Writing the Life of a Novel

They had a dream of a simpler life in Michigan’s northern woods after years in upper class Boston. But Sophia Swanson, a dancer for thirty years, cannot dance or even speak now. Thomas, a renowned biologist and her husband, pursues her relentlessly although he mysteriously drowned. And Mia, their adolescent daughter, tries to reconstruct her life far away with relatives, bit by salvaged bit. Keeping watch over everything is Daedalus, a Husky-German Shepherd mix who lives in the woods with Sophia. A year after the drowning, famous photojournalist Calvin Rutgers returns to Snake Creek after a lifetime away. He has lost his mentor to the depths of Amazonia and needs peace, a reconnection to family and history, and inspiration. He is welcomed home but Sophia isn’t so impressed. She waits to see who he really is and what he wants.

Other Than Words is a mystery,  psychological drama, and romance about lives being reclaimed; about trauma and healing; and about the arts as powerful medicine. It tells of a village that hums with seasonal rhythms and the complicated lives of its residents, who demonstrates a willingness to embrace the suspect and eccentric. Beautiful Snake Creek and Ring Lake are where old friends, new inhabitants and uneasy neighbors coexist.

I know this territory so well I can see every inch of the village, every part of the surrounding woods and waters. I am the creator of both place and people, or perhaps I am only the chronicler of their stories. I am a most happy captive.  They have been my dear companions.

In 1999 I became ill with a virus that left me literally reeling. I tried to get out of bed one morning and crashed against the wall and to the floor. Any light reaching my eyes made the room spin worse, so I covered my face with a blanket and blindly called my sister. I crawled to the front door when help arrived. At the ER, my diagnosis was labyrinthitis, a disorder of the inner ear. It took a good six weeks to be able to walk across a small room in a  straight line, but five months to recover enough to return to work.  In the meantime, I discovered if I sat very still at the computer desk and hold my head at just the right angle, the dizziness mostly abated. I could miraculously write for hours. And so, an old idea for a novel came to fruition and my life became a writing life, full-time.

Other Than Words was the result: twenty-five chapters told from two different points of view, with a surprising five hundred and seventy-two pages. I have revised it fully eight times and counting.  I have pitched it at a writers’ conference and had one agent “nibble”, so I went back to work on it again.  And again. An excerpt was published in an anthology, and then nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  I want to publish this novel. I love the characters and their rich life stories. Still, I have put off the tedious business of innumerable submissions and more revisions. I have a job as an addictions counselor and don’t get home until eight-thirty each night. The hours left over are few. But on Fridays when I do not work,  I try to sit down to write by two o’clock and generally write until nine o’clock or later. But it isn’t enough. I want more time to work diligently at the craft–to bring this passion for the written word into a potent, more elegant state of being. To make the stories vividly alive, moving, truth-telling.

Because I need  time to work on more fiction, I will be posting fewer posts on this blog, likely twice a month at most. That is, unless a very, very short story idea grabs hold and won’t let go,  or my addictions work presents something I find intriguing, or my heart disease/recovery experiences strike me as worth putting out there for others who share the diagnosis. There is always one more good reason to write; I run out of time, never topics!  But the desire and intention is to sail this novel into the world so it may reach people who love to read settle-into-your-chair fiction. There is already another novel ready for more revision, and a third waiting for release from my head and onto white pages.

Today I want to share with you the opening paragraphs of Other Than Words. I hope you enjoy them. Let me know what you think if you are so moved, or if you would be interested in reading more.  Another blog might spring up about the novel and the writing process, or perhaps even a website. I’ll stay in touch. But right now I better get back to work.

Other Than Words

Part I-Sophia

Chapter 1

After Thomas died, I stopped talking. I had everything to lose by not speaking, but muteness, unlike speech, is a force that can’t be controlled. It took charge and relegated me to tenant status because I had nowhere else to live but in this body. I was caught between “Before His Death” and “After”. It was disorienting, but not an impossible way to live.

His body was retrieved from Ring Lake not far from the place we lived, the chapel-house, so named because it was originally a chapel here in the northern Michigan woods. Thomas’ mother and my family–parents, two brothers, a sister–came from the east coast to mourn and provide my daughter and myself with rudimentary care.  They tried to make sense of the disorder they found. They wanted to think I had lost my mind from the shock, but were closer to believing I had just decided to stop speaking. I was, after all, a dancer and choreographer, given to strange fits of introspection and moments of  theatrics. It didn’t occur to them there might be things I could not say aloud. Not yet; maybe never.

Janice, my younger sister, paced back and forth, her muddy shoes leaving dark stains on the wooden floor. I shared the couch with Daedalus, who looked more Siberian Husky than German Shepherd. He watched her with mild interest, his blue eyes like cool oases in the humid afternoon. The footsteps reminded me of Rorschach ink blots. I interpreted fear, extreme impatience. Hers, not mine. I felt porous as a sea sponge, everything drifting through me, leaving barely a trace.

Copyright 2011 Cynthia Guenther Richardson

6 thoughts on “Writing the Life of a Novel

  1. whoa – more Sophia, but less blogs ? I can’t help wanting them all, but I can’t wait to read more chapters in this book, and then the next book and the next. So it is whoa this is new and unexpected, and not oh woe is me.

    1. How lovely to have such good support, ch–it is time to move forward faster. Blogs are fun, but not the work I need to get done now. More fiction/poems- more love affairs with language that I do hope to share with a wider audience. We’ll see what happens…

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