Coffee for WriMos: Day Ten

Written by Charli Mills

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

November 12, 2014

Experience what your characters are experiencing.

Unless you are killing off characters. Don’t do that. But like a method actor, crawl inside the experience you are writing. You can do this physically–today we drove up the Pack River one last time because the mountains are filling up with snow and soon we’ll need a snowmobile for the Pack. It was cold and I knew I was working on this chill that Sarah gets so I let myself get cold and thought about Sarah. I came home and wrote 2,500 chilly words.

You can also do this vicariously. Never have we had so many incredible resources so readily available to us as writers. I found photos of the Robbins Hotel from the time period when Sarah had returned to North Carolina. It wasn’t the hotel that struck me with ideas, but the fact that the hills had been strip-logged. Vicariously, I stepped into that photo and let Sarah’s character inform me what it was like to see her childhood home so greatly altered.

Music sets a tone for an era. I’ve been listening to Appalachian music, fiddles and ballads. Last night I found a 1930s radio show that told the story of the 1850s pioneers and had music in the background of the story. Isn’t it amazing what we get to experience as we have this glorious time to free write?

Thought for Day Ten:

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ~Ray Bradbury

Word Count: 2,549

Excerpt From Rock Creek:

“Watch your step, Sarah. It’s crumbly, this rocky trail.”

“Oh, yes.” Sarah looked down at her battered leather boots. These weren’t her boots. That’s right; they belonged to a great grand-nephew or another. Her family begrudgingly provided for her as basically as they could.

Once down the hill, Sarah warmed up in Mrs. Williams’ kitchen. She liked Mrs. Williams, Jesse’s mother. Sarah tried tucking her boy-boots beneath her chair, desperately wishing that her dress were longer. Mrs. Williams looked neat and tidy, her dress ironed, her collar crisp. Sarah always kept herself neat and tidy, but she couldn’t seem to remember where she put her hair pins. ”I’m so sorry. My hair is undone.”

Mrs. Williams smiled and fetched a brush and a tin of hair pins. “Sarah, you have such beautiful thick hair. All snowy white.” She carefully brushed Sarah’s hair. “What color was it, dear?”

“Chestnut brown.” That’s what Cob called it. Like the color of a chestnut horse. But it was Mary’s black, inky locks, her pale skin carefully kept from the sun and her blue eyes that were darker than hers that Cob preferred. Sarah’s eyes were more periwinkle, and Mary’s indigo. She felt like she was washed out in Mary’s shadow. He danced with her that night. By the following February, Cob married 15-year old Mary Greene. He was just 19 and Sarah was only 13, nothing worthy of notice. By the time he was 21, Cob was elected the first sheriff of Watauga County, North Carolina. The Sheriff rode his blood bay Captain everywhere. Sarah still watched him and listened for the pounding hooves. It wasn’t until she was 22 that Sarah caught his attention.

Pinning her hair carefully, Mrs. Williams patted the bun and said, “Done. It’s so thick, even now. I’m sure it was beautiful, all chestnut brown.” She smiled down at Sarah.

Voices from the porch announced Jesse had returned with Luna. Sarah stiffened. Mrs. Williams told her to wait and left the kitchen.

“She wants to be in her cabin.” Sarah could tell by the tone that it was Luna speaking.

Mrs.Williams kept her voice low and even. “That’s not a cabin, it’s a dirty shack and not fit for habitation. Especially in this cold.

“I know your family means well, but you are butting into my family’s business. Aunt Sarah was offered a room in our home and she refused it.”

Sarah heard Jesse ask, “The pantry?”

Luna would not like that she told. She didn’t mean to. Jesse was a clever girl and asked so many questions that Sarah had difficulty keeping track of her answers. Some things she wasn’t to tell. Blood in her hair? She didn’t tell them about the blood in her hair, did she?

“It’s the largest room we have available and the cot fit in there just fine.”

“Well, we have a lovely guest room and we will even take on the expenses of caring for Sarah. When is the last time she’s seen a doctor?”

“Old woman’s healthy as a horse. And no need. She’s our kin and you’d be setting tongues to wagging if you took her in.”

“She has a birthday coming up. She and Jesse share a birthday, you know. She’s going to be 98. She should see a doctor and be kept warm and comfortable.”

“You’re after her money. Well, you can’t have it. She’ll remember where she buried it. By the cabin and that’s our property so don’t be nosing up the mountain with shovels.”

Sarah couldn’t remember the money. Luna kept asking her about it. Threatened to twist her arm even, if she didn’t tell. She had no money. If she had money she would have never returned to this place where the Shulls and the Greenes never forgot her sin.

