In 2010, I celebrated my 60th birthday by taking the recently completed manuscript of my first novel to the San Miguel Writers Conference. I’d entered their novel contest and won. My prize was to meet with an agent, which turned out to be an utterly forgettable experience, and then
dine with the conference keynote speaker. That speaker was the author, Barbara Kingsolver, and I will never forget that evening. I not only got to know her and her family a little, and hear about her experience living with her family on their land in North Carolina which she later described in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but her tutorial on the how books begin, informed my own writing practice forever. From her keynote:
A novel begins the way a forest begins. One acorn drops in the mud and it starts to grow. Nearby another acorn drops only this one falls in the creek, and it washes away, or maybe it gets eaten by a wild pig. Who knows. And then a mesquite bean drops or a memsanita. And also a 1000 weed seeds drop right in the same mud alongside the acorn, and those may grow up and crowd out the oaks, or maybe the other way around. Nobody’s sure, least of all the author. All I can really do—and this is a process that goes on for years— All I can do is pay attention to what is growing and pull a lot of the weeds.. and at some point I will declare, “Look at that. This is starting to become a forest.” I will take over from here and from this point [the novel] is really mine.
I believe we should expect from literature immense complexity. When we enter a novel, we should walk into it like a forest- and stand in that vast quiet place and inhale all those fragrances and understand that we are in the presence of other lives. It should be a timeless place where we can experience magnificence and also be alone with ourselves and our own thoughts and we should want to go back there again and again.
I have come back to her words, and her books, again and again. Since I met her in Mexico, Even in Darkness was published and received well, and I now am book touring with my second novel, Hard Cider. Imagine my immense pleasure when I entered the bookstore in Portland, Oregon where I participated on an author panel, and found my book prominently displayed on a ‘featured books’ shelf right next to Barbara Kingsolver’s new release! A wonderful full circle.