I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how they spend the day.
July 1, 2023: Katy Yocom
“In the year after Marcus died, their mother stopped loving people, one after another.”
Before I searched the internet to find a writer to join me for the Kentucky 50-Bookstore event last summer, I’d never heard of Katy Yocom or Three Ways to Disappear. Which is another reason I’m so glad I’m on this crazy book tour.
Beginnings are often difficult to write—for one, there’s the question of where exactly to start a story that will go on for pages and pages. What little slice to show the reader in those first seconds? Katy Yocom nailed the opening of this novel. Take a look at the first 100 words.
In the year after Marcus died, their mother stopped loving people, one after another. Her minister, her tennis coach, her friends. Daddy. On a day dripping with the end of the monsoon, she clicked shut the brass latches on her daughters’ suitcases and supervised as Ravindra loaded them into the car. In the courtyard, beneath the peepal tree, Daddy clutched the girls to his chest. Quinn, at eleven, was the responsible one; Sarah, at eight, the remnant twin: widowed by Marcus when he died, if widowed was the word for it, which it wasn’t. There was no word for it.
We’re in a scene where a family is breaking apart. There are suitcases and goodbyes. The details of the monsoon and the peepal tree tell us we’re in an unusual place. Hanging above it all is the question of what happened to Marcus, and as if his death were not enough, there’s the sadness of the mother who has stopped loving people and the truth of the loss—there was no word for you if your twin died.
In my copy of the book, I highlighted almost every sentence of the first two and a half pages. In the second paragraph, you’ll find this:
Daddy was a doctor, the reason they lived in India, and India, according to Mother, was the reason Marcus died.
This sentence conveys information, yes. But it’s also a compound sentence where the second part echoes the first. It has a beautiful balance and rhythm. It’s satisfying.
Marcus’s two sisters, Sarah and Quinn, take turns telling the story. Sarah is a journalist who returns to India to save the tigers. Quinn is a painter who’s life is all about family—their mother who doesn’t want to talk about what happened in India, a sick son, and a lonely marriage. “They’d lost each other somewhere along the way.” As JoeAnn Hart wrote, “This is a story not just about saving the tigers, but ourselves.”
After I discovered Katy and her novel, I took a look at her Facebook page only to discover that Three Ways to Disappear was a Book of the Month Club pick at Honest Dog Books, an independent bookstore in Bayfield, which is almost in Canada, where I was scheduled for the Wisconsin 50-Bookstore event. I took this photo when I was there in August. How cool is that.
Katy’s tiger journey began at a zoo and took her all the way to India. She wrote about it in an essay at LitHub.
At first I was merely charmed. A tigress at the Louisville Zoo gave birth to a littler of cubs, and I visited weekly, watching them grow from tottering fuzzballs into leaping, pouncing youngsters… I began reading books by naturalists, and they taught me that every encounter with a wild tiger has its own narrative arc… I began to hunt for tiger encounters of my own… That quest took me halfway around the world, to Ranthambore National Park in the Indian state of Rajasthan, a landscape teeming with wildlife—not only tigers but leopards, langur monkeys, chital deer, wild boar.
Three Ways to Disappear, published in 2019, won the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, the Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Book Award, the First Horizon Award, and the Micro Press Award. It was also named a Barnes & Noble Top Indie Favorite. Katy was awarded the Al Smith Fellowship Award for artistic excellence from the Kentucky Arts Council, and she holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, where she serves as Associate Director for Communications and Alumni Relations in the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing. She lives with her family in Louisville.
Come back on JULY 1st to read how KATY YOCOM spends her days.