Author Cynn Chadwick is adept at wielding the compelling story of a single protagonist through whatever life might throw at her. Though this is a theme that remains present in her eighth novel, The Things That Women Do, it is merely a small piece of the story.
Chadwick and a collection of her writer friends — Vicki Lane, Mildred Barya, Laura Hope-Gill, Jennifer McGaha and Ellen J. Perry — will gather at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe on Sunday, Jan. 26, to launch The Things That Women Do. They’ll likely spend some time discussing the various challenges that life throws at women and how they react. That concept, in Chadwick’s hands, becomes a richly entwined collection of the stories of several women’s lives, the things they do and how they impact one another.
It was an idea that she had been toying with for a while, but which all started to come into clear relief when she was in Florida for a writing workshop.
“I was walking down the beach,” says Chadwick, “and it was turning dark, and I had these women in my head and this time frame of goddess gatherings [in the ’80s and ’90s] going on in my mind, and when I turned around that ball of fire of sunlight was so glaring, I was almost blinded. I had never seen something so big or bright or amazing in my life. In that flash, I realized that the anchor of the setting of the story was going to be around that women’s spirituality, that goddess worshipping, that giving it over to the mother, you know.”
The novel begins with women native to the area and newcomers alike celebrating the divine feminine in a way that could only happen around a fire pit in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere.
“[It] comes from a time in my life,” Chadwick says, “when we were going through that third wave of feminism — spiritual goddess worshipping, drumming naked around the bonfire. … We were out here in Reems Creek and we sort of figured it was in the water. Those gatherings really happened. Those friendships were really important.”
One of the storylines in the novel was inspired by something Chadwick remembered from her childhood, a memory that came back to the top of her mind shortly after she returned from that fated trip to Florida. She was getting ready for work one morning when she got an email from a childhood friend she hadn’t seen or spoken to in a half-century.
“My mom and a really dear friend of hers, Marie, who had two daughters. … Marie’s husband wound up having an affair, and my mother and Marie apparently decided to play private eye,” she says. “[They] followed the guy on his trysts and took pictures and sat outside of hotel rooms and motel rooms. And then things … devolved really badly.
“We learned later that Marie had committed suicide. I was thinking about that story and I talked to my mother about that story … the thing about my mother and Marie running around spying and the weird things that women do.”
Then Chadwick got an email from one of Marie’s daughters, who happened to be at Well-Bred Bakery in Weaverville. Chadwick ran over to see her, but the reunion was brief. They exchanged contact information, said they’d get together after the holidays, and then Chadwick never heard from the woman again.
“She was just gone,” Chadwick says. “And I thought, ‘Oh my God. I have to write this story.’”
And so the narrative begins there, around a bonfire in the mountains of a fictional place in eastern Tennessee. A bevy of women characters include an outsider who’s curious and intrigued by the whole scene, and a matriarch of the community to whom everyone else seems to look for guidance. And then, as the goddess worshipping and drumming and dancing naked around the fire unfolds, the women discover something terrible has happened in the barn.
“[There are] so many things that women couldn’t or can’t do on the up-and-up, so things have to be done below the surface,” she explains. “I wanted to tell the story of the things we have to do to get to the next level, and sometimes they’re not nice or good. Sometimes we have to do what we have to do and we get punished for it in ways that the other half of the human race doesn’t.”
She adds, with intention: “I can’t say I wasn’t inspired by the politics of the day. I wanted to tell a story where women win.”
WHO: Cynn Chadwick presents The Things That Women Do
WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 26, 3 p.m., Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood St., malaprops.com
WHEN: Reception 5-7 p.m. at Sly Grog Lounge, 271 Haywood St.