I have to tell you right up front. I’m a story teller. After graduation from the Coast Guard Academy in 1957, my twenty-eight years of active duty have given me a lot of fodder. I finally heeded my daughter’s pleas, “Dad, you have got to write those stories down,” and published my memoirs in 1975. Caught up in the writing experience, I moved on to publish a novel in 2019 and I'm continuing to write. It's my new number 1 hobby.
I should have expected it. If you keep digging, eventually you’ll find a different slant to whatever you are working on. I did not expect to find the governance of the Panama Canal Zone a research project for the world’s proponents of Progressive Socialism.
Question: “Where might one travel in the early twentieth century to find a society in which profit was not the goal? …Where the government owned the railroads, the hotels, the stores, the restaurants, and even provided free housing to every resident? Where the government owned all the land?”
Julie Greene begins a chapter in her book, “The Canal Builders” with those questions. She continues. “In 1911 the prominent American socialist Arthur Bullard published a book arguing that such a place already existed––in the Panama Canal Zone. He declared, “The more one stays here, the more one realizes that the Isthmian Canal Commission has gone further towards Socialism that any other branch of our government—further probably than any government has gone.”
That mind-bending piece of information dictates a definite slant on what and how I write a historical fiction piece on the Panama Canal project! It does not mean a new start, but it is a thematic slant that I can’t ignore.
In case you were wondering, I’m still learning and still having fun!
I ‘m making progress on my historic fiction short story, “The Goldlisters of Panama.” With a broad story outline and character arc, I have a good draft of the first quarter of the story, but––
Going in I knew this was a difficult genre. You need a lot of research, but how much is enough? With my target length of 20K words, I need to select scenes that convey the facts of the historical event, building of the Panama Canal, and I don’t want to slow down the journey of my fictional characters while playing out their lifechanging role in that effort. But I can’t let the piece grow to novel or even novella length. The challenge is finding the right balance of authorial narrative, and “showing scenes” for background, story arc, and character development.
Anybody faced that challenge? I’d love to hear from you.