Life up to now
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The Eagle column goes on every week, and two new novels -- shorter, both of them -- are under way. Going back and forth between the two is a challenge, but rather fun. We'll see if it works ...
Fiction had taken its hold on me. I began the third book, but Gadd Publishing closed its doors in Great Barrington and I was not one of the authors taken along to the other branch of their business, North River Books. The future of the third and final volume was in the hands of the gods, but Milt had always said, "publish it yourself," so I did. With Epic Publishing. And it's on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, paperback and ebook, with cover by granddaughter Summer Wojtas.
Who knew that I could write a book? The teen career guide of long ago doesn't count -- that was non-fiction.
My favorites for reading were always fiction, my career as a journalist was solidly based on fact --fact after fact after fact.
Then I left my job as Sunday editor of The Berkshire Eagle, did a short stint as editor of a feature magazine that was part of a newspaper in New York State and had lots of thinking time during the 30 minutes or more it took me to get there and back again.
As these things do, a kernel of knowledge about my grandmother's teen years kept nudging me. The brain is a coordinator, so thoughts of my former Girl Scouts frequently ran their own ribbon through the picture. Grandma had a hard time, something
I didn't know when we were picking lady slippers (protected now!), identifying bloodroot, going blueberrying or just reading away the Connecticut River Valley humidity on her huge front porch.
It was my father's "sort of" biography that told me she was required to run a New England farmhouse, bring up a brother and sister and cope with her increasingly alcoholic father when she was in her early teens. Her mother had died of pneumonia and there she was, a more than bright student who wanted to be in school and a child suddenly carrying an adult life on her shoulders. I knew Grandma had taught school, so I figured she managed to juggle all the balls in her life. I also knew her as a kind and cheerful grandparent, willing to see shoot-'em-up movies with me and able to walk the two miles to town and back so we could have our movie/dinner time
together. She had surmounted all kinds of problems, some of which my Girl Scouts had. And then the thoughts converged: Years go by, times supposedly change, times really don't. And humans don't change a whole lot either. I started my road to abandoning fact and welcoming fiction. With a dearth of information, I fictionalized my grandmother. And it turned out to be a compelling adventure.
The result, published in 2007, was "Sarah's Daughter." Grandma was, indeed, Sarah's daughter, named Rosa Adelaide. I named my heroine Rose and it didn't take long for Miss Rose to come alive in my head and drive my fingers over the computer keyboard in
our cellar office.
Two main events in the book are based on fact: Grandma did go to school at the age of three, somewhat by chance; and she did make a momentous decision about her little sister when she realized that something had to be done in the home situation and that she was the one who had to do it.
"Sarah's Daughter" was easily followed by "Rose," in which many of the original characters begin to tell more of their own stories. In both books, the late 1800s in rural New England are accurately portrayed as a result of plenty of research -- that's when the
journalism side showed up with considerable strength -- and recollections of how my grandparents lived when I was very young. She always had the wood stove in the kitchen, she and my grandfather were frugal people, members of the Grange, hard-working.
Their lives as adults were not that far removed from the world they grew up in from 1887 into the 20th century. "Rose" was published in 2010.
Fiction had taken its hold on me. I began the third book, not yet finished, but Gadd Publishing closed its doors in Great Barrington and I was not one of the authors taken along to the other branch of their business, North River Books. So the future of the final
volume in the trilogy is in the hands of the gods at this point. The need: time to finish and funds, probably, to self-publish, the fiction market being a fragile place at best.