I am very excited to report that last week I had my FIRST EVER book club meeting for my debut novel The Ocean in Winter!! It was hosted by a dear friend, and the group included another friend, so it was a very comfortable and welcoming scene. Of course, it was all women, and of course, there was an delightful array of snacks and drinks. I was especially impressed by the fact that at least two, maybe three, brought an assortment of drinks in a cooler. That’s organization! These women proved to be excellent readers, and they had some really good questions for me. Possible spoilers here: one reader was quite disappointed by the scene (toward the end) where the private detective talks to the Emory family. It was such an interesting point, because I had really thought about that, about how much he would divulge to them, about his awareness that he had not completed the job that he was paid to do, and the possibility that if he told them everything, he might actually be legally culpable. (And the certain knowledge that if he was legally responsible, Colleen would sue the pants off him, as it were.)
So, I imagined he would play it safe and keep the conversation vague and brief. But it was really neat that the reader was able to share that disappointment with me, and I was able to explain it to her, face to face. I’m not totally sure that I quelled her disappointment, but that’s okay too.
When you are writing a book, you imagine that there are readers out there and that someday they might read your book. But in your imagination, they’re sort of faceless blobs. When you get to meet them in person? It’s a miracle. Like giving birth – yes, you knew there would be a baby at the end of this journey, but when you actually see the baby, it’s a joy like none other. I knew there might be readers, people I’d never met before, people that even my mother has never met, and look, here they are! It was pretty amazing.
On top of all that, the conversation was delightful! Of course it was, we were talking about BOOKS!! Books are a few of my favorite things. One woman told me that she’d just listened to the audiobook of On Writing by Stephen King. I think I bought this book when it first came out in 2010. I believe I may have read the first 25 or so pages, decided that the man is a genius, (which he is) and put it away. So, when this woman told me all the details about his life, none of it was familiar. I decided that I needed to listen to the audiobook.
This morning I went for a drive and listened to the first hour, and WOW does he have some crazy stories!! The whole thing about his babysitter Eulah Beulah? In 2021, that woman would have gone to JAIL, I tell you. (Read On Writing to find out what I’m talking about; I’m not spoiling this one for you.) She would have gone to jail for all the crazy things she did to four-year-old Stevie BEFORE the incident with the eggs that finally got her fired. Those stories seemed pretty horrific to me, but apparently, four-year-old Stevie loved every moment of it. Pow!
Somewhere in there, maybe before he starts talking about his life, he makes the point about writing that you can spend a lot of time and money reading how-to books, but the fact is, nobody knows how to explain it. How does the magic happen?
I’ve been writing fiction for a bunch of years, and the cold, hard truth is: I have no idea how the magic happens or where it comes from or how to harness it. Later on in the book, he talks about book ideas as being two seemingly unrelated ideas that come together in front of a writer, and that person sees the potential, follows the lure, and works to create something new. There are loads upon loads of exercises you can find to drum up idea possibilities. The idea doesn’t have to be unique; it just has to be something you would be willing to take on with the same commitment you give to any serious relationship. You have to be ready to dive in and hold on. You have to be excited enough to get in there and go the distance.
Maybe it’s the work you do along the way that takes the straw and turns it to gold. Maybe the writer’s job is only partly to write down the words; the other job is to decide what the vision is and cut away all the words that don’t work toward that vision. It would be lovely if - and for some writers, maybe it does - the vision presented itself ahead of time like a roadmap you could follow. For me, the vision is constantly refining itself while I put down words. Its like walking through the woods with a machete and trying to find the trail by cutting branches away.
It's not easy, but ... I love every moment.
If anyone reading this is doing NANOWRIMO this month, GOOD LUCK TO YOU!! May your coffee be hot, your machete sharp and the road easy to see.