Rules for Novelists — Rules for Living

In Vermont, we’ve skipped from the Ides of November to the middle of January — just like that — and none of us have even eaten any Thanksgiving turkey.

The 13-year-old, on her second snow day this week, calculates how long into June the school year already stretches. She’s up early anyway, curled on the couch with her cats and her library book, immersed in an imaginary fictive world. I leave her be. The snow shoveling can wait.

Here’s rules 1 and 10 from Jonathan Franzen’s “Ten Rules for the Novelist.” I’m darn sure I nail the relentless rule at least.

The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator…. You have to love before you can be relentless.

— Jonathan Franzen, The End of the End of the Earth



10º below zero this eve of 2018. Like an oddly magical gift, I woke from a dream of visiting a woman with whom I’d had conflict, conflict, and I lay as the day’s light slowly trickled into the room, rubbing a happy cat and thinking I could release that piece of worrying.

One more year slipped by, my younger daughter officially leaving the terrain of babydolls for the mountainous terrain of adolescence. Here’s a good thing I fostered: ice skating.

If it is written and read with serious attention, a novel, like a myth or any great work of art, can become an initiation that helps us to make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another. A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see the world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest.

— Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth


Bright Spot

There’s nothing like a carful of laughing girls to whisk away despair. While the girls skied, I walked down to Big Hosmer Lake and sunk my hand in its cold water, thinking of my older daughter at 12 and how much she loved the rope swing on this lake. With an hour left, I sat in the touring center and sunk into my work.

Bringing in the cold and snow, the rosy-cheeked girls found me, chattering, hungry for the crackers in the car. All the way down the narrow valley from Craftsbury to Hardwick, I watched the remnants of daylight dwindle into pale rose, so glad we were headed to our warm house and leftover posole and the cats who would be mewling for their dinner.

12-year-old girls, laughing about falling on skis, listening to Christmas carols, exuberantly happy. I drove, listening, the girls’ merriment like a cloak around us, keeping night terrors away.