Sunday, October 2, 2016

Origin Story

When the cover was a work in progress,,, by Juan Wijngaard

I was asked not long ago by a bookseller to contribute an essay about what inspired me to write Up, Back, and Away. Here's the answer, if you're also curious.

How'd You Get the Idea In the First Place?

As it happens, I can tell you!

I was listening to my iPod, Adele’s first album,one spring morning in 2007 as I was walking along the Stowe, Vermont Recreation Path. 

It’s a beautiful path that follows a rocky stream through woods and fields with the Green Mountains in the long view.  I had recently left full time work for a half-time job (I’m a government lawyer by day) and I had two kids in school.  This meant I had a little mental space and time with which to work for the first time in years.  I had been a writer before law school, for local newspapers and in a college PR office, and I had continued writing (for fun) on a blog that I have kept since 2006.  I mention this because I was in the writing habit, which helped, I think, to keep ideas coming.  The walking part is important too.  I walk every day if I can.  I got to thinking that day as I listened to Adele sing about how important it was for gifted people to arrive at the right place and time if their gifts are to be realized.

When this thought flitted across my mind, I immediately thought of Thomas Gray’s famous, ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.’  It contemplates, among other things, those whose talents never stood a chance: circumstances were arrayed against them from birth. For most in that churchyard, it was the time and place in which they were deposited that was fatal.  I wondered what if some exceptional people weren't constrained by the circumstances of their birth?  What if the Universe had a way of, very occasionally, correcting these mistakes?  Of shifting people born in the wrong time and place to the place in time where they and their talents could flourish?

What about, a time travel story? One with a cosseted but basically good American rich kid at its center?
What's on the other side? I didn't know. I went through.

Sending  my young hero to England in the 1920s would give me a chance to write about many of my favorite things: : English language and literature, social history, the differences between English and American culture, as well as their similarities, and about how we all must meet the challenges that life throws at us.   I could also write about fun stuff (for me) Staffordshire pottery, London in the twenties, the English countryside and English country living at its last gasp between the wars. I could include three-speed bicycles and manual typewriters and dogs and old buildings and old songs and new music and stranger-in-a-strange land and all of that! The revolution in the place in the world of the western woman is the great story of the last 100 years.  With time travel I could explore this, as well as the timeless story of the struggle to find courage and to come of age. How about a rescue mission – where our hero has to find a girl born out of her time and a secret not meant to be and then get home with them both so that she has a chance to fulfill her artistic destiny?

It was my own small “J.K. Rowling moment” –  the one we’ve all heard about, when Ms. Rowling was riding on a train and suddenly had an idea for a story about a school for young wizards?  I know I’m no J.K. Rowling, but I think I experienced something of the same thrill.
The book unfolded itself right there.

Well, sort of.  I then had to spend the next five years working it all out.

It wasn’t all joy, working on the book.  But it did a great deal for me personally.  I enjoyed the research, writing the characters into being, and working out the plot lines.  Mostly I was trying to write the book I wished was out there for me to read when I was growing up.