Even as I spoke, Emily did not look at me. She only patted the loose dirt about a seedling, seemingly content watching her own efforts as the black soil swallowed about the green. She cupped her hand over the pile and poured a bit of water from a small tin cup. I’d seen the cup before, perched against the side of the bottom porch step, and had wondered that no one ever minded to scrub the dirt from it. Now I knew why—of course—but I didn’t know why everything about us in these moments—even the air between our frames—brimmed with a new tension.
As she finished, she stood and knocked the damp crumbles of earth from her apron, smearing some and releasing others like tiny, rumbling boulders from a mountainside. She pulled at her leather gloves a finger at a time until they released, and then hit them together, knocking more bits to the ground. Gathering the cup and gloves, and taking the trowel from her apron, she set them all back into the pail for carrying. Rubbing her hands together, she smiled to me, but with eyes as vacant as though I were any other stranger, or one who rings the bell only to ask if I might take one of her flowers for my mother.
In this part of the site, I will (try and remember to) post bits from the ongoing draft text of The Other Dickinson. As a far more natural poet than fiction writer, I welcome your thoughts on what you’ll read here. Reach out to me via the Contact button; I’d love to engage with readers and offer feedback to other writers as well.
Backstory of The Other Dickinson
The Other Dickinson is a novel-in-progress (left) borne from a graduate thesis (right).
The original concept for the book came approximately 8 years ago during one of many phases of my typical obsessive cataloguing and researching of various historically significant topics.
On a chance happening, I effectively rediscovered Emily Dickinson’s poetry.
Cue then an unquenchable fascination with who the person behind those incredible, life-altering lines may have been.
Initially, I decided to pour over Dickinson’s existence from the scholarship standpoint—devouring anything and everything written about her by those who studied her before (Sewall, Smith, Leyda, Patterson, Taggard, Gordon, Griffin Wolff, and on and on)—but I found so many contradictions, so many things that simply couldn’t be possible based upon dates, places, and the like, as well as endless presumptions fueling what we have come to know of her.
Presumptions, I realized, unfortunately (or fortunately for the fiction writer, ahem?) were the way of it. There are infinite blanks and blocks when one seeks to comprehend the poet/the person—and in my opinion—some of those blanks and blocks were created and installed purposefully for that reason.
Categorically, our understanding is incomplete—and unless that whole “behind the shelf” thing meant we should scan the Homestead for hidden letters behind walls—then our incomplete comprehension will never change.
I turned then to the obvious choice—those closer to the scene—Martha and Mabel, respectively (Martha Dickinson Bianchi and Mabel Loomis Todd). Knowing full well the effects of trauma, the influence of an audience, irrepressible bias, and so forth, would all need to be sifted through for finding anything concrete in their materials, I still read everything I could access.
Alas, being afterward all the more intrigued and yet even further lost in the proverbial weeds, I then read Dickinson’s letters and continued on with the poems. I knew both to have been soundly edited and judiciously selected—but—her voice is so strong that in spite of it all, you can actually get an understanding of her vast intelligence, her uncommon artistry, and her candor. You can also, in essence, witness her writing mature as the years progress.
Convinced then that I was to remain so fascinated and so confused for all eternity, I did just as we all do when things confound us—I built a narrative in my head to make it all make sense.
Free to roam within that safe space of uncertainty, I began writing The Other Dickinson. The storyline, purpose, theme, title—and well, everything else, too, it seems—have evolved drastically since the start.
Enter the main problem: I had written poetry all my life. Never fiction.
But I wanted to experience the book I saw in my mind—which meant I’d have to be the one to write it. I went to grad school and completed a creative writing degree in Fiction—and here we are.