Sunday, March 31, 2019

Warrior Battling Global Warming
I’m a soldier in the war against global warming. I am a wordslinger. My weapons are words. As a novelist, I aim for hearts, and I hope to pierce millions. Words can pull at heart-strings. (Pull at Brain-strings? There’s a reason that metaphor doesn’t exist.)
Abraham Lincoln said to Harriet Beecher Stowe, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” The story is apocryphal; When Lincoln met Stowe, he may not have used that sentence. However, it is very believable. Stowe’s novel, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, persuaded many people to fight against slavery. Her words may have been more powerful than all the weapons of Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy. How could this be? Her angelic little girl character, Eva, dies with love for the black slave Uncle Tom. Then Tom is murdered, terribly, by an evil slave master. Stowe’s words drew forth emotions. It brought readers to tears. Touching hearts persuades far better than ideas penetrating brains. She touched hearts.
My novel, MOURNING DOVE, will be the UNCLE TOM’S CABIN in the war against global warming. It will pull at heartstrings. Readers will cry, but they also will laugh, and even cheer, shouting “Yes!” and throwing fists in the air after several scenes. It will persuade people to fight against shooting greenhouse gasses up and fight for drawing them down. The war against global warming will be large. MOURNING DOVE will play only one small part. But it will help toward cooling the world and healing it.
In writing MOURNING DOVE, I’ve done a tremendous amount of research. I’ve read more than 70 books related to global warming. I’ve connected with scientists across the globe, asked them questions, and read scientific journal articles they recommended. To help fight global warming, I need to share the results of my research, as well as my thoughts concerning it. As a novelist, I think in scenarios, and scenario planning is a major tactical tool militaries use today.
My battle tactics:
1.  Write a powerful novel that will change hearts. MOURNING DOVE currently is 99.99% complete (81,000 words). Novels speak for themselves. I will say no more about it here.
2.  Build a social media network. Currently: 28,000 LinkedIn connections, 4,600 Facebook friends, and 1,500 Twitter followers. Most of these are climate scientists, climate activists, climate writers, with a smattering of literary agents and major publishing company editors. I belong to LinkedIn and Facebook global warming, scientific, or publishing groups. Some of these groups have as many as 750,000 members. I also have a website and a blog, which combined have been seen by over 100,000 people. I also have spoken to a high school, appeared on five podcasts, and been filmed for a Netflix documentary (still in development).
3.  Write articles to post to these groups. I have thirty-three completed, so far. These are based on what I learned researching MOURNING DOVE. That gave me ideas how to save civilization from global warming. I need to spread these ideas. These articles are written to be thought-provoking, poignant, and/or funny to persuade others to join the fight, but also with the hope that they “go viral.”
4.  Use the social media following to acquire the world’s best literary agent for MOURNING DOVE. Get the best publishing companies throughout the world to print it, distribute it, and market it to millions.
5.  MOURNING DOVE will persuade the world to stop global warming and keep the planet with a climate that sustains life as we know it.

Please help me in my personal war against global warming. Friend me on Facebook, Follow me on Twitter, and connect with me on LinkedIn. I am writing a powerful global warming novel. I need a great publishing company to market it and print a lot of copies. Publishers look at an author's social media numbers as a sign of potential buyers. So please Friend me, Follow me, and Connect with me. Consider it as doing a small part in saving humanity from the ravages of global warming. Thanks.

Shawn Oueinsteen     

Agent Query, Version 1, for MOURNING DOVE

MOURNING DOVE is 81,000 words. Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s apocryphal quote to Harriett Beecher Stowe, I wrote it to be the little novel that starts the great war against global warming. I am sending this to you because you represent X, whom I admire, and you ask for Y on your #MSWL.

