As a lot of you know, I’ve been reading Rachel Devinish Ford’s novel, The Eve Tree and I finally completed it last week at the beach. It was such a good read! It took me a bit longer to read than the other bloggers who are reviewing it, not because it wasn’t good but because my life has been a little stuffed to capacity lately. Anyway, I was really captivated by the story and wanted to know more about the characters. So when Rachel offered to do a guest post here on Secret Agent Josephine, I jumped at the chance and asked her to tell us what inspired her. Her drive is contagious. It makes me want to go write a book myself! Or just sit here and illustrate the two books I’m already supposed to be working on.
So please enjoy these words from Rachel! She’s someone to watch and follow. Her journeys are awakening.
Brenda asked me to share a little about where I got the inspiration for The Eve Tree, and how I came to write it. And I thought I’d start at the very beginning.
The book itself is very much like a tree. There was a seed and there were roots, and then the tree grew. I had to chop some branches off, when they were blocking the road or growing into the gutter, and that was hard to do, but in the end, the tree was healthier. It had a lovelier shape.
Back to the seed. The Eve Tree started with a tiny idea. I was already writing a novel at the time, but I was nervous about it, because the idea was too big and I was a bit distant from it, and I was trying to do too much. I put the novel away, unfinished.
But then one day some friends and I were sitting down in their living room, talking, and they told me about something that happened to them. There was a fire in their story. And there was a ranch, and somewhere, there was a bathtub. And a glass of wine. And some fire fighters. It was an incredible story. I listened in awe, and when I went away, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This little story that happened to a couple of my friends wouldn’t leave me alone.
I started to ask myself questions. What would it be like to wait for a fire? What would it be like to not even know for sure if the fire would reach you? What does that do to your marriage? How does that make you see your land?
I started writing. Characters came to me. The background of the story my friends told me changed. It became fiction. My characters came slowly and developed roots. They dug in. They stopped being ghost-like and became sharp and a little demanding. I went back in my writing and scratched out the places where Molly and Jack and Catherine were doing things that didn’t make sense anymore, now that I knew them better.
My first questions were leading me to other questions. What happens if a person is already known to struggle and a fire is heading toward them? What happens years after someone has a mental breakdown? Do people ever heal from that? Does their family ever heal? How do people learn to trust each other? And then to really big questions. What is love? What does forgiveness look like?
I did this for four years, scribbling and scratching and printing out sheets and sheets of words, only to cross through most of them. I was watering. I was pruning. I wrote throughout a lot of travel and crazy circumstances in my own life. I wrote from the beach in India, I wrote from the Himalayas. I kept going, I didn’t get too distant, I didn’t give it up. Sometimes, when I had to, I’d listen to Humboldt County radio to get the cadence of people’s words. I went back to Northern California, and I noticed all the things I’d missed. I went back to my work and put them in.
At the end of four years, I had this book.
I don’t have an office. We move a lot, and at best we live in a two-bedroom place with our six-person family. So I write at the kitchen table, first thing in the morning, with headphones in and music on. Or I write in a café with headphones in and music on. I have my dream, of course, the place I’d like to write, the workshop with the sunny window, which is off limits to all the other members of the family. But I learned that I have to shelve that for the time being. We all have to do the best we can with what we have, if we want to get anything done.
So here’s a question. Do you have a tiny idea? Something that you can’t get out of your mind? Some of the best art and writing starts this way. Andy Goldsworthy’s natural shapes and play with light, Degas and his dancers.
Is there a house or a hill you’ve noticed, that you want to sketch or photograph in different lights everyday? What is it that interests you that doesn’t interest anyone else? Can you start to ask yourself questions about that thing? (I don’t know anyone else who would remain so obsessed with this one fire for as long as I did, and I’m just glad that the friends who told me the story didn’t find it creepy. Or if they did, it’s only a little creepy, I hope.)
Take the first step with your tiny idea. That step may take you to another step, and to another step, and another one. Can you find out everything there is to know about it? And when the next step becomes clear, can you take it? Can you nibble away at it until you see the heart of it? Your tiny idea may develop into a whole world: a series of paintings or photographs, an art installation, a book, a new menu, a business, an album, a clothing line.
I have one more thing to say about my book. Many of what I now consider to be the most important elements of the book didn’t come until after a couple of drafts. They were suggestions from friends. Different friends pointed things out- maybe you could try that? they said. And I shrugged, Sure, okay, I’ll give it a go. And then those things gave new weight to the book. They fitted right into the story and made it all deeper and clearer, and I can’t imagine them not being there.
Your tiny idea may be yours, but your friends will be able to see things about your tiny idea that you can’t. (You’re too close to it.) Listen to your friends. And then, months or years from now, after you’ve watered and pruned and weeded, take a nice rest in the shade of your tree and congratulate yourself on being a good gardener.
If you’d like to win a copy of the book, please leave a comment below. I will be organizing a giveaway over the next few days and post more details here.