how mighty is the pen!

Ain't it the truth. After three days of splashing with this story, too scared to plunge in, trying to be content with dabbling, wading, and finally letting the water lap at my hips, I think finally I'm ready to dive in.
Why are we so scared of starting? What is it that keeps us from snapping on that bathing cap, flinging off the bathrobe that covers our snazzy new suit, and stepping onto the high dive, deep breath, shoulders back, and head held high?

Perhaps we realize how mighty is the pen, how powerful is our story, and know, at least subconsciously, how it will transform us as we commit to put it to paper. Or song. Or canvas. Or dance.
Every book in the Aurora County trilogy was cathartic for me to write. I didn't know they would be, when I wrote them. I just wrote a story and later discovered that Love, Ruby Lavender helped me get in touch with my childhood Mississippi summers and the sense of loss I felt as I left childhood behind.

Each Little Bird That Sings helped me come to terms with a time of great grief and loss in my adult life, and begin to laugh again. The Aurora County All-Stars allowed me to explore the idea that everything is connected, that we are all part of one another, and it gave me a chance to write about civil rights in a way that felt safe to me (Oy, a writer should be safe? This is a topic for another time!), and in doing so it served as a precursor to The Sixties Trilogy, which is decidedly not "safe" territory.
Then, I began Fallout, book one of The Sixties Trilogy. I was unprepared for how autobiographical this book would be. I didn't try to make it biographical, but the story had a mind of its own, and it mapped my interior in such a way that I felt naked writing it and, often, wrung inside out.

The story itself -- the outside story -- is total fiction. But who Franny is, and how she sees herself and the world, and what happens to her heart and mind during the course of the book -- that is an autobiography of my childhood years.

It took such courage (or idiocy) for me to stay at the page as I wrote Fallout, for I could see how mighty is the pen, and how being as honest as I could be with my writing laid me open and raw and vulnerable. But I was compelled to tell this story -- I kept going. And, just as I did with Little Bird, eventually I began laughing. And understanding.
Writing this story made me stronger. So much stronger. I am just beginning to get a glimpse of this. Just as Little Bird healed my broken heart, Fallout has given me compassionate ways to look at my childhood self, to be gentle with her, to laugh with her, and to understand... sometimes in ways I don't want to understand, but still.

It's complicated, and hard to put into words. Mostly, I just wrote a story. Really. ("Just.") The subconscious stuff that happens is just that -- subconscious. I don't really know what's going on there until I can stand back, take a breath, and take a look.

It has been hard to approach 1966, book two, with the knowledge I have of how book one turned me inside out. So I have been tip-toeing in the water, digging my toes into the sand, holding on as the tiny ripples from the big waves wash over my feet on the shore.

Soon I will wade out deeper. This first five days of October has been for paying attention and getting started. How have I gotten started?
I've revisited my first long-ago draft, and have begun to type it into a new document, revising as I go, getting insights as I go, making notes about these insights (using track changes this time -- I am in total mad love with track changes -- what a change, eh?).

I'm also tweaking a family tree. I created it almost fifteen years ago. My understanding of this family has grown in that time, so a good amount of my writing time each day has been devoted to visiting with my very large cast of characters for this book -- the largest cast I've ever assembled -- and remembering who they are and how they serve (and might come to serve) this story. This is the only book I have created a family tree for, and I may never do it again, but for this book it is perfect.
I have also downloaded a play list for the novel. With Fallout, I put together the playlist last, although I listened to songs from the late fifties and early sixties (none after 1962) as I revised. I will make an official playlist for HTM when I'm done with this novel, but I wanted the songs from 1966 to be playing in my head as I wrote, so I listen to them as I do dishes and other tasks around the house (is this writing? :>)

It also helps me, when I'm doing intense emotional work (which writing often is for me) to get out of the house and go somewhere else for even an hour. I've been walking every day. Then, yesterday Jim and I drove into the North Carolina mountains looking for inspiration.

We found it at the John C. Campbell Folk School's Fall Festival in Brasstown, N.C. We were surrounded by stories all day long and into the evening, as we met up with friends for supper at their home in the mountains.
For an entire day, the noise of 1966 and book two of The Sixties Trilogy took a distant seat in my conscious mind and instead of tending it, I basked in the beauty of a fall Georgia mountain day, my beautiful husband, our beautiful friends, and the beauty of having stories told TO me, instead of BY me.

Stories in song, dance, weaving, painting, potting, smithing, caning... there was even a beans and cornbread story yesterday. And a sousaphone! You knew I'd have to bring you a sousaphone story. That's a pretty battered sousaphone, above, eh? Wonder what's its story?
Today is for writing again. Time to wade in... maybe to my shoulders. Oh how mighty is the pen, the story. Indeed.

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