My fourth novel, The Rocky Orchard, released on May 12!
The following day, I did a virtual launch on Facebook Live. One of the viewers posted a comment asking me what had been my favorite scene in the book to write. Please take a look at the following video clip in which I describe how a particular scene — which solved a pivotal writing issue in the book — came to me in a dream.
And please check out the book! I’d love to know what you think!
Here is the latest snippet from my novel-in-progress, THE ROCKY ORCHARD.
“Lula,” Mazie said. Lula held her hands on Mazie’s upper arms and squeezed. A shudder ran through Mazie’s body and left her trembling. Her lip quivered and she said “Lula” again, as if testing the sound of her own voice. “What just happened? What in the world just happened to me?”
“You were telling me about your dream. It must have been very powerful, especially for such a young child,” Lula said.
“But I was really there. I felt the same exact things that I felt at the time. When I had that dream in the first place,” Mazie’s breathing became uneven again.
Lula ran a gentle hand down the length of Mazie’s hair and brushed Mazie’s cheek with her fingers. Mazie felt the tension drain from her body, and she inhaled a great breath, feeling the mountain air rush into her lungs. “Your memories are quite vivid, dear. And that particular dream was so frightening. You must have been so scared, so confused.” Lula squeezed Mazie’s hand and asked, “Did you ever tell anyone about it?”
Mazie let out a small chuckle and said, “No. No way.” She thought for a moment and added, “I might have gone into my parents’ room. I used to do that when I was still little. If I was really scared about something, I would get up and wander into their bedroom and crawl under the covers beside my mother. They would never wake up or anything, but I would lie there for a while. I used to watch the little patterns and swirls that your eyeballs see sometimes when it’s dark and still. They were strangely comforting; in fact, I would crawl into their bed and wait for the patterns to show up. After a while my mother would stir and say, ‘OK, Mazie, that’s long enough. Go back to your own room now.’ But that was OK, really. My parents’ bed always smelled really strongly of the two of them, all intermingled, and between the smell and their heavy breathing and the little floating dots, I felt OK again.”
Lula smiled but said nothing.
“You must think I was the strangest little kid, Lula. Well, I told you I was. Now you can see for yourself.”
When we get back home, I am convinced that I am adopted, that I come from different people entirely than these two grown-ups who ping-pong between sphinx-like impenetrability and crazy, nonsensical laughter. I start to have scary dreams. In some of them, we are back on our road trip vacation, and my parents leave me behind at one of the endless places where we stop. In others, I try as hard as I can to run away from something awful, but my legs don’t work. It’s like I’m in super slow motion, while the rest of the world – and the scary threat – come closer.
And then, I die. For the first time.
It’s so hot, and so dry. The sky is a burning blaze of white. No wind. The air is so still that it’s completely silent. It’s like being in a movie theater when the sound snaps off, and the picture continues. I think I must have suddenly gone deaf, and I look around to see if anything is moving – a branch, a lizard, a bird – something I should be able to hear.
There is young woman in front of me. She wears full native dress. A skirt that goes all the way to the ground, a long sleeve shirt with the cuffs rolled up to reveal inches and inches of bracelets. She has a single, waist-length braid that’s bound with a thin leather strap. She turns when I approached the edge, briefly, then looks back down. She doesn’t say a word. She doesn’t say hello, which I think is odd, because almost everyone says hello to a four-year-old child, especially one who is approaching the edge of the Grand Canyon.
She sits very near the edge herself. But she’s not actually sitting. I realize that she’s crouched, and she stays like that, as if it’s the most relaxed position in the world. She is weaving a basket. I watch the quickness of her hands, young hands, and I think she might be very young despite the baby beside her. A papoose. I am proud of myself for knowing the word for an Indian* baby who’s all bound up in a beautiful little cocoon. The baby is wide awake, but utterly silent, his calm black eyes staring far into the distance.
I think that both of them must be miserably hot. In my 1960 shorts and sleeveless blouse, I can’t imagine how they seem so——————
My foot slips. My saddle shoe’s heel scrapes against the parched dirt. It’s so slow at first, just a grating of my calf. I feel the skin rub away, then the first tiny droplets of blood rising to the surface. But then time speeds up. My feet fly out from under me. I am face-to-face with the white-hot sky. I am in free fall. Falling, Falling.
My back hits first. The sensation, the pain I suppose I would call it, lasts for a mere second. It’s like the wind being knocked out of me, except I know that it’s not the wind. I am surrounded by the blackest darkest night, but within the black, an ocean of spark-like bursts fly from my body in all directions at once. I die.
I am dead.
I am gasping for breath I am trying to reach the surface I am trying to keep my lungs from bursting I am straining to see something besides the sparks inky black nothing and the sparks and I gasp and I cough and I sputter and an arm is on me no two arms are on me, they’re around me and it’s Lula and she’s with me and I hear words, she’s saying words to me. She is saying, “You are right here, Mazie. You are right here.”
This partial chapter from my current novel has been reworked from a piece I wrote a few years ago. You never know (or at least I never know) how writing will proceed. For me, it’s never orderly. As I now envision The Rocky Orchard, this cast-aside piece now stands as a pivotal scene in my fourth novel.
Here is a new snippet from my current novel THE ROCKY ORCHARD.
Up until I said that last bit to Lula, I was right there, right on that boat. I could see the walls of the cabin heaving up and down; I could smell the faint trace of salty air mixed with baby puke and the strong smell of the thick coats of varnish on the boat’s wood. But now I feel ashamed, self-conscious, about being such a serious and scared and kind of creepy little kid. I’m back on the porch. I take a big drink from my water glass and look through the porch screen to the orchard. Little green apples have started forming on the trees.
