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)