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Coffee for WriMos: Day Five

I woke up this morning, talking to myself.

It’s an affliction of drafting daily: I hear voices. It’s perfectly okay. I know whose voices they are; they belong to my characters. Weirdly, we talk about how the story is going as if I’m the stage director and they are the actors. I listen. Soon they’re taking places to act out the crucial scene. We step back and discuss it.

I’ve migrated from the sleepy warm bed to my office, conveniently outside my bedroom. I pace in my pajamas. The scene “we” are working on is the final climax. It’s the whole reason we’re here. I’m not ready to write this scene, but today I rehearse it and ask questions. It’s important that every other scene leads to the clarity of this one moment. So we chat, my characters and me.

Thought for Day Five:

“Plot is people. Human emotions and desires founded on the realities of life, working at cross purposes, getting hotter and fiercer as they strike against each other until finally there’s an explosion—that’s Plot.”
~Leigh Brackett, WD

Are you listening to the people you are plotting about? If they were to tell you the story of your novel, what would they say? Imagine having a cup of coffee with your characters. Talk out loud to them. Listen to what they say in return. Knowing them as intimately as waking up in bed with them will do more to fuel your plot than anything. Plot is people.

Do you talk to your characters?

Day Five: 1,811 words

Excerpt from Rock Creek

Then there were other wagon trains that espoused those who already knew hardship. Many of the women wore sorrow on their faces having to leave behind mothers, sisters, precious carved furnishings too heavy for even the massive Conestogas. One woman last week lamented that she had no fine china to receive the soup. Nancy Jane told her not to fret; that the beans weren’t worthy of fine china. Another woman asked if she was going to pass out those fine looking molasses cookies piled up behind her. Nancy Jane turned to look at the chips and told her those weren’t for supper. The woman offered to give her a copper for one, maybe two. The man behind the woman declared in a loud voice, “Madam, those are chips of dried buffalo dung and I don’t think those lumbering creatures eat molasses.”

Despite the delicate nose wrinkles many eastern wives gave the chips, Nancy Jane knew that once they passed the 100th meridian there would be no wood for warmth or cooking. Those women would come to appreciate the plentiful chips although they were not fit for eating. Nancy Jane tossed another chip on the fire and resumed serving beans until all had passed through. If the beans were not completely eaten, she’d used them to soak the next batch. The road ranch owner was particular about not wasting anything. At least he paid her once a week and she was saving up money for when the season ended.

Tending to children on the trail wasn’t easy and sickness was common. Nancy Jane had her own child on the way, but she wasn’t traveling, just serving beans or stew to those who were. She carefully watched for runny noses or feverish eyes. Often the cholera started with the very young or the very old. Sometimes it just started and took hearty and hale lives. One freighter advised Nancy Jane to boil her water even if there were no squirming worms in it. She didn’t want to get sick, mostly on account of Pa. It would do him in to lose another family member and who would watch out for him? He was working in the long barn with John Hughes, fixing wheel spokes or carving carry-all boxes. Irish John, as folks in Jones Territory called him so as not to confuse him with Welsh John Hughes, was a blacksmith’s apprentice. He could fix simple parts and made decent looking hooks for camp fire cooking.

Irish John watched Nancy Jane in a way that made her feel cornered. One day when she had gone into the barn to tell her Pa she was going to ride Hunk into the Blue River woods to shoot something better than what they had in the salt pork barrel, he pulled her aside and put his work blackened hand on her bump of a belly. “I know what you’ve done to get this, girl,” he said in a low, fierce tone, his brown eyes looking like a child who found a hard candy in the dirt.

“I know, too and this baby’s Pa is Russian cavalry and he knows what to do with a bayonet.”

It wasn’t an out and out lie, but somehow rumors picked up after that incident, claiming Nancy Jane was married to a Cossack. She was pretty sure she had heard Eustace say a few things that sounded like he didn’t like Cossacks, whoever they might be, but if it put fear in men like Irish Hughes, then she’d not correct the tale.



  1. TanGental says:

    lovely piece Charli; love feisty Nancy Jane. One thought re cholera and you may have this all sussed so apologies if you have. It fascinates me if only because I became very fond of Sir Joseph Bazelgette’s sewerage system that we still benefit from in London when at the Olympics. You see the cause of cholera was first isolated by Dr John Snow in east London in 1854 after yet another outbreak. This followed some hot summers when during the Great Stink of 1851 the Thames was so full of sewage that, because of the smell, they shut Parliament so the MPs, as self interested as ever voted the money to find a solution. Once the cause was understood (before Snow it was thought that cholera was caused by a miasma, (the smell from all the faecal matter), rather than the polluted water. Snow spotted the link between the 1854 outbreak and the Whitechapel water pump where most of the cases were reported. Once he showed it was water born, then solving the cholera issue formed part of the push for a proper sewerage system. Part of your (much discussed) visit will now involve me taking you to see his Temple of Sewage near Pudding Mill!
    So my point is, would anyone think of boiling water at the point in time of your story and linking it to cholera? They might think it was associated with the chips and their smell more, given the received wisdom around miasmas.

    • Charli Mills says:

      This gives me some really good ideas! And didn’t I just read something recently on TanGental about Sir Joseph Bazelgette’s sewerage system? Or do I now equate anything interesting about London as having come from you? While I don’t think one should use sewage and pudding in the same sentence, I’m adding it to the visit list. You give me several terrific ideas! First, miasma is a wonderful detail to incorporate and just the kind of thing to show the different kind of mindset late 1850s. I wonder what impact Bazelgette had on America and when? Cholera continued to plague pioneers and in reading diaries from the Oregon Trail, people feared how it crept in without “cause.” I find it curious too as they called it “the cholera.” The water connection was actually a pro-active way of thinking for the time. A newspaper account from the early 1860s advised women on the trail to boil water that exhibited worms. The worms were actually mosquito larve! No wonder people drank booze! What my mind is now pondering, would Cob have known about the cause of cholera by 1859? He destroyed the original well and dug a new one on the opposite side of the original road ranch. I love finding out this little details and figuring out how to worm them into the story! That’s the part of revision I’m looking forward to! Thank you!

