‘Emily’, a myth, a reality
Robert Frost would be proud. Author Holly Morrison will choose the road less traveled every time always surprising others and sometimes surprising herself.
Her latest book under her pen name H. Reese Scott is a departure from her usual path of children’s literature.
Then again, it does not travel the road of adult fiction either. Listening to Morrison, one gets the impression the elements cleared their own path with the plot and characters of “Embracing Emily” leading Morrison into a world that she found both wonderful and a little alien.
The book actually began in Lovettsville with the death of her husband, John Morrison, and ended in Estonia following a near fatal accident in Latvia.
John Morrison, an engineer, died unexpectedly. When he went into the hospital for tests, Holly Morrison went in as a wife and came out a widow.
“We had been to Russia within a couple of years prior to all this,” Holly Morrison said. “My husband had thought that we might relocate there; it was 1993 and it had just opened up [after the fall of the Soviet Union] and there was massive construction.”
A widow can take many different paths after the death of her husband, but few just up and head for a place on the other side of the earth. Estonia is a place where the language is so difficult it is second only to Cantonese in difficulty for an English speaking person. Nevertheless this is where Morrison decided to go in 1995 with her two daughters. Jessica at the time was 11, Erin 7. Two older children who were grown stayed in the U.S.
“My life collapsed. … I had loved Russia. I loved its culture but someone had told me, ‘If you ever go to Estonia, you’ll never want to go to Russia again,’” Morrison said.
So instead of getting the visa to Russia as she had planned, she purchased six month round trip tickets for herself and the girls, and took off for the tiny country just south of Finland on the Russian border.
“I just wanted to get out of numbness. We got there and my girls thrived. Within a couple of months they were fluent in Russian, the second language of Estonia,” Holly explained.
But the going got a little bit tough when it came to getting the right to live there on a permanent basis.
“It’s a funny thing. When I went to get my residency in Estonia, I didn’t have any family ties. I had nothing. The officials said they had never had a situation like that and I couldn’t get my residency in Estonia. They told me, ‘Well have to make a special slot for you and your girls. If you own real estate, you could be able to live here,”‘ Holly said.
So she purchased a house and moved in. “Estonia was a very safe country. It was clean and very, very inexpensive at the time.”
Prior to her husband’s death, Morrison had written a series of three children’s books for a publishing house in Arizona. Those books were stuck in a publishing limbo. So Morrison began teaching English as a second language to first and second-graders.
“It was awesome. I really loved it. They didn’t have very good books to teach children, so I wrote books to teach them.”
Morrison’s life changed directions when she took a trip to Latvia with her fiance, Egils Grikis. On a dark night, they came upon a truck with no reflectors or lights parked on the road. The crash left Morrison and Grikis badly injured. She suffered broken ribs, a broken cheek bone and a broken thigh.
During her three-year recovery, she began to work on her new book in earnest.
“It involved a lot of dream work, taking dreams and analyzing them, trying to figure out what my inner voice was trying to tell me. I decided to write it as an adult fairy tale. I couldn’t walk and was bedridden, so I let the storybook characters tell me the story. I didn’t want to consciously manipulate these characters.
“About midway through, they started talking about an autobiography, which I was also working on, and it came together. The characters realize they have authority over the book and they have control. I allowed the characters to speak, gave them chapters here and there, and they started commenting on my life and also attempting to assist me in authorship of my own life.”
Morrison described the result as a “spiritual autobiography, the part that is my life.”
“There are some composite people, but it’s 99.9 percent my life. The fact that I wove this children’s storybook into it makes it fictional.”
Morrison celebrated the anniversary of her car wreck by marrying Grikis. They did so when they were in the U.S. for the marriage of her son, Johnathon, 28. He and sister Morgan, 33, did not go to Estonia with their mother.
“I feel like that was almost the end of the healing. It was not ominous,” Morrison said.
She plans to return to Estonia at the end of January. No doubt she will have her literary companion with her.
“Emily is my shadow, my alter ego, and we’ve become really good friends in the last year.”
By EILEEN M. CARLTON / Times-Mirror Staff writer