Several years ago, I left one of my characters hanging out on the porch of his childhood friends’ farm/hobbit house in rural Ohio. I haven’t forgotten this character or his predicament, nor the circumstances that inspired me to write in that world (SHELF LIFE) in the first place. I blame the “Little House on the Prairie” books I read as a child, which now sit on my son’s bookshelf. Something about them made me yearn to plant and grow things, watch them thrive (or fail) and then harvest, process and stockpile them for winter, whether “winter” was literal or figurative.
Call of the Wild. I bought a house in June. It’s in a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood where everyone has the same (non-existent) landscaping, and because we’re on the Plains, the wind wreaks havoc on everything. Trees and fences get blown over, there’s no topsoil and the grass is always crunchy no matter how much you water it.
It was a blank, sloping slate waiting for a hopeful fool like me to fill it with life. I’ve installed a shade garden near the house. Planted arbor vitae to provide privacy and act as a wind break. Started a compost bin to hopefully produce rich soil I can use to amend the clay and dust I was handed.
As I was hand-drawing the different plans for different sections of the yard, I realized the last time I had done that was when I drew out the Wilsons’ property in SHELF LIFE so I could make sure all my directional references were consistent. Same with the yard – I need a plan to follow or nothing will ever get done or if it does, it will be haphazard and probably look like crap. Or worse yet, I’ll have to dig up everything and do it again.
See the metaphor yet?
Reality. Working on the yard reminded me of why I wrote SHELF LIFE, which, I’ll be honest, is something I’ve struggled with. Other characters call to me much more, but the “world” of Shelf Life is something that’s always with me because it’s too close to reality, perhaps. The good parts, at least. Being self-reliant and off the grid is something I’ve always been pulled toward, even as I scroll through Amazon on my phone looking for a doorbell with wifi camera capabilities.
Besides the current gardening kick, I’ve also been on a related one of going “zero waste” – producing as little garbage and waste as possible. The compost bin helps tremendously, as does recycling, upcycling, reusing, mending and repairing. Too bad there isn’t a writing metaphor in there, as well! NEED is the closest I’ve ever been to writing a book straight through with no major revisions or edits. I hardly even planned it, it just spilled out. WANT was planned, plotted, researched and over-analyzed at every turn. Lots of waste that went into the trash bin. SHRAPNEL falls somewhere in the middle, but Shelf Life’s sequel … well, it’s the leftovers that got shoved to the back of the fridge and forgotten, and now I’m avoiding it because it’s probably moldy.
Crossroads. This feels like a crossroads. It’s half written but I just can’t iron out where it’s going. It’s very different from Shelf Life. I love a couple of the characters, and material is practically being handed to me.
Here’s a little secret – the county it’s set in is real. The city this sequel is set in is real and it’s been in the news a lot lately, and not for good reasons. I mean, the universe is practically giving me the story! And yet …
There’s more to it and it’s two-fold. First, a lot of life has happened since I began writing the sequel and that life ties in to the setting and many of the characters in the book. Yes, all books contain a bit of the author, but this could easily fall over into “she took it too far” territory.
Second, today’s political climate is EXHAUSTING. It also ties into the sequel in a way that I’m not sure I can handle right now. We all need an escape from reality and I’m afraid my writing right now would be so skewed and slanted that it would detract from the story. Who wants to read a novel of straight-up author intrusion? Not me, unless that’s what I signed up for.
So for now, I’m still drawing it all out on paper, thinking, listening to the playlist, and tending the garden in my yard and the one in my head. I know what my characters need to do and where they need to go, I’m just not sure I can go with them quite yet. Like poor Louis, I’d rather stick my head in the sand for a bit longer.
But we can’t stay out on the porch for much longer.