The Vagaries of Writing

I have been procrastinating. It is a well-known, but little understood phenomenon of the writing process.

Every writer procrastinates differently. My method is cleaning and de-cluttering my work space, and finishing up little tasks that distract me. Having a clear, open space, and no little worries helps to clear my mind, and then the ideas that are spinning around my head in an inchoate mess suddenly coalesce into plot lines and sometimes into complete scenes. I know this process, but it is very hard to accept that I need to do it when I feel a deadline looming, and time slipping away from me.

The other night I was driving home from some evening event and suddenly an entire sequence for the new book entered my mind, and I couldn’t get my coat off fast enough to write it all down. It is an odd sequence–a departure from my usual style–and after a few days of musing over it I put it down. It was risky, and it didn’t fit the book. Maybe another book.

Then everything stopped. I couldn’t write much. I couldn’t catch the wind that sails me through my writing. I sat at my desk, restlessly, unproductively, staring out the window, looking at YouTube videos, researching mammals and explosives (not together), and periodically going downstairs to see if I could alleviate my boredom by eating.  Spring snowFortunately, knowing myself, I have purged my kitchen of these kinds of foods, and even though I am a novelist, drinking in the middle of the day does not normally appeal to me. I consumed a lot of tea, and far too much coffee.

So, finally, I gave up. I stopped worrying about it and just got on with other tasks. I cleaned out a closet in the kitchen. I rearranged my office, and made plans for new bookcases. I dusted under beds. I threw a small dinner party, and took the dogs for walks.

This morning I began my day pre-dawn standing barefoot on the patio, loudly and frantically calling my dogs in–no doubt to the amusement of my neighbors who were recovering from their New Year’s Eve revelries–while a fairly large contingent of coyotes barked and yipped and howled somewhere very nearby.

Dogs safe, I sat drinking coffee and watching the turkeys begin their new year from their treetop berths, their big bulbous shapes silhouetted against the pink and orange sky.

All at once, the spinning stopped, and the words began again in my head. My refusal to accept the strange sequence as part of the novel had shut me down. I suddenly knew that it did belong, and that it had to be the beginning of the book. And then everything began to fall in place in my mind, like the tumblers in a lock falling into place.

There it is. Not all of it. But the main points of it.

Time to write.


The Big Question

I am beginning to sense a pattern. I’ve been on the book club circuit recently and it has been great fun to have total strangers engaged with my characters, asking about them and why they do the things they do. Readers have come to own my story. It’s theirs now as much as it is mine, and they want to engage with it. Some people have theories, and I listen to these with great interest because they often surprise me. There are also certain questions people ask routinely, and the answers to these questions have become a bit routine, as well. People want to know what Elisabeth sees in Roger. They ask about Roger’s mental health. They love Rocco. They pretty much all hate Stella and want her killed, and many people comment on developing cravings for scotch.

But there is one question–the one I get most–that I have no routine response to: What happened to Robert?

I believe that this is the kind of question that a reader must resolve alone, and I have steadfastly remained silent, even though the sequel to North of the Tension Line is nearly finished.

This is driving one of my friends crazy. In a bid to draw me out she recently sent me an article from the Washington Post with a map of all the goats in the United States.

There was just one question accompanying the link: Is he here???

The Going Price for Squirrels

My sister from out of town is staying at our lake cottage. She is being respectful of my writing time while she works on our late mother’s house, doing many things that I am tired of doing. She told me she didn’t want to distract me, and that I shouldn’t be worrying about her during this period of intense writing. But she did want to borrow a dog for company. Well, not “a” dog. She wanted snuggly, sweet Pete.

On her first night there she announced that we had mice or something in the ceiling. I did not find this alarming. Mice kind of come along with cottages, and much as I love animals, having seen what they do when we’re away, even I have been forced to take a hard line. So the situation did not seem particularly alarming or challenging. But when my sister began to describe what she was experiencing it began to seem unlikely that mice were the culprits. Scampering, twittering, scrabbling, and, yes, chewing.

I am living my own novel.

We went out to the cottage that night and were sitting on the couch drinking wine, looking at family treasures my sister had unearthed when she stopped me and said: Listen.

Above our heads we heard what I can only describe as the kind of squeals and squeaking you expect to hear in a Disney animation. This was not a squirrel. This was a colony. At least. And it had happened so fast. We hadn’t been away for more than two weeks. It actually was alarming. There were many, many, many animals up there. And they were apparently rather busy. From the sound of things, they were singing to themselves as they made a dress for the ball.

My husband gave me the lecture: You cannot be softhearted about this. You have to call an exterminator. There is no other way. I nodded and pretended to look reasonable, but I confess that I had no intention of exterminating an entire neighborhood of baby squirrels. Sometimes I wonder if he knows me at all.

The next day I called a company that my friend had once used to remove a bat. Or a raccoon. Or both. They specialize in trapping and releasing wild animals that have taken up residence in your house. They assured me that they would not harm the squirrels, and they even have a squirrel expert–although he has injured his back and is not as available as usual. They charge $149 for the house call, and $39 per squirrel.

They will be there at 8:30 this morning. And I suspect that the bill will be rather high.