Written words have always fascinated me. I’ve been putting marks on paper since I first picked up that wooden pencil I could hardly get my fingers around, held it so tight, and worked so hard to craft the letters perfectly, always keeping them on the dotted lines of my writing tablet. Not quite old enough for it to be a Big Chief tablet, but I still remember how proud I was when I learned to write my name, and then came other words. And I still have a callous on my middle finger from holding so many writing instruments through the years.
Think about it—putting odd-shaped marks on paper in such a way that intelligible words are formed. And then those carefully-chosen words are ordered so that thoughts are communicated, scenes are described, and stories are told. William Faulkner said, “I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.” Writing requires sifting words and distilling thoughts. Ah! The nuance of language and the power in words, especially when they form narrative!
Several years ago, I was in conversation with a good friend about books, the elements of a well-crafted story, and the power in that story. I listened with great interest and then shyly commented that I might just have a book or two in me. I say “shyly” because this friend had already written two New York Times best-sellers, and to mention that I might have thoughts of writing a book to him shriveled my voice to a whisper. Saying it out loud required a boldness I wasn’t certain I had. Then he just said it, said it out loud, “If there’s a book in you, just write it.”
That gave me what I needed—a kick in the wherever to sit down, get quiet, and start putting words on paper. It was a frightening thing! No lined tablet, not even a yellow legal pad and a number 2 pencil! It was a keyboard and a blank computer screen. I imagine an artist has that same feeling, somewhere between sinking and awestruck, as he holds his palette and brush and stares at a blank canvas. But that white computer screen was soon dotted with words, and words became sentences, and paragraphs turned into scenes, and scenes into chapters.
I was one happy woman, living inside that story, that imaginary world where I could create chaos and contentment on one page for characters who became so real to me. For as long as I sat in the studio daybed, cuddling my laptop, with a cup of hot tea resting on the windowsill, this fictitious place was my world, and these characters were my friends and family—well, with one or two exceptions. A well-crafted story always has to have a bad guy or two, but I was determined to write a good story that would be honest and yet hopeful. I desired to bring some light and hope, like Jane Austen who said, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.”
I asked my same author friend later in my writing process, “How do you know when the book is finished, really finished?” He didn’t bat an eye when he responded, “When it’s on the shelf at Barnes and Noble.” So I can say this book is done for me, and it will be on the bookshelves in October.
And now, I’m anxious for sitting in my cuddle chair, with a cup of PG Tips steaming in my favorite china cup, and I’ll probably have that blank stare I get from gazing over my white computer screen through the windows into the hills for a while. Then my fingers will go to work and I get to be in my created places with my imaginary friends.
And by the way, if you’re wondering who my author friend was? He’s Dr. Abraham Verghese, one of America’s finest living writers. If you haven’t read his books, then put them on your reading list. And I’m grateful and humbled to say, “He endorsed my book.”