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).




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!

Ode to the Exclamation Mark!

images-2In my studies of famous authors—most recently Flannery O’Connor and Ernest Hemingway—I’ve taken a delightful detour into Anton Chekhov, whom I’ll write about more later. Author of hundreds of short stories and several celebrated plays, this physician-humanitarian-author is most known for his ability to weave unforgettable tales of average people. He doesn’t moralize or aim to instruct yet…when you finish one of his stories, you emerge with a new appreciation of humanity.

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a book of early Chekhov tales titled The Exclamation Mark! Curiously, we have had many discussions at work about this seemingly overused mark of punctuation at work, in email, Twitter, etc. And now this gem of a book suddenly turns up. The title tale is the comic story (told at Christmas no less) of a civil servant who realizes that he has never used the exclamation mark.  He is later haunted by this mark, as it comes to represent exultation, indignation, anger and joy. What has he been missing out on all these years?

My friend Melissa (and Russian literature expert) reminds me that the exclamation mark is not commonly used by these authors. We read this tale at lunch today (it’s only about 4 pages) and then passed it to a friend. All being “civil servants,” we three rejoiced in our own mixed feelings about work (the general) and the exclamation mark (the particular).

And tonight I’m also reminded of the famously introverted Nathaniel Hawthorne’s generous use of this mark in The House of Seven Gables. But that will be another post. Literature is the perfect place for paradox.

Easy Reading is Damn Hard Writing…

The title of this post came from American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, in what I’m sure was one of a random sequence of quotes from Mother WordPress meant to inspire us bloggers. The timing turned out to be serendipitous because these words magically appeared in the same week that I’m diving into the revision of Born Again, Dead Again.

As you can see from the flagged copy of my most recent version, much work still lies ahead. The good news is that childhood friend and muse Tonya (the orange tags) and fellow writer and colleague Melissa (yellow tags) have generously contributed their time and energy into a careful review of the book to-date. Another thanks goes to a more recent muse who kindly reviewed Julio’s Spanish for me (¡Hay Dios mio!). All of this feedback is balanced with the gentle counsel of my editor and friend, Judy Geary, whose belief in my work and these characters has been my compass throughout.

Back to Nathaniel’s words. It is indeed amazing how hard the writing process can be, even for those of us who adore it. I can’t tell you how many hours have been spent on a single paragraph, and the number of revisions that a single sentence has endured.

I will say that a recent ally has been an old article in Writer’s Digest (above) by James Scott Bell on the subject of revision. There are many gems in “The Geyser Approach to Revision,” but most notably the following: “In shaping your manuscript…embrace the ebb and flow of a revision process that maximizes both creative surges and quiet analysis.” As many of you know, I have always prided myself on the ability to separate my writer self from the critical reader. I insisted that this was necessary. However, I’m beginning to rethink this belief, thanks to Bell. He reminds us that during revision, you don’t have to deprive yourself of the creativity that inspired you to write in the first place.

Bell’s advice has been liberating and frankly, a bit joyous. Don’t be afraid to overwrite, he says, deepen those details, and draw upon the evocative power of music. These words have helped tremendously, especially when sifting through the comments my friends have so generously contributed. And to Tonya, Melissa, Judy and other friends, I will again concur with the words of Hawthorne. As he said of his own friend’s advice: “I care more for your good opinion than for that of a host of critics.”