Yay! As you know, if you’ve followed this blog, The Reluctant Canary Sings is now live on Amazon.
So what do you do when you’ve finally finished a book, it’s published, and out there for people to read? I guess you take a deep breath and go on to the next one.
This second book, and a third, all started out as one book, but my characters wouldn’t cooperate. Two of them kept trying to take over, and the story kept growing. I stripped out Bobbi’s story and sent it to a writer friend with a lot more experience than me. Is there a novel in here, I asked. She said yes and that was the germ of The Reluctant Canary Sings.
Now I’m dealing with Connor William Conroy—C. Willy C. as his friends call him. Connor lives on a farm near Elk Creek, Nebraska, as World War II spreads in Europe. He spent several years wandering around the west during the Great Depression—just staying alive. He loved his gig in the Civilian Conservation Corps, but it ended in the middle of the second dip of that depression, so he became a hobo for a time.
In the beginning of this story he worries about his sister. He has goaded and encouraged her to get into the Foreign Service and now she’s in the U.S. Consulate in Paris. They stay in touch with letters, as much as they can, as the war heats up and Connor tries to decide when, not if, to enlist. Nora writes to her parents about how safe she is in Paris, but her letters to her friend (Connor’s sweetheart Pauline) provide a more honest assessment. Here’s the letter Connor read before he went to chop weeds out of the fencerow:
Dear Pauline (and Connor),
The skies are bright and clear. Spring in Paris is gorgeous, but the trickle of refugees I told you about has turned into a torrent. There are Belgians and Dutch, people from Luxemburg. Thousands of them come into the city and fill every train car available, happy to stand if they can just get away. Cars jam the streets, slowed by the farm families with their wagons, maybe a cow tied on behind, and some chickens in crates on the top.
Remember the Mormons and their handcarts? I think I know what that looked like. There’ll be a hand cart, mattresses and furniture piled on the top, maybe a couple of buckets tied on the sides, a man between the shafts, and the whole family pushing behind.
The Parisians show enormous sympathy for these poor souls, helping any way they can—a little money, some provisions, water, advice on routes. Then they go back to their day-to-day routines and talk about how glad they are that they’re safe. They’re still sitting in the cafés, sipping espresso and watching the human flood pass, like the man by the side of the road. When they talk about the war at all, they just say the French Army will hold the Germans at the Maginot Line like they did during the First World War. But I look at the map. The Germans are in Belgium. Why wouldn’t they just go around the Maginot Line and come in from the north? I have to wonder, too, if these people have ever heard of the Luftwaffe.
Meanwhile, just to make this even more surreal, the newspapers go on and on about rapes and atrocities committed by the Germans during World War I. The contradictions take my breath away.
Well, I’ve got to get some sleep. We’re overwhelmed here, preparing exit visas and letters of transit, not to mention all the dispatches and the actual negotiations with French authorities who all seem to be absent without leave.
A good share of this book uses letters to reveal the relationships in the Conroy family, as well as describe events my point-of-view character can’t see for himself. What do you think about this device? Is it one that you’ve encountered in other books, or that you might use?