The Writer's Heart
By: Catherine Olaso
I like to think of writers as having two kinds of hearts. The first, like most people’s, beats a steady tempo of life throughout the body, while the second claims a cadence more profound to us “artistic types.” We cannot live without it, for this aesthetic heart syncs to the rhythm of our souls and provides the lifeblood of our very being.
The meter of a Wordsmith’s heart never rests, or sleeps, but thrums a cognizant pounding forever awakening every writer’s sensitivity to the vibrant tapestry of life encircling him. No meeting or circumstance is ordinary. No detail mundane. Reality constantly intermingles with the edges of fiction. Through the human landscape rich in humor, beauty, love, loss, joy, revenge and pain the formation of characters, conflict, scene and prose take shape in such a way that writers are compelled to immortalize the moment before it fades.
So, when I met Evangeline, “Van”, a woman in her early thirties obsessed with pirates to the degree that she not only decorated her office in swashbuckling reds, blacks, and cross-boned skulls, but dressed the part in a modern way, my writer’s heart instantly got to ticking. What an evocative character … what an intriguing frame of reference … what a singular attitude. My literary heart could barely contain itself. I sat in the middle of a serious interview, yet a large part of me was preoccupied - engrossed in the details that would later allow me to revive Van’s spirit.
Then there was Bob, my new friend I met while visiting an assisted living facility. The first thing I noticed about him was the wooden sign attached to the front of his walker – “Hotrod” emblazoned among orange and red flames. It didn’t quite fit the tall man with tired eyes and a droopy countenance slumped into an overstuffed recliner – until he started to tell me about his life.
At first his voice was a shallow wheeze, then gradually it strengthened, quickening my writer’s heart as his words transformed into more than just syllables and definitions. This, I believe, is another part of a writer’s gift, to see words – and the emotions behind them – as living, breathing things. The years of Bob’s life took over the room.
“I left home when I was thirteen. My father was a gambler. We never had enough money. I found a small place to stay – the rent was five dollars a month. I worked in an apple orchard to support myself. A friend suggested I go to Alaska - become a fisherman.”
I noticed a framed photo of a much younger Bob, wet hair and mustache glistening in the Alaska sun as he stood beside a modest boat weighted with salmon.
“I lived simple,” he said. “No frills.”
Bob’s tales of the Bering Sea rolled into his audacious stint as a bounty hunter, a job he inadvertently landed when he agreed to collect money owed to the local prostitute. He branched into other causes, and was good at his job. Every now and then he’d pause long enough to give me a crinkle-eyed smile, clearly relishing my undivided attention. “You know the rules,” he’d repeat sternly, “Follow ‘em and there won’t be any trouble.”
In the hour we spent together, Bob’s past continued to flow as immense and wild as any ocean, and I realized that he was indeed every bit as colorful as the orange and red flames mounted to the front of his walker. He sang me his favorite gospel song – The Old Rugged Cross, and I left my friend keenly aware of a valuable lesson crucial to any writer.
The essence of great fiction hinges both on the imagination and the compilation of every-day life.
It’s hard to say where or when a character like Van or Bob might appear in one of my short stories or novels; that’s part of the magic of writing, letting the characters surface whenever they decide to stand out on the page. But no mistaking they are there, eager to take shape from the images safeguarded deep inside my writer’s heart.