All tagged how to write fiction

“1847 … that’s when it began,” my elderly Irish-born pastor replied, when I told him that my ancestors immigrated to America from Eire because of the potato famine. After Palm Sunday mass, Monsignor had come into the parish hall and sat down where I was having coffee and doughnuts. Somehow, the conversation led to the greatest tragedy in the history of his homeland.

“Genocide,” he then quietly commented. “That year—1847—saw the most abundant wheat harvest ever. But the English exported it—to feed the British army, and they deliberately left the Irish field workers to either starve or emigrate. The only crop the workers had been allowed to grow in their little gardens was potatoes. But that year, the potatoes turned black and the vines died.  Our island’s population went from eight million to one million. … Genocide. … Tragedy.”

“But Father, good came from it,” I told him. “… at least for my family. … Romance: My famine-exiled great-grandparents met on the boat to New York, fell in love and married as soon as they landed. … So for me, tragedy and romance go together. … I’m writing a novel about it.”

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I’m different. I don’t want my memories to die with me. When someone I have known dies, part of my sorrow is that most of their memories have died with them. Most people don’t leave behind, when they leave this world, long diaries or extended memoirs or annotated albums of photographs or audio-videos or carefully-crafted CDs of their lives. And after a few years, even what memories they have left behind are stored in a box and stuck in a closet somewhere, and forgotten. Their memories died with them, in effect. I don’t want that to happen in my case.

So I write novels—historical novels, which are really my own history; romantic fantasies, which are the romances I lived or wish I had lived; tragedies, which entail the sad things that have happened to me or to my loved ones during my life.

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For the novels in my series, Once Upon a Time in the Texas Panhandle, I invented a town named “Mackenzie,” after Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie. In retrospect, I think a better name would have been “Leetown,” after Gen. Robert E. Lee. Underlying my stories is the idea that in the decades after the American Civil War, bands of ex-Confederate soldiers and their families established new towns across the Texas Panhandle that would continue the values and ideals of the “Old South” and the “Southern Way of Life.”

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The first thing that happens when I begin to write is that one of the characters wakes up in the morning with something in mind to do. I know what that character plans to do, but life is not like that. We all make plans, but we never know what is going to happen—whether we will get to carry out our plans. And my characters—they set out to go somewhere, do something, see somebody. But they don’t really know what is going to happen. They hope it happens the way they have planned, but that’s not life.

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