Yesterday, thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I found out something interesting – the father of one of my friends served as the model for the Fallen Soldier in sculptor Walker Hancock's magnificent Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial in Philadelphia's 30th Street Train Station. I've known Suzanne for a long time and I've been in love with that statue for even longer so you can imagine my amazement to learn that Hancock used her father as the model. I'd love to know who was the model for the angel as well.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Hancock in Gloucester's City Hall during the Sculpture show there just a few months before his death in 1998. He was a lovely, kind man. Then in 2006 when I was struggling to complete my novel, The OldMermaid's Tale, I was telling a friend that I needed a week of peace, quiet and seclusion in order to focus. She had been living in Hancock's Lanesville studio but had recently moved out and still had the keys so she offered me the opportunity to stay there for a week over the Christmas holidays so I could work in peace. It was a wonderful experience.
In the pictures posted here you can see Hancock working on the statue in his studio. It is in that very same room that I got to work on my book. It was a beautiful experience – there was a light dusting of soft snow in the morning and I would make coffee and walk down to the quarry to watch the ducks and the geese before coming back to the studio to write. If it is possible that the spirit of great artists can linger in a place where they did some of their best work then I genuinely benefited from my time there. At night, when I was re-reading the work I had done during the day, I always felt so contented and at peace with what I was doing. I don't think I've ever experienced that before – or since.
Recently, while I was working on TheReluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, I spent a lot of time thinking about being a child in St. Mary's, Pennsylvania, where we lived across the street from a woods we knew as Mary Opelt's Wood – hence the name in the story. Once a woman named Opelt had lived there and there was a cellar hole, the remains of her gardens and stone walls in part of those woods. All of the years I spent there – exploring, playing with my friends, acting out movies we had just seen, and, later, finding a quiet corner to read a book or just day-dream, came back to me as I wrote.
There is some magic in places that gets inside of you. If you are a writer it is a good thing to be able to go to those places when you write. The challenge is to bring the magic forward into your story. This weekend I have sequestered myself at home to work on Depraved Heart. The only way I can get any serious writing done is to lay in supplies, put on music, turn off the phone and commit to the page. I take breaks to sit with knitting or sewing for awhile because when I knit and sew my mind can fill itself back up after the draining experience of writing.
The challenge in Depraved Heart is creating Hathor, the astonishing island estate built by Wyatt Ravenscroft and his wife Lisette. As I work on this story I let my mind wander to magical places I've experienced in the past – old gardens, a dilapidated greenhouse discovered deep in the woods a long time ago. That was a remarkable experience because, though the glass was broken and the walls collapsing, among the smashed pots and broken pipes there were flowers run riot – old roses and lilies, camellia bushes and orchids. It was an experience I have always hoped to find room for in a story.
So I am staying home, brewing coffee, taking knitting breaks, and working – grateful for memories of old abandoned buildings, Mary Opelt's Woods, Walker Hancock's studio and quarry. There is magic in these things and it my obligation as a story-teller to find a way to set it loose.
Thanks for reading.