Write what you know.

I’ve just finished reading Amanda Coplin’s masterful novel “The Orchardist,” which I came to read because a dear friend put it in the mail to me. It came with no note and no inscription. If I hadn’t saved the envelope, the sender would have remained a mystery. The thick paperback looked loved, its cover and pages showing signs of touch.

I dug into it immediately, even though reading isn’t easy with a baby crawling between my legs. “The Orchardist” opens with a brilliant character summary of Talmadge, an orchardist of apples and apricots. His sister went missing when he was a teenager and he’s never stopped grieving for her. He has no family at the outset of the book, save for a platonic female friend who’s always referred to by her full name, Caroline Middey. That changes when two young women begin stealing food from him. Not only does he let them, but he begins leaving food out for them.

I won’t give away the rest of the story, but I will note that nature is almost a secondary character in the book. What Coplin does that I fail at in early drafts is a mastery of the physical. I lean towards the cerebral and mental. Frequently “show not tell” is a rule given out to novices, but sometimes I also struggle with it. Not because I’m an amateur, I now realize, but because I didn’t grow up in Washington State, like Coplin did. A place so rich with landscape. I grew up in Texas, and more importantly, Houston. And although there is some nature to be had here, my father was very protective and kept us indoors reading.

Perhaps my lack of sensory detail came rightly earned. Either way, as they say, it’s all up to me to change it now, and do so I will. Both in the writing I create and in my experience of life.

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