Heavy Artillery

Michael Delancey is a character we’ve met in the Mischief in Mayfair series. Quiet, gentlemanly, already getting noticed in clerical circles, and sinfully attractive. This guy has Write Me a Book tattooed on his handsome… forearm, and yet, he’s stonewalling me.

I’ve tried writing prompts, journaling from his point of view, interviewing the characters who know him best, and putting him top of mind as I fall asleep and wake up. No joy–or no defining trauma, which is usually my way into a character. No howling character flaw, which can be another point of entry. No deathbed promises to Mama, no secret baby… yet. I’m stumped and the fact that the character is fighting me so hard just confirms my hunch that he’s keeping a good book under his hat.

But I’m not defeated. I know what I must do if I want to appease the goddess of book plotting. I must put my pride aside, go down on my knees, and START PULLING WEEDS.

My neck of the woods has been enjoying terrific growing seasons in recent years. Rainfall nudged up from the previous norm along with temperatures, so what used to turn into a hot dry summer is now more like a tropical rain forest. Everything grows like mad, and because it has been so hot, I blinked on the weeding. Silly Grace.

The weeds are spectacular. I could weed whack ’em down, but that would obliterate the flowers lurking among all the lambs’ quarters, purslane, and jewel weed. So I yank and I pull and I mutter and I dig, and gradually, my flower beds emerge from the jungle. In a few weeks, everything but the dahlias will give up, but that’s not the point.

The point is that weeding by hand is exactly the sort of task that lets my mind wander. Weeding isn’t entirely an auto-pilot job, but it’s simple, repetitive, a little physical, and good for letting my imagination go walkabout. I tend to use a broom instead of a vacuum cleaner for the same reason. The slower pace of manual labor, the very lack of automation, frees mind from body and me from reality.

I hope the pandemic gave us a renewed appreciation for weeding-level jobs. I came across one blog post from a guy who gave up using his noisy hedge trimmers for clipping by hand. He realized how quiet the old clippers were, how precise, and how they cut rather than tear the plant, which makes them far kinder to the ecosystem.

Lady Violet Pays a Call by Grace BurrowesWe got sick of our screens during the pandemic, could not go to the gym, and found pleasure in walking the neighborhood, baking our own bread, and crafting. I am hopeful that our investment in slower, lower-tech pastimes has paid off in more active imaginations, and more creativity–also much better quality bread than that eternal shelf life stuff we pick up at the store.

When you need to ponder a problem, do you turn to hobbies, pastimes, or play? Did the pandemic send you in any of those directions to a greater degree?

PS: For my mystery readers, Lady Violet Pays A Call, book seven in the series, will be available from the retail outlets on Tuesday, and is already on sale in the web store.

PPS: Michael is talking to me now. Muttered asides, but that’s a start.


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14 comments on “Heavy Artillery

  1. When I have a problem I can’t settle doing anything not hobbies,jobs,reading,writing I am not productive.I shut down on physical exercises completely.My brain however works on overdrive it causes sleepless nights and weary days.I become restless and twitchy.But it usually comes to a head by a sudden jolt of inspiration from somewhere______the solution !!!!.I’ve come to trust myself in the end to work it through and eventually do what needs to be done or leave it alone.My daughter deals with her problems with chocolate and her partner takes himself off to the garden with a pint of cool beer.We all cope somehow.Wishing you a happy productive writing spell,looking forward to violets book this Tuesday many thanks Grace.

  2. Your blog has sent me down some productive rabbit holes.

    However, I have to pay rather a lot of attention to what for some are semi-mindless tasks, including weeding. Walking the neighborhoods is good. I’ve had long thoughts in the shower and tub. Laundromats have been the location of inspiration a number of times. Trips as passenger before I go into survival mode (“I been through the desert on a horse with no name…”) are productive. I keep a small notebook in my purse for that purpose.

    The pandemic shut me down, locked me in place and showed me how powerless I am against governments’ policies and media. Prior to this, what happened at national/international levels had little effect on my life day to day. It has polarized this little town. A casual conversation with someone you don’t know well is a minefield, which is part of the reason you have heard quite so much from me. I thank you all.

  3. I try to do a long walk at least once a week without any music or podcast going, so my mind can just wander. it’s rejuvenating! I’ve also started baking my own bread, and the kneading encourages contemplation as well. half an hour of kneading requires some cogitations- I haven’t tried making this into a working (like a walking) meditation…

  4. I miss having my mind wander. Usually that occurs when I am sweeping, mopping or folding laundry – never stopped to notice that connection with being physically occupied. This makes me happy and gives me an incentive to do more housework.

    What you do for writing prompts is fascinating. As much as I read, I had never stopped to wonder about how a character is created.

    I’m behind on the Lady Violet books but really do love them – got 3 more of them this week. Life has really been cutting into my reading time.

