Once, in a barren strip of land
between highway and train tracks,
a groundhog’s head
popped up from his hole
to survey his rodent kingdom.
He caught my eye as I waited there
for the stoplight to turn green.
Twenty years on, I rarely pass
that still-empty patch of dusty ground
without recalling his grizzled face,
wondering how long he survived
in such a desolate place,
and wishing I could have told him
he left tracks upon my soul.
Monthly Archives: February 2014
Once, in a barren strip of land
I was looking through a poetry file for something else this morning when I came across this: a poem I wrote during the early days of dating the man I would eventually marry. I’d forgotten about this one. Now, after having been married to Michael for nearly 24 years, I can barely remember ever feeling so insecure about our relationship. For some reason, this sweet relic of our past really cheered me up.
When I come back from lunch
(where I’ve smiled and talked of you)
I rest my hand upon the telephone
wondering, as I do each week,
if librarians ever take flirtatious phone calls.
Or would it make you blush before an ancient
white-haired woman who needs your help deciding
between Jane Eyre and Ben Hur?
By Tuesday I no longer feel
your warming arms around me—
four more days to crawl through
before you hold me once again.
I’d only have to call you,
hear your voice across the wire,
for the memory of your kisses to return,
but I will not dial
for fear of a white-hair woman.
The Copperfield Review, an online journal for historical fiction, just published a new review of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. The reviewer gave it five quills (their equivalent of stars).
While you’re at it, you might want to check out other pages on the journal. Editor Meredith Allard has put together a great publication for lovers of historical fiction.
It feels as though I’ve been very slow at starting the new novel, mostly because of the distraction of cancer treatment. This week, however, I finally felt like I was getting somewhere. That’s because I stopped just reading about the historical background for the book. I actually started on the outline.
My method is pretty direct. I start by listing chronologically the main events from the life of the woman I’m writing about—at least, the ones that pertain to the period of the novel. Unlike The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, which covered a time span of more than 30 years, the next book will cover only a few months. Once I have my list of actual historical events, I’ll start adding fictional episodes as needed: events that fill in the gaps of motivation and character development. The third and final step will be to sort those roughly into chapters.
I still have a lot of reading and research to do yet, including a trip this summer to the area where the action of the novel took place. But as a writer, I’m happiest when I’m juggling research and more creative activities.
I also received some really terrific news today. I heard from a state historical society that they have three photographs of the interior of my main character’s house (taken before the attacking Indians burned it). And I can purchase copies. That’s going to be an invaluable help to me as I write.
I finally joined the Twitterverse on Sunday. I guess I did it a little too enthusiastically because when I woke up Monday morning, my account had been suspended. However, I appealed right away, and by early afternoon, it was up and running again.
So if you’re on Twitter too, you can follow me @RHChatlien. Hope to see you there.
Kirkus Review just posted a review of The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. They liked it!
You can read the review here.
Child of the Cold War,
trained to see mushroom clouds
as the avatar of devastation,
entertained by movies
about Day-After desolation
and gamma-ray mutation,
I now, to preserve my life,
must submit to
Is it any wonder
that my primary reaction
is cogntive dissonance
and bemused mystification?
Because of my current treatment plan (for breast cancer) and my resulting emotional fatigue, it’s been hard to get excited about working on the new novel. Another reason for my reluctance was the type of research I was doing.
The novel I’m planning to write is based on the true experiences of a woman who was taken captive during one of the most brutal Indian wars in U.S. history. To get a broader background, I decided to read a 400-page book on the beginning of the conflict. I have to say, it was one of the hardest reads I’ve done in a long time. The book went into excruciating detail about the violence committed during the conflict. Some of it was really barbaric.
It’s not like I’ve never done this sort of research before. As a textbook editor and writer, I have covered some really horrible periods of history in which humans have committed unspeakable horrors against each other. Immersing myself in such knowledge always depresses me. I remember one three-week period in which I had to write a chapter on Reconstruction. Having to spend all my working hours dealing with stories of lynchings and the other forms of terrorism inflicted on the recently freed slaves left me feeling so sad and heavy. I was never so glad to be finished with a chapter!
With that assignment, at least, I knew I’d be done after a relatively short time. In contrast, my novel will probably take me a couple of years from research to final revisions. As I read that book that described attack after attack, I began to wonder if I’m really up to dealing with this oppressive material—especially since I’m already dealing with other stressors.
Well, for the time being, I’ve decided to soldier through. I’m just going to have to alternate the upsetting reading with research about more pleasant things, such as fashion or native culture. Fortunately, my main character didn’t personally witness too many barbarities, so I can limit my exposure to that material should I need to. At least, that’s the plan for now.