I’m glad fate led me there. Myths were dispelled and I learned things that both humbled and inspired me. I had to put away unfounded assumptions that Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O’Hara were one in the same. Oh, they have their share of similarities, but Margaret Mitchell, I learned, was not the spoiled Southern Belle (SSB), I had assumed. In fact, she was much different.
The Margaret Mitchell house is not the house Mitchell grew up in. That is long gone. It’s not even her house. No, it is an apartment house where Mitchell and her husband rented a cramped three room (+bath) apartment during the eight years Mitchell wrote GWTW (1926 to 1934).
So how did a SSB end up in a shotgun-style ground floor flat with mismatched furniture writing one of the great American novels? Read on, my friend.
According to Pamela Roberts ("Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel" documentary), "[Mitchell] was a lifelong rebel who looked deeply into life and challenged the hypocrisy of society whether taking a job as a reporter — or secretly funding African-American education, an act for which she could have been killed had it become known to the public."
Peggy had a disastrous first marriage to handsome playboy, Berrien "Red" Upshaw. The young couple lived with her father in a grand mansion. Red, a wife beater and a bootlegger, was the kind of man my grandmother would have called "no count." Peggy, determined not to rely on her father’s money, went to work and shortly thereafter to divorce court. She began writing for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine where she earned $25 per week.
One day he came home empty handed and history was made. He told Peggy something like this: "You’ve read all the books in the library. If you want to read any more you’re going to have to write the book yourself."
Nope, she put the manuscript in a drawer.
Agents often tell you to write something that stands out, the breakout this or that, but, really, are there any new plots? Maybe, but mainly I see the most room for breakout in character development. Characters only you can create because of your own individual experiences and creativity. To me, it’s all about characters. Even if you build characters around solid archetypes— like Cinderella—there is still plenty of room for crafting a character that is unique and three dimensional.
I left #1 Crescent Apartments at 990 Peachtree Street inspired, by Peggy’s passion and courage, and humbled, by Peggy’s good works and dedication. It was a fortuitous side trip that I will remember for a long time.
How about you? Are you writing a damn good story? Are your characters compelling? How do you make the compelling characters? Tell me about it.