When she’s looking for a story idea, author River Jordan has only to close her eyes; stories appear to her in visions.
In “Saints in Limbo,” (reviewed in the June 26, 2009, News-Telegram) the vision was an old woman standing on a porch with the story “just flowing in the wind” around her.
Although the new book, “The Miracle of Mercy Land,” centers around a young woman from Bittercreek, Ala., the original image that came to Jordan was of a “man with pages blowing around him.”
It wasn’t the man in her vision who first spoke to Jordan, however. It was the book’s main character, Mercy.
“When Mercy said to me, ‘I was born in a bolt of lightning on the banks of Bittersweet Creek,’ I thought, ‘Well, just look at you,’” Jordan explained during a phone interview from her home near Nashville, Tenn. “I think I’ll sit down and write what you’re saying.”
And she did.
When it comes to dialogue, Jordan says she follows her characters’ lead.
“I never know what they’re going to say until they say it,” she explained. “My fingers are literally on the keys, and then I’m typing what the character says. There’s no mapping or figuring it out.”
Mercy Land comes from solid Southern Alabama stock.
“Her parents are just so stable,” Jordan explained. “Her father is a preacher with a calm sense of dignity. Her mother had a faith so strong that she could call down lightning bolts if she had to save somebody.”
Helping her parents raise young Mercy was her Aunt Ida, who opens a window to the world outside. It’s Aunt Ida who buys Mercy an old typewriter. It’s Aunt Ida who encourages Mercy to leave Bittersweet Creek.
“Ida is everything Mercy’s parents aren’t,” said Jordan. “She could have gone away, but she saw something in Mercy that causes her to stay in a little cabin across the creek. She could have had a completely different life, but there was something in her that said, ‘This child needs me, I’m hanging around.’”
With a strong push from Aunt Ida, Mercy finds work in nearby Bay City, a small Alabama oceanside hamlet, a metropolis compared to Bittersweet Creek. Mercy’s first job is behind the lunch counter at the drugstore.
“I grew up during a time when we had a lunch counter at Woolworths,” Jordan said. “That’s another part of our lives that’s disappeared.”
While serving up food and milk shakes, Mercy catches the eye of Doc Phillips, the owner/publisher/editor of the Banner, Bay City’s only newspaper, and his wife, Opal.
Doc offers Mercy a job at the newspaper. He takes the young girl under his wing, teaching her to write, run a business, but most of all, to bring a story home. In other words, all news is local.
Mercy admires Doc, now a widower, with good reason.
“People trusted Doc with the most important thing of all – the truth,” Mercy says.
When Doc’s character first came to Jordan in a vision, she saw him in his second-story office, his fingers in his suspenders, looking out over the town. The intuitive author knew right away that Doc was not from the 21st century.
“There was something about the characters and the way they moved in 1938 that doesn’t happen anymore,” she said. “Now things are different. You have to be tapped into a different kind of energy, time-wise, like stepping out on your porch and just breathing and looking at the wind in the trees. We need to slow down a bit. Between the Internet, our smart phones, the television and satellites, we are rushing. This story came from a time when people still strolled down Main Street.”
In crafting the story, Jordan was also mindful of the upcoming changes that would rock Bay City and the rest of country.
“The world was on the verge of this huge change with World War II,” she said. “It was a special time in America. It had a lot of bad things, but it also held a lot of good things, too.”
Mercy’s quiet life as “Doc’s girl” at the Banner is interrupted by dreams of a man standing in the middle of a street, surrounded by pieces of paper swirling around him.
Then, Doc receives a gift that rocks his world and affects Mercy in ways she never dreamed.
Here’s what happened when Doc showed the book to Mercy the first time:
“Look,” was all he could manage. He pointed to his desk. “Look,” he said, like it was the only word in his vocabulary.
“What, Doc, what is it?” My eyes were still on him, checking for signs of a seizure. He grabbed my shoulders and turned me to face it.
I couldn’t have looked away if I tried. ...
“Look,” he said again, “it’s a book.”
This was no ordinary book.
On the cover, the letters – if you could even call them that – moved. That is, the words themselves were formed from gold, and that gold moved like liquid fire.
As Mercy inspects the book, the words move.
That is, they changed so I could read them, lines and curves rearranging themselves, moving from one language to another. It knew my mind; the thing knew what language I could read. “It’s alive,” I said.
Doc asks Mercy not to tell anyone about the book. He locks it away and trusts Mercy with the key. It’s the biggest story of Mercy’s life, but she can’t tell anyone.
Overwhelmed by the book – and a long-held guilt – Doc decides to bring a stranger in to help him decipher the book’s meaning. Mercy is sent to fetch the man at the train station.
The first time I saw John Quincy he was standing in the rain. The train came to a complete stop, the doors opened, and a man got off in the middle of what you’d call a tropical downpour. I knew right away it was the man Doc had sent me for, but he sure wasn’t what I expected.
From this moment, Mercy’s life is forever changed.
As the story builds to a showdown between the good that is Mercy and the evil that slithers into Bay City in the most unlikely form, long-held secrets are revealed, mysteries are solved and crucial life lessons are learned. In the end, Mercy does as Doc taught her – she brings it home.
Of particular note is the book’s stunning cover. Designed by Kristopher K. Orr from a John Grant photograph, it stands alone in its imagery before the book reveals its glorious story.
“Authors don’t usually get to approve a cover,” Jordan explained. “When they sent this one to me, I just looked at it and it blew me away. I can’t think of a thing I’d change. To me, it’s one of most captivating covers I’ve ever seen.”
Jordan appreciates the positive reviews the book has received.
“Writing alone, you never really know, even when you think, ‘This is a great story,’” she explained. “You box it up and send it off. So I’m glad to hear good things because every book is different.”
Here’s hoping Hollywood comes calling, because this book would translate into a luminous film. Jordan isn’t holding her breath.
“I never get any noise about my books,” Jordan laments. “I think my agent might have sent one to a representative of Creative Artists, but you may have to know someone who knows someone who can put the book in the right hands.”
While “The Miracle Of Mercy Land” is a story about choices, Jordan says she believes it’s also a story about how each of us is part of a bigger picture.
“It shows how we’re connected,” Jordan said. “It’s about the opportunities we have to do incredible things for each other without knowing it.”
Jordan is a master of magical realism, defined by Wikipedia as “an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality.”
In order to appreciate this book, readers must suspend their grip on reality, even if it’s just for 352 pages. Letting go never felt so good.
In A Note to the Reader at the end of the book, Jordan says:
This story is about the choices we make and the love and relationships we encounter and embrace along the course of those unfolding destinies. Ultimately the story shows that we never walk an isolated path but that all our stories are woven into one great tapestry of life. We matter to one another, you and I, in the most amazing ways.
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