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Revisiting The Mapmaker

Perhaps like most writers, I almost never re-read my work once it's published.  Publication is a dissemination of the story, a wonderful kind of deconstruction. Indeed it reminds me of the final ritual in Native American sand paintings, in which the painting is destroyed and scattered to the wind. Similarly, publication is the release of the story, the time when the story is destroyed in a miraculous sense by the imagination of different readers. 

And so it was with a certain amount of unease that I just re-read The Mapmaker for an all-day discussion this coming Tuesday on SAVVY VERSE & WIT, the blog of Serena Augusta-Cox.   Unlike many of my stories, The Mapmaker is a novella that uses material from my own life--changed, altered, invented, transformed--so a mere anecdote can become a story with universal resonance.  

When I wrote the two novellas in ENCHANTMENT, I had to surprise myself with this kind of invention. And each time I did, I felt like a diver, going deep into the ocean and surfacing a slightly different person, with a slightly different life.  To put it differently, the inventions--however slight they were--created a universal resonance so that readers might find meaning in experiences that weren't their own and also showed me parts of myself in the experience I hadn't known were there: For example, when I remembered myself as a victim of abuse, I also realized I'd processed it in a wise and cunning way--extracting a gift from my grandfather. And yet--in the spirit of a destroyed sand painting--I never wanted to re-read any of these stories.  For me, writing is a way of completing an assignment from an obscure source: And when the story is finished I am finished with the story.

Interestingly, when I re-read THE MAPMAKER, I read it as both a reader and a writer--sometimes identifying with a kind of dispassion I had when I wrote the novella and sometimes entering into the content, revisiting it, revising it. When I was writing THE MAPMAKER, I was concerned with craft and deadline: My purpose was to balance out a series of somewhat surreal stories with a realistic novel, and not to anger my publisher by getting the work in late.   I was involved in the material but also balancing unity of time, place, imagery, and the momentum of narration. When I re-read it yesterday, I felt some of the same dispassion. But because the novella contains incidents from my life, it also opened a door to that life: I relived--as I didn't relive when writing it--a frightening night with my grandfather, the tragic circumstances of my mother's death and the reality of my father's betrayal. .  It was almost as though I was looking at old photographs and remembering the nuances and aromas of a time in my life that had been relegated to the past. 

So for me, re-reading some of my work after a hiatus is an interesting perspective: I'm the re-imagining reader, the somewhat dispassionate writer---and also a furtive observer of my life, myself, the people in it.  

There's one irony in the re-reading: The ancient map--a map that had always been in my family-- disappeared under strange circumstances.  I didn't know this when I wrote the novella, and I was determined to keep it for my son.  Now it's far away, living in some other home I'll never find.   So things that can seem so fixed in a work of fiction--the totemic objects, the people themselves--also disappear and transform.  Yet another kind of deconstruction, one more reminder of the fragility of life.