tossing fearnando into the fire

It's cold in Hotlanta. We didn't get snow, but we've got freezing temps in the wee hours of the morning, which makes getting up to write in the dark a true wint'ry affair. So we try to lay in some wood for morning, and I try to start the fire when I'm up.
I have officially moved to the pink chair by the fireplace for the duration of winter, although you'll find me on the green chaise now and then, covered in quilts, in my office, just for a change of pace. We're experimenting this year with less furnace, more fire (including a kerosene heater and various electric radiators) and more layers. So far, so good. My new windows are doing their job, I am home until February, and Christmas is coming. What more can a writer ask for?

How about a chance to toss fear into the fireplace? That's what I want for Christmas this year. I'm staring at book two of the Sixties Trilogy, tentatively titled Hang The Moon, and I'm mustering all my courage to complete a revision of the draft I wrote in 2002.

I started this book in 1995. I didn't know what I had then, I just knew it was special. I fleshed it out along the way and years, but this story spent lots of time in a drawer while I wrote other things and attended to my life and family. I grabbed hold of a great idea in 1995, but I wasn't writer enough to grow those few fine but fractured chapters into a novel.

I have been living with the June family for fifteen years. I loved them from the moment we met. They arrived, noisy and fully formed. I created a family tree for these affable, fallible Junes, I described each character in detail. I know how old they are, how they fit into the story and with one another, and I love where they live: at the Pound O' Rest Trailer Heaven, which is a piece of property they own outside of Halleluia, Mississippi, with eight mobile homes set in a circle and a life-sized plastic Jesus in a bathtub surrounded by petunias at the entrance.

They are an eccentric, loving, boisterous, nutty family, these Junes, and I am set to spend the next year with them. They make me laugh, they make me weep. I need a full, revised draft by March 1. ("February?" asks my editor. Okay, I will aim for that.)

And my fear: Will I hear my own voice again? Will I find that vision I had back in 1995, when the story came to me of-a-piece and I knew it so well? For there have been so many more voices in my head as I've worked on this novel.

First there was Liz Van Doren at Harcourt. Then I took it to Vermont College, where I worked on it with Marion Dane Bauer, Carolyn Coman, and -- for an entire year -- with Norma Fox Mazer. I had a few trusted writer-readers as well.

And they all said different things, made different suggestions. Or maybe they all said the same things but I just couldn't hear it while I was so close to it, and in such a changing place with my life. I felt hopelessly lost in the book; I had lost my way. And these were all wonderful teachers. I learned from each of them.

And now... here we are. And what I have learned in the intervening years is that there is a time to move beyond your teachers and take up your unique voice. It's a little like leaving home. It's a starting-over. You take what works and leave the rest.

I'm inclined not to re-read my good teachers' many letters about Hang The Moon until I finish this revision. Maybe I won't read them until the book is entirely finished. Maybe I won't go back to them at all. That was then, this is now. In 2002, when I finally finished an entire draft while I was working with Norma, I knew the entire second half was dreck. I knew, then, that I had lost my vision and my voice, and I needed some time away from the story.

Now I've had time. I've written other novels. I've grown as a writer. And I have sold this novel, which takes place in 1966, as part of a trilogy of novels about the sixties. I have finished book one -- another book I started in 1995 and that I wasn't writer enough to finish for so many years.

But I did finish it, I love it, and now that I see what it will become, now that I understand its elements, I think I can see my way clear with Hang The Moon.

At any rate, here I sit, in the pink chair next to the fire, preparing to spend a winter with Margaret and her cousin Birdie, and Elvis...

... yes, y'all. It's the Elvis novel. I've been talking about it for so many years, people have almost stopped asking me where it is. It's here. Here it is. Thankyouverymuch. Now let's crumple up fear -- Fearnando, some friends and I call him -- and do a swivel-hipped Elvis toss into the fire -- begone!


  1. I like this idea of having to grow into some stories. Here's to a productive winter!

  2. I think you may need to knit up some fingerless gloves. I am wishing you long cozy days with the Junes and long cozy evenings with your real-life loved ones.

  3. Thanks, Caroline and Sarah. I definitely have to grow into every story I write. And I love the idea of a productive winter with handmade fingerless gloves and cozy days and evenings. Let's all make it so!

  4. Sounds like you've found your voice to me! I wouldn't get any writing done in such a cozy spot though! Thought of you last night while looking at Dec/Jan copy of Cottages & Bungalows, in a listing of historic properties for sale- a darling house in Magnolia, MS! Thanks again for sharing with my student-she's blossoming!xoxox


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