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A visiting friend is sitting in my living room reading the book-in-progress. Coincidentally, it touches upon some of the same things we’ve been talking about…the moment one sits under a star-filled sky and knows—not surmises, not feels, not guesses—that there is no difference between it and you.

A big thing to attempt for a book. Especially if one is committed not to being the end of Kubrick’s film 2001.

What comes after this, one wonders? Where does one go after one has examined everything?

That’s the question, isn’t it? In trying to describe one of the next two books I’m thinking of writing, one is simple (the sequel to The Spiritkeeper), and one is more difficult. The second one I can describe in two words—although I won’t do that here. Yet, a greater question lay beyond it:

What bigger thing is the book about?

Sure, the two-word description is intriguing. Convenient. It’s a terrific sound-byte. But, as an idea, does it pick me up and carry me on its shoulders? No.

Books, for me, need to be ruled by themes of cosmic importance. Sure, the little byte is what it seems to be about…but where from there? What greater truth does the work tell? What subject matter does it explore?

I wonder sometimes whether I’m smart enough for the task I’ve set myself. Or wise enough. Or talented enough. I always wonder that. Perhaps that moment of doubt is what prepares our canvas for the paint to come. Perhaps it’s what puts the brushes in our hands.

I wonder whether we might write a grain of sand into something extraordinarily bigger.

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It’s Thursday morning and I have not been washed downstream in the flood. The river is still big and brown, and it runs twice as fast as I do. We’ll see what tonight’s rain has in store for us, but so far so good. Put the Ark back in the garage; we don’t need it–at least for now.

Which leads me to the unrelated notion of sacrifice in fiction. Don’t ask why: I don’t have a clue.

In my personal unwalked path of fiction, friend Marc has coined a name for my genre: Spiritual Thrillers. Almost there but not quite, the coinage, but it will do for now. Among the headier thoughts that fascinate their way into my personal genre-space, several ideas keep popping up….

Love and its barriers. Acceptance. And sacrifice. I’m not sure why—it’s a subject for a shrink’s analysis, not mine.

There is tension in sacrifice. Drama. The crystalline revealings of emotion and motive. In sacrifice, the truths of ourselves are shown. Quite a beautiful thing, really.

The Spiritkeeper has all three of those ideas…hell, it IS all three…and among them, sacrifice is, well, key. In Everything, however, I am finding a different approach to sacrifice; here it is a tree hung with harsher ornaments. It can be flawed and misguided. It can be accompanied by questionable acts. And—here’s the tricky one—it can be telegraphic.

One wants to be careful, being telegraphic in fiction. One wants to suggest the dire future of a character…yet without necessarily hanging a sign around his/her neck that says “Victim”. Having a clue to a character’s fate is a great way to keep the pages turning. It can also be cheap and clunky. The line between good and crappy is a very fine one.

When, then, is it okay to introduce a character who is clearly a sacrificial lamb?

I’m grappling with that question now. I have been trying to make a physical threat more present and more graphic; one that, until the rewrite, had been all talk, no action. Sometimes, the best way to illustrate the threat to a character is by example elsewhere. Which means that somebody’s gonna get it.

We’ve all seen films in which we know that a character is funeral-fodder—we know it from his first appearance. The “Victim” sign? This guy is wearing it. Is that okay or isn’t it? Is it too easy?

Let’s move the idea one square ahead…to the more exalted space of fated-ness: that sense of tragic inevitability that goes beyond the Victim sign. A sacrificial character—even if he is not as central to the work—lives a limited life; his future will be completed during the span of the story.

These sacrificial lambs carry a flaw or a weakness that will not let them exist for long in our world; if they are disposable, they are disposable with a purpose. Their sacrifice becomes something more than a simplistic plot device…we have, for a moment at least, given them their humanity before doing them in.

Does that excuse the device? You’ll have to ask me at the end of today, when the exercise is complete. Only then will I know whether the experiment is proved. Sacrifice as experiment: We are a cruel lot, writers.

What’s the difference between days? No, I don’t mean Monday/Tuesday-different, I mean the mood that visits them.

When one day is virtually identical to the next in many ways—the time one wakes, the feel of the bed, the light in the sky, the routines of the morning, the prospects ahead—how is it that one day feels so much different than the one that went before it?

