The beginning.

March 30, 2013 § 11 Comments

Dogwood in bloom.Life is a story told by a narrator who is not very good at it.

The story takes turns without logic or foreshadowing. There are long pauses (not pregnant, just boring). Every now and then the narrator, like a friend of mine who was particularly inept at joke telling says, “Oh did I forget to mention…”

And the “forgot to mention” is the whole point, but it’s too late to use the information–and the story falls quietly off a cliff or, having missed its opportunity, dribbles on.

So, in addition to the discursive story told by this second rate narrator called “real life” I do the job myself in a parallel perfected reality called the novel.

Last post I wrote about the stunned blinking that follows the finish of a novel; the feeling of having been kicked out. Most of the time when one novel finishes I already have another started, or simmering in my imagination and all I have to do is turn up the heat to bring it to a boil.

Not this time. I’ve been editing other writers’ novels, which is like riding the handlebars while someone else pedals. It is my job to yell,”Can’tcha go any faster? Dang! You shoulda turned back there!”

So, my own novel is done and I’m empty.

“What’s next?” asked my agent, Jack.

“You tell me,” I said.

“An adult novel. How about a second chance romance?”

I’m a romantic. I’m old. Golly, I’m qualified!

But Jack was talking genre and market niche. Publishing’s romantic second chances generally happen to characters in their late 30s or 40s, the truly old don’t get them. The truly old are largely invisible in publishing.

I have never been able to run the publishing equation backwards, saying to myself this is the answer to the question, what are they looking for? A thirty-five year old divorcee raising a child by herself meets this guy…, and then write the equation that is her story.

Instead, I wait for a character. A character in a moment to appear, sharp and clear in my mind. Or, in this case two characters—this will be, after all, a romance.

The man showed up first. He hasn’t mentioned his name yet. I don’t think he’s settled on one. He is in his room at the Haven Nursing Home (that’s Heaven without the E).

Oh my gosh, a nursing home? What are you thinking Adrian? He’s got to be older than his 40s!

Yup. Older than God and dirt added together if you ask him.

He is sitting in a chair, not the Barcalounger of old age, but a straight-backed wooden chair. He is tall and lanky, and like that chair, straight-backed. The hands resting on the knees of his jeans are large and thick at the knuckles from a lifetime of work.

He is gazing out the window at a dogwood; a short-lived tree, he’s thinking, one prone to be taken out even sooner by an array of diseases. In the woods line at the edge of the property a lightning-struck hickory stands stubborn. He’s been standing stubborn himself for way too long, lightning struck as well.

This outliving your usefulness is a damned embarrassment he thinks. He wishes he had more dogwood in him, less hickory.

Not very promising so far, is it?

But the other half of the romance is on her way. She is being driven to Heaven without an E by the daughter-in-law who has found her this placement. Also in the car is her grandson. As they pull into the circular drive she instructs her grandson, “Go inside, and take a deep breath. If it smells like urine I’m not going in.” She knows she will go in, but she still has to give the impression, at least to herself, that she is making her own decisions.

When her grandson returns and says, “Smells like cleaning stuff,” she gets out of the car. She runs her fingers down her skirt, straightening it. Head high, she walks into a glaringly bright lobby dominated by linoleum and the smell of bleach. She doesn’t know, nor does the old guy waiting for something to put him out of his miserable irrelevance, that the last best romance of life is about to begin.

I can already imagine the rejections. “Charming, but not for us.”

What they will be saying is, this demographic is not who we publish for, a mistake, since most avid book readers have gray hair and young hearts.

I’ll write it anyway.

I am not a calculating writer, or even, primarily a writer. I pick up stories the same way I pick up shells on the beach. They are there to be found and admired, and so I do.

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§ 11 Responses to The beginning.

  • KM Huber says:

    Actually, “Boomer Fiction” (it has many names but this is the one I recall), is on the rise for the very reason you cite: where the readers are. So, I suspect your timing is quite good. As you know, I am writing my “old woman novel,” but she does look back a bit before she concentrates on the present.


  • Shelley says:

    Yay! Sounds great! Different, relevant, touching. I”m seeing a movie, so you might as well plan for one. 🙂


  • Shelley says:

    Oh, if you really want to make money, make them turn into amateur detectives with friends all over town, and they solve a murder case. You know, sequels. 🙂


  • ammaponders says:

    My 90-year-old aunt visited recently (a solo plane ride from Des Moines, Iowa to Detroit to Raleigh, NC!). She gets around pretty well, drives and lives alone. As her energy lessens, she reads more. I’m no spring chicken myself.
    “Most avid book readers have gray hair and young hearts.”
    Yes, indeed.
    Your book sounds good already. Go for it.


  • craig reeder says:

    i guess when you are creating any kind of art, you have to prepare to endure rejections, and lots of them. But whatever it is inside of you that drives you to tell stories must be stronger than those rejections. Considering all the literary awards that have been pelting you from heaven recently, you must be doing something very right, so please keep on doing it.


    • That pelting was a brief flurry–but nice.

      I don’t think at all about whether or not an idea is acceptable or headed for instant rejection. I think I’m missing a gene or two in the “wise planning” and “personal ambition” departments.


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