Birthing a book is not unlike birthing a child. The newborn book, cradled in your hands, looks like a miracle. You gaze at it adoringly and wonder: This came out of ME??? After a long, seemingly interminable gestation, the book has at last emerged as a separate entity from its author/mother — ready, with lots of help and nurturing — to make its own way in the world. The love and protectiveness you feel toward it can only be called motherly.
This is the way I feel about my new book – my first novel but fourth published book – Jamie’s Muse, just out from Nighthawk Press, a small, independent publishing company in Taos, New Mexico. Exquisitely designed by Barbara Scott of Final Eyes in Taos, this book (please pardon the proud-mother boasting) is a beauty. And I like to think the story inside is beautiful too.
Its genre is historical fiction, set in late-nineteenth century Scotland and South Africa, but much of its underpinnings are made of documentable fact.
Facts: my paternal grandfather, John Black, was born in Avoca, Natal, South Africa, in 1885. When his young Scottish immigrant parents died there, John was sent to an orphanage in Edinburgh, from which he ran away in his early teens. He then stowed away on a ship to New York. He became a successful entrepreneur in Morristown, New Jersey. He died at the age of sixty-nine in 1954. The space on his death certificate where his mother’s name belonged read “Unknown.”
Much later, when I discovered that appellation, “unknown,” I was propelled on a quest to find her – or invent her, if need be. I found some information in genealogical records available in Edinburgh, Scotland. I invented the rest.
I made her beautiful, brave, adventuresome, stubborn. (She was born on May 3, 1862, so she was indeed a stubborn Taurus, like me.) I made her the muse of the young James (“Jamie”) Barrie, author of many books and plays, including Peter Pan, because they were contemporaries and no doubt neighbors and schoolmates in the same little town, Kirriemuir, Scotland, where they were both (I’m sure of it) misfits.
Because her spirit haunted me for many years and gave me no rest (was her own spirit not at rest?), I tried my best to please her by making her a heroine of outsize proportions. I like to think she’ll allow me through the Pearly Gates now.
As anyone who’s seen the Academy Award-winning animated film “Coco” knows, our ancestors beg to be remembered. To be forgotten is to disappear – a fate worse than fiery hell, it seems. My feisty Scottish great-grandmother, I feel, refused to be forgotten and tapped me to tell some semblance of her story, so I’ve dutifully brought her back to colorful life in the pages of Jamie’s Muse.
This is mostly her (imagined) story, but it is also the story of many of our ancestors of the same era – the ones who had the guts to pack up and leave the old country for unknown (to them) lands, take big risks, and either succeed or fail. It is a story that I hope will resonate with many readers and will inspire them to pay fresh attention to their forebears, maybe even write their forebears’ stories (true or imagined) in an effort not to forget them.
Toward this end, I would gladly give a copy of Jamie’s Muse to everyone who promised to read it. But I’m afraid that’s just not possible. To order a copy, go to www.amazon.com, or www.nighthawkpress.com, then please tell me what you think. My great-grandmother and I will thank you.