This weekend I was snowed in. I had not expected snow when I awoke on Friday. I’d expected to go to the DMV and then prepare for the local craft guild’s annual art market on Saturday. But the snow kept coming, and the show was cancelled. I’m so used to running around and putting out fires that being confined to my house, in the quiet, gave me an excuse to do whatever I wanted. With all of my plans thwarted, I thought, “Hey, Lauren, you finally get to do what you’ve been putting off most.” Writing! YES.
I searched for the notes I’d made for the next novel I’m preparing to write. This is the time when I freak out about writing a new book: when I have an idea, have some characters in mind, have an idea for a conflict or two, but haven’t figured out how to connect the dots. I usually draw myself a kind of treasure map to suggest some connections between points A and Z, but I have lost that map. I put it aside over the summer, knowing I’d have to come back to this project now, when I had more time. (HA! When do we ever get “more time”?)
The map has evidently been swallowed by the house. (Some days my house feels like the one in Poltergeist, waiting to swallow everything like the gaping singularity that it is.) Now I must start from scratch. I’m anxious and I need my road map.
In a few days, I’m headed out of town for the holidays. Usually, Christmas means all kinds of chaos for me. But this year, my sweetie says I can pretend to be a hermit at his house. “It can be your writing retreat,” he said. I think that might be the best Christmas present ever.
I need a map before my plane lands. I need to point myself in a writerly direction and GO. This will be my novel writing month, a little behind all the NaNoWriMo folks. But still, this novel is something that is burning a hole in my brain, needing to be written. I have a deadline after all, and my writing partner has already finished her novel. (GAH. SHE IS ON SCHEDULE, DAMMIT.) I hardly had time to write over the summer, and missed it terribly. This retreat will be my chance to cross-train my creative muscles and get myself back in fighting writer shape.
Good writers always say you have to read to be a great writer, and I believe that. I love a good story, but in some ways, reading is research for the craft. Even when I can’t make myself write, I read. And my future books are better for it.
Here are five books that inspired me recently, based on anything from character to dialogue to colorful prose:
- Wicked in a Kilt by Anna Durand. This is a straight up rom-com that had me glued to the pages. I read it over a weekend, staying up way too late at night, getting smitten with Erica and Lachlan. I do love it when romance and comedy come together in a book as delightful as this one. I didn’t want it to end, and was absolutely delighted by the chemistry between the characters and the playful banter. Can this be a movie, please? There were a lot of things to like about this book, but snappy dialogue topped the list.
- Landfall by Ellen Urbani. It took me a while to get through this one, just because of the sadness of the post-Katrina setting. It’s chock full of tragedy, but there’s an awful lot of fierce beauty, too. The alternating POVs between two young women brought together by one tragic event were done masterfully. The sory moves quickly, digging deep into the girls’ lives, tracing the events that brought them together, and the unexpected similarities that existed between them.
- The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill. This was another melancholy one, but I loved this book for its incredible use of language and imagination. O’Neill creates brilliant descriptions, peppered through the pages like confident brush strokes that light up a canvas. I found myself reading some sentences over and over, just to enjoy them again. I love an author who so obviously loves language, and this one used playful, imaginative scenes that balanced the sadness of the characters’ choices in a truly memorable way. It was stark, and raw, and gorgeous.
- The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. I actually listened to the audio book, but found myself wanting to stay in the car long after my commute. Hoffman moved through time seamlessly, propelling the story forward with characters who stumbled through conflicts with fire and grace. I felt like I knew these characters as real people by the end of the book, and damn if I didn’t want to have them all over for dinner. I was of course curious to learn more about the characters from Practical Magic, and was pleasantly surprised by the charm and wonder the story evoked. I expected magic, and it delivered.
- Wonder When You’ll Miss Me by Amanda Davis. A poignant premise with a tragic event sets the story in motion, but Davis creates strong characters that have biting wit. Somehow she manages to make this story both humorous and heartbreaking—a combination I admire because of its complexity. I’m in love with the women in this story—especially with Faith, who is led through the story by an imagined version of her former self, bent on seeking revenge for the cruelty she endured. The best part? Our protagonist saves herself. This is the kind of story that lodges itself in my heart.
Now that I’ve been sufficiently inspired, I’m going to draw a map for that nest book. Happy reading, y’all.