Yesterday, I went back over Chapter Three of The Red Tree, what there is of it so far, tweaking this and that, making some line edits. And I'd written only about 104 words when Harlan called, and by the time we were done talking, I'd realized What Happens Next, and, also, much of the day had slipped away. What Happens next involves a story of a haunting told to Sarah Crowe by Constance Hopkins, an event that occurs at the Cliffwalk in Newport, where, as it happens, I had never been. Long ago, I took to heart what Harry Street in Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro said about writing, that one should not crib from books others have written, but write from what one has experienced directly (and yeah, I'm paraphrasing, and yeah, authors of fantastic fiction must make allowances). Sure, there's a great website on the Newport Cliffwalk, but that can hardly stand in for the experience of having been there oneself. Besides, the house was so bloody hot that even with the AC unit in my office and running full tilt boogie (wasting energy and driving up the power bill), I was still dripping sweat.
So, Spooky and I grabbed a few things and headed south, then east, out of Providence and across the Jamestown Bridge to Conanicut Island, and then, island hopping, across the Claiborne Pell Bridge over the East Passage to Newport. I love Newport, despite the tourists. We followed Bellvue to Narragansett Avenue, and then followed Narragansett to the place where it dead-ends, at that part of the Cliffwalk known as the Forty Steps. Which are pretty much what the name says, forty granite steps leading down to the sea, and during the Gilded Age, the Irish servants from the adjacent mansions gathered here in the evenings for music and dancing. From the Steps (which is well south of the north end of the Cliffwalk), you can look out across Easton Bay towards Purgatory. The black and grey shale cliffs and the tide-lashed boulders of the Rhode Island Formation (Narragansett Bay Group) all date back to the upper part of the Carboniferous Period (the Pennsylvanian), that age of "Coal Swamps" so many millions of years before the coming of the dinosaurs. On the cliffs, in the sky, on the water, there were birds (glorified dinosaurs) everywhere —_ cormorants, gulls, goldfinches, sparrows, crows, sandpipers (either Calidris melanotus or C. minutila), a Great Egret (Ardea alba) fishing at the surf's edge. The air smelled of saltwater and beach roses and wild flowers I cannot name.
It was still hot, despite the sea breeze, the sun so bright, but we walked south, past the end of Webster Street and Salve Regina College, past late 19th Century mansions —— Ochre Court, the Breakers —— all the way down to the east end of Ruggles Avenue, where the cliffs turn sharply west. The waves were high, and there were a few surfers in the water, trying to get lucky. We sat a while on the benches at Ochre Point before beginning the long walk back to the Forty Steps. And I began to see things about Constance Hopkins' tale that I'd never have figured out, if I'd stayed shut up in my sweltering office. By the time we made it back to the Steps, it was almost 7 pm, and my feet were screaming at me (not having recovered from the cobbles of the previous day), so we sat awhile on those stratified Carboniferous boulders and just watched and listened to the sea. There was a great mist rolling towards the shore, and we watched it advance across the water, and talked about birds and swimming and The Red Tree. As the mist reached us, as the sun slipped below the horizon, the day finally grew cool, and we walked back to the car to make the drive home again. There are photos below, of course.
Oh, and we encountered a rather Wrong Thing at the Forty Steps, and this time I have photographic evidence, but I'll save that for a later entry.
If you've not yet preordered A is for Alien, I hope you'll do so soon. Also, my thanks to the winners of the most recent eBay auctions; the proceeds pretty much covered the expense of my having attended Readercon 19.
After dinner, we watched a curious little film, Mitchell Lichtenstein's Teeth (2007), which is pretty much to teenage Vagina Dentata movies what Ginger Snaps (2000) is to movies about girls who are teenage werewolves. Which is to say, really rather charming for a black comedy spoofing high-school abstinence cults, sexual repression in sex-obsessed America, and the bloody swath of severed penises and fingers left in the wake of a vengeful mutant vagina. And no, I did not stray into Second Life, but Spooky did, and had a nice bit of rp in the library in Toxia. Me, I lay on the floor until late, until early, in the cool air gathered there. Anyway, yeah, photos:
The view to the south from the Forty Steps.
A sea cave just south of the Forty Steps.
No, I have no idea who these guys were.
Ochre Point mansion, view to the southwest.
A long way to fall.
Ochre Point, looking south.
View to the north, back towards the Forty Steps, with Easton Beach and Purgatory visible in the distance.
At the Breakers, looking south. If you look hard, there are surfers visible on the left, tiny specks in the sea.
Coming out of the mist as we cross from Newport back to Conanicut Island, tower and cables of the suspension bridge and the sun showing through the clouds.
All photographs Copyright © 2008 by Caitlín R. Kiernan and Kathryn A. Pollnac.