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.
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.
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?