Ahhhhh, Christmas. So many beautiful decorations, uplifting music, a great message of hope for the future. If you look at the picture above you'd never know that fully decorated tree actually fell over about 2am two days after it was completed. Ever tried yelling up the stairs to a completely asleep man for help? I now know he can't hear a thing. If I ever get hurt and he's already in bed I'm on my own. I'm definitely keeping the cell phone with me at all times.
I'm not sure if the Christmas tree debacle was a little reminder that nothing is easy, or if it is simply that my husband and I forgot how to center a tree in the stand. After all, it's been three years since we've brought out the holiday decorations. We hauled the tree into the house, somewhat in a hurry so as not to drop more needles than necessary. Placed it into the stand, screwed in all the screws that go into the trunk and made sure it was perfectly balanced. Then, of course, we filled the bucket with water and waited until the next day to begin decorating.
We have a LOT of ornaments. Between things the boys made when they were little, things my sisters, brothers, and friends have made us, and all the things we've collected in traveling, we have enough ornaments to bedazzle four trees. We are never capable of deciding that some of them will not go on the tree. Each one reminds us of a time, a place, a person, an event.
After three days of decorating it was done. Jim vacuumed the needles from the carpet and we relaxed, snuggled, and marveled at the beautiful lights, the fireplace, and all the holiday touches we'd added around the house. It was perfect...until two days later when it crashed.
Fortunately, nothing broke (comes from having primarily wooden or knitted/crocheted ornaments). I reached into the stand, my hand soaked with piny water and needles far past my wrist and stretched my fingers to find if the base of the tree was centered on the metal cleats in the base of the stand. To my surprise there was a full two inches of water and air between the bottom of the stand and the base of the tree. The entire tree was being supported by the four screws. Yikes!
Now what? Undecorate the entire tree? Siphon out the water and start over? Neither of us could bear to even think of it. But there was no way to make sure the tree was stuck on those little metal pins in the bottom now. It's not easy to pick up a fully decorated tree and slam it through water onto the metal cleats with any accuracy or force. This is where being a fiction writer really helps. I'm always putting my characters into corners that are impossible and having to figure how to get them out. I had to develop a plan, one that wouldn't require removing all the decorations and starting over.
We carefully unscrewed the supports and lifted the fully decorated tree out of the bucket and onto towels. I found a sturdy class bowl the width of the tree trunk and turned it upside down in the bottom of the bucket to provide a flat and even surface. It displaced only a small amount of water. Then we carefully lifted the tree back into the bucket making sure it was flat to the bowl and could still get water. We tightened those screws again. Steady and firm, it stood with the lights and decorations intact.
Writing a story often follows a similar path. I dress my characters, but them in beautiful venues, have a great idea for how they will take a journey to find themselves, find love, and maybe even save a world or two. I'm an idea person. I start with an idea I think is interesting and go searching for characters and story. I think of the idea as the foundation of the story, but in the beginning it is often set in quicksand or floating in a watery bucket with promise but little substance. I then work hard to find the characters, the places, the themes that tie it all together. I struggle to choose which decorations to include and which to leave out, often changing my mind in each revision as I pare it down to the essence of the story.
When I think I'm completely finished--have been through editing and revising at least five times--I send it to my editor and to my beta readers. They ALWAYS come back with questions and ideas and usually confusion about something. Unlike the immediate need of the fallen tree, I have time to think about how to resolve the problem. In fact, it takes me a few days to recover from the fact my book isn't perfect just the way it is. Then I have to go through that process of deciding how to make the foundation stronger and yet keep the most important decorations or themes. Usually I can save both with some cuts, some new pages, and some additional guide wires. I haven't had to try the inverted bowl trick yet, but now I have it in my bag of tricks for the future. Finally, the story is firm and the foundation is solid. Then I send it out to the world in hopes it is accessible to most readers.
Have you ever had a decoration disaster? How did you recover?
I hope that the remembrances you are celebrating at this time of year, rovide a great foundation for the present and bring you hope for the future.