Voices in the Walls 10

Chapter one, concluded

“But we will have to fight for our freedom,” I said, “and I could hardly call myself a man if I let others do my fighting for me!”

“I understand your feelings, but listen: Lincoln doesn’t become president until March. The southern states won’t wait for that to happen. They will begin to secede immediately, and it is possible that President Buchanan will let them go with only a token show of resistance. It could all be over before Lincoln ever comes to the Presidency.”

“I don’t see how that changes anything.”

“Son, you are still fifteen. Give me your word that you will stay with your sister in Gettysburg until your sixteenth birthday, and I will release you from any further obligations. By that time we will know better what is to happen, and I will trust you to act on your own conscience.”

???make this 16 & 17???

(I love computers. They allow me to drop little “notes to self” right into the text where I can’t forget them. Of course this would be a disaster if you were the type to send off first drafts unchecked.)

I did not want to give my word. The South had no navy. That meant that if it came to war, they would be fitting out privateers and I wanted to be in on the action. If my father’s predictions were right, I might miss the whole thing by waiting until April to enlist.

Yet, when I looked at my father’s face, I could not refuse him. I said, “I will wait.” He shook my hand on it. Then he reached into the side pocket of his coat and handed me a package wrapped with paper.

“Don’t open that until you get to Pennsylvania,” he cautioned, “and then do so in secret. You will find a pistol, caps, power, and shot inside. Load it, then hide it. Don’t let your Aunt Rachel know about it. As a Quaker, she is not supposed to force her ideas on anyone, but she might refuse to have it under her roof. She is a strong willed woman, and a foolish one sometimes. If you ever need to defend your sister or yourself, I want you to have the means.”

I slipped the heavy package into my pocket. More than anything so far, it brought home the seriousness of our situation. I said, “When will we see you again?”

“When God wills it, if he ever does.”

Then he put his arms around me briefly, and I confess that I had to wipe moisture from my eye before I turned to face Sarah again.


So ends chapter one. I’ve reread the chapter dozens of times, tweaking little things, and I am still not satisfied with it. It is full of exposition necessary for the coming story, and full of conversation between a father and son who are just a bit stiff and distant with one another, during a formal historic era.

If this were science fiction, or fantasy, or a thriller, I would chuck the whole chapter and start over. Or, to be more precise, I would have written it differently in the first place.

There are two things at play here. The story I am trying to tell in a tale of morals, and much of the most important action is internal. Nevertheless, the story has to move, or readers will simply close the book and go on to something else.

Beginning with chapter two, things speed up a bit. When I complete Voices, I will leave chapter one as is and drive on the the last page. Events that have yet to be written may change my view of this first chapter and make changes easier.

Here is a rule to live by: Chapter one doesn’t have to be perfect while you are writing a book, but it had better be perfect before it heads for the publisher.

Chapter two is two posts away. Next post, a diversion.


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