Wine & Words & Writer’s Whimsy

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Last week, I was invited to discuss my novel, Finding Tranquility Base, with the members of the Wine & Words Book Club at Mitchell’s Bookshop in Agoura Hills, California. The group, led by Christine Harris of Espresso in Italy, meets monthly on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in the bookstore.

Now this is a group after my own heart, not only because they appreciate a good read and a fine glass of wine, but because they share my support for Mitchell’s, our local independent bookstore. And for me, there’s nothing quite like seeing my novel in the window of my hometown bookstore. The fact that I can drive there from my house in fewer than ten minutes is an added benefit.

This time my daughter Natalie agreed to act as my sidekick and photographer, but only after I promised to let her drive on the way back home. She mentioned something about a trip to San Diego, going the wrong way on the freeway and crossing borders into other countries… I dunno.

Kate kicked off the discussion with lots of great questions and I spoke a little about what my intentions were when writing my novel. It felt good getting to explain why I avoided going into detail about some characters as opposed to others, and describing why I nixed lengthy paragraphs that did nothing to help further the plot.

As the discussion developed, we talked about novels with ambiguous endings and how real life is just that way. This somehow led to talk about mopeds and shoes under the bed and French presidents going stag to state dinners at the White House.

For those of you who may not have heard, the White House recently had a protocol problem when the president of France ditched his long time live-in-girlfriend (and first lady of France for all intents and purposes) for a French actress shortly before he was to attend a very formal state dinner in Washington, D.C.

This sent the protocol police into a tizzy to find the best way to handle the situation since nothing like this had ever happened before. Apparently the etiquette books don’t have a rule for who gets to take the seat next to the leader of the free world (normally reserved for the spouse of the visiting dignitary) at state dinner banquets when the choices come down to the former-not-exactly-first-lady or the present-and-perhaps-provisional-paramour.

Tracy said she thought there was a perfect example of ambiguity there. A case of ambiguous endings for ambiguous liaisons, I suppose.

Evelyne (pronounced Eve-leen with the accent on the second syllable) has dual citizenship in both France and the U.S., and she said the French are totally fine with ambiguity—that it’s more of an American thing to strive for absolute happiness and perfection, the French being much more comfortable embracing a c’est la vie attitude. I thought she had a good point there.

All of this nicely supported my position that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and real life dramas can sometimes rival anything our imaginations can conjure up.

We went on to talk about how fear (often disguised as logic, the voice of reason, or any number of excuses) can smother a writer’s inspiration before it’s even had a chance to ignite. I recommended Ralph Keyes’ seminal book The Courage to Write to those in the group who are fanning their own internal writer flame.

We also talked about taking yourself on “artist dates” to cultivate that right brain creativity—something taken from Julia Cameron’s classic The Artist’s Way. I revealed that my first artist date was a very unceremonious visit to the CVS store where, after filling some prescriptions, I allowed my whimsical inner child to indulge in the spontaneous purchase of a $12 castle clock for my writing desk.

Not very glamorous, I know, but it’s all about what the magical inner child values and not what the adult wants. (Just so you know, my adult self would have preferred a Howard Miller mantle clock but they don’t sell those at CVS anyway). And I was going to say that my creative genius shows up to play more often when I bring chocolate, but I guess we can save that for another time.

Did I mention there was wine? Of both the red and white varieties. And quiche, and grapes, and books. Lots and lots of books, along with comfortable leather wingback chairs, a cushy sofa, wood floors, an espresso machine and a big bay window in the front. Mitchell’s is truly the epitome of quaint, and Michael Mitchell (he goes by his last name) the owner, is the perfect charming host.

Wine & Words turned out to be a really fun group of lovers. Lovers of all things good: good wines, food, coffee, books, politics, scandal, travel, friends, and creative expression. Just my kind of peeps. The conversation was upbeat, open, sincere, slightly tawdry, somewhat cynical (in only the best kind of way), and just a tad bit giddy.

I guess you just had to be there.

And something tells me I’ll be back.

And next time I’ll bring chocolate.;)

PHOTO Left to Right: Tracy, Evelyne, Erika, Christine, Michelle, Kate, Sharon, Mitchell, & Yours Truly

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4 Responses to “Wine & Words & Writer’s Whimsy”

  1. Loved this blog post, Janet. They sound like my kind of group too. Wine, books, and juicy conversation. I will definitely have to check out Mitchell’s the next time I’m driving west on the 101. Sounds utterly charming. : )

  2. Kate Anders says:

    Beautifully said! I appreciated your candidness and willingness to share your writing process with us.

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