Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Miraculous Jumble Pile

Are you ever astonished by the size of the jumble pile that is the source of your imagination? Over the month or so since my last contribution, my internal jumble pile has been fed full to bursting:

Witnessing our local professional football team win the Super Bowl, even though I'm not much of a football fan, prompted lots of reflections on the meaning of competition, sport, games, and community.

Speaking of "witnessing," our local university offered a free gospel choir performance, filled with singers and musicians of great skill and power, and even though I'm not a church goer, their idea that words can serve to "bring love into being" made for lovely thoughts just before Valentine's Day.

Wrapping up content editing on my next novel, You, Jane, required me to admit my editor was right about things central to the story that I'd missed. But once I did, the new ideas flowed freely.

A week ago an eagle traveling through our valley on her migratory route perched on a high branch of a tall pine tree across the alley from my house for about six hours. She seemed to be watching me watching her, as she hung onto that branch while the sunset and the wind kicked up to twenty miles per hour. Why that tree? Why stop when she did, and why fly off again when she decided to? Wild creatures offer mysteries that make for delightful speculations.

Preparing the first 27 pages (why 27? who knows, but that's what the rules said - first 27 pages) of my middle grade manuscript for a contest entry reminded me of the jumble pile metaphor. In this story, young Amy June Pilgrim takes off on a cross-country quest with her grandfather, and early on she finds something perched on top of the jumble pile in her basement that serves as a clue to make sure she goes in the right direction. It made me wonder about the dark and dusty corner in my mind where all these images, ideas, thoughts, phrases, and fragments stack up until I'm ready to pull something from them and apply craft to make a story. It's something of a miracle, really, like spinning straw into gold.

How's the jumble pile in your mind doing? Does it need to be fed or is it time to pull something out and spin a yarn?

Elizabeth Fountain is the author of An Alien's Guide to World Domination, now available in paperback from BURST Books and for Kindle on Amazon. Her second novel, You, Jane, will be released in summer 2014. You can read more about her work and slightly jumbled take on life at her blog, Point No Point.


Big Mike said...

Just pulled an ideal off my pile and started using it as the key for the sequel to the Cherokee valley series. It evolved from a surprise I found walking in the woods one day, which I will subject in a future post.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Our minds hold a lot of ideas and partial ideas. The skill comes in knowing what to keep and what to let go back to the pile.

As I write more, the decision-making prunes before it becomes a tussel of wills: the writer versus the reader, who wants a focused story.

Liz Fountain said...

Cool, Big Mike - can hardly wait to read that post. And Julie, you're right - that jumble pile is the raw material for a polished story that will interest readers, too. Thanks!


Richard Hacker said...

Seahawks, eagles and PNWA's '27' page submission requirement. Sounds like Seattle. I wondered the same thing about 27 pages. Does it have a special meaning? Did they determine 27 pages was a break point in weight for the mailing cost? It's a mystery. Good luck in the contest, btw!


Sonya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was just thinking about writing a kids story about camping with the girl scouts when I was little. There were some funny incidents that I think would make a good story. Definitely worth dusty out the mind for. ;)

Liz Fountain said...

You're right, Richard. PNWA and Seahawks... but the eagle was here in my central WA home town. If you ever figure out the "magic" of 27 pages let me know. Sonya, I was a Girl Scout too - now you've got me thinking of some old stories... thanks!