As an author of six books (two memoirs, three novels and a children’s chapter book, all written and published in the last ten years) I found writing fun and enjoyable. I never got my MFA or went to a writer’s critique group, but I always loved telling stories and it came easy to me until last winter. I was half way through my second historical novel and was stuck.
I had time to write, but I felt uninspired. The paragraphs were forced and lacked poetry. What was wrong? I’d been so prolific before; the words just flowed out of me, like a spring from a West Virginia hillside.
This was a puzzle. Was I tired of the whole author business? Was I discouraged? I shouldn’t have been. My first book in the Hope River trilogy had become a USA Today Bestseller and my Amazon reviews were 4 and 5 stars. (Ok I’ll admit it; I was still checking my ratings).
Finally, it came to me. The setting in all my books was really important. I’m not a nature writer, but I write about nature on every page. The color of the leaves, the wind in the trees, the smell of new cut grass, the first snowflakes drifting down like feathers. It was December and I was writing about spring in Appalachia. I was out of sync with the seasons. Imagine this passage, for example, if I tried to write it in December instead of July, which is tornado season in West Virginia.
“An hour later, a breeze ruffles my hair and within minutes I’m holding on to Dr. Blum’s arm. The sky has turned dark and the wind is almost ripping my clothes off.
“Come on! I’m getting really scared. We better get inside.” I pick up our buckets, pull on Dr. Blum’s arm and head for the house. Small branches, torn from the trees, are flying everywhere and then the rain comes, hard cold pellets that sting.
“Is this a tornado?” I say out loud as we pull the blue door closed after us. We have no telephone to call for help, not that anyone would come. No radio to listen to a weather report. No shutters to cover the windows. No basement to hide in. Then I remember the underground springhouse out by the barn.
“Blum! Come on!” He sits on the sofa staring into space, as if he doesn’t hear the roar or feel the house shake. “We need to get to the springhouse,” I shout into his face, shaking his shoulders.
“Blum, help me. Please! I can’t do this alone.” The doctor rises slowly like a man in a dream and I lead him to the back door where we stop under the porch eaves. Water streams down the hillside, already 4 inches deep in the low places. Then the thunder comes and the lighting.
CRACK! A tree somewhere close is struck and comes down. “We better, go!” I shout. “I’ll hold on to you.” I push Blum down the three wooden steps but he stops again. I push him once more and that’s when he does something wholly unexpected. He throws me over his shoulder and like a fireman heads for the only safe shelter we have.
We’re half way to the springhouse, built into the side of a hill, when the hail starts, chunks of ice, the size of marbles. Even in Vermont, I’ve never seen anything like this. Blum is slipping and sliding over the ice covered ground. I’m still slung over his shoulder and I try to cover our heads.
At the entrance to the underground shelter, the doctor deposits me in the mud and I look up, expecting, perhaps, a smile saying “Surprised you, didn’t I?” But there’s just the same blank stare, as if his picking me up was a reflex that didn’t involve his mind.
Thunder rumbles ever closer, with lighting right after it; we are in a war zone of light and sound and when I pull open the door, it blows off its hinges and sails away. Panting, we both fall inside, safe for the moment watching nature go crazy in front of us. (From The Reluctant Midwife, William Morrow)
I wasn’t losing my interest or ability to write, I just needed to write about what I was seeing, hearing and smelling at the time. Attempting to use my imagination, trying to recall those sensory experiences and images just wasn’t cutting it.
But what to do about it? Skip a bunch of the story and get back in tune with the season? Fast-forward my story to winter? That’s what I had to do. Normally, I’m not a planner, I make up the tale as I go, but to not loose the thread, I had to outline the plot for a few months and move on to summer.
Now, I try to stay with the seasons and if I get stuck, I’ve learned to look around me. What am I seeing, feeling, hearing and smelling now? For me that’s the difference in writing that feels vital and immediate and writing that feels stale and forced.
A lesson learned; when your heroine is facing the winter wind, it comes out best if you go outside and can actually feel the snowflakes freezing your face.
Patricia Harman has spent over thirty years caring for women as a midwife, first as a lay-midwife, delivering babies in cabins and on communal farms in West Virginia, and later as a nurse-midwife in teaching hospitals and in a community hospital birthing center.
She retired this year to spend more time writing.
Her books are The Blue Cotton Gown, Arms Wide Open, The Midwife of Hope River, The Reluctant Midwife, Lost on Hope Island: The Amazing Tale of the Little Goat Midwives and coming in January 2017 a new contemporary novel, The Runaway Midwife.
Her website is www.patriciaharman.com
About The Runaway Midwife:
From the USA Today bestselling author of the Hope River series comes a new contemporary midwife novel.
Say “goodbye” to your old life, and “hello” to the life you’ve been waiting for…
Midwife Clara Perry is accustomed to comforting her pregnant patients…calming fathers-to-be as they anxiously await the birth of their children…ensuring the babies she delivers come safely into the world.
But when Clara’s life takes a nosedive, she realizes she hasn’t been tending to her own needs and does something drastic: she runs away and starts over again in a place where no one knows her or the mess she’s left behind in West Virginia. Heading to Sea Gull Island—a tiny, remote Canadian island—Clara is ready for anything. Well, almost. She left her passport back home, and the only way she can enter Canada is by hitching a ride on a snowmobile and illegally crossing the border.
Deciding to reinvent herself, Clara takes a new identity—Sara Livingston, a writer seeking solitude. But there’s no avoiding the outside world. The residents are friendly, and draw “Sara” into their lives and confidences. She volunteers at the local medical clinic, using her midwifery skills, and forms a tentative relationship with a local police officer.
But what will happen if she lets down her guard and reveals the real reason why she left her old life? One lesson soon becomes clear: no matter how far you run, you can never really hide from your past.
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