“You know what, Lula?” I say. “I don’t remember eating a single apple from that orchard that tasted good. Ever. With all the different trees, and all the different varieties of apples – not a single one, not one that you could pick off the tree and take a big bite out of and really like it.”
“You don’t say,” Lula sounds absent-minded. She rearranges several of the cards in her hand without looking up.
“My mother fed them, sprayed them, pruned them, read books about them and fussed over them. In the end, we made gigantic amounts of applesauce every fall. Even pies made with those apples weren’t so great.” I feel awkward, and pissed off, for no reason at all. I say, “Seriously, they tasted like shit.” And then I feel like shit. Maybe Lula hates swearing. Maybe she’s decided I’m a motor-mouthed, foul-mouthed, suspicious-if-not-paranoid creep. Maybe she won’t come back. I want her to come back, so I let her win the game. And the next one, too.
She pushes her chair back. She’s getting ready to leave. I’m scared so I say: “Lula, here’s the thing. When we got back from that trip, I had a dream. I died. In the dream. But I thought that I really had. Died, that is.” I hate myself for my naked attempt to reel her in, to make her interested enough to come back again tomorrow.
Lula says, “you don’t say,” as if it’s the most mundane thing that she’s ever heard, or pretty near it. “When I come back tomorrow, I’ll look forward to hearing more.”
“You don’t say!” I know I’m being mean, mocking, and Lula looks at me like I’ve wounded her. “Those are the exact same words you said when you left the other day. Exact. Same. That’s a little weird!”
To my surprise, Lula laughs. “Never said I wasn’t a little weird, Mazie. Never said.”
Paintings, top to bottom: Levi Wells Prentice, William Rickarby Miller, Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin.
The air was hot, and dry, with a burning white sky ablaze from the sun. There was no wind. It was so utterly unmoving that the scene was completely silent, like being in the movie theater when the sound suddenly snaps off and the picture continues in the dark, silent cave. “Have I suddenly gone deaf?” I thought, and I looked around to see if anything was moving – a branch, a lizard, a bird – something I might be able to hear.
The young woman wore full native dress. A skirt that went all the way to the ground, a long sleeve shirt with the sleeve bottoms rolled to reveal inches and inches of bracelets. Her waist-length braid had been bound with a thin leather strap. She turned to glance at me when I approached the edge, briefly, then looked back down. She did not say a word. She did not say hello, which I thought was odd, because almost everyone says hello to a four-year-old child, especially one who is approaching the edge of the Grand Canyon.
She sat very near the edge. But she wasn’t sitting, actually, she crouched, as if it wer the most relaxed position in the world, and she wove her basket. I watched the quickness of her hands, young hands, and I thought she might be very young despite the baby beside her. A papoose. I was proud of myself for knowing the word for an Indian* baby who was bound up in a beautifully adorned little cocoon. The baby was wide awake, but utterly silent, his calm black eyes focused far away.
I thought they must be miserably hot. In my 1960 shorts and sleeveless blouse, I couldn’t imagine how they seemed so——————
My foot slipped. At first there was just the scrape of my saddle shoe’s heel against the dry dirt. Then the grate of my calf. I felt the skin rub away and felt the first tiny droplets of blood rise to the surface. But after that I was in free fall. My feet flew out from under me and I was face to face with the hot white sky, falling, and falling.
My back hit first. I felt the sensation, the pain I suppose I would call it, for less than a second. It was like the wind being knocked out of you, except I knew that it was not the wind. I was instantly surrounded by the blackest darkest night, but within the black, an ocean of spark-like bursts flew from my body in all directions at once. I died.
I lay in bed for a long time before I believed that I could breathe.
I have died many times in my dreams. This was the first.
*The term “Native American” was not in widespread use at this time.
Accustomed to waking up between 6:30 and 7:00 am, I was in a profoundly deep slumber when my dog Scout whimpered quietly at my bedside around 6:00, letting me know that she could not wait any longer to go out. I was also deep into a dream, a dream of such intense aching feeling that fully awake and caffeinated as I have been for two and a half hours now, a veil of sad wistfulness remains heavily between me and a rain-drenched, beautiful morning.
Last night, a friend told me that she feels the bottom has been hacked off the hour glass of her life, and that her remaining time is hemorrhaging out, giving her an ever-increasing sense of urgency that she must do everything in her power to ensure that those she most loves in the world will be safe, and loved, after she is gone.
Ah, if only this were possible.
I watched her sob as she recognized that we can love powerfully, ferociously even, but in no way is this a guarantee of anything at all, except that we have done our very best — lived, and loved our very best.
For me, writing long-format works (novels, in my case) is like chasing a picture that continually goes in and out of focus in your mind.
There are moments of enormous clarity, little miracles, in which the characters and ideas that are burbling around in your head suddenly and unexpectedly come into sharp focus. You know exactly where your work is going — what must happen, what each character must say in a situation that must be created to compel your work forward. Ha. Unfortunately, these miraculous moments of clarity can evaporate just as easily as they appeared. And they do. And because these times of clear vision are likely to happen any old time — just as you are falling asleep, or during a long walk, or any old time whatsoever — it is shocking, maddening, confounding how quickly and totally they vanish, very much like dreams that you remember in exquisite detail, even going over the events in your mind upon awakening, only to find that you have no recollection just a short time later.
Sometimes the clarity has vanished even by the time you get yourself in front of the computer keyboard. No matter how quickly you manage to drop everything, clear some space in your life, plop down in front of that screen, it can still happen that there you are, confronting that keyboard, rarin’ to go, only to find yourself…blank.
It’s gone. Utterly gone. There you are on the beach, after the wave has crashed, trying to make out any remnants of the words you wrote in the sand.
I wonder — is it like this in all creative endeavors? Composing music? Creating a sculpture? I think it must be.