Well, that was a bit of a bust, at least in the strictest sense. I did not finish Pretty Boy in 30 days. I got the introduction locked down and mapped out the first six chapters, but once I started to move forward I quickly realized that speed-writing was not going to work for Pretty Boy unless I made an absolute mess of it.
Now, that’s apparently the point of Nanowrimo: just write and clean up later. What that plan fails to recognize is that if you can’t move forward because you don’t know if your main character has an indoor toilet or an outhouse, there’s simply no moving forward.
This method worked fantastically for other genres I play in that don’t require one to spend 30 minutes staring at the cursor while wondering if the main character needs to go outdoors to use the toilet. I blazed through multiple novellas and short stories. But when I tried to apply the same method to Pretty Boy, I ultimately got frustrated and wandered off to play video games.
Lesson learned, which was a part of this experiment to begin with. Some books just can’t be written in 30 days and that’s OK. Every book is different, and if I can write one in a week while it takes me three months to get to chapter five in another, that’s just how it goes. Rather than worry about it and beat myself up, I’m just rolling with it.
I can be a little manic about the health of my car. If it so much as sneezes, I’m thrown into a panic. Whereas I’d have to be near death’s door to actually drag myself to the doctor, I fuss over my little Kia and will drop everything to make sure it’s in near-perfect health. My car takes me to work, to play, to holiday, but most importantly it takes me off the main arteries to unassuming little places I find myself obsessed with finding.
This year, the theme was trains stations. It stemmed from the sequel to Shadows May Fall, Pretty Boy, opening in a train station in the early 1920s. All totaled, I visited five former train stations in rural communities, and at the end of the day they make up the fictional Port Croft train station where Charlie Gaston first spies the girl of his dreams.
The Antigonish station is currently the Antigonish Heritage Museum, which is more beautiful inside than it is out. The Tatamagouche station is currently an inn, and I stayed in one of the cabooses for the night and ate in the dining car — highly recommended for both — and it was here I was really able to get a feel for what it might have been like waiting for the last train on a rainy summer evening. The Pugwash station, now a library, had a busier feel to it, like it was the heart of the town, and was the only station I visited where the tracks hadn’t been turned into a trail — these tracks went right to the salt mine on the opposite side of the Pugwash Basin.
The Elmira station in Prince Edward Island was the only museum dedicated to the rail service, which was a little comforting to know that I’m not the only dork who drives an hour to the middle of nowhere to look at a train station. Their display was so massive I found myself taking pictures of it all so I could read it all at a later date, and it was really easy to just stand there and picture it as a working station. The “ladies waiting room” gave me a bit of a chuckle — I kept thinking of the station master in Anne of Green Gables asking Anne if she’s rather wait there, setting her off on a tangent about
I found my last station purely by accident — driving to PEI, I passed the visitor information centre in Cape Tormentine, where the ferry had been located before the Confederation Bridge was built, and I just thought to myself that the place looked like it might have been a train station at one point. I googled it once I was settled into my motel, and on my way back I stopped for a good look.
Though quiet now, Cape Tormentine struck me as the sort of place that had been busy most of the day back when the ferry and the station had been there. I’d like to have a look at this place when it’s open, but the day was gorgeous and just walking around by myself was still a pretty good experience. The trail went right to where the old ferry had been, which had a pretty serene view of the Confederation Bridge (ferry-goers have to cross over in Caribou, Nova Scotia these days.)
Overall, it was an interesting trip, but it wasn’t just about seeing with my own eyes the places that make up the next book. With Shadows May Fall, it was hit and miss on that front — I couldn’t see places that just weren’t there anymore, and it’s hard to tell if Halifax has retained any of the atmosphere it had in the early part of the 19th Century (though, aside from the reluctance to change with the times vs the desperation to stay relevant, I have a feeling that at least the attitude is the same) so I relied heavily on old photos and descriptions from those alive during that time. For Pretty Boy, the location isn’t real but is an amalgamation of smaller towns. I can pick and choose what I want and what I need, but at the same time you have to be aware of the social history that structures like old train stations bring with them – jobs, migration, local resources, prejudices, politics, and so on, even if I never mention these things in the books.
A bit of info on me: I enrolled in university as a high school drop out back in 2001. This was prompted by a work study I did in tourism, during which I had to give a presentation to the whole school on something tourist-like. I picked the Halifax Explosion because a) it was a subject I knew a lot about, and b) I was actually taking the work-study course in a building that had been affected by the blast — actually, Charlie’s school in Shadows May Fall. I had ten minutes to talk. I took thirty. People I didn’t even know came up to me afterward to chat about what I had told them and tell me that they had family members who had died to had been here or there during the disaster. After which, the coordinator of the course pulled me into her office and asked me if I had ever thought of going to university and going into public history.
Long story short, I went to university and got my degree. Sadly, not in history. I couldn’t find an adviser who was willing to champion my interests and the nearest public history course was halfway across the country, so I graduated with a degree in English and went to work.
I’m still a history geek, which is how I sat down to write Shadows May Fall and can happily research its sequels. This is the time period I was interested in studying — early 20th century when the new technology was phones and cars and fancy appliances. I grew up listening to stories my grandmother (who very heavily influenced the character of Dorothy) and grandfather told me, so the period is quite vivid in my head and will creep into the third and fourth books planned for the series.
Being a history geek who has delved into writing history, I can squirm with delight when I see something like this:
Oct 11 1916: 85th Battalion (NS Highlanders) departs Camp Aldershot, NS for Halifax & boards SS Olympic for trans-Atlantic voyage. pic.twitter.com/6tjQBFCJPd
Ian’s Battalion from Shadows May Fall. Literally 100 years ago today in the timeline of the book, my main character was left alone to shoulder the burden of keeping her family together. It gives me a bit of a shiver, because stepping away from the fictional world it makes me stop and think about all the real women who had their worlds uprooted when their fathers, husbands and sons boarded that ship and went away, and all the young men who had no idea whether they’d ever set foot on Canadian soil again.