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Monday, July 30, 2007

Under the Apple Tree and Thinking of IT

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So much for blogging once a week. Once a month is my new goal. This summer's been super-hot, almost too hot to write-- in the upper nineties pretty often, which makes it upper eighties in my un-air-conditioned house. When I'm writing and my brain feels overheated, I just jump in a cold shower for thirty seconds to revive myself.

The past few days, though, have been cooler and a little rainy. Last night I sat outside in the rain, in the dark, under the apple tree in my back yard, and listened to the raindrops and savored the smell. My dog thought I was weird, kind of like the horse thinking his owner is weird in that snowy woods poem. "My little horse must think it queer/ to stop without a farmhouse near/ between the fields and frozen lake/ the darkest evening of the year." Or something like that.

I remember in a high school English class we had to take a multiple choice test about what stopping in the woods on a snowy evening symbolized. Apparently, the right answer was death, but I remember thinking that whoever wrote that question was just plain wrong (and especially wrong to impose his or her wrongness on someone like me who genuinely connected with the poem). I think that stopping in the woods on a snowy evening-- or sitting alone under an apple tree at night in the rain-- has more to do with wanting to feel a sense of timelessness, of being outside your self, taking a break from the you who lives in the mundane world, whose minutes are chopped apart by clocks and schedules. It's about savoring the feeling of just hearing and seeing and smelling and observing the world... it doesn't matter whether you're old or young, or who you are really, because you're simply existing.

I hope no one is ever forced to take a multiple choice test on the symbolism in my books. I'll say now, for the record, that if you've read one of my books, and thought honestly about it, and if something-- the moon or the glass or the waterfall or whatever-- makes you feel a certain way, then that feeling is what it symbolizes.

Let's see, now I'll fill you in on what I've been doing apart from things like sitting under my apple tree. I went to a fun retreat with my agent and a bunch of other authors she works with-- a zany, friendly, brilliant medley of people. We took over a cool bed and breakfast in Santa Fe for the weekend, where we talked about writing and revising and reaching toward little goals and big dreams and balancing the creative parts of life with everything else.

Here's a pic of me and my lovely agent, Erin at the bed and breakfast.

One thing that really inspired me was Ruth Barshaw's fantastic little notebook that she seems to carry with her everywhere. In it, she sketches quick, amazing drawings of what's going on around her. She has this talent for recording all that is quirky and wise and funny. It made me realize that the bits of life that happen around us every day have the potential to be endlessly fascinating, if only you keep your eyes open and take notes. (The lovable character of her book, Ellie McDoodle, has a similar drawing habit...)

Another thing that led me to a revelation was a question Susan Vaught (author of the stunning novel Trigger) asked about finding IT. My understanding of what she calls IT is the thing that turns a collection of words strung together into a breathing, pulsing, living story with the power to make you lose sense of time and care so deeply that you go where ever the story takes you-- you smile and get teary and experience the story almost as if you're living it yourself. So her question was, can you give your story the IT, if the IT is lacking-- and if so, how?

I don't know the answer to her question, although I do like the question. I think it's a really great way of conceptualizing the spark that gives life to a story. I guess if I had to try to answer the question, I would say something about letting yourself, as a writer, be a conduit for the story, letting it pass through you, rather than trying to consciously control it too much. I think the IT comes from a very deep, mysterious place, like the bottom of the ocean where glow-in-the-dark creatures and giant squid live. I think you have to dive down very far to retrieve IT-- which can be a scary thing. I am discovering that for me, finding the IT might mean letting my rational self dance with my dream self... with the dream self taking the lead.