Jen, sleeping, sensed that Mom entered her room, bent over her, and kissed her cheek. Jen loved it when her mother woke her this way.
“G’morning, Honey,” Mom said. “It’s our last launch day. We have to talk. You turn sixteen tomorrow and you've never experienced friends your age, especially someone who makes your heart flutter. That's not right for a teen. I need you to persuade Grams. You're the only one who might be able to convince her to leave with us. And even if she refuses, we’re flying to our family and civilization in Antarctica without her and Grandpa. You've got to be my partner in this. If anything goes wrong, it could be very dangerous, with people trying to kill us. But we have to do it. Are you in? Can I count on you?”
“Mom. Of course you can. I’m in. It will be my mission, from almost sixteen onward.”
Mom put her arms around Jen and hugged her close. It felt good.
A flash snowstorm coated the ground seconds before liftoff. Jen and Grandpa in the command bunker followed the take-off on live video. When the rocket left the camera’s view, she watched another video feed showing her older brother, Fred, at the outdoor weather station. He bent over backward as he tracked the flight. Suddenly, both legs flew out from under him. Their launch center was on top of a mountain. He was on a narrow asphalt path, overlooking a steep drop, and the blacktop was slippery. Mom, suddenly in the picture, reached for Fred to keep him from going over the cliff. But as she grabbed him she lost her footing, too, and they both slid over the edge clutching each other. On a speaker somewhere, she heard her mother scream. Seeing the empty cliff, Jen shouted, “No! Mommie! Come back. I need you. Mommie!” Grandpa wrapped Jen in his arms.
At the funeral, Dad turned a wheel that gently lowered Mom’s coffin into her grave. Watching, Jen said, almost out loud, Mom, I won’t let you down.

Ballantine Books published my novella "Oceans Away" in Stellar Short Novels. I ghosted for Senator Paula Hawkins, and my op-eds appeared, under her name, throughout the United States. I've spoken about climate and MOURNING DOVE on 5 podcasts so far, as well as to a high school, and I will be featured in a Netflix climate documentary. On FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn, I have 65,000 connections following MOURNING DOVE. I expect cover blurbs from the most famous of these. My author page has had 100,000 hits and my blog 10,000. My day job is Beltway bandit wordslinger. I'm submitting this query to multiple agencies. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Literary Agent Gatsby

I asked an old, famous writer if I needed an agent for a novella of mine. He said, “Hand me your manuscript and I will give it to the best young agent in the business.” That agent, whom I will call Literary Agent Gatsby, gave my novella to Ballantine Books, which published it. I found myself with a nice advance for a very young, first-time author, and it all happened within a few short weeks.

Agent Gatsby had one rule for all of his authors: never phone him before two o’clock in the afternoon. He claimed that he sold his writers’ works by socializing in the evenings. For at least eight nights a week, he went to parties, threw parties, went to dinner, or just went drinking with individuals who would either provide him with the best writing of the day or who would publish that writing in the best markets for the most money. I went with my agent to two parties, and attended one party that he threw. His gala was in an incredible two-floor, ocean-facing suite of the Miami Beach Fontainebleau hotel. I will always remember him with a beautiful writer under one arm and a beautiful editor under the other arm, as he chatted amiably with one of the most important men in the publishing industry. Like The Great Gatsby, my agent was wealthy, powerful, and mysterious.

One day, Agent Gatsby called me. It was, of course, well into the afternoon. What he said was that a few weeks earlier he had arranged a multi-million dollar deal for one of his clients. Now he was “pruning his stable of authors,” and I was one who would be pruned away. He referred me to another agent, and she was happy to take me as a writer. But she was young, with very few contacts among publishers. She worked from nine to five. One could not call her after business hours, because she was home with her family. She never sold anything I wrote.

Quite a few years later, I spoke to Agent Gatsby’s sister. She told me that his mind was gone. He was burnt out. I heard not long ago that agent Gatsby has passed away. I am looking for another agent. I cannot go back to Mrs. Nine-To-Five. I am hoping to find someone similar to the young man my famous writer recommended. Unfortunately, it is an impossible task. I’ve asked every old, famous writer I know, but there’s nothing they can do. There will never be another literary agent like Agent Gatsby.

