About the book I’m writing, I apologize that you haven’t heard from me since late January. Problem was, though, I got myself involved in the Family History Writing Challenge, which asked me to pledge how much I would write daily. Since I’m a fast writer, I signed up for 500 words a day. No problem writing that many words a day, but I did struggle with acquiring the needed research for the exercise.
By the end of February, I compiled 28 different scenes for the book. However, the research still isn’t complete; and I’m sure I’ll have to rewrite every one of those scenes.
Also, each morning I received an email with suggestions on how to proceed. These emails were entitled, for example, “How to Find Your Focus”, “Creating Your Authentic Ancestor”, and “How to Begin Your Story: A Checklist”. These emails were like workbook pages, and I was unable to go through the exercises that quickly. So this past month I’ve been going back to each of these emails and filling out the information. This exercise has been so helpful.
One of the exercises required some thought into the process of naming the book. It strongly encouraged picking out a name, even if I plan to change it in the future. So I picked out a temporary name. I chose this name because Mary came to Florida from the South Carolina low country southwest of Charleston near the Little Salkhatchee River. South Carolina is also known as the palmetto state. The family moved to Jefferson County in Florida and settled west of the Aucilla River, an area where palmettos grow thick, especially on the river’s flood plain. They arrived there around 1828, so they were Florida pioneers. From here on I will refer to the book as the “Palmetto Pioneers”.Hopefully, I will do better at keeping everyone posted more often.
Below is another scene from the book–a first draft. First, though, here is a little information to give a little setting.
One reason I chose Mary for my main character was because of her station in life, which changed dramatically when she married. As mentioned earlier, she was raised the daughter of a South Carolina/Florida planter/cattleman. Her family settled in the wilderness in eastern Jefferson County. She had lived in Florida since she was six years old.
Mary married, though, the son of a Washington, DC merchant. William Andrews had joined the army with his friend Robert Gamble when they were both in their earlier 20s. Robert Gamble and William first came to Florida to fight Indians in the 1820s, but they went back to Washington, DC/Baltimore, married and later returned to Florida with their families to settle.
William’s spouse died and left him with four children. That is when he married Mary, whose family lived nearby. Mary and William’s first years were spent living near her father, but by the mid 1850s they had moved into Monticello where William became a sheriff of Jefferson County.
Below is a scene from when they lived in Monticello. We know that they lived near the Cuthbert’s house which was next door to the Episcopal church. Today, the Cuthbert’s house is the house where the attorney Mike Reichman used to practice law. It is still standing.
The scene is a first draft, and it is meant to reflect the differences in the ladies, including Mary and her guests. Robert Gamble’s wife Letitia and her niece Laura come to visit Mary. Laura’s complaints are authentically hers. In real life she kept a diary, and this is what she thought of the area. Here is how it goes.
Mary listened to Laura Randall complain and kept silent. She couldn’t quite understand why the woman was so unhappy. “Mary, I don’t know how you and your family stood it all those years. The mosquitoes scarcely retire in the morning before the yellow flies begin. This is certainly the country for studying entomology. There is an infinite variety of insects.”
Laura Randall was wearing a gown of lilac cotton trimmed in burgandy. It was beautiful, and Mary had never seen one so beautiful up so close. No one from where she lived out in the country dressed like this. She knew that Laura’s father was federal Attorney General William Wirt and that Laura’s family was from Baltimore.
All of this was so new and so very interesting. All the talk from William about these big cities and their beautiful buildings. The information spun around in her head like the setting of a fairy tale, and yet here was one of the fairy tale princesses sitting right here in her living room.
Mary looked around her and was immediately embarrassed. Her living room was sparsely appointed with four wooden chairs, a fireplace, a desk where William worked at home and a small table where she kept her sewing. In one corner was a weave, and on the floor was a new woven rug that she had made herself. Laura was obviously used to much better than this, and yet this was so much roomier and better than what Mary was used to having.
Laura continued “and there is not a piece of rope to be had in this place, but what we really need is a tavern. Just yesterday five men rode up to our door and gave their horses to the servant as if he were an hostler of an Inn. Then they walked right in to breakfast, which was just ready; and we had to make room at the table.”
She shook her head and added, “They had all stayed the night before at Colonel Gadsden’s, riding up at nine o’clock just when the family was going to bed. I really think our neighborhood would do well to support a tavern for these intruders.”
Letitia Gamble added, “I thought a lot of that had stopped. I guess we are too far off the main road now.” Letitia, as if she knew what was on Mary’s mind said, “I do remember though how hard it was in those early days after we first arrived. The house at Welaunee was a double log cabin, daubed with mud and surrounded by dead trees. We finally replaced it moving farther away from the road, and though this land was difficult at first, we finally learned to adapt. Robert was certainly never disappointed. He loved it from the first time he laid eyes on it.”
Then Laura said, “Well, I have to admit that it finally grew on me, too. I do love my garden, and thank goodness we started butchering cattle and hogs and learned to share with others so the meat never spoils. This seems to always put good meat on the table.”
Mary remembered what William had told her about these families, that they were all raised high on the hog, and they didn’t seem to know what to do or how to live in such difficult surroundings. Laura added, “I even learned how to make beer, thanks to you Aunt Letitia.”
Letitia said, “I guess if there is one good thing about this country, it is that it made us all realize the importance of sharing and taking care of each another. One can afford to be an individualist when one is wealthy and live near the finer things of life, but out here with only ourselves and nature, it is an entirely different situation. One must learn to share and to rely on others.”
Laura was looking off in the distance. “Laura, a penney for your thoughts?” said Mary.
Laura looked back at her Aunt Letitia. “Do you remember when I had to nurse your Cecily.” Letitia smiled at her neice, “I sure do.”
She turned to Mary, “That was something unheard of where we’re from, but now we know that it is a commonplace thing down here.” I was depending on a milch cow to feed Cicily, and Laura was visiting. Well, anyway, that afternoon we discovered that the milk supply had spoiled, and Cicily was screaming and wouldn’t stop. Laura, here, just said, ‘Give me Cicily’, and she disappeared. The crying stopped. I knew right then that this country was going to be totally different from anything we had ever witnessed.”
Laura added, “The last time I went to visit mama in Baltimore, we had to take along two milk goats to help me nurse Jonathan. Those goats sure didn’t like that ship and the bleating was horrible.”
So there you have a brief scene from the book. It will change a lot over the next few weeks. The transitions from one person to the other need a lot of rewriting, which will help the reader follow who is talking. Each of these characters will be fleshed out so one gets a better picture of what they look like and how they are expected to act.