Friday, August 14, 2015

A Writing Retreat 132 Years After Ed Watkins' Lynching

Looking east towards Salida.
The Christison and Watkins ranches were on the mountain in the center pink in the sunset.

I spent the last week at the Heart of the Rockies Campground writing a chapter of the book. Coincidentally, this was the week major events took place in the story.

Ed Watkins was lynched by a mob of masked men at the Canon City courthouse in the early morning hours of August 11, 1883. That chapter was already written. The chapter I worked on this week is when the South Park cattlemen arrived on the train in Salida two days after Ed Watkins' lynching. They had to appear in court because Ed Watkins had named several men in a lawsuit for driving away his cattle before he was killed.

Ed Watkins' friends were quick to accuse the cattlemen of the lynching and met the cattlemen at the train. A tense situation, to say the least.

My writer friend, Nancy Oswald, sent me a quote this week by A.M. Homes, "I think that in fiction you can say things and in a way be truer than you can be in real life and truer than you can be in non-fiction. There's an accuracy to fiction that people don't really talk about - an emotional accuracy."

I believe emotional accuracy is why this book evolved from nonfiction to creative nonfiction to historical fiction. It is also part of the reason this book is taking forever to write. Writing emotional accuracy is hard work in this story. Much of it is gut-wrenching. Emotions I don't want to gloss over.

So, I piece together events - the train arrived at noon and the hearing started at 2:00 p.m. What did they do for two hours? Then I write the scene thinking about the emotions based on what had already occurred in the story. How did this make them feel? How did they show it?

And now that I've read what I just wrote, I understand why my writing process takes a little longer. This week I spent two days piecing together what happened in the chapter. During those two days, I processed the events in my mind and wrote paragraphs that didn't go anywhere. But on day 3, I could write, sometimes using sentences from those paragraphs that didn't seem to go anywhere. The scene fell into place and I could write with emotional accuracy.

Knowing that the two days that seemed hopeless are really an important part of my writing process will help me. Stay in there, don't give up, the moment it all falls in place is just around the corner.

1 comment:

Nancy Oswald said...

Thanks for sharing this, Gayle. I agree that emotional accuracy can be gut wrenching at times. I'm glad the quote helped. For me the hardest thing about writing historical fiction is figuring out where you need to be accurate historically, and where story and characters need to take over. Can't wait to read your book when it's done.