Books by Carol Ervin, ebook series, historical fiction, Historical Fiction Series, Kindle, main characters, writing fiction

The People in my Stories

Charlie’s eyes shifted to his brother. “Will spits ’bacca juice at me.”

“Charlie lies,” Will said.

These are the first words we hear from two young brothers in The Girl on the Mountain, the first book in my Mountain Women series. When I introduced these boys, I had no idea how they would impact the story and no intention of writing a series. In their first appearance, Will and Charlie are eleven and nine and are learning how to survive in a poor family with an abusive father and no mother. The main character, May Rose, has been charged with taking care of the family, which includes the boys’ baby sister, neglected to the point of abuse. Throughout the series, these three children grow up to be important to Winkler, the fictional town that’s the setting for each novel, but they remain secondary characters.

This, I think, is what life is like. We are the main characters of our own stories, but our lives are affected by the secondary and minor characters who make up our world. The thirteen novels in the Mountain Women Series present the lives of people in difficult circumstances who manage to carry on, driven by their own determination but also helped by the characters around them.

The main character (May Rose) is most revealed as she becomes attached to destitute children. First there’s thirteen-year-old Wanda, whom May Rose meets after being abandoned by her husband. May Rose is only a few years older than Wanda and doesn’t know how she’s going to take care of herself. Wanda is essentially homeless, the daughter of an alcoholic prostitute, but she has the confidence May Rose lacks. Throughout the series, Wanda becomes the most important secondary character (and a favorite of readers). She is also the main character of book two in the series, Cold Comfort.

I find writing a series to be easier than writing stand-alone stories because I do not have to invent many new characters and settings. Each of my stories introduces one or more new people who in some way affect the plot. Currently I’ve been reading about the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the great depression. I expect to fit the CCC into the lives of my characters in the next story.

Currently the time period of the series is 1897 to 1934. I’ve written a draft of the final book in the series, set in 1976, in which May Rose is ninety-two. That book won’t be released until I’ve filled in the years with a few others. 

Writing has been a great retirement pursuit. I enjoy the people in my stories, and it’s been gratifying to hear from readers who say they like them too. Thanks for reading!

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Amazon, drafting, historical fiction, Ideas for a New Story, main characters, revising, sequel, Starting a New Story, The Girl on the Mountain, Writing

Writing from scratch

Writing from scratch is harder than cooking from scratch, unless you’re copying someone else’s recipe. When you write from scratch, you must concoct the ingredients, too.

The first ingredient of The Girl on the Mountain grew from my dream about a poor child huddled in bushes at the door of a privileged home. An open carriage stopped at the door and a man pulled his children roughly to the ground. One child fell, and the small girl rushed from hiding to help her. The story, I thought when I woke up, might be about the poor girl and the privileged children who’d just lost their mother.

I pursued that idea, looked at pictures of carriages, imagined scenes for the child, created her history, and considered where and when the story might take place.  Eventually everything changed: I didn’t use the bush scene, reduced the children and their father to minor characters, made the poor girl a lot older, and forgot about the carriage.

Before reaching that point, I’d recorded even the least promising idea in my messy spiral notebook and the better-organized OneNote Notebook, part of Microsoft Office, sometimes waking at night and scribbling a note in the dark.

I thought a lot about the main character and possible bumps in her road, and tested ideas in brief scenes.  In a OneNote section labeled “Problems,” I created a page of “Character Problems” and one of “Author Problems.”  Author Problems included things like “Why would she be in that place at that time?”

My OneNote research section grew to 49 pages. There I also pasted pictures, thanks to Internet, of period features like decorative iron gates and primitive washing machines, and copied words to a Fanny Crosby hymn and quotes from Longfellow’s Evangeline.  I did not use most of my research, including descriptions of glove-making and instructions for cleaning a slop jar.  Images from the period were very helpful. One of my characters reacts to this beautiful engraving from an old edition of Evangeline, depicting Acadians forced from their homeland:

Researching more than I needed for the story made me comfortable with the culture of a logging town in 1899 and aware of influences on my characters, including what they read.

My current project continues the story of Wanda and Will from The Girl on the Mountain, so I’m not writing this one completely from scratch.#

character change, main characters, sequel, sidekick, The Girl on the Mountain, Writing

Wanda, the sidekick who nearly stole the show

When I was told several times that my main character’s sidekick was stealing the show, I decided to make her the main character of the next story.  In the first one (The Girl on the Mountain) Wanda is 13, abused and homeless, but resilient, wise, and strong-willed.  In that story she’s a contrast to the older, somewhat naive main character (May Rose), who gives her a home and is inspired by her.

I like starting a new project with a character I know so well.  But almost immediately I’m confronted by the problem of maturity and change.  The new story takes place fifteen years later, and rough little Wanda has become a rough grownup. 

As an adult, Wanda can continue to be independent and outspoken.  Those traits can help as well as hinder the accomplishment of her goals in the new story.  But she can’t retain the reactions of a child, or she will be neither loved nor a good main character.  I’m also wondering if her ungrammatical speech will make her less acceptable as a grown-up main character.  People do tend to associate ungrammatical speech with ignorance–not an accurate association, but true of our prejudices.

So help me out.  What do you know of “rough” main characters, especially female ones?  Main characters with poor speech?  What makes them lovable?