Photo of a jumble of rainbow-colored yarn

This Tangled Web

She was stuck in two ways. First, she couldn’t finish outlining her novel—Marguerite Jespers, a sprawling picaresque about a girl’s transformation from equestrian to race car driver—because she hadn’t resolved the mother storyline. Fourteen books written, and it never got easier to hold a novel in her mind. They all had dropped stitches and snags, like a series of sweaters from grandma.

This led to the second way in which she was now stuck: Her brilliant idea to use washers, yarn, and thumbtacks to build a 3D model of book fifteen’s outline in her studio apartment. It was a wall-to-wall, criss-crossed web of events, relationships, themes, and symbols, and it had her literally cornered.

The nodes hung in the air like the stars of her fictional galaxy, pulling at each other with visible threads of gravity. She worried if she cut something, the whole thing would come apart.

She had to keep the side romance between the pit mechanic best friend (the large washer hung over the TV) and the butcher of exotic meats (the medium-sized washer under the desk), because that was the only way to trigger the Le Mans banquet horse meat scandal at the climax (hung like wind chimes by the bathroom door), bringing Marguerite’s journey full circle.

But the other major thread blocking her way was the series of flashbacks when Marguerite’s brother Clifford teaches her to cheat at cards, which details her adolescence at the Jespers estate, and leads to the fateful poker game when she loses her prize stallion to an opposing card shark, gets chased by bookie thugs, and escapes in a stolen ’66 Mustang convertible—without which part three of the book can’t happen.

She decided to move the knife fight in part four, when the bookies catch up to Marguerite, from the café in Monaco to the romantic beach scene with the Algerian jockey, so as to open up a spot by the coffee table for her to slide under the scene when Marguerite first meets the pit mechanic, and get to the couch to rest for a moment.

This put the jockey in peril and pulled the slack out of their romance, which had always felt a little forced.

Satisfied, she sipped from the mug of coffee gone cold and saw from a new angle. There was a large open tunnel between Marguerite’s decision to throw the final race in Le Mans and a cluster of thumbtacks in the kitchen cupboard representing Marguerite’s lifelong desire for her parents’ approval.

A thread hung over her head.

She reached up to take it. But then stopped and sighed, watched the thread sway in her breath. If she ever wanted to escape this mess, she’d have to leave one or two loose ends.

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  1. ben latimer

    Again, the diversity of your stories is impressively vast. The madness here is very specific, reduced a moment. A 3D still life. Writer in mid-process, surrounded by the elements of her story, hanging precariously throughout the place she lives.

    I’m currently living in exactly that space, trying to find a way through a story I thought, maybe foolishly, I had full grasp of before I started writing. Nope. I’m holding on to a bunch of threads that may make sense to only me.

    Sidebar: I shared your clown car story with my 22 year old nephew. He was absolutely spellbound. Not easy to do with him!

    1. Zachary Dillon

      I’m glad to hear you can relate! Writing is so solitary, it’s easy to think we’re the only ones doing it “the weird way.” Others’ writing often feels conceived as an indivisible whole, when in reality they were equally alone, holding all the ropes of their own set of Macy’s parade balloons. Triggering the right combination of hallucinations and associations in a reader’s mind is like the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” with every new story.

      I hope you find a way out of your own tangle. I look forward to possibly reading the result.

      And I’m honored to hear that your nephew enjoyed “Clown Car”! It’s still one of my favorites on here too. Thank you so much for sharing it!

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