Writing the Dark Stuff
As some who've read Lightning Tree know, I write about controversial issues in LDS history. But I have worked hard to keep my storytelling about the main story--about the journey my main character takes, and if historical events come into play they come through the eyes of my character, and they are relevant only in how they affect my character. In Lightning Tree, my main character was a child when the Mountain Meadows Massacre happened. At the time, it was not a topic discussed openly among those who she would have known and associated with. I don't portray it specifically except in her dreams and flashbacks, which reflect her worries about Pa Alden, who *was* involved with Mountain Meadows--how much, she doesn't know until the story is nearly done.
I am currently writing a sequel (of sorts) to Lightning Tree. This story is told from another Chabert family member's perspective--an adult. And at one point in the story, he travels down to the area of Mountain Meadows, and happens to come into town at a time that an MMM-related atrocity happens. This particular atrocity is a true story, and I found out halfway into researching it for my novel that I am actually related to the person it happened to. This was a stunning realization to me. I have never had a personal connection to that tragedy before. It made it more real for me. And therefore, as I launch into writing some truly horrific and awful scenes, I feel somewhat heartsick. I have read several different accounts of the event--some very specific and gory.
I am not enjoying writing this. But I know that I am supposed to. Too many coincidences, for one... what are the chances that I'd stumble onto this story (which, by the way, was told to me by a good friend) and then realize I am related to the person? What are the chances that I'd type in a slightly different string of search terms two days ago and land on two different sources that I have not found before, but are vital to the telling of this story? Somebody wants this story told. I can guess who.
The spirit of Elijah is a wonderful, gripping thing. It can also be a little eerie and bring some heartache. I can testify to that. So as I launch into writing this next segment of my story, I have been saying a lot of prayers that I will be able to interpret characters right, parse together all the varying accounts and come up with something that is real, and that I will bring across the message and portrayal that People (my people) want brought across.
A few of my recent reviews (though wonderful, encouraging reviews) have mentioned that readers wish I had gone into MMM more. I laughed as I read them, because as I read them, I have been writing this book that goes into it to the point I worry my publisher may not feel able to publish it. We'll see. I have a lot of faith in my publisher, actually. And they were daring enough to publish Lightning Tree, a choice I hope they still do not regret.
So here's to history, the spirit of Elijah, and writing through pain and darkness in order to come out the other side into light.