I first read this quote in 1986 when I was in college studying Creative Writing. I was caught in the Thoreaus of a passionate love affair with Henry David. In fact, I was contemplating quitting college and moving to Walden where I could examine my life until the pond froze over. There was even a plan! If I remember correctly, it involved running away to New York City where my street artist roommate and I would struggle to pay inflated rent on a 300-square-foot apartment and eat macaroni and Spam five out of seven days per week. The angst of it all was tantalizing.
Pen in hand, I drafted a letter to my parents. “Mom, Dad, don’t panic. I know exactly what I’m doing. I have enough money to cover the one-way bus ticket to New York, and I’m sure lots of writing opportunities will present themselves once I’m there! It’s going to be an amazing adventure!”
Then Ernest Hemingway threw a big ol’ bucket of reality my way.
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
The interruption to my flight plan was mildly startling. After all, I’d bidden farewell to Hemingway and his arms when I’d fallen in love with the sensuous Thoreau. Still, his words managed to reach that small place inside me where my common sense had retreated to hide.
Perhaps, Common Sense argued, Hemingway’s warning was also meant for the very creative.
In the end, the letter was never mailed.
Oh, I documented every important event in my life throughout the next twenty-five years. I wrote reams of poetry and short stories. Family and friends graciously gushed, “You should totally publish this!” But I never took the leap.
Until the Fall of 2011. I had impulsively signed up for a writing class at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. One afternoon, as I was plotting the mystery novel I fully intended to write, an image flashed through my mind: Two boys ~ one tall and thin and one redheaded and freckled ~ stood beside a willow tree at a Bible Camp. They were holding hands.
Later that night I sat down to my computer and began to write. Roughly one year later Caught in the Crossfire was finished. Hemingway was right. There really was nothing to it. All I had to do was slice through the layers I’d accumulated throughout the years: the church lady layer and the Minnesota Nice layer, the good mother layer and the good daughter layer . . . and bleed.
I’m bleeding still, only now it’s red ink. More on the demons and delights of revision, a truly paranormal process, in my next blog!
To follow the story of Caught in the Crossfire from conception to (hopeful) publication, check out my website: www.juliannrich.com.