If you are a writer, do you ever have totally unplanned for characters pop up and highjack your story? If so, do you mind?
I recently restarted a 19th century novel that I begun over 15 years ago. I had stopped to write a short story about Lum, an intersexed person living in the 1930’s, who went from relative to relative helping out, but without her own home. During the time of writing the story, one day while I was showering, this other character appeared–Smiley, an African American man who sold antiques. Well, Lum goes out for a ride and stops at Smiley’s house. Turns out that stop added an interesting facet to Lum’s life. But that’s not all–Smiley soon demanded that his own story be told, so I quit working on the 19th century novel and said, well, maybe this is a novella about Smiley. It grew and then another character arrived at Smiley’s house, not the person I had planned to stop there. Well, Harper, the new character gets Smiley involved in a scheme that has repercussions for the rest of the book which is now a novel. Eventually I wove Lum into the Smiley novel and it became both of their stories.
Back to the 19th century novel–I knew a lot of what would happen. Some of the plot is based on family history, and I had worked out a lot of the story in my head, but had written very little. So now that Lum and Smiley are looking for a publisher, which is harder than finding valuable antiques in the back roads of Virginia, I’m back to the Civil War era. I have all these characters, whites and African Americans, who have been residing in various parts of my brain over the year, then I go on a writing retreat for a week, and this young slave girl appears and is the unwitting device that advances the plot in an unexpected way. Wow, I didn’t know THAT was going to happen!
Did I say pesky? I mean, I love all those characters, especially the ones who lead me into unanticipated terrains.
Gravity-defying stack o’books
I took a picture of the above stack of books because it appeared to defy gravity. In reviewing the books and papers, I realized that several of my interests are represented here. I moved a table from another part of my house into the living room to work on books but it ended up (like most flat surfaces in my house) as a dumping ground for books either that I just bought or unpacked from a trip to the Hambidge Center, or books that I finished reading and didn’t have another flat surface, never mind shelf space for.
The Ya Yas was a fun quick read; the bio of Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under FDR was a serious read about an important architect of labor protection laws; and there are books on gender, the blue ridge mountains, herbs, folk medicine, black labor, etc. used for research for my novel. Triangular Road by Paule Marshall, my interest in African American memoir; Flannery O’Connor, I collect; Cross Creek Cookery, I bought to sell, but, oh, that poor dust jacket. However, my brother, Y’honatan and I stayed up late one night reading recipes to each other and laughing at her humor, intended and not. Also, a copy of Marcia Zeimer’s book, “From Shame to Pride,” where she talks about her journey from being a Lesbian in the 1950’s who was arrested for being in a gay bar and sentenced to electric shock therapy to taking a gay cruise. I can’t explain Antarctica, just a book that I bought at a yard sale that I may give to my mother since she’s vacationed there.
Near the bottom of the stack is the AJC announcing the historic win of the first African American US President. That’s right — 2008. Guess that’s about when I brought the table into the living room.
I named my business Toadlily Books and am often asked where the name came from. I am fortunate to have several ancient oak trees in my front yard. After losing many plants that I thought I could grow, I realized that I can only grow plants marked “full shade,” not sun/shade, not partly shady, but the plants in catalogs that are marked with a filled in dot. No sun! I began to discover the world of woodland plants and went to the wonderful nursery in Oglethorpe County, Ga., Goodness Grows, and discovered several new plants. I bought about three toad lilies, without knowing anything about them. When they bloomed the following fall, I fell in love with the tiny but beautiful blooms, a little like an exotic blend of lilies and orchids. (See on the left of my page.) The toad lilies fell in love with my acidic soil and multiplied like crazy, but they are not invasive, they just propagate without leaving their home town. Since then I’ve discovered different varieties of toad lilies, but the originals are my faves.
So why name a book business after a plant when I don’t sell gardening books? (I keep them for myself.) I thought about Trillium Books (some of those in my yard, too), but was told it sounded too much like a trillion books. Okay, I don’t want to manifest a trillion books, so I next decided on Toadlily Books. Often, I hear “totally books” by customers. Others say, “Is that from the Wind in the Willows?” But if I’m asked the story behind Toadlily Books, I say, “It’s because they are late bloomers, like me.” But that’s a whole different story.