Friday, May 27, 2011

Trailer - Part IV

Dialect - Part III

Once I had the plot in place, it was time to put words in the characters mouths. That presented all sorts of problems. First, I have not immersed myself in the letters/diaries/newspapers of the day to even come close to approximating the speech of the time period. Secondly, these were mountain characters and I wanted them to sound Mountain. So, I made the goal of not having them sound Civil War Era, but to simply sound like Yancey County -- to the best of my abilities.

But heavens knows my abilities are limited. (Shoot. I was a high school English teacher from the Midwest!) I don't sound the least bit mountain, though I always pay attention to language. (Like how folks in Yancey County say "I've not..." rather than "I haven't..." I love that!) I really like the idioms, new words, and speech patterns of the mountains, but I wasn't sure I could get it right. In fact, I'm still not sure I got it right. (Fortunately several of the cast are from here and they have helped immeasurably, even calling their mothers and mamaws to make sure I've got it right.)

To begin, I read Horace Kephart's chapter on Mountain Dialect and wrote down words that I thought were awesome (like golmed and slaunchwise) that I absolutely had to use. Then I watched several YouTube videos that exemplified speech patterns and accents (one with playwright Gary Carden). And then, I'll confess, I would go out to eat all by myself at 'Lil Smoky's in town and just listen to the oldtimers talk to each other of a morning. Then, maybe, I'd hear it in my head long enough that I could go home and write.

As much as I know "writing in dialect" is not the best, you would truly lose one of the great things about Yancey County if you would perform this play without the Mountain lilt and twang. So I wrote it like I heard it, and later went back and cleaned up and standardized some of the spellings. Like fire is spelled fire, though everyone from hear knows to call it far. And flour is spelled flour, though the cast says it correctly as flar. But I did keep kilt and ruint spelled as such.

The longer I live here, the more turns of phrase I could incorporate. So would I rewrite it yet again? The short answer is: I wouldn't care to. And if you're from Yancey, you know that means I would be more than happy to do so.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Super Photo for the Play

Such a great press photo. They've totally captured their characters.

Researching the Play - Part II

I have the great fortune of being friends with Charles F. Price, a historical fiction novelist, who wrote a distinguished series of four novels set in Western North Carolina during the Civil War and Reconstruction. While his books are fiction, he researches meticulously, obsessively so that he is certain he has got it as close to right as possible. The dialog, the structure of the novel, and some of the characters are imagined, but the setting, the historical context, and locations are all grounded in solid research.

As not only a friend, but a mentor, there was no way I could look him in the eye if I wrote a play that grossly distorted the documented facts. So I needed to be sure I knew what those facts were. Fortunately, he was also a great resource and photocopied from his own personal library several passages that aided greatly in my research.

Two of the historians most helpful to me are well known in WNC region and in Yancey County: Dr. Lloyd Bailey (editor of the series Heritage of the Toe River Valley) and Michael Hardy (a reenactor for 28 years and author of a wealth of books on the Civil War). Plus Michael Hardy keeps up a fantastic blog full of information and musings that I found fascinating. Now whether these two actually approve of the play remains to be seen. I will not speak for them. I'm simply saying I read their work in an effort to be accurate and took inspiration from it.

I did confess to Michael that I'd written a romantic comedy about the Civil War, but I'd put no actual historical figures on stage. He deservedly called me "chicken." But I didn't want to misrepresent a real person. I simply wanted to take what I found as a fascinating chain of events and make the
history entertaining. I wanted it to come to life in an enjoyable, memorable way and for those strong women to live again, however briefly, even if it was just on stage. No one knows their names, but their blood still runs in these families here in Yancey County. Being a mother is tough work (if you're going to do it right), and I guess I hoped to prove to all of us here, we've got what it takes to do it.

Resources Used in Writing the Play:

“A Female Raid” Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, North Carolina), Monday, March 23, 1863. Accessed from Learn NC website. <>.

Audio Excerpts : The Homefront: Hardships of War” North Carolina Museum of History. 2005. Web. .

Bailey, Lloyd. The Heritage of the Toe River Valley: Volume II. Lloyd Richard Bailey, 1997.

Bumgarner, Matthew. Kirk’s Raiders: a notorious band of scoundrels and thieves. Piedmont Press, 2000.

