Sustenance and New Characters

Rain-rain-rain today, the soft, sturdy rain that falls in autumn, the rain that soaks the parched summer earth (which has been waiting, waiting for it) in such an even, steady, and welcoming way that it makes me wonder how I ever lived without this rain for so many months.

On this rainy day, lunch (our dinner) becomes a communal affair. The rain draws us together: Zach drops by, the puppy hangs in, and the story I'm working on wafts over and around everything, asking for attention. Jim concocts a cabbage/onion/potato/black bean soup, and we eat together in Irene, our newly screened-in carport that serves as our dining room. We are almost outside and the moment is delicious.

Many years ago, my Pittsburgh-raised friend MikeM taught me how to make a potato-cabbage soup and preached to me its benefits. "When times were tough at my house," he said, "Mom cut up a cabbage and potatoes and threw them in the pot with onions, salt, and pepper and that was dinner... it was nourishing, filling, and good."

I have made Mike's soup recipe countless times over the past thirty years in countless variations, both for Mike and for my family. Today, Jim made a variation that included black beans and a generous dollop of cracked black pepper, and we sidelined the soup with pocket bread and glasses of cider or milk. This meal was the perfect accompaniment to a drizzly fall day, and it felt just-right to eat it outside (almost), in Irene, the rain thrumming on the tin roof, the puppy waiting for crumbs beneath our feet, the garden soaking up this most-welcome, most-needed drencher.

Yesterday, I finally, finally felt that I had been successful in tying the Great Middle of my novel to the New Beginning, after weeks of purging and stealing and finagling with the middle of the plot. I felt a surge of forward movement, like a sailboat that finally picks up wind and tacks starboard -- finally-finally! -- I am moving into familiar waters and can make time -- I hope.

A new chapter 7 is done. A new chapter 8, likewise. Chapter 9... almost, almost done -- it is brand new, and it will lead me into a chapter ten that picks up solidly with my last revision, please God.

And guess what? A new character is born in this revision. His name is Chris Cavas. He is so new to me, so fragile... I am not yet sure he will survive this revision.

Times have been tough. Resources have felt tight. I have chopped a cabbage and many potatoes into this pot of story, I have added water and salt and pepper, even some black beans. I have stirred, and -- voila! -- into this story has swaggered Chris Cavas. What a rush. What riches. And yet... I know from past experience that I am not out of the woods.

I am nurturing Chris Cavas. I am nurturing this story. I am bottle-feeding both, fervently hoping that Chris will prove to be the catalyst my heroine Franny needs, now that I have decided that her brother Drew is NOT that catalyst. It is complicated... and oh-so-delicate.

Oh, what decisions. Oh, what work. Oh, what joy. And, truth to tell, here's a little bit of ecstasy, finally, as I wade deep into the middle of this novel, chapter ten, with a solid beginning (my editor confirms it), a new-found catalyst for change (my gut tells me so), and a sure-fire, years-ago written scene ahead of me that begs for my attention in a way that the rain and the soup ask me to be present.

I want to be on the right track. I want to be heading in the right direction. Whatever that means.

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