Thursday, July 21, 2011

Death at Miss Ellie's Cafe

I’m not giving anything away if I tell you that Maggie’s father, the Judge, dies at Miss Ellie's Cafe..  It’s the first sentence in the novel.  What I do want to tell you is that scene, as is the one in my second novel, was taken from a real-life experience.

I had an 88 year old uncle who was a delight.  We had dinner with him and several other relatives at a local restaurant every Friday night.  After his wife died, his health deteriorated rapidly.  While he kept up the routine of eating out, he often slept through the meal and then asked for a take-out when we were all ready to leave.  We became accustomed to this routine and began to expect it.

One evening when the restaurant was filled to capacity, eight of us sat around the table involved in our typical catch-up of the week’s events and my uncle passed away, still sitting upright in his chair.  The problem was, we didn’t notice.  When finally we realized the situation, in good southern fashion, we sat and  considered what options we might have to quietly remove him from the restaurants so as not to make a fuss.  My husband, being of sound mind and having been raised in Iowa where people are much more practical about such things, slipped away and dialed 911.  This resulted in a complete disruption of many people’s meals, for which we continue to apologize to this day.

We followed the ambulance with its blaring sirens to the hospital, to no avail.  The additional excitement and noise failed to revive my uncle.   With tears in her eyes, my mother wiped her nose and let out a gentle sob and then added the final cap to the evening, “This would have been so much better if it had happened at the Country Club.”

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Every Quaker Meeting I’ve ever attended has at least one elderly member(sometimes several) who seemed to embody Quakerism.  They had lived long enough to develop a generous degree of patience and respond gently to the impetuosity of youth.  For them, anyone less than 75 is considered youth.  Euphrasia would evolve into this type of woman over time and in many ways was already there.

 Euphrasia (pronounced: you-phrā-shă) is the name of a flowering plant found in the Alpine meadows and often used for herbal medicines.  Euphrasia Hoole, for me, was my great-great grandmother, a wiry little thing from the one picture I have of her and a devote Presbyterian.   She probably knew little if anything of Quakers.  I am fortunate to have a couple of letters that she wrote in the late 1800’s.  To my knowledge, no one in the family has ever chosen to  remember her by passing her name along to any offspring.  That may be a blessing, who’s to say?  I chose to remember her by making her a character in my novel.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Names

Finding the right names for characters in a novel is a tricky business.  I have no magic formula.   John Hersey says that “novelist Sinclair Lewis doted on names; he believed people became their names.  He had a stack of telephone books from all over the world, so he could find an odd but apt name for a character…When he had to name a new character, he would make a list of a dozen possibilities and …day after day he would pick up the list and cross off a name or two, until he had made his final choice by elimination. ”
I am not nearly so extensive in my search for a character’s names, but I will admit to changing several halfway through the novel, sometimes, daily.  Every  now and then a name just pops out at you.  I asked a friend once if he’d mind it if I used his name in my novel.  It just felt so right.
“Tell me about the character,” he said.
“He’s a Quaker turkey farmer,” I replied.
He laughed.  “Just so when people google my name, Turkey Farmer doesn’t start popping up.”

To be so lucky.