This year is one of those strange works. I had just finished the most difficult story I ever had to write. My holiday story seems like a little piece of that left over in my sub-conscious after I put THE END on "Ticket Out". After I killed Charles.
I have been mulling both of these stories for twenty years. Charles was already dead when I wrote my firs Emily story. I had to make some significant changes to "Ticket Out" to make it fit into the canon. In fact I rearranged the whole incident. In the beginning Charles died of pneumonia after an all-night stakeout in the freezing rain. I was actually quite happy to discard that one for a more violent ending.
My second big problem with the story was that I was so fixated on the death of Charles that I couldn’t seem to find a story to set it in. It was like a fine blood red ruby set in plastic. I had to do something about the plastic if I was going to make a worthwhile bit of reading. It wasn't that I couldn't kill a major character. I couldn't deal with the others, those who loved him and worked with him every day. It was like trying to say something meaningful to a family member at a funeral.
From the first word I wrote about Emily I knew Charles would die in 1890, that she would go to Europe for two years, and that she would return to her childhood home in Cambridge. I also knew that she met Henry James in London and he convinced her to go home.
I have a number of real historical people in my work. They are always secondary, even tertiary, and many are obscure. Henry and William James lived a mile or so from Emily's home on Dana Street. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (mentor to Emily Dickinson, and author of Army Life in a Black Regiment) shows up a couple of times. Harvard President Charles Eliot, Professors James Pierce and his father Benjamin, Louis Agassiz and his wife Elizabeth who ran the school Emily and her sisters attended. I am sure some of you have heard of them.
So when Emily needed the motivation to go home, it would be only right that Henry James would be the one to provide it.
It is the Christmas story that had to be written, with Henry James, Christmas in London, and an unusual gift.
There it is, the little holiday story that shouldn't be.