Tag Archives: charles dickens

The End of the Road – Day 8

“Keep your face toward the sunshine,” wrote Walt Whitman, “and the shadows will fall behind you.” These words are a fitting introduction to the last day of our literary tour, as we navigated the tricky traffic of the greater New York metropolitan area for our last scheduled stops.

We spent last night at the gracious home of Jen and Pat (otherwise known as Jenny-Pat) in Darien, CT. Thank you so much, Jenny-Pat, for your hospitality and kindness (wine, snacks, and breakfast!). Once on the road, we first made a pitstop in Tarrytown, New York at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home. This was the place of his retirement after a lifetime of travel, letters, and writing best-selling stories such as Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Not surprisingly, as the authors on our tour moved in very small circles, Irving served as a mentor to Poe, Melville, and Hawthorne and even corresponded with Dickens. Due to the timing of the tours, and the extent of our travels, unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside Sunnyside, but we did catch a glimpse of the beautiful landscape bordering the Hudson River. This is on the agenda for next time, for sure.

We next made our way to the birthplace of Walt Whitman, one of the primary poets who (along with Emily Dickinson) ushered in the era of contemporary poetry through works such as Leaves of Grass. The home is a very simple colonial farmhouse in Huntington on Long Island, New York (picture one, below). He lived here only three years and therefore there are only scant remnants of his life at this location, but the inside of the home includes period furniture meant to replicate his time in the house. His home in Camden, New Jersey, which includes more personal possessions, may be a better reflection of the poet but the visitor’s center here features a helpful timeline and a couple of things, such as a rare first edition (autographed!) of a work titled Two Rivulets (picture two) and the desk he used during his stint as a teacher in New York (picture three).

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walt2

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We were lucky enough to end our travels at the same place we began–the home of the wonderful Kretchmars in State College, PA. Although we’re sad to end our literary extravaganza, we’re proud to say that we covered five states and a total of 19 actual sites! And Ann, Jen, and I will return to North Carolina tomorrow with a renewed appreciation of our favorite authors and more inspiration for our own creative endeavors.

Since some of you have kindly asked, next time I’ll post the full itinerary of our journey, along with a few details of our more serendipitous pitstops. For now, good night, and I hope you are curling up with a good book!

A Very Little Dickens and a LOT of Sun! Day 6

In all the craziness of yesterday, I neglected to mention that one of our stops in Boston yesterday was at the Omni Parker Hotel, the place where Charles Dickens first read The Christmas Carol in America.

Below is a picture of the key to his room (520) where he stayed. While scarce other details exist of his time here, we do know that he consorted with the other Boston-area literati for a few weeks as a special guest of the Saturday Club at the Parker Hotel.

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Today our travels took us to to Cape Cod, through Plymouth (yes, the Plymouth rock really does exist) and then onto the 1620 site of the first actual Pilgrim landing near present-day Provinceton, Massachusetts. This delightful town, with its requisite fudge and Christmas shop, is a teeny bit touristy but decidedly more chic than the usual beach spot.

It’s full of art museums, walkable streets, and people sporting T-shirts that say: “If my dog doesn’t like you, I probably won’t either.” Needless to say, Jen, our beloved curmudgeon, has already disappeared and Ann, sporting a fashionable new beach hat, is also making her way through the streets.

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mcmillan pier

A view from MacMillan Pier, back toward town and the Pilgrim Monument, dedicated in 1910.

 

 

 

 

 
As for me, I perched on a bench outside the Public Library, and enjoyed a bit of gelato before moseying inside to capture a shot of the half-replica of the Rose Dorothea Schooner, which is permanently wedged inside and surrounded by bookshelves.

rose dorothea

You’ve heard of ship in a bottle, but how about “ship in a library?” Only in P-town…

 

 

 

 

 
Other literary points of note include the nearby homes of Norman Mailer and poet Mary Oliver. Supposedly, and maybe Jen has found it already, there once was a shack on the beach where Tennessee Williams put the finishing touches on A Streetcar Named Desire and where Marlon Brando auditioned for the part of Stanley.

We’re headed for Connecticut tomorrow so we only have one night in P-town, but we’re delighted to be staying in the most charming B & B of the trip, A Secret Garden Inn. Below is a view from our balcony, where you can hear birdsong, accordion music, and feel the sweet ocean breezes.

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The graciousness of our host, Michael, is best summed up by the handout he gave us when we checked in. “Check-out is no later than 11 a.m. Regretfully, this time is inflexible, as a courtesy to our next guests who are, like you, unique snowflakes…”

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

Whenever I hold readings of Naked and Hungry, it never fails. Someone always asks me just where I found the name “Bermadean,” which is the name of an African pygmy goat in my book. Believe it or not, I always say, I let my fingers do the walking.

Desperate for a name for the goat, I happened upon on old phone book. As soon as I saw the name “Bermadean” my search was over. I can’t speak for the inadvertent donor, but for me the name conjured up the perfect touch of  Southern quirkiness. Done!

It goes without saying that the fiction writer shouldn’t lift both first and last names from a single person but you can cobble together some rather memorable combinations. Try pairing a first name such as Maxine with a last name such as Brown or Thomas. Need something more exotic? Change the spelling to Maxzine and add a last name such as Thorvelder or Fortenberry and you suddenly have a completely different character on your hands.

The phone book is also a great source of inspiration for story ideas in general. What do you imagine a woman who spells her first name Maxzine is like? I see an officious receptionist who insists that everyone signs in before being helped. What do you think? And what does a man with a last name of Bobo endure? How many schoolyard bullies did he encounter? And what is a family like who lives on Running Cedar Drive? I see them going in separate directions from the moment they wake up.

Drawing upon the tradition of Flannery O’Connor and Charles Dickens, you can also use last names to plant clues. What would the last name of Brickhouse imply? Someone who is solid and perhaps a bit staid. How about Fairweather? Friendly but changeable. For me, the name Scattergood conjures up the image of a disorganized do-gooder, perhaps known for random acts of compassion.

It can also be fun to use irony. Imagine that someone named Maryann Bakewell is a terrible cook. What if she can’t even make a sandwich? What if a family who is forced to sell their farm and move to the city ends up in a neighborhood called Meadowcroft? And what if a love-starved spinster has lived all her life on Amoretto Way?

Not only does the phone book offer a handy resource for a writer, I find it to be very entertaining. My own is dog-eared with notes and flags, just waiting to breathe life into my latest work. Let your fingers do the walking and you’ll see that the phone book is an instant cure for writer’s block. And the best part? It’s perfectly free.

Fans of Bermadean will be glad to know she reappears in my sequel, Born Again, Dead Again, which is coming to a bookstore near you in September 2013.