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  • James Wheeling

First Blog of 2022

It’s been quite a while since I last blogged and there’s a lot to catch up on. This blog will be less historical and more biographical in nature.

My winter 2020-2021 writing season was filled with the new adventure of learning to write a screenplay for my story. I invested in new software that took some time to learn, but by the end of May I had eight, one-hour episodes. Very satisfying.

The most important lesson I learned from the screenwriting experience was the need to trim. Screenwriting has strict limits on sentence length, how many sentences per paragraph and limitations on dialogue. I learned I could tell my story without so many words! Simple for some, not for me.

Also at the end of May, I got several rejections on my manuscript, all with similar statements. I talked with my agent and we agreed to pull the manuscript back from the acquiring editors for another rewrite, the eleventh. While disappointed at the time, I now have to say, “best idea ever!”

I spent the summer of 2021 rethinking all aspects of my story including characters’ names, plot twists and — this is a big one — the title.

When it comes to titles, I think many of us are very particular. I like mine to have a twist, a hidden meaning, something that gives the reader a clue. For instance, who knew what a “revenant” was before the movie came out? I believe there was a book first, so if you knew it from the book, well done. I had to look up the French word. I won’t spoil it in case you want to solve the puzzle yourself but, once you understand the title, the movie takes on a different meaning.

Credit for my new title goes to a wonderful new mentor who I gave the screenplays to for her opinion. As she read them, she came up with interesting challenges to some of my characters. And she questioned the title. So, over the course of the summer, a new title was born.

Another interesting challenge that has arisen in our times is cultural appropriation. As I have studied the subject with the intention of not committing trespasses, I’ve learned so much. The key is research. Writing historical fiction is challenging, but when considering the mid-1800s, Manifest Destiny and the unbridled conquest of the American West, it becomes daunting. Even with the best of intentions, writing historical fiction has to have some basis in the reality of the period, even if it is uncomfortable and hard to understand.

I don’t care for the way Indigenous people, African Americans and other people of color were dominated by white Europeans. The US government was singularly focused on taking something they felt was theirs without giving thought to those who had lived there for centuries. As a student of history, it makes me cringe when, 150 years later, we can see how disingenuous the government and dominate were to those they subjugated. I’ve also learned how anachronistic it is to project our 21st century views onto situations that happened so long ago.

I continue to weave my story in and out of the times my characters find themselves in, despite the difficulties to reconcile what happened in those times. I enjoy incorporating the stories from pioneer diaries and those recorded from Indigenous peoples, taking open-minded inspiration from their grit and tenacity towards survival.

This is my 12th year with this story. While I’ve never felt like it wasn’t worth it, it sure has been a challenge to find the time, to learn how to write, to learn how the publishing world works and now, how the film industry works. I’m so grateful to have created strong relationships with trusted advisors who are helping to guide me through the process. Stay tuned, I will start blogging again with some of the interesting historical facts that are part of my story. As always, thank you all for your kind words and support.

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