A writer, if they’re lucky, doesn’t know what time it is. A writer, if they’re lucky, doesn’t know which day of the week it is. Hours, days, weeks, months, are nothing more than Now… and Now is anytime. It’s any place the work is.
As Mary Magdalene, I studied in the Great Library of Alexandria. And when I was done filling my head with the knowledge of the world, I walked the land of what Rome called Palestine with Jesus. I was his teacher. I was his Beloved Companion. And we talked to all who would listen as I worked for seven years on The Secret Magdalene.
I was born during the last part of the fourth century to Alexandria’s leading mathematician breathing the air of of Rome’s Egypt as Hypatia . In my time, I was exalted beyond all women and most men, and then, still young, still fair, still revered by thousands, I was cruelly brought down by a few in a way hard to comprehend. And when that was done, the world tried to forget me.
I was pampered and rich, white and foolish in the city of San Francisco. It was the Roaring Twenties and I fell in love with a man forbidden to me, a man I destroyed in China Blues.
I was a writer, a woman who destroyed herself in a small town in a sweet slice of green called Vermont… or perhaps I recreated myself? Running from what I had done, I found a haunted hotel to die in. Or to live in forever. As I wrote Houdini Heart, I did not plan or plot or scheme. The work simply came with barely a change of word when it was finished. I don’t know if my hotel was haunted. I don’t know if everything is haunted, but I suspect it is.
Over my own years, the years I live as Ki, these things come to me. They are almost easy now. But only because I prepared for their coming. I learned how to write by reading. I learned how to write by writing. I took no course. I followed no rules but those that seemed mine. They were never mine. Story telling is ancient and all who listen know when a story is right and when it is wrong. They did not get taught this. Humans are born to tell stories or to hear them.
If the life you live seems pale to you, uneventful, unimportant, all that can change with a word. Even better, with thousands of words. Read them or write them. Better, do both. And you too will forget what time it is and your life will seemingly last forever.
A writer sits alone. Or in my case (as well as Proust’s), reclines alone. If someone chanced to pass by, they might think us doing nothing. They might even think us alone and lonely. Our lives seem so motionless, so lacking in adventure. But they would be wrong. A writer’s life is lived as vividly as Oscar Wilde’s life was lived. When the character pushing out from under my hand is afraid, I am afraid. When ill, I feel ill. Her or his sights and sounds and smells are mine. For so long as this new book takes to write, I live thousands of years ago as well as in the Now.
A writer tries to catch all this in netted words.
In China Blues, my first ever published book (Harper Collins and Doubleday and whoever else in whatever language, plus a new edition coming soon), it’s 1906 in San Francisco and I race through the streets as the city burns. Then, older, I live in the city as it is in 1923…a spoiled rich girl caught up between the Chinese tongs and white bootleggers. In my second novel, Chasing Women, it’s the last few months of 1929. I’m a New York City reporter, working alongside Damon Runyon ringside as I write the only sport’s column in town penned by a woman…but I have to use a name that could be a man’s to do it: Teddy O’Rourke. As Teddy, I’m caught up in a killing that comes much too close to the man I love/hate, a fellow reporter after the same scoop as me. In the as yet unpublished Walks Away Woman, it’s last week or this week or next week and I live in the suburbs of Tucson, Arizona. My kids are grown and away, my husband has a woman in town. I watch the soaps. And then one day I set down the groceries I’ve just bought, walk past my car fading in the beating sun, and stride out into the desert to die. Amazing what a despairing housewife can find alone in a world of heat. In Houdini Heart I am part of me, the part that feels small and lost. And I’ve done something very very bad. Knowing there’s little time left me, I’m holed up in a once grand hotel in Vermont writing one last book for better or for worse and then…then, things begin to get very strange. Am I haunted by what I’ve done or by the failure of a life poorly lived, or is it the hotel I hide in? Great artists have been here before me. Alfred Hitchcock, H.P. Lovecraft, Louise Brooks, Shirley Jackson. Is it their art that threatens me: better truer art than mine? Do I go mad or merely madder?
Bloody hell. My life as a writer is crowded with event, with people who use my mouth to speak and my heart to feel. Sometimes it gets so crowded inside there seems no room left for me. Whoever that is.