Thursday, June 28, 2012
A Little Touch of Melancholy
You know how you wait and wait for something, and finally it's here, and then you go through it as slowly as you can, trying to make it last as long as possible? Well, that's where I've been the past week or so with the last of Ann Turnbull's Quaker trilogy, Seeking Eden. And as is often the case after some much-anticipated event is over, I'm suffering a little touch of melancholy, for a variety of reasons.
The first reason, of course, is because it's over. There will be no more stories about Susanna and Will or their children. That makes me sad because I love those characters and because the time period (late 17th century) is so interesting. Turnbull's books are so well-written that I felt myself drawn into the world of the book and truly invested in the character's lives. Seeking Eden seemed a little slower to get going than the other two books in the trilogy (No Shame, No Fear and Forged in the Fire), but somewhere in the middle of the book, I became so caught up in the story I finished the whole thing in one sitting. So much for my plans to make it last by drawing it out!
Another thing that makes me sad is knowing this excellent book has, as we say here in the South, a hard row to hoe to find an audience. Candlewick, the publisher that created the US editions of the other two books, declined to publish this one, even though the story takes place in Philadelphia. A quick check of Amazon's website showed Seeking Eden is not available directly through Amazon in the US; one can, however, get it through one of Amazon's associated sellers. I had to get the book through Amazon UK, which meant shipping charges were more than the price of the book (worth every penny, though). And then I see the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy as an Amazon bestseller, and I just get angry. I suppose now we're going to see a whole slew of knock-offs of that book (which is a knock-off of Twilight) on the publishers' menu for the next couple of years. It's not that I think Fifty Shades of Grey shouldn't be published; if people want to read it, fine. But it really does make me angry and sad that high-quality, substantive books like Seeking Eden are squeezed out of the marketplace and become less and less available for people like me who have zero interest in Fifty Shades of Grey and its progeny.
Finally, I have to admit that one of my first reactions immediately after finishing Seeking Eden was a sense of depression (sort of) because I realize my own writing just doesn't measure up. One of the things I appreciate about the story is how smoothly Turnbull balances so many different elements. There is the family story of 16-year-old Josiah's conflict with his parents, particularly his father (did Turnbull have spy cams on our 16-year-old son? ha ha). There is the love story between Jos and Kate. There is a wealth of historical information, ranging from details about the persecution of Quakers in the New World as well as the old, the early years of Philadelphia, apprenticeships, the slave trade, slave auctions, and slavery, including the fact that Quakers at that time owned slaves. Then there is the overarching moral conflict Jos faces - should he break his contract with his master in order to follow a higher law? And that's not everything - the book is so rich and so jam-packed with good stuff. Yet it maintains the flow of a good story, building up to a point where I felt tense with nervousness about what would happen.
I hope I'm being too hard on myself, but I definitely had that sinking feeling that my own story was a lightweight, fluffy little love story compared to Seeking Eden. Nothing's wrong with fluffy little love stories, but my goal for writing is to go beyond that. I want to write things that are both entertaining and thought-provoking. I want my stories to say something important about humanity. (Gosh, that sounds pretentious...but maybe you know what I mean.) Of course, I must remind myself, I've written one book and Ann Turnbull has written many. Maybe I can get there someday.
But I'll never get there if I don't find a way to work writing time into my daily schedule. I thought summer vacation would free me from the grind of teaching and grading - no, it's only replaced the grind of teaching with a different grind. If I'm going to write, I'm going to have to forcibly grab some time and guard it selfishly, which won't be easy and which the family probably won't understand. Another reason to feel melancholy....