Saturday, August 3, 2013

You Really Need to Read this Book

In DARKTOWN BLUES-- the novel I just completed & am now revising-- I had to teach myself (with the help of wonderful mentors) how to navigate my way through a darkroom as well as through a jazz improvisation, how to run a restaurant & sue City Hall, and how to deal with a drive-by shooting & make a love spell.  

In the past few years I've written stories & novels about magic, cults, mythological Sirens, shape-shifters, blues guitarists, photographers, eminent domain, jazz, & the importance of cinnamon ... among other things I clearly needed to know.

Wonderful science fiction writer, Connie Willis, says, "I think that under the book you’ve written, you’re teaching yourself.  You are your best reader.  You are the one who really needs to read this book.  Because you are trying to figure out things that you haven’t been able to figure out."

I can't explain why I probed my way through old blues recordings, searching for a clue to a mystery that had no guideposts, suspects, or solution. YET. But like a detective, I knew the instant I found it: an old song called "Darktown Strutters Ball," recorded by Fats Domino,  among others. I didn't know where it was going or why it meant anything to me, but I filed it away with clues that were slowly gathering. And then one evening I went to a crazy little restaurant that served Russian food yet had a belly dancer, a forlorn woman in her seventies, who tried to wiggle to a mournful Russian dirge. When my husband & I left the restaurant, & I saw the belly dancer outside, cigarette in the corner of her mouth, waiting for the bus, I grabbed my husband's arm. Tingling with excitement, I mumbled something incoherent about clues, Russian belly dancers, & a strutters ball. 

"Good," he said with a smile. He's been with me long enough to know what was happening. 

I don't know how long it took between those first clues & the later ones, when the pieces of the puzzle began to come together in an unwieldy mass that would become a novel. It's a miracle & a mystery, & I've given up trying to solve it. Especially because during the revision process I realize I'm still in the process of finding clues to the mystery of why I wrote this book, & not another. 

By the way, neither "Darktown Strutters Ball" nor Russian belly dancers appear in the novel, but ... wait a minute, there is a 61 year-old belly dancer, though she isn't Russian, & a song that might be called, "Darktown Blues." 

All I can do is follow the "sparks" & clues wherever they lead. I sense new ones on the horizon, beckoning me toward the next book. If I told you how weird & random they are, you'd think I was ... well, you know. But I promise you there's something connecting them. I just haven't discovered it yet.


Prashanta Chhetri said...

Gathering the puzzle pieces...

Ruth Knafo Setton said...

That's exactly how it feels, Prashanta!