Posts Tagged ‘Cold Mountain’

Watching movies inspires the muse

February 19th, 2012

While writing The Outer Banks House, I watched the movie Pride and Prejudice to fire up my writing muse. I had read the book by Jane Austen as well. But outside of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, every time I watch a movie based on a book, I walk away disappointed. But Pride and Prejudice was very well done, and I thought Kiera Knightly protrayed Elizabeth Bennett perfectly. The era of the book wasn’t the same as the era of which I was writing (1868) but the love story (of a mismatched couple–one extremely wealthy and one from a much more modest background) put me mind of my own love story (between a rich planter’s daughter and a penniless fisherman). I even listened to the soundtrack while I wrote sometimes. God, the sound of that soaring piano music still makes me want to cry. And write.

Now that I’m writing the sequel, I found that I needed a new movie to fire up the muse. I watched my copy of Pride and Prejudice again, and loved every minute of it. But I’d been there, done that. I’d just finished reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier for the second time, so I decided to purchase the movie Cold Mountain, which I’d seen in the theaters when it first came out in 2003, and starred Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger. In addition to the similar period details as my book, I like this particular book/movie because of the love story. The two tentative lovebirds, Inman and Ada (and another odd socioeconomic couple), are forced apart by the Civil War, and their lives change dramatically while Inman is off fighting and then walking all the back to Cold Mountain to a woman who he doesn’t even think will want him anymore. They are hardly together for the entire book except through flashbacks, and this style of narration is very similar to my sequel. I find separation of true love very inspiring! The reader can’t wait for the two lovers to get back together, and this excitement keeps the reader reading. At least, it works for me, and I’m hoping it will work for my lovely readers as well!

Steamboats and boatsickness,
flies and neck wounds: Introductions

October 23rd, 2011

I think this will be a perfect post for a cool Sunday morning in October: my favorite sentences/sections from chapter one of the historical fiction novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. The language is soothing, rich with (not too much) description. And the first two sentences are doozies, of course. All writers are encouraged to jazz up their first sentences, as well as their first paragraphs, to grab the interest of readers and hook them into turning the page. A writer must also orient the reader to time, place, and even character in these introductory sentences. A tough job with just a few words! Here are my first sentences from The Outer Banks House:

I was the first passenger off the steamboat. My fellow travelers had insisted, for I had spent the duration of the journey in the throes of boatsickness. Everyone, including mama and daddy, had watched me from afar, afraid to get their Sunday best too close to me.

Hopefully the reader was oriented to time (era of steamboats, language: “boatsickness” instead of the more modern term of seasickness, “Sunday best”) and place (the character just took a journey by water and is now disembarking) and character (likely a person not used to traveling by water–a landlubber. Also a person who doesn’t have a good relationship with his/her parents, people who seemed more concerned with appearances than in assisting an ill child). Would you want to read more, based on the first sentences of my book? I hope so! Here are the first sentences from Cold Mountain:

At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring. Inman’s eyes and the long wound at his neck drew them, and the sound of their wings and the touch of their feet were soon more potent than a yardful of roosters in rousing a man to wake. So he came to yet one more day in the hospital ward.

The reader is oriented to place (morning in a hospital) and character (a man named Inman who is suffering from a wound at his neck, he is perhaps familiar with farming due to the reference to roosters).  Neck wounds and flies are intriguing enough to most people to want to keep reading, not to mention the perfectly worded metaphor comparing the flies to a yardful of roosters in their ability to wake someone up.

Here are some more particularly juicy sentences just from the first two pages: The window was as tall as a door, and he imagined many times that it would open onto some other place and let him walk through and be there. During his first weeks in the hospital, he had been hardly able to move his head, and all that kept his mind occupied had been watching out the window and picturing the old green places he recollected from home. Childhood places…The window apparently only wanted to take his thoughts back. Which was fine with him, for he had seen the metal face of the age and had been so stunned by it that when he thought into the future, all he could vision was a world from which everything he counted important had been banished or had willingly fled.

Right away we realize that Inman is away from his home, for he is feeling nostalgic. We could even infer, from his reference to the stunning “metal face of the age,” that he has been fighting in a war and has gotten the neck wound in battle.

I wonder how many times Frazier wrote and rewrote those first few lines. As an author, I know that it was likely a few, for our job is to make it all look easy. Those first lines of The Outer Banks House weren’t even the first lines until I had begun editing it for Crown. Here are the first lines that got the book picked up by my agent and then my editor:

Picture this, if you will: A trigger is squeezed in earnest by a crooked Fed’ral forefinger, and a minie ball tears out the rifle’s slender barrel. It screams through the smoky air and slams into my skull bone like an iron stake pushed through wet, rocky dirt. My head explodes so quick I don’t even feel a thing. I just fall down in the brain-splattered thicket, dead forever.

