In a recent episode of Gunsmoke, I heard Festus Haggen say that he had the “second sight.” Miss Kitty, who Festus thought was “looksome” and “thoughty” wasn’t buying into his latest revelation. She was kind to Festus so he often went to the Long Branch to throw down a beer with her, but this time Miss Kitty was sort of making fun of him. And Doc, the “old scudder” well, he just rubbed his chin and shook his head at Festus. Unlike Miss Kitty and Doc I believe old Festus did have a touch of the “second sight.” Festus described his “second sight” as a feeling. He didn’t brag that he could see everything in the future; he just simply had a feeling every now and then about what might be going to happen.
I’ve wondered about having that “second sight” at times myself. There have been occasions when I have heard voices, or seen a flash of nothing. Now you’re thinking, that girls finally lost what little sense she’s ever had. For all kinds of reasons I agree. But listen. The voices I hear are those of the main characters I write about in my novels. I’ll even admit that when they talk to me, I answer them. For instance, in the novel I’m writing now, Callie Mae McCauley is a thirteen-year-old mountain girl. She’s been orphaned twice and is now facing spending the next several years in an orphanage in Virginia called Abingdon Presbyterian Children’s Home. Her closest kin are two uncles who don’t want to have anything to do with her, except cheat her out of a piece of land her Granny Jane has left to her.
Callie finds out that, “them uncles,” as she calls them, want the land to sell to a fancy hydroelectric power company. Callie’s land sits smack dab in the middle of the location of the projected dam on the New River. Can this orphaned thirteen year listen to her “second sight” and fulfill God’s will for her life? Will this speck of a girl save thousands of acres of land, and the mountain dwellers homes from being flooded? Callie’s got a lot to stand up against, because as Festus would say, them uncles are, “Meaner than a four-headed rattlesnake.”
Callie isn’t aware of the fact that she might have the “second sight.” She just knows that every which way she turns she’s facing bad luck. Inside her head, Callie understands all things happen for a reason, like the Good Book says. But she wonders why? When Callie’s thinking like that, and not sure what’s going to happen to her I step back from the computer and talk to her? Normally our conversation goes something like this.
“Well Callie, what are you going to do now? You’re in a real pickle.” As Festus would say, “Callie, the onliest thing you get from straddlin’ the fence is a sore backside. Make up your mind which way you’re going to go.” In her own time Callie always answers me. Sometimes it takes an hour or two, and sometimes I have to give her space and just wait for days, or maybe even weeks. Not because of writers block, but because Callie is still wandering, trying to find her way.
The River Keeper at just over forty thousand words has taken Callie from Crumpler to Twin Oaks, North Carolina, and then from Twin Oaks to Foster Falls, Virginia. One of the most fun parts of being a writer is you can take your characters anywhere you want to. If Callie decides to travel to the State Capitol, then I simply take her there. If Callie wants to marry and have children, well then so be it, she has a fine, handsome husband and three rambunctious kids. But then again Callie might decide to stay single and travel the world. Okay, what ever you say Callie, it’s your life!
When I write a story I can make my characters as mean as I want them to be or as sweet as a cherry soda. I can led them on a path of adventure and discovery or settle them in to a ho-hum life of the same old, same old mundane stuff every day. I can make them skinny or chubby, tall or short, black or white. All I’ve got to do is listen to their voices and let them tell me what they want to become.
In The River Keeper, Callie is speaking in first person telling her own story. Somehow this just seems to fit. With my last novel I found I love writing in first person. So maybe I am a little selfish and do things my way, instead of letting those characters have all the say. I am however letting Callie speak in her natural mountain dialect. I’m not sure about writing style or the correct way to do a lot of things, but I’m pretty sure I’m breaking all the rules of basic English with this work. My editor is going to have a hay day with The River Keeper, because I have thrown grammar to the hogs just like Festus Haggen did. I’m letting Callie Mae and my “second sight” finish this story. I might not be able to conjure a wart off of somebody’s finger, but I know when somebody’s talking to me in my head. Out of the mouth of Festus, “If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.”