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Yes, it will be classed as a "war story"3, which means it will sell about twelve thousand4. And God knows I never wanted to write a war story. I lost six months, refraining from putting pen to paper on this one. But it stood between me and anything else.
It was like this: My cousin, Grosvenor5, was
born on the farm next my father6's. I helped
to take care of him when he was little. We were very much alike--- and very
different. He never could escape from the misery of being himself except in action,
and whatever he put his hand to turned out either ugly or ridiculous. There were
years when we avoided each other. He had a contempt for my way of escape, and his
own ways led to absurdities. I was staying on his
father7's farm when the war broke out. We spent the first week hauling
wheat to town. On those long rides on the wheat, we talked for the first time in years
,; and I saw
some of the things that were really in the back of his mind. I went away and forgot.
I no more thought of writing a story about him than of writing about my own nose;
was all too painfully familiar. It was just to s
escape from him and his kind that I wrote at all.
He went over in July, 1917. He was killed at Cantigny8, May 279, of
the next year. That anything so glorious could have happened to anyone so
disinherited of hope! Timidly, angrily, he used to ask me about the geography of
France10 on the wheat wagon. Well, he
learned it, you see. I send you his citation11. I first came on it in the morning paper when I was having my
hair shampooed in a hairdresser's shop. From that on he was in my mind. The
too-personalness, the embarrassment of kinship, was gone. But he was in my mind so much that I couldn't get through him
to other things. It wasn't affection, but realization so acute that I could not get
away from it. I never meant to write a story with a man for the central figure, but
with this boy I was all mixed up by accident of birth. Some of me was buried with
him in France, and
sm some of him
was left alive in me.
It's a misfortune for me and my publisher12 that anything so cruelly personal, so subjective, as this story, should be mixed up with journalism and public events with which the world is weary and of which I know so little. But that's the way things come about in this mixed-up world. You'll admit I've not been very sentimental, I've I've held the rein tight on him. I've cut out all the pictures—I believe it's 'pictures' that I am suppose to do best,—because he wasn't much the picture-seeing kind. I've allowed myself very few accessories to work with. If the reader doesn't get him, he gets nothing- - - - not one pretty phrase, not one 'description' the old ladies on hotel piazzas can comment upon.
I tried to keep the French part13 vague, seen from a distance, and only what he sees.
Well, he's given me three lovely, tormented years. He has been in my blood so long that it seems to me I'll never be quite myself again.Yours Willa