Today I was looking for a photo to show my publishers about 19th-century boys' hairstyles, and came upon a photo that basically IS my main character. Funny, this happened when I was working on The Last Runaway too. Robert Goodenough, meet Honor Bright.
He has what they call a thousand-yard stare. In real life he was a young Confederate soldier, who had clearly seen too much for his age. (Many thanks to The Civil War Parlor on tumblr for this image.) We don't know anything about her. I wish we did.
Happy New Year, All!
Yesterday was tumultuous for me. I have agreed to give papers relating to my novels to Oberlin College in Ohio, where I got my BA (and where The Last Runaway is set). The Library Archives will sort them a couple at a time, and I boxed up Remarkable Creatures and Girl with a Pearl Earring and sent them off yesterday with FedEx. As I write the papers are in the sky somewhere over the Atlantic.
It was odd to compare the notebooks. For Pearl Earring in 1998 I took notes in a small orange notebook which I only half filled. It's surprising how early on (p.4 of notes) I knew exactly what the story would be, and researched just what I needed - no more, no less. There's not a lot to look at. (Plus I threw away all my drafts!) However, what is there is condensed, precise - rather like a Vermeer painting. Compare that to Remarkable Creatures written 2008-09, where I have two full notebooks and loads of drafts and papers. That didn't make the book or the process of writing any better, though. Now I long for those charmed Pearl Earring days when everything was pared down and I knew what I was doing.
It was very painful giving up the orange notebook to the FedEx man. Now when I want to hold it I'll have to go to Oberlin and put in a request, just like everyone else. It's great for you, but I have lost a part of me. To celebrate/commemorate that notebook, here are few photos.
I pasted a copy of the painting on the inside cover of the notebook so that
1) it wouldn't get marked; 2) no one would know what I was writing about!
I knew early on that I would imitate Vermeer's painting style in words.
Here is the vegetable wheel from the first scene, mapped out.
I have been terrible at keeping in touch here, for which my apologies. Sometimes the novel just takes over - which for a writer is what's meant to happen. You should see my neglected in-trays, both physical and email. Shocking.
However, I am relieved to report that today (December 19th) I wrote the last sentences of the first draft of my new novel. For the first time ever I wrote a novel slightly out of sequence - normally I write beginning to end, straight through. So these sentences come about 3/4 through the book. They are:
Go on now. Go. Go.
So he went. And I did too.
Want to see where he went? Here!
Yes, I went there too.
Next time: the book will have a title, I promise.
Finally that thing has happened that always needs to happen for me to write a book - to really write it, to get into the flesh of it and bring it to life. I have fallen in love with my subject.
Not just the characters - I am always in love with my characters, even awful ones.
No, I now officially love my subject. Some book subjects have been easy to love - Vermeer paintings, medieval tapestries, quilts. Others are harder: fossils, cemeteries.
I am writing a novel about trees. Trees are easy to love - some of them. I am particularly partial to beeches. I also love apples and by extension their trees, and the first half of the novel is about them and Johnny Appleseed in Ohio.
The other half is about Californian redwoods and sequoias. In writing about them I've ended up writing about William Lobb, an English plant collector who first introduced redwoods and sequoias to Britain in large numbers in the 19th century.
Lobb was also very big on pines. Pines. The very word makes me sigh. I've never been a big fan. I have always found conifers - trees with needles rather than leaves, that remain green all year round - boring.
Until now. I happen to be in Geneva for the week, writing. And two weird things have happened. First: there are tons of giant sequoias, shooting above all the other trees in Geneva's parks. This is unusual, as they are certainly not native to the country.
I went out looking at them and the other weird thing happened: I fell in love with conifers. The lack of leaves allows you to see more of the sky behind them so there are great silhouettes, and the trunks and branches are more exposed so you can see the trees' architecture. They have become beautiful to me, as a person does when you love them.
Being in love makes it so much easier to write. Thank you, Geneva!
I haven't written much here recently, for which apologies. But I've been at my desk, head down, writing stuff like this:
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