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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Unexpected - IWSG August 2019

It's IWSG Day. The goal of this blog hop is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. IWSG is the brainchild of Alex Cavanaugh, our brilliant ninja leader. The awesome co-hosts for August are Renee Scattergood, Sadira Stone, Jacqui Murray, Tamara Narayan, and LG Keltner. To find a list of other contributors and to link to their posts, click here. 

August's question: Has your writing ever taken you by surprise. For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you'd forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming? 

Other than a very high-level idea of where things will end, when I start a project I’m usually not sure of the details until they spew out of my fingertips. Surprises occur all the time. That said, I suppose the biggest one was getting twenty-thousand words into a tale and realizing the story I thought I was writing wasn’t the story at all. Cue the sound of brakes screeching.

Truth be told, there are things in life that rather haunt me--pieces of local history, intriguing places I’m compelled to visit again and again. One such place is a memorial in our town cemetery placed in memory of the Brig St. John, an Irish immigrant ship out of Galway. In the summer of 1849, it headed to Boston filled with folks escaping the potato famine, or The Great Hunger (or the Great Famine) as it is called in Ireland. After an uneventful six-week trip, they arrived off the coast of Cape Cod where they anchored and celebrated the end of their journey. The next morning, on what should have been the last day of the voyage, they set sail again and ran into a storm. With about 13 nautical miles left to their destination, the ship was dragged by the wind and smashed against Grampus Ledge off the South Shore of Massachusetts, a set of rocks my husband and I sail by regularly. Of the ninety-nine people estimated to be on the ship, twelve made it to shore alive. Forty-five bodies were buried in a mass grave in our town cemetery. It is assumed the remaining victims were consigned to the sea. The monument I visit was erected many years after the fact as a marker for the forty-five lost souls who washed up on our shores.

So back to my stalled novel. When I stomped on the brakes, it was because I pictured the memorial to these victims. The tragedy has always stuck hard in my heart, all those desperate folks making it so close to a new life, but then, simply not. Suddenly, it became imperative to include some of this history in my book. I started all over and the next thing I knew, a mystical apparition of a boy from a fictional representation of that ship began appearing and disappearing from my main character's apple tree. I began to research the ship and all sorts of Irish folktales and traditions, many of which made their way into my book. I had no sense I’d write something with supernatural elements, seeped in Celtic lore, but it was almost as if the mysterious boy directed me. In the end, at a high level, the theme of the story is still the same. So is the main character. But every subsequent detail comes from my moment of clarity, when I realized I had to honor The Brig St. John and when the spirit of a young boy, the catalyst for all the subsequent action in the book decided he was going to drive my tale. 

How has your writing surprised you?