Over my twenty-plus years of in publishing, I have experienced the highs of seeing a book made into a TV movie, and my career fall off the map completely. When Solomon’s Oak was published in 2010, I was stunned. My previous publisher had dropped me for low sales figures (which ironically today would be great sales figures). My agent and I had a frank discussion before she began submitting the book. “Your sales record counts against you,” was mentioned often enough that I understood clearly that it might be time for a pseudonym. Yes, I was disheartened, but I had also had a frank talk with myself. You have published nine novels. That’s more than most people do in a lifetime. Maybe your time is over. Maybe from now on you will read and make jam and learn how to knit. And that’s OK.
What happened next was spontaneous and perhaps the best way to access information from a writer. She sat me down and started asking me broad questions. What’s important to you? Why do you write? If you couldn’t write anymore, what would you do? The dogs flitted in and out, bringing toys, begging for attention, and their distractions made us laugh. I began to see how she’d potentially use them for a narrative thread. That relaxed me. We moved through various rooms, Lois commented on art and furniture, the taxidermy raven in my office. I answered questions, told stories, and we focused on various objects, giving a kind of informal rambling tone to the topics, but connecting them as well. We shot film all day. It was exhausting. Exhaustion is as much a tool as any photographic cut, aperture, or special effect. I realize this because as the day went on, the better the footage became.
The last little bit we did happened like this.
She sat me down on the couch.
A rag tag conversation that ended up being the final result’s opening scene. It reveals the true self of a writer, and love is the core issue I write about.
The more tired I became, the more open I was.
We did a second day of filming where I was working in the kitchen, making a batch of raspberry jam, but most of the film that made it into the final cut happened that first day. Jam is my one culinary thrill, a way to share Santa Fe’s local fruits and vegetables. These are the gifts I give my family every Christmas. I’d like to say I’m really accomplished at it, but the truth is, making jam is easy. It is also a lot like writing a story.
So at the end of that day, I was in the kitchen, spooning hot jam into glass jars while Lois was packing up to go home. As I scraped the last spoonful of ruby red jam from the pot, I took it into the dining room where Lois was and said, “Have a taste.”
Jo-Ann Mapson is the author of eleven novels and a book of short stories. Her work is widely anthologized and her literary papers are being collected by Boston University’s Twentieth Century Author’s Collection. Finding Casey, featuring some of the characters from Solomon’s Oak, was published October 2012. Core faculty and co-creator of The University of Alaska Anchorage’s low-residency MFA Program in Writing, she lives with her husband and their three Italian greyhounds in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she is at work on a new novel. Owen’s Daughter will be published in 2014 by Bloomsbury Publishers. Meet her on YouTube or at her website.