NaNoReViSo Revelation

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 10, 2015

It’s Monday morning, 1 a.m. so technically, I think it’s Tuesday. But I have had a huge breakthrough, the one I needed. A mighty big THANK YOU to Geoff Le Pard who took time from his Nantholgy to review my research dilemma and explain it in clear terms that made sense. Not only did it make sense, but it led to a revelation.

Two secretes held by Sarah Shull — who shot Cobb McCanles and why was Cobb accused of absconding with taxpayer’s money in North Carolina. They both were intelligent. In fact, that’s the basis of their attraction. Mary was beautiful, a fine cook and loving mother and Cobb adored her, but he couldn’t resist his wicked urges or ambitions of the mind and body around Sarah.

The revelation is that the duo repeated their deed scheme in Nebraska. It’s been there all along in the documents and histories. No one has seen it for what it is. I even felt sorry for Cobb, thinking he kept selling land or bridges or wagons and having to collect them and sell them again to someone who would pay in full. But what if he never intended for anyone to pay in full? Geoff set off my realization when he said Cobb, as sheriff in North Carolina, would have kept the deeds in his dealings. So many historians have written about his selling terms which included…him keeping the deed. He’d get some money out of each buyer, but retain the deed and sell again to someone else. And all the while, Sarah kept his books.

I revised a scene tonight and feel like I have the right tone between the two. While this is a big breakthrough, revision continues to be daunting. Irene Waters said something last week about a page and a half a day; 179 to go! And I thought, that’s why this feels so intimidating — the mind only sees a mountain to climb when all we can do is muster a step or two, but have to reach the peak in an impossible stretch. To all fellow writers in edits and revisions and new drafts, stay the course!

And here’s a bonus scene from  today’s revisions:

KATE SHELL by Charli Mills

“You need to go by another name.” Sarah McCanles, Leroy’s pinch-faced wife cleared the evening meal.

Sarah slowly rose to help and calmly replied, “My name is Sarah, too.”

“Leroy, honestly, it’s confusing, two Sarah’s living here and working in the store.” When Sarah McCandles’s voice pitched to the volume of a whine, Leroy grabbed a jug and indicated with a toss of his head to Cobb that they should go out on the front porch.

Sarah envied the men their retirement to the cool evening air. “Do you ever go by another name? Like Sally?”

The other woman frowned, creating creases in her forehead. “Sally. That’s for old ladies. My mother had an Aunt Sally. Oh, do please change your name!”

After the dinner dishes were washed and dried, Leroy’s wife shuffled the two little ones off to bed and Sarah slipped outside. Cobb made room for her on the rough hewed bench. Leroy leaned against the post, staring out into the darkness. “Mountains, that direction,” he said.

“Pining for mountains again, Brother?” Cobb pulled back on the jug and took a long swig.

Leroy turned around and noticed Sarah. “Ah, it’s Sare-Bear.”

“Sare-Bear?” Sarah smiled at the silly name.

Cobb looked at her, his eyes slightly glazed. Liquor or lust. “How about Bare Sarah?”

She poked him in the ribs. “Behave, Mr. McCanles.”

“I’m behaving,” said Leroy.

Sarah shook her head. If ever two brothers had matching mirthful grins, it was this pair when in each other’s company. Too much whiskey though and they were trouble.

“Kate!” Leroy’s wife stepped outside and all three turned perplexed looks her direction.

“Who’s Kate, Wife?”

“She is,” pointing at Sarah.

Cobb chuckled low in his chest. “You were a bonnie Scot in disguise all this time.”

“I don’t think so. No one seems to be confused. Traders respectfully call you Mrs. Leroy McCanles, and they call me Sarah.”

“I hate that! My name ain’t Leroy! You can be Kate and they can call me Sarah. Kate Shell. That’s your name and I’m going to tell everyone it is, that’s all there is to it.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, woman!”

Everyone turned to look at Leroy who seemed more surprised than any at what he just said. His wife, eyes wide and filling with tears, screeched and ran back into the cabin. Coyotes across the flat responded with yips.

“Leroy, there’s a reason our father always said never swear in front of the women folk. You might be sleeping in the barn tonight.”

Sarah covered her face with palms to hide her want to laugh.

“Damn it. I—” Leroy looked sideways at Sarah. “Sorry.”

Sarah couldn’t hold back and laughed loud.

Leroy reached for the jug, but Cobb held it back. “Think you had enough, already.” He joined Sarah in laughing. Leroy headed to the barn, muttering and a few words Sarah could distinctly detect as swearing.

Cobb walked her across the dark yard to the back of the stone structure that would be the post office soon. She stepped through the door and turned to face him, leaning against the frame. “Come in?”

He breathed deep like a man smelling dogwood blossoms. “Best get home to Mary.”

Sarah nodded.

“Hey.” Cobb reached for her hand.

It felt small, gripped in his larger one. “Yes?” Her voice was breathy and inwardly she said a few of Leroy’s choice words.

“I’m thinking of selling the toll-bridge.” He kissed the palm of her hand.

“I wondered when we might get around to such.” She smiled like a real mistress.If she couldn’t have Cobb in her bed, she could have his clever ambitions to plan and hide.

“Think of some terms. Goodnight, Rosebud.”

