Returning to Currahee, and the Chegara Project
Update Posted: 1,229 words
2022 has been a weird year: it started so scattered and confused, and over time it’s shaped up into a routine that has become familiar. But, we’re standing on the doorstep of changing again, and life goes on. And, there’s a new novel brewing.
I had decided to start working on writing again in 2022, thanks to a small writing group I’ve joined. It was a kick in the pants that I needed, or I would have to show up each week empty-handed and embarrassed.
My initial thought was to revise Currahee. This book has been in progress since 2016, and I felt that a fourth draft would really polish it and put it in the place that it needed to be shopped around for publishing. Of course, I’ve never published a novel, so this would be my first try, and I think that sense of intimidation settled in around the book.
Currahee is not perfect, but it is finished — for now. “Why don’t you write about something else?” suggested my writing friend. Hmm. The obvious follow-up being, “What the heck should I write about?”
I considered a few options, but in the end I decided on an amorphous idea called the Chauga Project, still set in the world of Currahee. Here’s the thing: there has been a vague Currahee sequel in my head for years: a love story set in and around the town of Toccoa Falls in the 1800s. Mix in some time travel nonsense a la Currahee and we’re in business! But, the time didn’t feel right to write that book.
So I started thinking about a prequel, and I started thinking about ways that I could flesh out the world and solve some of the magic problems I was encountering in Currahee. Brilliant. I could write this prequel novella quickly, figure out the world-building, and then return to Currahee to fix the long-suffering plot.
Which brings me to Chauga/Chegara/Tugaloo. I think I’ve settled on Tugaloo for the name of the book, but I may yet go with Chegara. We’ll have to see. It’s a prequel set twenty years before the events of Currahee. The main characters are not Jacob and Jessica, but may have some relationships to them. Two characters in Currahee will also make appearances in Tugaloo.
The book is coming along well: about 18,000 words drafted thus far. I’d give you a plot summary, but that assumes that I have a finished or even working plot (always my achilles heel!) The characters feel real and well fleshed out, and I do think that finishing this story will help to define some of the grey areas that weren’t fleshed out in the storytelling of Currahee.
All of these books have Northeast Georgia woven tightly through them. When I started Tugaloo, I knew the idea had legs because I accumulated 50 tabs of browser research in the area: Petroglyph boulders, archaeology, inundated historical Indian sites, the Cherokee language — a Cherokee dictionary. I bought two undergraduate level books — one on the history of southeastern archaeology, the other on Cherokee myths and legends — to the dismay of my writing partner (also named Andrew), who has jokingly accused me of being more interested in getting an informal degree in history than writing a novel.
Every time I go back to visit family, I make sure to visit the landmarks that are key in these books, so that I can describe them faithfully and accurately. Tugaloo is set around the Tallulah Gorge and Hurricane Falls (I’ve tweaked the names slightly: Tugaloo Gorge and Ugunyi Falls), and I feel an itching need to return, stand at the lip of the 1000-foot-deep canyon, and imagine what it would be like to be there without any railings or barriers.
Much like Faulkner never left Yoknapatawpha, I wonder if there are enough stories in my Currahee to support an entire career. Is a writing career even the goal here? I feel an itching in my fingers, an itching to tell stories, work creatively, and echo my creator in my own sub-creation. One corner of the real world must be a rich enough field for me to wander. When I doubt that, I think of the spray from Tagwahi the year we got the hurricane, and the water shot over the cliff as if it were out of a cannon, and our clothes got soaked from the spray in seconds — and my doubts melt away.
Tugaloo is a deeply personal story, like all the stories that I write. I feel as though my own scars are woven into the very framework of these novels. Currahee is indelibly associated with the struggles, fears, and worries of my life during 2016-2019. In its own way, Tugaloo has brought new and different struggles, fears, and worries to the forefront. Tugaloo deals with divorce, for I’ve watched close friends blow their lives up in pursuit of unobtainable personal happiness. Tugaloo deals with separation as I’ve said goodbye to kids I’ve parented under both good circumstances and bad. It’s me, woven throughout the story of Christopher, Kanti, Noah, Abigail, and Helen.
This series of books (for I guess it is a series if I have one and a half completed, and a third — Tagwahi — vaguely extant in my head) I’m tentatively titling Chegara. Chegara is the mythical second sphere, the companion to Elohi (earth). Together, Chegralohi make up the boundaries of the world where demigods walk and the Fates spin the threads of the future together.
If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror that reflects back to God […] his own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less.”C.S. Lewis
We’ll see where this takes us. I registered chegara.com to serve as a home for the book series should it ever take shape. Maybe a publisher will be more receptive with two novel drafts instead of one? Maybe they want proof that I can do it again — maybe I want that proof. Maybe I’m hoping that Tugaloo will unlock so much about Currahee that both books will take a huge step forward and they will –finally– be good enough.
So here I am, in some sort of a healthy rhythm, trying to get consistent drafting done at a non-frenetic pace. I realized that I have never completed a novel without writing it in NaNoWriMo — thousands of words a day until I have a rough, unpolished draft that then needs layers of revision to become anything. Instead, I’m trying to take this one slower — I spent all last week re-writing the first three chapters, making sure the setups are solid, and the plot threads start out bright, and hopefully catch your interest.
Maybe. The future is uncertain, as always, in writing and in other ways, but taking a little bit of optimism from it is nourishing and makes me feel full and warm inside. I’ll see you on the other side of the draft.