Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Great American Book Tour: Week 8, Installment 5

For my two events in western New York State – Joe Hoffman’s excellent indie bookstore in Brockport, Lift Bridge Books, on April 26, and Hallwell’s downtown arts center, with Jon Welch’s renowned Talking Leaves Books, on April 27, in Buffalo – I decided to stay in Batavia, about mid-way between Buffalo and Brockport.

A few years ago, Batavia’s “Three Counties, One Book” program kindly selected my novel Northern Borders as their community pick, and invited me to speak at schools and libraries in their beautiful, upstate farming country. Coincidentally – or otherwise – Batavia is where, in the fall of 2001, returning home from a West Coast book tour, I had one of the strangest – and best – experiences of my life. Just before dawn, as I headed east on the New York State Thruway, an image flashed through my mind of a little boy, looking out of an upper window of a Vermont farmhouse at a man in the moonlight, smoking a cigarette and leaning against the barn door. The stranger was wearing a Red Sox cap, and looked somewhat like the great Sox outfielder Ted Williams. The image came and went in less than a second, but I immediately got off the interstate, went into a McDonald’s in Batavia – and proceeded to outline the major scenes of my 2004 baseball novel, Waiting for Teddy Williams.

Go figure, right? Probably I’d been thinking about the story, in the back of my mind, for years and years. Even so, it was a wondrous occurrence. Nothing like it had ever happened to me before or since – until, that is, last week.

This time, approaching the Batavia exit on the Thruway, I’d been consciously thinking about the best way to tell a story that’s haunted me for decades. Suddenly, in my imagination, I clearly heard a voice that sounded something like my own say, “The simplest approach is always best.”

Well. While I will readily concede that, like many another writer, I have spent my entire adult life dreaming up crazy stories (Disappearances springs to mind as Exhibit A), I’m not given to hearing voices. What was this all about?

Once again, I don’t have the faintest idea. All I know is that, over the next forty hours, in addition to doing my events in Brockport and Buffalo, I rewrote a dozen or so scenes from my new novel-in-progress from the simplest narrative perspective and felt – correctly or otherwise; we’ll see – that I’d found the heart of the story.

This much is clear to me. Writing, like any creative endeavor – for some reason, teaching also comes to mind though I taught for only a few years – is a very mysterious process. I suppose the same is true of any work that we do for the love of it. I just wish those mysterious “moments,” wherever they come from, would occur more frequently than once or twice in a lifetime.

Tune in next time for a portrait of a bookseller’s bookseller, in a place where you might not expect to find any bookseller at all.

1 comment:

elainew said...

I have your book Fall of the Year which is wonderful.this was given to me by an actor I knew in Eastbourne,UK in it signed dec.22,99 'For Jonathan (Swift) who will, i am sure, soon be... etc. signed Howard Frank Mosher. I lost touch with him and I wonder if you remember this gentleman at all.