A few months back I did not think I could really write the fictitious journal dated 1787-1790. Reading old journals and letters from the period, especially those of George Washington, really helped me get going. Sometimes I think the Journal of Enoch, which constitutes about a third of the book, is the best thing in it. Now I want Enoch’s mother to be acquainted with one of the great, but little known, characters of history, Catherine Gordon of Gight, mother of Lord Byron, and Scottish laird in her own right, since her father had no sons. Too bad her regret over the Bourbons losing their heads is dated too late for my story for we all know that up in Sleepy Hollow, heads will roll.
Enoch’s mother, who last visited with Mrs. Byron in London, loves to sit at the kitchen table in Tarrytown, sharing all the gossip from Britain, including John Byron’s affair with the married Baroness Conyers which made it into Town and Country. To capture her friend’s voice, Hannah will engage in a mock Scottish accent which I will have to capture. My own grandmother had one so thick I could hardly understand her. I was her “wee gettle,” (girl) and I can still hear her across the decades though she died in 1977. I am ready to try.
Some people worry about would-be writers. They shouldn’t because there aren’t any. Perhaps they mean unpublished ones but when I enter a bookstore and see what’s on the shelves I think: ABANDON HOPE ALL WHO ENTER HERE.
This Sunday Times in NY had an article about how Alice in Wonderland was self-published. One of the most famous, adapted, read, enjoyed and lasting books of all times was self-published. Take hope.
When I first moved to Tarrytown I would go down the hill from my home on Hamilton Place, turn right on Broadway, take a coffee break at The Gourmet (now Mrs. Green’s), stop off at the Warner Library, walk along Route 9 to Beekman, beer Eastwood to Douglas Park (wooded area) then cut through broken fence to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery & Old Dutch Burial Ground and back again.
Recently I read a book about the facts behind The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Scholars have actually identified the flight of Ichabod Crane in a most ingenious way. They say that since the Landmark Condominium is on the site of Mott Tavern which resembled closely Irving’s description of the Van Tassel Farm, Hamilton & Broadwaybis Ichabod’s starting point. His fear really kicks in at the site of Major Andre’s tree near the Warner Library. He continues along the Turnpike Road which is now Route 9. Ichabod took the old route which veered East, now Weber Park near Douglas Park, making his way to the bridge over to safety And the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground. Location! Location! Location!
When I started this book way back in 2008, I knew my main character, Richard, would lose his fiancée due to an accidental or intentional overdose of prescription. He would wander about in such denial that even when obsessed with the Sleepy Hollow region of the Hudson Valley, he would not identify with the renowned author whose home at Sunnyside attracts countless tourists each year. Many people think that Washington Irving clung to his deceased fiancée Matilda Hoffman in order to avoid women because he was either gay or asexual. Of course, no one really knows. In his time, this loss made Irving an endearing figure. Even more famous for her grief, was Queen Victoria who first endeared her people by going into mourning. She was in grief, less imperial, more human. When her lamenting went on, the people were tolerant. When it went on and on, the people grew tired of it.
As for Richard, he blocks out his loss. Psychologists call this “blocked grief.” At some point I started blocking out my own book. I didn’t want to write it. The idea of developing parallel characters in an 18th century journal intimidated me but mostly I felt more and more drawn to a life of solitude and prayer. I needed an external stimulus to get going on it but trying GoFundMe and Kickstarter accounts didn’t go anywhere. Some grant money came in but by that point I really didn’t want to write this book or any other. Amazing how people can change.
Then it came to me that I would have to reboot the book. The title went from The Death of Ichabod Crane to We Killed Ichabod. Richard went from Richard to Raemond then back again. Give up trying to rework things that didn’t work so well and take courage that I could write the journal that forms many chapters as well. It all started opening up. The characters I had barely sketched in came to life. It helps to live in Tarrytown, near Sleepy Hollow for walking the streets that Richard walks simulates ideas and imagined conversations. Then I began researching in earnest. Now that I am more into the research than the writing I remember my dissertation advisor telling me he wrote successful biographies by doing all the research first, then the writing. That was nonfiction but it may work for me.
Neither Irving nor Victoria ever became engaged or married again. They both led long, full lives without new romantic love. As for poor Richard, I can’t say because everyday that I live with my fictional character, he grows. Sometimes he goes one way, sometimes another. Nothing is set. Inevitably, there will have to be an opening of floodgates. Or would there? Henry James wrote a perfect story about a man who waits in great suspense for something to happen. To find out what does happen, read The Beast in the Jungle. No one could tell a story like this but a master.
(A rare smiling Queen Victoria)
I mentioned how I wanted to write a dissertation about Byron and Scotland. Knowing you had to break new ground to get the prospectus approved, I thought this neglected topic would work out well. The trouble was a paucity of available material. I would have stubbornly stuck to it, except that Angus Fletcher said, “One day you will do justice to Byron and Scotland, but not now.” I let go. A tailor made dissertation topic, Byron’s use of sacred architecture, found me. That dissertation wrote itself.
I would not want to let anyone get me started on CUNY professors because a few of them have shaped my life, rough-hewn as it still may be. I could go on for pages about several of them, but then, among the constellations, there appeared this bright star, Angus Fletcher. People have described him as wise, kind, dedicated, far-out. Harold Bloom tops them all calling him “my critical guide and conscience.” This all leaves me thinking what a dissertation on Byron and Scotland, with Dr. Fletcher as the advisor, may have been like if there had been world enough and time to work it out. I think there would have been nothing like it.
Of course, there is no use wondering about works we all might have written when there is so much to be written right now. As for who we might have been if we didn’t live out our life where we were, there is nothing like, The Jolly Corner by Henry James. Now if there is one story I might have wanted to have authored, it might have been that one.