Living by My Own Lights

Dear Readers:

My first novel is almost ready for public acclaim, criticism, or condemnation. Whatever the outcome, I have begun working on the next phase. The queries are going out daily via snail mail or electronic instant messaging to a list of researched literary agencies. Each day I reconnoiter my next target, fine-tune my appeal, and send another missive on its way.

So what is next? During my wait for responses, I want to keep the creative juices flowing. But I’m not ready to dive into the next episode of the Patsy Adventures, so I’m testing the waters and dipping my toes in the world of short stories. This venture has given me a new perspective: I still need the enticing opening sentence, the developing tension in the middle, and the bang added to the wrap-up. But it has to be done efficiently, preferably in 5000 words or less.

Now I’ve been thinking of fresh faces I can plug into new landscapes where threatening challenges wait. Where do these new ideas come from? There’s always the daily writing in my journal which can inspire. Or the periodic critique group conference that sparks a novel thought. And daily I look at a number of journals brimming with ideas stacked on my bedside table.

But I have another resource. Back in the 90’s I read cover-to-cover an inspirational book by Sarah Ban Breathnach titled Simple Abundance. The author worked her way through one calendar year, daily tackling a new topic guaranteed to bring “comfort and joy”. At times I wearied of her repetitive use of the word “authenticity” but I tried several of her suggestions. One of them was to start an illustrated journal. She instructed the reader to page through publications and snip any images that had instant appeal or caught one’s eye for no apparent reason. She theorized that the picture attracted because it reawakened some pleasant, hidden memory stored in the deep recesses of one’s brain. Or maybe a sudden splash of color appealed because it had just the right balance that pleased this particular eye. This sudden sight of some mysterious yet enjoyable visual started the synapses firing and ideas flowing.

I was surprised to read a reprise of this idea in one of those current writers’ magazines patiently waiting on my nightstand. I hadn’t looked at my illustrated journal for several years. In fact I hoped it hadn’t gone to the recycle bin to be hauled off by the garbage man and made into Scott Towles or Charmin.

My search was rewarded. Opening and fanning through the pages was a blast from the past. And what I had clipped, trimmed, taped, and pasted still appealed. I saw images that brought immediate questions to mind. One picture is of a clapboard house in the distance with hundreds of bicycles, kickstands lowered, resting in the front yard, adorned with helmets, and those skinny little shoes that fit in the pedal stirrups. And there’s one skate board, emblazoned with a flame motif decal, propped up close by. Immediately I wonder “What’s going on here? Why all these bikes? And who’s the bloke who had the audacity to tag along on a skimpy little skateboard?” And the story germination process has begun.

Further turning of pages shows themes: verdant green Midwestern fields on one page followed by kid stuff on the next (Miss Piggy, Tigger, and wrapped and bowed gifts holding promise of happy holiday visits from grandchildren) and then there’s a food page, showing indulgent as well as healthy choices along with a trim woman in a leotard exercising off that glass of wine tucked next to the cheese and cracker platter. Rainbows, flowers, and frolicking pets are the last entries. And best of all, about half the pages are blank, waiting for new vistas to stimulate yet another mental flight into the creative unknown. The plot thickens.

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