I managed to draft about sixty pages of my Nantucket novel, and several episodes of the quilt story, before cash ran too low for more room rent. Reluctantly I took the ferry back to the twentieth century, presented my carefully stashed return bus ticket, and jiggled and scribbled my sore butt back to Baghdad on the Bay.
Fortunately, the Bay Guardian wanted me back, had even assigned me a vacant desk and a phone (tho not yet a regular paycheck), and kept me plenty busy reporting and writing.
In the bustle of work and the city, the novel soon migrated to the “I’ll-get-back-to-that -soon” pile, tho in truth, I never added another page.
Also fortunately, my daughters had not forgotten me either. Or the story, now dubbed “The Magic Quilts.” Yet once off the bus, it too was relegated to the I’ll-get-around-to-it desktop shuffle.
I didn’t feel too sorry, at first. Hey — there were still plenty of stories. A branch library was close; I had story books (maybe it was time to start the Narnia series?), and I could improvise live and in person again, so — what-ever, right??
Despite all my writer’s pretensions, I had missed the part about how tender young minds take time to sort out fact from fiction, especially fictions they’re featured in. Despite all the stories within easy reach, there was only one which they were in; and now I realized they had gotten pretty deep into it by the time I got back and was edging toward leaving it behind. I was present; wasn’t that enough?
Not just no, but hell no.
Gazing down at Kiki’s anxious face jogged my memory: the last episode I’d mailed had closed with some cliffhanger: was it the attack of the oversized mosquitos? Or when their guide was turned to stone by the evil wizard, so he could steal their quilts? Or? (Shee-ite.)
Think fast, dude.
My instincts did not fail me completely. I hugged Kiki and told her I would have the next episode by tomorrow, and in the meantime (spoiler alert) YES, she and Molly would get back home. I promised.
But by late that night, after I retrieved the plot summary and wearily faced a blank sheet in my portable typewriter, another realization came: having sent them to another world, and loosed all the creatures of my plot on them, there was really no way back but by the path I’d laid out; the girls might not fully know fact from fantasy yet, but by god they knew that stories have beginnings, middles and ends.
(Let them learn later, as they since have, that this is one more parental myth that life would deconstruct.)
Having sent them on this journey, and short-circuited any shortcuts, how could I leave them hanging?
And so, despite all my worst intentions, over many nights in the next few months, the rest of the story got done, and read. After a big exciting climax, it closed with them back in their beds, snug under the quilts meant to convey that the chaos and danger they had come through was not the last word.
Now Annika (she dropped “Kiki” at ten) and Molly are grandmothers. A New York publisher once almost picked up The Magic Quilts, but then passed (and within a year, that publisher went belly up; karma).
In the early ’80s, in a spell of regular paychecks, I commissioned some illustrations from a fine African-American artist, the late Charlotte Lewis, and printed up some copies, and sold some dozens or scores, mainly at Quaker conferences.
And now, forty-six years later, there’s a new edition, with a full-color cover and redesigned (old- and kids-eye friendly) text ; plus an e-book version.
It’s just in time: I also now have two great-grand-daughters and a great grandson who will soon be ready to have it read to them, and am awaiting their reviews with trepidation.
Speaking of reviews, the most memorable came about at one of those Quaker conferences, at lunch. I had just filled a tray in the Non-Vegan-Omnivore-Bacon-friendly line, and turned toward the tables, which were clustered beyond the drink machines.
Watching the tray, I didn’t notice a young boy approaching. Keen-eyed, he must have read the block letter nametag on my tee shirt. I didn’t see him til he was right in front of me, feet planted, arms akimbo, eyes narrowed. I drew up short, to avoid a collision.
He spoke: “Do your daughters,” he demanded, “really have quilts that can fly?”
My fumbling response to such young Quaker plain speech escapes me now.