Cheryl Anne Tuggle is a librarian, a freelance writer and a novelist, the author of Unexpected Joy: A Novel (Anaphora Press, 2011). She is a member of the Good Seed Writers Society and a featured writer on the blog Orthodox in the Ozarks. Today’s post is written by Cheryl Anne about how she came to write her latest novel “Lights on the Mountain.”
It’s a thing people ask when you’ve authored a novel: how and why it came to be written. Answering the question, though, is a bit like trying to relate the dream you had last night. You know how it went, but just try and tell it that way.
Usually I say it started with a scene I saw through my car windshield one morning in late October. It was a cold day and raining and I was parked behind the library, waiting for my daughter to finish a vocal audition at the high school next door. As I sat watching the rain coming down, I had a sort of waking dream in which the car’s windshield changed into a farmhouse window and I was peering through it into a large kitchen. Inside the kitchen, sitting across from one another at a table were a husband and wife. No doubt because of the rain and the chill in the real air and the dark sky above my car, I sensed the air in the day-dream room was thick with tension and the atmosphere, melancholy. I needed to know, of course, what was going on in that kitchen and knew there was only one way to find out. I would have to write my way inside it.
So that’s what I say, that Lights on the Mountain began with this scene I saw through the rain. But just like the person telling that dream, as soon as I’ve said the thing, I begin to doubt it. There is after all, my own memory, confirmed by a photo my brother sent me, of a bleak, wintry-looking day on the farm of my childhood.
And there are the memories I’ve kept of the multi-colored splendor of the Pennsylvania hills in autumn and the people, with their various accents and religious faiths and their rich-tasting foods, that lived within them. Looking at the photo, pondering my recollections of the Western Pennsylvania landscape and its people, there is a question of how I knew, as I began to set the story down, to put the couple on that farm (or something like it) and in those hills. I begin to wonder which came first, my memories of the photo and the hills, or the couple and the scene. The chicken or the egg.
Also like a dream recounted is the way I realize, while trying to explain how it happened, that it’s entirely possible to lie about it without being dishonest. All I can really say is that after two drafts in which my farmer’s problem was unsatisfactorily (to me) written, I was working on a third and happened to spot Walker Percy’s Moviegoer on my bookshelf. That book, if you haven’t read it, is about a worldly man who lives in what some people say is the real sin city, New Orleans. In the midst of his everyday, city-dwelling life, Binx Bolling embarks on an somewhat loosely organized, but definitely existential, quest, what Percy has his character call “the search”. Suddenly I had my “what if”? What if I took a natural man, a quiet-natured farmer who loves his land and his work and his wife, and instead of the stereotypical salt-of-the-earth simplicity, gave him a deep, yearning heart and a wondering mind. Oh, and an otherworldly experience. And once that was done and I had given him a past and put some challenging characters in his path, I set him to working out the world’s oldest mystery, the great, divine Who-done-it. What if I did that? I asked myself. And then I did it. And that’s the somewhat true story of how this particular novel came to be written.
Come November 13, 2018, you can read the story for yourself. Feel free to share your thoughts on it here, or on Amazon and Goodreads. I look forward to reading them!