The kitchen door flung open. It was Luna standing in the door frame, frowning. “Get up, Aunt Sarah. We have a room at the hotel for you.”

Sarah got up and followed Luna out the door. Why was Jesse crying and hugging her mother? She didn’t hear Luna say anything mean. But Luna did have a saber for a tongue. Sarah thanked Mrs. Williams. Did she eat dinner? She couldn’t remember. She followed Luna back to the Robbins Hotel. Instead of going inside, Luna led her to the shed. It was dark but Sarah could see a bed in the back. A chair and a table, too. And there were a few more of those military blankets. How did the soldiers keep warm with those?

“You stay inside. Use the employee bathroom. You do remember where it is?”

Sarah nodded, and sat down on the bed.

“You can eat when we bring you food from the kitchen. Do not go looking for food. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“You are not to speak to guests, nor wander the property. Remember, you are a blemish on our good family name. Do not embarrass us further.”

Sarah looked down at her hands on her lap. Those hands looked so old. Cob never lived long enough to have old hands. Neither did Hickok. They both had fast hands and died young. Sarah always did have slow hands.

“When you are ready to tell us where you buried the silver, you can have a a room in the hotel.” Luna smiled an ugly smile. “Because then you would have the money to pay for it.”

“What silver?”

“You stupid old fool! The silver Cob stole from the good people here.” Luna turned and slammed the shed door.

So long ago, Cob sold Captain so they could leave. Sarah carefully pulled out her hair pins and set them on the floor by her bed. She laid down and began to shiver again.

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15 Comments

  1. Sarah Brentyn

    I love the idea of experiencing what your characters are experiencing–of you stepping inside a photo and listening to the music she would have listened to. Great excerpt and word count today!

    • Amber Prince

      I am voting to officially name Sarah our NaNo cheerleader. 🙂 I hope she doesn’t mind….

      • Charli Mills

        I second it so it is done! 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      LOL, I even wrapped my head in a scarf and took an “old-fashioned” selfie. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Jeanne Lombardo

    Yes, wonderful writing tip today. Loved the research aspect. And wonderful illustrations of what is at hand for the taking…music! How evocative. You are really pushing ahead.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s amazing what we have available! Thanks!

  3. Let's CUT the Crap!

    You are making wonderful progress and I am enjoying looking over your shoulder. 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for looking over my shoulder. 🙂

      • Let's CUT the Crap!

        I’ll try not to breath so I don’t disturb the writing…. 😮

      • Charli Mills

        Just bring me a cup of coffee when you join me! 😀

  4. Sherri

    This is a very powerful excerpt Charli, really tugged at my heartstrings for Sarah’s last days on earth. Your introductions and thoughts for the day inspire me with with my memoir writing (although I have been lax on that of late which is not a good thing) but your ability to watch the plot unfold and experience Sarah and her surroundings vicariously through her eyes is inspirational. I am attempting to do that with myself as I watch the scene set and the story unfold through my 19 – 21 year old eyes and that of my American G.I. I too find listening to music from the era helps greatly, which I do on my walks and then sit down to write in silence. I am jumping back from the late 1970s in my story to the 1850s in yours…and somewhere I am trying to live in the middle 😮 So I love your Ray Bradbury quote which says it all…great writing Charli, you are doing wonderfully well 🙂
    PS I hope you got my email…I have been having troubles with my server. Let me know if you didn’t and I’ll resend it. I wasn’t able to get to the flash challenge yesterday due to getting my Armistice Day post up, but I hoped to be able to post a ‘quick flash’ so to speak over in your comment box. Alas, I just couldn’t do it. Next time 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      You are all over the timeline, Sherri! That music will be grounding for your writing, though. Focus on your memoir. If the flash feels like a break, take it. If not, don’t worry. No obligations! 😉 Keep writing, Sherri! And yes, I did get your email. Thank you!

      • Sherri

        Yes, I am. No wonder my head is spinning! Thanks again Charli…reply heading out your way 🙂

  5. Annecdotist

    Wonderful how you’re ploughing ahead with your story, Charli. Writers often identify the Internet as a distraction from writing but it’s so full of resources we can draw on to breathe life into our words. Don’t know how previous generations (Oops, that includes me!) managed without it

    • Charli Mills

      The internet is like having a big library! I think the challenge is monitoring all that information available and to focus on the things that feed us. I think it becomes a distraction when we feed at the wrong feeds online! 🙂 I know what I did before–microfiche, basement libraries of museums, telephone calls!

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