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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tantalizing Tuesday

Today, I have a special guest for you! When I heard about her story coming out, I just had to track her down! The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson a novel creation by Jerome Charyn offers an intimate glance into Emily’s life. Yes, that’s right, Emily Dickinson is here with us today and let me say that it was not easy tracking her down!

She’s been one of my most difficult people to match! Believe me, I was just as surprised as anyone when her match turned out to be her dog! *winking right eye*

Cupid: Emily! Thank you so much for joining us today! Please, have a seat on our lovely couch!

EMILY: I am trying new things every day, ever since Jerome Charyn wrote my story and led thousands of friends to find me on this thing they call Facebook. I will try to answer your queries and answer as a twenty-first century maiden. Please forgive me should I falter – this is a new endeavor.

And I forgive you, dear Cupid, that you faltered in piercing my heart with your arrow of love. Without your failure, had I instead been brided, I may not have had the time – or need – to set to paper the bolts of lightening in my brain. I once wrote a phrase in error, it is my words more than my friends that are my estate.

Cupid: Just looking at the chapter names was quite intriguing! For me, the one that stuck out the most was, “The Vampyre of Cambridgeport.” It sounded so interesting that I daresay I had to read it first! I thought it would be about some hunky man I wasn’t privy to, but alas, it wasn’t. It’s here we learn more about your eyesight problems. You said that your eye problems gave you terrible headaches? Do you still believe the problem had to do with the light reflecting off of the snow? As so many writers these days, as well as one of our own authors, suffer from migraines regularly, please shed a little light on this and tell us what you were able to blame for causing them.

EMILY: My eyes, my eyes. What a terrible joy and a terrible burden my senses were to me. I was free of them only in my imagination. And so I wrote, “To shut our eyes is travel.” When my physical eyes failed me, I was fortunate to find a doctor with modern methods to heal. In your time there are many, but we had only Dr. Henry Williams and he was in Cambridge. So travel I must – I do not travel well. The travel brought some joy, as it meant I was tended to by my favorite cousins, Fanny and Lou. The sights of the city, when I was allowed them, were wondrous. But there were so many people, I felt I may disappear.

Cupid: One phrase that stuck out from my reading of this chapter was, “Lord help Mr. William Shakespeare for the tyranny of Sue’s pencil.” What tyranny was Sue performing with her pencil? Can you give us some specifics, please?

EMILY: I am blessed with two sisters. Lavinia is sister of my flesh, but Susan is my sister of the heart. Our bond is strong, but malleable, and Susan is a force to reckon with. I called her a Volcano, though I’ve never seen one. Sister Sue could tame nature, with her gardens and her words, but nature could not tame her for long. She will explode when wronged, then Heaven help us all – even Mr Shakespeare should have hid from her wrath.

Cupid: You mentioned that you risked your eyesight writing to Sue. Why did you feel that connection so important that you’d risk your own vision for it?

EMILY: Susan lives but a hedge away, and yet we wrote each other daily at times. I shared my scribblings with her as with no one else. How can I explain why I needed to open my mind to her? Perhaps, had I married, I would have this bond with a husband - but no, these are the bonds of women. Dear Cupid, no Valentine was as sweet as our shared secrets, and no one on earth, in my lifetime, understood my poems, except Sue.

Cupid: Was Sue the only one you wrote letters to? If not, who else would you write letters to? Do we find these letters in your book?

EMILY: My author, Jerome Charyn, tells me he discovered in my letters – the chaotic bits and pieces that remain – that I was writing my own kind of “novel.” It thrills me to think I could be a novelist, like the Bröntes whom I so admire.

When my Facebook friends woke me in this new century, I learned about the spider’s web, the net of “inter,” connecting one to all. Whenever I venture out of the safety of my book, I see people speaking on phones as smart as they. But near me were none but my few friends and family members, and Carlo, who was also my brother, so letters are my conversation, my ‘texting’ and my telephone.

Some of my letters have been saved, collected or reconstructed. This was a surprise to me, because I expected Vinnie had burned them as was customary, and as I had requested of her. Our world contained no machines that keep words “on the line” forever. Personal thoughts were shared privately and not intended for others.

But in modern times, letters are so rare and precious they are often saved.

A man named Thomas H. Johnson collected my letters and took great pains to annotate them. You can purchase these, I think, with a card that magically holds your dollar bills and coins.

I was pleased to see that Harvard, where my brother Austin went to law school, is still a premier institute of higher education. It is Harvard that holds and preserves my letters for all with an interest to read.

My author, Jerome Charyn, tells me it was in my letters that he found my voice.

Cupid: I’m so curious about this kangaroo business. Why on earth do you consider yourself a kangaroo?

EMILY: Whenever I saw myself as a boxer, I became the Kangaroo, and like a Kangaroo I kicked whoever I could and boxed the ears of friend and foe with my front paws.

Cupid: Your friend Zilpah sounds like quite the vixen. Please, tell us more about her!

EMILY: Zilpah is my “ghost”, my double; she moves me in a way that none of the other characters can. Zilpah is wild, Zilpah is cunning, but her intellect harms not helps her – because she was born on the wrong side of the track, her promise cannot be fulfilled in the nineteenth century. Had she come with me into the future, she would be a famous rebel, with many followers.

Cupid: As this is the month of love, please, do tell us about the loves of your life, other than your dog, Carlo. Who were they and how/where did you meet them?

EMILY: A lady cannot kiss then tell. My “master letters” were found and saved, but who they were written for, I will not reveal. It is all there in the letters. There are mysteries in life and mysteries in a life – this is mine.

