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How to Read a Book (based on a true story)

Among the throng of readers devouring books out there, and we writers just want to say, thank you, there is a little realized approach to reading that can bring unique fulfillment:  Imagine what the writer was going through when she or he wrote what you have in your hands. For as much drama as the book you are now reading might possess, as much wonder as it might stir within you, trust me, the drama of actually getting that thing to print is a story in itself.  

Picture the writer huddled in a chair, fighting against writers block, finally getting the inspiration and hope to push through, editing that section on the magic turtle showing up with a message for the family, realizing that magical realism doesn't quite fit in a historical novel, but now the new thoughts come like a water tap turned on, and the writer is remembering why she does this, it's for these moments when the path in the story clears and the characters are alive and real.  She can hear their voices.  She can't believe in ever stopping. The exhilaration is beyond anything that —  


No.  Not now. 

 "Half the gerbil's tail came off."

And this poor writer is swept into another human drama as she looks in the cage and yes, one gerbil has half a tail and the other one is looking guilty. 

"Mommy, did they have a fight?"


"They'll make up.  They're best friends."  

Maybe not.

And now this writer must keep her brain focused between her glorious story and this drama of life and possibly death, certainly dismemberment, in the animal kingdom, and having only one cage, she takes the gerbil with half a tail, who does seem to be handling it quite well, puts that animal in a plastic bin with food and toilet paper rolls, and calls the vet whose assistant says, yes, he examines gerbils, but they're exotic animals, so we have to charge you more.  And the writer, who knows, as we all do, there is nothing exotic about a rodent, has a third part now opening up in her brain that says, I will need to use this in a story, but not my historical novel about love and loss during the black plague.  The vet can't see her for three hours, so she goes back to her story, but it's strangely not  connected anymore, she's lost that moment of creative abandon, her characters have scattered and she is trying to rope them back, she tries to remember the voices and the rhythms and the progression – 



"Will she die?"  Sobbing.

The writer, of course, gets up and tends to this deep moment and comforts the child.  They have hot cocoa, they talk about the great moments in this gerbil's life, all six weeks of them, they laugh, and they cry together.

It's time to go to the vet, the gerbil seems nonplussed, and the vet confirms this.  "Looks like he's going to be fine."

"It's a girl," the child says.

"Sometimes gerbils go at each other," the vet offers.  "It's best to separate them."  He puts a little ointment on the tail and charges an exorbitant fee for this consultation, far more money than the gerbil cost, although the writer does notice that the gerbil has perked up at the thought of being an exotic animal.  The writer then goes to the pet store and buys another cage, the writer sets this up in the TV room, the child says, "Okay, you guys, make up."  The gerbils glare at each other from across the room.  It''s close to dinnertime, but the writer needs to finish this chapter, so she sits at her desk, and digs deep within until the phone rings and a snarky woman from Mastercard wants to know when she might be sending in that overdue payment.  Now the gas company decides that this is the moment to begin excavating the street and an an army of men with jackhammers appear out of nowhere, but the writer puts on her noise cancelling headphones and finishes the chapter.  It is not a great chapter, it hovers just above okay, but hope is the writer's warm blankie, for surely tomorrow there will be no interruptions, the story will pour out, and the book will be drop-dead brilliant.   

And so it goes in the backrooms of literature.  I can assure you that everything you read will have some of this human drama tucked inside the folds.  May this enhance your reading pleasure knowing the struggle writers go through to bring you our stories.