I believe in inspired writing. Sitting down with a thought, trying to create a sermon, a poem or a story from bowls of information, fingers on keyboard and swoosh, let loose. Silence gives a tender musical background. Letting the mind wind down rivers and crawl over rocks even gallop on the back of a horse across red deserts, freeing one’s soul from restraints others want to impose, somehow a seed gets planted and the words explode as fingers move with unbridled speed. They say stories dress themselves and take over from the writer. It really is true. Somehow my own past was so vivid, a character would emerge in a rather familiar form and then take off into weird sometimes egregious sets that made me wonder how did my brain come up with that, but it was good stuff. It’s good to have an editor. As I tried to turn some truths – location, history, characters, food – into a novel, not wanting to alter too much what was coming through my heart, I had to wrench myself from the idea of “that’s how it was” to, as my editor would comment, “this doesn’t have to be how it was. It’s a fiction. You can make it how you want it to be.” That’s one amazing power a writer has. But was brought up because my tendency is to stay loyal to fact. I prefer reading fact to fiction because I hope to learn something new.
The urge to write always knocked me awake in the night. For eighteen years, I lived in Montevideo, Uruguay on the “rambla” which meant across the street was the ocean. And as I crept through my fifties, I began to feel time was getting tight. I don’t know why. But I knew I had one talent and that was writing – having been a journalist for most of my early life and I always swore I couldn’t do a novel because I don’t like writing dialogue, although I was an accurate quoter in feature stories. It came off stiff when I invented conversation, which was probably some sort of shortcoming on my part as listener. Sometimes I woke in the night in a sweat (well, it might have been a wing of menopause but I didn’t know I was trekking through menopause at that time.) and feared that I would die without having exercised my talent God gifted me and I thought expected me to use and leave a remnant that recorded a life. Oh I had written plenty of sermons and essays for church bulletins. And they were published. But a novel? It was time to come up with a challenge. So I began to get up before dawn (my best time of day is morning) and with the sound of the ocean crashing on the shore out my windows, and my husband snoring in the bed – the computer (we are talking antique computer that took over the desk) was in the bedroom for some reason- I began to write about my early life in the South. And the more I wrote, the more I felt an obligation to put down the story honestly as I remember it, to give honor to the African American people who raised me, who taught me about faith and Jesus, who fed me and made sure I grew up right, the people I loved more than my best friend. It was through writing that I realized how much they were a part of my happiness, my innocence and my lack of prejudice. They taught me how to love when there was no reason to love and that I was just not the southern belle my parents had expected. I, instead, hoped to make a difference in an awakening world, and it started with traveling through Africa in 1962 alone, writing articles for the newspaper, and then, years later, being the first female ordained to holy orders in the southern cone of South America. That is a mouthful. I was 56 years old. And my fingers were limber so I could keep up with the things pouring out of my head and created on a computer, not a typewriter, a story.
Reading was not a hobby. Mysteries and spy novels I could usually finish. Cookbooks I collected. If I opened a theology book, I’d take notes all over the margin as things to write about in the future.. I read to learn not to enjoy. And when I began my novel, I was nervous about picking up someone else’s idea or imagery, so I avoided reading books when I was writing. When I wrote my thesis on William Faulkner, without being aware, I so absorbed his writing style that I duplicated it writing the thesis. That frightened me, although it was thirty years before. At this point, except for Eudora Welty and Faulkner, southern authors were not “hot.” Other than Roots, nothing must had made it to the screen. My first effort was sent to a number of publishers but they weren’t ready to take on the racial topic, and my story was about a young girl’s introduction to and rebellion of the racist situation in the deep south of the ‘40s and 50s. It was a time of fantasy, simplicity and family tradition. What was ironic, although I was not familiar with Latin American authors and their indulgence in magic realism, I was creating out of the painful awakening from childhood, surrounded by the mysticism and magic of the wonderful African American spirit and the vision of a strange tree where strange things occurred. Maybe this was the only way – through the creation of the characters in the story – I could discover the depths of who I had become and why. And for that magical connection, I thank God. He spoke. I wrote.