fiction: rural town community roles

After leaving Ohio we moved a dozen times and finally got a home of our own in Maine. We need a self-cleaning house, because the down side is maintenance and cleaning. The upside is everything else. Or, we could hire a domestic.  Yes they work here in rural Maine. But they need to earn a living so that’s out for us.

oral history transcribed

How do you create a cast of characters? Start with societal roles and extrapolate with details related and unrelated to these roles. For instance, a writer has in mind a role of doctor in the community. Or shop-keeper, volunteer, lumberman, domestic, deputy, journalist, pastor, server, selectman, club-woman, and other roles, all helpful in developing characters. These roles or jobs are archetypal, starting writers on the road to peopling their novels. If you start with these in earnest, the muse may suggest quirks and morals, humors and tastes, suitable for these roles…or even carrying them off in new directions. You can also add in tiny bits you know from personal experience. So you’ll be an artisanal character quilter, taking tiny patches of incidents from life and using in mosaic to make these characters’ lives.

There are reasons for choosing roles aside from sub-creation of character. One of these is thematic.  A major theme of THE GOD’S CYCLE is small rural towns in transition.

 

This theme is explored over the course of six books making up the entire cycle. We live in the western mountains of Maine where these green vales and great rock hills are scattered with towns, towns with hamlets in social proximity, united by geography and school system. Rural towns are extensive in land but have central hamlets. They all have little steepled churches, similar businesses, post offices and town commons. Almost every one has its own historical society, generally overseen by an amateur town historian. The theme of transition is backgrounded with a character in this role.

An exception to amateurism is the village/rural town where two historians have professional standing. (Village, not hamlet: According to geographers these two vary in population size.)

Dr. Moses Mason House

 

Tomorrow one of these historians will give a book talk on his town’s early educational benefactor. This is a biography of William Bingham II, by local author and historian Dr. Stanley Russell Howe.  I think Bingham’s legacy in the town was/is generous and establishing. And that he may have had an idea of its future transitions.

Another rural town, with hamlet, is the Town of Greenwood.  Another is the Town of Gilead, and another is Woodstock. Andover has its own town historical society too.

Today I post a snippet of an oral interview done for undergraduate studies in Maine history. I did several such with various towns’ people, who held different jobs/roles, endeavoring to increase my knowledge and understanding of Maine in all kinds of categories in order to be a better writer and banish some of my ignorance of this new place.

We came here decades ago with Maine fever, a sort of reversal of the historic Ohio Fever in which Mainers left the state in droves, as though accompanied by drovers, looking for better land (fewer rocks) to till. William Bingham had the same reverse fever as ours, I suppose.  He came from Cleveland!

pages one and two, oral history typescript

2 responses

  1. How wonderful that you actually got out there and interviewed people–very Studs Terkel! And I love the description of a writer as an artisanal character quilter; that’s brilliant.

    Also like the sun circles shining through peephole-camera leaves onto your transcript.

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