21 January 2022
This past week, I wrote my medical novel set in the West, SHADOW. It’s got only 9 chapters, but, still, to paraphrase the incredulous words of my dear Dear Friend and editorial assistant:
“You wrote a novel in a week?”
The actual statement, spoken in October 2013 was:
“I can’t believe this; I’ve been trying to complete this stupid report for three years. And you wrote a novel this past weekend.”
That novel was THE GHOST, and I did, indeed, compose it during the 3-day weekend of Columbus Day, 2013. I’d explained to my literary advocate that I’d researched the materials for at least a year; and the emotional impetus for the fiction was both long-standing and of the immediate moment. I furthermore work alone, not with a committee, and my writing is not subject to Group-think and Group-Edit.
She was nonetheless dumbfounded at how fast I “get my act together.” “You’re really moving out on this one,” she’d said of my e-publishing THE DAWN a little over a year earlier.
SHADOW is the first work of fiction that I wrote without any input, contact, or humourous interactions with my dear Dear Friend. She is no longer with me, no longer the brave soul on earth who helped me to brave many moments when I did not realize I was being brave. Courage acts in that manner; at least it does for me. You do what you must, and then later, you look back, and understand a bit of your own spunk.
She’d been terrified during those lawless Obama years, of what might happen, and of what did happen. She told me she was hanging by a thread on that election night of 2012, and I automatically, and resolutely without much thought, reinforced that thread. That strand of intrepid audacity I wove into THE DAWN. It’s a part of the bonds that still connect me to a woman who’d deserved so much more in her life, but wouldn’t “go for it,” as she’d so often emboldened me to do.
While I was in that intense zone of composing this novel during this past week, I envisioned, and heard her, teasing me:
“This one took you an entire week.”
“Yes,” I countered, “But I also did three chapters in an audio version.”
She enjoyed listening to audio-books, especially while driving up and down I-5 and (gah) Highway 99 for work assignments. During “our” work on THE DAWN, we discovered that we’d each read The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin. Yes, she’d listened to the book, whereas I’d read it, twice. We both found hilarious the scene wherein Jacques brings his young daughter to a farm, where a woman was selling home-grown ducks. He fully intended to cook one of them, after wringing its neck.
He chose a plump bird, and then he wrung its neck, right there in front of the duck-breeder who believed she was raising these domesticated fowl for sale as pets. They could live on the duck pond . . . forever.
This seller of le canard freaked out, screaming at this savage man who had just snapped the neck of the quacking bird!
For me, it all feels so long ago, those times circa 2010, of giggling and laughing, of conferring and confiding, of discussing and dreading, of whispering, of crying. And, yet, a decade in the past is not such a long time. It’s the intensity of the duration that determines the sensibility of the time past, or present, or both. Those years were intensely dynamic and decisive, and then, they were over.
She was very much with me in spirit during my writing of SHADOW. My Dear Husband told me throughout those intense 8 days that she would have been very proud of me.
The inner workings for SHADOW were at work as I wrote THE DAWN. That master book shall always be, for me, the proving ground for my ability to write compelling fiction. My dear Dear Friend became an intimate part of that creation, almost by accident. I’d initially asked her husband to be my Reader, and she intervened, stating that he reads too slowly, and wouldn’t be able to understand my writing.
She was right. She did not, however, anticipate the countless ways in which she did understand my writing. Her falling in love with Guillaume de Vallon threw a few monkey wrenches into the plot and character development. (See Falling in Love.) The successful rendering of that fictional aristocrat is owed entirely to her insulted sense of rage toward this man. She sternly advised me to tell Camille to take him for all he’s worth.
Like a Cheshire cat, I explained that Camille gets her due by the end of that novel.
Shortly after I e-published THE DAWN, I began to notice a decline in the mental and physical states of my dear Dear Friend. The subsequent six years were ones of my systematically and furtively saying goodbye to her. In truth, we never said goodbye. We last met for lunch, during the summer of 2016, at the same old place that had become very old, and run-down. When the time came for me to head home, to the foothills, and for her to head home, to Sacramento, she asked me where I was parked.
I’d unknowingly parked my Caddy right next to her vehicle, a newfangled SUV of some sort that she detested. We parted from that site, and would exchange emails for a while. As my Dream House began its architectural design in early 2018, I put an end to a very long phase of my life.
That phase dove-tailed with the next phase. Life goes on in that way, and we must always bear in mind that moving forward through grief is not linear, nor is it circular, with phases and stages. It’s a sublime expansion of the soul, if love is the force that moves the mourner forward.
For this past Christmas, Dear Husband bought for me, among too many indulgences, a laptop cover. It came from an artisan I’d found online. She takes Pendleton blankets and cannibalizes them! I warned my spouse to not enable that uncivilized treatment of magnificent wool.
When I unwrapped the present and saw the woolen design, I knew automatically where it had come from. But the seamstress had obviously used a remnant of the already sliced textile fibers from sheep. It was therefore a mission of mercy that Dear Husband had undertaken to procure this protective woolie for my Macbook Pro.
I’ve made use of Woolie in wondrous ways during the past few weeks of creative endeavour. I made sure to surround myself with soothing and sentimental souvenirs to emotionally support me, in each room where I wrote. There were several rooms; it seems I’ve perpetuated the imaginative pattern of writing in as many rooms as My Muse finds necessary for expression of her genius.
We need the proper setting within those rooms: one of order and beauty, of solitude, of calm reflection. I can then respond artistically to all kinds of unexpected catalysts that fire up those engines, or motor, or whatever the clichéd figure of speech is that I never get right, and never will.
My dear Dear Friend insisted upon this category, How I Work, on my website, a digital world that she’d also insisted upon my founding. I’d pooh-poohed both ideas. She won those points. And she’ll keep winning them.
During the past few days, as I’ve mopped up from 8 days of writing a novel, I’ve returned to my cherished routine of life: hand-laundry, cooking, tending to my pets. I’ve also rewarded myself with a couple pairs of sandals, made in California, of all places.
Soon enough, the cold of winter will yield to the heat of spring. I’ve got to prepare myself for future imaginings, especially the ones that really began during the long ago.