Life Really Is a Bowl of Cherries
The title of this post is a riff on the name of an award-winning essay collection written by legendary humorist Erma Bombeck:
It was brought to mind by several rough days on the creative front. I woke early last Thursday morning, made my coffee, and settled in to sip while perusing recent deals in Publishers Marketplace. This one was right at the top of the daily email list:
An awkward socialite gets more than she bargained for in her new roommate and the sparks that fly between them, risking their hearts and the wrath of a porn empire after they launch a website focused on women's pleasure.
My stomach plummeted to my toes, and the chill pre-dawn air caught in my chest. I recognized immediately undeniable similarities between this debut novel’s premise and the one I’ve been working with for six years in DIRTY.
My first conscious thought, once the initial visceral reactions subsided, was yet another somatic solution—I should cry. But I didn’t; I couldn’t muster tears. Instead, I felt relief wash in waves throughout my body. I sat with that sensation for a few minutes. Then I spoke to myself calmly, yet firmly, telling myself the following: I dragged my feet and took my time with a high-concept idea. Someone else was bound to strike the same sparks that made this story smolder for me and fan them into flames. To be honest, I had an inkling this might happen, which is why I’d been checking these announcements every morning for months, holding my breath.
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert describes a situation in which she gave short shrift to an idea for a novel, so it left her and took up residence in fellow author Ann Patchett’s more receptive imagination. The resulting book, State of Wonder, in addition to sharing Midwestern and Amazonian settings, features what the two women describe as an eerily familiar protagonist negotiating a strikingly similar storyline. Gilbert writes of this phenomenon:
“Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. [When an idea] finally realizes that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.”
Now that I am past the inevitable period of mourning and have raised a well-deserved glass (or two) to my heroines, Nora and Katie, I actually feel grateful and free. I can with clear conscience set DIRTY aside and concentrate on my latest project, INCENDIARY, which is where my heart and head are these days anyway. This will be my third manuscript, so I've done more than my requisite “one for the drawer!” I can bring everything I’ve learned about the craft of storytelling in the intervening years to bear on my new endeavor. I am a stronger writer—and person—for having had this experience.
So life really is a bowl of cherries...there are pits, to be sure, but they are seeds that, if nurtured, will bear rich, sweet fruit.