Writing this book—and by “this” I mean “A Partial Sun” and “That Dazzling Sun,” which I have
already written, and “A Slow Eclipse,” which I am now writing and which together make up The
Tinsmith’s Apprentice trilogy—sometimes feels like surfing. From the shore I look out over the broad
surface of the glittering ocean, waiting as the sea churns restlessly my way, spilling noisy, frothing waters
upon the beach. Will there be any good waves today? I want to be ready and in position if there is. Ever
optimistic, I grab my board and dash out through the churning surf, then paddle out.
Once I am well beyond the shore break, I sit up, straddling my board. I wait, I wait, shading my
eyes, squinting in the hot light, searching the sea. A skiff of pelicans, low to the water, glide by in
formation, shoreward from me. I put out of my mind the lurking thought of sharks cruising in the restless
depths below me. Still I wait, bobbing on my board. And then, far out, I see the surface of the ocean begin
to change. Smooth, muscular rolls of water, nicely spaced, lift and fall their way toward me in smooth,
regular succession. This is it; this is the set I have been waiting for! I turn my board around, look back
over my shoulder, and feel the sea begin to rise. I am going to let the first one, the smallest of the group,
go by me. It is the third one, the big one, that I want. I am lifted by the first wave, drop like an elevator
into the trough behind it, let the second one carry me up, and then as I slip down off its shoulder, paddle
as hard as I can to match the speed of that third wave which is even now rising, rising. I feel its thrilling
power, I get to my feet, spread my arms for balance, guiding the board along the high front slope of the
wave, the crest following just behind and above me. With an exhilarating attentiveness, I cut lower on the
wave, the crest rises over me, its forward edge dripping like icicles—and then I’m in. In the curl! I hear
my own piercing voice, screaming in the sheer splendor of the moment. And then, whoosh! I’m out.
Slowly the wave begins to relax, and I ride its long, smooth angle all the way to the beach before kicking
out and hopping neatly off in knee-deep water, and back onto the beach.
That’s what its like for me when the narrative is really going well. The scene, the characters, the
interactions, the whole business seems to unroll before me like the sea. I cannot seem to write fast
enough. If I stay with it, I tell myself, the momentum will carry me clean through to the last chapter.
But when that rush is over, I am back to struggling. The waves are middling, shapeless, noise without
energy. Will this be my ordeal all the way to the Epilogue? I ought to take my board and go home, I
grouse to myself. This is somebody’s else sport, not mine. But I stay. I’m committed to telling Isaac’s
story, whether I’m the right person to do it or not. So I get on my board and paddle out again. Another
good set is out there, rolling my way. I want to be ready and in position to catch it.
"What I know about surfing I know from Ann, who along with her family spent her high school years in Puerto Rico. At a time when most girls sat on the beach and watched their boyfriends surf, Ann became proficient enough to be in the 1968 World Surfing Championship. However, it wasn't the competition she loved, but the ocean, and the thrill of catching a wave. I have absorbed this, and can at least share with her the appreciation of surfing as metaphor."