We are pleased to welcome Rebbie Macintyre to the ball today. Even though she lives in Florida, she considers herself a Westerner at heart. She was born in Kansas and spent childhood summers near Dodge City and in Eastern Colorado where her first book, Cast the First Stone, is set. On her way to becoming an author, she taught high school, counseled troubled children, studied classical violin, performed with a synchronized swimming team, sold office supplies and operated a sludge-sucking vacuum truck .
Cast the First Stone is about a young Hispanic widow who vows to save her brother from a murder conviction and the vengeance of a ruthless sheriff by using the ancient art of dowsing in Depression era Colorado.
I click on the TV and flip to the Food Network as a mechanism to delay the inevitable: beginning a new story. The theme music plays for The Barefoot Contessa, who is cooking show host Ina Garten, and Ina is standing behind her stone counter with an array of food and tools displayed in front of her: mixing bowl, whisk, eggs, cream, honey and a knobby loaf of Challah bread. Today’s lesson is Challah French toast. Like a maestro about to conduct a full orchestra, she explains the occasion (a friend staying for the weekend) and then the steps of the recipe. Time to begin. I scoot forward on the sofa, pencil and paper poised for notes; I know I can print the recipe from the website, but this will actually take more time. I’m gleeful: another hour I can justify being away from the computer, another hour I can avoid starting my story. But now Ina says something that causes me to slump back into a sofa pillow, stunned: “When the French toast is done, it’s going to be rich and golden and delicious.”
She’s telling us the ending before she even begins! She’s positive of the outcome, positive her guest will love it, positive the Challah French toast will be gobbled up amid sighs of delicious pleasure. Now, mind you, Ina has yet to break one egg into her bowl. She has not beaten the batter, nor sliced the bread, nor drizzled the sticky maple syrup over her fantastic concoction. But she’s declaring to her audience that it will be wonderful.
I’ve lost track of the demonstration. I’m thinking about how this master cook has begun her performance. And I begin to think about my performance as a writer, tackling the most traumatic step of my writing: the rough draft.
I’m always unsure how my story will come out. I’m unsure I can do it. I’m unsure of even the basics: What am I writing about? Who are these people that have wandered into my imagination, in what part of the world are they, and in what time period? Can I unearth the story that’s buried in the smoky images and snippets of dialogue in my mind?
I realize my doubts have me paralyzed. My doubts about my story have me doubting myself. And I realize that I need to start my story like Ina starts her demonstration. I need to tell myself that my story will come out, that I will make it come out, that I can do this.
I return to my desk and keyboard to start my first draft. I don’t know what my story is, who the characters are, or even, where it will be set. All I know is months from now, it will be rich and golden and delicious.