A Haven for Vee

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Great-Aunt Susie

If you left me a comment yesterday, I hope that you'll check there again. You gals are so much fun!

My Boston niece bought me Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life as a birthday gift. Naturally, because I enjoy muddling my head with a lot of varying thoughts and opinions, I hauled out Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and am reading them both. Actually, these two writers think a lot alike.

Even if you never hope to write more than a letter, these books are great fun...also irreverent...also trash mouthy...also brilliant. There'll be moments when you throw back your head and guffaw, moments when you'll feel inspired, and moments when you'll know for a fact that it's all beyond you. Apparently, it's all beyond both of them, too.

Lamott's description of writer's block: ...you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talent run down your leg and into your sock.

Isn't that rich with simile and metaphor? That's writing!

Soooo, I've been commissioned to write a historical novel. Does it matter that I've been commissioned to write it by my own family? "The story must be told," my grandmother tells me emphatically. This makes me feel sorry that I'm such a deadbeat because Nan's 98 and it's unlikely that I'm going to pull this "masterpiece" together for her in time.

What is Nan so eager for me to tell? It's the story of her great-aunt Susie, an amazingly beautiful woman in her time who fell in love with John Jacob Astor (think Titanic) and he with her, if I am to believe the story. Sadly, or perhaps not, the romance didn't go quite as planned. Susie didn't meet Mr. Astor's mother's standards. Still, their romance left Aunt Susie independently wealthy at just twenty years of age.

I've spent years thinking about this...looking at Susie's letters, her journals, her photographs. I had always been told that there was a fortune somewhere (does every family have this sort of fairytale?) if one could only find it. What I found instead was that Susie died a pauper with her grand home falling down about her ears and that life's difficulties left her a self-absorbed, bitter woman. Guess life can do that if your one true love is lost and your only child...a daughter...falls off a swing, hits her head on a tree root, and dies in your arms when she is just seventeen.

I need to go watch a comedy!

photo source


  1. I'm hooked already and want to know more about Great-Aunt Susie! It is interesting to me the way that some people face the sadness in their lives with resilience and courage and others just seem to crumble and never fully recover.

  2. OK, she's 98. Please invest in a tape recorder and drive her nuts, with questions. And let her just ramble too.

    I agree with your grandmother! "This story must be told!" Please... tell it.


  3. Put my name on the list...I'd like a signed copy when the book comes off the press.

    I did a 'book' of sorts last year...however, I wasn't free to use my own words, since it was my dad's story. Let's just say I took some editorial liberties! It sounds to me like you can use whatever words you please...how fun is that? Tell the story!

  4. It's to be a historical _novel_! No need for a pot of gold to really be waiting somewhere, for later family.

    Plus, she could very well have been wealthy at 20. And have lost her wits for investments, when her daughter died. And thus, ended up a pauper with her grand home falling down about her ears. All the more, a Morality Play, so to speak. {Ugh, but they are still popular}

    Does "Emma Bovary" end happily???? Of course not!

    You have a wonderful seed of a plot my Dear. Run with it. :-) But... copywrite it pretty darn quickly or someone else will!!!!!!!!!!

    And since you commented on my last entry, so quickly, I think you missed my new Header! Please return some time, and take a peek. I just love it, of course. :-)


  5. Oh Vee...this fascinates me because I am a HUGE History buff.....you have certainly piqued my interest....

    I adore Stephen King too...

  6. My mom and dad both wrote down their stories, everyone should write something about their life and that is why I started to blog.
    Having someone like great Aunt Susie needing you to write her story is such a great compliment to your ability to write.
    Do it .. .I would certainly read it. I can't wait.

  7. Hi Vee....I am totally pleased and in awe that you will write a book with such an intriguing and interesting plot....I agree with everyone..."It must be done!" Sounds like fascinating things went on in Aunt Susie's life that must be shared with all of us who love old romantic tales....Dee Dee

  8. I'm a bit late stopping by today. You would not believe the morning I had! I have been clunked on the head(and have the goose egg to prove it!), used as a landing strip for a flock or a fleet or whatever it is that wasps fly in, and locked up!!! At least I've got good posting material!

    I'd read Great Aunt Susie's story! Write away Vee and hopefully you will inspire me to do the same.

    I agree that Bird by Bird is brilliantly written. The author has some other very good works that I have also read, even though I don't abide with trashy talk, she is a gritty real writer and I like that about her.

    I think family histories are the most interesting writing. Keep us posted on the progress!

  9. I didn't meet my husband's mother's standards either... 26 years worth of her hypocrisy and stupidity later.... is there still a way to get rich from the situation? lol...

  10. How fun! Writing a family story. I love that your 98 year old Grandmother asked you to do it..

  11. Interesting Vee, and exciting. It is amazing when one does find real treasures when looking back through family history. On my Father's side I have in my possession the copy of a will from the 17th century leaving a lot of money for the time. Where did it go, we suspect on horses further down the line. Where did it come from, their were landowners.earlier down the line.
    Thanks for your continuing encouragement.

  12. Yes, you must write that story! And you are just the one to do it!

  13. What a story.... wow... I do so hope you keep us posted... I want more ..... Poor Great Aunt Susie..

  14. Good God, Great Aunt Susie could have been a victim of the Titantic and then where would you be??? I am with Mari-Nanci on the tape recorder...don't bother telling her it's on, it'll make her clam up, just drag it with everywhere til people get used to seeing you with it and get that family history down and those voices that will be a memory...you'll never have to say "I can't remember how her voice sounded."
    hugs to you my dear friend...get busy now

  15. A few years have passed since you wrote this, Vee. Have you made progress on writing this book? It seems like you have a few wonderful plot lines, except the ending sounds like it would be too sad.


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