This letter was mysteriously left on a table, near my things, on the day of a school visit to Somewhere, CT.
I replied . . .
My apologies for not responding sooner. In my haste, I stuffed your letter into my bag and, well, basically spaced it out. Hopefully my reply will arrive as a nice surprise, sometime after you’ve given up hope.
I must say that you wrote kind of a brilliant letter, Genesis. You are obviously a reader, but more than that, you are a deep reader, someone who seems to have natural insight into the fact that there’s an actual person who wrote the book. Doing research, getting inspired, making choices. You recognize the creative process that informs the book.
When asked to give advice to young writers, that’s often what I tell them: read like a writer, try to think like a writer as you read. So you are correct. Most people just want to happily enjoy the entertainment. Like you said, “they just like the book, but they miss the effort it takes to write a book, the long hours, days, or months to just write a chapter.”
You asked about my thinking process and inspiration. I don’t have an easy answer. When I’m at my best, I think of my brain as particularly “spongy.” I absorb things, receive the signals (like an antenna), maybe with a heightened sense of insight into others: how they feel, how they think. There’s no shortage of inspiration out in the world. The key is to be open. Eyes, ears, heart, brain. Seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking. Then giving yourself time –- and a blank page — to sort it out.
Today I had an idea about the character that I’m writing about, Mary from Bystander. I decided she could have a tarot card reading. I’m not sure why that popped into my brain today. I met a woman over the summer, at the dog park, who gives tarot readings. We’ve talked about it a little. I’m not sure I believe in any of that, but I do find it interesting. For me to write the scene, I’d need to talk again to her, maybe go out for coffee, ask questions, take notes. Or perhaps I should go for my own tarot card reading? Experience it for myself.
The important thing is that the idea appeals to me. It sounds like fun, learning that stuff, writing it. What does Mary discover in the reading? Does she believe it? Does she become upset? Who gives the reading? So many questions to answer. I think, maybe, it could be a friend’s older sister. Somebody just learning about the cards, fooling around with them a little bit. Maybe during a sleepover.
I don’t know, Genesis! The thing is, I’ll work it around in my brain, chew it over, talk to my expert, see if I can fit it into my story. I may ditch it -– or it might become a crucial scene, a pivot point in the story.
As for my desire to write, ha, it comes and goes. This is a tough business, filled with disappointments and great satisfactions. Up and down and up and down and up and down. Endlessly. Like most writers, I’m a reader. And I am perfectly okay with being alone. That’s important. I have the right disposition for the job. I know writers who are very disciplined. They sit in a chair and refuse to rise until they churn out 500 words. That kind of thing. For me, I need to have a certain feeling of fullness. Like, I don’t know, I’m ready. I can’t force it or fake it. Some days, I wish I could.
Thanks for your terrific letter. And thank you for expressing interest in my new book, Blood Mountain. If you do read it, please write back. I’d love to hear what a smart, thoughtful reader like you makes of it.