The River by Starlight

Her brother’s letter touched a match to the wick of Annie’s doused dreams. Dream enough for her, to stroll the length of a town without the abortive glances, the stilted greetings, the wider berth given her on the sidewalk. “I could use some help out here,” he wrote. “What’s holding you to Iowa anyway?”

Annie Rushton leaves behind an unsettling past to join her brother on his Montana homestead and make a determined fresh start. There, sparks fly when she tangles with Adam Fielding, a visionary businessman-farmer determined to make his own way and answer to no one. Neither is looking for a partner, but they give in to their undeniable chemistry. 

Annie and Adam’s marriage brims with astounding success and sizzling passion, but their dream of having a child eludes them as a mysterious illness of mind and body plagues Annie’s pregnancies. Amidst deepening economic adversity, natural disaster, and the onset of world war, their personal struggles collide with the societal mores of the day. Annie’s shattering periods of black depression and violent outbursts exact a terrible price. The life the Fieldings have forged begins to unravel, and the only path ahead leads to unthinkable loss.

Based on true events, this sweeping novel weaves a century-old tale of love, heartbreak, healing, and redemption embodied in one woman’s tenacious quest for self-determination in the face of devastating misfortune and social injustice.

 


Gold Medalist, Regional Fiction, 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards
 

The River by Starlight book webpage: https://ellennotbohm.com/the-river-by-starlight/
 

More articles and essays by Ellen: https://ellennotbohm.com/articles-essays/

 

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Feature

5 Ways to Overcome Writer's Wait

Don't Let the Anxiety of Waiting Get You Down

In a culture that demands instant-everything, writers live in a parallel universe called Waiting. Our work requires the antithesis of now! now! now! The ability to embrace patience and perseverance will be a make-or-break quality for most writers.  

Before our omnipresent cell phones, people hoping for important calls Waited by the Phone, annoyingly personified by the love-sick young woman or nail-biting job applicant. Our phones go everywhere with us now, but some writers still Wait by the Phone. We wait for responses to queries and submissions, for publication, for reviews. The effect can be the same as those long-ago homebound waits—you miss out on so much you could or should do because you can’t overcome the anxiety of the wait. This frustratingly frittered time conjures George Carlin’s riff on a dog’s life: “They're just waiting and waiting. Waiting to come in, waiting to go out, waiting to wake up, waiting to sleep, waiting to go upstairs, waiting to go downstairs . . . waiting to wait.” 

Sometimes we writers wait like dogs. But it isn’t the waiting itself that’s a bad thing, it’s the forlorn connotations and the self-sabotaging language we apply that get in the way of being constructive about our waiting. As writers, what’s more familiar to us than revision? So, with a little revision, a little redefinition, I found I could relegate “writer’s wait” to a status reserved for only the most consequential situations. 

Here’s how. 

1. Just don’t play 

Alexander Pope’s adage, “Blessed is (s)he who expects nothing, for (s)he shall never be disappointed,” is good context for easing waiting-game anxiety. A mentor early in my career framed it this way: if you’re going to give queries that dating overtone, know that you’re not “going steady” until your piece or manuscript has been accepted, and until then you play the field.

2. Don’t “start projects.”

Words and thoughts flow more freely for me when I let go of framing my writing in self-defeating terms. “Starting a new project” is something we often feel we should be doing while waiting; it will sometimes feel exhilarating, but can also feel intimidating. But letting yourself simply write without parameters offers the joy of open-ended possibility, and no pressure. Just write. Anything. Posts, tweets, op-eds, book reviews, newsletter articles, experimentation with new forms, all of it counts as writing, all of it keeps the pump primed. For many writers, a published book is the Holy Grail. I’ve published successful books, and I’ve tortured myself over the ones not yet published. But the idea that a book is the only “real” writing is not only stifling but leaves on the table numerous opportunities to expand your audience.

3. Reading, running and reflecting is writing.

When the engine is idling in low gear, shift into continuing education and self-care. Whether waiting for a project to ripen and take its next step or taking a purposeful break between projects, time spent refilling the well, creatively, emotionally and physically is time well spent. Reading widely and without expectation can spark new ideas. Exercise, the physical kind, but also the exercise of writing muscles you perhaps don’t use as often, is what sustains a writing career. Do it even when—perhaps especially when—it’s stuff you think you’ll never let anyone see.

Writing prompts are invaluable when you think you have nothing to say, and can be just as enlightening when framed as prompts for self-reflection without writing a word. Prompts are available on numerous websites, or by exchanging with writer buddies. I particularly like this when the buddy knows what I’m working on and gives me provocative prompts that push me into new territory. Or ping me, tell me a few lines about yourself, and I’ll send you some prompts. 

4.  See the glass half-full. 

Much of the business of waiting is out of the author’s control. Take control of the aspects of your writing that you can govern, take a practical attitude toward what you can’t, and cultivate the perspective to know the difference. You’ll likely find that the list of what you can control is much longer. You control all your own actions, and all your reactions to the actions of others. My young son once pointed out that a half-empty glass isn’t half-empty—it’s full of air, and there’s nothing more essential for life, ergo writing, than that. I always have contingency plans when one eventuality doesn’t work out. There’s always another publisher, another agent, another editor, another audience, another revision, another idea. Being a successful writer isn’t just about being able to string cohesive sentences together and wait for someone to say “yes.” It’s just as important to be able to hear the word “no” repeatedly and not lose your bearings. 

5. Let go of self-defeating definitions 

Some writers feel guilty when they “keep switching projects.” That’s more self-defeating language inflicted by the anxiety of waiting for the muse to show up. I can work on different projects from day to day and think of it as keeping my work balanced, granting myself a wide definition of what constitutes productivity. Arbitrary benchmarks such as writing 1,000 words a day aren’t meaningful to me. Some days I can easily write 1,000 words, but more than once I have spent an entire day perfecting a few sentences. And sometimes none at all. 

Some of the most useful advice I ever received came when I was awarded a writing residency some years ago. The Welcome information included this: “Expand your definition of what it means ‘to be writing’ if your definition doesn’t include daydreaming, false starts, walks in the woods, reading or watching a bird. You can be 'working on a piece' in many different ways.” 

The muse knows this. And so there are days when I pick up a book, my daydreams, and a half-full glass, and head for the Waiting Room to join her.

* * * * *

Ellen Notbohm is an internationally renowned author whose work has informed and delighted millions in more than twenty languages. In addition to her award-winning books on autism and her award-winning novel The River by Starlight, her articles and columns on such diverse subjects as history, genealogy, baseball, writing and community affairs have appeared in major publications and captured audiences on every continent. Ellen is an avid genealogist, knitter, beachcomber, and thrift store hound who has never knowingly walked by a used bookstore without going in and dropping coin.

 


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