We just exited 2020, so you may have wondered if I was writing about cash from the government when you saw the title of this post. 🙂 But I’m thinking about a different kind of stimulus – I’m thinking about the things that supply stimulus to our imaginations. Like this image my husband recently captured at one of our favorite state parks. The opening through the trees in this picture prompted something in my imagination. I envisioned a young woman gazing out of a frosty window during a snowstorm. I saw her as emotionless yet furious. Her heart ice cold but bent on revenge. Because of the photo above, my imagination was stimulated and the opening to a new novel was born. The imagination is a mysterious and glorious gift. It needs only the right stimulus for new and wondrous worlds to emerge!
December 1, 1892
She stood at the window, unmoving. She gazed through the small circle she’d created by scraping away the ice that had formed. As far as the eye could see, there was snow. It clung to the bare branches of the trees in the garden and cloaked the hedges with its pristine beauty. Like a glorious white carpet, it spread across the lawn into infinity. Its beauty made the ache return. The ache for what she would never have now. She slowly raised her hand and pressed her palm against the glass. Cold. So cold. Like her heart.
After several minutes, she turned from the window and stared at the silver tea set atop the small table situated between the two settees. It gleamed as if it were brand new. She’d made sure that it looked perfect. Now it was waiting. Waiting for him to come and partake.
She took a step away from the window and moved toward the table, the hem of her skirts rustling across the wood floor as she went. The sound was oddly comforting as she contemplated the unpleasantness that was to come.
She hadn’t chosen this course. It had been thrust upon her. His actions had made it necessary. When one steals something so precious, one must pay the price. And he would pay. He certainly would pay.
I seem to have a theme going with using my husband’s nature pictures with my posts. 🙂 For good reason, I think…he’s an amazing photographer! He captured this image of a Praying Mantis at a beautiful state park near our home. The way it’s looking at the camera seems almost fierce. As if it’s gazing at you with a challenge in its eyes. Watching you. I found a parallel between its watching eyes and the ever-watching eyes of the editor. The editor who constantly prods us to put in the difficult work of making our manuscript as perfect as it humanly can be. The editor who charges us to comb the same work again and again for mistakes. The editor who challenges us to be more succinct. To plumb the depths of our creativity for a better way to word something. Who forces us to rethink the minutia of plotting. We may not enjoy the ever-watching eyes of the editor while we’re writing, but in the end, we’re so thankful for the unique gift the editor brings to the process. We come to truly value those ever-watching eyes for what they mean in the production of a polished and professional manuscript.
A few weeks ago, my husband took this exquisite photograph in a flower garden in one of our favorite state parks. The thing that immediately struck me about this image was the vibrancy of the colors. The green, the orange, the yellow, the black. Even the white in the background. All vivid. Vibrant. Gorgeous. It made me think about descriptive words and the vibrancy they bring to our writing. Searching for the words and phrases that will add color and texture to our writing can be an agonizing process. Yet, so worth it when we pinpoint that treasure. A burnished sunset. A soul-deep agony. A split-second decision that lands us on the precipice of Hades. An open wound that bled repentance. An ice-cold stare. A tsunami of emotion. These glorious descriptions cause our words to pulsate with life. They are the color we search for as if for gold.
I ride my bike between 6-8 miles most mornings. And most mornings, I pass this amazing tree on the banks of a stream. The thing I love most about this tree is the root system. The roots stretch out for yards in each direction, supporting and holding up the tree. It moves me every time I see it. And it always makes me think about the characters in our books being the “roots” that hold it up. Without solid, well-crafted characters to uphold the narrative, a storyline will fall flat. If readers aren’t able to connect with our characters, then we haven’t created a root system that will carry them through to the end of the book. Action is necessary to move a story along, but we must never forget that well-developed characters are what drive the action. They will always be the most fundamental part of the stories we tell. Without engaging characters, we would be left with no story to tell at all.
In The Red Dress, twenty-eight-year-old Arabella Edwards is alone, on furlough, and having random panic attacks for the first time in her life during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. To keep herself busy and her mind off everything going on in the world, she decides to clean the attic of her 1845 home. In the attic, she discovers an old chest that she is drawn to for reasons she can’t understand. To her shock and surprise, she finds a beautiful, bloodstained dress from the 1800’s inside the timeworn chest. As the story unfolds, Arabella discovers many secrets about her home and the people who once lived there. With the help of her neighbors and her family, Arabella spends the next two months unraveling the mysterious and long-buried secrets of The Red Dress.
