“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”Charles de Lint
“The family saga chronicles the lives and doings of a family or a number of related or interconnected families. The typical novel follows the generations of a family through a period of time to portray particular historical events, changes of social circumstances, or the ebb and flow of fortunes from a multiple of perspectives.” (Goodreads)
How nice it is to mention going sledding and having a husband who drops what he’s doing to sharpen his chainsaw the day before a snowstorm. Down came a few “ironwood” saplings (to be used for winter heating) and up we climbed the next day to have some fun.
You’re never too old to coast down a hill. The goats were not impressed.
WINTER IN STRATHEARN
by John Davidson
The twinkling Earn, like a blade in the snow,
The low hills scalloped against the high,
The high hills leaping upon the low,
And the amber wine in the cup of the sky,
With the white world creaming over the rim,
She watched; and a keen aroma rose,
Embodied, a star above the snows;
For when the west sky-edge grows dim,
When lights are silver and shades are brown,
Behind Torlum the sun goes down;
And from Glenartney, night by night;
The full fair star of evening creeps;
Though spectral branches clasp it tight,
Like magic from their hold it leaps.
And reaches heaven at once. Her sight
Gathers the star, and in her eyes
She meekly wears heaven's fairest prize.
People lie. Do houses lie? Is it in their brick and mortar to start tales in a writer’s head? When does a house become old enough to pass on story ideas over the sound of cell phone ringtones and refrigerators humming in the background?
My great-grandfather was a cabinet maker and lived for a time in the town I write about. The house still stands but I suspect his cabinets were tossed for Formica and fake wood in the 70’s. If ever I was granted an audience with this house I’d ask after the cabinets. Would the house tell the story of my great-grandmother’s fight with cancer and her husband’s grief? Maybe the house would play stoic as my great-grandfather does from the photograph I have of him.
I don’t mind if houses lie. A story is a story (and a gift) no matter how false. If a writer listens carefully especially to an old house (one on the verge of demolition is even better) a house will open its treasure trove of memories false and true. Bring a notebook. Bring your heart. Don’t bring a cynical or talkative friend.
Some people think historical fiction is a boring history teacher wrapped in sugar-coated romance, but old houses beg to differ. They tell me real people with dogs who scratched at the fine wood doors lived once. Arguments happened, furniture was bought and sold, children were sent to their rooms. The scars, the additions and subtractions on an older house tell of rising financial successes and the death of loved ones. A house down the street from where I live now told me all about the man who lived there for 89 years and only spent one night under a different roof. The old kitchen wood stove remains in the house like a senile relic–speechless.
You see, in that one disclosure my mind wonders what would take the man away for a night? What would keep him there for 89 years? Houses like to keep you guessing at details. In pantries of old houses I fill the shelves–researching the desserts. I discovered once that Buck Crenshaw (some of you know who he is) hates strawberries. In the yards of old houses I plant imaginary trees– Simon McCullough plants a willow in his mother’s garden upon returning from war–the houses gladly play along.
A friend of mine used to smell the cigar smoke of a previous owner of her house. He’d been dead for a hundred years. He moved things around sometimes. He appeared at her bedside more than once and was quite handsome, but writers don’t need ghosts when houses tell enough of what you need to know–or at least send you off pondering.
As a fiction writer I find virtuous characters to be the hardest to write about. Maybe it’s a case of the darkness not being able to abide the light. Is it that I find it too hard to believe that anyone would take themselves so seriously as to strive for virtue? Does it make it easier to overlook my less than virtuous thoughts and actions if I deride people who make the effort? Or am I just cynical? What about you? What do you think of the word virtue? Does our society still value the trait once considered necessary in a democratic republic? And what about on a personal level?
According to Google, the word VIRTUE has gone dramatically down in usage over the past few centuries. I wonder what that means (if anything at all).
LINK to Ngram: VIRTUE WORD USAGE DOWN OVER TIME (When you enter phrases into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books –e.g., “British English”, “English Fiction”, “French”– over the selected years.)