Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Honoring Silence

Whenever I’m invited on a blog for an Author Q & A, one question invariably pops up: where do the ideas for my novels come from?

Birdie Kaminsky, the beautiful thief in Treasure Me, arose from my subconscious on a spring morning as I prepared to work on another novel. My four children were still tucked in their beds in the morning’s sweet silence. As dawn filtered a pinkish glow across the forest surrounding our house, I suddenly visualized an amusing sequence with a young woman dangling from a window trying to escape the man whose pocket she’d picked.

Second Chance Grill? I was in Child’s Pose in yoga class when a mischievous preteen, Blossom Perini, drifted into my thoughts with her tumble of corkscrew curls and fierce desire to survive. It didn’t take long to realize I’d conjured her from the despair buried in a forgotten childhood and the memory of losing my cousin, age four, to leukemia.

The plot for The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge arrived on a more circuitous route. After adopting my four children from a shelter in the Philippines, I spent the first year of motherhood teaching them to speak English. Not that my oldest daughter, Christian, and my son, Jameson, needed an entire year of tutoring before displaying a desperate need to share their most frightening memories. Instinctively I’d hand them dolls, which they’d used to play-act the abuse they’d endured. Listening to children recall beatings and starvation would test the soul of any caring adult. But I’d come to think of Christian and Jameson as mine. Listening to their stories filled me with impotent rage as if I should’ve been able to do something even though the abuse occurred long before I met them.

I carried those stories with me on quiet drives or while walking in the woods—the only times when I was alone and felt it was safe to cry. The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge took shape during those moments of isolation.

I’ve written other novels during the last thirty years, amateurish scribblings tossed out soon after the pages whirled from my printer. The characters and general plot of every one of those books tiptoed in through the quiet.

We’ve all heard about the health risks of noise. Most of my friends, by the time they reach middle age, complain of sleepless nights. And while you may know that noise pollution puts you at risk for coronary heart disease, here’s another reason to safeguard whatever silence you can build into your life: it will enrich the books you choose to write.

Unplug, disengage and ignore the ringing phone. Create tranquil moments. Give yourself a few minutes every day. That precious grey matter between your ears can’t supply you with the next character, or the next plot, without the fertile soil of silence.  


  1. This is a great post, and something I've learned over the last three months. I'm very new to putting my writing out there, but I too find that silence is the only way to really focus.

    Thanks for sharing how your writing came about, and also your experiences with your children.

  2. Thank you for a lovely reminder to sit still and let the silence speak.

  3. Creativity rarely enters a noisy room. Thanks for reading along, Sheila.