Tuesday, December 8, 2009

And So It Starts: Fictionalizing Events

Unknown man, posing in front of typical Richmond house built in the 1800's. Possibly Margaret's mother's home. Homely man. Very nice suit and confident pose. Maybe this is Henry Watters!! Let's pretend it is.

Now, I've had two fights with my husband this morning. He remarked on the messy living room, strewn with battered shoeboxes and letters. A mere remark, but I chose to take it as a complaint. It wasn't really. (And he muttered something about his email going awol... as I am now using 2007 Outlook program. I told him I don't know where to find the box to tell the program to keep the mail on the server.)

When I first found the letters in 2004 in my in-laws' basement, they were all neatly bundled in a trunk, by date, probably much as the Norman or Margaret had left them almost a century before. Only one group of letters had been released from the piece of string containing it. (I think my mother in law had been looking for some information.) Some of the letters had the stamps surgically removed.

I am not an academic, or historian, so I did not keep the letters in order as I read them. I stuffed them all in a big cardboard box and grabbed handfuls at a time to read at bedtime. First I read the ones with good handwriting (Flo and Marion's) and then the rest, all in random order, and eventually I re-filed them, with little yellow tags and paper clips. This was my process.

I had a shoe box filled with 1911-1912 letters, another with 1908,09,10, and 13 letters.

I divided the remaining letters by decade, 1880, 1890, 1900's, 1920's, 1930's. I put them each in their own plastic grocery bag. Eventually, I read them all and tagged them, too.

Then I put the rest of the Nicholson memorabilia, account books, etc in plastic containers from Walmart.

You wouldn't want me on an archeological dig, but, then, this process forced me to know my material. I had to keep poring over and over the mass of it, as I put up my http://www.tighsolas.ca/ website, looking for this or that item, as I had no real indexing method.

Today, the letters are all piled out of order, once again, on tables in my living room, as I re-read them to write Flo in the City, a book about a girl coming of age in the exciting 1908-1913 era.

My creative process, writing this book, is haphazard. Stream of Consciousness, if you will. As I think about the next scene I have come to the conclusion that my story is going to take a turn for the American.

I never thought it would, but I have to get Flora through this month with exams all passed. How to do that? Well, I have decided to enlist Dr. Henry Watters of Newton Center, near Boston. He was to remain a peripheral figure in the story, but now, I suspect, he'll be central to the plot.

After all, this story is about love and marriage and career in 1910. Middle class women had to choose between having a career and love and marriage and children. Middle class men needed a career to be able to attract a suitable wife. Watters had a brilliant career, but never married. Why?

For inspiration, I go to his old address, 661 Commonwealth Avenue, on Google Earth and then I decide to look up Newton Center 1910 to find that a New England Historical Society, the Between the Lakes Group, has published the Blue Book of citizens of that town (a significant town historically) and that Henry Watters, of course, is listed.

As I said, the Nicholson letters are filled with talk of disease and illness and regular daily ailments. And the shopping catalogs of the time are filled with dubious products to cure every ailment, real or imagined.

It appears the Boston Hospital where Henry worked, (Flora visited it and said it employed Canadian nurses) was a superior facility. In 1910 no patients there with diptheria or scarlet fever died, I read from another archived document.

Pneumonia, consumption or TB and diptheria were the big diseases back then. Pneumonia was called The King of Death.

So no wonder the Nicholsons freaked out about every cold and sniffle.

And I also have Dr. Moffat's story. He is a local doctor and family friend who moves to Vancouver after losing money in a 1911 stock market swindle. He writes long letters to Norman in 1913, explaining why Norman should not go out West.