It was a sign,
a gift from the gods, even, like the Coke bottle in the movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy." It was deposited by flood waters in the understory of tall trees down by the river, and I was on a daily dog walk, kicking around ideas for a novel I'd been wanting to write, but it would be a historical, set in the Old West, and that means research. Lots of details and accuracy required. Why did it have to be set in the Old West, with a young woman put on a train with orders to send her to the end of the line, though she didn't hear that. (And "omnisicent narrator" is verboten, and Point of View violation is even more forbidden.) So I despaired of ever writing this novel, and didn't know the heroine's name anyway, nor the title, and those are things that usually come first for me. Or did, back then, This was 2003.
Glinting in the light, a brown glass bottle caught my eye. Lo and behold, spelled out in old fashioned cursive were the words
in the dirt, in the woods, near the river, in a remote location, much like the one my heroine would find herself in after waking up from a very long train ride -- not at a station, meeting her intended, but in the wilderness, where she had been left for dead. A dog has awakened her, has saved her life, in fact, and she...
Yes. As a matter of fact, the story I never wrote gets recycled in my mind, and anyone who's read me before will recognize my NaNoWriMo story, re-set in Germany in the era of Napoleon, which is even worse for me in terms of historical accuracy and knowledge that I don't have and might never acquire.
On this particular glass bottle, the name of the winemaker, Pleasant Valley, was also remarkable because that was the name of the church I grew up in from infancy. What more could I have asked for in the way of signs and omens? Um...
I wanted a muse. I wanted the story to come flowing from my fingertips to the keyboard. Epic characters: the young priest, the Sioux warrior, the Army scout, the men who'd come and go in this heroine's life, and the trajectory of her cynicism and distrust of all men, all women, all creatures except the dog who saved her, and a horse, and--
Ah. The reason I never wrote this is manifesting itself now. I knew the dog would have to die, brutally, violently, needlessly. The Sioux ritual of the dog on the hill at sunset so horrified me, I just couldn't go there, couldn't watch my heroine come to despise the natives for their ritual, couldn't watch the natives exterminated by the Army (and the scout, the tall sandy-haired man on horseback), couldn't walk with the heroine over the battlefield soaked in the blood of people she'd trusted and loved, then hated, then saw exterminated, and now she loved them again only to mourn them.
A really sad part of the glass bottle story
is that it was not broken when I found it. I should have treasured this thing, kept it safe in a revered place in the house, becaues it appeared to me like a sign from the gods that I should write this novel. But I didn't write it. I stashed the bottle in the garage, where it got tipped over and broken.
What a metaphor.
The girl on the train became the title of a best-selling novel more than ten years after my own girl on a train got dumped and left for dead in the woods by the river.
Various scenes unfolded in my head as I walked our dogs, Blaise and Bailey, to the river and through the woods and over wetlands and meadows. Both dogs are now dead. Prince and Bear walk with me now.
The ending of this "Great Western" has been vivid in my mind for years, but I have never answered the call to write it.
Maybe if I tackle it as a short story or novella, not a novel, I can do this thing. The past year of freewrites and short stories has transformed me. As I read novels, I think "Too long. Too many details. Cut to the chase." I used to like long novels. Used to prefer novels to short stories. Now I'm thinking Less Is More. Maybe a series of vignettes would do it.
No. This saga of the American Frontier is doomed to be as long as the Lonesome Dove trilogy that inspired it, and I am daunted, and disheartened, and horrified at the atrocities my heroine will make me witness.
I have walked through Brownsville, Nebraska, knowing this has to be the town "at the end of the line," at least when the story opens. Brownville was a thriving oasis in the prairie, with beautiful Italianite mansions and hilly streets near the river, where a steamboat is still parked on the bank near the bridge.
Tthe Transcontinental Railroad went through Omaha, a little cow town, which in turn left Brownsville a sad, sorry little cow town in Nowhere, Nebraska.
I have written other heroines left for dead in the woods, but revived and ready to uncover the sordid truth of who tried to kill her and why. Somehow, The Great Western (which is, naturally, the name of a railroad!) is too painful for me to write, even after nearly 20 years of kicking it around in my mind.
Or maybe I'm just lazy.
Or maybe someone has kidnapped my Muse, who is battered and barely conscious and waiting for me to revive her...