Short Story: Sorry Officer; I'm In Love

Sorry Officer; Im In Love

I finished homework at my favorite nook in the school's main library and walked toward the steps to head home, taking my time, browsing at books on the shelves as I went. But the fourth floor I was on had a balcony overlooking the library's entrance lobby, where I spotted Rachel checking out books. From the moment I saw her I sprinted toward the steps. Once there, I ran down them three at a time, as fast as I could possibly go.

I had to catch her before she left the library. I couldn't lose her. It was already six weeks into the semester, and I had been dreaming every day what I would say to her if I saw her. On the last day of classes the previous spring, she had dumped me.

"I don't think we should see each other any more; with summer and all," she had said.

"I, I don't understand. I'll be less than an hour away."

"I know, and I know you don't want me to say you're a nice guy, Shawn, but you are. I like you. You know that. It's just that, well, I have a life at home. And an hour apart, that's still a long-distance relationship. It just won't work. Please be understanding. Don't make this any more painful than it is."

"And we both know I'm not the type to make things painful," I said.

"Of course you're not. Thank you. Don't be bitter." And she gave me a kiss on the cheek and went running off. That was the last time I saw her until now.

Many times over the summer I considered calling her, but I never did. I tried to keep my pride. And in my head I often thought of what I'd do if I saw her on campus. In one scenario, I would very pointedly ignore her. In another, I would speak to her but be cold and distant.

But now, as I watched her pick up the books she had checked out and move toward the door, my only thoughts were that I didn't want her to see me breathing hard. I smoothed out my hair with my fingers. I made sure my shirt was properly tucked into my pants. I tried to breath normally. And I walked over to her.

"Rachel," was all I could say.

She turned to face me, with a smile. "Oh, hi Shawn. I didn't notice you. How are you? How have you been?"

I had a feeling of deja vu. She was exactly as I remembered, but even more special: the joy in her eyes, the way she tilted her head, the upward curve of her lips, and, most enchanting, her voice. She had personality in each word, every sentence with a unique inflection. She was more adorable than the most angelic four-year-old, with the wisdom of a brilliant college girl. But there were no other college girls like her; the kindness that came through in everything she said; the shine and bounce in her short black hair, the graceful way she stood, the perfection of her slim, white hands; it all was unique and it made her far, far more attractive than any other woman I had ever seen. I thought that all guys must find her as alluring as I did. I wondered how girls saw her. Most women liked Audrey Hepburn, but what Audrey Hepburn had, Rachel had a thousand times better. No other girl was as appealing, from top to bottom, as she was. No one else possibly could be. My insides were flittering, as if I were filled with butterflies.

She wasn't drop-dead gorgeous, but the first thing friends who met her said to me about her was that she was pretty. We had met through a computer dating system that the entire campus had participated in. I had been given a list of fifteen names and phone numbers and Rachel's name had been number one. Among twenty-nine thousand students, she was the one girl that best matched the responses I had put into the computer. I had spoken with her on the phone but hadn't seen her before. We had arranged to meet outside Talliaferro Hall, where she would be leaving a class. Other girls came out before she did. With each one, I thought to myself, "Ooh, I hope it's not that girl; I think she's ugly," or "that girl's pretty but dresses as if she's from the Flintstones." But when she came out, the words in my head were, "I hope it's her; she's very cute." She was slightly above average in height, with a round face and a perfect nose, and nice, kind-looking eyes; a good looking girl, far better than average. And she was dressed in a nice, blue and green sweater and designer jeans. I was glad when she came over to me, my computer date.

We sat together talking on a bench outside Talliaferro for what seemed like minutes but was really hours. The computer was right: we enjoyed the same movies, we had similar tastes in food; we laughed at the same jokes, and we both loved kids and dogs. We were perfect for each other. From that warm late-fall day until the last day of classes in the spring, I dreamed of her every night but couldn't wait to get up and be with her during the day. It was the happiest time of my life.

Now, in the library, I responded to her question with, "I've been Okay. I was looking forward to us running into each other. I thought it would be long before this." I hoped I didn't sound too eager.

"Well, here I am."

