This is the last Retro Post. I’ve gone back to early 2014, when I was in the middle of writing SUMMERSVILLE, and pulled forward a few blog posts that I had written about my process. This one focuses more on how I was structuring the outline from which I would write.
SO WHAT WAS THE FIRST STEP FOR THIS BOOK? (Originally posted 2/23/14, edited for clarity)
I knew it was going to be primarily a memoir of my early life in the town where I grew up in West Virginia. My family was heavily tied to local politics, and I wanted to focus on that aspect while also emphasizing the very privileged life I had. We were not super rich, but we had a beautiful house, 60 acres, a pool, a barn, antique cars, a houseboat, and parents who, while not graduates of a four-year college, were very well educated and well spoken. In turn, they wanted us to be well educated, well rounded, and well behaved kids.
As with every other upper middle class family in the world, having money did not mean you had life wrapped up in a pretty package filled with nothing but chocolates, roses, expensive wine, and all the admirers one could ask for. We had challenges both political and personal, and although our struggles were not on the magnitude of poverty and oppression like some unfortunate souls face, they were keen and gut-wrenching at times.
I wanted to focus on the parts of my early life that shaped us as a family and as a part of the surrounding community. In particular I focused on events that illustrated and provided insight into the deep political involvement, the privileges, and the passions that infused our emotional crests and troughs. How did these things confront and define my family, forcing us to be humble and grow, no matter how painful, rather than hide from reality and stagnate? How were our actions influenced by our geographical location in a small Appalachian town or by the social and cultural mores of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s?
I let these questions guide me as I made an outline, which grew and changed over time, in fact which is still growing and changing as I near the end of writing and the beginning of editing. It was a simple chronological listing of events that I thought relevant to the book’s mission, which I could then piece together the details of and mull over their place in the story. The tough job of brutally cutting out what did not contribute to the mission, regardless of how brilliantly I had crafted the paragraphs, would come later, after the first draft was completed, during the long process of editing and rewriting.