Here’s the most curious thing that happens to me: Whenever I’m working on a new project, synchronicities appear like a knight on a white horse. They can be fascinating or sometimes eerie, but mostly fascinating. I better rewind. I recently started a new project, a young adult novel with a very different tone than my last two. This one, it turns out, wants to be funny. I remember my agent once suggesting that I write something humorous, because I guess I can be a funny/quirky/eccentric person on occasion. When she said that, I thought, No way can I pull off humor, like, in every chapter. Talk about pressure. But to my surprise (and happiness), I’m finding that the funny comes without much effort on my part. Once again the characters volunteer to do the heavy lifting. But wait, I think I wandered off topic. Okay, so here I am, writing a book about an Italian Exchange student, when my fifteen year old daughter announces that she’d like to be an exchange student next year, in…guess where? Italy. I’m surprised by the coincidence, but after some thought, research and soul searching, we agree. She begins her application. I go back to my project, but soon get to a point where I hit a roadblock. I’m afraid I don’t know what would truly happen to my characters in the scene I’ve started. So I research various exchange student situations, but still, I can’t find the sweet spot of authenticity. So I’m out walking with a friend when she tells me about another friend who’s hosting an Italian exchange student. A few emails later, the student agrees to come over to my house and sit through two hours of invasive questions about his life. And what’s his name? Michele. What’s my main character’s name? Michele. Yeah. It’s not even a top twenty most common name in Italy. This “sign” helps boost my confidence.
I write some more, but then I hit another fictional situation that stumps me. While being confused, I check email. There it is: an emergency letter from my daughter’s school. Apparently, there’s another Italian exchange student who needs a new family to host him for the second semester. (Mind you, I’ve never even run across an Italian exchange student in our county before.) The email says that he can only stay at our school if a volunteer host family is located as fast as possible. It also turns out that one of my friends hosted a Japanese exchange student before (which led to the idea for this project) and she agrees this is a great opportunity for me, as a writer, and for my daughter, as future exchange student, so she generously signs on to be an emergency bridge family for one week while our family gets vetted as a replacement. In a whirlwind week, which includes filling out pages of applications, reference checks, and background searches, we are approved and our new “son” moves in. This is what I call synchronicity–for him, because they were considering sending him home because he would miss too much school while they located a new family, but thanks to my emergency host friend, the process was sped up enough to rescue his trip. For my own teen, who now reads Harry Potter in Italian aloud to get much needed pronunciation help. For my husband, who’s only experienced daughters (enough said), and for me, with a project that’s now been officially stamped by the mysterious-powers-that-be as “write-worthy.” Within two days, I learn the answer to my previously stumpable question in a most organic way. Think they call this primary research.
Synchronicity has given me that kick in the butt I need. And so I move on. Here comes chapter four….