So, gentle readers and assorted lovelies, I wrote a play: The Mermaids. Once upon a time. And had a thought, hey, could this be a novel? Because I constantly recycle my own words and works, combing through it like a gold miner panning for those flakes. You look for that tell-tale black sand in that pan and then, the shiny flakes or even, on occasion, that big ole nugget. I actually do know how to pan for gold. I’ve done it. It’s hard work. They make it look easy in the movies. It’s not.
Okay! I did promise myself I would not RAMBLE LIKE A MOTHERWUCKER in these here blog posts. Thought, it’s my goldurn blog and I can ramble like a motherwucker if I want to. But, I do have to consider the patience and drive by mentality of today’s internet users and…Okay!
So, I did start a novel, several times, based on my play the Mermaids. Which is set in Idaho City, about four sisters and their wheel-chair bound step-uncle. Family secrets, real poor, Bible-thump-y a bit. Badda bing. And my over-stimulated brain went, hey, maybe there’s a big ole novel here. Maybe this would WORK BETTER AS A NOVEL.
That’s my siren song lately, that notion of
sung as a filthy little doubt lullaby. Nobody wants to produce this as play, why not write up a novel no one wants to touch, either?? Go on!! You know you want to!!
Which is that brain worm in my head talking to me. She [yeah, it’s a she] whispers such ‘helpful’ things all day long! All. Day. Long. And sometimes far into the night and into dreams. I will not go into my dreams, they are all dead, anyway, and floating belly up. Shut up, brain worm!
So!! I started off this project with the standard novel structure. Which was fine but, ugh. So I started it again. And again after that. And then hit on a pseudo-non-fiction riff, where this out of towner hears the tale of the Merlins at the Idaho City gas station and decides to write a book about them. Some made up artist from Cali. A budding film maker, a photographer, a traveler, a woman…Because, I can do that, I am Writer Gal. So, she collects the stories and tales from the four sisters, the uncle, and…yeah.
Basically, the story is that of Becks, Pearlie, Rita and Baby Morning dealing with the death of their mother, a horrible woman, who they are about to bury out in the yard as a big wild fire threatens to come galumphing over the entire area in a bit. A cop shows up to warn them about said fire and hijinks and fun ensue!
There’s lots of family intrigue, secrets, lies, blah. The eldest sister keeps promising the others they’ll go to California and live by the ocean, and become the Merlin Mermaids; she’s done this since they were all kids. I even threw in a romance, of sorts, between Pearlie and one of the survivalists neighbors. As those survivalist, anti-guv, anti-everything but themselves sorts abound in the dear old Gem State.
So I kept most of the stuff from my play and added some other stuff. Because, yeah, novel.
So!! I’ll post a couple bits from The Merlin Mermaids, which I might never actually finish. Shut up, brain worm!! Shhh!! You don’t know!! The following is the opening salvo from our narrator:
The Merlins have lived in Idaho City, Idaho, since the late 1860’s, when their distant kin traveled from Pennsylvania coal country to try and find gold in the Boise Basin. Pike’s Peak, Sutter’s Mill and the Klondike are famous for gold strikes, Idaho’s Boise Basin has stayed off the radar, oddly enough. For a time, this tiny, slowly dying spot on Highway 21 rivaled Portland for the West’s biggest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. An estimated 250,000,000 was taken from Idaho’s gold fields over roughly two decades. The first gold discovered, that brought the miners, gamblers, speculators, thieves, romantics and fools running, happened on August 2, 1862, in Centerville by George Grimes– a five thousand dollar haul that started a verifiable stampede to cash in on the riches to be had in Idaho’s rivers, lakes and earth. Abraham Lincoln established the Idaho Territory in 1863. The gold found around Idaho City, allegedly, funded the war efforts for Lincoln’s victory over the Confederates. Murders took place here on a regular basis. Of the first two hundred people buried in the pioneer graveyard, only about twenty or so died of natural causes Houses of prostitution flourished here once upon a time. Chinese immigrants built a life here and were denied the vote and citizenship for many years. By the 1870’s, there was an estimated 1700 Chinese living in and around this area. The Native American tribes included the Shoshone, the Bannock and the Piute. There’s a local museum that documents all this. Idaho City also started off known as Bannock City, in 1862, but changed that to Idaho City in 1864.
Devastating fires hit Idaho City over and over. 1865. 1867. 1868, 1871. Recently, another hit, burning many of the businesses and causing expensive damage to a town that simply can’t afford it.
The Merlins are not mentioned. They are not part of the bright, tawdry, colorful pageantry of this small Idaho historical place. They do not number among Idaho’s distinguished citizens or get a pat on the back for family ties that go back even before Idaho became a state.
