Listening to: Birds. If you couldn't guess that by now, you're a bit slow.
Get caught up: Part I, Part II
So, after the inspired flurry of my first "novel" over ten years before, and a decade of wandering and wondering...I had a job interview. A little less than three years ago today, in fact.
It was for a tech writing position in Altoona. I wouldn't relish the commute, or the job, but I needed to fund my grad school plans somehow.
I'm not certain how we got on the topic of that first book during the interview. The interviewer--a headhunter, not my possibly-future-boss--seemed impressed that I'd written a book so young. I gave him the short version of the story: I wrote it, took all the character names from my family history, it got lost, etc. He promised he'd let me know when my second interview, with the actual company, would be scheduled.
On the drive home, I didn't think about the interview. I thought about that novel. I thought about how it felt to write it, that rush of creativity whenever I sat down at the computer, the amazing, bittersweet feeling of ending it, the pain when it was lost. I thought about all that as I trekked through the Pennsylvania hills toward home.
Later that night, it was still on my mind when I went up to Denny's to see some friends. When only one friend was left, I started talking about Whispers of the Past, and how it had been mentioned at the interview and been on my mind since.
I made a decision, right then. I decided that I should try one more time. If I couldn't do it this time, I would give up the ghost. For good. For my own sanity.
And as I was still a writer at heart, if not in action, I carried a notebook and pens with me. So, at around 11 p.m. in a nearly empty restaurant, I began. Since Whispers was the book that had haunted me all those years, I had to finally get it out of my system. I would change all the characters' names except the protagonist--still Julia Greene--in order to make a fresh start. I didn't need to keep all the idiotic, self-indulgent trappings of the last one, either, but the themes would remain the same: family, and how they shape our lives, even when it's unknown on our part or theirs. With a little magic thrown in for good measure, of course.
If that didn't work, then it was time to give up, at least for the moment. I was killing myself, otherwise.
Twenty-five handwritten pages later, I drove home, exhausted and exhilarated.
I don't know how it happened. I don't know why. But that night was the first of many, many feverish nights of writing, plotting, brainstorming. I would hand-write at night (afraid to break the spell), then type it up at home the next day (this was the impetus for my laptop purchase).
Three moments, during that first month, stick out in my mind.
The first occurred only a day or two after that rebirth of my little opus. I was driving to Denny's, ready for more writing, when a few lines of dialog ran through my head. I got so lost in that moment, the like of which I hadn't experienced for over a decade, that I emerged on the other side very confused. And I honestly had a moment where I thought, "Oh my God, I'm twelve years old. Why am I driving?!"
And then I cried a little bit. No, I'm not kidding. It's both stupid and sweet, I know.
Then, not long afterward, I drove to Warren to visit my dad. We were talking about family stuff, and I think my writing, and that famed genealogical history of our family came up. He mentioned the hardback copy he had.
"Wait, what? Hardback?" The only copies I'd ever seen were bound in thick blue paper and typed in courier font.
"The original one," he explained. Then he got it out to show me. I was flabbergasted.
Not only was it one of 30 copies printed in 1913, it also had pictures. Oh, only a dozen or so, most of them reproductions of family or individual portraits. But one in particular made my heart stop for a good five seconds and sent shivers running up my spine.
Of all the people whose portraits could have been in that book...I don't even know how to finish that sentence. Still now, I'm amazed. It was the first moment when I fully realized the meaning of "kismet".
The last of those three moments came when I called up that best friend from middle school--who is still my best friend to this day--and told her just what I was writing.
"I have to thank you," I said, "for losing that one copy of Whispers. If you hadn't, maybe I wouldn't be doing this now. And I'm loving every second of it, so...thanks."
I know for a fact she never expected to hear that.
Over six months, I wrote the second version of Whispers of the Past. It wasn't great--wasn't even good--but it was written, and I learned a lot from it. Almost immediately afterward, I began my next novel. And almost immediately after that, my next. No angst, no desperation, no tears in sight.
That's my path, so far. I know--I hope--I have a lot more steps to take, a lot more forks to choose from. Right now, I'm perpetually waffling between five different novels, unsure which is the best to write, which is best for me now. And I'm working toward publication, just as I've been since I finished that first--no, second--novel, which is a journey all its own.
And today--which is two days ago, for you--is the second anniversary of my first rejection letter. So if you're wondering what inspired this verbose little bit of nostalgia, there you go.
That's my story. That's how I came to be here. Now...how about you? We all have a different story, and since you've listened so patiently to mine, I want to hear yours.
If you blog about it, leave the link in the comments and I'll link to it in a later post. Or, if you want to hijack the comments thread with a short version, have at it.
Every writer has a story.
If you don't feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then possibly what you are doing isn't very vital. If you don't feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don't have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough. --John Irving