I seem to be losing time. My weekly blog post is no longer weekly because I sometimes find myself hard pressed to come up with a subject. And, as I mentioned in the too-long-ago last post, time is flying by. I’ll look up and another week or month has passed, and I wonder where it went. If that’s not bad enough, I’m working on my historical novel, Lone Star Lady and I seem to get lost in time even more so than normal. I wrote it more years ago than I care to remember, and by today’s standards, it is way too long. Easy solution, right? Split into two books, with the possibility of a three-book series, the last one set during the Civil War. Well…yes and no.
My mother, who was probably the best seamstress in the history of the world, loved to sew. (And, btw, I might have slightly exaggerated her talents, but she was very good, as I’ve also mentioned before.) At any rate, she took in sewing when we were children, and that occasionally entailed tailoring a garment. She was never prone to swearing, but I would imagine she did just that during several of her tailoring jobs. Just never where we could hear her. I have a kitchen towel that reads, “I love Jesus, but I cuss a little.” (Which might possibly be an understatement.) I didn’t inherit my mother’s puritanical personality, but I might have inherited my father’s potty mouth. Or perhaps 40+ years with the Air Force caused that. But mom would readily complain how hard it was to redo something instead of making it from scratch.
I can relate. Which is why the historical “splitting” is by no means easy to do. I spend most of my time going to the etymology online website to check if a word I want to write was used in 1859, the timeframe for book one. Simple things I take for granted, like y’all, yep, gotta and similar everyday Texas words. None of those, incidentally, were around in 1859. When I initially wrote it, neither was easy access to word origins. And, to my chagrin, in redoing the book, I’ve discovered exactly how crappy a writer I was back then, contrary to what my mother thought. Lone Star Lady was her favorite book of all I’d written before her death. It was (and still is) also my favorite, although neither of us, back then, knew how bad a writer I was. (Thank you, Jen and Cora, for making me SO very much better!!)
So that brings us to the present, where I’ve spent the last month or so rewriting, editing, splitting, etc., my novel into a series. About halfway through yet another pass on the book, I decided to take a break and read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Why? That’s a fair question and my reasoning was I’d have a better handle on how they talked back in 1852, when Stowe published it. And since my historic timeline covers roughly the same period, and I do have slavery in my novel, it seemed a logical choice. I honestly thought I’d already read it and could use the refresher, but it didn’t take too long for me to realize I hadn’t.
I definitely would not put Stowe into the category of “great writer” if I was basing my decision solely on writing style. She is confusing at times. And she has a tendency to name her characters the same name. After finishing the book, I finally realize why Cora kept telling me I couldn’t name every character Mary. A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but point well taken. Too many Toms and Georges from Stowe muddied the waters and made me do a lot of backtracking to find out who was who. I did figure out why my previous writing style was what it was. Too many years of reading the classics, which don’t follow today’s norm for authors. It really hadn’t dawned on me until I read Stowe’s novel how much I had gleaned about writing from the “old masters” and how much it had affected my style.
Writing style aside, I can honestly say no book has ever gripped and held me like this one. And on my Kindle app, it’s 610 pages, which is a long time to read anything. Even as fast as I read it took a few days, although, in my defense, a goodly portion of time was spent backing up. She over-describes her characters, which initially was a little annoying, but in the long run, I became one with the characters and felt every indignity, slight, or hurt they did.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything where I cared so much about characters I’d tear up, hoping that what was about to happen didn’t, even if I knew better. That’s what Harriet Beecher Stowe did…she made me care. It’s not all that difficult for me to get involved in another world when I’m reading, but I have never had a book touch me as much as this one did. It hurts you to your very core and I find it hard to believe any author has the capability to do that as well as her.
Why? Is it because we all know how horrible slavery was, or because we now know the outcome of the Civil War which Harriet didn’t even envision in 1852, or because some of the characters have a childlike, faithful love and dependence on God we can only aspire to? I don’t know. But I do know this. Few characters in literature have been subjected to as much pain and degradation as Uncle Tom, but he seldom wavered in his steadfast loyalty to God. And when he did? It was fleeting and Uncle Tom would once again turn his attention to the only thing that mattered. In other words, he kept his eye on the prize, knowing full well there was nothing on earth that could be horrendous enough for him to give up on God and Tom’s belief in a better life to come.
If you’ve never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, please do so. Fair warning: Keep a box of Kleenex or Puffs handy because you’ll probably need it. Read with an open mind and open heart. If you do, I can almost guarantee you’ll come to the end a better person and a better Christian for having done so. For me, it stopped being about my own novel and started being about hers. And I finished it with tears in my eyes, a hurt in my soul, and a deeper love for my Heavenly Father.