Monday, March 30, 2015

When Writing Breaks Your Heart

My father grew up the second youngest of four brothers. They had older sisters but it was a peculiar thing that the girls were born and mostly grown when along came 4 little boys. They grew up in a neighborhood that had a great park in it and Dad often spoke of the fun they had playing there. Then World War 2 came along. All four of them enlisted—all 4 went off to war. When the war was over Dad came home from the South Pacific as well as could be expected. His other brothers were not as lucky—one came home sick and emotionally wounded, one was released from a Nazi POW camp, and one came home in a coffin.

Over the years I have thought about that a lot and I always felt it deeply affected my dad. Like most soldiers, he rarely talked of the war but once in awhile he would say something to the effect that the only people who wanted war were fools and politicians.

I have been writing the title story of my next Marienstadt collection which will be called The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk. This story is about the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, popularly known as the “Bucktails.” As I developed the story I thought a lot about my dad. The story centers around four brothers from Germany who were orphaned thnaks to a fire and wind up in Marienstadt working in a logging camp. When the Civil War begins all four of them volunteer. Four years later one has died at Antietam, one lost a leg at Gettysburg, and one has spent the last year of the war in Belle Isle, the terrible Confederate prison camp in the James River. And one, the one who survived unharmed, has to live the rest of his life wondering why he was spared.

This has been a very, very difficult story to write. I have cried a lot while writing it and I still have a way to go. I hope I haven't damaged my keyboard but I had to keep going. The research has been painful—looking at the photographs of the Antietam battlefield, the Gettysburg battlefields, and the prisoners rescued from Belle Isle is just gut-wrenching. Like my father I think, who could possibly want this? Why in heaven's name do we keep doing this? But I keep writing.

Some time back a friend who wanted to be a writer told me she was forced to give up on the story she was writing because it was just too heart-breaking. “I can't handle it,” she said. “I have to stop writing.” I do not believe that—I think that is when you must keep writing. If something breaks my heart I know I am doing a good thing, I am writing through the pain in the hope of touching others. I hope it will.


Thanks for reading.  

1 comment:

  1. Dear Kathleen, I know what you are going through. I spent four years crying while researching and writing my own Civil War novel, The Spy Lover. And every page was, as you say, gut-wrenching.

    At times I wanted to give up, but two of the characters were based on my ancestors, and my family reminded me that if I did not write this book, they would be lost to history.

    So, dear friend, press on with your story, and give these Pennsylvania boys the memorial they deserve: an important place in history. I know your story will be beautiful!

    Aloha and Imua! Kiana

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