Monday, April 5, 2010

When I'm Not Really the Author and I Realize I Can Fly

The last two weeks, I’ve enjoyed a period of prolific writing on the novel. I've leapt ahead from halfway to almost two-thirds complete. I’ve felt an urgency to write that I haven’t felt in more than a year. Actually, I’ve felt an urgency to tell the story. The hitch is that I don’t always know where the story is going.

I’ve taken to writing long hours in my recliner-that-is-made-to-not-look-like-a-recliner. Andy wanders in and out of the living room where I sit and write. He reads the paper or plays Sudoku or watches a bit of TV. I mumble aloud sometimes, partly to him and partly to myself.

Last Saturday afternoon, he asked why I was crying. I said, "Because Grandmother is dying of cancer and has to tell her best friend." Until I had written the scene, I had no idea that’s where the book was going. This development has serious implications for Cissy, the protagonist. Grandmother has been the only family member to stand by Cissy after she killed her father and was committed to a state psychiatric facility.

When he caught me crying, I was writing the scene where Grandmother would tell her black housekeeper, Natty, also in her 70s, about the cancer. This was one of those pure moments of inspiration, written from both within and outside myself, where I’m the author and yet I’m not the author. During these precious moments, I try not to think too hard about it lest I wake from a beautiful dream where I'm flying.

Here’s a snippet from that chapter.

Natty and I have been together longer than I had been married, but we didn’t always get along. She came from a family of women who took care of other people's households. Her mama had kept house for my in-laws since the dawn of time. When Beau and I married in 1922, Natty joined our household. I suspect she resented having to wait on someone her own age. My people weren’t from money, so I crossed boundaries Natty had been reared to never breach. I wanted her to like me and I wanted her to respect me as her employer. Reconciling those two desires took some time and more than a few shouting matches to stake out our respective territories.

After I had Caroline, we called a truce and territorial lines blurred. That baby mesmerized Natty, softening the hardest of her edges. She couldn’t bear to hear Caroline cry and would cry along with her. Some nights I’d find Natty, tears running down her cheeks, rocking a squalling Caroline and singing an old Negro hymn. More than a few mornings, I found them asleep in the nursery rocker, Caroline slumbering across Natty’s sizable bosom. After Caroline’s birth, I’d miscarried two other pregnancies and Natty mourned for weeks, heartbroken she’d been deprived of loving two other precious souls as she did Caroline.

“I love you, Natty,” I said and patted her forearm. “I don’t tell you often enough.”

“You’ve never said it, Mrs. Clayton. Is the heat getting to you again?” She winked.

“Natty, you can call me Janelle if you like.” I didn’t know why I made the offer. Lately, my words had declared independence and it proved impossible to stop them.

“I’ve called you Mrs. Clayton for too long to go changing to your first name,” she said and let out a deep, throaty laugh. “You needn’t worry. I know we’re friends.”

“I haven’t always been a good friend,” I admitted.

Natty let the comment sit between us, its truth too heavy to dispute or joke about.

“I know you have the sickness,” Natty said.

“I figured you did.”

She didn’t ask for details and I offered none.

“It’s getting to be lunch time,” she said slapping her thighs. “How about some cold fried chicken?”

“That’d be fine. And why don't you bring the rest of the blackberry pie as well.”


  1. Mandy, I am so glad to see so many new posts in such a short period of time. I am really enjoying your writing. Wow, can't wait to read the novel in its entirety.

  2. Good for you on the progress! Go, Mandy!