This is one of the most fun books I’ve ever written. I had a great time. Here’s how I got the idea:
I used to take my dog, Phoebe for a walk in the cemetery. It was a place she could run off leash, and chase squirrels, and I didn’t have to worry about her getting hit by a car. On one side, there’s a stone with two names, Maude March and Calvin Weatherwalk. A dogwood tree blooms over them in the spring, and a deep red rose blooms at Maude’s headstone. So I never failed to walk that way.
Sometimes I carried water from the spigot some feet away, other times I brought rose food. But one day, as I followed Phoebe out of the cemetery, I wondered what story Maude would tell, if I could ask.
And Sallie answered with exactly the last line of the first chapter. It was a long line, and sounded so perfect, I found a pen and a wrinkled paper napkin in my coat pocket, and scribbled it down.
“This is the true story of how my sister, Maude March, came to be known far and wide as a horse thief, bank robber, and a cold-blooded killer.”
Phoebe saw that I was busy and sat down to wait.
I wrote down that line, and excitedly, I started home again. But I hadn’t gone ten steps and we had to stop, Phoebe sat, I scribbled some more.
“Show you how impossible it was for her to do the things everyone claimed that she did.”
The whole walk home went that way. I wrote on every fold of the napkin. I wrote everything that came to me. These were long sentences, so you can see why I had to write them down. I ran out of room before long. By the time I got home, I was holding several lines in my head, and Phoebe was thrilled, we were running.
It wasn’t until I sat down at the computer that I realized each line was in perfect order. Backwards.
The next line was, “Have you know her for a rightly raised person who never complained about the awful twists of fate that made her life less comfortable than it might have been.”
That entire first chapter came to me line by line, from the end to the beginning. Oh, there were some additions in the revision process, I’m sure, but that first time at the computer, I wrote the whole chapter, from end to beginning, as if Sally had to explain herself, saying, “Here’s what happened, but here’s what came right before and so that’s why.”
Sally was a plain-speaking character, a direct character without a lot of complicated motives, who was easy to work with. She explained herself, and then she told the story. I just love Sally.