Hello my darling pal,
As always, I am sorry for the long delay in writing again. Pandemic life has been inundating in many odd ways. It’s been a struggle, more than usual, to keep at the writing and reading, with the lockdowns and kids in and out of school. More than that, to help keep so many emotionally afloat through these uncertain times so often full of clamity.
You’ve asked me about correspondence in your last letter, if I ever hear for readers. I thought I’d write about that in this letter. I do hear from readers. For a number of years now, I receive gorgeous and elaborate post cards and letters (snail mail diminishes the beauty and substance of what often arrives in my mail box) along with emails, and private messages. Often the correspondence is questions about how to keep writing through the upheaval of working and looking after children. And elders. Simultaneously. And the other type of correspondence this year is congratulatory, on my debut novel, THE SPEED OF MERCY.
While I’m happy to hear from readers, it does bring a slight quaver to my soul that so many readers had never heard of me, and assumed The Speed of Mercy was my first book. I’ve been at this for so long, through all the children and elderly people and my illnesses, and the juggle of work in the isolation of Dog Fuck Nowhere. It’s sobering to realize how obscure I am as a writer. But I just keep at it, and that’s where hope resides. Stay the course. Keep your eye on the horizon. Keep the faith.
After my promising start in 2002 when I published my debut novel, HEAVE, I then slid into fifteen years of a GenX sandwich generation life, illness, and reclusively. I lived in the deep redneck country I was raised in, far away from an urban creative community. I also wasn’t on social media for years. Facebook was more depressing than being alone in my single-parent plate-spinning life where my goal was to pay the oil bill and put gas in the ancient green Mercury Sable station wagon (one of the least stolen cars in the world. Yes, it was that hideous). To us it was a limo, given to us by a 100 year old man who had driven it back and forth to the swimming pool, thus its low mileage and gentle use. But I was rear ended and then side smashed, and you know, one door was caved in, and the heat hardly worked. Car accidents are scary. But it was declared still safe to drive after some repairs. And so I drove it. We thought of it as a bizarre little mobile sanctuary.
Broke, pregnant, unwed, standing by the chariot.
Before the Sable, I had an old Toyota Corolla station wagon. Ancient but sought after, ha ha. I would come out of the grocery store and find a note tucked under the windshield wiper. My car was in demand as a parts car. If you grew up rural and poor, you know that having an old beater AND a parts car to cannibalize, is normal. When I returned to rural NS, after my years all over the world, I returned to that same way of living, keeping a car on the road with the help of backyard mechanics, and having people want to buy it off me to scavenge parts. Familiar times.
I Can See Myself Being Invisible
But this letter is not about my long-gone car or hand-to-mouth existence. It’s about the books I wrote, which still exist, which are still in print. A book reviewer, Heather Leighton, wrote about stumbling across HEAVE. On her blog, The Expected Twists and Turns, Leighton discusses Heave and asks: “Why do male authors seem to get so much more press and win so many more literary prizes?” Leighton, who didn’t know me, could see me.
Even when I am invisible, I can see myself being invisible, if you know what I mean. The other face of that strange coin, is the JOY when a reader does discover one of my earlier books. It’s a thrill when I get a note from a reader who is over the moon that in fact I am not a debut author, but have an “oeuvre”. How I’ve managed to write and publish four books is truly beyond me. It’s testimony to the insane affliction of writing, this drive to read and write, to keep at it, come what may. And if I can do it, so too, reader, can you, if you so desire.
My books take place in the same area, or link to it. Jericho County is a fictional county near the Bay of Fundy, in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia is small province jutting out into the North Atlantic on the East Coast of North America. For my American darlings, we are close to Maine. The literary terrain in my fiction is a cousin to that of Elizabeth Strout, Elizabeth Bishop, and even Stephen King. Faulkner was an early influence, and his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. My books are dramatic and humorous, and they explore memory, racism, poverty and what it means to be female.
Seraphina O’Sullivan, the main character in Heave, returns in The Speed of Mercy. She’s also a wild-spirited young thing in a story in Watermark. Serrie has a cameo in The Memento. Fancy Mosher, a secondary character in Heave, is the protagonist in The Memento. Fancy does not appear in The Speed of Mercy. Petal’s End, the decaying estate where she lives as an old woman, has a teensy cameo.
The Memento is a blend of Shirley Jackson and Emily Brontë. Think We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Wuthering Heights, with some Nathaniel Hawthorne threaded in. It was my second novel, with a huge gap between it and Heave. In fact, someone told me that they though I had stopped publishing because I had died! This novel really flew under the radar so I did feel like a literary ghost.
I had a lovely message recently from writer Jessica Hamilton. I’ve never met her but it was a gorgeous surprise to hear from her. Her debut novel, What You Never Knew, has just published. She included The Memento on a list of thrilling summer reads. This was a shocker. Happy shocker, you know the kind.
The Memento was also recommended in an interview with Keiler Roberts, an acclaimed American comic artist. Roberts has just published a new book, My Begging Chart. Roberts says: “I think most novels would be helpful in getting me through hard times, but the one I read during the most intense lockdown period was The Memento by Christy Ann Conlin. I’m fascinated by the way a novel, song, or other artwork becomes folded into all of my memories of the time when I read it. I’ll never separate that beautiful book from the extreme sense of anxiety and uncertainty of the early pandemic. It’s the phenomenon of bonding with someone when you go through something hard with them. I bonded with that book.” The Memento lives on. And this fills me with sweet joy. You can read an excerpt from My Begging Chart, “Some Barbie Backstories” in the New Yorker.
Flowers and Bedtime Songs
White Coral Bells is a lullaby I sang to the kids when they were little and we sang it in rounds together. Do. you know it?
Oh don’t you wish that you could hear them ring? That will happen only when they fairies sing.
The children worried that if the flower bells did ring when fairies sang at night…perhaps that just might not be a good thing. It gave me an idea…for a book.
I had a lovely message on Instagram when I posed this old milk pitcher full of lily of the valley from my garden. She said it reminded her of a song, White Coral Bells. Of course, that’s the lullaby song in our house, AND, it’s a musical motif in The Memento. It’s also in the book trailer (which I sent to my lovely reader who admired my flowers) Take a listen/peek. That’s me singing.
In another letter, how about I tell you more about Heave and Watermark, the relatives of The Memento, and The Speed of Mercy?
It’s a miracle every time I sit down to write. And unbelievable I have these books, even in my ghostly obscurity, where each book is a debut book to some fine reader. This is evidence I never gave up. It’s easy to lose hope. But we never did. Don’t you lose it either, okay? Writing and parenting are a curious pairing — so perfect together, and yet so often in conflict. But this is life, my darling.
I remain, your tired yet sparkly middle-aged mermaid,
P.S. You can purchase The Speed of Mercy here.
And if you mail me a note, I’ll mail you back some art cards I made, plus a Bar of Mercy, a gorgeous bespoke soap.