It’s over for another year. Not the search, but National Novel Writing Month. I’m able to say now that I’m a three-time “winner” of NaNoWriMo, although I’m not sure what that means to anyone, even including myself. But writing 50,000 words in The Search for Rose Michaud at least started me on the path to completion of my most “novel” novel yet.
All the recent scandal involving NaNoWriMo aside, I’m entertaining personal doubts about whether I’ll attempt it again. (For those who haven’t heard, the organization has come under investigation due to an online forum moderator’s inappropriate “grooming” of teens. Sigh, why do good things so often get subverted into something dangerous or even evil?!)
But I’ll confess, this November was my hardest go ever at the project. You’d think perhaps that past experience would count in my favor, but not really. In the first place, because of a late decision to participate, I hadn’t adequately prepared to write. Then, travel and ministry activities kept me away from the keyboard many days—all great, you understand, but no writing done. On other occasions, I couldn’t squeeze out the minimum daily even if I had the time.
On December first, I breathed a sigh of relief. Sort of.
However, instead of catching up here on Seaglass Blog, you know how life gets crazy in December. I hauled out the plastic tubs of decorations and started the holiday baking: lemon squares, M&M cookies, red velvet cupcakes, and shortbread so far. I apologized to my poor semi-desert garden by watering profusely; I finally nabbed a half-hour to stroll along the beach. We made a Christmas shopping trip to the Chinese mall and—also finally—located our annual turkey (not always a successful search in Chile).
Though the days are getting longer right now (no sense turning on Christmas lights until after 9 p.m.), it seems I just function at a slower pace at everything than I used to.
During earlier NaNoWriMo events, I wrote most of Pearl of Great Price and Anchor of Last Hope (my 2-book Winds of Andalucía series). This year, I probably I should have confined myself to finishing the edit of Legacy of the Linnenbrink Light, which is next up on my to-be-published list.
Instead I started The Search for Rose Michaud. This Work-in-Progress has carried, in my mind, several different working titles over time: The French Maid’s Memoir, The Legend of Point Michaud.
“We don’t have to start each day looking for something new to keep us going, to be happy or entertained. We have histories that accumulate in meaning and significance and worth, for we have both a past and a future with God… Peace is the harmony that comes from putting everything together so it fits.” –Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire
The word “search” in the current title might lead you to imagine that this project’s premise is similar to Pursuit of the Pudú (soon to be released!), but it’s not. The story is completely different—in concept, theme, and setting. And characters. The Chiloé Islands, Melissa Travis, her parents, sister Linda and family—are mentioned, nodded to, but…
The three main characters in The Search for Rose Michaud—Diana, Rachelle, and Rose—received only brief cameo appearances in my other books. Rachelle (or Raquel/Keli) is Melissa’s niece; Rose is Melissa’s grandmother. Remember? Now they’re the protagonists. And for the first time, I’ve included Diana Delacruz as a character in the story. A romantic thread runs through most of my books (sometimes it’s the main tapestry). But, though this one is no exception, the principal relational subplot connects two or three women.
The style of this novel too varies from anything else I’ve ever done. I’m using three first-person narrators—and one of them is historical! All quite a stretch for me, and admittedly something of a learning curve. In trying this currently popular story technique, I confess up front that it’s something I detest in the books I read. I dread switching narrators just as I’m getting into a story line. It can be confusing, and more than that, plain annoying. In the end, I often fail to connect with any of the characters.
So why would I write in a way that I usually hate to read? Maybe it’s the challenge to make it flow well. Eventually you’ll have the opportunity to see how I incorporated the three difference voices. Does anyone want to weigh in on this topic? Do you prefer one narrator or several?
Maybe all these departures from the usual tried-and-true made this year’s NaNoWriMo especially difficult. It never occurred to me at first that it might. In fact, I assumed just the opposite.
The Search for Rose Michaud is about grad student Keli Peterson’s quest to trace her great-grandmother’s mysterious roots in French Canada with the investigative aid of Diana Delacruz, a family friend. A broken engagement and her pursuit of a coveted spot in an elite fine-arts program lead Keli on a journey along the back roads from Downeast Maine to the County (Aroostook), from Ste-Anne-de-Beaupré to Fortress Louisbourg, and home again. In the process, even Diana has something unexpected to learn about family heritage.
