Thunderstorms in South Dakota are impressive. You can see entire storms in the distance, hanging down from clouds. And after dark the thunder and lightning put on a 360-degree show. Linda had a weather radio in Homestead House, the house where retreaters stayed and wrote. This radio would go off periodically with warnings about thunder and hail storms. Linda told me how to turn it off if I was trying to sleep, but I ended up leaving it on because the announcements only came while I was awake, and I thought they were interesting.
The evenings of the first half day of my retreat, and of my first full day, both had serious thunderstorms. It was warm and sunny in the mornings, and I got up, went out and took pictures of cow skulls, wagon wheels, bunnies, and other prairie-y things.
Look Ma, I’m on a ranch!
By the late afternoon, however, the weather changed and it changed quickly. The sky darkened and the wind picked up, and the radio blared. I became concerned for my rental car, open to potential hailstorms.I ran around the house, shutting the windows. Anything to get up from the computer, where I was having to come to terms with my novel’s lack of a plot.
Back in NaNoWriMo 2012 when I first drafted this novel, my opening vision of Hallie’s Cache was an homage to A Wrinkle in Time, a young adult book by Madeleine L’Engle that was written in 1962, before I was born. It was another time, another place, another world–in many senses of the word–more than a generation ago.
A Wrinkle in Time opens with its 12-year-old protagonist, Meg Murry, alone in her attic bedroom, watching a storm. Meg is missing her missing father, and her quest to find and save him drives the book. The first line of this book is, famously, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Also part of its lore: it was rejected from 26 publishers before Farrar finally took a chance on it. It went on to win a Newberry Medal in 1963, has been in print since its publication, and in 2003 was adapted into a TV movie that L’Engle said was not very good. Recently this book has been back in the news again: a full-length feature film, directed by Ava DuVernay and starring Oprah Winfrey as Mrs Which, is forthcoming in 2017. The book was also mentioned by Chelsea Clinton in her speech at the Democratic National Convention as a book she loved as a child. It was my favorite book too when I was that age.
Without really thinking about it, I started my novel the same way. Just to get the NaNoWriMo going, I typed as a first line, “It was a dark and stormy night.” And then Zoe, a 12-year-old protagonist, looked out at a storm, alone in her attic room. From there, Zoe worked on a solving a geocache puzzle online with a friend, she corresponded online with Roberta, who was coming to work as a nanny for her family, she kicked herself for not being the good violin student that the adults in her life expected, and then she thought about her missing father, Daniel. She lit a candle for him in the storm and held it up to the window.
I wrote 50K words that year, some good, some drivel. While I was writing, I reprised the symbol of the guiding light or star in other ways: Zoe’s name changed and she became Hallie, named for Halley’s comet, which was in the sky when she was born in 2062. The story ended with her and her little brother watching the space station that her father built passing overhead, like a shooting star. I was so enamored of this guiding star/comet thematic element that I incorporated it into the mock-up cover that I made for the book that year.
But I never quite figured out during that November what happened to her father and how he ended up being able to build the space station after all. From several different angles, I loved, and played with, the idea of finding geocaches as a metaphor for finding oneself, but I was not clear on how Hallie found Daniel, and by extension, found herself.
“Little Writing Retreat on the Prairie” – The Set
–A series of blogs describing my experiences at Windbreak House, a women’s writing retreat in South Dakota run by Linda Hasselstrom