Sunlight and Sweetness

When my daughter was two, I picked up a copy of Jeffrey Lent’s novel In the Fall in Montpelier’s Bear Pond Books and began reading. My child was on my back, and I stood so long she nudged me with her feet, a way she had of prodding me along when the scenery dulled for her. I bought the book and walked down Main Street, the pages open in my hands.

Reading that novel was like nothing else I encountered. I was scraping and painting the kitchen windows that summer, and I abandoned that work, sitting on the porch steps, reading, reading, while my child ate watermelon, strewing gnawed rinds over the grass. Halfway through the novel, the language became incantatory in my mind, rising and singing. When I finished the book, I studied the paperback cover, pondering the beauty and mysteries of this book, the sheer grace of its enormous hard work. The novel’s ending remains one of my most beloved.

Why I write all this is not just to rave about this novelist (if you haven’t read him, how lucky you are – you can read his books for the first time), but for this:

With vivid and richly textured prose, Brett Ann Stanciu offers unsparing portraits of northern New England life well beyond sight of the ski lodges and postcard views. The work the land demands, the blood ties of family to the land and to each other, the profound solitude that such hard-bitten lives thrusts upon the people, are here in true measure. A moving and evocative tale that will stay with you, Hidden View also provides one of the most compelling and honest rural woman’s viewpoint to come along in years. A novel of singular accomplishment.

–– Jeffrey Lent

Very often a writer’s life is plagued with burrowing doubt and uncertainty, laboring in a society that values tax bracket far above art. And then, sometimes, you feel you might just have hit the mark. Infinite gratitude.

 

FullSizeRender
March woodpile, Woodbury, Vermont

Galaxy Bookshop Reading & Rain

Freezing rain. Enough said. I drove home early from Burlington at that gnarly 33 degree temp, listening blankly to NPR while thinking unrelenting gray. The children were delayed on the bus, held up behind an accident, and I kept thinking, Who’s with my children? Our dirt back road was sheened over with ice.

Nonetheless, I read in our bright and cheerful bookstore tonight, with my crowd – some new folks, some people I’ve known for years upon years now – so graciously pulling on their raincoats, leaving their wood stoves, and braving our elements. A fitting setting for reading this novel, so suffused with volatile weather and darkness, seasonal change. Writers, a teacher, a carpenter, mothers, librarians, farmers, the children’s bus driver, my fellow booksellers: thank you. And, my little daughter noted, chocolate cake to boot.

Deep in the night, I slid into my boots and coat and hat and out the kitchen door, hurrying down the frozen, rutted up path, then veered off that and ran into the field. Under my boots grew the winter rye, still green and pliable despite the winter hammering in.

Lines from Hidden View

FullSizeRender
Elmore, Vermont/Photo by Molly S.

Unfolding Fern

I’m reading tonight at the Hartland Pubic Library, in Hartland, Vermont. Here’s a paragraph from my essay about writing this novel:

From the opening sentence, the book arcs as a metaphorical unfolding of a fiddlehead, from youth’s smallness to the generous flourish of a mature woman. Fenollosa writes, “A true noun, an isolated thing, does not exist in nature…. Neither can a pure verb, an abstract motion, be possible in nature. The eye sees noun and verb as one: things in motion, motion in things….” (10) In Hidden View’s opening lines, late winter sunlight glints harshly over icy snow, and cowshit tracked by boots erodes the pure white. A mixture of shit and beauty winds all through this book; opposites, as the yinyang symbol reminds us, do not exist as discrete entities in nature. The conundrum of how our fairest aspects are equally suffused with our foulest elements rises to the forefront as the novel climaxes. I imagined my characters as ascending, grappling birds. As they fought with each other – husband and wife – brother and brother – their interior natures battled, too: would decency and kindness prevail, or fear and its loathsome clutches? How would it settle out for Fern? For her husband? How would her love affair with her husband’s brother resolve?….

IMG_9476 (1)
Photo by Molly S.

Fear of the Dark

I wrote my novel Hidden View in bits and pieces, in notebooks, on a computer, in endless rewrites on the back of printed pages. I began this book during my daughter’s nap time, those golden hours when I could sit down and breathe creativity in the solitude writing demands. I wrote for no one but the novel itself: to write as well and truly as I could.

