Summer in the Light, Winter in the Shade

11 March 2013

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

A writer cannot be long separated from her characters, lest she return and find she no longer knows them. Through the last few months of research, I've learned that distance does not secure inspiration, and if I do not scribble something or other each day (or each week, at least), I will find myself looking in on Rifles in the South Field like a wandering stranger out in the cold, nose pressed against the glass, seeing the book play out before me but unaware as to how to cross the great divide between us. Taking part in Beautiful People each month (which I'm not particularly good at doing) remains one of the best methods for staying in touch with your characters . . . and what is an author if she does not know her own children?

This month I'm drawing from a history that took place before revolution was kindling in the American colonists' minds. Though Elizabeth Dixon plays only a small part in the book, she is eternally at the forefront of Susannah's mind, making her an intriguing character and one I desire to know better.

the late elizabeth dixon

1. If your character’s house burned down, and they were left with nothing but the clothes on their back, what would they do? Where would they go?

Elizabeth wasn't particularly wealthy before her marriage, and thus no stranger to the sting of lye and the prick of the needle. Being of a resourceful turn, she would have most likely take up lodging at a neighbor's home until she could find some means of earning an income, either as a laundress or seamstress. The work would have chafed at her pride at first, but ends must meet somehow, and she would see herself as the one called upon to draw them together.

2. Are they happy with where they are in life, or would they like to move on?

Her station in life as mistress of a vast plantation, loving wife to a devoted husband, and mother to a young daughter was not one to often breed discontent. Being neither bold or adventurous, she never suffered from wanderlust.

3. Are they well-paid?

Samuel Dixon's finances easily satisfied any small need of hers, but she never had cause to receive wages in her life.

4. Can they read?

Elizabeth would have considered it both a curse and a shame if she could not.

5. What languages do they speak?

A smattering of French and German carried over from childhood, but not a great deal. Her ablities did not extend beyond enquiries of the other person's health.

6. What is their biggest mistake?

Refusing to heed her father's wishes as a young child when he told her not to set foot out of doors without a warm cloak. The cold that resulted weakened her chest for life, and rendered her health decidedly fragile.

7. What did they play with most as a child?

She had a worn rag doll called Becky of which she was passing fond.

8. What are their thoughts on politics?

The unreasonable taxes Britain was beginning to impose upon her country troubled her, but she was never so bold as to proclaim American independence. Her secret hope was always that a peaceful compromise could be reached between the Colonies and Great Britain.

9. What is their expected life time?

Elizabeth died suddenly of influenza in 1766 when Susannah was only six years old.

10. If they were falsely accused of murder, what would they do? How would they react?

She could not have comprehended such a situation occuring, and thus could give no coherent response. She would have most likely relied on her husband to plead her innocence, not trusting her own voice.

1 epistles:

  1. I always enjoy your Beautiful People characters, Elizabeth. You are right that when we go into much research we can often become distant from our beloved characters. That's why I love these blog interviews so much as well.

    I love the sound of the late Elizabeth Dixon! I can really imagine her as that kind of mother that Susanna would have :-). I am curious to hear more about 'Rifles of the South Field'!

    Any idea when it might be finished?


"Gracious words are like a honeycomb; sweetness to the soul and health to the body." —Proverbs 16:24

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