Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Second Thoughts

Choosing a subject for a novel is huge fun, especially if you are writing historical fiction. You shop. You try on different times, places, lives, milieux. There are questions. Do I want to deal with corsets? The piano or the harpsichord? Railroads? Wooden teeth? Indoor plumbing? The telephone or the pony express? Considering that I write novels that are in a huge part epistolary, communication makes an enormous difference to what story I write. Roaming around from century to century I can drift through the Roman Empire on my way to the court of Louis XVI and then wander through Czarist Russia just for fun. I have no idea why I am drawn to certain subjects over others. Why when I love the sun, the sea and bare feet I would rather write about rain, snow and red, cold noses. Some things just fit.

But a decision must be reached. So, I impose a totally random deadline to forestall perpetual meandering. (That makes it sound so clean and precise when in fact it is an unwieldy and totally messy process.) The witching hour arrives and the subject crystallizes into fact. Done.

And then come the armies of second thoughts. The 'is this right?', 'no, of course it isn't, don't be absurd' type of second thought launches a frontal assault. Yuck.

Choosing a subject is much like choosing a house or car or really expensive pair of shoes (you know you'd better wear them forever to justify the outrageous price tag). You move in. You meet new people, wear new hats, shop in a new grocery store, use new soap and shampoo, wear new clothes, eat new food, feed new pets, grow new flowers. Well, grow some flowers, unlike my real life where I grow no flowers. Most of your day is spent in this new time and place; either writing about it, reading about it or thinking about it. It is wonderful. It is also easy to doubt and to look around with envy at other times and places. If I had written about 19th century India, I would be riding elephants after lunch type of thinking. Not good.

And then I get further along in my new life. The people become familiar. I know them by their walk. They no longer knock on the front door but come barging in. And then I fall in love with them.


  1. FASCINATING! Thanks for the insight! What did you end up choosing for the second book? What did you reject?

  2. im so happy that you write!!!!!
    thanks for sharing your gifts

  3. thank you! that makes me so happy!


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