Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 7

More on the Man Upon Whom the Character Who Doesn't Even Exist Yet is Based

Read that five times over and tell me if it makes any sense.......as I research the Depression and Indiana history, I have been thinking about the man I want to base my character of "Walter Brogan" on, who was my grandfather, Floyd Arlington Lovell. As I've indicated before, he died well before I was born. He was born on June 9, 1903 and died on December 14, 1961 at the age of 58. My own father, God be thanked, has long outlasted his, for he is now 75 and relatively healthy and completely lucid, I'll tell you that.

By all accounts I have heard, Floyd was a complicated man. Maybe he was simple in others. He seemed to be hard working, honorable, of traditional values, and somewhat disciplined. It doesn't sound like the guy rested a day in his life. One might easily make the case that my grandfather worked himself to death, if you wanted to put it harshly. He pushed himself unhealthily in terms of working long hours and suffered the consequences in terms of poor general health due to a lack of exercise and even in injuries. There is a vague episode I have heard of in which he was hit by a falling metal drum of fuel; he suffered internal injuries that never seemed to get properly corrected. He didn't visit the doctor unless he had to. He acquired diabetes as an adult due to poor dietary habits, which contributed to his heart disease and may have affected his vision. When he died of a coronary failure, it was massive and final. On that cold December night while he worked at the gas station he ran at the end of his life, he may have died before he even hit the ground. Such a tragic ending to a difficult life.

If these notes don't speak too well about him, some other facts and anecdotes do. He seemed to be a very social man who enjoyed the company of others, probably male company the best. He loved sports, beer, camaraderie; he was a 'man's man' in some ways. He got along with people. Also, his life course was in some ways set out before him by things he couldn't control. For example, I know for a fact HIS father, whose name was Valoris Lovell, died when Floyd was a young man, maybe around 20. Floyd had dreams of attending Notre Dame to play sports. (His grandson, my brother Luke, later fulfilled this dream by attending the university, and his celebrated intramural sports career is still discussed over suds at Carroll Hall.) But he never got even close to doing so, for after his own father died, I know that he had to assume some of the responsibility for his family's well being, although to what extent that responsibility reached is unclear. It was a real long time ago (1918? 1919?).

As you can gather from these notes, Floyd was a lot of different things at once. Like all of us. My primary purpose for writing about a character based on him - if there needs to be a purpose for any fiction writing other than the writing itself - is to enter into a possible 'version' of him so that I might understand him a little better. This is the best I can do, given the fact that he passed away so many years before I was even born.

True Stories from the Era that Will Help me Produce Interesting Fiction, or At Least That is the General Concept

I am coming across a lot of interesting stories and anecdotes from my research about things that people did during this time. It will make for an interesting palette from which to draw ideas and possible scenarios and characters. They range from funny to tragic to inspirational. There is the story of the man who, with ten children of his own, went to a bridge in his town over the Mahoning River, watched for a while as other people walked to their jobs, then removed his coat and pitched himself into the river. There is the elderly woman who, upon the failure of the bank in her town, went to the insitution, which held all of her life's savings, and banged on the glass doors until the authorities arrested her and put her into an insane asylum. There is the old man who described a memory where his family was so hungry, their father brought home a bag of flour once and they tore it open and ate it straight up by the handful. There is another story about a woman who fed her children by putting flour in a frying pan with some water and serving that, whatever that is. There is the statistic that one Chicago survey in the early 1930s found the school teachers in the region were feeding 11,000 hungry children on their own resources. There is the story of a woman who, when picked up with her family hitch-hiking, was clutching a dead chicken in her coat, and commented, 'Hoover promised a chicken in every pot. Well, i got mine.'

There is nothing to indicate that my grandfather or my dad's family ever experienced the levels of poverty described in those stories, but this is the background against which the events will be set, this is what American was dealing with at this time. How would one retain their basic optimism? How would one shield their children from despair and a sense of insecurity? How would one plan for the same chidrens' futures? How would one keep their own job? How would one vote, think, worship, amuse themselves?

This is the thinking I am doing right now. And these are the sort of things I hope to answer for myself in writing a long story about this period.


I Am Not What I Am said...

I have been following with interest your development of this novel. And I personally believe that this will be a challenging and rewarding experience for you.

The dilemna I believe that you will be facing is a little different from most writers. Your main character is someone you are striving to know (because you're doing historical research), but at the same time, once you know him, you can't fully use him as your main character (because you want him based on your relative).

So, then the question is, how do I distance myself from someone I have struggled to learn more about?
How do I put this person in situations, that he probably might've faced during that time period and deal with my writing not from the standpoint of;
"How would my grandfather deal with this issue?" (because you can't), but "How would this character, who is based on my grandfather, deal with it?"

This is a challenge, but I believe you're up to it!

Kathy said...

I just came across this post. I am the great grandaughter of Ruth Lovell who would have been Floyd's sister. I have some stories about my grandfather growing up in Indiana. I would love to share family history records with you...cousin....