You Again: Sticky Time

So Agnes went out yesterday, and then I dealt with some trauma which meant my head was anywhere but my writing, and then I woke up at the crack of dawn still upset and read a book by a pal that made everything better. Mad Dash by Patricia Gaffney. It’s not out until August, so this is cruel, teasing you like this, but it’s so wonderful, and I wept all over it in a GOOD way, because it’s just beautiful but not sad at all, just true. You know how it is when you read exquisite writing that just nails something you’ve known but couldn’t put into words? And then you weep because it’s so true? That kind of crying. Mad Dash, wonderful, wonderful book.

And of course reading great books makes me want to write. I’ll never be the writer Gaffney is, she’s a miracle, but I’m pretty damn good, and I have that Zelda file right there on the desktop looking at me. And now I want to write.

But not yet.

So my daughter calls and we’re talking about the Cranky Agnes logo (the logo Agnes has at the top of her newspaper column and on her promo aprons) and I tell her that now I have to find a new occupation for Zelda because she was a cookbook writer and now Agnes is a cookbook writer so Zelda cannot be one. Which is all right because I wasn’t married to that anyway. And I ask Mollie, “Any ideas on what Zelda should do for a living?” and she says, “Why would I have ideas?” and I say, “Because whatever she does is what you’re going to hang the marketing stuff on,” and she says, “OH.” Because she is business 24/7.

Mollie says, “She has a cable TV show,” and I’m thinking, “Uh, no,” and Mollie says, “About plants,” (Mollie was a landscape architect in first career), and I say, “Oh, well . . .” and she keeps going with ideas and hits “perennial expert,” and I say, “Oh!” and she talks about how you can’t plant perennials under walnut trees because the roots kill them, and I’m thinking, “Malcolm is a walnut tree, Zelda could look at him and think ‘walnut tree,’” (oooh, maybe I should change his name to Walter) and that certain perennials are really good together and that others are toxic to each other, and I’m thinking, “Hoo boy, symbolism there,” and then she says that many perennials are poisonous, and I remember there’s a murder by poisoning in the book, and what if Zelda is known as an perennial specialist, and all of a sudden, I’ve got Zelda’s profession and a whole new way into this book.

Because Zelda’s nemesis (although not necessarily antagonist) in this book is Rose, and Rose has a mother named Lily, and then I started thinking about how tough roses were, both to grow and then to get rid of, especially the wild rambling kind which have to be perennials, right? I don’t know, I haven’t looked yet. But is this not crunchy?

And that’s when I realized that you could get a second go round on Sticky Time.

Sticky Time is that period at the beginning of a book where you keep tripping over things that need to be in it. You’re not looking; it’s just that everywhere you go, suddenly you think, “I can use that.” I used to think that everything stuck to the book during Sticky Time, but then I realized that I was seeing and hearing thousands of things during that time, but only the stuff that the book wanted registered. It was like the book knew what it needed, and turned sticky for those ideas.

But I always thought it only happened at the beginning of the book. Oh, sure, sometimes things come along later, like Wonder Woman in Don’t Look Down, but the stuff that stuck in the beginning determined the shape of the book. Only now it turns out that if you go away from a book and then come back, you get a new Sticky Time.

Well, I’m thrilled.

So now I’m looking at perennial books and googling and making notes, and Zelda is coming through strong again. The work a character does is so important, it says so much about who she is, that getting that right can sometimes bring the entire character into focus.

Plus did you know that if you don’t separate perennials every few years, they start to strangle each other? How’s that for a metaphor for family? I’m LOVING this Zelda-as-plant-specialist idea. Mollie does it again.

And—how crunchy is this—Strop is right, YoU AGAIN type does look like it has small vines or something growing on it. That’s A Sign.

Excuse me while I go find things that stick to my book.

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