Last week I wrote about the power a good book has to transport you to another time, another place. The author has to find just the right words to pull you into their world, make you care so deeply for the characters that it is near impossible to put the book down. That’s my goal.
In my novel, “Mary Bishop”, Earl and Mary move north from Virginia after the Civil War hoping to replace all their pain and loss with a new life in Wisconsin. Instead, when the people of Deer Creek learn the Bishop’s son died fighting for the Confederacy a campaign of harassment begins that leads to Earl’s suicide, leaving Mary alone to fight the on-going hatred while learning to open her heart to the possibility of a new love.
The book opens with Earl’s funeral:
If anyone in town looked up from their business that November morning they would have seen the distant black silhouette of a wagon moving slowly along the hill’s crest. They would have shaken their heads and said, with a slight smile, there goes Mary Bishop, off to bury her husband. Then they would have turned back to their day without a second thought. This I, Mary Bishop, know.
The undertaker drives the team while Reverend Elias Clark sits quietly next to him. I sit straight-backed on a bench next to Earl’s casket, my hands folded over the Bible on my lap. An icy wind cuts across the hilltops and through the pines standing dark against the sky, releasing the last of the leaves to fall and crunch beneath our wheels. It bites at my cheeks, makes my eyes water, loosens the hair I pinned so carefully beneath my hat.
I do not look away. I do not try to shelter myself from the coming storm. Instead, I welcome the numbness that spreads slowly but steadily to my core, as I imagine it must have spread through Earl as he swung limp from that rope he’d thrown over the barn rafter.
Leaving me alone to cut him down. Leaving me alone to drag his lifeless body into the house. Leaving me alone to wash and dress him for burial. Leaving me alone to ride into town and inform the Reverend of his sin. Leaving me alone.
In the second chapter I take the reader back to when Mary first meets Earl. She’s a young girl of twelve and he’s the new boy in town, just fourteen:
I stretched out as still as a stick in the tall grass, flat on my stomach, and pressed my chin as close to the ground as I could. My cap slipped off my head to hang from one braid but I didn’t mind. I wanted to see the world from the viewpoint of the ants, the spiders, the beetles. I watched as they scaled clumps of dirt barely big enough for me to feel beneath my bare feet as if those clumps were great mountains. I held my breath when a bumble bee flew past my head, lightly brushing my ear, stopping to inspect one clover flower after another in search of something sweet….
Footsteps approached, legs swishing through the grass. It was probably one of my brothers, either Harlan or George, sent to find me and I wasn’t ready to go home yet. He stopped in front of me. All I could see were bare feet and legs wet and muddy half way up the calf to the cuff of his rolled up trousers. I smelled fish.
“What do we have here?” he asked. “Some kind of snake or over-sized beetle bug?”
It wasn’t George or Harlan. It was someone I’d never seen before. From where I lay the sun formed a halo around his unruly curls, the color of roasted chestnuts at Christmas. A string of dripping wet fish hung from one hand; the other held his pole balanced over his shoulder. I had to squint to make out his face through the glare, but he was undoubtedly the cutest boy I’d ever seen.
“Better close your mouth if you don’t want bugs to crawl in.” He plopped down beside me, laying his catch and pole on the ground next to him.
It’s up to you, Reader, to decide if I’ve succeeded.