Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"The Second Mrs. Hockaday"

Susan Rivers holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina, where she was awarded a Regional Artist Grant from the Arts and Sciences Council for her fiction. As a playwright, she received the Julie Harris Playwriting Award and the New York Drama League Award, worked as an NEA Writer-in-Residence in San Francisco, and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award for British and American Women Playwrights. She is a veteran of both the Playwrights Festival at Sundance Institute for the Arts and the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference and has crossed the country, from Seattle to St. Louis, working on professional productions of her plays.

Rivers and her husband currently live in a small town in rural South Carolina. She teaches English at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg.

Rivers applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Second Mrs. Hockaday, and reported the following:
From page 69:
He was thinner than I remembered from the day before. More careworn. It reminded me that he had lost his wife less than three months earlier and had nearly buried his baby son. In addition, he had been far from home, fighting a war. His face was unshaven and his uniform, I noticed, looked shabby in the morning light, as if he had tumbled it with a bag of rocks before donning it to call upon my father and stepmother. He was as strange to me as a manatee, dear Cousin. Or an Indian chief. And yet I recognized that he was fully at ease with the man who stood gazing at me from across the carpet: he was open, authentic, concealing nothing -- not even the diminution of strength and spirits he was feeling, considering his troubles. The scant value he placed on appearances was also evident in the way he looked at me. Since my sixteenth birthday I have been conscious of how certain men, especially those who lack good breeding, study me with their eyes, as if I were a confection being wheeled past on a cart. A gleam of appetite sparks in their eyes as they take in my face; their gaze moves to the rest of me and evaluates the substantive components along with the decorative ones, weighs the whole, and then returns to my face with the eyes now veiled by a scrim of pretense (easily penetrated, if they only knew!) that attempts to feign mild admiration not yet linked to acquisition. The major's black eyes, however, did not rove. They fixed on my face and remained there, as if plumbing a body of clear water for its depths. Because their lucent focus was fully unfiltered, I was able to detect the slightest quality of apprehension fluttering there: not as if he feared to be revealed to me, but as if he doubted his right to engage my commitment on the same spartan terms of self-disclosure.

I cannot explain the impossible sensation that stole over me of knowing this man in the deepest recesses of his spirit, of knowing him as intimately as if I were him. Or him me. The thought made me blush, but I did not question it, any more than I had questioned the honeybee in my closed fist. Perhaps he read this in the smile I ventured to offer, for he stepped inside the wreath of vines I occupied on the carpet and ducked his head to look into my face.

I am not wealthy, he said at last. Or handsome. And I'm a long way from 'refined.' In other words, I am not the husband you deserve, Miss Fincher. But this is what I know: to wake up beside the person you cherish and who cherishes you in return... there is no better refuge from the world than that. Whatever hardships may come. And they do come. They will.
My novel seems to conform to the Page 69 rule pretty solidly, and in fact, pages 69-70 is one of the sections I frequently read at appearances. It falls in the middle of a letter my protagonist, Placidia Hockaday, is writing to her cousin and confidante, Mildred Jones in September, 1865. Placidia has been in jail, arrested for concealing the death of the issue of her body, but is now on bail. Since her husband, lately returned from a Union prison, has refused to take her back to live on their farm, she's staying with a sympathetic neighbor while she awaits trial. Mildred has been trying to wrest the truth out of her, hoping to build a defense for her cousin, but Placidia isn't giving her much. Mildred fumes that considering Major Hockaday's "extreme asperity in this matter," she doesn't understand why her cousin married him on such short acquaintance, and asks her to explain her decision. Placidia offers an account of their meeting in her father's study shortly after Gryffth Hockaday had asked her father for her hand in marriage.
Visit Susan Rivers's website.

Writers Read: Susan Rivers.

--Marshal Zeringue