Great things can take a very long time.
Which seems somewhat anathema to our “instant” society, no?
As a novelist, I’m used to settling in for countless years with a place and people, with the twists and turns, the delights and sorrows of what the characters go through, the story ever deepening as it grows.
And that’s just the first draft.
It’s not unusual for one scene to take a week to write. Plus, let’s not focus on the time involved in revision and rewriting . . . Years can be optimistic.
And I can’t count the litany of novelists who only gained renown after their deaths. Herman Melville, for one, was buried in a pauper’s grave . . .
The joy is in the creating, no?
Although I always chuckle at the Cormac McCarthy quote: "I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing."
Every novelist I know gets a laugh from that.
To keep the faith, to believe in the process, is much like trusting Mother Nature that the rain will fall and the harvest come in.
Once upon a time, I was a farmer. And in recent years, a gardener. Doing so provides a great antidote to the eons it takes to see a book to fruition.
But even that depends somewhat upon what you’re cultivating.
As I rewrite my new novel, I’m so blessed to have the expertise and company of Gary McKibben, the grower and vintner at the Red Caboose vineyard and winery, who’s teaching me (or trying to!) the nuances of growing great wine grapes. Because of course, my fictional characters are doing just that, and in the same county, near the same land, where Gary creates his wonderful wines.
Every time I’m with him, I learn more than I can even begin to recount.
I’ve ambled through the pristine rows, grapes being nursed by the grandmother vines, and those just starting to produce nicely. I’ve gone there to pick grapes, the clusters full and glistening in the morning sun.
Last week, I went to see the ladies springing new growth, the harvest complete, their relief vigorously evident under the blue Texas sky.
And as we strolled I commented on how nice being a farmer was, seeing quickly (in comparison to novels) the fruits of your labor from early spring bud break to finally having the harvest complete.
This is the time as well of uncorking their new-release wines, and oh, my. Because at the Red Caboose they use no pesticides, they don’t have to filter the wines. The full mouth feel of them, the rich fruit-forward flavors. The noses so intense it takes a bit to even sort through the layering aromas.
And the legs do a virtual dance in the glass, flowing in continuous swirls.
Because of this Old World method (which all the experts said couldn’t be done in Texas), the wines taste, indeed, like the terroir from which they come.
But ah, the Cab Franc/Tempranillo, aged 24 months in American white oak, deep in color, with an intense nose of liquorice and coffee aromas, then with a rich dark berry taste and a long, layering finish. I could drink this one forever.
So interesting is the 2012 Touriga Nacional, which is used primarily for their Tawny Port, the nose teasing you of the rich sweetness of port, the flavor doing so as well. Just luscious.
All of these varietals and blends are estate grown. All are unfiltered. All are big robust red wines.
And as this is a land I know well (the very place I lived on and farmed for long stretches of my adult life is just down the way), I can taste in them the lushness just under the hardscrabble soil, the native aromas teasing like a glint from peripheral vision.
The finale came in the form of "Some of that Red," their Tawny Port wine, again produced from estate-grown grapes. Tinta Coa and Touriga Nacional provide the basis for this Port, which is then aged in oak for 7 years before bottling. Unfiltered, oh, my, god, the flavors! The nose is so intense, it’s almost like candy, caramelized sugar, rich plums, raisins . . . But like great ports, never a cloying sweetness. Oh, my, do those flavors just waltz on the tongue.
The wines of the Red Caboose have won a litany of awards, and justifiably so.
When Gary says they grow wine, never is this point so dramatically driven home than when tasting the blessed end products.
One of my favorite things about this beautiful vineyard is the grandmother Cabernet Sauvignon vines—which again, the experts said couldn’t be grown in Bosque County, Texas. Planted in the very beginning as a test, today these mature ladies have thick stocks that are tree-like as they branch up the trellises, twisting into place, fashioned carefully by the grower’s hand. And now producing mature, full, incredible wines.
So I had to rethink, as I drove home, that yes, while often farming gives that immediate sense of fulfillment, at least through the cultivating season, when you’re growing wine, well, actually reaping said benefits occurs far down a long and winding road. Gary poured 2012 vintages. And the port had aged for 7 years . . .
The way those Cabernet ladies grew reminded me of the way story plots come, of how characters ripen and mature as the book takes shape, as branches sprawl out and are carefully weaved into the whole. Of how the plot changes the characters and characters drive the plot.
It’s all a dance between the thing created, and the one at the helm of creation.
And all requiring patience and fortitude and fidelity as the fruits of those labors may indeed be far far on a distant shore . . .
It takes a measure of courage (and perhaps stubbornness) to keep one’s commitment while toiling at an endeavor that will be all those years in the making.
But then again, that’s what life’s about, no? To keep one’s eye on the prize, to keep focused on moving the dream forward, even when the outcome can’t yet be seen.
It takes faith that what you’re doing will one day bear fruit.
Hopefully we’ll all one day see that fruit (and in our lifetimes, rather than a Pulitzer post-death a ala John Kennedy Toole).
But then, I always draw strength and comfort from that old saying of Nelson Henderson:
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.