Marisa de los Santos' first two books, Love Walked In and Belong to Me, were both bestselling book club favorites. Today her third novel, Falling Together, goes on sale and it's sure to follow those previous two titles into book clubs across the country. I'm thrilled to have this guest post from Marisa today about the work of writing. Read on to hear how Marisa writes, works and reacts when inspiration hits. And don't forget to join us tomorrow night, Wednesday, October 5th at 7pm ET to discuss Falling Together with Marisa on Book Club Girl on Air. Set a reminder for the show here, and return to that same link to listen and participate live. You can send in questions via the chat session, or call in and ask them of Marisa directly by dialing 347-945-6149. Be sure to register on the site before 7 o'clock on Wednesday so you can participate in the chat from the beginning of the show.
Writing is work. I know a lot of writers who really want you to know this. Full disclosure: I’m one of them. Fuller disclosure: on occasion, I can even get a little high-pitched and plaintive about it. I love my job; I am honored to do it. But it’s a job; it really, really is! (See? Plaintive). Yes, full-time writers create their own schedules. Yes, we write at home, often dressed in clothes that are just enough this side of pajamas so that we’re not completely humiliated when the UPS guy knocks on the door. Showering is, let’s face it, optional. But writing is work. It’s not work like working in a coal mine is work. No way. Nor is it work like putting on a terrible faux-corduroy uniform, complete with visor, and flame-broiling burgers at a fast food restaurant is work (I’ve done this job, visor and all).
But it’s work because it is deliberate and difficult and requires a combination of experience, dedication, and talent. And hours, many, many hours. Usually, at least in my experience, writing feels like work, the way I would imagine building anything from scratch feels like work. I put one word down and then another. The words don’t come tripping off my fingertips. I’m not channeling voices. I’m not visited by a pretty muse. Nothing falls into my lap or happens by magic.
Except, and here’s the catch, sometimes it does. Sometimes, writing is so mysterious and magical that it makes me breathless. Sometimes, suddenly, a skylight opens in the daily ordinariness of writing and through it flies inspiration like a silver bird. I’m not kidding. That’s what it’s like.
Take my character Pen. Before I began to write, to put actual words on the actual page (or, more accurately, screen), I lived with Pen for months, getting to know her, learning the tiny, telling details of her history and personality: she likes cheese pizza; she is afraid of flying; she loves teaching children to read; she has an older brother; she adores her nerdy, bike-riding father. Technically, I might have been creating her, but it felt like I was learning her, like she existed and I needed to discover her. And one of the things I discovered early on, maybe the second thing I knew about her, was that, at the time the story opens, she is sad. Not a little sad but sad in her bones.
As the story developed, I thought I knew why Pen was sad. Her beloved friends had walked out on her six years earlier; her relationship with her daughter’s father had fallen apart; she was living with her older brother. The life she had was not the life she had planned to have. All of this was clear to me.
The problem was that all of these reasons did not add up to enough. They did not account for the depth of Pen’s sadness. Here I was, writing my novel and trying to tell the story, and all the while, there was Pen, bearing her unaccountable weight of sadness, dragging it through my book. Thud, thud. I would have little conversations with her that went something like:
Marisa: “You’re too sad. What happened to you should have made you sad, but not this sad. Stop being so sad.”
Marisa: “But you’re too sad! And I can’t explain it.”
Pen: “That’s not really my problem. Now, is it?”
I persevered, day after day, working hard, but the story wasn’t flowing in a natural way. I stalled out, bewildered. Then one day, as I often do when I get frustrated during a writing day, I went to the gym. I got on the elliptical trainer, the one with the moveable arm-pumping handles, and I went at it hard, arms pumping, legs pumping, a book in front of me I’d been dying to read, Pen the very last thing on my very tired mind.
And then, out of nowhere: Pen’s father died very suddenly two years ago.
Whoosh: skylight opening, radiance, silver bird. I knew how much Pen loved her father. I stood on the elliptical trainer and felt sadness wash over me, wave after wave, Pen’s sadness, which was just the right size and which made perfect, heartbreaking sense.
This doesn’t happen very often. But when it happens, you don’t question it or analyze it or try to take any credit for it. You stand on the elliptical trainer under the white lights of the YMCA, breathless, hands holding on hard, and let your pounding heart beat out this: thank you, thank you, thank you.
And then you go home and work.
Falling Together is on sale today, October 4th, browse inside it now, check out the reading group guide, look for Marisa on tour near you this fall, friend Marisa de los Santos on Facebook, and join us as we discuss Falling Togeher with her tomorrow, Wednesday, October 5th at 7pm ET.