    We have had four pet deaths in the last two months. Three of them were 16 years old and up. My oldest cat, Miss Emily Elizabeth, was euthanized yesterday. She was about 21 years old and her kidneys were shot. I had made her an appointment for the previous week, and on that day, she hopped out of her bed, went to her food bowl and ate with a good appetite. Needless to say, that appointment was cancelled. Her renaissance didn’t last long but it was fine to see.

    • Hi Pam –
      I agree about missing my mind wandering… it doesn’t happen as much as it used to.

      I’m SO so sorry to hear about your so many of your kitties and most recently, Miss Emily Elizabeth! I empathize and sympathize tremendously with you. I give you a cyber hug!

  5. So glad Michael is finally talking to you!! 😀

    My mind wanders in the shower… and, it used to wander when I was sitting in traffic. I love it when my mind wanders.
    I usually ponder a question/problem… ask myself questions.
    As a for instance, if I was talking with a person about a problem and got an unexpected, let’s say, vehement response… Then I would ask myself questions, “why did they respond like that?, what did I say? did I perhaps phrase my comment badly? Have I forgotten something that means way more to them than to me? etc.”
    Then, if I haven’t come up with any answers after awhile, I try hard to just go do dishes, or read, or journal, or watch tv… something that is _not_ focusing on the problem. At some point, I usually (but not always) have something flash through my grey matter! (That feeling is pretty awesome, too.)

  6. Unfortunately I do my best thinking at night, when I ought to be sleeping! When I have a problem that needs mulling over, I frequently wake up to a solution that has evaded me during the daylight hours. I wish I had a better coping method, but, in my defense, I come from a long line of worriers and insomniacs, going back generations. The other side of that overnight problem solving is that I frequently find myself agonizing over issues that are really non-issues: things I’ve said or not said, meals I’m planning or have already served (was there too much/too little of this or that?), home repairs or improvements that we are considering, medical conditions that we should check out (when is a lump just a lump?). It runs the gamut from the ridiculous to the deadly serious. After all these years I’ve accepted that this is just how I roll! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  7. Tina Ann’s comments could be mine. I am a brooder and ruminator, and that’s useless. The way I solve some conundrum is usually by actively NOT thinking about the issue, and then a bolt from the cosmos comes to me. What about having Michael Delancey be questioning his vocation? You do ministers so well – Daniel, Pietr Sorenson, etc. And in some of your stories the “issue” is really more internal, like Val or Casriel or Ash, although of course there is an external problem to solve as well.

  8. RE: Michael Delancey
    Might he stutter or suffer from crippling shyness? Perhaps he’s too shy to speak to you about himself. Does he have a sibling somewhere who might talk about him?

  9. Until very recently, I lived “down the road apiece” from you in Carroll County. Were we still there, I would offer up the weeds in my flower beds as additional inspiration should you have need of it. Alas, we moved back to my “home country” of Texas a few months ago. As it happens, we still have flower beds with lots of weeds at the new house and plenty of Southwest Airlines points to fly you to Austin…just say the word! My thinking time/place is during my drive to and from the office. There are pluses to WFH, but I do miss out on my thinking time.

  10. Long walks without music or podpasts get me thinking and the mind wanders. This can be productive in a “stream of consciousness eventually leading me where I need to go” way. Chopping vegetables, where I need to focus on what I am doing and not let my mind wander onto anything else, let’s things simmer in the back of my mind and come to me when there is a “breakthrough”.

  11. I do some of my best thinking/problem solving while mowing my yard, there is something zen about it for me. When my world is chaos I can at least control the lines in my front yard and sometimes that’s all I need to feel better or get an idea.

    I also find weeding to be helpful. And I’m a weirdo that will weed in the rain, not a thunderstorm because lightning isn’t conducive to thinking. A gentle rain is soothing, and cooling here in north Georgia, and makes it easier to pull the stubborn weeds out. Yard work is somehow mindful and mindless at the same time which I find to be helpful. Plus being in my garden weeding gives me a chance to thank the bees for doing their “bee magic,” which everyone should do.

  12. Music is my go-to. A lyric will catch me and get me philosophizing on an idea and POP I’ve got an answer. Your books, Grace, do that for me also. I highlight or write down what you’ve written, the book title and page number. Sometimes the quote becomes part of my review. Sometimes I reread a book just to reread the quote.

  13. I realize this is a little late to answer but I hope you are somewhere where you can listen when Michael really starts talking and coming alive. As I am sure he will.

    I was listening to an Elizabeth Gilbert interview, a long time ago, and she said (I sure wish I could find the exact wording) something like she was always glad when an idea / inspiration came to her that she could use. Evidently at one time a story line kept poking at her, but she didn’t have the time to address it. She finally offered the idea to another author and told her to use it with her blessing.

    Listened to an M L Buchman interview lately and was intrigued when he spoke about doing a story bible. Had to look that up and probably not something you need for Michael. Am with Pam when she said: “What you do for writing prompts is fascinating. As much as I read, I had never stopped to wonder about how a character is created.”.

    Keep weeding and listening, it will come.