Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 12

Well, my man Duke has been tied up with other stuff, so.....

Walter Brogan: Early Sketches, Indiana, 1920s

In this edition of my journal, I am going to put the concept to work a little bit by recording some earlier speculations/sketches of the story of Walter Brogan. Hopefully I won't be giving away too much of what will eventually become my story, but I have a lot of just vague ideas and concepts kicking around my head, and I'd like to air some of them out. This journal seems to be the place to do it. And hey, nobody reads this anyway.

Originally my intention was to write exclusively about the 1930s and the Depression, and that is where most of my research has taken me. But I see now that you can't just take the Depression years of 1929-1942(3?) and put them in their own little box and that's it. I could limit the events of the story chronologically only to the 1930s, but there would still have to at least some backstory from the previous decade. And for that to happen I need to know about the 1920s also. Some of this I have read about already. I am hoping I will get a lot more specifics from the next book I read, coming up soon, Indiana Through Tradition and Change, 1920-1945. Seems reasonable to expect that I will.

The part of that era that really interests me, at least at the moment, is the period between 1929, when the stock market crash first occurred, and say, 1932, when just about everyone knew and felt that there was a Depression going on. It doesn't seem to have been an instantaneous thing in small town, middle-Western America. I think it probably took at least a year for the effects of the crash to ripple out to an area like western Indiana. But it also has to be remembered that this area was largely agricultural, and the farm community was already in hard times when the Depression hit. The 20s didn't roar for farmers, they were already getting hammered. It just got worse in the 30s. So a lot of the people in the part of the state that Walter Brogan would have lived in were already living under economic hardship. What about Brogan himself? What kind of situation was he in?

Warning: Early Story Fragments! This may ruin some parts of a story that has not yet been written by a writer who's never written a real novel before! Ask yourself if it is worth the risk!

Brogan's no farmer, not having come from that sort of background. His father, Claudius, was a salesman. He died, however, when Brogan was 18, and Brogan did not attend college, opting instead to return home and work to help support his mother and other siblings. Brogan kicked around from job to job until meeting Greta Heinricks, his eventual wife. Her father, H. L. Heinricks, was a restaurant owner in the Indiana town of Bentonville, but he was also an entrepeneur and opportunist. When it becomes clear that Walter Brogan and his daughter have intentions to be married, Heinricks conceives of a plan to add to his businesses by purchasing a gas station and a small motel in the same town. He has foreseen the boom of the automobile industry and realizes that the town is a potential pit stop for those on the road between Chicago, IL and Indianapolis. As a means of assisting the young couple, soon to be married, Heinricks tells Brogan he will offer him the job of running the gas station. This employs the young man and keeps his daughter in the general area. This is how Brogan is able to establish himself in early adult life, thanks to the vision of his father in law.

My story, then, would open in the early 1920s with the wedding of Walter Brogan and Greta Heinricks. Things would begin optimistically. I picture a small town stone church, little wedding ceremony and a restaurant reception. Brogan and his new wife settle down in Bentonville in a tiny house and begin a new life, with Brogan ganifully employed. But then certain pressures come to bear on the young man. It's 1924 or so and the Ku Klux Klan has rapidly risen to power all across the state. Surprisingly, their main target is not black people - there are very few of them in Indiana. No, the Klan's main targets are Catholics, and also Jews. Brogan's father in law is not only a prominent businessman, but he is also a Catholic - and German. Anti-German zeal lingers from the end of the World War. Of course, that makes Brogan's wife Catholic and German too. What might have happened? Did the Klan take action against Heinricks? Did they try to run him and his businesses out of Bentonville, and thereby attempt to ruin Brogan in the process?

I think you start with questions like this, and your story becomes a way for you to find some answers. At least, that's what I am hoping will be the case. I don't think anything like I suggested above happened to my own grandfather, at least not as far as I know, but it's possible that some things like this could have. That's all I wanted to get into in exploring this material. What was going on in that part of the country during that era. Because these are the conditions and situations that my own Dad came out of, and I just find that to be interesting. They're so fundmentally different from the way things were when I grew up, in a totally different place and in a vastly different time. And they're NOTHING like what my kids are growing up into. Writing this kind of story is a way to go back and rediscover an era that is lost to us now.

1 comment:

Duke Altum said...

Finally getting around to reading this post now, and there are some damned interesting ideas here. I can see that there is in fact quite a lot of meat to chew on in this time and place in America's history... on the surface it might seem that there's not much to tell about rural Indiana during the 1920's-30's, but of course we know this couldn't possibly be true. Wherever human lives are at stake, which is everywhere, there is always drama, always the eternal struggle. It may play out in bold colors on the surface of things or in dark hues just beneath it. But there is always a story to tell.

Just the way you set this up, Mutt, one can see that there are depths you can plumb here with this material. And there's an original angle in all of this too, I think: who can think of any novel that looks at the Klan in the Midwest during the 1920's, or even their influence on Catholics in general for that matter? I realize this wouldn't be the main focus of the book, but the point is that just to have it looked at is something you certainly don't see every day.

I think you've got an interesting set-up for your story here, and there certainly seems to be more background material here than with any other fiction project you've worked on (with the exception of your own biographically-themed stuff, of course -- plenty of background there). Now, you pretty much just need to put pen to paper and see what starts coming out. It seems that there is plenty of information roiling around in your head about this stuff -- 12 blog entries' worth! Now it will be interesting to see what comes out when you begin to wrap your formidable imagination around these dusty facts, and breathe some life into them...