With three days left, I won’t make my self-imposed deadline of finishing the first draft of Epitaph by the end of June, but I’m pretty close. Maybe a chapter and a half to go, depending on the decisions I make today.
What I’m mulling over this morning is, Where do I intentionally diverge from historical fact in the service of the novel I’m writing?
From the start, my ambition has been to make Epitaph an accurate and insightful rendering of Tombstone story while maintaining narrative drive. I’ve been judicious about how much history to include. Too much, and the book becomes a wooden recitation of facts; too little, and it becomes yet another half-assed exploitation of a genuine tragedy.
I’ve followed the Homeric standard of telling both sides of the story. The Iliad tells of the siege of Troy, and makes it clear that neither the Greeks nor the Trojans had a lock on morality or brutality or heroism or cowardice. Both sides in the conflict had their reasons for fighting, and so did the individuals among them.
So, if you read Epitaph, I want you to feel as bad about Tom McLaury’s death as you do about Morgan Earp’s. I want you to feel kind of sorry for Ike Clanton and Johnny Behan, and to be horrified at the violence that Wyatt Earp was capable of. I want the living members of their families to feel they’ve been portrayed with compassion and fairness.
I’m pretty satisfied with the balance I’ve reached to this point, but now I have to wrap up Wyatt Earp’s part of the story. He lived to be 80, so that means compressing decades into these last two chapters. If I try to be accurate about them, I think they’ll devolve into a boring itinerary: Colorado, New Mexico, California, Alaska, back to California… If I’m not accurate about them, the book is going to get slammed by Earp scholars, and their opinion means a lot to me.
From a novelist’s point of view, however, I should focus on Wyatt’s return to Josie Marcus after the Vendetta. That’s the arc this story has been built on. It would be neater, and structurally satisfying, and I think I have to go in that direction. The challenge I face today is coming up with a clever way to imply the complexity of Wyatt’s life after the Vendetta, without boring the pants off readers who aren’t Earp scholars.
So. Get crackin’, Mary. Open the file and make the prose happen…