.”

“Amos, unless your Lady sprouted muscles thicker than a blacksmith’s, not much she can help with.” Isaac looked nearly identical to his brother except his hair was longer and his brother had a full beard. Something the wives joked about insisting they do since different hats were too easy to swap. And the boys were jesters enough to try and swap wives. They couldn’t fool their children though and they already had eight between them.

“Is that my fair wife, I hear? My love is like the melody, that’s sweetly played in tune.” Cob brushed past the tree and stroked a few violin strings with his bow.

Mary bit back the reply she wanted to give him. Did he sweep that girl off her feet with sweet quotes of Robert Burns? “A glib tongue. I think I hear my husband.”

Julia pinched Mary beneath the quilt. “Why it is the humble and endearing McCanles sheriff.”

“Is that a hint, Sister?”

“It’s a hint, Brother. Take it.”

“Better to take your hints than your well-aimed kicks.”

Amos nodded as if he knew of his wife’s aim. He said, “Let these fair ladies pass and help us with this tree.”

“Mary, my Dear Wife, will you please take my fiddle and bow?” He handed them to Mary and she tucked them within the quilt. She and Julia walked past the tree into the barn.

Behind her Cob said, “I will love thee still, my dear, while the sands of life shall run.”

Amos replied, “Be careful she don’t bury your head in those sands and choke the life out of you.” The men all laughed.

Mary kept walking straight ahead, but smiling. The barn floor was cleared for food and dancing. James McCanles was notching together a few more benches. Every year he put together makeshift tables and benches for the annual Green Christmas celebration, but what he called makeshift was nicer furniture than most folks owned. Getting up from his knees, he smoothed back a few stray strands of his full head of silver hair. As tall as his two sons, six feet in his wool stockings, he was much leaner than Cob and still spry for a grandfather.

“Mary, what are you doing out here?” His eyes shifted to a dark corner of the barn.

She wanted to tell him she came to spy on her cheating husband, but Julia whirled them back around to face the entry where Cob was muscling in the grand pine with the twins.

“The damsel pine has made her entrance,” said Julia.

A few other Green brothers went over to help nail a stand to the stump. The tree would go in the corner and all would decorate as food and fiddling commenced. By the time the children were all bedded down, the adults would clog and dance, some all night. Mary was suspicious about what James was worried she might see in the corner. In years past the Shulls would join the festivities, but none would dare show up. Not after one of their women committed the greatest sin. Old Philip Shull refused to grind James’s corn since May. James sued him in court and still the old man refused to grind it. After another suit and Cob paying a visit as Sheriff, Philip ground the McCanles corn.

Cob walked up to Mary and hugged both her and Julia. She could smell a faint essence of liquor, but he seemed steady. She knew he wouldn’t drink while fiddling and she hoped he fiddled all night, although his father would, too.

“Da, can you take my fiddle and set it aside?”

Mary handed bow and fiddle to James. Cob still hugged both women. Amos came over to Julia and tried to hug all three of them. “My arm’s not long enough to include the bear on your side, Sister.”

James called from the corner where the tree was going up. “David Colbert? Do you want me to fetch anything for you?”

“Da, bring that piece I made.” He smiled at Mary and if she didn’t know better she’d think he was nervous.

James emerged from behind the tree carrying a rocking chair. He set it down in front of Mary and Julia. The chair was hickory, shaved and polished to a golden gleam. The seat was a tightly woven pattern of wicker that must of taken James hours to craft. His finest work were always marvels.

Julia elbowed Mary. “It’s yours,” she said.

Mary shed the quilt and sat down in the chair. It rocked without a creak. She smiled up at James who was now standing next to his son with his arm on his shoulders. “Mine?”

James nodded with a look of pride. “My son made that for you.”


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  1. Jeanne Lombardo

    You are an inspiration Charli. I am doing NaNoWriMo for the first time with pretty much the same aim you had the first time, to complete a book that has been simmering on the back burner too long. Loved hearing about how you have approached it before in contrast to what you are doing this year. I have been following you long enough now to have an inkling of the story you are fleshing out . Have to say I loved the cat scene yesterday. Though the cat may have been the catalyst for and ostensible focus of that passage, you really achieved some good tension in the scene as Mary approaches and then enters the barn. I feared for her, with all the men around. And before that, her brief reverie about dancing with Mr. Boots really conveyed a wistful longing. Looking forward to seeing where you take this, and enjoying your tips. Thanks!