She said it with enthusiasm. It gave me hope.

We chatted just outside the library for about ten minutes. I asked about her summer and she told me how her parents treated her to Lasik surgery for her birthday.

I joked, "So no more fishing your contacts out of the drain."

"No, I guess not. You were brilliant figuring out how to do that. I was so grateful."

"I remember how grateful. That turned out to be a wonderful day."

"It did," she said, with a shy smile. Her cheeks reddened. At the thrill of seeing her blush, the butterflies inside of me stopped beating for a moment, and then started again more fluttery than ever.

And we talked about movies we'd seen over the summer. She said, "But of course it wasn't as much fun as seeing the Gene Wilder - Richard Pryor film in a black neighborhood. That was amazing how we laughed at one set of jokes and they laughed at another. That was a great date."

"Yeah, that was fun."

Our few minutes by the library was just as wonderful as our conversations from the previous spring. Just seeing her and being with her made me feel as if I were floating on cotton candy.

But then she said, "Oh no. I forgot the time. I'm going to be late for my class."

She hesitated for just a second, enough time for me to ask, "Can we see each other again?"

"I'd like that."

In the midst of pure elation, it occurred to me that it was Thursday and I had a date with Liz-Anne on Friday night. I would split up with her then, something I'd been considering for several weeks.

I said, "How about Saturday night. I'll make sure it's something special."

As she walked off, she said, "Sounds great. Call me tonight and tell me about it. Same phone number as last year. Thanks."

"I'll call you. It's great seeing you again."

"Bye." It was the world's most adorable Bye. She started jogging to her class, and I enjoyed watching her; she was very sexy.

I found myself on the Beltway driving. I had no idea how I had gotten there. All my thoughts were on Rachel, replaying every second of our meeting at the library. I decided I would get up very early the next day and stand in line at the Kennedy Center for special reserved student tickets. They had a play going to Broadway that was based on a comic strip. It would be magical. Every second being with Rachel was magical. And I would be with her again. I started to cry, thinking what a joy it would be talk to her on the phone that night, to see her, and to touch her on Saturday. I began to sob. I could no longer drive. I pulled over to the side of the Beltway and just let myself sob with pure joy.

But then I thought what I would do if a policeman stopped and knocked on my car window. I would say, "Sorry, Officer, I'm in love."

Novel-Writing Methodology Overivew

This was written to help keep myself on track to write the best novel possible. I decided that the most important thing I could do was constantly work at holding the reader's interest. As I wrote the novel, I created a spreadsheet, which I am now using as a check-off list to make sure I am covering all the points listed below and more for every chapter. I will post a version of my spreadsheet sometime soon. I am working on the novel's second draft. I will submit it for publication after I finish my third draft.

The reader has to desire something. What? Perhaps all of the following. Every sentence of the book has to be presenting the reader with at least one of these things and probably several. I also need to keep in mind how it advances the plot.
1. Questions
The book must have unanswered questions that the reader is very anxious to have an answer for. That is what makes a "whodunit" fun to read.
2. Goals
Do primary characters have defined goals? Reader must share characters' passion for reaching the goal, which must be attainable. Climax of each character's story line is reaching the goal.
3. Excitement
Will character whom reader cares about die in next paragraph? Will character's dreams be dashed in next paragraph? Will plans currently running carry to fruition? Will plans character doesn't know about, but reader does, hit character in the head?
4. Urgency
Is reader asking, "Why doesn't X happen now?" The reader must feel that unless X happens now, something bad will happen.
5. Passion
Is character whom reader cares about passionate about something or things? Does reader identify with those passion(s)? Are passions being fulfilled?
6. Romance
Readers want to feel "in-love." There are thousands of things, usually a person is unaware of, that makes up romance. Does the reader have the "feeling?"
7. Poignancy
Do events pull at heartstrings?
8. Humor
Does the general tenor of the writing keep a smile on the reader's face? Are events humorous? Are at least some characters funny.
9. Cleverness
Do readers think, "Hey that's neat, a clever idea?"
Is environment awe inspiring, or giving sense of wonder? Sitting on a Saturn V at takeoff.
Are there little lost puppies, either real or as part of characters?
Is the world less mundane than the reader's world, and yet complete, with enough details to make the reader want to escape to it?
Are readers learning things they didn't know?
Does the world feel solid. It should be a setting that the reader sees in his mind as being a real world, as well as being an enjoyable world to be in. The reader should feel as if he is walking on the grass, eating the foods, etc.
15.HumanDepth: are true human emotions, or complex personalities being explored?
Does reader feel author is trying to say something important (without being preachy)? Are major issues being examined.

