Thursday, January 9, 2014

Update on Ants

Facebook has a feature where you can generate a "word cloud" of the most used words in your status updates throughout the year, arrayed in a striking graphic display where the very most used words stand out in a large, dramatic font. Other friends did this and their most used words popped out: the names of their children or significant others,words like FRIENDS, VENICE, HAWAII, WEDDING.

I did it, too. The word that dominated my cluster as THE most significant word of my entire year?


I posted a lot about the ant farm that I purchased for research into writing my new book series, The Nora Notebooks, about a serious, scientific girl who studies ants. I posted about how all my ants died. I solicited ideas for ant experiments that Nora could do and received tons of helpful replies, including a suggestion that I read what turned out indeed to be a marvelous book: Journey to the Ants by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson.

Now the first book in the three-book Nora series is done - well, that is to day, draft one of the book is written. I emailed it to my editor Nancy Hinkel, at Knopf/Random House, two days after Christmas. She emailed me this past Sunday night with an enthusiastic response. Hooray!

But now I need to write books two and three, one due in May and one due in June. May and June are not very far apart. And I'll be teaching a full load, actually an overload, at the University of Colorado during that entire time frame. So it behooves me to begin. It behooves me to begin TODAY.

These two books will be easier, I hope. Ants will be present in them - Nora will never abandon her love for ants! - but they won't be front and center stage. Other new plot lines will take their place as the central structural element of the books. The ants will still go marching two by two, but they'll march at the periphery of the story.

I wrote the first chapter of the first Nora book at my writing group retreat last summer up at the mountains near Lake Dillon. Now I want to write the first chapter of the second Nora book somewhere special with another dear writer friend.

I called my friend Cat. I have many friends who radiate creative energy, but Cat radiates creative energy with every fiber of her being. I told her, "I need to write chapter one somewhere special with someone special. Will you keep me company?" Cat was in. I decided I needed someplace that had a couch, by a fireplace, with some nibbles. Cat and I brainstormed possibilities.

So here is this morning's plan. I meet Cat at Boulder's posh St. Julien Hotel at 8:15 this morning. I called ahead to make sure we could take food from their eaterie out into the elegant, couch-filled lobby; they said, "Of course." I asked if the fireplace would be sure to be on at that hour. They said, "Yes," but then hesitated. Maybe it would, and maybe it wouldn't, but we could ask and one of their "engineers" would turn it on for us. Cat and I, fortified by the hotel breakfast and assisted by the hotel engineers, will write for an hour and a half in the lobby. Then we both have to go off to other activities and commitments.  I should get at least the first page written. Cat has a crucial chapter of her book to focus on as well.

I'm not sure my first page will have ants in it. This is, after all, a new book and a new year. Some other word, as yet undetermined, will dominate my Facebook word cloud. But I suspect that at the end of this year, that hour spent by the St. Julien fireplace with Cat will be one of its highlights.


  1. What a brilliant idea. It has never occurred to me to make writing the first page an occasion, but it will from now on. Great way to get over that feeling of horror that the blank first page so often carries with it.

  2. I love this idea too! And having a creative friend along is a wonderful idea!

  3. Such a great idea! I hate (hate hate hate) starting with a blank page, to the point that I usually start in the middle of the story just to avoid ever writing a first page... which I will just rewrite a bajillion times anyway. But if it's a special event, with fanfare and friends, that makes it almost like, well, like the end result at the very beginning. I'll have to remember this for my next project!

  4. Thanks for your enthusiasm, dear writing chums! I'm back now from the morning's first-page writing adventure. There was some group holding a geoscience conference that monopolized the fireplace half of the St. Julien lobby, but the other half still had a nice view of the fireplace and VERY comfy chairs and couches. Cat and I both had mimosas. I mean, why not? We also had extremely tasty oatmeal with extra berries and bananas. I wrote my first page. I'm not sure I love it - but I'm sure that it's written!