“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Road Trips to Asheville & finding a new path . . . that sums up the first part of my week!
I took a road trip this week. I didn’t end up in Charlotte as had been originally planned. It’s a long story. I spent two nights & three days in Asheville (and made a pit stop in Hendersonville). It was a really great few days away. But it was nothing like I planned or expected.
I stayed at the Log Cabin Motor Court – between Asheville and Weaverville. The Log Cabin Motor Court is a National Historic Landmark – originally opened in 1917. If I remember correctly, the cabins were built in the 1930s. These rustic cabins were a delight and if I go again, I might want to stay in one of the cabins with a kitchen. I previously stayed at the property next door (The Pines Cottages) and ADORE that place too, by the way.
Though my intention had been to spend Tuesday sight seeing & eating out at some restaurants I’ve been looking forward to trying, turns out I didn’t feel so great. But that ended up being a good thing. I rested in the cabin, wrote (more on that later) and napped. I didn’t turn on the TV or music (the entire time). It rained and it was a glorious nap – one of the best I’ve had in ages. 🙂 I didn’t eat out a single time. WHAT? That’s nuts. I literally ate what I could eat from my little log cabin. It was perfect.
On Tuesday evening, I headed to UNC Asheville for the book launch of Sarah Addison Allen‘s latest book, Other Birds. Sarah is one of my favorite authors. This is her first book in 7 years and I’m thrilled she’s back! If you want a chance to win her book (not an autographed copy), you can enter a contest, here. Sarah’s writing is (though I don’t write magical realism) the kind of writing I aspire to. The way she writes the settings of her books is one such example. Her settings become a character themselves. I’m sure the “Dellawisp” is too. I’m looking forward to reading it this weekend (I started it before driving home yesterday).
The event, “Sarah Addison Allen in conversation with Wiley Cash” was a joy to be at. I was surrounded by huge Allen fans – who were just as happy as I was, to be there. Wiley Cash, who teaches fiction and literature at UNC Asheville, is now on my “TBR list” too. I look forward to checking out his books, too. He was hilarious by the way. I had a really wonderful night.
On my drive up to the mountains, I began to re-work my now finished novel “A Thousand Years.” As I drove and the closer I got to the mountains (where the book is set), the more clear it became – I had much to slash and re-write from this book. So much so that by the time I got to the event on Tuesday evening, the book didn’t even have the same name. I don’t know what it will be called, but it’s not “A Thousand Years.” My protagonist is the same, the name of her love interest may remain the same but it’s an entirely new character. The town remains the same – but much else has and will be different. I am 100% certain of this and I’m entirely confident in the new direction. So much so that while I was away (and last night before going to bed) I wrote more than I have in quite some time.
On Wednesday, I checked out of my cabin drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway, spent some time there, had a picnic at Craggy Gardens Picnic area and then made a pit stop in Hendersonville, before driving home. If I move, west may be best – for me. Western Carolina definitely seems more my speed. While I was up on the parkway, it was 62 glorious degrees. It made me long for autumn.
On my drive home, I stopped in Hendersonville, at Justus Orchard. It’s a lovely little spot. If you’re in or visiting NC, it’s a great stop if you’re in the mountains. They have some activities for the kids, goats, u-pick apples, a small store, and their famous apple cider donuts. The cider was delicious by the way. I’m looking forward to eating my honeycrisp apples!
This trip was definitely needed, restful, and honestly – enlightening. I had no idea that what came from these few days away is what would happen during this trip. It was a gift, in many ways. While I’d expected to interview for a job and consider a move, it became something else entirely. The writing boost was the icing on the cake.
Sometime this weekend, I want to share a few of the things Sarah Addison Allen shared in her talk – including the answers to one of my questions. For now, it’s time to sign off and prepare for a long weekend of reading (Other Birds, of course) and writing. I hope you’ve had a great week so far.
I don’t live near the sea anymore. I thought I would miss it – but the mountains of North Carolina have taken up residence in my heart. I was raised beside the wild Pacific, on a ranch and vineyard, one of only a few along that shoreline, nestled into the mountains and hills of the Big Sur coastline. The coastal landscape along the winding Highway 1 is at once stunning and agonizingly lonely. It’s melancholy – like me. Giant Redwoods tower above you on one side and then within a few steps, cacti and wild California brush co-mingle with an intoxicating scent that you get to enjoy when it rains – or when the landscape is warmed on summer days.
It was there, on those lonely hills, that my life became both deeply painful and shockingly beautiful. When I left California, nearly seven years ago now, I did so with little more than a weekend trip to the mountains of North Carolina to decide it was what was next for us. I knew very little about the place that would be come home to Jackson and I.