Terms. Yes, there would be terms. Down payment. Deed, of course, she’d keep that filed. Difficult terms to meet. The new owners would never really own it. He who has the deed…it was her comforting thought as she readied for bed. Kate Shell. Maybe she could take an alias. No matter. Folk would be slow to catch on in this Territory. Rumors seeped out of North Carolina, but no one really understood how Cobb made off with the cold hard cash and left the bondsmen bickering over land deeds. It would take Weith years to sort it all out. Before turning down the covers she lightly tapped her fingers on the leather ledger.

No one knew Cobb like she did.


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  1. Ula

    Charli, something must be in the air. I had a breakthrough last night, and even though this second draft is taking longer than I had planned I feel more confident going forward. Congratulations on your revelation. Every day is another step closer, no matter how small.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s like peeling back layers. I’m so glad you had a breakthrough, yet I also understand how the next draft takes longer than planned. Keep taking a step every day.

  2. A. E. Robson

    Ahhh, Charli. How wonderful for both you and Ula to be able to move the words towards their final destination.

    Congratulations on the breakthrough.

    • Charli Mills

      Oh, except that I look up and it feels like the finish line moved farther away. Thanks!

  3. TanGental

    Hi Charli; glad it helped and glad it makes a kind of sense as well. As with so many historic matters where the records are sparse, the beauty of the (hopefully educated) guess work is in coming to a plausible conclusion that fits the personalities and times. It is a wonderful extract too, full of richness and depth.

    • Charli Mills

      A kind of sense…am I on the right track here, is this plausible? It definitely enriches their relationship and lets me be more detailed than, “she went to bed dreaming Cobb’s inventory in tidy columns.”

      • TanGental

        Yes I think you can see some sort of scam involving property deeds maybe multiple sales and the equivalent of money laundering hiding Ill gotten gains in real estate.

  4. Sherri

    So happy for your breakthrough Charli, yay for Geoff 🙂 And I really enjoyed your extract, the way you bring your characters to life and how, as you press through with your research you’re able to mine ever deeper for those truths. Love this: ‘She smiled like a real mistress.’ Keep going, one page at a time and thanks for the encouragement 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      Well, today I felt like I was in a coal mine with my sticky dough. 🙂 Now I’m wondering how this will shift things. Thank you!

      • Sherri

        Ouch…hope the shift isn’t too drastic. Hopefully some downtime will ease you in… <3

      • Charli Mills

        After downtime I had some clarity…scary…exciting…but I see a clearer story arc.

  5. Norah

    You might be in a coal mine but there’s light, and air, at the end of the tunnel and the canary is about to sing! Charli I loved this post and it is exciting to know that Geoff was able to help you attain some clarity. This next episode helps flesh out the characters even more, and demonstrates the bond of conspiracy that kept Cobb and Sarah together. What an amazing story you are breathing into the words of your book.

    • Charli Mills

      I told Geoff he can uncorked a bottle of bubbly in my brain! That led to more research, but very focused because now I knew what I was looking for. The air cleared today, the canary sang, but I cut half my novel! It’s okay. I know what I’m going to do instead. I don’t think they were as devious as this scene reads, but they certainly connected as Sarah mistress of Cobb’s accounts. Together, they would see his plans to fruition.

      • Norah

        Half your novel!!!!!! Charli!!!!! But it sounds like it’s for a good reason: a better story. But what a courageous thing to do. Reminds me of Stephen King’s advice to “kill your darlings”. Sometimes it a difficult thing to do.

      • Charli Mills

        It helped the focus and the story arc so much to cut it! And I came up with an idea for all my North Carolina research so in a way, i lost half a novel, but gained much in return.

  6. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Thanks be to Geoff and it sounds like you are not only on the right track but possibily have made a real breakthrough. I really enjoyed your little teaser from your revisions. The word Fuck was the only thing that made me sit back and wonder whether that was a swear word in those days. A little research and I discovered to my amazement that it was first used around 1390 and its modern usage went back to the mid l900s and has remained stable since then. Well you live and learn. I’m glad the canary is singing for you.

    • Charli Mills

      Ha! I actually have a book called, “Wicked Words.” It’s one that has been around a long time and combined with other words to create rhyme, assonance or wordplay. Having grown up between ranches and logging camps, I was acutely aware of the different way men spoke in groups compared to how they spoke at home or in mixed company. As a child in such a culture, one is relatively invisible so when out among the men I heard their second language and to this day it still fascinates me. I also had a mother and a grandmother who swore and then acted embarrassed afterwards. You might say I have a fascination with swearing and its use. I don’t agree with arbitrarily using it or using it just to create shock in writing, but here I was trying to show that slippage that occurs between the sub-cultures of men (in this case the frontiersmen who were a boisterous lot and having an influence on Leroy). I’m also setting up that Leroy’s marriage was ill-suited. In real-life, after his brother died Leroy found a mistress and had several children with her. He built a big home for his wife and one for his mistress next door. I think he may have used that expression often. 😀

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        I was a sheltered naive child I think as I thought the word probably came into its modern use in the sixties. Certainly I can remember hearing people say “don’t say that there are women around.” The trouble was I couldn’t have been listening too closely because I never heard was said. That book would be very interesting.
        Can you imagine having them live next door (I guess you do) and I agree it is probably a word he used constantly. 🙂

      • Charli Mills

        I do imagine that! Future story, perhaps!

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