Sunday, I attended a recital at the Red Cloud Opera House where Operatic star Sarah Arnesan performed. Ms. Arnesan was a classmate of my mother's at Red Cloud High School, and it was wonderful to see such talent return to her hometown to perform. The Red Cloud Opera House is so fascinating. The book store there has an extensive collection of books by and about Willa Cather.
As I browsed through all the volumes of literary criticism devoted entirely to Willa Cather, I couldn't help feeling that she would have been embarrassed by all the attention. The Willa Cather Foundation has done such a tremendous job preserving certain landmarks, like Cather's childhood home and the 1885 Opera House. Tours of those historic sites should certainly continue, but the volumes and (no kidding) more volumes of scholarly works about Willa Cather's private life and the research speculating which real-life people who inspired her characters--well, as an aspiring novelist, it scares me.
In the off chance that someday I miraculously land a publisher for my novel, the last thing I want is for my friends and family to start wondering, "Do you think she modeled the manipulative, psychotic stalker after Bob's cousin Leon?" or "I can't believe she named her heroine's cat Abigail! How could she use my aunt's middle name for a pet?" As I've been editing my first novel, I must have changed the names of five of my characters about ten different times for that very reason.
Despite my ramblings, everyone should check out their website: www.willacather.org for inspiration on what more small towns should be doing to promote tourism in Nebraska. I encourage every Nebraskan to make the trip to Red Cloud and learn about the pioneers who inspired Willa Cather, because with success comes admiration from others and the curiosity over how that success was born. As for me, I will keep the mental picture of those volumes of literary criticism in my mind as a reassurance that there is still at least one benefit to being a writer of mediocre, unpublished fiction.