The Story Behind the Stories: Healing Waters.”

30 Sep

The Story behind the Story: Healing Waters

Healing Waters was a story I have wanted to write for a long time. I have always been fascinated with the healing springs we have all over Arkansas, from Eureka Springs to Hot Springs. Hot Springs is an especially fascinating area. I love how one can walk up to the fountains within the national park while carrying their own jugs, and each fountain is labeled as to the disease it purportedly cures. There has to be other hot springs in and around the area that are not located within the national park.

Ginseng has also been another of the Arkansas native plants that have fascinated me. I remember fishing at Lee Creek  up around Devil’s Den and seeing the hill folks walking out with sacks of the herb. I recently traveled to Lee Creek and posted pictures of my old fishing holes.

But what finally served as the catalyst for this story was a picture taken by Chicago Photographer Jennifer Moore. The picture was of a lady standing in the ankle deep waters of a pool in a creek. Jennifer had sent me the picture and asked if I’d be interested in doing a story, and this one was born. Here is a link to the picture as it appears on Jennifer’s website:

The picture gave me an idea for the story I wanted to write—a story that would include the healing springs and one of the most fascinating herbs in the state—ginseng.

I immediately began researching the springs in the state and the growing and harvesting of ginseng. I had an idea of how the story would go, and the basic structure of the story is what I began with. I just wasn’t sure how to end the story.

While in Neil Connelly’s Forms of fiction class at McNeese State University, I did a paper on the Indiana Review and the stories within. That paper taught me the best way to end a story was on an image or action of a character. The image or action should somehow sum up, or stand as a metaphor, for the heart of, or for a major theme of the story. Many times I will have an idea for a story, but not know where to end or begin. When that happens, I just start writing, from the beginning, and I trust in my own editorial skills to help me edit the story later. One tactic that seems to work well for me is to begin at the point where the greatest tension of the story is created. Or instance, in a story titled Alligator Stew published in Real South I began the story in the first draft giving exposition about all of the characters. Later, the main character receives a phone call from his daughter’s boyfriend. He tells the father to say good-by to the daughter as he is about to kill her. The father then has to wait for what seems an eternity to learn what happens. I switched the order of events when editing to allow the phone call to happen in the first paragraph.  Then as I am revealing the back-story, the tension is always there. The reader is expecting you to get back to the issue and resolve it, and the time you take away from the issue truly represents the time the character is left hanging in the story.

So I decided to begin this story with my ginseng farmer catching a girl crawling through his fence and onto his property. He believes she is stealing his ginseng, but the photos are inconclusive. This creates tension. I wrote the story through to one possible ending where he sees her swimming in the creek and jumps in with her. I liked that ending because he had not been swimming since he had helped his wife in the creek before her death. The act of swimming seemed to be a good act that stood for his change in thinking.

When I sent the story to Jennifer Moore, the original ending had my preacher stripping his clothes and diving in. Jennifer commented in an email that she had seen that one coming. I knew that ending had to go, because foreseeability is the kiss of death for literary fiction. An ending, according to John Dufresne, must be unforeseeable, but also inevitable. The reader should never be able to guess what will happen, but when it does, they should nod their heads in agreement that it could not have ended any other way.  I didn’t have that ending yet, and I knew I needed to end on an action that somehow summed up the story. The planting of the ginseng seeds seemed to be a running theme for faith as the story took shape, so I started brainstorming on how to end the story with the planting of the seeds.

Extensive research was necessary to make sure I had the right biological information, and my new friend, Madison Woods, the author of  a blog titled “Where fantasy Meets the Wild Ozarks” was a tremendous source of information. My former biology teacher, Ms. Sandy Tedder, knew I was writing a story about ginseng and sent me this link to Ms. Woods’ blog:

Ms. Woods was kind enough to read and review the story for biological accuracy, and she even provided some additional details I picked up from her website—for instance the reference to maidenhair and christmas ferns. A link to her blog is posted on the blog page of my website.

I also did a bit more research on the crystals that are found in and around the Hot Springs area. I wanted to use those in the story also, but had problems finding a way to make them relevant. I firmly believe if something appears one time in a story and it can be removed without requiring a change anywhere else, it should be edited out. I talked about the crystals but made no other reference to them in the story. Then I realized as I was revising the end that I could refer to her eyes shining like crystals, and that allowed me to leave the reference in the story.

I had originally worried that none of my readers would catch that she was an apparition at the end and not a real being. If they thought she was real, they would have criticized my preacher for not going in to get her. But he hadn’t swam in the creek since Little Daisy Belk had died, and he wasn’t going to jump in for this stranger, even if he had the hots for her. For some reason, although I think there was a possibility of romance there, I liked his steadfastness in not swimming in the creek at the end, and not questioning what he had witnessed. To me, his not questioning whether what he saw was real was the greatest leap of faith he made during the story. Seeing the ginseng up on the side of the creek bank also allowed him to focus elsewhere, and to think of Daisy.

This is a story I could easily go back and make a novel of, and perhaps one day I will.

5 Responses to “The Story Behind the Stories: Healing Waters.””

  1. Madison Woods October 1, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

    I loved hearing about your writing process – good points I hadn’t thought of before. And thanks for the mention!

  2. Madison Woods February 8, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

    Do you have a link to your story and a graphic I can add to my “Ginseng Headlines” page? Right now it’s only linked to this post, but I’d be happy to link to the others, too.

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