Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Book of My Heart?

Okay, so I had something kind of freaky happen to me today, and I can't help wonder if it's a cosmic nudge.

A few months back, when brainstorming ideas for my second novel, I stumbled across an obscure non-fiction book about an historical event that totally blew me away. I had never heard of the event before and the book touched me very deeply, both spiritually and creatively (I'm going to be a little vague here, because I feel quite possessive of the idea! No offense, I hope...). I saw the perfect angle for turning it into a novel and the perfect character to carry the story. I was so enthused, eager to jump in and start writing. The opening sentence came to me fully formed and beautiful: "I envy those who close their eyes and find oblivion." I was certain this was to be what writers call "the book of my heart"--the book I am meant to write.

However.

When I considered the book from a commercial angle, I realized it would be a tough sell, both to publishers and to readers. The audience might not be as large as it would potentially be for some of my other ideas. There could be no major love interest, for reasons I can't disclose. Parts of the book would necessarily be very quiet and probably very challenging to write. When I ran the idea by my agent, she agreed. This is a third or fourth book, she told me, not a second. It's a book for a writer with an established audience that is willing to follow her when she takes risks and travels uncertain paths. It's not a SECOND book, the crucial-to-your-career, make-you-or-break-you, what-is-the-sell-through book that an author MUST write in today's market in order to have any sort of future. I knew she was right. Chin up, I packed away my notes and my vision, threw myself at some other, more commercial ideas, and not tried to think too often about The Book of My Heart.

I'd managed very well.

Until today.

Today I was at the playground, pushing my toddler in the swing, when an older woman pushing her grandchild in the swing next to us smiled. "I think we know each other," she said. She was right. Years ago, when my now towering teenager was the one in the swing, I'd started a mother's group at our church. The woman had been involved in that, and we'd participated in other parish activities through the years. I hadn't seen her in a long time, and she of course, didn't think a woman pushing a two-year old could possibly be me. (Ha!) We chatted for a bit, then, out of the blue, she mentioned it.

The book that started it all.

The obscure, I-had-to-request-it-from-interlibrary-loan, probably-only-three-other-people-in-the entire-world-have-read-it
non-fiction book that begs me to turn it into a novel.

I almost dropped dead from surprise right there.

What are the odds of that being her favorite book of all time? Of us encountering each other at an otherwise empty park after all these years? Of her mentioning the book in the course of a casual, ten-minute conversation?

I can't help but think there's a message here. Am I supposed to be working on that book and not Fontainebleau? Should I ignore market dictates and write the book that speaks to me most? Should I work on both books at the same time? Or is it simply a reminder that that book, the book I feel destined to write, is patiently waiting. Waiting for me to establish myself as a published author; waiting until my skills are developed enough to do it justice; waiting until the market is ready to embrace a book of its type.

"Don't forget me," the Book of My Heart told me through this woman. "Don't chase money and fame and forget that maybe I'm why you became a writer."

"I won't forget," I vowed, fighting the urge to pick up my notes again as soon as I got home.

I only hope I know when the time is right to make good on my promise.

What do you think?

15 comments:

Jennifer said...

Hi Julianne --

I think that is absolutely phenomenal and synchronistic and spiritual and has destiny written all over it. Can you tell I really, really believe in this kind of stuff?

I sure can't advise you regarding the wisdom of what to write next. Your agent is in the best position to do that, and it sounds like she has.

Any chance you can try writing two books at once?

Whatever you decide, it's obvious this idea is somehow meant to be for you. It's very possible that today was meant simply as a not so subtle reminder, lest you should forget. Won't it be fun for you to keep watch for other ways this idea pops up out of the blue?

I look forward to hearing how this all plays out!

Oh, and I think it's kind of synchronistic that I should hop over to your blog on a day when I enjoyed some of my own synchronisity and discover that you've written all about yours :-)

Cinderella said...

I definitely think there is significance to events like that. And in my experience, it's a mistake not to write exactly what you want to write, because you risk writer's block if you write for other people instead of for yourself. Success is important, but happiness is much more important.

Sheramy said...

What a neat story, and if that's not a sign of some sort, I don't know what is! It is, unfortunately, a reality that one must consider 'marketability' -- BUT that can't stop you from working on this other project in tandem with the one your agent thinks should be the sophomore book.

"Book of my heart." I love that phrase. I've never heard it before.

MM said...

Whenever I need to make a big decision I ask myself two questions.

"What do I want?" and "What am I afraid of?" After I HONESTLY answer those questions I can make a decision.

They may sound like very easy questions, but they're not because the answers can be both tangible and intangible. At different times in my life the tangibles are more important and other times the intangibles rule the decision making process

Susan Adrian said...

That's tough. I'd be tempted to go with what Cinderella said, though. If you're writing something because you hope it'll sell better, but it's not what YOU love most...readers can tell that. Maybe you can twist it up, make it not quite as "challenging"?

