Revealing Landscapes of the Heart

I feel a twist coming on…

Where’s that novel you’ve been working on forever, you might ask. Well, it’s simmering right along. Let’s call it my Texas novel because I’m not ready to share the title (which I am stoked about).

Y’all (See what I did there? In Louisville, where I grew up, there’s a weird twist on y’all that comes out as “you all.” But only in Kentucky, as documented here.), I can’t wait to see what you think of this book. It’s about one man of questionable integrity, an ex-wife, three mistresses, and fierce family love. And, of course because I’m writing it, there’s a murder. Or two. Or maybe more. We won’t know until I get to The End.

This novel is coming together very differently from The Stranger Inside. I don’t have one single method by which I write a novel–each one has revealed itself in remarkably different ways. When I first started writing this one, it felt big and difficult because of its very large cast, and, well, Texas. The landscape there is so different from the temperate zones I’ve lived in my whole life. It’s hot most of the year, and the places I’ve visited (Houston and Dallas) are not naturally terribly green. Its beauty is vast and intimidating. Because the novel is set near Houston in early fall, most of it takes place indoors, because of the heat. I hadn’t ever given much thought to the indoor/outdoor settings of my novels. But now that I think about it, my characters usually spend a lot of time outside. Setting is one of my most powerful inspirations. Particularly houses and the land around them. They’re all of a piece.

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time outside. I felt much safer outside in unfamiliar places than I do now, as a (ahem) mature adult. I roamed alone, on my bike or on foot, and loved shortcuts, and finding secret places even within the populated suburbs where I lived. It felt important to explore and know about things and places that weren’t known by a lot of other people. Secret places–or even places that I just imagine to be secret–feed my imagination. They either announce their own stories, or they can be a stage for any story I want. The secret part is important because my imagination gets to be the boss. There’s no one else there to tell me their version of what happened in that secret place. It gets to be all my own.

Is it any wonder that I was a huge fan of The Secret Garden as a child? Of course, that garden lives in the imaginations of generations of children. Hardly a secret–yet it is different for every single child.

I do have a few lonesome places in this book: a party tent abandoned by the crowd, a boat surrounded by empty water in the Gulf, a high tech clinic accessible to a very few (it may be the first high tech anywhere I’ve had in a book or story).

But the most secret places of all in any story are the hearts of the characters. This is a big deal, isn’t it? When a setting isn’t a big star, the characters become even more important, even more exposed. I ache to be a better interpreter for the motivations and emotions of my characters, to show you the landscapes of their hearts. Some writers are magical at this. Their characters can make you feel emotions you didn’t see coming. Oh, I love that! I didn’t used to love it. I often felt manipulated and embarrassed to find myself having feelings elicited by made up people doing made up things! It’s a huge relief to let myself lean into that experience, and I’m hopeful it helps my work. Sometimes my characters are easy and open, and it’s no problem for me to understand them. Then, sometimes, I think they are a certain type of person, and they suddenly say or do something I never could have imagined. That’s when a story gets really interesting. People think that writers make up characters. They don’t. Like their stories, characters already exist in their own dimensions. Writers just discover them and put them to work. We get into trouble when we put words in their mouth, or thoughts in their head that don’t work. The story won’t work. We have to be true to who they are.

So that’s where I’m at. Deep into some hearts. I have half a book written. My goal is to have a whole book–or at least have completed the fifty or so scenes that will result in the book–by mid June. Then we’ll see how it all fits together. As I said, this is a new process for me. I feel I just need to trust it. The story is there every time I bring it to the front of my thoughts, which is a very good thing.

If you read my last post, you know I struggled for a long time to get back to writing. The critical voices in my head are still there. I’ve just decided to cover my virtual ears and say¬†blah blah blah can’t hear you when I sit down to write. Mostly it works. Sometimes I need other strategies. I’m feeling the urge to write more short stories, but that always happens when I’m trying to focus on a big project. I am, at all times, distractible and resist deep focus until I’m in the act of writing.

As to the story, I do indeed feel a twist coming on. It might be that I know the story so well that I’ve temporarily lost sight of how you, the reader, might experience the surprises that are already there, and am looking to be surprised, myself. (That’s one reason I don’t do full outlines. I want to be surprised as I write–not fill in a story I already know the ending of.)

So glad you came by. Here are some brand new pics of my furry crew–Hermes, Sylvie, and Willow–to thank you for hanging around!

 

Head and upper body of a long haired black and red German shepherd lying on a rug

Hermes

 

silhouette of a black cat sitting in an open window

Sylvie

 

Gray and white cat with large ears sitting on top of a cat tower

Willow

 

 

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