If you walk into my house you can usually tell if I’m deeply involved in working on a book. Once I’m sucked in, everything around me goes to hell. The dishes sit undone in the sink. Laundry piles up. Toys left on the floor tend to stay there. Taped to the walls are huge sheets of newsprint covered in story boards, chapter outlines and various other novel-related brainstorming. Coffee and tea cups cover my desktop. Index cards with notes are strewn around every room. Books, notebooks, boxes of Promise postcards are stacked in precarious piles. I can never find my reading glasses. Or the phone when it rings. The dog gets antsy because she hasn’t had her walk. My daughter gets whiny because she’s tired of being ignored. If it weren’t for her, I’d forget all about meals and live on coffee and pretzels.
This was how things were this past week at my house. And it was made worse by the fact that my partner Drea was away at a conference. My poor daughter was stuck entertaining herself while I was huddled over the laptop, furiously pecking away at the keys, saying, “Just a minute…” every time she asked for something. We got a lot of take-out food. She watched WAY more TV than we normally let her. Yesterday morning, she very wisely announced, “I don’t want you. I want Mama.” I’m just no fun when I’m working.
There was some little nagging part of my brain telling me I should have been taking my daughter to the playground. Or cleaning. Mowing the grass or weeding the gardens. (We have one of those yards that the neighbors must shiver every time they see… totally unkempt and always looking like it’s in the process of turning into a meadow.)
But see, I was on a roll, and I’m always scared that if I stop, I might not be able to get back into it. So I wrote. Stuck in another DVD for Zella. Got out the lollipops.
And when I finally got stuck and came out of my writing haze, I took Zella to a carnival with one of her little friends. We were standing in line to get on the merry-go-round and saw that one of the ride operators was dressed in a huge black anorak with a fur lined hood and a black neoprene ski mask that covered his face – it was a cool day, in the 50s maybe, but in no way winter jacket weather, much less cold enough for a ski mask. He looked like a frightening combination of Batman and the Grim Reaper. He was taking tickets. He wouldn’t take his mask off, even though he was scaring little children. Zella was terrified. I was too, a little. And what my twisted little brain was thinking was: I want to put this scary, inappropriately dressed guy in my book. He might just be the very character I’ve been looking for — the guy who will make the scene I’ve been struggling with fall into place. Sometimes venturing forth is a good thing – and as a bonus, Zella got a much-deserved ride on the merry-go-round. And some cotton candy!