The stranger asks:
The author answers:
|You’re a novelist? Have you published anything?
|You’re a surgeon? Have you ever operated on anyone?
|Have you written anything I might have read?
|Do you read novels?
I read a couple every year.
Still haven’t figured out the formula.
|Literature or fiction?
Any of your novels
made into movies?
|Only in my nightmares.
Who do you get compared to,
as a writer?
My brother compares me to a
volcano of repressed anger.
My therapist doesn’t disagree.
|So self publishing, how difficult is that?
It’s a challenge, from what I can tell.
I am not self published.
|You have a publisher? how did that happen?
|I wrote a proposal and a first chapter. My agent tapped the right editor on the shoulder, the publisher bought it, and that started the ball rolling.
|You have an agent? how did that happen?
I wrote a lot of letters and talked to a lot of people
and had a really good proposal and first chapter.
|Could you introduce me to your editor, publisher, agent?
|Wait, you write fiction?
I plan to give it six weeks.
That should do it.
Now that’s a coincidence. I was planning on
learning how to take out an appendix this summer.
|That’s a no to the agent, editor, publisher intro?
|Technically it’s a no, no, no.
|So you’re writing a novel now?
|Are you still practicing medicine?
|What are your novels about? Any good reviews?
|Funny you should ask. I’m wondering what kind of surgery you do and how your patients evaluate you.
|You are tough.
|Yes, I’m a published novelist.
|So when is your next novel coming out?
About six to ten months after I finish it.
|Really? So what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at home working? When will it ever be finished, the way you slack off?
|Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.
Right now I’m trying to get Little Birds off the ground, and it has been a struggle. It’s always a struggle, but these characters are not at all clear yet, and until I get a better sense of them everything is stalled.
Today I had a kind of breakthrough, which doesn’t happen often. I’m writing about it here so I will remember exactly what happened, and also to entertain readers who happen to wander by.
Two of the primary characters in Little Birds are pretty well established in my head (they are Lily’s children, but you don’t know them), but a crucial third character — somebody entirely new — is missing. This has been causing me some distress. Of course I did what all writers of fiction do in this all-too-common fix: I found a way to procrastinate and went out to run errands.
Driving home from errands, I decided to turn off the audiobook that was playing (dry, but interesting) and turn on my current music playlist, which is set to shuffle. The song that started took me by surprise because I forgot it was on the list: Save the Last Dance for Me — the Drifters original recording.
And suddenly I had that third missing character. I don’t even know his name yet, but I can see him leaning against a wall, arms crossed, watching people dance. Or maybe, just maybe, somebody has offered him a fiddle and he’s playing and watching the dance floor.
Where did this come from, you might be wondering. I had to think about it to sort out the associations, but it ties into my own experiences while I was living in Vorarlberg in my early twenties. I did a lot of dancing. There were dances, all the time. Simple weekend dances. Big fancy dances for Mardi Gras or annual celebrations of one guild or another. Big or small they all featured local musicians and dancing. And lots of beer. And schnapps. You’re thinking ump-pa-pa, but no. That’s not what it’s like at all and I’m not sure I can make it clear how un-umpa this experience is, but I’m going to try.
Imagine a lot of people crowded onto the dance floor, some proportion of them much the worse for beer, still cheerful as they bumbled along. Some small portion — maybe fifteen percent — were there because they really liked dancing and were good at it. I was in that fifteen percent.
This is a video from Helsinki, a polka dancing competition. The music is scaled way way down, but I’m posting this here so you can see the dancing. You can hear the excitement in the audience, and hear them yodeling in appreciation. This captures part of what it’s like.
In your imagination you have to speed this up some, and also imagine it is happening in a hazy smoky dance hall (ca 1980), and now imagine the dancers are just regular (and somewhat younger) in their nice-casual clothes. But they can dance. Speed it up again. If you’re good at this there’s a lot of improvising, double and triple steps, stamping, things I can’t really describe but I could do, and do well. If I had stayed there I’d probably weigh 120 and be able to carry a calf around, no problem. It’s exercise and cardio exercise all rolled into a single package that you WANT. And that’s the trick, of course.
One of the chapters in Homestead was meant to capture what this kind of dance was like. Now, today, while I was listening to Save the Last Dance I had a flashback to the dance I described in that chapter. This is what happened in real life: Someone I didn’t know asked me to dance toward the end of the evening, when the musicians had had a couple shots of schnapps and they were just on a tear. I had noticed this guy dancing and hoped he might come ask me, because watching him I knew that I would dance well with him.
Here’s the thing, in this kind of dancing. If a guy who is strong and lithe and confident puts a hand on your waist and takes your other hand in his, and then he just takes off — and you can follow him — it’s the most exhilarating thing in the world. If you can follow him, and then assert yourself a little, and he responds to this … I’m going to say this but you won’t believe me. Better than the best sex. To this day I remember the feel of the stranger’s arm muscles through his shirt. I remember the way he smiled down at me, and winked. I remember he didn’t ask and I didn’t hesitate when the set ended, we just kept dancing.
I never saw him again, never learned anything about him, but we were absolutely in sync with each other in a way that is distinctly more than dancing. There were a lot of unplanned pregnancies in Vorarlberg at this time (and maybe still are, but apparently this kind of dancing is out of favor, to which I say NO NO NO), and I am convinced that some large percentage of them happened after two people click like this on the dance floor.
Now I have to go figure out who this character is. While I interrogate him you can watch this Bruce Springsteen cover of Save the Last Dance. It gives me chills, because: well, nobody can do a song like this better. After you watch this go look for his Tougher than the Rest.
This is the first feedback from one of my beta readers on the first 3/4 of Where the Light Enters.
I think I will have to have it framed and hung right where I can see it when I look up from the screen.
If you put the space shuttle scene this early in the book, I’m not sure what Jack is going to do for the rest of the second act. Killing zombies is only going to hold the audience’s interest for ten or so pages at a go. I’ll have more observations as I get further in, but I will add that this is the best time travel scene I’ve ever read. A lot of authors have tried to describe the idea of a fourth dimensional space, but you nailed it here.