Somewhere about the 25,000-word mark, I realized I was searching for Rose all over the map without fully grasping her real story. I ended up filling my word count with lots of research notes on the background subjects in The Search for Rose Michaud. That’s technically acceptable in NaNoWriMo, though I couldn’t shake off the sensation of cheating a little. However, I promise I’ll eventually use most of it.
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” –Albert Einstein
You know, I’m endlessly curious about the world and everything in it that God has made. In my search for Rose, I discovered heaps of absolutely spellbinding details I never knew before. Some of the specifics of my own history have burst into the story. Others are original but nevertheless completely authentic.
For instance, have you ever heard…
- That French Huguenots (Protestants) weren’t allowed to emigrate to New France?
- That the King of France once gifted dowries for women willing to emigrate to New France? They became known as les filles du roi, the king’s daughters.
- That Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island (French, Ile Royale) changed hands between the British and the French at least three times in the eighteenth century?
- That many Acadians escaped the infamous deportation to Louisiana?
- Of the Pork and Beans War that almost broke out between Maine and New Brunswick in 1838-39? The border was drawn at that time, but only loosely enforced until the “rum running” days of Prohibition and then World War II.
- Of the micronation Republic of Madawaska and its people, the Brayons?
- That French Canadians helped to construct the Hoover Dam?
- That Francophone Americans and Canadians played a significant role as covert agents in occupied Europe during WWII?
- That a missionary to the Philippines was one of the world’s leading literacy advocates? He was a friend of Christian philosopher Dallas Willard.
- That Point Michaud Provincial Park is the best place to surf in the Maritimes?
- That the best spot to collect antique bottles is at the site of old outhouses? Bet you didn’t want to know that.
“We steward the brain by learning as much as we can about as much as we can.” –Mark Batterson, Whisper
Not sure why it is that World War II stories—in books, films, and series—have become so popular in the past decade. Perhaps we’ve suddenly realized that the last of the Greatest Generation is dying off and won’t be able to share their memories much longer. I also think that immediately after the war, people were reluctant to talk about their experiences, either because of the horrors or their weariness and desire just to get on with their lives. Now, we’re more interested in the subject since most of us didn’t actually live through those tough times.
At any rate, each of the intriguing side topics in The Search for Rose Michaud deserves and may eventually get a post of its own in Seaglass Blog. Perhaps you’re wondering what connection any of this has with you or NaNoWriMo or Christmas, or even with my usual themes of transformation, redemption, tin collections and bucket list reimagination.😊
Besides that it’s all grist for the story mill, the point of learning anything is not to shine as the smartest person in the room (or family, or blogosphere, or whatever group or organization you want to mention). Rather, we learn in order to grow, to broaden our perspectives, to deepen our wells. For me, it’s the joy and opportunity to draw close to the One who sees, knows, and understands everything, who has wisdom and power to offer beyond my finite abilities.
“If you want to learn something, read about it; if you want to understand something, write about it; if you want to master something, teach it.” –Yogi Bhajan
…listening to God’s voice and learning from the Master Storyteller. Then, I like to take it a step further: Share what I learn, with the purpose of entertaining, inspiring, and challenging others in my sphere of influence.
So The Search for Rose Michaud took me on an educational journey during NaNoWriMo month. I wrote, I researched and studied and absorbed, and I wrote some more. One thing leads to another, doesn’t it?
November’s NaNoWriMo races into December, which in Chile falls at the end of the school and fiscal years. So, as well as Christmas, it means class trips, annual reports, fresh fruit, ice cream, and picnics. Last Sunday we planned a wedding. Today we just arrived home from a graduation.
My daughter introduced me to pfeffernusse (peppernuts), a small, spicy German gingerbread cookie which shows up at one of our local supermarkets each Christmas. A perfect example of learning from and using what pops up in everyday life in my writing. I might just include peppernuts in that final scene of Legacy of the Linnenbrink Light—a graduation reception.
Kind of like how fried clams, poutine, and ployes turn up in The Search for Rose Michaud. When I reach the end of my search for Rose, I’ll let you know. And in the meantime, I’ll share the best tidbits of what I learn along the way.
“We don’t need to know more, we need to do more with what we have.” –Mark Batterson, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day