Julianne Douglas said...

You've all given me such good advice!

First, though, let me clarify that I'm NOT working on the novel I'm calling FB (Fontainebleau) only because I think it will sell. I am very excited about the story and will bring to it all the enthusiasm and dedication that I brought to TMOS. It's definitely not a question of writing something just because of its commercial potential. I came up with several ideas on my own, all of which I loved, and my agent and I discussed which ones might have a better chance of making it in today's market. And she left the ultimate choice up to me. I'm sure if I told her my heart was set on the book I talk about in the post, she'd be okay with it, especially if I gave her a killer manuscript!

MM in her comment speaks about fear, and I think that's partially why I shelved Heart Book so readily. The idea speaks to me so profoundly and I want it to be such an amazing book that I think I'm scared to try to write it. I do feel that having one more novel under my belt before I attempt it could only be a good thing (after all, TMOS is the first novel I've ever written). I'm content with saving HB for the future. I was just struck by all the coincidences yesterday (It gets even weirder--
last night, I picked up a file of papers that had nothing to do with writing, and out of it fell a list of characters and some notes I had made for Heart Book...Can you hear the eerie music playing in the background?).

I'll definitely keep Heart Book in mind as I work on FB. I don't have the time or mental space to work full out on two books simultaneously, but at least I can keep it bubbling on the back burner. It takes place during an era that I don't know all that much about, so it will take a lot of research that I'm just not in the position to do right now. I'm not about to abandon Francois and his court, but during those odd moments when I'm stuck in traffic or sitting by my toddler's bedside at four in the morning, I can ponder the story and let the characters speak to me. Then, when the time is right, I will be able to write the book of my dreams.

Catherine Delors said...

This mysterious and persistent Heart Book of yours demands so strongly to be written, you will bring it to fruition, no doubt about it.

I can't wait to know more about it... All right, you said it wasn't the Renaissance. Is is still France?

Julianne Douglas said...

It is still France, Catherine, but I'm not ready to share more than that! ;)

I do wonder, sometimes, where I would set books if not France. Being an academic and thinking I need to research things to death before I feel competent talking about them, I cringe at the amount of time it would take to get up to speed on another country. One of my ideas does deal with the Middle East, a la Dunnett, so maybe that's in the future. And I do like colonial America or Canada. Sometimes I think early California would be interesting, too, and I wouldn't have to travel to do research! Do you think you'll ever set anything outside France?

Hmmm, a topic for another post...

Anonymous said...

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven"
Trying to remember the whole quote I put the start in google and found it on a site called "fleurdelis.somthing or other" Hear the funny music again? I've seen you in action and you're amazing a switching gears, I'm thinking write what you've started because leaving that half done will bug you! and as I have a funny feeling more things will come up, Dabble with pieces and parts of the HB as it comes to you, it will you know. I'm excited for you to feel that inspired!!! Write strong!
Renee

Michelle Moran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle Moran said...

I have my own very dear Book of My Heart and even the crazy karmic stories that go with it. I've decided to keep it for books 5 or 6 (crossing fingers that they will come).

Until then, I cross even more fingers (and toes) and pray no one else writes it before I can (is that selfish? I hope not!)!

Julianne Douglas said...

Michelle, I'll be eighty years old if I wait until books 5 or 6! :)

And I totally understand your nervousness about someone else getting there first! But, if the crazy karmic stories are any indication, these Heart Books are reserved just for us. ;)

Julianne Douglas said...

Renee, thanks for the encouragement! You know how amazing it is that I ever finished TMOS. If the Book of My Heart is meant to be, it will come at the proper time.

Catherine Delors said...

Maybe it's just me, but I am not nervous about another writer "getting there first." I see it as quite the reverse, in fact. A prior novel may spark interest in the place, period and event you are writing about.

Look at what is happening with Tudor fiction. It may look like wall-to-wall coverage of piggy-eyed Henry VIII and his bevy of wives, and yet the novels keep coming, and selling.

To answer your question, Julianne, my own Heart Book would take place not only in France, but also in Moorish Spain, Germany and Italy. And all of the writings left by my protagonist are in Latin, so I would have to refresh my school memories in that regard. A very ambitious project.

Like yours, this book is premature at this point in my writing career. I simply draw blank stares whenever I mention it. In the meantime I have a couple of historical thrillers in me, one of them completed, and the other screaming to be written. Then maybe my readers will be willing to follow me to where angels (and publishers) fear to tread.

Michelle Moran said...

Great point about Tudor fiction, Catherine. Sometimes I wonder, will it ever stop? Where will the end be? Just when I think it's completely tapped out, three more books come along!!

I hope you're right. I'd weep tears of blood if I saw my Heart Book on the shelf by another writer. But then, maybe that is the consequence for not following your heart, huh? And going commercial.

And Julianne, you would not be 80!!! HAH! Books 5 and 6 will come sooner than you think ;]