Open Sesame!

I had lunch with a friend today, and she asked if I was writing anything, so I told her the story of my grieving woman, one of the two moribund works I’ve been slowly resurrecting.

It was gratifying to see her rapt face as the story unfolded, and her attention gave me a boost of ambition to finish the story. To be honest, though, I don’t need the boost — I’ve been enjoying working/playing with the manuscript.

I say working/playing, because it isn’t work — work connotes toil and energy expended with perhaps a monetary reward at the end, and though I have been working on the book, it hasn’t been work. More like puzzle play. I wrote many of the scenes a few months after my life mate/soul mate died, attempting to deal with my grief and record the pain before I NaNoWinnerforgot some of the particulars. It’s been long enough now that the pain is mostly a faint and bewildering memory, so working on the book, even the agonizing scenes, isn’t a hardship.

I started the novel as a NaNoWriMo project to see if I could meet the challenge of 50,000 words in a month. Despite being a slow writer, I did complete the required number of words, though to do so, each day I had to write whatever scene came to mind. I have a stack of scenes that have to be put into some sort of order before I do the difficult scenes, the fill-in sections, the transitions, the descriptions — all the parts that are hard for me to write but need to be included. That could take a while, since I only have about 40,000 words, which falls short of a full novel.

Now, however, I am typing up what I’ve written and trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. For example, I have a flashback scene that shows her dying husband laboriously filling page after page with what looks like his daughter’s name, and he keeps talking about his “sesame.” (Like my life mate/soul mate, the poor guy is not able to find the correct words to say what he means.)

In another scene, my grieving woman checks his computer to see if she can find his estranged mother’s address so she can notify her of her son’s death, and she comes across a file labeled “journal.” She clicks on the file, curious, because she’d never known him to keep a journal, and finds it password protected. Though she tries all the passwords she’s known him to use, she can’t open the file.

Now here’s the problem — which scene should come first? The sesame flashback or the journal scene? “Sesame” of course, is short for “open sesame,” which is what his poor cancer-addled brain is calling a password, though she doesn’t know that. If the sesame flashback came first, would it be obvious when the journal scene comes around that he’d been trying to figure out the password? If the journal scene comes first, would it be obvious when the sesame flashback comes around that he’d been trying to figure out the password?

Oh, that all my problems should be so insignificantly significant!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Embracing the Play of Writing

I watched Talent for the Game the other day, and one of the points made in the movie was that baseball is big business. It seemed ironic to me that in our world play becomes business, and business, such as the business of writing, becomes play. (Most writers nowadays write for the love of writing, with always the dream of making a living at it as a goal, a dream that is slowly being eroded by the sheer masses of books, especially ebooks, on the market, so for most writers, the business has become play.)

Then it dawned on me that maybe writing, like baseball, has always been about play. Sure, both fields have their mega stars who make most of the money, but still, there are sandlot games and town leagues (mostly those leagues are softball, but let’s not let technicalities get in the way of a great analogy). Generally, anyone who wants to play baseball or softball can, but not everyone baseballmanages to turn the fun into profit. Writing is much the same. Anyone who wants to play can, but only a very small percentage ever makes a living at it.

I know people who won’t watch professional sports because they say the pros play for money and not for fun, that the players don’t seem to enjoy themselves, which takes the joy out of the game. In the same way, some of the major authors, the ones who are best at the business of writing, write the worst books. Obviously, most people don’t agree with me since they snatch the books up as soon as a new one comes on the market, but for me, after more than two or three books in a series, the authors lose their sense of play, and the books lose their luster.

Like baseball, writing is an inherently frivolous pursuit, made important only because of our frivolous lives. Okay, maybe our lives aren’t frivolous, but most of us don’t spend our days out in the wilderness gathering nuts and berries, hunting for meat to put on the table, chopping wood to keep warm, finding cover when it snows or rains. Writing in itself can’t do any of that, but wouldn’t it be nice if it could? I’d write a feast for us all, where we could come together and enjoy good food and good company at only the cost of a few words.

And no, I’m not advocating we junk civilization and go back to primitive times. I’m not much for the outdoors (except for walking) and frankly, I prefer indoor plumbing. But you have to admit, no matter how you look at it, writing is not a serious activity. It’s about making believe. Playing dolls and building worlds. We use words instead of toys, but basically, it’s the same thing.

Maybe we’ve been looking at writing all wrong. Maybe instead of celebrating the folk who embrace the business of writing, we should be celebrating those who embrace the play of it.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.