What’s the food that sends you into paroxysms of delight? What’s the music that moves your hips? What’s the first place you’d visit again? Who’s the person you most want to spend an hour with over coffee? With whom would you most like to get drunk? What grave can’t you bear to visit? Which books have you reread more than twice?
If I ever get the chance, I’ll revisit the Basil SSB Railway Station in Switzerland, the place where one hungover New Year’s morning I had the perfect cup of coffee, a brew I’ve been trying to recreate ever since.
My first concert was at the Rainbow Theatre in London, 1973, row seven, when after two silent years Eric Clapton, in rehab, was welcomed back to the stage to play with his friends Pete Townsend, Steve Winwood, Ronnie Wood and Jim Capaldi. The concert was recorded but my memory of “Layla”, live, remains my ultimate musical experience, pure transcendence that even now can send me into a reverie.
I’ve sailed in many waters but the bay to which I’d return is breezy Little Pleasant Sound on Cape Cod, where I took my son for his first gusty day sail on a fast catamaran. We nearly broached but his shrieks of glee and cry, “Do that again, Dad!”, made me as happy as I’ve ever been.
I return to Powell’s World of Books in Portland, Oregon, as often as I can. Honestly, I could live there. (One can survive on Americanos and marionberry muffins, I’m convinced.) But it was seeing a Guttenberg Bible at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University that connected me to the history of printing and publishing and made me feel that what I do for a living matters.
Patisserie Valerie is today a chain bakery across England, but back in the day it was a lone, battered and beautiful café on Old Compton Street in Soho, London, where the black tea was thick and the pastries were brought to your table on three-tiered trays. There I showed my wretched adolescent poetry to British poet Hugo Williams. In his long hair and leather jacket he opened my eyes to revision and made a writer out of me.
Books. There are books in which I’d like to live. Harvard in the 1940’s of The Last Convertible by Anton Myrer. London in any of the decades covered in Anthony Powell’s twelve volume social saga A Dance to the Music of Time. The café society of New York City in 1939 in Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility. River Heights, Ohio, the original, in the 1930’s. (River Heights? Think Nancy Drew.)
There are everyday delights and then there are the delights of a lifetime, the ones we never forget and which remain as vivid and meaningful now as they were originally. Our lives give us those pleasures but so do our most treasured books.
So here’s my question: What are you putting into your work in progress that will provide that kind of delight for your readers? Food, drink, friends and comfort are undeniably associated with our most delightful times, but what makes those times meaningful are not the places or what was there, but who was there and what those experiences meant to us; i.e., what we did and what we felt.
In Peter Pan, fairy dust is what’s sprinkled on mortals to allow them to fly. Pixie dust has entered English usage to mean anything intangible and seemingly magical that creates great good luck or success. In fiction, it’s the magic that makes a story delightful and that delight is something we can feel in reading any novel.
(Pixie dust or angel dust, by the way, is also a euphemism for PCP, suggesting that what is delightful can also be a source of hallucination, darkness, death and sorrow. At the end of Peter Pan when Peter revisits a now-grown Wendy in London, Tinkerbell has died and Peter no longer remembers her. Delight dies and that’s meaningful too.)
Perhaps the greatest delight of literature is language itself, as Peter Pan itself reminds us. Some delightful lines from J.M. Barrie’s classic:
- “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”
- “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
- “Never is an awfully long time.”
- “Stars are beautiful, but they may not take part in anything, they must just look on forever.”
- “Oh, the cleverness of me!”
- “All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”
So what is the pixie dust you’ll sprinkle on your current novel to make your readers’ imaginations to fly and to permanently engrave your story in your readers’ memories?
Here’s some dust you can sprinkle if you like:
- What food delights you? When did you first eat it? Who and what made that experience so special? Recreate that—not the food necessarily but the experience—in your current novel.
- What music transports you? When did you first hear it? Who and what made that experience so special? Recreate that—not the music necessarily but the experience—in your current novel.
- What was your greatest adventure? Who was with you and what did it mean to you? Recreate that—not that adventure necessarily but the experience—in your current novel.
- What place would you revisit in a heartbeat? What people and what activity makes that place so special? How did you change? Recreate the place—not the geographic location necessarily but the people, what you did there and how you changed—in your current novel.
- What was the moment when you fell the most in love? What happened? What was different in that moment? Transpose that moment into your current novel.
- What’s a moment that greatly tugged at your heart? Who was there? What happened? Use as many original details as you can to recreate that feeling in your current novel.
- At what place, in what moment, were you most transported out of yourself? What made that moment mystical or transcendent? In what way did it transform you? What has never been the same thereafter? Capture that experience in your current novel.
- What are the most delightful things about your favorite novels? Make a list. Make sure to include some of those things in your current novel.
- That you can recall, what’s the most delightful use of language in literature? What rhetorical devices, style or voice make that language so delightful? You know what to do.
Who says novels must always be serious? Who says there can’t be pleasure on the page, just for the sake of it? What’s wrong with relishing pancakes, swaying to old timey tunes, kissing on an autumn afternoon, returning from a trip not with a toy for your kid but with a story, standing in awe at the edge of a canyon, whispering goodbye at a grave that you never hoped to see?
The experiences of a lifetime are the true pixie dust, and that delight belongs in your fiction.
What pixie dust are you sprinkling in your manuscript today? What delightful experience will you give your readers?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!