Oh sure, the answer is obvious. Yet it isn’t. Mood, sure. The chemistries of the body. The barometric pressure. The ions stirred up by the wind. What we had for supper last night. The residual kick of a megavitamin. Who knows?

The critters sense a difference: In a house that is essentially the same from day to day, one day they are calm, on another they are restless, on another they’re sleeping all over me as if protecting me from spirits. How do we explain that?

Easy enough to tell ourselves that we summon our moods to us; that we have the power to change them. A tougher thing, to sit in wonder at the Is that is and observe it with a will to nothing less than to let be. It is a verboten self-indulgence to do so. It is a luxury and a curiosity. It is both silly and profound even to wonder about it.

But why, exactly, we are closer to the Universe on some days than on others…why there are days (and I’m not quite there) that the veils are peeled away…you got me. I am powerless to make it happen—it happens when it will. If I knew how to work it, I’d have finished this book by now.

In the work-in-progress, one of the characters asks another what he hopes to discover in a life-threatening pursuit.  

“Maybe it’s the last thing we are meant to know,” the askee answers.

Writing is like that.

In each work—in each day’s effort—is an end-point. A passage that sings, maybe. Or an emotional logic that is whole and round and complete. Or the point in a character’s life in which he/she discovers something exhaustingly right. In each instance, there is a point in which the passage can go no farther…at least, for now. In each is contained the last thing we are meant to know.

My taped nighttime readbacks are a seeking of that place. Such satisfactions have been hard to come by, lately: In reworking a continuum of previous segments I pretty much guaranteed that I would never want to hear the damned passages again. No readback there. But last night, in bed, by moonlight…the exercise of listening-as-a-stranger…a few hitches, yes, but a content and flow that found its resting place; that said “done for now.”

When I can lay the tape recorder down as I did last night and tell myself “Not bad”, I know I’m where I want to, need to, be.

Sometimes, even a passage-in-progress offers up elements of The Last Thing.

I am facing a section of terrifying difficulty right now. The inner experiencing of something so vast and cosmic, so spiritual, so much the fulfillment of the main character’s journey that I am scared even to think about it…deeply and literally fearful of the place the section will ask me to go.

I face it with commitment; a soul-deep belief in the realization that the character and I share. And I face it with questions. Does it have enough “science”? Have I seen this somewhere before? Is the sense of depth and reach nothing more than me deceiving myself? My head is a racket of questions. And when I can at last find the courage to descend into the writing-space, I have entered, as my favorite poem describes, “the silence that turns the silence off.”

When I am there…oh my. I have touched something eternal. I have found the Last Thing I am meant to know.

My friend Mary called as I was coming down from the high place. I was shaking—without a muscle’s movement. I fizzed and sparkled in my head. I was exhausted…the way one is when one unburdens herself of a heavy and wonderful weight. I chattered like a windup toy—I couldn’t help myself.

Not a manic moment, this. Not even close…and with no downside payback. This was an experience very like what a reader feels: the transport to another place. A very particular satisfaction. The spiritual climax that is, we hope, the last thing we are meant to know.

 

Woke yesterday morning in an extraordinary state of grace. A feeling…how do I describe this…as if I were in the presence of a rose, in the delicate, exquisite space between the sniff and the smell. As if cradled between hands.

A feeling, this was, in the aftermath of a sensual and loving dream. I felt the softness of the pillows; felt every place they touched me. Felt my own warmth returned to me, held in trust for me by my bedcovers. Felt a heightened sense of touch in my left hand, equal, for once, to my dominant right. Felt the cat breathing against me. Felt the quiet.

Not a one-ness with things…but a connectedness to them. The tactile gone spiritual.

This was one of those mornings that makes the writer reluctant to move, to speak loudly or place a foot wrong, afraid to send any sort of ripple through the fragile inner air…afraid to make notes, thinking that even the benign act of pen-to-paper would shred an atmosphere as fragile as a smoke ring.

I wanted to hold the moment, to save it. To write it. To give myself a soft, forgiving place that I could call up whenever I needed its comfort. To share the feeling through the pages of the book-in-progress. The sensation didn’t stay. And not even these meager words can describe what held me so kindly for so brief a time.