When we’re writing a novel, we’re leading our readers down a path. In the best case scenario, that path is one that leads to a satisfying conclusion. It can take years to develop the kind of storytelling that doesn’t get bogged down in unimportant details, but is holistic and tightly woven. As we write, we need to ask ourselves: Does this detail fit into the whole in a seamless, artful way, or is it just something I threw in because I like it? Does each paragraph add to, rather than detract from, the story I’m trying to tell? None of us who write do it perfectly, but our goal should always be to keep our readers off of rabbit trails and on “straight paths” that at the end of the book, leave them both fulfilled and longing for more.
Last year I wrote a paragraph for the beginning of a novel. Just a paragraph. I really felt there was “something there” but the story refused to show itself. It remained hidden. And it frustrated me. Then, this pandemic hit. And suddenly, the words that had been so elusive, revealed themselves. I’m currently working on the seventeenth chapter of The Red Dress, and the words are flowing easily. It’s as if the people in the yet-unfinished manuscript are aching for their stories to be told.
In the opening storyline, Arabella Edwards is living by herself during the current pandemic. She’s lonely, afraid and suffering from random panic attacks. Then, in an old chest in the attic of her century home, she finds a bloodstained red dress from the 1800’s. Uncovering the mystery of the red dress will unite Arabella to people in a way she never expected to be united in the midst of a global crisis. The parallel storyline set in 1852 finds a runaway slave hidden in Arabella’s home in a different era. When the two storylines converge, my hope is that both the tragedy and the redemption in The Red Dress will remind everyone who reads it that we are a people who will forever be in need of friendship, companionship, grace and love.
My husband took this photo a few days ago and I posted it on Facebook with the caption…In themidst of crisis…beauty. As you’re all aware, the crisis I was referring to is the Coronavirus pandemic that has literally shut down the entire world. As thousands of people have said by now, these are unprecedented times. We’re living through a moment in history that will be discussed as long as there is history. These days have made me realize that we’re all writers now. Every article written, every tweet, every text, every email, every Facebook and Instagram post, every letter about this virus and its effect on the world is living, breathing history that will tell the generations that come after us the story of what we lived through during this pandemic. These written words will give the people of the future an insight into the best and worst of human nature during this this time and how it all played out. Our words will be a testament to who we are in the midst of crisis and where our hope lies. Words matter. They always have. But they especially matter now. Because now we’re all writers – and we’re recording with our words a vision of our experience that will be consumed and pondered for generations to come. So, let our words be true – but let them be wise and noble and worthy for the eyes that will see them long after ours have closed.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know by now that I love everything about the olden days – the gowns, the manners, the carriages, the homes – it all fascinates me and fills me with a sense of wonder! I love that time when things seemed far simpler and more gentle than our modern era. That love for the olden days prompted the setting of my In Time series where twelve-year-old Emarie Gordon travels through time to the distant past. Back In Time is the third and final book of my time-travel adventure series for middle-grade readers and adults alike. 🙂 In this final book, the adventures of Emarie and her friends wrap up with one last mission in 1879 – and a surprise ending that will reveal why Emarie’s adventure in time began in the first place!
If you long for a time so different than the one we live in, check out Back In Time and the rest of the In Time series on Amazon!
What will my destination look like after I’ve written the final sentence of a new book? Will the ending be anything like I envisioned when I began the book? Have the characters revolted against the carefully formed storyline I created and gone their own way instead of the way I wanted them to go? Will I have to rethink and rewrite because I’ve exceeded the word count for a certain market? I’ve learned the hard way that the answers to those questions should never take preeminence when a story is emerging. I’ve discovered that the joy in writing lies in letting the process lead me to its destination. I don’t need to adhere to a carefully crafted outline. I don’t need to stifle what my characters want to say because I fear exceeding a certain word count. I don’t need to wrestle them into conformity. If we constrain creativity, we lose the wonder of watching in awe as something new comes to life under our very fingertips. I’m thankful to have learned the invaluable lesson that we don’t need to know the destination when we begin writing – we simply need to let the words pour out and follow them there.