During the last six months I’ve been telling anyone who asks “What are you working on?” that my new novel has a concept and blah-blah-blah, women alone, about the diverse ways single women coped without a man in their lives during different decades of the 20th century. (Believe it or not, young ‘uns, women alone used to have an exceptionally hard time of it.) Then I’d say blah, blah, blah how I’ll use characters from my first two novels, characters readers seemed to love, who “go offstage” during the time of their lives they’re on their own. I’ll answer the question of how Aurora Mae managed between her abduction and her reappearance at Ghost Tree Plantation and how Katherine Marie and her kids managed with her husband locked up in federal prison all those years. I’d unify these characters both thematically and plotwise, to give a panoramic view of the coping mechanisms of single Southern women, black, white, Jewish, throughout the 20th century. Not only that, no matter where I started in the century, I’d finish it all up with Bill Clinton at the end of his second term pardoning Mombasa to reunite Katherine Marie with the love of her life and all the readers who fell in love with Mombasa could at last be happy.
Boy. Was that a great idea or what?
It was. Just the promising I’d do it that was wrong. I’m at the midpoint of No. 3 in my Southern Jewish series right now. I’ve only gone from 1917 to 1925ish in the action, but I’d thought of clever ways I could jump ahead and tie all the generations of sisters together and was about to try using them until. Until.
I had a dream.
I know I’ve blogged before about the Unconscious Critic. But this dream embodied his granddaddy – the Unconscious Creator. See, I had this dream that I wasn’t feeling well and went to the hospital. The ER doctor told me I was having a baby. Imagine the shock at my age. Ok, I went home and lived my life until one day, I happened to notice a neighbor lady at her window nursing a baby and I thought: Oh, yes! I’m supposed to have one of those. I wonder where it went?
My husband then called the hospital and was told the baby was there, we’d just forgotten to pick it up. So we go over and bring the little package home and it turns out to be a sweet girl baby about as big as my thumb. I realize this tiny thing can’t possibly nurse at my breast without drowning and send my husband out to get me some formula and such at the drug store. Meanwhile, the baby keeps falling out of my hands, sliding down the bed sheets to the floor, detaching her tiny, bloodless limbs along the way. When I catch her and bring her back up, she’s intact again just small. Until the last time.
The last time the tiny girl baby fell from the bed and slid down the covant, I picked her up and lo and behold, she’d morphed into a robust, affectionate, black and white puppy I could barely contain with two hands. The puppy hopped all over the bed, licked my face all over, too, as bursting he was with delirious, happy energy, unrestrained, pure of spirit.
When I woke up, I thought: Ok, that was all about the novel. It’s changed along the way and I need to abandon the original concept, high and mighty as it might have been. Maybe high concepts always bear puny offspring, I dunno. It’s a theory worth thinking about sometime. For now, all that’s certain is I’ve got a hearty, flesh and blood critter on my hands, scampering about the page, pissing all over my old plan but along the way creating a vigorous one of his own.
Which means I must apologize to all of you who were looking for something more familiar next time around and whose expectations I’ve raised. Sorry! I can promise you’ll still get more Aurora Mae and Horace; at least they’ve come out to play already. And there’s some expansion of minor folk from the other novels whose names you’ve probably already forgotten. There’s new people, too, wonderful characters who’ve won my heart and mind in a way I’m hoping is wildly contagious.
In the end, I guess you can fairly call me a liar, a cheat, a seducer full of false promises. Guilty, I say, guilty. But if I’ve learned anything at all from the Unconscious Creator, it’s to follow its lead.
So I will. I know I won’t be sorry. I’m thinkin’ you won’t be either.