While reading Edith Wharton’s memoir, A Backward Glance, I came across a description
of another writer that blazed from the page. She wrote of Joseph Conrad that “…he had
worshiped the English language all his life like a lover.”
As I read these words, I was struck by the passion of her imagery. Of course, Edith
Wharton’s entire life was devoted to the English language from the time when she first
discovered hundreds of leather bound books in her father’s library. She went on to become a
distinguished novelist whose books limned the manners and mores of her day. The Age of
Innocence brought her the Pulitzer Prize; Ethan Frome, the ironic novella of life in a small
New England town, appears on reading lists in many of our high schools.
I remember in eighth grade when we were first introduced by our English teacher to the
technique of ‘diagraming’ a sentence. First, we had to separate each word as to the particular
part of speech: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, article. Then, out came the rulers to
draw a graphic design of the sentence. The straight line and placement of the subject and
predicate. Once these essentials were in place, we had to position the object. And then the many
diagonal lines for the modifiers and the phrases.
We started with simple sentences and progressed to more complex ones. I must confess
that I was probably the only one in the class who appeared to enjoy this entire endeavor. There
was something about the order and symmetry of the design that I found profoundly satisfying.
Every word had a place in relation to every other word. It all could be broken down and put back
together again. Voila! The structure of the sentence was revealed in its purest form.
In high school, when I studied Latin, the appeal was the same. To take the sentence
apart — finding the verbs, nouns and modifiers. Then, reconstructing the sentence in English.
It was a puzzle that could be deciphered in measured steps. And it served to heighten my
appreciation for the order of the English language as well. Some said that was the main reason to
study Latin, labeled a ‘dead language’. But I always felt it had intrinsic worth in itself. My
mother, the only person I knew who had studied Latin for eight years and Greek for seven,
agreed. She was a wise woman in many ways, one of which was to value the Classics.
Many decades later, as I write this column, I still retain the wonder and love for the
beauty and majesty of the English language. And I still have a lot to learn.
In the year 2000, when I began the interviews and writing that led to my first book,
Courage In High Heels, I was embarking in a new direction. Writing articles for newspapers
and magazines for over twenty years was a different pursuit from writing a book. Both, of
course, require the disciplined use of the language. I like the term, ‘wordsmith’ as a descriptor
— a writer molds words as a sculptor shapes the clay and a silversmith works with the precious
During the interviews with the eight women who gave me their life stories for Courage
In High Heels, I learned that their words were the heart of their stories. In an atmosphere where
trust was essential, they told me with candor and honesty what they had thought and felt during
the skein of events that threaded through their lives. They each had overcome formidable
obstacles in life with amazing spirit and resilience. Yet each woman had dealt with life in
an individual way. The words that they shared with me were very powerful and I used them liberally in each story. I call their quotes — the “juices of the book”.
After completing my first book, there was the daunting task of finding a publisher.
Twenty proposals were out at all times to prospective agents and/or editors, in a process called
simultaneous submission. During the two and a half years before the book was accepted for
publication, I embarked on a wonderful new romance with the English language — writing
fiction. I found it exhilarating to create the characters and their ever evolving lives — the twists,
the conflicts, the drama in human relationships. I became totally engrossed in the writing.
The first novel, Flaw In The Tapestry, will be in print within the next six months. If
Winter Comes and The Mermaids Singing are also completed and waiting in the wings. All
three are indeed the fruits of a long and continuing love affair with the English language.
As my mother often said — onward!