We baby boomers are the right age to be reflective. For Phyllis Edgerly Ring of Exeter, New Hampshire, reflections about starting to write a book when she was a lot younger but refining it later in life make her realize how much more mature she has become.
I had lots of expectations for my first novel when I began writing it in my 30s. Never did I imagine that when it was finally published, my strongest feeling would be, “Thank heaven this didn’t happen sooner.”
This stage of life reinforces the fact that anything of value is not only worth waiting for, but subject to a right-timing factor we can never predict.
Snow Fence Road looked ready to fly 20 years ago when a respected literary agency agreed to represent it. Things seemed on-track for success… until life brought changes in the outer world that decided otherwise.
Today, it’s my inner world that appreciates this the most. Today it’s a different book, in a different world, and I’m a writer with a far different perspective. Two decades ago, my book most likely had a narrow (i.e. months-long) window of time and opportunity to reach readers. Now its possibilities seem as wide as my willingness to follow an ever-unfolding learning curve. Social media and a digital world extend a global reach that astonishes me almost as much as the role readers themselves now play in advancing awareness of and appreciation for the book. Yes, there are wildly shifting sands in the publishing experience now, but there are horizons I couldn’t have imagined 25 years ago.
Life’s university (and occasional gauntlet) has led me to understandings about this book that I didn’t have when it first took shape (or at least, not consciously). Snow Fence Road is a love story about how hearts are healed. I wasn’t ready to put a theme like that out into the world until I’d learned a whole lot more about it.
In these times when even “sweet” romance can dwell in scenes that lean into sexual thralldom, this story employs more emotional and spiritual themes because, having lived this long, I’ve had the chance to observe in hundreds of lives the reality that no amount of physical love or attraction ever helps hearts heal, but genuine love does. I’m talking about the committed, lasting kind of love that becomes adept at accepting, and sharing, and trusting enough to be vulnerable.
Something else I recognize now that my younger self didn’t is how much my story explores a theme that affects a lot of readers in my generation: the weight of secrets: why we keep them when they drain our life away, when there isn’t even need to, though shame and guilt convince us otherwise. I believe that we learn to keep secrets to avoid vulnerability, and then never get to know what real intimacy is.
My current novel-in-progress, set in wartime Germany, also explores the debilitating effect of secrets through the generations, and how having the courage to face truth frees us.
At this stage of life, it’s also easier to make peace with my seat-of-the-pants writing style and value and trust it more. Just as I’ve learned that certain foods and lifestyle choices will give me strength and vitality while others deplete and weaken my health, I’ve discovered that taking ownership of my creative process and being faithful to it will always reward me. The surprise is how much it heals me as well, if I’m willing to accept it on its own terms.
During publication of my first (nonfiction) book, I received an eternal gift in one observation from my editor, wisdom that applies to life as well as to writing. She pointed out that everything we do is accomplished in increments, one at a time.
“Any undertaking seems overwhelming when we try to encompass it in our mind,” she told me. “But really, what we’re usually doing is simply discovering the next piece, and the next, until it all comes together. And often, the pieces find you, if you let them.”