Dancing with Doc Holliday and Rhett Butler

Dancing with Doc Holliday and Rhett Butler

I’ve always found it kind of neat that I was born on Margaret Mitchell’s birthday, November the 8th. Gave me an interesting connection to the writer I so admired from the first time I read Gone With the Wind as a young teen. Don’t remember the year, but do remember how I loved living in the world she created – and how I hated the ending she gave me! No romance with Ashley, whom I adored (so much more interesting in the book than in the movie, sorry Leslie Howard)! Just a shocking, “I don’t give a damn,” from Rhett at the end of those 1200 captivating pages.

Of course, I wanted to fix that awful ending, and imagined how the book should have gone. Being a born writer (well, as long as I can remember, anyhow), it didn’t seem like too much of a task to me. Just pick up the story where Margaret left off, following Rhett down the street to his own adventures before meeting up again with Scarlett. This was before the copycat novels Scarlett and Rhett Butler’s People tried to do the same thing, and my version was sooooo much better! Rhett would return to New Orleans (not Charleston, as in those other books), where his secret son with Belle Watling has been living in a fancy boarding school. That was Belle’s idea, not wanting her son to know who his mother really was, and Rhett went along with her plan, not sure how to tell the fine Butler family that there is an heir born of a prostitute…

Hmm. Seems like a theme that appears elsewhere in my writing. Maybe I get that nobleman-in-disguise storyline from another childhood favorite of mine, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper (Mark Twain himself shows up in several places in my Southern Son saga). Fiction is derivative, after all, as a writer can only write what she’s lived or read or otherwise imagined.

But back to Rhett and the boy he goes to visit in New Orleans on his way to taking care of some investment business (read that gold) in California. Turns out the boy is tired of his boring boarding school and steals away to follow “Uncle Rhett” (as he knows him) to San Francisco. Adventures ensue, and along the way the boy becomes enamored with the photograph of a mystery woman Rhett keeps hidden in his things – a raven haired beauty with a hint of a dimple, the kind of girl that could put a whole army into a lather. It’s Scarlett, of course, and the boy being true to his heritage demands to see this lovely creature for himself, and sets off to do so, not knowing that Scarlett is too old for him, old enough in fact to be his own step-mother, if they ever had a chance to meet…

More adventures, a cross country chase, a romantic rivalry, a life-or-death rescue, all leading to a wiser Rhett and a Scarlett still full of “grit” but softened somewhat by time and circumstance. And the love affair goes on!

Margaret Mitchell Dancing

Margaret Mitchell Dancing

So why am I thinking of Gone With the Wind and my never-to-be written sequel in these last few months before the release of Inheritance, when I should be thinking of Doc Holliday and his adventures, instead? Because in these last few months I’ve had a little needed surgery on an over-used foot (my dancing teacher warned me years ago that pointe would ruin my feet), so I am sitting at my desk with one foot on the floor and the other swathed in bandages and resting uncomfortably on my desk – a writing pose that Margaret Mitchell assumed for much of the time she was writing her own Southern epic. She loved to dance, too, and always had trouble with her feet, and then a car accident left her broken and bandaged for months like me. And like me, she wasn’t allowed to drive for weeks and had to stay home recuperating. But unlike me, she didn’t have hundreds of channels of television to keep her company, or a computer with the world just an Internet site away. She had to READ for her amusement, and quickly devoured everything in the house before going on to entire sections of the Atlanta Public Library, brought home stacks at a time by her patient husband. When his patience finally wore thin, he brought her a stack of typing paper instead and said something like, “The library is out of books. You’ll have to write your own story.” So she did, and called it (after some consideration of lesser names) Gone With the Wind. Thank goodness for her bandaged foot and long recuperation!

My own Atlanta convalescence will be less well spent, writing blog posts and attending to the prepublication business for the release of the first book of my own Southern epic, Southern Son: The Saga of Doc Holliday, on May 8th, and trying to find time to work on my pirate novel, Sailing. Funny thing about that: Margaret Mitchell wrote a pirate novel too, when she was still a teenager and hadn’t yet imagined Rhett and Scarlett. And before that there were the little plays she wrote for the neighbor children to perform, like the ones I wrote for my neighborhood friends, and the real-life drama of her girlhood, when her poufy party dress caught on fire and she went up in flames – just like I did when I was a little girl wearing a poufy party dress and playing with Fourth of July sparklers…

Maybe it’s not so great to share a birthday, after all!

By the way, Margaret herself shows up in Southern Son, along with the real Scarlett and Melanie. And Doc Holliday, of course!

Comments

  1. I never knew this about Margaret Mitchell and now I will be thinking of you both when I have my surgery and am laid up! I have a daughter born on Nov. 8 so now it has triple-special meaning to me…

  2. First of all I want to say awesome blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I have had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips? Thanks!

    • Interesting question. For me, it’s not so much clearing my mind as it is filling my mind. Writing is like talking for me; if I have something to say, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to say it — playing with words until I get it right. If I don’t have something to say I can sit at my keyboard all day and not getting anything done. ‘Course, it helps that I’m writing historical fiction, so I have lots of facts to fill my mind. I am constantly reading source material, making notes, drawing timelines, all in trying to understand a long-ago time and a far-away place. For example, my current project is “Sailing,” the story of a Barbadian sugar planter turned Caribbean pirate. I’m at a scene in which the governor of the island and some of the leading planters are discussing the state of things — the year is 1688, and I have to know everything they would have known, and nothing they don’t know yet. I have to be able to carry on the conversation all by myself, and do it authentically. Instead of clearing my mind, I have to fill my mind with their lives and their history before I can write from their point of view. But your question is really two questions: how to clear your mind and how to get started writing. There’s a difference between thinking and writing, and many writers have a hard time making the neural transition from one to the other, sending their thoughts to their fingers. The only thing to do is write something — really anything — until your words start flowing to your fingers and you find yourself thinking with your hands. It’s much the same as a pianist warming up, running scales until the hands are ready to take control. So consider your “wasted” time as a warm-up, writing whatever comes to mind, even if it seems unrelated to what you’re working on. With practice, your warmup time will shorten and you’ll be able to go faster into real writing. Start with something to say, get your hands ready, and go!