Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 10, 2009


A wide swing over the blue Pacific, then we flew over craggy brown mountains, then arid red-brown plains, some broken by crooked rivers. Usually I like an aisle seat, where I can stand and stretch at will, but I was glad that hadn’t worked out as I watched puffy clouds and their puffy shadows over land where I can’t imagine a soul. The father who sat beside me and behind his wife and two small children dozed or read the paper. By the time the view changed to straight highways breaking up the green, now and then a tiny pale brown hand poked from between the seats in front of us. Sometimes the small fingers just wiggled hello. “Papa!” Sometimes they contained offerings of a packet of applesauce or Oreos passed between son and father.

I had a hefty carryon with not only a laptop, but also the thick paperback of New Moon that my daughter said I could probably finish between the coasts, and, “Really Mom, you teach children’s literature. Don’t you want to read what most of your students read?” She has a point. When I took a break from teen vampires, I pulled out the even thicker novel that my husband recommended. Drood by Dan Simmons is based on the life of Charles Dickens in his later years and evokes a seamier side of nineteenth century London. It’s narrated by rival-friend novelist Wilkie Collins, whose habit of drinking laudanum by the glassful, (an opiate usually prescribed as a drop or two) makes him a unreliable narrator, thought he’s fascinating, too. I learned that Dickens might be credited for popularizing turkey over goose for Christmas dinner. I made my way through a few hundred pages before I wanted a break from the London underworld. I didn’t need a glittering vampire, but could I have a garden or something pleasant, or even a female voice? Dickens’s wife, exiled for a few complaints after bearing ten children who survived, too many who didn’t, and spending about twenty years pregnant or lactating is treated sympathetically – but is never on stage. Nor, at least yet, is Ellen Ternan, the young actress who took her place. It reminded me of how every character needs a presence, at least some dialog from time to time, or their shadowiness will grate. This is something I’ve got to work on in my own revision.

I read a short piece in last Sunday’s New York Times about Mary Oliver, well known for her poems depicting that natural wonders of Provincetown on Cape Cod. She speaks of haunting the woods and ponds, where there is always inspiration. After once getting stuck without a pencil, she has since hidden pencils in the trees.

I made it home safely, where I plan to spend the rest of the summer admiring orange day lilies and daisies blooming in my yard, swimming in the local pond, and finishing up my book. Happy travels to friends going to ALA or elsewhere!



  1. Welcome home, Jeannine!
    (I ❤ Mary Oliver, and the very thought of those hidden pencils.)

  2. Thanks, Loree.
    I often look at trees and assess in terms of good or not for climbing, though I can’t see I’m a climber these days; but now I’m thinking of pencils tucked away and who might find them. I do love that image.

  3. Such a wonderful description of your flight! It made me smile — which is saying something given that at the moment the very idea of air travel is enough to make me queasy. 🙂
    Loved hearing your thoughts on Drood and Dickens. Have you read Tomalin’s biography of Ternan? That was a fascinating read. Though for pure enjoyment it’s hard to beat her Pepys. (If it only had vampires, it would sell a million.)

  4. So much about flying is sheer luck. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you, um, don’t. Hope your next ones are smooth.
    I actually have that Tomalin biography on my shelf. It may be time to take it down! Now that it’s sunny, I’m feeling get me out of the catacombs, and my husband is sympathetic but warns me they’re essential to Simmon’s plot. Oh well.

  5. I was amazed when I learned that Dickens and Collins were friends! I mean, their books are so…different. And Collins was definitely a er, colorful guy, what with his two separate households that didn’t even know of each other until his funeral…
    As to traveling over so much country–we’ve done a few coast to coast road trips, and I’m just amazed by how much country there IS, and how very different all the different regions are, and just how much space there is in the world. You can drive for hours in America and never see a soul! I know cities are crowded, but really? There is so. much. room. in North America! (Driving was fun, but flying is definitely quicker, though!)

  6. True about Dickens and Collins — guess why it makes it a good book! But I have to say, Collins gets weirder and weirder …
    I’ve never traveled coast to coast, and it must be amazing. One day I’d like to go by train. Looking down at that vast dry land, I really was taken with how big the country is. Kind of reassuring. I remember a neighbor who moved from Texas to Mass. and being surprised that we all didn’t live shoulder to shoulder. There really are woods.

  7. True–even in the parts of the country we think of as more populated, there is still an awful lot of country out there. I was born in NJ but usually claim Arkansas as my homeland, since that’s where I grew up. Occasionally, though, if I run into someone from the NE I’ll admit to my birth origins. Usually I get an “I’m sorry” sort of scoff, and nobody believes me when I say how beautiful northern NJ is–plenty of forests and fruit orchards and open places. Well, a few years ago I had the chance to go back for the first time, and you know what? I’m RIGHT. It IS beautiful up there! And no, people don’t live shoulder to shoulder! (Although it’s true you don’t have to go far to find that, either…)

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