They are more famous for being outcasts and taking the mantle of the ‘town crazies’. In a state that nourishes the rugged individual and values the image of the lone cowboy against the world… the Merlins have been judged harshly and perhaps, unfairly. Their distant ancestors, after all, never found any wealth here to squander. They were unlucky and worse, seemed cursed by God Himself. Their children, the ones that survived, grew up home-schooled and wary of the government. They were and are clannish, keeping everything close to the vest. They were and are not friendly, or trusting of outsiders. They work and they die. They are relicts of a past belief system, in a way.
What remains of this family are Becks, Pearlie, Rita and Baby Morning. And, missing, for now, their half-brother and their father. Their mother lingers in St. Luke’s to this day, in a coma, neither improving or worsening, the bills for her care, at this writing, astronomical. There is also a step-uncle, a more or less adopted son of their grandfather from one of his many marriages, a man who goes by Murray Merlin.
My idea for writing this book in the first place came from stopping for gas and hearing two locals talking about Ruby, who’d been buried alive. I asked the two men, who have asked not to be named, who got buried alive and what happened. I expected some sort of local trick-the-tourist insider’s joke. My little Prius had Cali plates and decals for a vegan lifestyle, so I expected a fair amount of leg-pulling. Instead, the two related a tale taken from equal parts Edgar Allan Poe, World Weekly and perhaps a telenovela. I set off to find the Merlins. And what follows is what I found.
Okay!! That’s our very flawed narrator setting up her non-fiction take on the Merlins. Here’s a bit from Pearlie‘s chapter, called Pearlie at the Gates of Dawn:
[ Pearlie or Pearl Mary Merlin, is a giant of a woman. She stands about six foot one and could effortlessly flatten a mule, as she mildly put it. There is a calmness to her. She doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone is the impression I get from our talks. The following is taken from our one and only interview. She does not like to reveal herself. She’s hidden her feelings so long, she says, she kinda got used to it and would feel unnatural having hysterics. Her words. She is now involved with one of the neighbors from the Merlin homestead, Blue Horsely. Pearlie wished to speak of that instead of what went down with her sisters, her mother and her step-uncle. As if she wants to protect everyone. If there’s a heroine to this weird, sordid, ugly little tale, it’s Pearlie. Though she admits she stood by and did a lot of nothing about everything. Her words, again. Not mine. I’d love to get her on film and make a short documentary on her but she grew so horrified over that I let the idea die. I don’t want my mug out there for people to laugh over. I been laughed over enough, ma’am. I’ve had enough. I gently asserted no one would laugh over her and would like very much to get to know her. She just looked at the ground then right at me. I know people a lot better than you, ma’am.]
My name is Pearlie. I live outside Idaho City, Idaho and will die somewhere around here in these old hills. Mountains, I guess, is the proper name. Boise is just down the road and the rest of the world. I lived in our family home my entire life until I had to leave and go live elsewhere. Let’s see, at the last there, that old falling down house held me, Becks, Rita, Baby Morning, about a thousand mice and Big Murray. We had no money, never had any money. Our mother lived there as well, until she almost died.
Oh, that. That whole mess. It’s still a mess, our mother is still alive in some home. She came out of the coma, she has cancer. They say she won’t live much longer. But she can’t come back here, she’s too sick and weak. So, she’s a ward of the state or something. Like one of them foster kids. I didn’t even know you could make adults like foster kids. Blue says the damn gubbermint [note: her pronunciation. She had a twinkle in her eye every time she said ‘gubbermint’ instead of ‘government’, though.] can do whatever they want with you and keep you alive to bleed you dry. But she doesn’t have any money for them to take, I argued and he just got mad so I shut up. The state of Idaho took our land and sold it, so I guess they did get some kind of payment. Becks, that’s the eldest sister, she hid how we owed taxes. She hid the letters. I think she just didn’t know what to do. And thought Idaho would just leave us alone. We been here since before Idaho was a state. We Merlins came here a long time ago and we stayed. That has to count for something. But it doesn’t, I guess.
Well, sure, that whole thing with our mother, but we Merlins are used to scandal and everyone hating on us. Becks ran off, I guess she’s the only Merlin who made it to the ocean, is my best guess. Rita’s here with me. She lives with me and Blue, we take care of her, she’s the only baby we’ll ever have, both of us being rather old. His, you know, don’t work a lot of the time and my works are old. I don’t want to say more than that. He’s touchy about that a bit. Sure, I guess, all men are. It’s all they got. They can’t make babies and they don’t really have any sense. [ Pearlie laughs at this point and then offers me some wild mint water. I ask what that is. She says, it’s wild mint crushed in a glass of water with some honey. I say, sure, thank you. It’s exactly what she said it was.]
Now, this is all raw, first draft writing. But I like it. I’m not yet at that, I should just pound nails through my head rather than try to write another word, stage.
Worm brain just smiled. She has plans for me. Oh dear.