I’m at a cabin deep in the Canadian Shield, twenty feet from the shore of Lake Superior. Not an official Writer’s Retreat, not like the one we did in February (also on Superior’s shores, but opposite direction). That one was concerted, dedicated, productive. Five writers pulling monastic duty to create, edit, revise, brainstorm. No, this time it’s different. Just two of us, Jean E. Pendziwol and me.
Ah, chipmunks now, rebuking someone or something. They chatter like popcorn.
We’re both at a crossroads and we’ve set aside this time to make some decisions. Jeannie writes children’s stories, some funny, most poignant, all lyrical. Her latest work, ONCE UPON A NORTHERN NIGHT, was short-listed for the Governor General’s Award (which is a big deal in Canada) and her books are frequently on the best-seller lists of children’s books (also a big deal in Canada.) She has set herself a huge task – that of writing a novel, and her decision this weekend is whether to finish it or not. To overcome the hurdles of being an award-winning author in one niche and step onto the unknown soil of another. To lay aside her inner dictator and let the novel write itself and if not, to be okay with that outcome. Novels, it seems, are tricky beasts to tame.
A hawk now, his cry ringing like small stones on metal.
For me, it is a time of regrouping. I’ve just finished 2nd draft of COLD STONE & IVY 2: The Crown Prince and am mentally exhausted. Novels are also hungry beasts and there is nothing left of me other than editorial skin and emotional bone. It’s a strange place for me – empty, lost and devoid of story. I have a very busy life with an active family but when I’m writing, there is a part of me that is just ‘not there.’ There’s always another conversation going on in my head; there’s plotting and planning and scraps of dialogue that need to get onto paper (or laptop) as soon as my busy life will allow. But now, those voices are quiet and I don’t know what to do with the lack of sound.
Across the lake, an arrowhead of geese heading first to Southern Ontario then New York, then most likely Virginia to winter. They are taking the leaves with them.
Do I start the final chapter in CS&I? It would be a good idea, especially since I’ve just finished the second and the characters are fresh, the plot taking shape, and publishers circling like contented trout, nibbling, tasting but not biting yet. Or do I start something different, a diversion. A romance? (The Virtues of Dunn Eden) A mid-grade mystery series? (The Steam Team) A‘Remington Steele’-esque detective thriller? (Locke and Keyes) What about picking up BONES IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON? The Upper Kingdom occupies such a different room in my mind palace. In fact, it has its very own wing. Kirin would be pleased.
The wind has picked up on the lake now. Superior is so big, it is really a freshwater sea and the waves crash against the rocky shore like breathing.
In a few hours, we’ll crack out the wine and discuss what we’ve learned; if we’ve learned; what we’ve decided. It’s not life or death and in fact, it’s a blessing to be able to have this time away to take stock and think. Few people can do that, especially in a place this staggeringly beautiful and wild. The leaves are just beginning to turn but the air is cold. The bears are hungry, the moose are rutting. Winter is coming and here, in the north, that is not a meme. That is a harsh reality. Things die during our winters and yet, we stay. Tough birds, the lot of us. Still, we dream of summer.
The fire roars now, throwing sparks across the tile floor and I scramble to push the logs deeper in. Keeping it contained. Keeping it safe. There’s no Wifi, there’s no TV, not even a radio. Just the sound of the world and our keyboards and the fire. It’s a perfectly blank canvas, just us against the elements. Or maybe with the elements and you know how Kerris is with the elements. Bending them, shaping them just enough to keep us alive. If we fail, at least we died writing, which is not a bad thing. But I’d like to live just a little longer, if only for the sake of the stories.
The crow has flown across the window and is sitting in a tree branch, laughing. I’m glad he’s not a raven. The allegory would be too much for me. So we sit and tap our keyboards and wrestle with our decisions and stoke the fire as night wraps us in her cold blanket. We wait for the wine, or the morning and we’re okay with the waiting. When there are usually so many voices, the sound of silence is a terrifying, challenging, beautiful thing.
In fact, it’s deafening.