I had just attended my 30th high school reunion and come to the realization that my life was slipping away. Here I was, almost 50, and I still hadn’t accomplished my life’s dream.
“I will write a novel before the next reunion,” I told myself.
I just needed an idea.
I’d spent decades as a newspaper reporter and doing PR professional writing about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I should have been brimming with ideas, but nothing had grabbed me.
I stole a weekend to be alone with my laptop at the family beach house on Guemes Island. I got to the ferry dock in Anacortes but missed the boat.
The muse works in mysterious ways.
I passed a lovingly restored Victorian house, which got me thinking about the well-off family that must have lived there originally . . . a well-off family that experiences a reversal of fortune . . . maybe the patriarch dies . . . maybe he’s a fisherman . . . a fisherman who’s lost at sea . . . and leaves a family behind . . . a child.
My protagonist, Ida Petrovich, didn’t rise fully formed like Venus out of the sea. She took several incarnations, shifting in age, appearance and circumstance. The time period kept shifting, too, until I finally settled on the late 1960s, a decade I sort of remember.
I had the seed of an idea, but writing for 15 minutes before work every morning wasn’t cutting it. My progress was painfully slow and my momentum nonexistent. So I talked my boss into letting me go part-time. That helped. I managed to get three whole chapters done, enough to convince me to keep going. But my work kept getting in the way of my work. My novel might have stayed at three chapters had I not quit the day job altogether.
I’d like to say I was disciplined, but the truth is I allowed myself to procrastinate and get distracted – a lot. Fiction writing is damn hard, especially with an inner critic telling you over and over that you don’t know what the f—- you’re doing.
I’m also an agonizingly slow writer. Six-hundred new words was a good day. On bad days I was lucky to get a single sentence. I was my own worst enemy, repeatedly editing what I’d written before, despairing over how bad it was, when I should have freed myself to complete a crappy first draft. I simply couldn’t go forward when the beginning was such a mess. I don’t know how many times I rewrote my first paragraph.
Mine was a horribly inefficient process. But I managed to pile scene after scene, chapter after chapter, not really knowing where it was leading . . . until I did.
Finishing that first draft was a revelation. I’d just created a world with characters that had come to depend on me to give them life. Maybe I’m not delusional. Maybe I can do this.
Next I dove into editing – my forte – thinking the going would get easier. Wrong! If anything, it got harder because I had to shape my raw lump of a story into something resembling a novel, and I was still learning how to write one.
Here’s a Spring 2014 Facebook post I wrote about the experience: Got through the first major edit of my novel, cutting more than 12,000 words, rewriting, combining and adding chapters, sharpening characters, improving dialogue. Phew! Being “done” feels like crawling out from under a rock!
Over the next four years, I would go through several more full drafts, send the book out to beta readers, read it aloud to my husband and sons, hire a professional editor, query agents and small publishers, wait for their no-thank-you’s and non-responses, enter a couple of contests, bemoan not winning those contests, and get so tired of my book I could hardly stand to read it.
After two years of trying to get an agent and/or traditional publishing deal, I sent my book to SparkPress, a hybrid publisher that combines the best of self and traditional publishing. They put it through a copy edit (at my request) and proofread, and their designers worked their magic to create a beautiful book inside and out.
The Leaving Year will be released August 14th, just in time for the Roosevelt High School Class of 1978’s 40th reunion.