Coincidence (or rather Google) brought me to St. Mary’s. A friend wanted to go to Burning Man and since I don’t do camping or deserts, I was looking for a place nearby to work on the final stages of my novel. As it turned out, luck couldn’t have landed me in a better place.
For some years now I’ve been working on a modern retelling of the stories of King Arthur’s knights and the quest for the Holy Grail. Weaving 14 different story-lines together, it’s an examination of how we strife for love and perfection but fail, usually through our own flaws, much like the Knights of the Round Table. It’s also quite a lot of work. For the most part I write next to a day job and progress was usually slower than I’d hoped. Real life has this habit of getting in the way. Doing a residency, like the one in St. Mary’s, offers me a chance to devote a stretch of undisturbed time to my novel and my writing. In short, a blessing.
When I travelled to Virginia City, I had 4 more chapters left to write. I figured I could do 3 of those during my 3-week stay in St. Mary’s and then do the last one back home. Instead I finished the whole book in 2.5 weeks there. I don’t know wether it’s the peace and quiet, the marvellous view, the occasional visits from a band of wild horses or perhaps all of the above but I’ve never had a more productive time.
So, did the desert work its way into the book? I’m afraid not. Those final chapters were set in Donegal, Dublin, London and Glastonbury. About as far from the desert as you can get. But The Comstock made its way into my work nonetheless. On the second day I decided to try and write some poems loosely based on the history and legends of the region. I started with one about the Silver Terrace Cemeteries. Soon I found myself writing about Julia C. Bulette, The Washoe Seeress, mining, the last gunfight in Virginia City, and of course about St. Mary’s. By the end of my stay I had 26 poems, enough for a collection. Truly, there must be something in the air.
Looking back, my stay in St. Mary’s brought me all I expected and much, much more. I’m therefore very grateful to Frances Melhop and St. Mary’s for giving me this opportunity and to all the people that made my stay in Virginia City as wonderful as it was.