Sunday, May 10, 2015

You Know You're Writing the Right Story When...

synchronicity (n) The simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. Meaningful coincidence. Used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung.

More than any other writing project I have tackled, Sara's Year, my new story-in-progress, has bombarded me with so many meaningful coincidences that my once-mighty resistance to this novel-plus-screenplay has pretty much crumbled.

In case you missed my recent posts about the project, here as well as on Facebook and Google+, here's a recap...

Sara's Year is set in Montreal over a 50-year period between the 1930s and the 1980s, with a brief but significant episode in postwar Halifax. Not only is this story more directly autobiographical than anything I have ever written (other than my Acts of Surrender memoir, of course), it's also more creatively challenging than anything I have ever attempted. In addition, it involves considerable research because of its real-life setting and one real-life character.

Given all that, it's no wonder I was so hesitant when my Muse came knocking at my door! It didn't help that the first scene I wrote veered in such an unexpected direction that it was eight months before I returned to the manuscript. More accurately stated, I was nudged back to the manuscript by the first in a long and still-unfolding series of synchronistic events that eloquently and unequivocally demonstrated that this was my story to write...so I'd better get on with it!

It all began a year ago when, facing a series of health scares, I asked myself: "If I'm going to die sooner rather than later, what is it that I want to make sure I do and/or experience before I go?" To my surprise, the first answer that bubbled up from deep within was "write another novel." Soon after, with a vague sense of the story and a working title, I launched Sara's Year in a Santa Monica Starbucks.

Eight months later, I was signing books at the Lighted Bridge Communications booth at the Conscious Life Expo in L.A. when a man walked up to my table and, with a gaze of almost alarming intensity, asked me for my rising sign. "You need to be writing two hours before dawn," he proclaimed when I answered "Virgo." The next morning I woke up unexpectedly early and returned to Sara's Year, although any thought of a consistent predawn writing routine quickly evaporated.

After one of my first Facebook posts about the project, referencing Montreal's legendary Baron Byng High School (many well-known Canadian cultural and political luminaries were graduates, as was my mother; even William Shatner attended for a time), my sister messaged me. Did I know about the famous student murals at Baron Byng? Our mother's signature was on at least one.

No, I hadn't known. But a Google search turned up a 66-year-old article about the murals and about Anne Savage, the longtime Baron Byng art teacher and well-known Canadian artist under whose tutelage they were created. That day, Savage became a key secondary character in Sara's Year, my fictional pseudo-Baron Byng was replaced by the real thing and my version of the school's student murals became part of the story.

There have been too many Anne Savage synchronicities to chronicle in this post, but here are a few...

• I was out for a walk one day when it occurred to me that one of my best friends in high school might have had an Anne Savage connection through his mother. Ann Peterson was Art Supervisor for the same Montreal school board as had been Savage after she left Baron Byng. "Anne Savage was my mother's mentor," Greg wrote me. "She was really responsible for getting my mother the job."

• One of Anne Savage's artist colleagues and friends was Arthur Lismer, for three years principal of Halifax's Victoria School of Art and Design. By the time I discovered this, the school was already playing an important role in Sara's Year. (By that point in its history and my story's chronology, the school had been renamed the Nova Scotia College of Art (it's now NSCAD University).

• When I needed an excuse for one of my characters, an NSCAD professor and Anne Savage fan, to find himself in Montreal in 1956, I discovered that Savage had a one-woman show in the city that year. Perfect!

Which brings me to the many Halifax/NSCAD/Anna Leonowen synchronicities. Here's a sampling...

• I was researching NSCAD to make sure it was around in 1946, only to discover that it was founded in the late 19th century by Anna Leonowens (the real-life Anna of The King and I). Once I discovered that the original Anna and the King of Siam movie premiered in 1946 and that The King and I musical premiered 10 years later (again, perfect timing for events that needed to play out in both those years), the two films (and Anna herself) became key elements in the story.

• On a side note, I also discovered that post-Siam Anna not only lived in Halifax, she died and was buried in Montreal.

• While I was waiting for my team of volunteer researchers to find out for me when and where those films premiered in Halifax (the original film) and Montreal (the musical), I placed them in the theaters that would best serve the geography of the story: Anna and the King at the Capitol and The King and I at the Palace. When the research results came in, I discovered that the films had, in fact, premiered in those theaters.

The King and I opened at the Palace in Montreal exactly 27 years before the day I had already selected as the relevant character's funeral, an anniversary that also now plays into the story.

• In my nearly 18 years living in the U.S., I have never knowingly met anyone from Nova Scotia. One morning, about halfway through the first draft of the novel, I attended a workshop at the Apple Store. One of my fellow participants introduced himself as a Halifax native!

Where is Sara's Year today? I finished a first draft of the novel last week and am about a dozen pages into a first draft of the screenplay. Meantime, those "meaningful coincidences" keep showing up, which is just as well: Every time I feel discouraged about the project (often) or doubtful about my ability to carry it off (even more often), another synchronicity presents itself to remind me that I am writing the right story!

• What about you? What synchronicities have shown up in your life recently, whether as part of your creative life or not? Post your story as a comment on the original blog piece.

• UPDATE: Sara's Year is finished and out, and it's attracting not only rave reviews but awards! Look for it in paperback or ebook from your favorite online bookseller or signed by me to you from www.TheSaraStories.com. And watch for the reader-demanded sequel, After Sara's Year, coming in late 2016!

Photos 
#1 – This prototype cover featuring an image of Montreal's distinctive staircases is only being used to keep me inspired as I move forward with the project. It is not the final cover. (Credit: https://hammerphotography.wordpress.com)
#2 – Me at the Conscious Life Expo, February 2015 (Credit: www.marlenaelise.com)
#3 – Baron Byng High School
#4 – Artist Anne Savage
#5 – Now Halifax's Five Fishermen restaurant, this building was home to the Nova Scotia College of Art during Sara's Year
#6 – Montreal Palace Theatre (Credit: McCord Museum)

4 comments:

jf jordan said...

My latest adventure--the Panama Business Retreat at the end of this month (May 2015)--began back in March of 2007. That's when I got my first professional nanny job. Those parents are the aunt and uncle of the father of the little girls I last nannied.

The mother of those little girls has agreed to loan me the money to go to the Panama Business Retreat, which would not have happened if I had not nannied for my first family all the way back in 2007!

And I fully expect that I will meet new contacts and make new friends at the retreat that will help me to fulfill my dream of becoming a published/produced writer!

Synchronicity at work! There are no coincidences!

Mark David Gerson said...

Awesome, Jane. Thanks for sharing!!

wreichard said...

The writing of your books is always as much of an adventure (or more) than the books themselves! A pleasure to be included in the process--thanks, Mark David.

Mark David Gerson said...

Will: You're right about the adventure....and thanks!