The smoke of battle had cleared long since, and even the smell of death had become faint in the hills around Gettysburg. Long rows of crosses, raw wood under fresh paint, regimented the fields where the Union dead lay buried. The clouds were low and gray, a sky for weeping over a land shocked numb. For a hundred years it had been a land of farms and families and ordinary life until Time and History had staggered in on horseback. Men armed with rifles and gatling guns had lifted Gettysburg forever from the ordinary, and had set its name on every lip.
I was a thousand miles west that day, also fighting. It is an irony of war that an event as important as the fall of Vicksburg should be overlooked because it happened the same day as the battle of Gettysburg.
Stepping down from the train, I knew that I had come home. Since Waterside had been destroyed, my Aunt Rachel’s old farmhouse, where I had lived in three short weeks in the autumn of 1860, was the only spot on Earth I could call my own. Here I had begun the journey that would lead me to manhood – a convoluted journey that had taken me into that strangest of countries, my own childhood seen through newly opened eyes.
It had begun with the sound of horses hooves in the night, and a summons from my father; and with that summons, all that had been was no more, and my life was changed forever in the blink of an eye.
It had begun with the sound of horses hooves in the night, and a summons from my father that had changed my life in the blinking of an eye.
I put that memory aside when I saw the two women waiting on the wagon seat.
Aunt Rachel stepped down and Sarah followed her. It was as if time had turned back upon itself. Tall, rawboned, and blonde; plainly dressed and smiling a welcome that still reminded me of my mother, Rachel Pike strode across the platform to greet me. She was small in the circle of my arms, but the change was not in her; it was all in me. Then Sarah stepped up, shy and smiling, and she had changed the most of all. She had been a child when I left and now she was a young woman, and a stranger again, as she had been throughout our childhood. My sister, whom I had never really known.
I put my arms around them both, remembering . . .
This was not the original beginning of Voices. I first began with that “summons in the night” and moved ahead with straightforward chronology. It didn’t quite work for me.
I wanted Matt to mature through the novel, but that is always a bit tricky. You expect callowness at the beginning of a young adult novel, but adult readers generally want maturity from the very beginning.
Bracketing can solve that problem. It allows you to show the protagonist at a later stage of his development, musing about the events the reader is about to see. It works here, but I didn’t write this prolog until the novel was well advanced. I wouldn’t have know enough about events or tone when I began writing.
This bracket is particularly effective because it will pick up again after the last chapter as an epilog. This is one thing I knew from the beginning – that I was going to end the novel at the wind-down of the Civil War, with a cameo of Lincoln at Gettysburg.
You might have noticed that paragraphs four and five need to be collapsed. That is the kind of thing I would see but ignore, leaving the final tweaking until the whole novel is finished. more tomorrow