I think stories – and books, and songs, and movies – should more or less ‘stand on their own’ without any context or explanation needed. I love reading something and forming my own interpretations and impressions of it. When you publish something, be that a book or a single poem, you relinquish control of it and let others take from it what they will. Writers can’t be there standing over readers’ shoulders whispering: ‘Do you see what I did there?’ ‘That’s a symbol! Get it??’ ‘This bit is meant to make you cry. Are you crying yet?’ That would be very annoying indeed.
However, I think that there are certain stories that are really enriched and deepened when we peel back the curtain a little and see what the author was thinking about when they wrote it. For example, maybe it’s an autobiographical novel, or it’s an homage to another novel, or maybe there’s a particularly unique origin story or ‘lightbulb moment’ when the author came up with the idea, or maybe it’s the product of a particular time in the author’s life or a particular historical event inspired it etc. These things shouldn’t be essential to the reading experience, but they can be a really worthy addition. I love reading ‘afterwords’ of historical novels in particular where authors talk about the research done, or their travel to historical sites, all that jazz. As a writer myself and a curious person, it’s super interesting!
In the past I’ve talked a little bit about the research and writing process for my recent poetry pamphlet Anastasia, Look in the Mirror, and in particular one poem in it inspired by the Salem Witch Trials. So in that same vein I wanted to share a new historical fiction story of mine called ‘The Window Bride’ which was recently published in The Account: A Journal of Poetry, Prose and Thought. I discovered this journal a few years ago when my friend Chet’la Sebree published some poems there. I really love The Account because they always publish some sort of artistic ‘account’, or brief statement, by the author alongside each story or poem. I’m so nosy and interested in the creative process that these are always great to read. I was very drawn to publishing ‘The Window Bride’ with them because it’s a story with an interesting story behind it. Sometimes things just pop into your brain and you never figure out ‘where they came from’, but sometimes you can trace the origins of a piece to a particular moment, which is the case with ‘The Window Bride’.
The story is based on a story that my uncle (who has since passed away) shared with several members of my family one Christmas. I don’t want to ‘give too much away’, and would encourage you to read both the story and the short ‘account’ which follows afterwards, but basically it involves my great-grandmother, her Italian-American family in Baltimore, windows, cannoli, gender roles, marriage, mathematics, and possible ghosts.
It’s set in the 20th century (bonus points if you can figure out exactly when!), so not my usual time period of interest, but I had fun doing a little research for it and dipping into a different era (where they actually have PHOTOGRAPHS of what things looked like! What a refreshing change from the 18th century…).
Even though the story was inspired by my own family history, it’s set almost 100 years so there was still a lot to learn in terms of the setting. And if you read it you’ll see that there’s a wee bit of Italian in there as well, so I had to constantly check to make sure I was right. My Italian is ‘intermediate’ at best, far from fluent, but I’ve lived in Italy for a few summers and visited a number of times since my partner is Italian and I have friends there. I did my best with the language! 🙂
You can read my story (and the story behind it) in The Account here.
Let me know what you think of the story if you do read it. I’d encourage you to check out the rest of the magazine too – the writing is often a mix of provocative and humane/tender which I really love. AND you get all of those ‘accounts’ as well, all of those windows into the behind-the-scenes worlds that gave life to the stories. What a privilege and a treat!
This is officially the last Madeira Mondays for 2021, but fear not, there are still some ‘Friday Finds’ to come this month, and more planned for 2022! Until then, take care.
‘Madeira Mondays’ is a series of blog posts exploring 18th century history and historical fiction. Follow the blog for a new post on the first Monday of each month and thanks for reading!
PS And in case you were wondering about the three ladies pictured in the Featured Image, they aren’t family! Rather, it’s a photograph from the 1930’s from the Auckland Museum collection, accessed via Wikimedia.