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This week I worked four mornings on my book…more editing of Ch 3, “The Journey to Loretto,” readying it to send to a friend at the Motherhouse who figures as a character in this period of my life. After the new Ch 1 (“The Action”), Ch 2 (“DC Women’s Detention”), my co-conspirator Catherine begins asking questions about my life in the convent, how I moved into political action. This segue device allows me to build the themes of religious and social awareness that give the plot meaning. I suppose using only three chapters of “backstory” is better than five. I know there is more work ahead to tighten up the plot, to keep it focused on the action, the “leadup” and consequences, while being true to the internal story of what is happening in my life as the events of the late sixties move me closer and closer to an irrevocable stand against the War in Vietnam.

Ch 4 now includes both the beginning of my civil rights involvement in 1963 and the nuns’ attack on the St. Louis police station in 1968, following the thematic story of my participation in the civil rights movement rather than the chronological one. How do I bring in all the events in Kansas City from 1964-67? Primarily as the other political threads of my development – working to stop poverty and war, in addition to racism? The story of my relationship with David Darst, a major catalyst to my own action in DC?

Novels get to move all over the place. Can I do that successfully in a memoir? Others have – Azar Nafisi for one. I also finished reading another Pulitzer prize winning novel – The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau – that hints at the ending but never gives it away, weaves and builds a story by telling it from the viewpoints of three main characters. She keeps to a basic chronology but also develops the theme by saving key pieces of information for the ending. Good fiction and non-fiction can skillfully weave a story without adhering to a strict chronological line. Next I’ll focus on the relationship with David, my admiration of him as teacher, my own development in “teaching with my life,” his action….leading to mine…..then I’ve sort of covered the main things necessary to moving forward with the rest of the book. It can be refined, edited, but I’m close to having a completely different approach that starts with the central action, develops theme and plays with a different approach to chronology.

It may or may not be the one that editors and publishers prefer, but I will have it to offer as an alternative to strict chronology, a version that focuses on “exciting” actions for our action-oriented audience.

Have you writers out there ever struggled with this question of theme and chronology? I suppose the Zen approach would be that every moment of our lives contains all of human history – past, present and future.

Photo by lambertwm

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