MY LIFE IN MIDDLEMARCH by Rebecca Mead.
New York: Crown Publishers. 2014. Hardcover $25.00. ISBN: 978-0-307-98476-0.
This book is on our “new” shelf in the library, purchased by my predecessor (who, I might add, has great taste in books).
George Eliot and her work have fascinated me for years. I’m not as familiar with her work as I am of many other classic authors, although my grandmother gave me a collection of her work published in Boston by Estes and Laurant in 1887. I’m the most familiar with THE MILL ON THE FLOSS, which was part of a large, complex literature paper I wrote in high school called “Lost Girls.”
MIDDLEMARCH was an influential book for Rebecca Mead, something she read and re-read at different stages in her life. Her revisitation of the text and her pursuit of what was behind the text is an absorbing book that gives us insight not just into Marian Evans (aka George Eliot) and her unconventional (at the time) but deeply satisfying relationship with George Lewes, but on why the book continues to resonate today.
Ms. Mead goes beyond some of the rather sniffy biographies of Eliot, questioning the intents and agendas of those who’ve written about Eliot and her family, friends, lovers. That’s part of what makes this book so satisfying — there are elements of both literary detection and psychological exploration on the wider social context, rather than simply accepting what someone else wrote as “truth”. It may have been that individual’s truth, but that’s different than “the” truth about an issue. She draws on biographies, letters, diaries — and her own experience of visiting important places in Eliot’s life and work.
Her personal experience of reading and re-reading the book and wanting more speaks to those of us who connect to books and are fascinated at the way life infuses work and work infuses life. Every writer has a different formula, and sometimes that formula is different from book to book. But when a book resonates, a reader wants to find those connections, and intimately experience what the author felt when writing the book. Some of that will always remain conjecture — even actors cannot fully “be” another individual, although they can inhabit that persona and communicate it.
At the beginning of spring, I decided that I was going to read my way through my grandmother’s editions of George Eliot, to get a new perspective on the works as an adult, and to gain a deeper understanding. I read several biographies of the woman, and got interested in some of her correspondence with one of my personal heroines and inspirations, Harriet Beecher Stowe. This book came along at the right time for me, because it reaffirms my desire to read and/or re-read all of Eliot’s work, and to continue playing with the idea that began germinating about a piece (most likely a play) having to do with Eliot, Stowe, and Charlotte Bronte.
Mead’s journey with MIDDLEMARCH not only illuminated the book (and Eliot) for me, but furthers my inspiration to continue working on a piece connected to Eliot. Which further demonstrates how Eliot’s work continues to resonate, and why she remains of value as both woman and writer.
You can find this book at Marstons Mills Public Library, in Marstons Mills, MA, or order it through the CLAMS network or Interlibrary Loan System. Or, of course, you can buy a copy. I initially checked it out as part of getting to know the library’s collection, but I’m definitely investing in my own copy.
I have a new release, and I’m very excited about this book. It’s a paranormal mystery with touches of romance in it, called TRACKING MEDUSA.
Archaeologist Dr. Gwen Finnegan is on the hunt for her lover’s killer. Historical researcher Justin Yates bumps into her, literally, on the steps of the New York Public Library, and comes to her aid when she’s attacked, sparking an attraction between them in spite of their age difference. After avoiding a cadre of pursuers at the Met Museum, Gwen impulsively invites Justin to hop a plane with her to the UK. The shy historian, frustrated with his failing relationship, jumps at the chance to join her on a real adventure. That adventure takes them through Europe, pursued by factions including Gwen’s ex-lover and nemesis, Karl, as they try to unspool fact from fiction in a multi-generational obsession with a statue of the goddess Medusa.
You can read an excerpt when you visit the site for the Gwen Finnegan Mysteries here.
Below, there’s an interview with me about the book:
Q & A With Devon Ellington
Question: How did you come up with TRACKING MEDUSA?
Devon Ellington: The Medusa myth always fascinated me. I got mad in CLASH OF THE TITANS when she was killed. I felt she was marginalized and destroyed because she was powerful. I’ve always loved archaeology — when I was little, even though I always knew I’d be a writer, but before I made the commitment to theatre, I wanted to be an archaeologist. My life took a different path, but it always interested me. I also don’t think science and spirituality need to negate each other. I wanted to work with a character who was smart and based a lot in science and evidence, but was a practicing witch and able to use all those facets towards her goals. The opening scene, in the club at Gramercy Park, came early on.
When I lived in New York, I spent a lot of time wandering around the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Public Library. The Justin character evolved out of that, especially when a group of us who were affiliated with PEN got a behind-the-scenes tour at the Library.
