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Need inspiration? Read.

One evening recently I received a long email from my wonderful agent, with more suggestions about revisions to my manuscript. I admit I was disappointed; I’d thought I’d nailed it on the last draft and we were done. Guess not.

So I proceeded to my usual two-humped process when receiving this kind of feedback. The first hump is, "No way; that doesn’t make sense." But my agent is smart and savvy, and after thinking about it, I had to agree that most of her recommendations do make sense. The second hump is, "Omigod, I can’t do that. I’m not smart enough, talented enough." That hill is harder to climb.

That process brought me to about 11:00 p.m. Robby was still in Brazil. I didn’t want to talk with anyone else. My BFF Liz and I had already emailed back and forth about it multiple times. Even watching my town fireworks – spectacular even from my back yard – hadn’t been able to stop my brain from mentally writing the new sections, cutting the superfluous material. I knew there was no way I would fall asleep.

Next I tried reading, but the beautifully crafted and very literary short story collection I’m reading just couldn’t overpower my own thoughts. I tried another book, by an author I’ve never read, and while the story interested me, the writing was so clunky I had to put it down. Finally picked up FAITHFUL PLACE, by Tana French. I rarely read mysteries these days, but I’d enjoyed IN THE WOODS, and I needed a page-turner.

French was the perfect choice. Her prose is clean and smooth, the setting exotic and believable, and the murder grabbed my interest emotionally and intellectually. After 100 pages, I fell asleep with her words in my head instead of mine.

I kept reading the next morning; what really fascinated me were her characters and the depth of their interaction. Tana French totally convinced me that these estranged siblings would sit in a bar, talking about the body discovered near their home. Talking aloud and thinking about the dynamics that led to the dysfunction of their family and might have led to the murder. Eureka, because that kind of scene was, I think, what my agent was trying to urge me to explore more deeply in my manuscript: a powerful emotional theme that flows too quietly through the story, but needs more attention in order to surge and flood. Okay. I get it now.

When in doubt, read. It doesn’t always lead to sleep, but often offers inspiration.
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