Some Habits Of A Sleepless Writer
Last Update April 20, 2014
Mastering Night Sherrida Woodley 2014
April 08, 2014
How the Novel is Coming Along. . .
I’ve been quite a while without much comment on the writing process. Actually, it’s been more
of a mind-blast than writing for the last couple months, trying to bring together now numerous
threads. Some of them are very important.
For instance is Octavia, the condor of the story, alive or dead? I’m just now figuring that out.
Is Chloe, a woman drawn to the wilderness, able to reconcile what happened to her sister almost
twenty years ago in a way that’s neither too graphic nor, worse yet, washed out by the rest of the
story? A concern.
Is Albert, the 13-year-old Scot boy whose memory about birds beckons him to a place harboring a
deadly secret, going to make it to the end of the story? This could nudge this fantasy into a
And can Sean, the Australian architect who might’ve underestimated in his elaborate plan, afford
to fall in love when the world is about to fall apart? A host of worries on this one, including
writing the infamous “love scene on the eve of the book’s final, deadly terror.”
Leaving out at least one major plot line and a fundamental character, there’s no spoiler alert here.
The story is like many others in that its construction, which is rather a series of revelations,
remains obscure until it’s time to single out a scene. For instance, it wasn’t until this week that I
realized a white bear or “spirit bear,” as they’re called in the Great Bear Rain Forest of British
Columbia, is going to have a cameo part in this book every bit as interesting as the bizarre
appearances of Octavia. Animals abound in this story. And that’s where National Geographic
came through for me from the beginning of this writing adventure.
If you can still find the hordes of them that used to clog thrift store shelves (they seem to be
thinning), you will find a plethora of fact-based articles on just about anybody, anywhere under
the sun (and beyond). National Geographic magazines, often overlooked and filed under “only go
there if you’re desperate,” need vindication. They’ve provided me with answers, with mysteries,
with solid detail for three books now. I can’t say it loud enough. . . National Geographic rocks.
So do many other magazines, most especially Audubon and Smithsonian. But it’s Natl Geo that’s
provided answers to a near-helpless writer more than once. I’ve relied on their beauty, their
interest, and most especially their accuracy. This month I’m thanking them on both my websites
(Mastering Night and Quick Fall of Light). And I will continue to thank them in my heart always.
One volume, in particular, I want to mention as providing the template of a scene that’s already
been written, but will be referred to at least one more time. “The Wildest Place in North
America, Land of the Spirit Bear,” came out in August 2011. The cover is unforgettable with a
large white bear pawing its way through dense foliage in one of the most remote wilderness rain
forests on earth. The article begins, “In a moss-draped rain forest in British Columbia, towering
red cedars live a thousand years, and black bears are born with white fur.” (Bruce Barcott) The
bear takes over your senses as you read about his isolated, almost perfect life and as he stretches
and yawns, hunts salmon, and plucks berries right in front of the photographer. He is the
epitome of wilderness, completely devoid of all fear of humankind. He is ripe for destruction in
this world of shameless exploitation. I fell in love with this bear and Natl Geo’s beautiful tribute
to him. He will become part of Ancestral, if I have anything to say about it, in remembrance of a
time when wilderness still counted for something. . . and when a writer desperately needed this
kind of bear to truly exist.
For more on the spirit (or Kermode) bear from National Geographic, please follow the link:
April 20, 2014
Woodley vs. Woodley
I’m sure someone has been expecting this. With a young film star named “Woodley” on the rise,
why wouldn’t I be tempted to link my name with hers. She has a lot going for her, young
Shailene. I suspect she’s going to be making films for quite a while. And truthfully, if I had
anything to say about it, she’d be guaranteed another part up the line----the part of Chloe
Hillbright in Ancestral.
It really sounds self-serving to say I’ve been thinking about her face as Chloe’s since the beginning
of writing the novel-in-progress, but in some way, maybe so. I have a tendency to “plug in”
Hollywood faces when I’m writing about primary characters (and sometimes secondary, as well).
In Quick Fall of Light, I knew from the beginning that Josie, the protagonist, would be perfectly
depicted in film by Sandra Bullock. Her picture sat alongside my computer as I wrote about
Josephine Russo, the widow of Robert Russo, a man and scientist who’d managed to include his
wife in the most bizarre bird experiment ever translated to story. Bullock had the range and youth,
and more importantly the dark-haired, unquestioning beauty of a heroine.
Again, I’m there with this novel. The first actress I could envision playing Chloe Hillbright, the
protagonist of Ancestral, was Holly Hunter. I haven’t seen her for a while, and like Bullock, she’s
getting to be a little too old to play a young wildlife tracker who’s thrust in the middle of a daring
operation to bring back (or destroy) a mythical bird. I knew she wasn’t quite right, but she had
the quiet, serious dignity and wisdom to carry off the part. Then I saw Shailene Woodley in The
Descendants. She had everything I was looking for---the adventuress who doesn’t play among “the
rules” for long, the child-woman struggling with long lost relatives and a heart that’s constantly
bleeding. She was (and is) Chloe, both as she started out and as she’s unfolding. Makes me
wonder if I’m building Chloe around Shailene. . . but I don’t think so. Shailene will probably
last a lot longer, and she might even win an Oscar. If she’s lucky, Chloe will win Sean, the male
lead of the story. . . which is even more important to me.
However, Woodley isn’t the only actor I’ve clung to in the making of this new novel. Robert
Duvall has a definite place in the intrigue----as Lucas Fernan, a strong-willed, New Mexican
billionaire, tired of being denied his rightful heritage. I can’t say more without perking up a
And Sean, the man I’ve referred to as Chloe’s “Oscar,” is, without a doubt, Jason Clarke of Zero
Dark Thirty and White House Down. Australian by birth, he won’t even have to fake an accent.
Strong, lonely, an architect on a tremendous rise, he’ll score in the heart throb department. But
even more, he has to resonate with conviction, with the sad realization that he can’t save mankind
any more than Robert Russo could in Quick Fall of Light. He will sweep Chloe off her tracking
feet. And I think he’ll be the perfect antidote to her long-held belief that she’ll die without ever
having known true love.
There is one more remaining important character---Albert. As a young Scot boy, his
characterization is nuanced and prophetic. It will take a new Haley Joel Osment to carry this one
off. But he’s out there. So far, though, I just have to imagine him the best I can.