In elementary school, my favorite subject was creative writing. I wrote, published – otherwise known as stapling together the pages – and illustrated all my stories. I was positive that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Unfortunately, my lack of talent as a writer held me back and my great writing career peaked in third grade with a story about a girl who couldn’t decide what color hair she liked the best. I’ve always admired people who followed their passion and talent in writing and created a career out of it.

One such person is novelist and English professor Joanna Scott who spoke on Oct. 18 in the Welles-Brown Room about her new novel, “Liberation: A Novel.” It’s set for release in November. She previously published “Tourmaline,” with a character linking each book together.

Scott is the author of many other books such as, “Make Believe,” “The Manikin” and “Arrogance.”

The novel “Tourmaline” is named for the stone because Scott saw it was a metaphor.

“It’s just this rich, luscious, stone with so many layers,” Scott said in her talk. Both books mostly take place on Elba, a small island off the coast of Italy, made famous by Napoleon’s imprisonment.

“One of the most exciting things about writing is that it takes me to different exotic places,” Scott said, who first visited the island in February 2001 and uses it as a metaphor in both stories. Scott attributes her use of the island to her experiences on Block Island as a child.

As a writer, Scott is drawn to islands because metaphorically, they create a boundary in her writing and prevent her from “running wild and never coming back.”

“But I do try to stay away from the island clichs,” Scott said.

Scott also shed light on her writing process. Scott explained that having a central image in mind helps her begin to formulate a story. For “Tourmaline,” she used an image from her mother’s childhood of being held over a ship’s railing to create a story.

Second, Scott felt that figuring out how to move through a narrative was very important, however flexibility is vital.

“You can’t will a structure,” Scott said, citing her novel “Tourmaline.”

A third necessity for Scott was research – however, when it came to historical accuracy versus the story, Scott chose to stay with her story.

“I can replace an experience with a dream,” Scott explained. Scott believes that the characters of a novel are its defining aspect.

“If I don’t have characters, I don’t have a novel,” Scott said.

On the issue of controlling her characters, Scott admits to being somewhat of a tyrant, erasing parts of her story when the characters do something “stupid.” Scott sees her characters as helping to give her stories their frame and create a logic for what to write next. She also likes their spontaneity and unpredictable nature.

“I love being surprised when a character comes up with something,” Scott said.

Accompanying the release of “Liberation: A Novel” is an exhibit in the Rare Books and Special Collections Library featuring rock samples, such as tourmaline, old edited manuscripts and playing cards with pictures of Elba on them.

“A good part of [Liberation: A Novel] focuses on [the main character] remembrances of earlier times in Elba,” rare books librarian Phyllis Andrews said. “That’s the rationale behind the exhibit.”

After she concluded her speech and I wandered through the exhibit in the Rare Books Library, indulging in many yummy cheese squares and fruit, I felt inspired.

Perhaps I’d given up too early on my childhood dream, but remembering my last story, maybe not.

Woo can be reached at

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