A path lit by words

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This morning I scrubbed my driveway with an eight-inch brush. I’ve done this before—not the driveway, precisely, but I recognize the signs. Restlessness turns to full-blown nervous energy and the next thing I know, I’m digging a drainage ditch two feet deep and 100 feet long. Once I built a three-foot high, dry-stack stone wall around my patio with leftover flagstones and common sense. It turned out great.

People don’t get it. They think I’m insane. Back in Atlanta, where I washed my own car, a sympathetic neighbor explained that the Auto Spa down the street only charged twenty bucks. Somehow sitting on a plastic chair in a dusty reception area, reading about Brangelina in last year’s People magazine, doesn’t have the same effect as sudsing and rinsing my car until it shines.

I’m reseeding the fallow fields.

I don’t live in a cave. I know about pressure washers, both the mechanical and the human varieties, but it suits me to attack this monstrous, pock-marked driveway and its ground-in debris with a bucket of soap, a stiff brush, a hose, and what my mother would have called “elbow grease.” My approach is pure and it’s quiet—the same qualities that make me forsake the gas-powered leaf-blowers that landscapers use to blast a single leaf from one side of the yard to the other instead of stooping to pick the darn thing up. Call me old-fashioned, but I opt for a rake, a dustpan, and a wheelbarrow. It keeps me healthy, fit, and sane. By the time I’m done, I’ll know what comes next. Maybe not the outcome, but at least the next step.

Call it creative recharging. I’m a novelist seeking publication, and there is nothing more crazy-making than the post-novel process, as if it wasn’t hard enough just writing a book. First, there’s  the query letter, then the dreaded synopsis, then the conferences with their pitch sessions and manuscript critiques. Before an “agents and editors” conference last spring, two wonderful writer friends and I spent endless hours preparing the tools that would sell our books. Our weekly sessions, and the prep work before them, were agonizing, but so instructive. Let’s just say we wished we had known more about story goals and character arcs and plot points when we sat down to write our books. Never mind. Our next books will be easier. So that’s what we do while we wait—we work on the next book.

Still in the driveway, I caught myself thinking that a toothbrush would get the dirt out of the tiniest holes. Good grief! Would I really consider scrubbing my driveway with a toothbrush? Thank God I’m a writer and I know when to quit. It’s a skill I just learned with my novel.

My driveway—painted concrete at least thirty years old—isn’t flawless. Neither is my book, but it’s pretty damn good. And until an agent acquires it, I’ll consider it done.

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The birth of a blog

path for blog

When “a path lit by words” popped into my mind, it sounded ungrammatical, but exactly right to describe this journey I’m on. Words, always words—learning to speak them, then read them, and finally, write them creatively—have fascinated me, inspired me, and given me purpose. They’ve been a constant, even when I’ve denied that this writer’s path is the right one for me.

My first fanciful image of “a path lit by words” featured lanterns, glowing warm and mellow on wrought iron posts, and soft amber path lights set among cobblestones. Lately, another image has claimed right of way–times when a colleague, family member, or trusted friend blurted words so true that they blinked like neon inside my head. Today’s word is one of those. It starred in a thoughtful rejection I received yesterday from a literary agent who had requested my full manuscript. She was “intrigued by the premise” but there were “way too many coincidences.” It was, in short, implausible.

I zombied through twenty-four hours, and this morning I forwarded the agent’s email to my writer friends. “See!” I said. “This is what candid feedback looks like.”

Somewhere between Martha’s never-say-die advice (So what? Try the small presses) and Stephanie’s encouragement (That agent said you’re a talented writer!), a light bulb went off: I held back on this book. I didn’t commit.

Shifting Sands grew from a spontaneous vision during my morning meditation. I awoke in a painting when the artist’s brush touched my shoulder. “That tickles,” I told him and we started to talk.  Implausible? Of course–as are the conversations between my protagonist, Jamie, and the young girl who appears on his canvas just when he needs her. When he’s most desperate, grieving the loss of his mentor and guardian, resentful of a decades-old slight, awash in doubt that his talent is real, and unable to paint, weeks away from a last chance show.

Do I believe that mystical forces would choose that moment to cause Jamie to paint a girl on a beach who unlocks his memory? Would they lead him to clues that help him resolve the secret that’s destroying his life? Absolutely. But I shied away from saying so because it might seem implausible. I soft-pedaled the woo-woo stuff. And now–Eureka!–I know what to do.

A single word can light our way–as a spark of imagination, a flash of brilliance, or, in this case, a ray of hope.