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On Summit Road update

On Summit Road is well underway. My second novel set in Sheboygan County, WI, features Marion Goodman, a woman whose company I am enjoying. It has been fun getting to know her. She’s in her early sixties, a former middle school teacher, a relatively new widow, who probably sees her life playing out quietly in the country where she lives. Of course, I can’t give her any peace.

One view from Marion Goodman's back porch.

One view from Marion Goodman’s back porch.

I’m about a third of the way through the first draft, but I’m not sure how this novel will end. I read recently that Toni Morrison always knows her endings; then she goes from there. I don’t think I know with certainty where this novel will end. I have a few ideas, but I’ve not written an ending.

Probably every writer’s process is unique. On Summit Road came to me one day, the idea for the main character, her main conflict, and a couple of minor characters. Once I decided the idea was worth pursuing, I began taking notes. Once that process begins, it seems I’m almost obsessed with my new universe. The more the characters live in my mind the better. Writing does not always mean pushing a pen or keys, though of course, at some point it comes to that. The process of imagining cannot be undervalued or rushed.

I am at the point now where I must set a deadline for myself as I did with A Hollow Bone. Without a time goal, I’m too likely to procrastinate. But unlike this experience, A Hollow Bone lived in my head for many years before I starting plunking on keys. I’d like to speed up the process this time.

Accomplishment

Last night at 11:30 p.m. I finished A Hollow Bone and emailed it to my local editor who will read it a second time and give me her thoughtful feedback. This is beyond an exciting accomplishment for me. In the 1980s I dabbled with a romance novel. Twenty years later I developed characters and a plot for another novel that still lies in digital and paper files unfinished. Sometime during the years I worked on that novel, Angel Miranda, the main character of A Hollow Bone, came to me with a nugget of a story. She would not leave me alone, nor would her daughter Sophie. So I began to see what might become of them through a few fragment stories, stories that satisfied me but did not spill beyond their separate borders. Angel and Sophie waited patiently for over ten years for me to wake up.

a-novel-byIn the spring of 2014 I reached a reckoning point in my own life, and I decided that if my long-held desire to write a novel were ever going to be fulfilled, I would have to actually begin writing, not just several times a year, but several times a week, even daily. I told myself that if my life goal were ever going to be met, the time was now. So I set a deadline and started writing.

I know there are writers who rise early each day and write for an hour or two. My discipline is different. I can’t seem to establish any daily consistency regarding time or task.  When I start writing, no matter if I begin at nine a.m. or nine p.m., I can write for hours. But then after the marathon, I need time off to let the brain dust settle. I need time and space to see where I have been and where I want to go.

The most exciting thing about finishing A Hollow Bone, beyond the fact that I finished it, is what I have discovered over the past year about myself as a writer:

  • The ideas will emerge just by writing. Last night, I worked on one chapter for three hours. I knew in general what I wanted it to be. I’m not an outliner. I go in knowing my general direction and try to listen to whatever voices and forces feel right. Throughout the past year, I have been amazed with what I have been able to come up with, just by writing.
  • The story will guide me.  At some point the story told me that my two women needed a family. Before I knew it, mothers, fathers, and grandparents were born. These new characters play integral roles in the story. They are the story in ways my two main characters cannot be. One of these new characters is my favorite. He’s my quiet hero, but he is not my protagonist.
  • Hiring an editor is well worth the money. I cannot thank Signe Jorgenson enough for her professional and insightful feedback. After her first look, I made a few powerful changes that allowed me to find the best ways to give my characters their full voices.
  • Finally, I learned that I can be disciplined, I can be driven, I can take on a gigantic task and accomplish it.