Tuesday, January 15, 2008

It Takes Heart to Write a Book




By Amy MacKinnon

These are rats' hearts. Stunning, aren't they? Four complex chambers; an intricate array of capillaries, arteries; layer upon layer of tissue and -- life. What's truly fascinating about all of this is how a heart is created in the first place.

There is the initial structure upon which cells grow; every healthy heart must adhere to this "scaffold" or there will be fatal consequences. As cells multiple, they take shape, layers of tissue build, veins are threaded throughout, the chambers that propel blood -- life-- into and out of the heart expand.

This is timely because researcher Doris Taylor, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Repair at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and her colleagues published a paper in the journal Nature Medicine sharing their success in growing a heart. Here's the link to the NPR story, the same place I found the image. Amazing.

In the feature, Dr. Harald Ott describes the many trials and errors of finding his way to successfully growing a heart on an existing structure. He tried many different chemicals; he had failure after magnificent failure. One time, he even dissolved the heart completely. It happens. He tried again. Then something they never dared hope, only dreamed of, occurred. Ott used a common detergent that turned the heart transparent, then -- an epiphany! -- he infused cells from another heart and something began to grow. It fleshed out, become a healthy red, then with the assistance of an outside influence, it started to beat. The heart was alive.

Perhaps you're beginning to wonder what this has to do with writing, but I think you already know.

There is a narrative structure to any book. Build on that using varying sized threads, flesh it out, imbue life into your characters and then rip it away from them with conflict. As you're building your book, know you'll fail stupendously along the way and then try again. And again. Dare to dream. Find an agent, an editor, a publisher who will assist you with bringing your book to readers. Give it life.

It can't be harder than building a heart, but it will take all of yours to do it.

9 comments:

kristen said...

So true, Amy. And how fascinating about the actual heart. It's truly amazing that such a thing could happen. Thanks for a wonderful post.

The Writers' Group said...

Thank you, Kristen. Someday I'll go to medical school...

Amy

kira said...

You did a much better job of explaining this than the TV news did.

"One time, he even dissolved the heart completely. It happens."

Ain't that the truth!

We are all Dr. Frankensteins.
"It's Alive!"

Thanks, Amy. As always.

Larramie said...

In your heart of hearts you still want to be an M.D., don't you, Amy? Yet the truth is that you've found a career that gives life to so many and I'm not referring to your characters.

The Writers' Group said...

Kira, I love your nickname for us; this way I get to be a doctor of some sort. And, my God, have I dissolved a heart or two.

Larramie, you're going to make me weep. I so look forward to the day when we meet for lunch and get to really know one another.

Amy

Lisa said...

What a beautiful analogy. The heart, the story, the dream all start with a single tiny cell...

The Writers' Group said...

Lisa, yes, just as your story started with a single thought, an image, a memory that worried at you. I just couldn't believe it when I heard this story on NPR, the analogy was crystalline.

Carleen Brice said...

Thanks for the reminder to dare to dream!

The Writers' Group said...

Carleen, dream big, and then dream bigger.

Amy