Many regular News subscribers over the past decades have probably read Diane Chiddister’s work more than any other writer – local or otherwise. In her roles as a columnist, journalist and editor for The News, Chiddister has devoted hundreds of thousands of words to the rhythms of village life.
This year, Chiddister offers readers a different rhythm in the form of his debut novel, “One More Day,” which was released earlier this month by publisher Boyle & Dalton. An author’s reading for “One More Day” will take place on Friday, October 29, 7-9 p.m. at the Senior Center.
Chiddister arrived in the village in 1981 after graduating from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop with a graduate degree in writing. She told The News in a recent interview that her intention, after graduating, was to “live the life of a writer and teach creative writing.” She did so for a few years as an assistant at the University of Dayton, until an advertisement in the Yellow Springs News looking for a reporter caught her attention in 1983.
“I was like, ‘Ooh, I love the Yellow Springs News – I wonder what that looks like?” Said Chiddister.
Chiddister was hired by then-editor Don Wallis, who told her five people had been interviewed for the job.
“[Wallis] would still say that four of the [the applicants] had degrees in journalism and one had a degree in creative writing – and he took on creative writer, ”she said. “And then he taught me what I know about journalism.”
Chiddister worked part-time at the News, on and off, for almost the next two decades, reporting and writing a regular column, “A Walk in the Village”. Her own creative writing, she said, continued in the form of short stories, her favorite medium at the time; some of his work has appeared in the Iowa Journal of Literary Studies and the Beloit Fiction Journal.
“There was a period just before my daughter [Hallie] was born when I wrote more stories, ”she said.
Laughing, she added: “And, of course, motherhood threw that in hell – just for a few years!”
Chiddister acknowledged that besides being a parent, writing for a newspaper sometimes made it difficult to focus on her own writing, especially when she became a full-time journalist in 2000 and editor-in-chief in 2006. But she did. also pointed out the ways in which writing against a deadline each week, without fail, was a boon to his craft.
“As a journalist you cannot be precious [about your writing] – just fill in the page, ”she said. “It makes you believe in the writing process – you just do it. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not, but you do it and then you improve it.
Although she continued to write short stories over the years, she said she hadn’t really considered writing a novel during this time.
“For a novel you really need a long, sustained focus,” she said. “Being a working woman and a mother has made it more difficult to have that sustained focus.”
She added, “Until I was 68, and suddenly I had time.”
After 12 years as News Editor, Chiddister retired in 2018. After years of writing steadily, it was a big change, she said – and she felt she should step up. a challenge.
“I quickly realized I needed a project, something big – and a novel was what came to my mind,” she said.
Chiddister decided to try his hand at National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, an event held annually in November since 1999 that challenges writers to produce at least 50,000 words in just 30 days. At the end of the month, the NaNoWriMo participants who complete the task have in their hands a completed novel – or, realistically, a draft.
“So I went through that process – and it worked in that I had a really, really bad first draft of a novel – but it wasn’t that novel,” she said.
Chiddister’s first draft of a novel was spurred on by her experiences during 9/11 – she had been in New York City on September 11, 2001. Images from that day were “etched” into her mind, she said. – but after the draft was over she said she realized maybe she should aim for “something a little smaller”.
“So I thought, ‘OK, I need another novel – and then I found out that National Novel Writing Month can be not just any month, but any month. what a day, ”she said.
“Another novel” eventually became “One More Day,” which focuses on residents and employees of Grace Woods, a long-term care facility, and addresses aging, dementia and death among the peculiarities of life and work there. Chiddister said the novel came from “a place, emotionally, that was really difficult” – she had just experienced the death of a dear friend, villager Mary Donahoe.
“It was kind of like I had to get myself out of this hole,” she said. “I think fiction maybe helps you come to terms with difficult things, and I felt like I was trying to come to terms with Mary’s death a little bit.”
The choice of setting for the novel was inspired by Chiddister’s own life: his first job out of college was as an aide in a care facility, and his mother lived in Friends Care Community for a few years. She said that despite the sometimes negative associations people make with long-term care facilities, they have been of interest to her for a long time.
“There is no denying the grief, and yet they are fascinating,” she said. “There is so much love out there – for me it just makes everything stronger.”
Chiddister writes to the residents and staff of Grace Woods Care Center to the rhythm of their daily routines: from meals to family visits, break room gossip to company costume tours. A staple of that daily feed is Sally, an assistant who Chiddister said was based on one of her mother’s caregivers at Friends Care.
“Helpers are really the most caring people, and this woman was so full of joy and love and she was just an interesting person,” she said.
Lillian is another central character in the book, and the chapters devoted to her perspective are shaped and colored by the onset of dementia. While fear and confusion sometimes accompanies Lillian’s point of view, there’s also room for a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor – which Chiddister says was inspired by his mother’s own contact with dementia. While Lillian is not just a facsimile of her mother, Chiddister said, the character experience mirrors her mother’s in that it is multifaceted.
“A new facet of [my mother] was coming – the dementia opened it up a bit, ”she said. “The grief was there, but it wasn’t just bad.”
Chiddister said this understanding was central to his approach to the book as a whole: a more finely crafted look at aging and death beyond fear and grief.
“I don’t have an easy view of death, but I wanted to find moments of grace,” she said.
She pointed the finger at another of the novel’s main characters, Thomas, a curious and intelligent inhabitant of Grace Woods in the ’80s who is pondering her life and inevitable death. Writing Thomas, she says, helped her understand that aging is a time of emotional richness.
“There is so much of everything – more loss and sadness, yes, but also surprise, joy and forgiveness, and more,” she said. “It is such a rich and intense period of life. Thomas… feels it, and it’s something that I hope to convey.
An author’s reading of “One More Day” will take place on Friday, October 29, starting at 7:00 p.m. in the Great Room of the Senior Center, with a discussion to follow the reading. The novel is available from Epic Books and Dark Star Books and Comics in Yellow Springs.