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Confessions of an Incessant Observer

An idea may come to me because of a place I visit, a photograph, a piece of trivia or obscure history that catches my attention. I love obscure history. But a storyonly ever begins for me with a voice.

From the time I can remember, I’ve been running lines in my head. Whether it was a voice from my family or a teacher or some stranger I encountered at the grocery store, in the airport, on the TV or radio, I tried them out in my own mind. Sometimes the words were bits and pieces of remembered conversation. Sometimes I gave them original things to say. And I would listen and wonder why they sounded the way they did and consider the feelings they stirred in me. I would mimic their intonation and emotion, their body language and expressions. I spent hours watching myself in the mirror, “trying people on.” I was a precocious and curious child. My radar was always tuned to those around me, trying to figure out for all I was worth, why they were the way they were.

I guess, more than anything, I was and am incessantly observing.

But that’s only the first piece of it because the observation is merely the seed. What springs from it is my compulsion to explain people, situations, and the whole world, to myself. And therein, lay the stories. I think all the minutes of my entire life have been spent doing this in one way or another. It won’t surprise you to learn that one of my favorite places was a library, where I could read other people’s explanations in countless attempts to make sense of their worlds. You might expect that in high school and college, I finally made it onto a stage, where I took my mirror acting to another level. I even attempted to write poetry (didn’t we all?) and published a few short stories along the way. But the day I sat down and began writing novels, a floodgate opened. The voices I had collected and dissected and obsessed over, were all waiting there in my memory, eager for their turn on the page.

The clamoring was almost enough to scare me off. In the case of The River Witch, there were eventually two voices which rose above the rest. At some point, I chose the strongest voice, the one spouting the story I most wanted to hear, and that’s when I began to know Damascus Trezevant. And really, all I did was listen patiently, in wonder, and eventually, I wrote down what she had to say about herself, her life and the people that filled her days.

I was charmed. I was in love. But at some point I realized her perspective was limited and often flawed. So I listened and waited for the voice which could speak to the other side of the coin. I followed where all my questions led and that is where I met Roslyn Byrne, bringing her own skewed perspective which somehow brought balance to the whole of the narrative.

These two characters shared a short summer on a very remote island and by allowing each of them to speak their own truths, fears, and hopes, somehow they explained not only themselves, but each other. It was a dance, really. At times, it was a battle. I spent hours staring at the computer screen, waiting for one or the other to reveal herself and terrified neither would show. Some days the story languished in coy silence. At times I could hardly keep up with the pace as these distinct voices challenged each other in every way, desperate to understand love, loss, family, abandonment, death and faith – all the same things I struggle with in my personal human experience and the very things I’ve watched those around me come up against in our journey through this life.

In the end, I know more than I could have known about these people and their worlds than if I’d simply approached the story head-on, without daring to go at it from multiple angles. I’m wiser than I was before I wrote it. And I hope that’s what the reader experiences: the gift of seeing the world through another’s eyes. I’ve always said I wished I had the eyes of a fly, so I could see the world a thousand different ways, so I could know the why and how of everything, but also the why of the why and the how of the how. For me, being a writer is the closest I’ve come to that kind of grace. That’s the true gift of story, I believe. Perspective.