Only, it didn’t happen that way a-tall. While my unit camped in the slushy Virginia pastures, I acquired a bowel affliction that’s slowly roasting the tender insides on the hot embers of its cookfire.

I’d take a minie ball to the brain over this rusty creak toward death’s depot any day.

Kind of different from the first sentence that ended up getting published, right? It’s even from a different character’s point of view–Abby’s Uncle Jack, a Confederate soldier. In fact, the entire chapter ended up getting cut, a fact that disturbed my agent, who loved that first chapter probably more than the rest of the book’s chapters combined. Am I right, Byrd? My editor wanted me to blend the information that I provived in Uncle Jack’s chapter into the new first chapter, written in Abby’s point of view. I used a letter from Uncle Jack to Abby, written in the hospital while he’s dying, to convey some of the love the two have for one another, the history between them. So Uncle Jack died, in more ways than one. You can still read this lost chapter on my website though!!

I am still working on the first sentences of the sequel, but here is a sneak peek for you lucky blog readers:

Mr. Parrish’s case was so heavy, I had a notion to just let fly with it, watch it thud its way on down the staircase. My right arm burned like I’d dragged it through flames. “Shitfire,” I said, and not under breath neither. What on earth was in the damned case anyway, bricks of gold? Just a glance at Mr. Langston Parrish, and I knew he was the richest man I’d ever laid eyes on. Out here in Whaleshead, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I was hard pressed to find a man that even owned a pair of shoes.

I won’t tell you whose point of view this is…I have to keep some surprises, you know. Maybe you can figure it out! Leave me a comment if you feel like guessing, and if you guess correctly, I’ll let you in on some secrets to the sequel!

Regarding the novel “Cold Mountain”

October 20th, 2011

Remember in 1997 when the historical fiction book Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier was at the top of the bestseller list? Selling over 3 million copies to date, the book  went on to win the National Book Award, and was adapted into a 2003 movie starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. I bought it in hardback sometime after it was published and commenced to reading it, only to find myself falling asleep while reading of Inman, the disillusioned Civil War soldier, and Ada, the similarly disillusioned, recently orphaned minister’s daughter. The tale of Inman’s long journey–on foot, no less–wasn’t what I wanted to plod through at the end of the day, even if Inman was trying to get back to his lover Ada and his beloved home, Cold Mountain. I just wanted him to get there already! The book was praised by critics and readers alike, and I wanted to get it. But I just didn’t. I kept at it, though, just like good old Inman, and (after lots of more fast-paced books in between) eventually finished it right before the movie came out. I went to see the movie with some girlfriends one evening, soon after my second child was born, and I loved it. I think I was still a bit post-partum, but I cried like my newborn at the end of the movie.

Sometime after that, I started to write my first novel, The Outer Banks House. I’d never written fiction before, but I felt compelled to tell a story–a love story, to be exact. You’ll have to read my post entitled “Thank God for deodorant and air conditioning” for details regarding how I settled on Reconstruction-era Nags Head, N.C.,  for the setting. My characters of opposites, Ben and Abby, sprung from the time period and the setting. Then, when I started to write, I alternated between Abby’s and Ben’s point of views (and Winnie’s, but later removed those chapters) to show the development of the love story. The writing at first was difficult for me, for as a reader, I knew what a book should sound like and I kept editing myself. But it was like all of the authors I’d ever admired were whispering  to me, telling me where they thought the story should go, what the characters should say, what they thought my style should be. And I’m starting to have an idea which author whispered the loudest in my mind…

I am now slowly rereading Cold Mountain, and I am struck by the beauty of the sentences, the rightness of the words. I savor the words, the phrases and sentences, like bits of dark chocolate, autumn leaves. Crafted as they are by Frazier, they are things of pure delight. They are never bloated with adjectives and adverbs, or unnessary with details. Each word has its proper place. Each word contains its own truth. Each paragraph contributes to the story, helps define character. And I would never compare such a genius with myself, but I believe  his style influenced mine without my knowing it.

I am also amazed by the pace, which I once believed was slow and tedious, full of flashbacks and transistions and few “cliffhangers.” Inman moved slowly west toward the mountains, and Ada slowly carved out a new way of life on her farm, but they each kept stepping back in their minds to relive past events for the readers. But rereading it, I see how the flashbacks shed light on the characters’ motivations, which in turn moves the story forward. I actually look forward to them now, savoring the slow pace and enjoying the journey they both take.  Maybe it’s because I’m older now, and not in such a hurry. Maybe as a writer, I tend to dissect others’ writing now, without even really wanting to. But I think it’s because the book had such a profound, previously unrealized effect on me–and like uncovering a forgotten childhood memory, I can now see and appreciate its influence. So let me say “Thank you” to Charles Frazier here, and bestow on him the “Diann Ducharme Major Influence Award.” Someday soon I’ll read Thirteen Moons and Nightmoons!

Coming tomorrow: my favorite sentences from Cold Mountain