I put aside my novel, A Thousand Years, for a while. But I may have found a good way ahead for a novel that was floundering. It’s still a lot of work and a major rewrite. So much so that I’m contemplating making part of the wall in my dining room (that’s really just an office and a place for the dog to sleep her life away), into a plot wall. I have no idea how I’ll make this work, but in my head, it’s something like this . . .
But I’m thinking character’s names, important dates, scenes, etc. and then plugging in and moving around as need be. In part, this novel is two distinct stories – and that’s where it got weird and confusing. I wanted to get the thing written. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t fit the entirety of this story into one novel. It just didn’t want to work with me. What I’m saying is . . . it had a mind of its own.
If I’m honest, this “novel” should probably be written as a script. Except I have no clue what I’m doing in that regard. I have never attempted, nor do I know where to start, when it comes to writing a script. Two of my favorite writers, directors, and show runners – are the two men above (Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof). What they did with LOST – in terms of the characters, is and always will be inspiring to me. While I loved the storyline, that faithful viewers followed throughout its 6 seasons, it is actually the characters themselves that I grew to love more than the plot.
I didn’t care about all of the explanations about the weird things that happened on the island as much as I cared about the character’s journeys. They were weird, complicated, beautiful, and sometimes, really bad people. It was hard, at many points, to determine whether you hated or loved a character. Or maybe hated is too strong a word. Either way – they were complicated. A character like Sayid Jarrah, for instance, was terribly hard to figure out. He was a torturer – literally. Yet, he was deeply burdened by his past life – regretting all of it. He also found it much easier to slip back into his old ways when the need would arise. But I digress. The point was, I loved Sayid. But it wasn’t always easy to love him. Sawyer is another example. He was deeply, deeply flawed. He pushed everyone away and seemed, at times, to happily convince others to hate him. Yet, we learned throughout the show, what started him on this path. And that made all of the difference in the world in how you viewed him.
I love writers and directors who can tell stories like that – stories that make you love the characters in spite of their flaws, that is. All along, A Thousand Years, was a novel about family. The problem is, I started too far along into the story. Birdie Langston’s story didn’t start where I started writing the novel. It went way back. Way, way back. That became apparent quite quickly. Birdie (the protagonist) was trying to get through to me the whole time. I listen well. Except when it comes to writing. Sometimes I get something in my head and don’t see around the original vision, even when a bigger story is taking shape.
I’m now rambling on – but while I’m on my tangent – let’s talk about LOST again and how characters take on a life of their own. Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof could certainly clear this up for me, but there are times I wonder if two of the LOST characters were intended to become who & what they became (when the show runners began working together). Those two characters are Desmond & Penny. They played pivotal roles, in the development of LOST overall, in my opinion. But I’m not 100% convinced it was always meant to be that way. Or perhaps I should say, I’m not certain they started out this way. And yet, in spite of that, the two are among my favorites. They also happen to be the stars of my favorite moment of all six seasons of LOST. It’s hands down my favorite. There’s no way to explain what brought these two to this moment, so I won’t even try. But it is, without fail, the moment that always, always gives me chills. I have seen it dozens and dozens of times and it still gives me chills at exactly the same moments, literally every time. Penny is Desmond’s “constant.” And man, this was an incredible TV moment. It’s romantic, beautiful, and a bit of encouragement – for all of us hoping that rescue was somewhere on the horizon.
If I’m wrong, and Penny & Desmond were in the plan from day one – to always have this moment (that would usher in a whole new direction for the show) – it only drives home for me how important it is for the writer to take a backseat. A story that wants to be told should be indulged. Even if it takes you to Scotland, England, and a freighter in the middle of the ocean – way out of the action on the island.
And so, I’m back. But the clock is being reset and the story is starting somewhere else – in another day and time. It starts with the family that raised Birdie and the soil they love, the hard work that made them, and the determination – that created the woman that Birdie would eventually become.
November is National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). I’ve been a NaNoWriMo participant since 2009. But until last year, I never actually finished a project. In 2020, at one of the wildest times for me professionally, I wrote a 51,640 word novel. The words poured out of me. The novel, A Thousand Years, has been varying states of editing for 11 months. I start in on re-write and it doesn’t feel quite right and I start over. It has been weird. I love the story. But it has changed dramatically from what I started writing in 2020.
As I gear up for NaNoWriMo 2021, I have a decision to make (real quick like). Do I focus in on a final draft of A Thousand Years, or do I write Sea Glass Hearts (which I’ve started)? I also have another book – still untitled, about a character named Lacey James that desperately needs to be written. I have until Monday to decide. I thought tonight I’d play around a little with all three and see if my muse catches fire. He’s finicky. So . . . eh, we’ll see what happens.