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Here Be Dragons: Going off the Map to Find the Story

From Guest Blogger, Marjorie Hudson, author of Searching for Virginia Dare

Fourteen years ago I went searching for Virginia Dare. What I found was a new confidence and freedom in my choices as a writer. I learned how to go off the map edges to the wild uncharted places beyond.

Virginia Dare was the first English child born in the New World, part of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island. Her fate is an obscure footnote in American colonial and women’s history, yet the story is so fascinating, it should be more well known. Truthfully? For me, it’s become a kind of obsession.

In 1587 England sent a colony to the New World, 116 men, women, and children. Virginia was born on August 18 amid tangled scuppernong vines and live oaks on Roanoke Island. She was baptized August 24. That’s about all the documentation there is of Virginia Dare’s life on earth. The entire colony disappeared, leaving a message carved in a tree, and nobody has ever quite figured out what happened to them.

Now, the problem for a writer about history is that you have to have documentation. You have to have expert commentary. You have to have facts. What I had, instead, was a tapestry of extraordinary people and events that take a role in the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island. There were dangers in this story for any writer who dared venture there. There were so many strands to this story, so many questions.

I was determined to find a way to make sense of all the pieces and put them, like Humpty Dumpty, together again. I fell back on the structures I learned in journalism school: read the background; consult the experts. I traveled around North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, talking to everyone from university archeologists to Lumbee Indian artists to guys in bars. Nobody had answers. Everyone had stories.

I got lost a lot on back roads. I got lost in imagination. I got lost in memories about my own lost times. The story of Virginia and her mother in the wilderness began to haunt me.

Perhaps this girl and her mother may have felt, just a little bit, like me when I was growing up, adventuring alone in the world. My explorations took me hitchhiking across the US, squatting in derelict houses, and finally settling in rural North Carolina. Well, it was preposterous to draw parallels, I knew. But I also knew that stories tell you their forms. I decided to trust the messiness, let all the disparate map-lines to the heart of the story be known and valued, including the dragons.

I decided to reveal my patterns of thought and feeling in response to the story, my struggle to understand, my mind’s turn toward imagination, and forays into deep memories of the young girl I once was, terrified and alone in the world, and the repeated pattern of mystery and loss that is my life.

The story of Virginia Dare became a map of a writer’s mind in process. I let the material find its own shape, like water running downhill, eroding to the bone-honest story underneath, the story that only I could tell. One reviewer said Searching for Virginia Dare was like “a road trip with your best friend.”

The story and the mystery both have been great company for me. I carry them with me, like secret treasure, wherever I go, along with a new compass in my bag of writer tools: let the story find its own map.

 

[Marjorie Hudson writes about newcomers encountering the South and about contemporary people encountering history. She is author of the story collection: Accidental Birds of the Carolinas, a PEN/Hemingway Honorable Mention, and her honors include an NC Arts Council Fellowship and two Pushcart Special Mentions for fiction. She is founder and director of the Kitchen Table Writers Workshops. Marjorie Hudson: www.marjoriehudson.com

Buy the book: Searching for Virginia Dare

                       Accidental Birds of the Carolinasmarjorie2

John White Drawings:http://www.virtualjamestown.org/images/white_debry_html/jamestown.html

John White map showing dragon:http://www.virtualjamestown.org/images/white_debry_html/debry123.html

Photo Credit: Brent Clark

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2 Responses to “Here Be Dragons: Going off the Map to Find the Story”

  1. Virginia Ewing Hudson Says:

    Thanks for sharing Marjorie's essay, Peggy. I've read, and loved, "Accidental Birds," and have had best intentions for quite awhile to also read "Searching for Virginia Dare." Reading this essay has sent me running to the bookstore. As a writer who's also stumbling around looking for the forms and breadths of my stories, It sounds especially relevant. Plus, Marjorie's a wonderful writer!

  2. Peggy Payne Says:

    I also identified with this, Virginia, with a biography I’ve been working, on on and off, for a long time. Made me want to study Searching for Virginia Dare for technique.

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