A blank page is a scary thing. It’s also wonderful, like a baby just out of the womb, or a bag of unlabeled flower bulbs, or a handful of nasturtium seeds. All are filled with possibilities, with promise. What will the baby grow into? A mother, a father, a statesperson, a bank-robber, a learned scientist with a cure for cancer lurking in her brain, a murderer, or a storyteller eager to entrance the world? When I plant those bulbs will some come up and give me glorious shades of yellow and cream, like narcissus? Will there be sweet-scented freesias wafting their perfume across my lawn on a soft spring morning? Will they be white, or lavender, or pink or that clear, sunshine yellow only they can produce? Will it matter? Will some of those bulbs transform into slender, green and white striped leaves surrounding a stem sheathed in the small, purple blossoms of grape hyacinth? Or will the squirrels dig them up for food in the winter? Will the nasturtium seeds, as intriguingly unformed as the face of that newborn, produce long tendrils with deep green leaves, capable of climbing up to the front of my deck and spilling across the cedar planks, glowing in multiple variations of orange that catch the sunrise and toss it back to me? They could just as easily be all red or all gold, or all orange, short and hugging the ground within their foliage, deep and mysterious against the dark earth. Also, there’s the chance the Steller’s jays will scratch them out and eat them.
With a blank page before me, I sat this morning trying to compose on my screen the first line, the first paragraph, the first scene of the fourth book in a series. I had a variety of characters, any of whom could take an action that would begin the story. An action that would help set a mood, pull me into a scene to draw me along in its wake, giving me dozens of options. Yet, what I’d mentally mapped out as I lay in bed seemed hollow, unimportant and worse, uninteresting. None of it captured me, so how could I ever hope to win the attention of a reader?
At that point, a miracle happened. I was back in a delivery suite of our local hospital, gazing in awe at the face and form of my firstborn grandchild. I touched her. I stroked her small face, let her wrap her fingers around my pinkie. I spoke to her. “Hello, Meggie. I’m your granny.”
And she smiled at me. No. It was not gas. That newborn baby smiled at me, acknowledging me, accepting me, believing in me. Believing in the promise I silently made to her while telling her who she was, who I was, what our relationship was going to be. And that it was going to be a forever-bond. At that moment, I had no idea what or who she might become. I didn’t know if she would awe me with her beauty, her perfection any more than she had at her moment of birth. Like sprouting bulbs, germinating seeds, she could become whatever fate held in store for her, and whatever that was, I was with her, part of her, and she was part of me.
And so it is with each new book. I have to introduce myself to it, and it to me. We, the characters and I, the events we share, the difficulties we find, the problems we solve all lie within our very personal relationship. They are mine. I am theirs. We are irrevocably linked as I’ve been with my grandchildren–all three of them–from our moment of first meeting. Wherever their stories take them, I will be with them, and they with me. A forever-bond, so I’d better make it a good one and try to keep the squirrels of self-doubt scared away, and the scratching toes Steller’s jays from clawing at my sense of accomplishment.
Once I had all that sorted out in my mind, I began writing:
Katya Andronovitch stood poised, arm raised, fist gripping a round rock. She kept her eyes on the six men ten meters distant, all facing away in a row. Her heart raced. A breeze rose, sifting through the men’s long hair, sending it streaming, brown, gold, black, and shades in between. The scent of summer-dried grass and autumn-tinted leaves filled the air. The sky hung in a blue dome overhead. Beside her, Joe Storn intoned “One!” Katya saw ropy, male back-muscles tense under bronzed skin. Head lifted. On “Two!” shoulders squared off, knees flexed, calves quivered. Each of the six took one pace forward. The world paused. Katya’s arm dropped. The round rock struck the gong-stone. A deep-throated bell-tone rang across the meadow, drowning out Joe’s “Three!”
So there we go. I have Katya Andronovitch. I have Joe Storn. I have six other people, all male. She’s rung the gong-stone and something’s going to happen. I have a fair idea what it is, because after all, I’m wed to these characters. What I don’t yet know is exactly how events will pan out and who it will affect the most. I have questions. Why is Katya’s heart racing? Why are the men out front tensed up? Why do they all have long hair? What does the signal of the gong-stone signify? All that matters to me at this point is I have a newborn babe filled with possibilities, a bag of bulbs I’m about to plant, and handful of seeds I mean to cast across the ground so, come what may, they will all have a chance to grow, to answer my questions, to create new ones, and finally, in the end, give me if not a bouquet all tied up and pretty and perfect, at least a garden I can pick and choose from. This process is called “revision” and, for reasons I’ve yet to determine, is my favorite part of creating a story. In the time it took me to reread this short passage of under a thousand words, I’ve revised, edited, and changed things any number of times. And so it will go, for another seventy to ninety thousand words or more as I wade into the book, Caverns. Writing, folks, is time-consuming, difficult, and I have so much fun chasing squirrels and running off mischievous jays, I can never, ever resist the urge.