Dear friends and supporters and readers,
Things are taking quite a turn in my new work and I wanted to chat with you about it, particularly those who’ve been good enough to read my first novel. I’m going to stretch out here, so you may want to read this when you have a moment to stretch out too.
I’m heading down new paths for sure, both in short stories and a second novel. The question is, am I even on the same map? Do I need a pen name for each endeavor? Do these new works need to be corralled separately, like with like?
Mulling these questions—as is so often true for me—the voice that came forward to help was my mom’s.
Mom fled her Southern, Depression-defined roots for what she thought she wanted: a relatively moneyed, big-city life. But circumstances took her full circle. She came back home, geographically and spiritually to the Blue Ridge Mountains. She wound up hunkered down in a little (and, God knows, quirky) mountain house next to a spring with her garden, her snowshoes by the door and, yes, a rifle in the closet. If you’d met her toward the end of her life, you’d have missed a key theme: travel. Underneath her survivalist instinct to “go to ground” (as we say of burrowing critters), she wanted to see the world.
I put this together on the night of July 20, 1969. My brothers, sister and a bunch of neighbor kids had scooted in eyeball-close to our one, piddlin’, tee-niny TV set to “watch” Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. Of course, there would be no watching because in the mountains, pre-cable, there was no reception (back then, television signals were broadcast through the air). All we could see was the interference pattern we used to call “snow.” In fact, we were listening to the moon by way of a halting narration so different from the wall-o’-sound blathering of pundit TV today. There were dramatic gaps of silence as the commentators waited to report. I remember the hiss of the interference itself—surely the actual sound of space being transmitted to us. It was TV reduced to radio, an experience that heightened the actual distance between a booted foot in the lunar dust and our bare feet arranged in front of the impenetrable dancing whiteness before us.
And here came my mother in that moment, saying to no one in particular, or maybe to the moms sitting next to her on the couch, her words coming out of the darkness “I’d give anything to ride in space.”
That’s such a Southern-ism: “ride in space.” But it was the “I’d give anything” that stopped me. I remember thinking, “She doesn’t want to be with us. She wants to be out there—as far out there as she can get.” I remember the pang this brought me, and yet I understood her even then, I really did. She wasn’t unhappy with us or her life. It’s just that, way down deep, her thoughts, her imagination, her longings ran global, even interstellar…
Let me jump ahead to now:
It’s a weird thing for us writers: by the time you readers get hold of our work, we’re already well down the road on something new. Indeed, as soon as my publisher declared “Going to Solace’ final and sent it off to book designers and formatters, I went right back to the blank page. When I say “blank,” I’m being literal. Like many, I’m a Magic Eight Ball writer (we’re talking Mattel here, not inebriants or psychostimulants). When I’m drafting, I have absolutely no idea what might float forward into words, and certainly not why. I love this way of working for its serendipities, but there’s a price to pay on the back end: a lot of editing as I search for a story’s shape and nature and maybe even its meaning.
I’m in the middle of that search right now with my newer stuff even as some of it starts moving out to readers since none of it a sequel. Thanks to Mom, however, I’m beginning to see how it’s all related.
It turns out, my concerns are the same, they’ve just gone global, traveling through space and time, real and imaginary. Their settings cross borders. Their plots cross genres. They don’t go quite as far as the moon, but then again, as we learned in “Going to Solace,” an elevator can seem like the moon to a man who’s never ridden in one before.
Yes, I’m on the same map, the one I use to explore who we are in worlds we make and make up, for ill and for good. Always, I’m looking at “ordinary” people improvising under extraordinary pressure. Always humor lurks at the edges of the awful truths of things. Always I’m rooting for ingenuity and dignity and codes of decency, even in explorations of their opposites.
Thanks for traveling with me even when as the “ride” takes unexpected turns. Send me your notes and comments either as you go or upon your return from reading. I’m right here on FB or on Twitter @amctigue.
Meanwhile, I’d better get back to work.