This February 29th offers a most temperate day in Connecticut. Temperatures are on the way to 57 degrees Fahrenheit, and on the campus of Chase Collegiate School serenity characterizes the pond. My writing students and I have embarked on a morning walk, separating for a time to observe, to stare, to photograph, and reflect before we write. Today’s class allows for and encourages “slow travel,” the deliberate taking of one’s time to notice, to ruminate, to imbibe and intuit one’s surroundings. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you, too, will spend part of your day just as we have here.
As I dream a duet of characters into existence for my next project, I am informed by the late Umberto Eco’s comment above.
Though every writer and reader understands that novels’ heroes are crafted fictional constructs, unless those heroes feel like each of us at some level, our narratives will fail.
So today my job is to discover the physical and emotional shapes and scars, talents and tendencies of two in their twenties named Orla and Tad, bound together and wrested apart simultaneously amid forces they had not imagined. Whether either or both will rise to the heroic is anyone’s guess.
Yours was one of the first novels to make me love literature. Your heroine, Scout, felt the way I often did. Her world, though a couple of decades earlier than mine and many miles south of Connecticut, introduced me to characters who felt like people living actual lives. I wanted to get through the story quickly so I could learn what happened. But time and time again, I stopped to savor a sentence, a phrase, or an image that called for my sustained attention. You held me to the page, Harper Lee. You showed me that words could and did make a difference in how I thought, what I considered, who I was. I loved your story, even though it showed me that we injure and destroy each other. Even though it taught me that love doesn’t fix everything. Thank you, Harper Lee. I have never forgotten your gift and I never will.
Mary Sharnick is the author of Orla’s Canvas (Penmore Press), as well as Thirst and Plagued (Fireship Press).