Justin was inspired by the same real individual who inspired Billy Root in my urban fantasy series The Jain Lazarus Adventures, but the two characters evolved very differently, and have grown into very much their own men. Justin’s journey through this series gets quite dark at times. Billy takes a very different route in finding his true purpose.
I also wanted to play with the age difference between Gwen and Justin. Gwen is a dozen years older than Justin — how does that affect their relationship? Especially since Justin’s emotional age is much younger than his chronological age.
It all started to come together one day when I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wandering around the Greek and Roman galleries, which had just reopened, and the Egyptian gallery.
Q: Tell us about the background of the chase scene at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
DE: That was a lot of fun. I’d written my way a few chapters into the book, and I wanted to get it right. I took a day and went back to the Met, with my camera and my notebook, to choreograph the scenes. A couple of security guards asked me what I was doing, and I told them I was choreographing a chase scene through the Met for a book. They were enthusiastic, and offered ideas and feedback (while still keeping an eye on things– no one neglected their jobs)! They asked not to be specifically named in the acknowledgements, in case Management was unhappy about it, but at this point, I’m sure most of them have moved on to other jobs.
Also, at that time, Hatshepsut had her own room. It’s been dismantled now, much to my disgust, and the Hatshepsut sphinx was in the same room as the Temple of Dendur, last time I visited New York. She’s not too happy about it.
I find it insulting that she no longer has her own room — it was an important exhibit focused just on her and her achievements.
I’m putting photos from the Met and the Library and some of the places in Edinburgh and Ayrshire up on the website: http://gwenfinneganmysteries.devonellingtonwork.com.
Q: Did you ever get to study archaeology?
DE: Not traditionally. In 2013, I was able to take, through Coursera, an online class with Sue Alcock of Brown University called “Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets”, about some of the basics. I loved it, and I was lucky enough to head from the Cape to Brown to meet her. In fact, she got me back in touch with one of my favorite playwrights from my early days in New York theatre, who’s now teaching at Brown. In the edits, I fixed a few glaring errors in the manuscript, but I still have made, shall we say, “adjustments” in proper process to serve the needs of the story. I hope Sue will forgive me — and I plan to study more with her if the opportunity arises.
Q: The relationship seems more of a triangle that a couple, thanks to Karl. Can you talk about that a bit?
DE: Karl was originally going to be the primary antagonist — former lover gone bad. However, Karl had other ideas. The relationship between Gwen and Karl has gone through various permutations for over twenty years. Their bond is so strong that even the genuine love between Gwen and Justin can’t break it. Nor should it. This idea that fictional characters can only have a single relationship and everything else must come second is something I believe is harmful to teach readers to look for as human beings. We are capable of having more than one relationship without those relationships being a threat to each other, and I wanted to explore that.
Q: Then, of course, there’s Edward.
DE: Yes, there is. Again, Edward was supposed to be a very small supporting character whose purpose was to provide information and the next lead for Gwen and Justin to follow. But Edward had other ideas. I believe in following my instincts when characters want to take a different direction than the original plan. It’s the subconscious mind at work, which always knows more than the conscious mind. The subconscious embodies itself in the characters, so when you let that go, at least in early drafts, you can get to a better place than you would otherwise. When you write something that needs a structure, such as a mystery, then you take it and adjust the piece to the structure. Fortunately, the genre lines are blurring somewhat, and I take full advantage of that!
Q: Did you get any push-back because your vampire is named Edward?
DE: Because of Twilight? More power to Stephanie Meyer for creating a trilogy that connected to so many people. But I hadn’t read her books when I wrote this, and the only thing Edward Ramsey has in common with the other Edward is the fact they’re both vampires. One trusted reader who’s a big Twilight fan suggested I change his name, but Edward’s Edward, and there’s more than one Edward on the planet. My editor and publisher had no problem with it. I also wanted the vampire aspect to be peripheral to this novel. It comes more to the center in the third book, especially where Justin is concerned.
Q: So where do your characters go from here?
DE: You’ll have to read the books to find out! How’s that for avoidance AND self-promotion! 😉 Seriously, the second book, THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE, is about salvaging a pirate ship, and there’s a murder, AND Gwen and Justin face new obstacles in their relationship. There are definitely some surprises in that one, for readers who think they have a handle on Gwen and Justin!
TRACKING MEDUSA is available as a digital download from Amber Quill Press here:
It will shortly be available on Amazon, and the print version releases in Mid-June.