On Writing a Novel, Waiting in the Mailbox, and Kindred Souls Found on the Shelves of the Library

I’m in the middle, or with any luck towards the end, of writing my next novel.  Even as I wonder if anyone is going to buy my first novel, I can’t seem to stop working on the second.  I would like to go off to a cabin in the woods, ignore the world around me, and just write.  Of course, I do not have a wealthy benefactor and so there is no chance of an extended writing vacation for me.

Instead, when I need a change of scenery I go to the library.  I take my laptop and sit down somewhere in the fiction section.  It is the quietest part of the library with the least traffic.  The DVD movies always have people around them.

When I need to clear my head, I wander the stacks without any goal and pick up whatever book catches my eye.  (I have learned that poetry is shelved in at least three sections.)  The last time I was there, I found myself in the local interest section, and I checked out a book of essays by a Traverse City writer named Bob Butz.  I wanted to recommend his book An Uncrowded Place, which reflects on life “up north.”   If Michigan is not local to you, you probably have to seek it out, rather than finding it as I did.

How do people manage to sell books of essays, by the way?  The best offer I’ve gotten for mine is to be a regular guest poster on a blog for free.

This brings me to an essay from Butz’s book that really hit home for me.  He wrote about the suffering of a self-employed writer waiting for a check to arrive, especially with holidays slowing the mail and creating gift-giving obligations and a random act of kindness from the local mailman.

"I waited some more," he wrote.  "The closer it got to Christmas, the more colorful were the envelopes that began appearing in the mailbox.  Pretty red and green ones.  But instead of well wishes from relatives I hardly know, instead of dollar bills inside that fluttered to the pavement when I opened the cards, most contained snappish little notices with words— 90 Days Past Due, Collection Department, and Due Now— done in bold-face so as to leave little ambiguity as to the sender’s mood or intentions… with the presents opened and the house quiet again, I was back to brooding— sitting alone in the living room, mentally calculating the cost of the mess.  I didn’t heaqr the knock at the door, but later that morning found the envelope taped there containing the check I had been waiting for.  A note:  Came in late on yesterday’s truck.  Special delivery.  Merry Christmas.  Dan.  I probably would have hugged old Dan if he were standing there.”

That is the kind of tale that makes a starving writer’s heart flutter.