The Making of a Novel: I Read It in the New York Times

11/17/2010 01:19 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When you're writing a long story, you often labor for a long time in the dark. You're not exactly sure where your story is going (even if you've plotted the whole thing out) and you're not exactly sure how you're going to get there, and there are many days when you're not sure the effort is going to be worth it. You can cheer yourself on, and you can listen to the cheering of friends, but for me, the best motivation comes when I stumble upon a sign from the universe that I'm on the right track.

I received one such sign yesterday. I'm writing a story that I have recently decided will be set in 1952. I have been doing a lot of research on the era, and one of the industries I have been studying is the makeup industry. There were revolutions going on in the '50s, the famous lipstick wars, and I have decided to make some of this part of my plot. I've created a lipstick called Perfect Red, which is blood red, and the blood part will be important. These decisions -- 1952, lipstick, blood -- are completely arbitrary, and I sometimes wonder if they're "right." The sign confirmed that they must be.

It was just a link to a story in the New York Times. A friend sent it to me who knows a bit about my story. But I clicked on it and just cracked up: there in the fashion section was a little article about a famous advertisement from 1952 shot by Richard Avedon with the model Dorian Leigh. It was an ad for Revlon's legendary "Fire & Ice" lipstick. The caption on the photo referenced "blood red." And next to it was an ad from today, an homage to the ad from '50s, from photographer Mario Testino with model Jessica Biel.

It was as if the universe was saying, "You are on the right path! This is relevant! Keep it up!"

I printed out the ad. It's going on the wall beside my computer.