In my recent interview with author, Liz Adair, I said that HAWKINS LANE began with the image I woke with, one morning, of a child in a wooded lane sensing that the trees had taken everything up into their boughs, leaving the lane untouched.
Images are not stories, but they raise a host of unanswered questions. Who is the child? Where? What had the trees swept up? Where is her family? My writers’ friends who struggled through early drafts know that the story once started with those questions. I named the child Bonnie and felt her aloneness. Her father, a forest ranger, has refused to take her along on his tour of the upland camps; her once-upon-a-time loving mother is no more. She has changed radically. The child has seen something in the lane that has terrified her and she runs away. What?
It’s not so unusual to begin a story with a final scene, but I always assumed the author who made such a decision already knew the answer to that question. I didn’t. Nor did I know the father and mother or how the family came to this. I had an isolated family in the mountains—the Cascades—and a husband and wife to whom something tragic had happened, terrifying the child.
As soon as I began to create Ned, I recognized him. I don’t, and won’t, analyze why that is, for I’ve learned such analysis can tie Ned to some real person in my past and chain the story. He is who he is, no one else. He’s part of an isolated mountain family and he is haunted by its past—a murder’s son. He’s a fatalist, resigned to his fate. Until he meets a woman on a mountain stream.
Now I know it’s a love story. As I create Erica, and again, I know her, I know Ned will reject her as inaccessible to his social class. He’s not for her. But it’s clear they both love the mountains, and the mountains become the unifying theme—their overwhelming presence not only shapes their lives, but gives perspective to their trials.
Now the story has legs and moves without me. The characters have enough substance to come alive and act. The creation of secondary characters is just plain fun. I love them. They seem to bounce into existence full blown, language and all, carrying histories. I think they come so easily because they don’t carry the responsibility for the story and no one asks whether they are autobiographical. They are free spirits.
The story of the child has now been left behind, and early efforts to keep it as a prologue didn’t work. The story isn’t the child’s now; it’s her parents, but the questions remain. What happened in the lane and how did Ned and Erica come to the point where their child runs away in terror?
So it is a love headed for trouble. Theirs is a deep love and their love of the mountains gives it purpose. They rescue each other, and their sense of owing their lives to each other is both the beauty and the hazard, for their fear of losing each other triggers Ned’s sense of inevitable doom and Erica’s rebellion—traits born of their pasts. Both of them begin to react in ways I know spell trouble. In Erica’s case, I stopped writing for a week or so because I wanted to stop her and knew doing so would collapse the story. An author may interfere—a cardinal rule of storytelling. So I didn’t return to the book until I could let her do what she was going to do, and it led to situations I did not plan and didn’t know how she would emerge. She had to work herself out of them.
And so we arrive at the mother much changed, the frightened child, and the father who took off without her for the upper camps. How the characters arrived there without my direction is a mystery; in some way that initial destination held, drawing them toward it. Perhaps those original images have a greater power than we know. The story could have wandered off somewhere else. It didn’t, and the fact that it was faithful to that image gives a jolt of satisfaction. My first writing coach argued that a good story will hold up under revision, and I suspect that initial image gives a form that holds. For I assure you, this story has had more than its share of revising.
As my critique group will attest, I changed the order of the telling over and over then finally, still dissatisfied, I put it on the back burner while I worked on Home Fires. When I returned to it I went back to the order of the first draft, settling for an opening that was slower than i liked. Still frustrated, I described my problem to writer friend, Patricia Bloom, who instantly provided me with the opening. The message? The creation of story is a very personal act, but its completion depends on others–thank heavens for writer and reader friends.
For the answer to that initial question—what happened in the lane—you’ll have to read the book.