This book has joined the world. It’s out there, for the taking and reading. When I think about what made this book, I took what I had at hand: a ball of yarn, imaginary rabbits, Vermont’s exquisite and desolate winter, a house both a solace and a menace. But equally driving the book are three forces. One of these is mothering. Like the ceaseless gritty wind in a canyon, my children have formed and hewn me, in a multitude of ways I never could have imagined. My children are my anchor, the physical weight that has pinned me to this soil and forced me to know the world in an expanse I never could have imagined.

When my older daughter was a baby, my husband left the state for work, and the baby and I remained. On a 100 acres, our house is surrounded by woods. At that time, I was afraid of the dark. When the baby slept at night, I had to walk down to the unlit sugarhouse in the dark, by only the thin light of a flashlight and the stars overhead. Those months were late fall then, around this time of year, and the nights were cold. The rural dark in Vermont is so profound I have held my hand inches before my face and yet been blind to my own flesh. I forced myself to go out in the dark, because I knew every journey would lessen my fear. And I knew I could not mother this baby, in this house, in this agricultural life, if I feared the dark.

Of the dark, at least, I am no longer afraid.

The true self seeks release, not constraint. It doesn’t want to be corseted in a sonnet or made to learn a system of musical notations. It wants liberation, which is why very often it fastens on the novel, for the novel seems spacious, undefined, free.

–– Rachel Cusk

IMG_0262
Milkweed Seed/Morrisville, Vermont/Photo by Molly S.

Book in the Hand

A cardboard box of advance reader copies of my book–my first book–appeared in the mail. Returning home from work and school, my daughters and I had gone in through the kitchen door, and it wasn’t until I was at the kitchen counter slicing tomatoes for dinner that through the window I saw the box on the stone step at the back door.

It was the most curious feeling to pull out crumpled paper and find my bound  books, so beautifully designed, crafted with such care and attention–this novel I have spun from nothing but my own experience and language, through all those hours scavenged, often late at night, early in the morning, during child naptimes. Like nothing else, this book in my hand is a bridge between the mysterious well of my working imagination and the world, a tangible here I am.

Whenever we give our pen some free will, we may surprise ourselves. All that wanting to seem normal in regular life, all that fitting in falls away in the face of one’s own strange self on the page. […] Writing or making anything — a poem, a bird feeder, a chocolate cake — has self-respect in it. You’re working. You’re trying. You’re not lying down on the ground, having given up.

–– Sharon Olds

IMG_8841

Coyote Song

My book is headed to galley printing on Wednesday; hence, the last minute flurry of rereading and tweaking — is this quite right?  Can I hone this better?  This chapter, here in its entirety, is Fern one Christmas morning, about as far from this day as possible.  Tonight, so near the solstice, the windows are wide open, a breeze tossing in the maple leaves, the chittering robins presumably sleeping.  There’s an awful lot of snow in this novel.  I mean, an awful lot.  A Vermont book.  Tomorrow, back to my garden.

Chapter 6

Late in the night, I woke.

Tansy cried.

I lifted my sobbing child from her crib and pressed her against my shoulder, humming a tuneless wordless ditty. Her body shook fiercely with distress. Hal’s feet clumped down the stairs. A light glowed from the living room below, and, caressing my daughter’s silky head, I thought of the heat from the woodstove whooshing up the staircase, fleeing into the frozen night through the ceiling of this plank-built uninsulated second floor. Through the window, stars hung in the nightsky, forever distant.

The little girl calmed, wrapped in a blanket and my arms. Her shuttering, gasping breath gradually quieted into sleep. Then I heard a sound I thought at first was an orchestra broadcast from outdoor speakers, as if a DJ had arrived: a trumpeting I mistook on this Christmas morning for Handel’s religious music. Then I thought perhaps it was the ancient sea, dolphins or whales, their voices raised in holy harmony. None of this was so: coyotes howled down the hill, somewhere near the sugarhouse. In the great ocean of night, I couldn’t see them, but I sensed their muzzles were raised to the cold sky, howling in long chimes, one into another and another, and another. With only the little bit of light trickling up the stairs and the stars icy bits, my slumbering child growing heavy in my tired arms, I leaned our weight back on my heels, entranced by the loveliness of this Christmas morning wild serenade.  And like that, the coyotes ceased, and the farmhouse was mute again.

Photo by Molly S.
Photo by Molly S.