Writing Your Roots

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By Suzanne Williams

Familiar writing advice says to “write what you know.” I have taken this to heart.

Growing up in the same county in Central Florida as my parents and grandparents gives me roots here. It helps too that my grandmother was a history buff. She could rattle off who married who for ten generations in the family tree. So I grew up knowing how interconnected my life was to the past, to the people who struggled for a living here, to parents and children in old photographs she’d saved.

This photo is my favorite. It is a perfect depiction of how things were and where I come from. It is the land, the families that survived it, and the children who’d grow up on it.

 

the combee gang 640

 

If you’d have met my grandparents, you’d understand. Never were there two more kind, gentle people. He was a farmer, growing corn, beans, tomatoes, and any number of other vegetables, and toting them to market on weekends. My grandmother could cook you up a meal like you wouldn’t believe, most of which came straight from the garden.

All of that, I have applied to my writing, most often in the form of dialogue, but also in descriptions of the more rural areas around me, in the wildlife – the birds and reptiles particular to this area – and in the history, what happened in the late 19th century, how towns grew here or failed.

In the example below, an excerpt from my upcoming novel Love & Redemption (out March 1st), a girl named Anne Sawyer has gone for a swim at a natural spring.

“Lowering herself into the water’s clasp, she emptied her mind of the day’s troubles. This was her special place. Here, life was different, better. Here, her papa’s anger faded in light of the beauty around her. Her golden hair spread out in a fan, and tiny fish dancing on the water’s surface tickled her skin. Extending her fingers one by one, she watched their silver tails flicker in and out.”

 “A bird called, and her gaze went upward to its angular shape traced against the white sky. Wings held aloft, head crooked sideways, the bird absorbed the sun in muddied feathers.”

 “Her body cooled in the icy water, and she flared her palms upward, counting the ridges in her fingertips. Ducking her head below the surface, she swam into the spring’s depths. White sand and wavering grasses spiraled downward, ceasing only at the great crack split in the earth. Here, bubbles leaked from her nostrils, and she dug her fingers into the soil, delighting in the rush of water flitting over her flesh.”

All of that comes from who I am, from my roots here, otherwise I couldn’t write it.

But this thing within me, this Southern side of me, also emerges in my dialogue sequences. I write in dialect a lot. Love it, in fact, despite how it bothers some people. More than once, I have been told it is passé, that I should write with “good grammar.” However, speaking like that, in long Southern tones is what I know. It’s what I hear around me. It’s the voices of my past speaking in my ear.

In another scene from Love & Redemption, the main character, Michael O’Fallen, an Irish boy from New York, is fighting against a wicked man named Ferguson, who holds his life in the balance. Notice the use of dialect to give the character flavor.

“Ferguson yanked his horse around, and the group of men followed. Pausing briefly, he glanced at the house. The girl’s father lay unmoving on the earth.”

 “‘Pleasure doin’ business with you again, Milton,’ he laughed. He gazed at Michael, and his eyes glittered.

 “‘What’s this about?’ Michael asked. ‘And what do I have to do with it?’ His horse paced sideways, and the girl slid in the saddle. With a yelp, she reached out for his arm. He wrapped a hand around her waist to steady her. ‘You gonna tell me or not? I’ve kept quiet ‘til now. I never signed up for this.’”

 “Ferguson’s voice emerged a low growl. ‘You signed up to save yourself, and ye’ll do as you’re told. This here’s your wife, and we’re about to have us a weddin’.’”

Now, dialect comes in a million forms. Just as Ferguson is southern, Michael’s Irish roots come out in the story. For this, I had to do extensive research into Irish Gaelic. I also have segments where he’s remembering his mother talk. I used dialect to indicate her strong Irish roots. In another book I read recently, the characters were from Maine. The author did a fabulous job of writing dialogue to indicate their pattern of speech. It was as if I could hear them in my ear.

And that is precisely my point. As authors, we all individually have a background to share. Whether you’re from the West, the South, or the North, whether you grew up on the plains, the Rocky Mountains, or in the big city, you have something of you to include on the page. Don’t be afraid of the rules so much you fail to share it.

Because in the end, reading is traveling places in your mind that you’d never go, to eras you didn’t live in, with people you’d have loved to meet, and taking the reader to there is for an author the greatest sign of success. If my books never receive rave reviews but one person says it took them here, for me that’s the greatest pleasure of all.

 

Suzanne-900Suzanne D. Williams is a native Floridian, wife, mother, photographer, and writer. She is Crossreads author of both nonfiction and fiction books. She writes a monthly column for Steves-Digicams.com on the subject of digital photography, as well as devotionals and instructional articles for various blogs. She also does graphic design for self-publishing authors.

 

To learn more about what she’s doing visit http://suzanne-williams-photography.blogspot.com/ or link with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/suzannedwilliamsauthor.

Love & Redemption

(The Florida Irish #1)

 

Take a trip into the past and fall in love with an Irishman.LAR-FRONT

 

Released March 1st

 

Michael O’Fallen simply wants to survive. A poor Irish boy living in post-Civil War New York, the events of one horrible night send him running­–far south to unsettled Florida and an unplanned marriage with a girl he doesn’t know.

Now, he must protect her from the lust and greed of evil men and figure out how to make their escape. Will the dangers and perils they face tear their marriage apart? Or will he finally find true Love & Redemption?

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Great post, and very inspiring. I do the same — write from my roots, that is. I think I may have to piggy back on this idea in a future post. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. I’ve been researching Florida history for my WIP and have learned so many fascinating things. I bet your family has passed down some great stories.

    Reply
    • They do. I wish we could have captured more of my grandmother’s memories before she passed. She was a real treasure trove and the most pleasant person to be around.

      Reply

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