I was a long way from putting my book, The Sound of Her Own Voice, into any voice at this point. I took notes and while driving around town thought about who my characters might be; each one too similar to whomever I was reading about at the moment.
One of my favorite books is “They Saw The Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush” by Jo Ann Levy. Here I found records, pictures and, most importantly, letters from women who had made the difficult journey to the Gold Rush. It was my own personal gold mine!
One astonishing woman was Mary Jane Megguier. She traveled from Maine with her husband through the isthmus of Panama (as did my heroine, Lena).
Her complete joy in discovering a new world was communicated in her letters:
The birds singing the monkeys screeching the Americans laughing and joking the natives grunting as they pushed us along through the rapids was enough to drive one mad with delight.”
Wonderful! She gave herself up to joy! In contrast most all of the letters and diaries from men complain about the heat, the bugs, the ‘natives’, the illness, the rigors of travel. Mary Jane must have experienced all that as well, but it didn’t get in her way of enjoyment.
Perhaps an intelligent, fearless woman freed from the cultural demands of domestic life in 1849 took advantage of all that was new; it was a world with diminished expectations for ‘proper’ behavior. Perhaps the adventure not only freed her to act in the world as a whole person, but saved her as well.
My character, Lena, was beginning to take shape. But, I needed more information about the places, times, people she was living in and with.