Coffee for Wrimos: Weekend Edition

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 17, 2014

I’m a story-catcher.

This idea first came to me when I watched the movie, The Songcatcher, about a female music professor who goes into Appalachia to collect the mountain folk music of the region.  I realized that not only do I tell stories, but I recognize and collect them.

A caught story has to be processed to be retold. Otherwise we are just repeating a story. How do we make a caught story our own? Invite it inside, let it distill and pour it into your words with your emotions and elucidation.

While I am a writer and not a musician, I look to songcatchers to understand the creative spirit of collection. Emmylou Harris is one of my favorite songcatchers. She’s described as a “discoverer and interpreter of other artists’ songs.” Yet she gives the songs back to us with a clarity of meaning.

A story-catcher strives to achieve the same. To take the story and expose its deepest core, to reveal its hidden meaning. And so I am dreaming of such things as I write, listening to Emmylou.

Days 14 & 15 word count: 3,690

Thought for Days 14 & 15:

To live a creative life we must first lose the fear of being wrong. ~ Joseph Chilton Pearce

This is true of our writing. To find the creative heart of our story, we must write with a willingness to be wrong. Editing is about clarity and correctness; writing is about the creativity.

Excerpt From Rock Creek:

Sally walked out on the porch with Lizzie in a full cry. “I’m sorry, I just can’t seem to calm her.”

No one could seem to calm Lizzie. Born blue, she was fussier than Mary’s previous babies. Yet she grew to be a strong and hefty baby. Although a girl, she took after the big bones of her father. Her hair was blond in that early McCanles way like summer-wheat that would one day turn as dark as molasses. Only Julius had Mary’s black hair and only Lizzie her bright blue eyes.

“Here, I’ll take her.” Lizzie laid her head on Mary’s shoulder. She was over a year old and strong, but she still did not walk and she didn’t vocalize in the same way Mary recalled her boys babbling by this time, testing vocal cords. It didn’t help that Cob avoided even looking at his own daughter. Not that he ever had much to do with the boys as babies. It might just be Lizzie’s constant fussing. God knows Mary grew tired of it at times and was grateful when Sally came over, although she dearly missed Julia. In a recent letter, Julia invited Mary to stay through the fall harvest. It was tempting.

“Who’s that riding up the way?” Sally looked with her hand shading the afternoon sun.

Mary recognized her father and her brother Adam. She sighed and stayed on the porch.Her brother waved as they approached, but neither man got off his horse.

“Hello, Father, Adam.”

The men nodded. Adam asked, “Cob around?”

“No. He rode off to tend to business.”

“Games, more like,” said Joseph.

“Point is, Father, he’s not here.” Mary continued to sway slightly and she hoped by the sound of Lizzie’s breathing, she had finally nodded off.

“The Whigs have no more power. Their short-lived ideas for economic expansion are short-lived and Cob is going to have to decide where he stands. With or without his neighbors.” Adam leaned forward on his horse, saddle leather creaking.

Before Mary could tell her brother to move along, Sally spoke up. “My husband Leroy backs the Constitutional Unionists and stresses the importance of this nation standing together in unity, just like neighbors.”

“That’s my point. We need to stand together and be a part of the secession that’s coming.”

“No. Secession is not unity.” Sally had her hands on her hips, but she had no idea of the ire she was going to raise out of her Greene kin. Already Joseph was raising a finger to drive home more points.

“Father, enough,” said Mary.

“I haven’t yet spoken a word, Daughter.”

“I know. And that’s enough. We aren’t going to discuss politics with you.”

“You better stand on the right side, Daughter or you might get mowed over. I didn’t raise any Tories.”

“I’m no Tory!” Sally looked ready to race down the stairs and take on both Greenes.

“Enough! Cob is not here and we’re not interested in barking with you over the politics of the day. Do you want to be civil and stay for supper?”