Gifts from the ether, these alien, beautiful moments? The brief surfacing of something already inside us? The aftermath of gracious dreams? A visitation of spirits? The breath of self-acceptance and forgiveness? I wish I knew. I do know that I felt the treasure fully for as long as it was mine, this gift of human-ness, this thing that was absolutely nothing else but what it was. I may never feel such a moment again. I’m not sure that I need to.

Just spent the morning at tasks in town; things I knew were coming. Driver’s license, provisions, hardware, cat food, seed for birds. No way around doing what needs doing. It keeps me from the writing. An absence that makes the heart grow impatient, not fonder.

Woke in the middle of the night, again. Thinking. Not the good thinking, this. Not the thinking that writers love. These were the occupations of a too-tired, too-busy mind.

In the may-as-well of the waking moments, I decided to combine the nature of sleeplessness with the nature of…well…nature. And there, the tiny miracle.

My friend, the sensitive, wonderful Glorious has spoken of seeing stuff here. Lights. Where no lights usually are. I’m not surprised.

My late (and decidedly un-crackpot) Mum used to see things here every once in a while, too. This place is infused with a spirit that comes up out of the ground; a spirit one could feel if one were blindfolded and deafened. Peace is built into this place, if one can take the time to feel it.

So, to last night. 3 ayem. A clouded and moonless sky. And outside of the bathroom window, white roses. Roses that glowed.  

Not a fluorescent tide glow. Not a ghostly emanation. Not neon. Or pulsing. Just a soft, contented white, brighter than a white rose had any right to be in the middle of the night. I can’t explain what made that optical effect. I don’t care to try. Seeing it was enough. A benediction of the house and the nature that surrounds it on a sleepless night; the assurance that all was well, that peace and the words will be there if patience will wait one minute longer.

The roses are past their prime. In daylight, in the rain, they are too blemished to cut. Last night, they were perfect. The souls of roses, a nod to my own.

Buried under boxes and excess furniture-flotsam that have not yet found their home in my home, the writing has gone on necessary hold for a bit. I can’t keep it at a distance for long—the writerly junkie in me won’t let me.

The end of each day leaves me too tired to do anything but stare at walls, too tired to move, too tired to sleep. In weary desperation, I can’t find myself in the miasma of my thoughts. Which is good, maybe….

…considering that the end of the book on temporary hold involves a merging into the nature of the Universe itself.

As a “study guide”, I am reading Brian Greene’s wonderful (and extraordinarily accessible)  book about physics-based theories of alternate universes, The Hidden Reality. Reading is slow-going for someone as tired as I am. I have already planted other seeds in my head, the other books that flavor my thoughts: Castaneda, Native American spirituality, The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, others. I take the understanding in small bits, the only way an exhausted mind can digest this deep-as-a-well thinking. And I detach, and let the thoughts soar.

Seeking, seeing, unknown worlds is a freeing exercise that lets the writer break free of the weary body.

Up until the end, my book belongs to the world of Here: emotion, betrayal and culturalized cruelty; the often-terminal pursuit of the physical senses that leads to something far greater. To find my way to the thing that has been tantalizingly glimpsed by never experienced, never understood until now has been a way of leaving my own often-difficult, earthbound reality behind. Imagining the extra-world is a delightful prospect. And a delightfully challenging one.

When the explorings come down to the hard truths of this particular execution, the writer is bound by nothing and by all things. To capture the Essential Everything on the printed page…well, it’s easier to catch the proverbial lightning in a bottle. To avoid turning the ending into an abrupt 2001-like break into the psycho-spiritual world…to base that dissolution in today’s theoretical ideas of what we’re made of…to make the arrival as exalted and meaningful as the journey itself has been…there is big jeopardy in the attempt, great peril in the execution.

There have been breathtaking moments, though…moments like the ones experienced under an intensely starry sky, humbled and awed by one’s insignificance, at one with the Stuff of It All. A fitting pursuit for an exhausted mind.

The writing of it will come when it asks to come. I will sit with it until I can’t keep myself at a remove from it any longer. Then I will shine. Or hope to. Like those stars I’ve been visiting.

Oh my.

