The Thought Beneath the Thought
There’s this funny thing that happens when you write. You make a choice for something small - a color, a town name, a certain kind of house or car - with no conscious idea of why, except that it felt right. Later, you realize it wasn’t only right, it was exactly right.
I just had that experience with my newest novel, The Green Memory of Fear, fifth in a series of books featuring a woman named Jaguar Addams, an empath and telepath who works in a future criminal justice system where she rehabs criminals by making them face the fears that drove them to their crimes.
I was talking about the book to a woman I know, explaining the plot when she asked, “And why did you choose the color green?”
That stopped me cold. When I was writing, I never considered blue, or yellow. It was always green, though I didn’t have a clue why. In fact, green isn’t just in the title of this novel, it also runs through the series, rampantly. Jaguar has green eyes. She often wears sage green clothing, a color associated with empaths.
But I never chose that consciously. It just felt right.
Since writers are often called on to explain themselves, I knew I’d better give it some thought, and I did. Green, I realized, is a complex color. It’s used to represent jealousy, or sickliness. But it also reminds us of the constant renewal of life, the re-greening of the earth after the cold somnolence of winter. It’s the color of fertility and fecundity, growth and life.
Suddenly, it made sense. The novel takes Jaguar from her oldest fear to her newest love. And Jaguar is a woman who walks between death and life on a regular basis - someone who risks her life to save others, but is ready to kill when necessary. Someone who loves rarely, but completely.
In his book Blink, Malcom Gladwell writes about the power of knowing without knowing, the part of our brain that quickly decides what’s right, and how truth is often found through intuition instead of logic. We do so through years of observation and reflection on our own experience and the experience of others. Then, through years of reading, and writing, of letting words fall out of our hands oddly, and rejoicing in the oddness we create.
Over time we learn to hone and then trust our intuition in even small matters such as color, making ourselves open to the thought beneath the thought.
Barbara Chepaitis is author of eight published novels and two nonfiction books. Her most recent novel is The Green Memory of Fear, fifth book in the ‘fear’ series featuring Jaguar Addams. She is also director of the fiction writing program at Western College of Colorado’s Master’s program in creative writing.