Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 3, 2015

Crossing Between Worlds

Last night after I talked about Little Woman in Blue at a library, someone told me how she’d carried May with her after closing the covers. She asked, “Do you ever have trouble coming out of that other time and place when you’ve finished writing for the day?”

Writers may have to be immersed so readers can be, and yes, returning to the table under my hands can be awkward. Often a walk helps me cross between the imagined and the real, though sometimes thoughts rise from the woods or people on the street and I’ll go back to my notebook. When asked for the date, I hesitate not just over the day but the year: 1865, say, may seem more familiar even as I hunt down my cell phone and car keys. Part of me imagines the sounds of horses, wagons, sled runners sliding on snow.

Finishing a book makes for another sort of jolt. I don’t expect to ever feel separated from May Alcott, though my book about her is in covers and I don’t expect to write another book about her family. When a chance to see some usually tucked-away artifacts displayed at Orchard House last month, I took it: I could see the bright red in a painting May did of her home in France that I’d only seen reproduced, her sister’s sewing kit, and a fan carried to dances to be autographed along the folds.

orchard

It was fun to see the rooms with my friend, Jen, and there was a sweet moment in May’s bedroom, when Iman, the lovely young woman leading our tour, said, “And we have here someone who wrote about May … do you mind me saying that? The woman downstairs told me you wrote the novel I’m reading now!” I got to say a few words about my love for May in the room where she drew gods and goddesses on the wall and perhaps first read Little Women, which her sister wrote across the hallway.

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Just yesterday, I wrote my last words on another book about a nineteenth century artist. A revision of Stone Mirrors: A Life in Verse of Sculptor Edmonia Lewis was due to my editor at the end of last month. I attended Thanksgiving dinner, but was glad that my daughter made quinoa with lots of roasted fall vegetables, our friend Jess brought pumpkin soup, my husband made cranberry-apple-raspberry-blueberry sauce and if anyone missed the turkey that might go with that, they didn’t say so, which is sometimes what counts. Thankful. Likewise re the one or two sweaters I’ve been recycling these past few writing-filled weeks. When not focused on my manuscript I wondered how long I could go between washing my hair, and brushed my teeth while opening shades, calculating the time spent on non-writing moves, while hoping to keep my family, friends, and health. All plants stayed alive and I even saw an amaryllis bloom, though like writing, they take their own schedules (and really I hoped for a tardier one on this).

Most excursions involved coffee or yoga or both. But now I’m looking forward to more time remembering that shoulders are good for more than hunching and letting in the fact that there’s another holiday coming up. Laundry will get done. Brown leaves on the geraniums will be plucked. Cookies will be baked, greens will be cut, books will be read, and maybe soon an animal who does more than sleep, purr, and hiss will move into our home.

But to get back to topic – though topic-sticking is something I look forward to taking a break from — yesterday I finished my revision of Stone Mirrors. On my window seat, reading aloud some poems at end to hear the sound, I was weeping for my character, so glad Edmonia Lewis got to where she did, just as if she were living today and I hadn’t spent weeks and years trying to find the best way to end her story. Characters and writers have lives of our own, but sometimes they come together.

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Responses

  1. You were weeping for Edmonia…!

    Oh, Jeannine, now I’m the one who’s crying. Happy tears, of course, because I know you etched perfectly, with your writer’s pen, the tiniest of details; and I feel certain that STONE MIRRORS begins and ends exactly as it should.

    Is this the point at which an ears-flapping, tail-wagging puppy comes bounding into your office?

    • Hi, I’ve known how this book would end for a long time, but adding some details, a short scene, and finding just the right line to suggest a circle moved me back into the tender circumstances. Thanks for your faith. — and yes, looking at more puppy pics online! Some are so very very cute…

  2. So magnificent. Your chronicle of your life as a writer is not only generous and inspirational, but passionate, showing how this passing between worlds is not only about time change and all that that involves, but your incredible empathy for your characters – your weeping.


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