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–117– Dark Green and Velvety, with a Dusting of Cat Fur -­ One week and three days. That’s how long my manuscript has been with the agent. I came to the agent through a friend, who said that I should expect to hear back in six to seven weeks at the earliest. That, she explained, is about normal for agents. “The best, sanest response to sending out a manuscript,” she added, “is to start writing something else right away.” She’s had two novels on the New York Times Best Seller list and is now at work on her third. And so, with her as my guide, here I am: back on the couch. Not the psychotherapeutic couch. Not the casting couch. The writing couch. This massive couch is dark green and velvety, with a dusting of cat fur. It reminds me of the Gump, the magical flying machine in The Marvelous Land of Oz, a book I used to read and reread. The Gump was constructed from two identical purple sofas roped together, as I recall, with a deer’s head attached at one end and a palm frond at the other. My couch doesn’t fly, but it has taken me many places. An inheritance from my mother’s two older sisters paid for the couch. Their bequest also covered my extended stays in Paris to –118– learn French and the hospital bills for emergency surgery when I was uninsured. The reason that the couch became the writing couch is because my writing process now involves a great deal of sleeping. That emergency surgery revealed my chronic degenerative lung disease , which is so debilitating that I cannot write for more than an hour and a half without pausing for a nap. (In fact, half an hour of shut-­ eye intervened between the end of the previous paragraph and the beginning of this one.) And while I certainly could write at my desk and climb the ladder to the loft bed each time I need to rest, writing and resting in the same place is highly efficient. Taking breaks without getting up cuts out the distractions, increasing the likelihood that I will resume work immediately on waking. The book I just sent out took four years to write, four years spread out across six years. Spread out across six years, because there were two years in the middle when I abandoned the manuscript , convinced that I would never return to it. Plus half a year (which I now include in the four productive years) when I was working on something I thought would not fit into the book but that eventually found its way in. During those years on the writing couch, I learned that I must have certain items within arm’s reach while writing, otherwise things will not go well. Before settling down to work, I make my way around the room, gathering what I need and depositing it all in a pile on the couch: ChapStick, Kleenex, flash drive, any notes or books I may need, and my landline and cell phones. (I don’t answer the phone when I’m writing, but I like to see who’s calling.) I place a glass of water on a small table next to the couch. In all seasons, I wear a pair of wool socks and cover myself with the gray afghan with red trim crocheted by my grandmother, dead these forty years. I open the computer and off I go: write, sleep, write, sleep, write. This is the ideal sequence: three stints of writing intercut with two of sleep. It adds up to some four or five –119– hours of writing, spread out across six or seven hours total. This is how I spend my weekends. As I become engrossed, I feel the benevolent spirits of my aunts hovering close by. They were avid readers, as is my mother, the youngest. My grandmother (the same one who crocheted the afghan ) was mystified by this love of literature; when one of her daughters brought home some new title, she would say, “Another book? Don’t you already have some?” Many of my aunts’ books found their way into my personal collection while they were alive. Even more came to me after they died. If I’m unsure of the provenance of a particular volume on my shelf, it’s a safe bet that it belonged to one of the aunts. Some of my books simply could not...


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