The writer lives in long stretches of exhausting effort and heady moments of hope. Sometimes—much of the time—that projection of hope into an essentially indifferent world is like throwing one’s voice out into an empty room. The echoes in the emptiness are terrifying. And defeating.

But sometimes. Sometimes. Sometimes a comment will send you reeling with joy and gratitude. Sometimes a review will take your breath.

Both those things happened last night.

Got an email from Jo Bryant, multi-talented kiwi-Aussie, a woman who writes beautifully and may be even better as a photographer. She read the first part of The Spiritkeeper on its site, The Spiritkeeper.com, and read the rest when I sent it to her. She emailed me immediately upon finishing—once she could stop crying, she said. And last night, she sent me a review of it.

I wanted to share it with you….  Jo’s Review

The kindness of another person; the generosity; the incredible good fortune to realize that someone else has understood your work in precisely the way you intended it. How can one not be grateful? We write to be read. We speak in the most intimate voices of our hearts. And, as we do that, how lucky we are to have found a reader like this one!

I invite you to visit her site here: http://jobryantnz.wordpress.com/

When you write tight (I’m talking about the page, here, people, not the writer), there are only a certain number of places where a change will fit. sometimes you get lucky, sometimes it’s next to impossible.

I’m facing that now.

Each chapter must make as much emotional sense as plot sense, yes? And that’s where the problem arrives. If you’ve carefully structured the emotional arc of a chapter, any attempt to shoehorn-in a new tension will not be looked upon kindly by the rest of the chapter. Square pegs, round holes.

The good thing is that the search yields some valuable revelations. The chapter that has been laying on the page, well-written, singing in the tape-playback, still is reporting and not action (and again, I’m not talking about bang-bang, car-chase action, but the force that shows the development as well as reports it.)

I loved the chapter, but it didn’t move me. Spoke to me, but didn’t thrill me. Last night, in the search for “where does this go”, I figured that out—not the solution, exactly, but the problem, certainly. It will mean more work, more standing back from the canvas to see how the brush strokes must change. But that’s okay.

Hammers don’t make square pegs fit those holes. But effort will. I don’t really mind chipping away and chipping away and chipping away until the thing fits…because most often I’ll look back later and think “you actually wrote that?”, forgetting how much sweat and pain went into the result.

We are masochists, writers. We are fantasists. We are maladjusted idealists. We smile at the wrong things. We smile at nothing and weep at less. We are destroyers of worlds.

We are square pegs, writers. We are glad to be.

NOTE: I’m going to keep dropping reminders of those tasty sample chapters at the Spiritkeeper site, just in case it’s raining where you are this weekend, and you find yourself in need of an afternoon snack. Cheers.

In the excitement of discovery—of a new passage, a new plot-point, a nuance of character—it’s easy to forget, sometimes, how big a job actually waits ahead. The revelations of the weekend thrilled me when they happened. They still do. But now comes the hard part: the working-out.

I write tight (the story, not me, silly…). Which means that inserting those little tension builders that will help strengthen the plot isn’t anywhere near as easy as just sticking a new passage into the existing story somewhere.

An emotional logic rules the pages as well as the structure. The chapter sections have been built to a pace of heart as well as head. All those things that delighted me so much at their creation now have square edges that refuse to fit neatly into the created round holes. And now that the book itself is nearing 200 pages, reading back through the step-by-step logic is not as easy as it once was.

Enter the outline. Maybe it’ll be simpler to find the insertion point once all the filigree is stripped away? Sure. And maybe not. The tight writing doesn’t want to let me in.

Oh…and did I mention a sudden, overwhelming urge to second-guess myself at every turn? It’s a sorry place to be.

That’s where the plasticity of writing is a godsend. Try a little of this, a little of that. The thing will make sense of itself—eventually. But where flexibility giveth, time taketh away. Those necessary visits to the gym leave me about two hours to get things done…not anywhere near the time it takes to relax to the task. And not go to the gym? Sure. But not for too many days running, or one pays for it. One robs one pocket to feed the other. That’s the way of the word, for now.

Things will happen. Clarity will come. I will have that ahahhh moment, whether all at once or over time. But for now, my back is bent to the climb. The road has lengthened at my feet. And, damn, it’s uphill all the way.

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