To achieve most of the above, the readers have to have characters they care about, either loving them or hating them. To do so, characters first and foremost need at least one distinguishing character trait (and maybe a maximum of three).

Beyond that, they also need the following:
1. LikabilityCharacters cannot be bland: people readers don't care about. Readers have to find them attractive. A character's attractive because it is accomplishing reader's dreams, it is overcoming handicaps, it is funny, it thinks in a lively way, it deals well with a situation readers wonder about, it is nice to children and puppies, it is smarter than the average bear, it comes from an odd background or is doing odd work or hobbies. What are the character's interests?
2. IdentityCan readers tell who each character is by its speech, mannerisms, humor, intensity, intelligence, vanity, humility, kindness, sternness, morals, passions, the way others look at it, leadership, sensitivity, childishness, way of thinking, etc.
3. CharacterForceful, serving, exacting, or entertaining? Loud or quiet? Colorful or dull? Thinker or doer? Quick or slow? Smart or dumb? Physical or mental? Nice or mean? Happy or depressed? Masochist or Sadist? Oblivious or observant? Manipulator or manipulated? Likes kids and dogs? Nice to retarded? Nice to beggers? Curiosity priority.
4. BelievabilityAre characters people you might meet in the street?
5. AppearanceWhat's the character look like, sound like, smell like, and feel like (baby skin or lizard skin?) Posture.
6. FamilySpouse, kids, mother, father, siblings, aunts, uncles, pets, etc.
7. Clothes /
How character dresses? What car? What type of house? Favorite toys.
8. ResumeWhat jobs? When? What skills? How long per job? Reasons for leaving? Mentors? Favorite jobs / bosses and why?
9. Hobbies /
Games character likes to play. Sports teams. Favorite music. Favorite colors. Breakfast cereal. Foods character can't stand. Food character loves. Favorite books. Favorite TV shows.
10.ReligionWhich one? How does the character feel about it? Prejudices against others? What rituals are participated in? Desire for religion in children?
11.BackgroundDoes reader feel he knows the character? What was the character doing on his 12th birthday? What scars does the character have and how did they happen? What recurring pains? What medications taken? How many pairs of shoes are in the closet? Is the closet neat or messy? Is the character punctual or always late? Does character listen to talk radio? What political parties? Has the character ever called a Congressman? In elementary school, was character a bully? get picked on? or defend kids from bullies? What animal identified with? How spouse was met? Other old and new relationships? How did the character start dating in school. Did the character enjoy junior high and high school? What racist or other types of persecution did the character experience, either against the character or in the character's presense and what was the character's reaction. When was the character born and what season does the character like best. Which parent the character's spouse's personality most resembles? Level of testosterone, PMS, feminine sensitivity, feminine intuition? Morning or evening person?

A plot essentially is the question, "What happens?" Plots have to deal with something, usually striving for or against something. Typical plots involve "man vs. man," "man vs. self," or "man vs. nature." Examples, respectively, are "Batman vs. Joker," "To be or not to be," or "Locked in a room with a ticking bomb."

Three to seven subplots are necessary (more might be confusing, unless done extremely well), each of which should have the following:
1. BeginningSomething must happen to make clear to readers (not necessarily characters) what the goal is. The reader must have an idea on what achieving the goal means. The goal may be to survive till tomorrow, it may be to get the girl, to decide not to kill yourself, etc.
2. MiddleReader must feel that progress is being made at achieving the goal. There should probably be subgoals. There should be new obstacles. But some obstacles should be in the reader's mind at the beginning and the solving of them is the middle for the plot.
3. ClimaxThe point at which the most major goal or goals are achieved is the climax.
4. EndWhen all loose ends have been neatly tied up.