Cupid: Thank you so much for joining us Emily! It’s been fabulous talking to you!

EMILY: Ah, in my time “fabulous” was something fabled and not quite true. I always tell the truth – I tell it Slant.

Cupid: Now, I’m going to do something I said I was bored with – interview an author! How could I not? This man seems smitten with our Emily! Jerome! Thank you so much for joining us today!

JEROME: Emily is a hard act to follow.

Cupid: How old would you say you were when you first fell in love with Emily?

JEROME: I first discovered her as a bumbling boy at junior high school. I’d never read a poet before, didn’t even know what a poet was. And there was Emily, talking about the defeated, the dying, and “Pain” with a capital P. I felt both of us were on fire.

Cupid: Was it love at first read or would you say it developed over time?

JEROME: Emily Dickinson has haunted my life – her poems her persona, all the tales about her solitude. Ever since I discovered her in the seventh grade, I’ve had a crush on that spinster in white, who had such a heroic and startling inner landscape of her own.

Cupid: What first attracted you to her? Was it a simple quote of hers, or was it something more?

JEROME: She had her own strength, without the least bit of bluster. She also had her own alchemy – words came together in ways I had never seen before. Suddenly language wasn’t a utensil, and could be used without any purpose other than to wound or amaze. Where did she get such fury?

Cupid: Sorry, about the twenty questions here, but I find you and your relationship with Emily so fascinating! Many readers find themselves moved by an author’s work to buy every book they write, to meet them if possible and even to learn as much about them as possible. What prompted you to write such an intimate story about Emily?

JEROME: Don’t we all have secret lives? And isn’t that one of the novelist’s quests, to reveal the secret lives of his characters? But after reading her letters, I discovered such with, such naughtiness, and such a sense of imagination that I felt I was dealing with a Scheherazade rather that the meekest of spinsters.

Cupid: Now, about those letters from Emily. Can anyone read them, or are they currently part of someone’s private collection? Have they ever been printed in a book? If so, please give those of us not familiar with Emily the title. I ask because there are those of us who do prefer the print medium to a computer for items like this.

JEROME: I would recommend you start with Thomas Johnson’s Emily Dickinson: Selected Letters. Johnson compressed more than one thousand of her letters into this book and explaining the context in which Emily wrote them.

Cupid: How has your family dealt with your obsession with Emily? Has it always been accepted, or have there been times where it has caused problems in your own life? How have you dealt with them?

JEROME: I grew up in the wilds of South Bronx, where the library was a haven. Like so many things children keep from their parents, I did not share Emily. At home I spent much time sketching. My world expanded when I crossed the bridge into Manhattan to attend the High School of Music and Art High School, majoring in painting.

Cupid: How much research did you have to do to write this book?

JEROME: I read her poems and letters, of course. And I studied biographies like Brenda Wineapple’s White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Richard Sewall’s The Life of Emily Dickinson and Polly Longsworth’s books, including The World of Emily Dickinson, with its wealth of illustrations.

The Emily Dickinson Museum granted me a private tour through the Homestead, and allowed me to stand quietly in Emily Dickinson’s room, to look out her western window to The Evergreens of Austin and Sister Sue, and find that "Slant of light."

Cupid: Would you call this creative non-fiction, or does it fall into the realm of fiction? How hard is it to weave fact and fiction together?

JEROME: Fiction often has a greater truth than most historical texts. I think of Napoleon, and I read War and Peace to get a sense of that particular time. Novelists see history as a story. We're not burdened by "inaccuracies."

Cupid: With all research, you must have turned up lots of facts. How do you decide which facts to use, and which ones not to? Did you try to get in as much fact as possible? Can you please give us some of the facts you opted not to use while writing this book?

JEROME: I followed the line of Emily’s life wherever I could, but I also took liberties within that line. I decided to start the novel at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, even though many scholars and critics of her work do not feel that the time she spent there — seven or eight months in 1848 and 1849 — was particularly important to her. I disagree. Even though she rarely mentioned Mount Holyoke in her later letters, and was homesick from the minute she arrived to the minute she left, I still feel that the seminary shaped her in several subterranean ways. It gave her a sense of the Devil, and allowed Emily to hurl off the straitjacket of established religion.

Cupid: I could ask you questions all day! But, I think that will have to be it for now! Thank you so much for joining us today!

JEROME: Always happy to speak with readers who love Emily Dickinson.

To learn more about her author, Jerome Charyn, visit
his website: www.JeromeCharyn.com
To join the Facebook society inspired by this novel
visit: www.facebook.com/SecretLifeOfEmilyDickinson

8 Moonbeams (comments):

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson said...

Emily is blushing, unused to such acclaim.

Tribute Books said...

Carrie & Jerome - what a clever idea to have Cupid interview Emily. Definitely, the highlight of the blog tour thus far!

For all those who would like to follow along, please visit http://thesecretlifeofemilydickinson.blogspot.com/

Caregiver said...

Wonderfully creative, just as the novel is. Now this interview response of Emily about Zilpah is quite a new thought to me, but I find it very interesting and quite delightful. And Zilpah had Emily's father's respect and love in a whole way Emily could not reach him. Well done!
Ginger

Cupid said...

Boy, I'm so glad everyone is enjoying the show!

marynarkiewicz said...

Creative and Lively! I enjoyed the interviews very much! Love the red couch.

lewb said...

Cupid ! Bravo ! What interviews ! I smile as I read. Wonderful!

lewb said...

Cupid ! Bravo ! What interviews ! I smile as I read. Wonderful!

Mystica said...

Lovely interview. Different and interesting.