Last week I watched and listened to a lecture about Agatha Christie. During the weekend I read a New York Times article about the author, Gayl Jones.* I thank Zoom and the New York Adventure Club for steering me to the Agatha Christie presentation, and I’m grateful to my sister Stephanie for sending me the link to the essay about Gayl Jones.
Who isn’t familiar with Ms. Christie? Who is familiar with Ms. Jones?
During her career Dame Christie wrote forty-three books, twenty-four plays, and forty-four television programs and films. The last category was composed of scripts based upon some of her books and plays. Minus the discovery of some previously unpublished work, Dame Christie’s writing career ended upon her death. She wrote prolifically, one book after another tumbling from her typewriter with the constancy of a waterfall.
Ms. Jones’ writing career included her contributions of poetry and short fiction to anthologies, and three novels, Eva’s Man, The Healing, and Corregidora, her masterwork. Now, after a twenty-two year absence from the book scene, Ms. Jones has written another novel, Palmares.
Of course, we don’t know how many books, short stories, and poems Ms. Jones has written during her twenty-two-years hiatus from the New York Times’ Best Sellers List, do we? Did her literary work slow to a trickle, or did it continue, on streams of paper held privately, out of view?
This might be a false assumption on my part, but I don’t think it’s possible to walk away from writing. I doubt a fiction writer can banish her tendency to see more than what’s in front of her eyes, or hear the unspoken words uttered by an anonymous couple sitting at an outdoor café, or sense the undercurrents of memories lurking inside the abandoned house she passes whenever she drives to the market.
Quite a few of my writer friends are able to produce book after book, Christie-like, without pausing for breath. While announcing an upcoming publication date, they can cite yet another date, sometimes within the same calendar year, when a subsequent novel will be available.
Others, myself included, need more time to be found by new characters and plots. We watch and wait as a couple of years (or more) pass by before we’re swept into that sweet eddy of creativity.
Although a generation-long break between books seems unusual, Gayl Jones isn’t the only writer who appears to have stopped cold-turkey before picking up her pen again. Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) comes to mind, as do Nikki Baker ( her Virginia Kelly mystery series,) and Gabrielle Goldsby (her romance and mystery novels.) As quickly as they lured us into loving their words/stories, they left.
I suppose there are as many reasons for the disruption of a writer’s output as there are writers. Life’s vicissitudes claim their sovereign rights to an author’s time, energy, and inspiration. Many writers live in their heads, but let’s face it, there’s just so much sharable space up there. Real life is a persistent intruder. Always stranger than truth, today’s realities have surpassed their “strangeness quotient.”
So…let’s be thankful for the authors who don’t need to take breaks between their books. They unselfishly give their readers a steady supply of joy. Let’s be patient with those who must come up for air before their next story grabs them by the hand and compels them to spend the time it takes to write deeply, carefully, and thoughtfully.
Whether their work gushes like a waterfall or trickles slowly like the last raindrops leaving a window ledge at the end of a brief shower, writers deserve our thanks and gratitude.
*”She Changed Black Literature Forever. Then She Disappeared.” Imani Perry, New York Times, September 19, 2021
Renée Bess appreciates writers. She’s the author of five novels, the co-story collector of the 2018 Goldie Award winning anthology, Our Happy Hours, LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars, and the recently published book, Between a Rock and a Soft Place, Collected Works. She blogs here, at The Wide Window, when she has something to say.
6 thoughts on “SOMEWHERE BETWEEN A WATERFALL AND A TRICKLE”
I wish I could write like a waterfall….but then again do I?
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If you’re writing everyday, you’re more like a waterfall than a trickle.
Kat, if you’re writing something almost every day, you’re in the midst of the waterfall.
I love the title, and I especially love “we’re swept into that sweet eddy of creativity.” Thank you, Renee.
Thank YOU, Joan! I appreciate receiving your comment.
— totally enjoyed your blog post! Thank you, Renee… (makes me wonder if Child Prodigies were like “Waterfalls” in a past life — creating daily — as authors, fine artists, musicians, etc., — to the extent that their tendency to create appeared early in this Lifetime.