A book is considered merely escape unless it has some theme. Whether the author is trying to get a message across or just explore some heavy concepts (to be, killing your king, or not to be), all throughout the novel must be an intellectual idea, with every word of the novel leading to that idea.

The author must consider every word, every sentence, and every paragraph. What is its purpose? How well does it convey that purpose? Does it need to be there. Is there a better substitute? It is abstract? If so, does it confuse the reader? Does it slow the reader? Can it be better expressed with a visual description. If it is visual, is it a cliche? Is it verb-centric, or is the idea brought across through adjectives, adverbs, or clauses? Can it be written better to be shorter, more visual, or to better get the idea across? Is the idea absolutely necessary?

The language should not get in the way, but should be beautiful for those who look for it. Original, but unobtrusive, similes and metaphors are important. Language should be visual, but simple; e.g., Hemingway's "The horse smelled water." Keep sentences short, active voice, with powerful verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. And yet sentences should not be too short or boring in style. Style can also lend humor or lighten the tone of the novel. If the language or images are heavy, the novel is heavier.
Are the sentences mixed, interesting, and not intrusive? For example, all subject, verb, predicate, subject verb predicate, subject verb predicate works for a waltz, not a novel..

Does each character have a personal style? This is not only sentence structure and word choice, brut also style of thinking? Artists should think graphically and include lines, shades, and colors. Poets should have meter and rhyme. Kids should not have long, abstract concepts. Engineers should think with logic and machines, etc.

Overall, the language should be easy to understand, not get in the way, say what it needs to say without anything unnecessary, and beautiful if possible.

Novel-Writing Methodology: Chapter Checklist

Long before I start writing a novel, I create an outline of chapters, with a synopsis of each chapter. That is the first version of this spreadsheet. As I write the novel, I modify the spreadsheet to match the actual novel. Occasionally, I add fields for issues I want to make sure not to forget. Those fields become my checklist for each chapter. So for the second draft of the novel, I read each chapter and compare it to my checklist. Here is a blank version of the checklist.
What makes the chapter?...............
(actions & characters?)
(strong, consistent?)
(Readers feel there?)
(appropriate to character, season?)
(smell, color, etc.)

Picasso Self Portraits

One of the characters of Mourning Dove is a portrait artist, and self portraits play an important role in the book. 

I am fascinated by Picasso's self portraits. I collected them, showing them together, each approximately the same size. Here they are.

Picasso Self Portraits

First Self Portrait Charcoal Sketch Blue Period 1906 Also 1906 Facing Death

Although I don't really care for abstract art, IMHO the most abstract one here, "Facing Death," might be the most powerful. The blue period is great, but then so are the first two. 

There's a wonderful collage of morphing Picasso and Van Gogh portraits, many of them self portraits, that you might want to check out at this link.

See my own self portraits are on this blog.

Shawn Oueinsteen Self Portraits

Shawn Oueinsteen Self Portraits

Smiling Shawn  
Mourning Shawn
One of the characters of Mourning Dove is a portrait artist, and descriptions of Rembrandt self portraits are important to the book. 

I drew the sketch on the left shortly after my father died a few years ago. I was bored and depressed. I opened a mirror app on the computer in front of me and and started doodling. Twenty minutes later, this is what was on the paper in front of me. I hadn't even noticed at the time that the paper was blue. I was shocked at how sad I looked. That was not intentional.

In early 2019, I decided I needed a self-portrait for my web page, My son asked me what technology I used to create it. My response: a No. 2 pencil with a good eraser, a piece of paper, and an app that turned my computer into a mirror.

Rembrandt Self Portraits

Rembrandt and his his self portraits are mentioned in Mourning Dove

Here are a few of them.