      • TanGental says:

        as a well read man he may well have eard something. The news would have been in New York and Boston within six month of it being widely known in England and Europe so by 1856/7 you would think the doctors on the east coast would be applying the lessons. In practice the messages would be slow to get through but if Cob had access to newsprint/the railroad grapevine then why not.

      • Charli Mills says:

        By 1857 Cob would have been reading something like the Patriot and the Flag out of Greensboro. Charleston would be a hub for modern news, too. Even if print traveled slowly into the Appalachia, we’re talking about days or weeks in delays. Out west, news was slower, but that was the whole point of the Pony Express–to speed up the pace. I just found some fascinating reads on cholera thanks to your lead. It looks like the “cholera years of the Immigrant Trails were 1849-55.” Those were the pandemic years and as many as 12,000 pioneers died. Evidently, Snow’s discovery was a message not believed or acted upon for many years (go ahead and say it: stubborn Americans). It wasn’t until 1862 that light bulbs went off in America, yet as early as the first pandemic in 1832 they understood it to be associated with water and “the poor.” Fascinating history, really. Nasty disease, though. I found some historical “cures” that are just as frightening. One suggests an enema of “chicken water.” That doesn’t sound promising. I’m still intrigued as to why Cob filled in that well and what was his reasoning. I’ll keep looking for contemporary articles that might have influenced him.

  2. It’s coming along great, Charli! I’ve never read anything like it before, it’s like the westerns I used to see on the telly when I was small – where did they go? I don’t see them any more. Perhaps I don’t look hard enough! Wouldn’t mind waking up next to the Cossack. I wake up next to 6th century popes and Ostrogothic kings at the moment. It only happens to me when I have to study the historic detail to get it across accurately as well as making it entertaining, the fictional characters don’t give me so much grief, thankfully. When I was at college and studying a course entitled “Goths, Huns & Lombards”, in which there were excerpts of the Bible translated into Gothic by a 4th century Gothic warlord called Ulfila, I actually dreamed a whole Arian mass, and as I was a devout Roman Catholic at the time it felt like the most shocking thing on earth, until I realised that it was exactly the same as the Catholic mass I listened to every week in church. I think that was when I started thinking about why I listened to it at all, and why it was supposed to be the only thing I should listen to. Ergo: education is the key to expanding your thought processes in order to start thinking for yourself. No wonder churches and governments don’t want us educated 😉 … I’m glad I’m not the only one who takes their characters into the bedreoom 🙂

    Keep up the wonderful pace and great work and
    Brightest Blessings as always,
    Tally 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, the company we keep in bed! Who says the writer’s life is boring? 🙂 That’s an amazing dream you had and how fascinating that a Gothic warlord translated the Bible! You are so right about education expanding thought process. When I was in college, I was married with three young children. Several professors cautioned me that married students often ended up divorced because of that expansion. But I have to give my family credit–they expanded with me. I got into Middle English literature and would practice reading Middle English by reading it to my children. One day my eldest daughter (who was only 7) went to my class with me and my professor jokingly asked her to read. He was blown away when she did! It was a good influence on the whole family. Churches and governments that want to shut down educating the masses do so out of wanting to remain in control. What a great irony that the Catholic Church also founded one of the greatest systems of classical education, but it was for the select, not for all. So back to the bedroom! Ha, ha, waking up with a Cossack could be interesting! When Buffalo Bill Cody expanded his Wild West show, he had a group of Cossack trick riders. And the American Army Cavalry has the Cossacks to thank for the inspiration of the McClellan saddle that was instrumental for “winning the west.” Thank you for your encouragement and blessings! Blessings in return! 🙂

  3. I always listen to my characters. I don’t enjoy moving them about like chess pieces. They tell me their story, and I write it down.

    I cannot wait to read your book, Charli. These excerpts are fantastic–what is going to happen?! O_o

    • Charli Mills says:

      You have such cooperative characters. Mine are knocking at the door at 2 am, saying,”Hey–got an idea…” I’m like, “Hickok, you’re drunk. Go home.” Not really. But they are insistent. 😀

      Oh, man…I hope I can tell this story in a way that does it justice.

  4. I immediately thought mosquitos with the worms. My grandmother used to advocate that we boil all water to get rid of the wrigglers and they gave new meaning to having a bath. Going well Charli. 🙂

    • Charli Mills says:

      Wrigglers! Evidently it was a big issue with drinking water on the trail, and I didn’t think about bathing. Although pioneers were not big on it. Historians claim that Hickok was fastidious about bathing and I believe the McCanles family would have been typical, once a week bathers. Sarah was described in many accounts as always being neat and tidy. I imagine Nancy Jane being more earthy. Thanks!

  5. Annecdotist says:

    That must be great, Charli, having your characters not only talk amongst themselves but to comment on how the plot is developing – I’ve not yet had the pleasure but something to hope for – interesting that this is a feature of my latest review of a novel about scriptwriting, you might find a kindred spirit in Nick Hornby:

    • Charli Mills says:

      As long as I don’t end up in a straight jacket, I’ll continue my meetings. 🙂 That’s a fabulous review and I like the quote you pull from the book.

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