Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Where does story come from?

I'm late on a summary for a new novel. But I'm in the swirl of edits on my novel that comes out next summer -- the research of which required a. spending time in Provence and b. eating a lot of cake. (Research in the past has required trying to understand ancient coal miners over the phone, getting beauty tips from pageant contestants --which is more stressful than trying to understand ancient coal miners over the phone, reading Appalachian dictionaries, giving birth though not solely for research purposes, etc ... )

And so my head isn't quite ready to think of something new -- to wander the big pastures ... let the mind roam ...

Regardless, I jotted a few really big ideas down -- four to be exact. The last one proved my desperation and included chocolate. When in doubt: chocolate. And, because I'd wrestled my office to the bare ground, and had that overflowing metal rack marked IDEAS -- and two other boxes that I found later, sealed with clear mailing tape marked IDEAS in the frightened, scattered handwriting of a pack-rat, trying to move while not getting caught throwing stacks of random papers into a box ... -- I had a title.

The title made no sense to me. It was long. It included the name of a family that I didn't know. I liked it though. I'd written it down on the bottom of a to-do list ... and then put it in a pile, then threw it into a box. And now it was unearthed.

Granted, I'm not great with organizational skills. And there are very few other things I could have been in life other than a writer.

I couldn't be a lawyer -- despite my father's desire to pass down the family trade -- because female lawyers had to wear stockings back then. And that was a life I couldn't consign myself to.

I couldn't be a teacher -- though I tried, teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Language Arts at a Catholic school -- because I hated chalk and chalkboards and chalk dust. Little did I know that eventually schools would go to white boards.

In any case, I could only do what I could do.

I read off my four ideas to my editor in a phoner on Friday. She was a little perplexed. They were all pretty broad departures from the previous three novels (including the one I’m supposed to be revising at present) as Bridget Asher. We talked a little, in mulling tones.

And then I said, “Yeah, well. I don’t know. I also have this title that’s not connected to anything and I don’t know what it means.”

She wanted to hear it.

I told her the title.

She said, “I love it.”

“But what does it mean?”

We broke down the seven word title. Each gave some small clue.

Finally, my editor said, “You know I think your title has all four of the weird elements on your list. Did you plan this? Did you set me up?”

“No,” I said. “But if I just shove some chocolate into this thing, you’re right.”

We thought of how to shove chocolate into it.

I was jacked. I got off the phone. I had a title. I had four elements. I had another reason to research something sweet.

Then I turned to my husband, “I’ve got everything … except … a story.”