By Author, Augusta Trobaugh
A strong influence, I am sure, was the family of Southern storytellers into which I was born – a family of volatile, Irish-descended firebrands who could flare up at each other in an instant, but who also loved nothing better than sharing their stories with each other, over and over again. How privileged I was to be in the midst of that great, swirling mélange of words! A story about something as mundane as making pickles in the summertime was infused with the torrid heat of the kitchen and the clinking of newly-scalded canning jars; a hunting story seemed to contain the whispering sound of the hunter’s boots on early-morning grass and the trembling of the quails in the thicket; a story about a trip away from home contained all the new sights, the exotic aromas, the color of unfamiliar skies, and finally, the wistful beauty of the return home.
Because of that background, I think of myself primarily as a storyteller, and consequently, every word in every book I have written has passed through my lips in oral form, a “testing” of the sound of the words and the way they dance together in making their own music. Sometimes, finding exactly the words I need takes some time and thought. For example, in Swan Place, the narrator talks about recognizing the first harbingers of spring; the dearest of those, to me, are the songs of Mockingbirds. But the exact words eluded me, and only with the arrival of an actual springtime did I begin observing the Mockingbirds; in particular, I noticed their territoriality. Like that proverbial light bulb going on over the head of a character in the comics, I suddenly realized that, while I was simply enjoying their beautiful singing (some of them even sing while they are in flight), for them, the staking out of their territories was a deadly-serious business about the survival of their species. So immediately, I found the words I wanted: “the savage, melodious songs of young Mockingbirds staking out their territories.” When I got the word “savage,” I smiled for days on end, with that little word-victory!
When I am “in a story,” the characters become so completely real to me, they frequently enter my dreams, and like my ancestors, they talk and talk! So I sleep with a flashlight in one hand, a pen in the other, and a legal pad under my pillow. And when the characters “speak,” I usually am able to jot down enough of their words to recall the full text of their conversations the next day. On other occasions, I dream of something I call “word-banners,” great colorful silk-like flags that pass by in a dream-parade, and each banner has words printed on it – joyful, flowing words such as “give to the earth the civilized seeds that bring forth corn and okra.”
Awake or asleep, I am forever madly in love with words!