I blogged in March about the struggles of non-creativity and about finally getting back to where I wanted to be, somewhat. I'm happy to report that this is still true.
Maybe I needed that creative break to allow the stories to build up once again in my head, or maybe they were there all along, waiting for the nothingness to recede so that they could come to life. I don't know. What I do know is that my head is full of new ideas, new characters and new plots, all waiting to be fleshed out and given form.
In order for me to do this, though, I have to finally wrap up the one project I've been dragging my feet on. Since Sunday, I've forced myself to finish the editing work on "Texan", which will HOPEFULLY be released no later than mid-June- though I've continually pushed the release date back.
Texan is an old story for me. A long-term project that has spanned the last 18 years, it has spent the majority of that time in a old, (now crumbling) plastic grocery bag... so much for those things being non-biodegradable. I spent two years solid working on it, originally; beginning in the Spring of 1996. My daughter was roughly a year old when I started writing it, and since she pretty much refused to sleep at all for the first three years of her life, I had plenty of time in the middle of the night while she was happily laughing and playing- wide awake- to work on the story. So that's what I did.
In January of 1998, with only three chapters left to complete the book, I took a chance and sent out a query letter, just to see if I could generate any interest. This was before everything became electronic and you had to print out your submissions, take it to the post office and mail off the gigantic packet. I sent my letter and the first three chapters of the book, thinking it might be a long shot, but worth a try. Seven weeks later, I received a letter in the mail from the publishing company I'd sent it to, asking for the completed manuscript because they liked what they'd read so far. I was ecstatic. I could barely believe it.
Over the course of the next few days, I worked furiously on finishing the book. On the final night, I set the pages to print, making sure there was plenty of paper in the tray and fresh ink in the machine and went to bed to the sound of my old dot-matrix printer doing its thing. I was so proud and pleased with myself. Here I was, 23 years old and may very well have a book published. Every time I thought about it, I'd get teary-eyed.
I got up the next morning, excited to package the manuscript. I walked into the spare room that doubled as my office to find that the computer had shut down and only a few chapters had printed.
I tried to turn the computer on. Nothing. I tried unplugging and plugging it back. Nothing. I called the store where I'd bought it and they suggested I bring it in for them to have a look.
"It's fried, ma'am," the technician told me when he finally came up from the back.
"What do you mean, it's fried?" I asked in horror.
"I mean that it's destroyed. There's no way to fix it. I can't even retrieve any data from it."
"How could that happen? It's only a few years old? You guys built it." I accused.
He scratched his head, his cheeks going a little red. "Do you have children?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" I was so angry and decided it was all his fault.
"It would explain a lot. Like how a half of a green crayon got shoved in the floppy drive."
"Huh?" I asked, adding confusion the mix.
He nodded. "Yeah. There was a green crayon in the floppy drive. When the computer heated up last night, it melted the crayon, which dripped onto the motherboard, frying the whole system."
"You've got to be kidding me..."
"I wish I were," he said. "But it's totally destroyed. I can't do anything for it."
I'd like to tell you I handled that news with grace. That I put my chin up and accepted the profound loss of not only the computer dying but all that hard work dying right a long beside it. But I can't. I cried. I cried hard and I cried loud. It's probably one of few times I've ever allowed myself such an overt display of emotion in public or in private. I'm not a crier. I never have been. But that day, I was a sobbing, emotional wreck. Unable to continue a conversation with the man, largely because I was incoherent by this point, I went out to the parking lot, sat down in my '79 Firebird and cried some more. I cried the entire way home... I cried after I got home, well into the night and the next day. I had to call the publishing company that was interested in the book and tell them I wouldn't be sending them a completed manuscript because the book died with the computer and there was no retrieving it. I didn't even have the funds to replace the unit.
I wanted to be mad at my kid, but I couldn't. She was too cute, too sweet and too innocent for me to blame, so I blamed myself for leaving that office door open and giving her access to that room. I should have known better.
About a year later, I was finally able to replace the unit, but when I tried to recreate the story off of the few chapters I had (the publishing company returned the original first three chapters)- I couldn't seem to get my head back in the game. I put those pitiful remaining chapters in a bag, stuck them in my closet and forgot about it and writing entirely for the next couple of years.
In 2001, I landed a job at a small newspaper in Georgia, so we packed up our house in North Carolina and moved. It was pretty fantastical to me that I'd gotten a job as a journalist when I'd spent the last few years chasing dogs and feral cats for the county animal shelter. Time passed by and I started working on the first Bimini book. Every once in a while, I'd think about the work I'd lost on that first project and my heart would sink all over again. Bimini took five years from start to finish. I was working two jobs, plus raising my child, so writing for pleasure was reserved for late at night or on days when I was able to eek out some spare time. I became so consumed over the first in the Caribbean Crime series, that I once again forgot entirely about the dead book from long ago. It's chapters still in the same plastic bag, now in a box down in the basement of our home, labled "CLOSET JUNK".
I was 35, my daughter was 15.
It was shortly after Bimini became published that she had been down in the basement going through some things, when she came to me and held up the plastic bag.
"What's this?" She asked.
I laughed. "That is a tragedy. You can throw it out. I'm never going to finish it anyway."
"Can I read it?"
I remember groaning. "Trust me, don't waste your time. It's not worth it."
"I'm going to read it," she stated.
"Whatevs... Do what you want," I replied, going back to cooking supper for the evening.
The next day, I got home from work. I was tired, irritable and so over my job, I physically got sick every time I thought about walking through the door of the paper where I worked.
She met me at the door, those first three chapters, now yellow and curled at the edges, flopping in her hand.
"Why have you not finished this?" she demanded.
I shrugged. "I did finish it, it just didn't survive the printing process."
I told her the story about the green crayon.
"I thought you said having me didn't wreck your life..."
"It didn't," I laughed. "You were and still are the best thing I ever did."
"I'd have put me up for adoption. That was your life's work."
"No," I said. "You are my life's work. Much better than any words on paper and probably a much better return on my investment; especially if you pull that math grade up."
She waved that idea way. "Seriously, Mom. You have to finish this. You have to. Promise me you will."
"I tried to rewrite it, babe." I told her. "I couldn't. It's a dead story."
"Do it." She slapped the pages down on our bar in the kitchen and stomped to her room.
Later that night as I sat there eating my dinner, I leafed through the pages, rereading what I'd written all those years ago. The more I read, the more my mind conjured ways to change and develop the story and before I knew it, I was sitting at my laptop, transcribing those first three chapters with revisions. With in a week, I had more than half of it done. I let her read what I'd gotten down so far and she grinned from ear to ear.
"This is even better than before," she said. "Keep going. You need to do this."
And I think she was right. My daughter has always possessed a wisdom far beyond her years, constantly surprising me with her insight.
Here and there, I continued to work on what I now began to call "Texan" but I had people asking for a second Bimini novel as well, so I began to work on them together; alternating from one story to other on different days. The second Bimini began to consume me as much as the first had and pretty soon, Texan was once again on the back burner. The day that Bimini: Blood on the Sand was published, I forced myself to write the final pages to conclude Texan, even staying up all night until it was finished.
I emailed the completed manuscript to one of my best friends and spirit sister. She's a master at editing and giving me ideas in a story line. Three editions later, I'm finishing up my own rewrites to the story and have finally designed my cover for a book that is nearly twenty years old. The story is completely different than it was when it started; but then again, so am I.