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More thoughts on “blueberry moments” (see entry below)…

Reading jeannineatkins‘s comment made me think of a conversation I once had with an editor who asked me about the way I approached source material in my work.

The image that popped into my mind was a geiger counter: When I’m reading source material, certain details light up in my mind. Very odd details sometimes, about a sixteenth-century boy king and his heavy jaw, or a seventeenth-century inventor making a self-regulating oven, or the way early tobacco fields were pock-marked with black stumps because no one had the time to fully clear the old trees out.

I don’t know how to explain it except to say that it’s like an electrical flash, and for just a moment I am connected, immediately and intimately, with a visceral sense of a place and time far removed from my own.

I was a bit embarrassed talking about this strange process to an editor, even though she was the one who had asked me about it. But instead of chuckling, she took me seriously and said my “geiger counter” was part of the reason she wanted to buy my manuscript.

Since then I’ve trained myself to pay even closer attention to that geiger counter. And even if I can’t see how on earth I can use the material it’s pointing me to, I make sure to note it down. Because when I start writing, time after time it’s those odd facts that prove crucial and make the piece come alive. And the opposite is true, too: If I try to ignore those flashes of insight, I usually lose my bearings.

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