When my agent sold the book to this company a few months ago, I was delighted that my Tree was going digital and tree-less at last, and (in comparison to the pricey hardback) becoming affordable. And I was delighted with the new cover, designed to "pop" on even the smallest of devices, which the old cover, below, would not have done:
But the best part about The Medusa Tree being re-released was completely unexpected. I had to sit down and re-read the book, reviewing the manuscript to make sure the copy editor had caught any mistakes that might have crept into the new edition. I was nervous about this, at first. I don't read my books once they are finished and published, telling myself that by then they don't "belong" to me, anymore, that they must go out into the world, and belong to anyone who will pick them up. My imaginative work is done, I tell myself. What matters is readers' imaginations, I tell myself.
But there is this tricky truth, too: I'm always afraid that, if I sit down and read one of my books once it is finished and published, I won't like it. I'll see a thousand things I would do or have done differently. I will want to take it back down and underground with me again, and keep it from the light of eyes. It's a little secret writers don't often share. We do desperately want you to read our books, but we also wish we could keep them forever, that somehow we could make a living just by writing and writing and writing and trying to make a story perfect, even if it took, takes, a hundred years, a thousand. We wish we had all the time in the world. We wish we could always keep digging.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I began to read, that what I found was not something I wanted to do over or bury, but something found and handed back to me--and that was the women in my family.
The Medusa Tree is a story about women, all related by blood or marriage, and about family and mythology and the stories women inherit about themselves as women, and it is loosely based on the lives and loves of my grandmothers and great-aunts, who survived war-time danger and oppression to lead rich (if ultimately secretive and elusive) lives. As I read this book that I had not read in years, I gasped--because I had started writing the story years ago, when all the memories in it were fresh, and when the women who inspired it were still alive--but now they were dead and gone and I had completely forgotten, without knowing that I had, the life, the details I had recorded. I smelled the women's skin again. I saw the way they moved. I remembered the stories they told me, that I had written down and then forgotten, because writing is also a form of storing, entombing, and what is stored can be shuttered and put aside. Page after page they came leaping, dancing off the page at me, these people I thought I remembered but that I hadn't, didn't, but that my earlier self had been wise enough or just stubborn enough to carve into stone. When I finished, a world had been handed back to me, full of color and the shapes of flowers and the way the women touched, and the sound of their voices, and the force of their choices. I was amazed. I didn't even think about what I would do differently. I thought: how lucky is the writer who, without knowing it, buries cities, queens, kings and ordinary folk, songs, music, food, ritual and hieroglyph, pots, pans, gold, shoes, tools and weapons, for later resurrection. My weekend re-reading The Medusa Tree was one of the happiest I've ever spent. It was like time-travel. It was like holding time in my hands, the way archeologists do.
This makes it hard for me to know how the book will look, now, to others; but I hope, if you pick it up, that something of the love and blade it was made with will touch you, too.
We are all both geneology and mythology, both what we are and the stories we know.