Today is December 3, and I’ve just spent all of November writing a novel for NaNoWriMo – 30 days and 51,139 words of historical fiction.
The first day was probably the most difficult for me because I dove right into a period that I’m not familiar with, and an occupation I have no personal experience with, and a culture I’m uncertain of, too.
Day 1 took me two and a half hours to write 1,680 words first thing in the morning. Shoot, that was hard!
I’d attended a webinar shortly before embarking on this writing journey, and I heard the author say that the story would take on a life of its own. I found that to be true. I thought my story would focus on one character – Edoardo Columbo, fire boss at Coal Mine Number 9 in Roslyn, Washington, but as I wrote, I felt more deeply connected to his wife and son and two other characters.
The story I’d intended to write didn’t happen in this batch of more than 50,000 words. I couldn’t take the story there without first developing the characters, the time period, and the Italian heritage of this immigrant family.
I’d planned to write a story that takes place here in Newcastle, Washington, with its rich coal mining history during the late 1800s. But in researching my story, I spent some time in Roslyn, 78 miles away. I went with my friend Cathy on a warm September day. We visited the Roslyn Museum and saw a lot of coal mining artifacts and machinery, mining tools, and household items.
One piece of machinery was called the Electric Mule, an electric locomotive used in the mines to pull the coal cars to the main slope. The cars were then attached to a cable from the side entries and pulled to the surface by a hoist. Details like this helped bring my fictional story to life. Seeing the actual machines and taking pictures last fall was one important thing I think I did right.
While at the museum, I snapped this picture of lace samples, which came in handy when I decided to make Edoardo’s wife Maria a seamstress. It was convenient to pull images like this to spur my imagination and write creative descriptions as she made her dresses.
I also bought this book, Images of America: Roslyn, at one of the shops. The book is full of pictures and names of places, such as the Jensen Cabin, where my historical family lives, and the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, where they worship. Having a map of the town to write about Edoardo’s walk to the mines each day came in handy, too.
Cathy and I took our time walking through the bustling small town. We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant, visited shops, and bought ice cream cones before visiting Roslyn’s 26 historic cemeteries. The cemeteries span 19 acres of wooded hills covered in whispering pines.
I had several weeks to make an outline and highlight some of the critical elements of my story before starting to write on November 1. I did three extensive character sketches for my three main characters – Edoardo, Maria, and Marco Columbo, from Rossana, Italy. But as I started writing, I could see they had an established life in Roslyn. They had a good life there until tragedy struck. They lost their cabin in a fire, which drove them to move in with Edoardo’s friend Antonio and his father Giuseppe, who live in an apartment downtown. They spend several months there until the story’s climax, which will move them to Newcastle. That will be book #2.
My book is at present a perfect first draft, and it’ll rest this month. So will I. In January, I will start editing and filling in the holes that I’ve noted as I wrote. It was a wild ride, and I’m so glad I did it. It got my creative juices flowing and gave me something to look forward to each day. With any luck, you’ll see this book published in 2022.