Friday, October 12, 2012

Designing a literary family tree

Okay. So, with artistic/cover/marketing ideas in mind, my publisher, Jolly Fish Press, suggests I come up with a family tree for Gabriel's Daughters, the novel they will publish in Fall 2013. I think - - - wow, what a great idea. How creative! Because Gabriel's Daughters  is about a family. In particular, a large polygamous family. One husband, three wives, and seventeen living children, to be exact. (I should be very grateful they didn't ask for a genetic analysis. Two of the wives are identical twins, so their children are half siblings to each other as well as cousins, and the other wife is a cousin to the identical twin sister wives. It would just boggle the mind.)

Knowing my artistic limits, I turn to Google to find a family tree maker. My mother was a genealogist and she’d be so disappointed. I haven’t done any family research of my own to speak of, and here I am, constructing a family tree, not just for someone else’s family, but an imaginary family. Sorry, Mom . . . however, she always wanted to write a book, so maybe that's a bit of comfort for me. 

Anyway, I start entering information on my hypothetical family into the family tree maker. The first glitch comes when I try to add Wife #2. Am I certain I want to add a second wife, the program asks? Yes, I am. Then I add Wife #3 after answering the same question.

Then I think, Okay, I should name these people. Of course, some are main characters in my book and they already have names: Joshua Martin and his three wives, Rachel, Hannah and Sarah. The book centers on daughters Louisa, Zina, and Amy. We know there are other children, but they’re basically just placeholders (I know Dickens would involve all of them in the story if he'd written it, but he didn't, and I'm not Dickens).  However, to make this family more authentic in my mind at least, I start inventing and naming children and assigning them to the various wives.

Then I think, well, I’ll find pictures for these people. That would look great on this hypothetical family tree I’m constructing. So I start with Joshua in mind, go to Google Images and start hunting for “pictures of mature men.” Oops. While there are definitely some mature men pictured, some are sans clothes. So I refine the terms a bit and finally find someone who looks the way I think Joshua would look. Fully clothed.

For the sonsI locate a few images of clean-cut boys, resisting the urge to include pictures of my own three sons. Nope, not gonna go there. Not that they'll ever see this work of art I'm pasting together. It's just the . . . well, the Principle of the thing (inside joke: polygamists refer to their lifestyle as living the Principle).

Then I search for pictures of girls for the daughters. Whoa again. Mixed among pictures of regular girls are the “girly” pictures you’d see in girly magazines. So I try “modestly dressed girls” and find some pictures I think will work.

Next come the wives. And that’s more challenging, because Joshua and his wives and seventeen children live in a small isolated polygamous community and dress like . . . well, like pioneers. So I Google “polygamous women” and find pictures from the raid on the FLDS cult's YFZ Ranch in Texas. There they are, groups of women, in their long pastel dresses (only two or three styles). Evidently the color indicates family lines. And the hair! Long, up in the back, with a big, high swoop in the front. The higher the swoop, the better, according to what I’ve read. Well, my polygamists aren't FLDS and they don’t quite look like that. However, the women do have long hair, and it’s always worn up, never loose, and they do wear modest, long dresses. I find a few pictures of women that will do, I think.

Then, scanning across the images on the screen, I see one that is vaguely familiar. I stop, back up, and look again. It’s a woman with three dogs. She actually looks quite familiar. In fact, it’s a picture of me, with my three dogs, and it’s popped up under the search term for “polygamous women.” 

Whoa again. I’m not a polygamous woman. Never have been, never will be. My husband says one wife is more than enough. I agree. We've agreed on that for more than forty years. I click on the picture and it leads to this blog and the press release for Gabriel’s Daughters, which is, after all, about polygamy, among other things. OK, that’s all right, I guess, after I get over the shock.

Just be careful when searching for pictures of men, women, boys and girls on the web. You’ll find much more than you bargained for.

And, when it comes to the internet, you never know where you’ll show up. 

With Chevy, Molly and Lita. The picture's a few years old. Molly is now pursuing skunks in heaven
(are there skunks in heaven? I hope not. Sorry, Molly.
My sweet Chevy's probably just snuggling up to some lucky angel.)


Pam Williams said...

Just when you thought you were anonymous, somebody wants to label you polygamous! That's hilarious. It's a great idea to have a family tree for such a large, albeit, fictional family. I've taken my characters through a couple of generations even though that won't show up in the story. Something about it helps to settle the characters in my mind as real people. A useful exercise, indeed.

Marsha Ward said...

Janet, I've thought of using some type of family-maker software to sort out my characters, some of whom have married into other families in my cast of characters, and vice versa. I just haven't done it yet, so it's fascinating to hear what you have done.