A Favorite Scene

This ending scene of Chapter 1 was fun to write, and it’s always been one of my favorites. From Ed’s dumbstruck reaction to seeing Linnie Mae again, to Polly Washburn’s waggling wave — in perfect imitation of Linn’s earlier dismissal of her — I enjoyed bringing these characters together and letting them take over the page.

Writers often talk about their characters “coming to life” and this was one of those moments for me. I simply let the characters say and do what they pleased while I figuratively watched the show. Their actions and reactions were perfect.

I’d spent quite a bit of time setting Linn up by showing her snooty attitude and her disdain for Brookfield. Now, as the chapter comes to a close, it was time to knock her off her little pedestal a bit. Despite her pretentious attitude, she’s just Linnie Mae Sparks and life seems to have moved on without her just fine.

I hope you enjoyed reading this scene as much as I enjoyed writing it.

COMING UP NEXT: CHAPTER 2 BEGINS

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Well, I’ll Be Go To Hell!

“Well, I’ll be go to hell.”

This is an expression I’ve heard countless times in my life.  As I wrote the scene where Ed Ferguson first sees his lost love, Linnie Mae Sparks, after an absence of many years, the first words that came to mind were those.

“Well, I’ll be go to hell.”

I thought everyone had heard the expression. Not so, I soon learned. Apparently the expression is unique to the Midwest, which makes it perfectly acceptable for Ed Ferguson to use, since Summertime is set in rural Kansas.

But what about my readers from other parts of the country or other parts of the world? Would they understand the expression and what it means when someone says it?

My editor doubted it. Of course, the last thing any author wants to do is confuse a reader, so I was left with three choices.

  1. Stubbornly leave the dialogue exactly as written, against the advice of my editor.
  2. Remove that perplexing line and give Ed something else to say.
  3. Keep the dialogue, but offer a quick explanation for readers who weren’t familiar with the term.

I wanted to go with the first choice, but stubbornness as an author — and going against the advice of an editor — is an act that is best reserved for really important occasions.

I couldn’t take out the dialogue because the expression was perfect for Ed in that moment of time. There is truly nothing else he could possibly have said that would have more fully expressed his thoughts and feelings.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it’s an expression that conveys shock, surprise, and a range of emotions centering around disbelief. It’s used when something occurs that leaves a person all but speechless, unable to think of anything logical or meaningful to say. It is, essentially, a gut reaction to a very unexpected happening.

Originally, this is what I wrote:

Ed stopped mid-stride. He looked up, and his slate-colored eyes grew wide. “Well, I’ll be go to hell,” he said in a quiet voice.  He stood staring at her as though trying to grasp the reality of her presence there on the dust-covered streets of Brookfield.

Since I could not possibly give up that line of dialogue, I had to quickly offer a bit of an explanation, so to please my editor, I added in this little bit:

Linn winced at the quaint midwestern colloquialism. Her ears had grown accustomed to more refined speech.

I did a bit of tweaking to get to the final version of this very significant moment in the story:

Ed stopped mid-stride. He looked up, and his slate-colored eyes grew wide. “Well, I’ll be go to hell,” he said in a quiet voice.

Linn winced at the quaint midwestern colloquialism. Her ears had grown accustomed to more refined speech.

For a moment, Ed said nothing more. He just stood staring at her as though trying to grasp the reality of her presence there on the dust-covered streets of Brookfield.

All the while, I was baffled, amazed to think that not everyone had heard this common, everyday expression that comes so naturally to folks here in my part of the country. Even as I was shaking my head about it, my husband came home from work, mail in hand. He’d picked it up from the box but hadn’t looked at it yet.

The first thing he saw was a billing statement from a doctor. The bill had already been paid, but there had been a mix-up in posting the payment. My husband had called the office several times and thought the matter was straightened out. Not so. He was being billed yet again. His immediate reaction? Yep, you guessed it.

“Well, I’ll be go to hell!”

 

 

 

A Bit of History

World War I broke out on June 28, 1914, the same day on which Summertime begins. For some time, tensions in Europe had been high, and on that fateful date, Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo by a member of the Black Hand Society, a secret Serbian group. The ultimate aim of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s southernmost provinces which could then be formed into a new nation.

The “war to end all war” — as World War I was often called — does not play a significant role in Summertime. The United States, in fact, didn’t enter the war until several years later, on April 6, 1917. Yet the tension and sense of world-wide conflict forms an interesting backdrop for this love story. It is, in a sense, a statement about our ability to isolate ourselves, or, more specifically, our ability to focus more on ourselves than on others. Sometimes, like Linn Sparks, we can become so wrapped up in ourselves and our needs that we become almost oblivious to what’s going on around us.

My grandfather and his brother, Mike, both fought in France during the war. The uniformed man pictured above, however, is neither of them. He is a distant family member on my grandmother’s side. His name was August Grotjan, but beyond that, I don’t have a lot of information about him.

For me, in writing Summertime, the knowledge that war was raging in Europe while my characters were going about their lives in a little country town — laughing, loving, living — gave a special poignancy to the story, and in a way became part of a quiet, understated theme. Life is short, and we must make of it what we can.

 

The Story Behind the Story

Even though I was born years after the end of World War I, many of my childhood memories became part of Summertime.

Each time I sat down to begin a new novel, my process was always the same. I would start by “free-writing” — on no particular subject or theme — and see where my thoughts might take me.

With “Summertime”, that first rambling stream-of-consciousness writing led me back to a place called Indian Grove, a tiny little hamlet in Missouri where my grandfather’s siblings lived. I spent many summers there, usually playing with my second-cousins, Kathy and Janie. Oh, the adventures we had!

The upstairs of the huge farm house was rarely used — except when my grandfather, my sisters, and I came to visit. Most of the rooms upstairs were storage areas, filled with memorabilia from the early 20th century. World War I uniforms, clothing from the era, old furniture, old photographs, old books. It was a treasure trove for the imagination.

Kathy, Janie, my sisters, and I would often play dress up. Our favorite game was pretending we were famous singers. We would dress in fancy clothes with feathered boas around our necks, and we’d wobble across the “stage” in dangerously-high heels, putting on shows with such tunes as “Side by Side“.

Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money

Maybe we’re ragged and funny

But we’ll travel along

Singing our song

Side by side…

As my thoughts continued wandering over the page, I wrote a few words about my grandmother. She’s the beautiful young woman (second from the left) pictured in the photo displayed above.

I knew I wanted to write about the time in which she lived and fell in love. This isn’t a story about her, nor is it about my grandfather and his life. Summertime is a work of fiction, but one which draws upon my childhood memories and thoughts of what life must have been like in another time and place.

From my disjointed ramblings that day, a character emerged: Linn Sparks, a young woman who had made her dreams come true. She’d grown up on a farm very much like the farm in Indian Grove, but she’d gone on to live the life of a glamorous singer and star of the stage in San Francisco.

What if she were called home? What if she had to return to the little town where she was raised? And what if there were reasons why she never wanted to come home again?

Those were the questions playing through my mind as I began putting the storyline together for Summertime. I loved writing this book, and I hope you love reading it.

Judith – writing as Christina Cole