“No, we need to be on our way. But you better mind your sides, Sister.” The two men rode off and Mary let out her breath.

Sally stomped her booted foot on the porch. “Why can’t men listen to reason?”

“You’re hanging around the few educated men in this region, Sally. I understand that James and his sons believe in economic development for Watauga as much as for the tidewater places. But lots a folks around here see that as interference. They don’t trust it. Even Cob said, the Whig party is through.”

“Yes, but James believes…”

“With what James believes he had better scoot himself over the other side of the mountain because it’s not what everyone else believes. And I wouldn’t trust my brothers if it comes down to fighting like they are doing in Missouri.”

“Then why must we go out there?” Sally looked like a frightened deer.

“West doesn’t mean Missouri. West means beyond.”

“I miss Leroy. I hope he’s home soon.”

“I’m sorry, Sally, I don’t mean to get you worked up into a fret. Cob received a letter from Leroy. It seemed promising. Good land, good water. Cob wants to know more about economic prospects. Was his letter to you hopeful?”

“I suppose. It sounds lonely and vast out west.”

“Well, it beats being among people and feeling like you live with enemies.”


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  1. anastasiabetts

    It’s so great! I loved this excerpt. Thank you for sharing!

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for reading!

  2. Let's CUT the Crap!

    Intrigue is alive and well. Great reading. <3

    • Charli Mills

      It had to have been a difficult time, leading up to the Civil War. I think of how nasty political fighting can get within one’s own family. Imagine building up those tensions to the point where families fought on opposing sides of the battle ground! Thanks for reading!

      • Let's CUT the Crap!

        You are welcome. You make an excellent point. We see that kind of opposition in families over lesser things, never mind politics or war.

      • Charli Mills

        At one point in the research, I nearly wept when I realized that 3 of Mary’s brothers fought for the Confederacy (2 died) and 10 of her Greene nephews fought for the Confederacy (6 died). On the McCanles side, 5 of her nephews fought for the Union (all survived) and all the McCanles men refrained from fighting but moved out of North Carolina. The women called it the “Awful War.”

  3. TanGental

    I love Ms Harris and on OGWT too which was compulsory viewing back in the 70s if I was lucky enough that my parents were out and I had the TV to myself. Not a chance I watched it with them at home.
    Really interesting how the politics of the time are going to cause the family rifts that one hears about. And how the women folk stand up to the men. You can feel the power in the scene, the underlying tensions and pressure cooker atmosphere.
    Can I make a small suggestion? I know this is for the future but you may want to look at some of the dialogue here. I just have the sense that one or two bits feel a little forced – more like speechifying than passionate words spoken. I guess they might be quoting form the papers but they didn’t seen a real as the rest. You’ll know of course.
    Still loving how the pieces are falling, Charli 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I’m listening to Emmylou right now…

      Actually, Geoff, I’m glad you said something because my gut is that this scene doesn’t do what it is supposed to. I’m trying to just get it out, knowing the tensions I’m trying to create and the firestorm that is coming and the ultimate gun fight that has more to do with the women than previously understood. Only, I don’t quite know “how” to achieve this, so I’m writing blindly in hopes of getting a nugget or two. So when you say it feels forced, that’s a nugget; it’s knowledge for me to fix one way or another.

      My plan of attack is to go through all the raw edits and make a list of questions and find the answers. So write then back to researching then write again. God, I hope this works.

      • TanGental

        Course it will because the basic premise is so sound. I know we all want and need constructive criticism but there’s a time an place and while you’re trying to churn out the scenes, me sticking in my fourpenneth might not help. Happy to wait until you ask me to be your beta reader if that’s what you prefer!! Did I say that? Naughty. Ignore me!!

      • Charli Mills

        I’d be thrilled if you wanted to beta read! Like thrilled with a capital “T”!

  4. stephanie710

    Loved the excerpt, and now I am going to poke around on your blog. Great writing, my friend. Keep going!! 🙂

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