Summer Writing Camp, The Fiery Furnace and Sugar Snaps

posted July 8, 2014

It’s Day Two of my Summer Writing Camp. The writers are just finishing their 3 pages of brain drain and are moving around the house, finding the perfect place to settle in for the morning. I just read them a passage from Dani Shapiro’s wonderful book, Still Writing. In it, she reminds us that many fiction writers have no idea where their novel is going when they sit down to write. Part of the fun is in watching the characters lead on.

This is exactly what I need to hear. In my revision of The Big Idea, I still don’t know what happens to my characters by the end of the book. I have ideas, but I know from bitter experience that when I tried to boss them around, the results rang false. I am still excavating the first half of the book, trying to get the voices just right. One of my main characters recently underwent a name change. Somehow, this changes everything about her–the color of her skin, her diction, her whole sense of self.

Writing this novel is hard.

And so I am distracting myself by thinking of the sermon I am to give later this month. I looked up the passage from the lectionary: Matthew 13. It’s a tough one, full of images of sinners being cast into the fiery furnace where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Did Jesus really say this? Fire and brimstone! Yikes! I don’t want to preach on this, and I don’t have to–West Cummington is not exactly a lectionary following church. Yet something in the passage speaks to me. I want to explore it a bit before I give up. Jesus, as Steve points out, was something of a shock jock in his time. I want to sit with the shock. More tomorrow.

The last of the sugar snap peas, visible from the kitchen window. The vines are yellowed. Last night, the rain came gentle at first, then forceful. I ran outside with my kids and we whooped and danced. Jay stripped off his clothes and followed me over to the garden, where I gathered what was left–the still-green peas, and the shriveled yellowing ones. Violin practice is a struggle right now. Not enough time. No one–especially me–is behaving well. It’s OK. We are learning. We are showing up, very imperfectly. I think that’s our main job.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read More Like This

Choreography: How to Save a Scene from Too Much Interiority

In her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie achieves an ideal to which I aspire: a smart, literary, highly readable love story full of cultural references, history, and vivid, textured characters––just the kind of novel I love to read and want to write. I was particularly impressed with Adichie’s technique in moving her characters around in space, as I have trouble with this. Choreography!!! I scold myself, scrawling the word in red ink in the margins of my drafts. More importantly, because of the way she weaves her character’s growing comprehension into the action of the scene using a skillful interplay of description, movement, dialogue, and interiority, we are riveted to both the inner world and the outer world of our protagonist, Olanna.

Reading and Writing

The night before last, I came up from my writing group to kiss my daughter goodnight. She was wrapped up in her comforter, reading–as usual. The book she was reading…

How to Beat (Song)Writer’s Block

A few months ago, I was struggling to write songs. This fact totally shocked me. I have been a songwriter from the age of 13, and for quite some years,…