Hardy, Michael C. The Ca. 1849 McElroy House: A Glimpse of Yancey County, North Carolina's History. Donning Company Publishers, 2004.

Kephart, Horace. Our Southern Highlanders. Outing Publishing Company, 1913.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I. Vol. 53. Supplement. Serial No. 111. Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1995.

Trotter, William R. Bushwhackers: The Civil War in North Carolina (Volume II: The Mountains). John F. Blair, 1988.

Yearns, W. Buck. North Carolina Civil War Documentary. University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writing the Play - Part I

In the fall of 2009, I got to create a panel for the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival which featured Alan Gratz (author of several YA novels including Fantasy Baseball) and Susan Woodring (author of Traveling Disease). I knew both of them were parents, and as the moderator of the panel (who at that point had only published a handful of poems), I wanted to badger them about how they did it: wrote and parented young, still-underfoot children. Turns out that we all have daughters the same age, and while there is only one Gratz child and two Woodrings, both of the writers were primary caregivers and home-schooled. WHAT!?! And they have published books?

This is where I play my "but I have twins too" card.

But I came away from that with the sense that what they had (that I was missing -- besides a published book) were editors & agents--folks who gave them deadlines to meet. I needed deadlines and someone to be accountable to.

So, I struck up a conversation with the guy who had an office right next to my writing office. The guy happened to be Andrew Gall, artistic director of the Parkway Playhouse. Writing a play is something I'd never done, but it seemed like an interesting experiment: how do you write ONLY DIALOG to reveal character and action? This was, perhaps, how I was going to create artificial deadlines and get myself an editor.

"I was thinking..." I ventured hesitantly into the conversation, "that if I wrote a one-act play, could you maybe read it and tell me what you think? If you have time." After all, he does run a theater company, direct plays, teach at the community college and have young children.

His reply was prompt: "Don't mess around writing a one-act play. Write a whole play."

What?! I began pulling excuses from any and everywhere. "But I've never written a play before!" I declared.

"Here," he said fishing through his bookshelf and pulling out a copy of Blake Snyder's Save the Cat. "I use this when I teach. It'll tell you everything you need to know and help you figure out the pacing."

"But I don't even know what to write about!" I continued. You would think that I hadn't started this conversation and asked for this very thing.

"I do," he returned. "You know this whole 'Battle of Burnsville' thing the reenactors do every April? I think it was really a bunch of women stealing sugar. Look that up."

I did and he was wrong. They actually stole wheat. But the sparse history of the event sparked my imagination.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Trouble & Goals Reached

So, the day after I decide to get back to regular posts, Blogger is down. Ha!

This weekend I completed several goals by running the BFF 5K. The first goal it met was last year's New Year's resolution to run 2 5Ks in the course of a year. So, even though it's only 1/2 way through the year, I've run two. The first was the Shamrock 5K when I finished with a time of 29:50 meeting my usual goal of "under 30." This time, however, since I was running another race on the heels of the Shamrock, I decided that (barring injury or terrible weather) I should try to get closer to 29 than 30. Which I did! 29:14.

The bummer was that I got passed by someone in my age group right at the very end. Otherwise I would have finished first in my age-group. But no. She beat me by 2 seconds, and I'll tell you, I did not have it in me to sprint with her to the finish line. I probably could have, but I was not going to puke at the end. My kids, my husband, my pastor and one of my best friends were all there and I was not, NOT, going to create that lasting memory for everyone.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Wow. Since February?

Guess I'd better break the ice. I just kept putting it off... but I think now I'll make the goal to post something, even tiny, every day for a week.

The big news at our property has to do with our hen who sat on 7 eggs and hatched 7 chicks that are all still alive a week and half later! There are four which we believe will be colored like the mama, two pale yellow ones and one little penguin. In an effort to break our own hearts, we have already begun naming them (Cleopatra, Penguino, Miss Mini...). We can't seem to help it. Maybe it's the poet in me that wants to name things, and then, once they're named, I feel more deeply about them. It's dangerous. And wonderful. I can spend so much time watching them peep about, running their tiny beaks through their new feathers, tipping their heads up to let water fall down their little throats, imitating their mother by scratching their feet across the ground before pecking at a bit of food, flapping their stubs of wings to help them regain their balance or jump up on a fallen log...
They're probably all roosters.