Drives to Sonoma and Thoughts on Creative Pursuits

(I wish I had taken a picture of the fall landscape I described below – instead this was taken at my dad’s Sonoma place – still pretty I think!)

Favorite word of the day: trousseau.

I have always loved this word and not because it’s French.  I love it because it’s so hopeful (which is distinctly un-French).  A girl collects (often makes) bridal clothes and household linens and other treasures she will need as a new bride.  Trousseaus  were often kept in trunks or chests made of cedar – which makes it like treasure.  Who doesn’t like treasure?

Worst word of the day: glean.

I hate this word.  It’s useful and I’m not saying I wouldn’t use it in my writing but it sounds mean and glinty.  It sounds sneaky and greasy.  It also always brings to mind this quote “Shall we glean some nuts from the hedgerow?”  If you know where that comes from then you’re a genius because I am 99% sure I haven’t quoted it properly.

Gleaning nuts is something I actually do but I prefer to call it “collecting nuts” and I don’t have access to hedgerows so I just collect them from the pavement.

Yesterday I had an actual conversation in which I asked my almost twelve year old kid to imagine what it might feel like if he had balls the size of grapefruits.

Yesterday my friend Sharon and I drove up to Sonoma to go olive picking at my dad’s rental property.  My dad planted a small orchard of olives for pressing into oil.  I had hoped he planted some olives that are both good for eating and pressing but it turned out they’re all very small.  It’s a sweet little orchard anyway and I’m going to help harvest the olives for oil with my dad in a couple of weeks because I enjoy that kind of thing.  Anyway – so we ended up finding a couple of trees in town with some good fat ripe olives on them and got permission to pick them.  Just as we were heading home it started raining which was so pretty.  If you haven’t seen Sonoma county in the fall – with the vineyards turning red and purple and the hills painted in gentle yellows and oranges and sage greens – put it on your agenda.  When the rains come down it’s soft and gorgeous.

We stopped off at Whole Foods to get some salt for the olives and I brought up my usual writing dilemma: do I start writing the next Cricket and Grey book or do I work on Jane Doe?  Do I keep writing fiction or do I give it up for another 10 years while I work on non-fiction which has higher career potential?  If only a handful of people are interested in my fiction is it a good place to – same old same old.  All the questions I always struggle with.  I am such a decisive person with regards to almost everything in my life it’s extremely irritating to be incapable of KNOWING the answers to these questions about my writing “career”.  The one I wish I had.  The one I keep trying to build.  It just so happens that Sharon has read Cricket and Grey and her response is “I want to read the next Cricket and Grey book!” so I launched into the difficulty I’ve been having settling on the next book’s main story arc which I need to decide on before I can flesh out the rest of the plot.  I shared with her the ideas I’ve been having while we bought sea salt by the pound.

She shared her own similar questions regarding her art career.  She’s an extraordinary artist – I happen to be a huge fan of her work and have 2 pieces of it and am negotiating a trade for a third exquisite piece.  She has received some unwanted career advice from someone who means well but who has caused her to question (again) the nature of her work and whether she should be painting to please the tastes of the public or continue to paint just what she’s moved to paint.  This particular person said something about her work being too dark – saying that people just want to be happy.

I think many artists and writers have similar doubts and conversations as we had.  I may not have a lot of answers but talking this out with Sharon did bring clarity back about the nature of both mine and her creative pursuits: and artist should paint what they want to see in the world or paint what they are moved to paint by that inner drive that urged them to take up the brush or pencil or charcoal in the first place.  A novelist should write the books they really want to be reading – not the books they think others want to be reading.  I don’t like reading heavy literature that appeals to intellectuals and academics.  I did read a lot of heavy literature when I was young and I’m glad I did.  It enriched my vocabulary and gave me such a broad understanding of what different people can do with language and how many different ways the basic human experience can be expressed in stories.

But I don’t read heavy literature now.  I don’t want to read depressing stories where every character is so flawed you can’t like them.  I want to read compelling stories with enough suspense to keep me glued to the page and interesting characters who I want to know more about – characters to love and characters to hate and just enough ambiguity of ethics to keep from being predictable.  I need someone to root for and I need endings that are hopeful.

Talking to Sharon reminded me that I wrote Cricket and Grey because it’s the kind of book I wish I could find more of.  I am going to have to write Jane Doe because it’s personally important to me and that one is darker than I like to read usually.  But I want to write more Cricket and Grey books (there are meant to be 4 CandG books) and I want to write more books in that style.

Fiction versus Nonfiction?  No author has to really choose between them.  I’m embarking on the nonfiction project with my friend Emma so I’ll be doing that.  But I know that I never felt more like I was doing what I was always meant to be doing than when I was writing my novels.  That should be all the answer I need to move forward.  Will I ever be a commercial success – maybe not.  I need to commit to the knowledge that I may just write novels on the side for the rest of my life but I can’t ever let that get in the way of doing what I know I need to be doing.

This all reminds me how important it is for creative people to talk to each other – to share these doubts and these questions with each other because we need frequent encouragement from others on similar paths.  It’s sometimes easier for me to see what Sharon should be doing or who she shouldn’t be listening to than it is for me to see what I should be doing and who I shouldn’t be listening to.

I have a small handful of people reading my novel here on my blog and I have heard from a couple of them that they look forward to the new chapter every week – this is deeply gratifying and between them and Sharon I have a renewed determination to shake the writer’s block and plot uncertainty and get moving on book 2 of Cricket and Grey (Spring).

But today I have to work for a living all day.  Tonight I will write some notes.  Maybe I’ll share some ideas here tomorrow.

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