For Christmas some two decades ago, a good friend gave me a book. It was a popular novel at the time by a bestselling author. I read it over the holidays. I hated it. And I remember thinking, “I can do better.”
Driving home after visiting relatives that weekend, I saw a small sign—the name of a house—alongside the road. The name “Weymouth”* struck me, and I instantly imagined a man knocking on the door of a rundown yet once stately house. The image grew and when I got home I started writing. CAIRNAERIE began to take shape.
I once read that C.S. Lewis was asked how he came up with the wonderful allegory that is the beloved, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. His answer: “It all started with a queen and a sledge.”
I do not imply that I write with anything near the expertise of Mr. Lewis, but I do appreciate his method. Like him, I’m not the kind of writer who starts at Step One and moves along a planned outline as many writers do. It comes from being a random sequentialist. I, instead, love to follow where a story and its characters lead me. Sometimes a story ends quickly and I have a short story. Sometimes short stories grow like those tiny flattened sponges that you soak in water, expanding to 10 times their size. And sometimes a story simply sticks around so long it grows up, like a child becomes a teenager and then an adult. The latter, I think, describes my book.
And if I’ve done my job well, if I have raised it up with all the passion and wisdom and strength and determination it takes to raise a child, then I have done my job well.
Time, I suppose, and book sales will tell!
- Weymouth was the book’s working title for years until in my research I discovered it was the name of President John Adam’s homeplace. Too “New Englandish.” I needed something that sounded more like Virginia—and given that much of Western Virginia was settled by the Scotch-Irish, CAIRNAERIE had the right sound and feel. Only later did I discover that the first watchmaker in the country was a John Cairns. Serendipity.