Saturday, May 2, 2009

My Personal Thoughts as a Writer (Part 3)

by Tom Mach
© 2009 by Tom Mach

If you’re a novelist, you may know what I’m talking about when I say sometimes there’s a character and a story that you absolutely must write about. It happened to me when I moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Although I am a Civil War buff of sorts, I had no knowledge about a man named William Quantrill who, in 1863, rode through this town and killed almost 200 men and boys, innocent civilians. Quantrill’s gang of ruffians looted liquor stores, robbed safes, and killed people who just happened to be there. I imagined it to be a horrible sight. One evening, as I lay in bed, I had a vision of sorts of a woman named Jessica Radford who was a young woman about 19 or 20 who was fiercely independent and survived the Quantrill raid. This woman came alive to me. I could see her face, saw how she carried herself, heard how she talked, felt the emotions she felt. I knew that she had to be a character in my novel. Later, a name popped out at me from nowhere—Sissy. I “heard” a young African American slave girl about 10 years old yelling out the name “Sissy!” It was the slave’s name—it was the name of a Negro angel. And that name became the title of my first published novel: SISSY!

Now I look back at this as a gift, because in novels I had attempted to write before, I struggled with the characters and had to think hard about the plot. Not with SISSY! I told my wife I knew Jessica so well, I almost felt as if I were having an affair. In fact, the highest compliment anyone gave me was from a friend who asked me where Jessica was buried. He was shocked when I told him Jessica was a fictional character.

When I first started writing fiction, I was not being able to make my characters truly come to life—i.e., make them as real to the reader as possible. Because Jessica came alive to me, as did Sissy—the angel in my story—I decided to do a trilogy. My second novel ALL PARTS TOGETHER showed what happened to Jessica from the day after that Quantrill raid to the weeks following the Lincoln assassination. In this latter book, I took great pains to make Abraham Lincoln a real character, so I studied everything I could about him. During my research, I uncovered facts about the man I had never known before, such as his quick wit, his interest in photography, the way he loved his son Tad, etc. I also got in touch with an author who thoroughly investigated the assassination and I was able to use that information with his permission to create a very dramatic scene in ALL PARTS TOGETHER.

Since then, I have written the third book of that trilogy and it is still with my agent, looking for a publisher. I’ve also written a children’s chapter book that was test-marketed with three groups of school children (they all loved it), and I rewrote the thriller novel that was originally rejected because it was too long. I’m now rewriting yet an additional novel for which I had an agent years ago but who had not really aggressively tried to find a publisher for it.

I’m also doing workshops on writing, but frankly I don’t find it as fascinating as writing.

By the way, I want to tell you about my poetry writing and playwriting experiences, but that will have to wait until next time. See you later!

---Tom Mach

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