Rembrandt Self Portraits

What I like best about Rembrandt is how he captures the emotion in his face, especially his mischievous nature. 

There's a wonderful collage of morphing Picasso and Van Gogh portraits, many of them self portraits, that you might want to check out at this link.

See my own self portrait on this blog.

How can you be happy when Prince Andrei Nikolaevich is dying?

Tolstoy once came down into his living room from the office he wrote in, saw his family laughing, and said, "How can you be happy when Prince Andrei Nikolaevich is dying upstairs?" When you truly experience that feeling concerning your own characters, you are a writer.

Post-novel depression's intense pain tortures the most talented writers. When the writing is finished, the developing, changing, coming-to-life characters are no longer alive and growing. They are the writer's children during the writing process. When the novel is done and the writing stops, they become unchanging memories. It's like your own children have died, and all you have left is their memories.

David Brin says that writing is the ultimate sadomasochistic experience. A writer succeeds when the readers can't stop reading, giving up food, sleep, and sex, because they can't put the book down. The greatest compliment I ever received was when an MIT student complained that my novel gave him a bad grade on an exam. With the best novels, readers are in bondage to the novelist. The aim of the writer is to create characters as vivid as one's best friend, parents, or even spouse, so that the reader worries terribly about what is going to happen next to that character. The readers are enthralled, with "thrall" being another word for "slave." But the one most enslaved by the writing is the writer himself, as Tolstoy was with Andrei Bolkonsky. Tolstoy destroyed my vision, because I read War and Peace in one weekend.

Insanity, Figment of Imagination, or Actual Presence of God

Every working day at lunchtime I write my climate change novel on my laptop propped between my belly and the steering wheel. There can be no Internet in the parking garage deep underneath my job’s building. There are no distractions. It is absolute privacy: the best environment for writing. The chapter I was working on this particular day concerned father and son characters who hate each other. The scene as I had written it ended with the father saying, “Why do you have to be so God-damned right all the time, so damned smart?”
Then I noticed another line on the screen. It was two words: “they hug.” I did not remember writing those words. That was not how I viewed the scene. I did not know why those words were there or how they got there. But then I thought to myself that this is exactly what the scene needs. I needed to rewrite the chapter so at the end of it the father and son hug each other: each one sobbing. It will be one of the strongest scenes in the book. It will be the culmination of their relationship so far and the start of their relationship going forward.
Suddenly, my whole body started to tingle. It was not from emotions. It was physical. There was something in the car with me, just over my right shoulder. I turned, but there was nothing there. My first thought was to open the car door and start running. I needed to run as fast as I could possibly go, as far away as I could get. And I knew I had to go to an ocean. The safest place would be a boat in the middle of the biggest ocean I could find. —This is all true. That is what I thought.
Then just as suddenly as it appeared, the tingling, the presence in the car, was gone. I sat there trying to breathe. I was again safe. And I thought, “Jonah.” That was how Jonah must have felt when God came to him and asked him to go to Nineveh. I had always wondered, as a kid, why Jonah ran. How could he not have known it was impossible to get away from an all-powerful God? But that was exactly what I had wanted to do. There was something in my car that was far too powerful for me to be next to. I had known I needed to get away, before that power stopped my heart from beating. If that being had stayed any longer in the car with me, I would have died.
Of course, over the next few days this was all I thought about. I didn’t think I was crazy. I am not religious enough, egotistical enough, or stupid enough to believe God would come into my car and put words on my computer screen. So, I decided that it must have been a figment of my imagination. I must have typed those words. What had happened was the result of my having read the story of Jonah during Yom Kippur services, and I had recalled the scene from the movie, “Oh God,” in which George Burns’s, playing God, makes it rain inside a car. But it felt so real. For the rest of my life, I’ll have doubts that it might actually have happened.
I would like to add a comment that this novel is coming along far, far, better than I could possibly have imagined when I started it. I never thought I had the talent to write something as good as the novel I am currently writing.
I hope I am being funny when I say, “Hey God, if you are helping me out here, well, then, thank you.”