    • Charli Mills

      NaNoWriMo is a flexible tool. It allows you to come at your project on your own terms but gives you 30 days of focus. Glad to hear you are using it! Thank you for reflecting what you read in the passage. It may get a bit confusing, excerpts and different women in each. As long as I can keep them straight, right? That scene helped me define deeper attributes regarding Sarah. It excited me as the writer. 🙂 Bootsy is my official muse!

  2. Jeanne Lombardo

    Make that Sarah, not Mary….felt something was off when I was writing that! That’s what comes from stopping by the ranch to infrequently I guess!

  3. Norah

    Great work Charli and lovely writing. You are making good progress and keeping us enthralled to boot.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Norah!

  4. Annecdotist

    Well done, Charli, seems you’re making great progress despite the jitters. Great how you’ve introduced a new character to the mix (I’m assuming Julia’s new as I don’t remember her from your flashes) already. I did think about Mr Boot yesterday – I know you’ve written about him here but again wasn’t sure if he were part of the Rock Creek story or Carrot Ranch, but then I love it how reality and fiction blend into each other.
    If I can compare notes with my not actually NaNo project, after two days I’m ahead of myself too, but I’m banking those extra words for the days I won’t be able to write it all. Writing a flash for each character in response to your prompt proved a great way for me to limber up to the challenge. I am nervous, especially as I’d like the three voices to be distinguished from each other (although as they’re third person that’s not essential) but one of the characters will be quite difficult as her perspective is quite a long way from external reality.
    Have a good writing day and look forward to sharing coffee with you tomorrow.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for your triple flash and I’m glad to hear that it helped you get limbered up for your own challenge. We may need to compare notes as we go along. I’ll give you an early disclosure: I’m working on three distinct third person points of view. I keep thinking of your reviews of how many is too many! Each character represents not only a certain aspect of life for women at that time, but also each lends a unique view to what ultimately happens at Rock Creek. I think historians have discounted the women and though this is fiction, it gives them a voice. We’ll see! I look forward to coffee with you this month!

  5. Let's CUT the Crap!

    Love all your characters, the tension, the upcoming festivities and most of all your progress. This is enjoyable reading. An awesome start. <3

  6. Sherri

    Great stuff Charli. Love the quote at the top. It just all comes down to writing, writing, writing doesn’t it? No other cure for it. And I love how you’ve introduced Julia based on your real family. I’ll be over for a refill…

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! No cure; no cure at all! So we write…

  7. TanGental

    So far so polished and entrancing. The great thing for we dedicated band of followers is the familiarity with the place you take us to and these characters. Each vignette is perfectly drawn – Mr Boots could be a flash or part of a whole that is its beauty while today we wear Mary’s tension like our own quilt. I forget that, back then, the British influence is still strong with Whigs and hot cider and Burns. Reading your prose is like settling into a self topping hot bath that eases away all tension. Really I’m not at all jealous!

    • Charli Mills

      I’m so drawn to writing scenes like individual beads, then using them to plot a full necklace. Yes, truly the Appalachian families were so very British. That’s a great insight because you can probably help me understand a few things. In the mid 1850s the Whigs dissolved over the secessionist issue. Out of the old party rose a new one called the Constitutional Unionists. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how that would influence Cob when he moves his family west. Supposedly he was a “great orator” (and known to quote Burns and Shakespeare) but what would his speeches be like? If you have any ideas to point me toward reading–a period piece, a philosophy, some kind of passionate rhetoric–it has me wondering! Thanks for enjoying the read! I’m certainly enjoying yours!

      • TanGental

        Charli I thought I’d ask the oracle (the Archaeologist) and this is his reply. I hope it helps a bit.
        I am not sure I can help that much, I am not very well acquainted with early-mid nineteenth century political speeches. However one obvious source, easily found free
        on the web and not to bad reading, are the ‘Young England’ novels of Benjamin Disraeli, they certainly contain impassioned speeches that might well provide suitable

      • Charli Mills

        That’s helps more than a bit! Tell the Bro thanks! It’s a good place for me to get grounded in the kind of thinking that Cob would have had.


  1. A snippet or two from the Last Will of Sven Andersen | TanGental - […] keep posting. If you want a more educated read by a true craftsperson, try Charli’s posts here. Or some…

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