Writing is such an elusive art. Writers are often cagey about the origin of their creations when asked where the story started. Not every story is explainable. There are the kinds that start with a wisp of an idea, which is flushed out after years of research. Other stories draw the writer into its web, holding her/him hostage until the final word is typed. Some writers go looking for their story, others trip over it, and then there are those (me) who’d struggle to explain anything other than the process they went through to get the words on the page.
I can’t say for certain if my first book was always inside of me just waiting for the exact moment to reveal itself or if I found it when I needed something to hold to. Was it serendipity bumping into my protagonist? Was she there for someone else and found me instead? Or was it life’s way of paying me back for its cruelty having put me through the ringer? I had lost my father, my husband was on the mend from a life-threatening illness, and I had recently lost my job and was looking for a diversion from reality. I had time to burn.
How I found my first novel: Nothing is Lost in Loving
I was sitting in Barnes and Nobel listening to Willie Nelson’s rendition of You Were Always on My Mind, scouring the job boards when Stella Delray, the heroine of the novel, breezed through the double-doors. She looked as I felt, uncertain and worried.
Life had dealt me a losing hand and no amount of soul-searching was going fix what I had deemed a wrong. There wasn’t anything to be done but move forward, but how? I was reeling from my dad’s passing, my husband’s near death experience, and annoyed at the bad timing of the sudden unemployment. I was pissed at life, and if I am brutally honest, was struggling to regroup. Deflated by the rigors of an unusually hard year, I was in dire need of a renewed sense of purpose and a hefty dose of optimism, but adrift and not able to anchor.
What happened next is shrouded in layers of memories too tangled to separate. Nor is there a way to pull apart the past precisely as the facts occurred. Thus is human nature. Us mere mortals prefer to recall the events of a significant experience in the order we want to believe they might have happened in an alternate universe. It’s surprising how easy we opt for the rose-colored view of our respective pasts. Mary Karr’s said…
“Memoir is not an act of history but an act of memory, which is innately corrupt.”
― Mary Karr
Thus is the recount of my story.
As a writer driven to deconstruct the complexities of love and other UFOs, I can easily articulate the rushed pulse, the cold and hot flashes, the longing and passionate responses to the slightest touch, the deafening pounding in the center of my chest, the blinding desire to live the experience again and again, but I cannot how the first line of my novel came to pass. What does that say about me? I shudder to think.
What I don’t know about Stella’s appearance in my life is vast, but what I have accepted with absolute certainty is what she and I had in common.
We both lost our jobs before Christmas.
We shared a love of music.
And Always On My Mind is a track on our respective desert island mixtape, but that’s where the similarities end.
Where did the idea for the box originate?
The loss of a job?
A flabby brain desperate for Zumba?
Why I started writing a book and didn’t stop, even after returning to work a couple months after losing my job, remains one of those unsolved mysteries in my life. I was clueless about the practical aspect of writing a novel. My lack of knowledge about the writer’s life, the craft, the commitment, the process, the business of writing and publishing, could fill an entire wing at the National Library of Congress. Ignorance was truly bliss and explained why I kept at it day in day out. I hadn’t any idea what was to come: the query letters, the rejections, the doubt, none of it mattered in early days but filling the pages.
Declaring yourself a writer is on par with taking the plunge and giving your heart away to a lover you have long wanted. Both delight and intrigue but they also terrify and pose unquantifiable risks, which would frighten even the bravest of souls. Giving your heart in love is as difficult as tearing a page from your journal and sharing it with the world. As it was for me.
While I am not entirely sure where the story originated, I have figured out the mystery behind writing a novel. Join me as I deconstruct the mystery.
Coming next: Cover Reveal for Nothing is Lost in Loving and Lesson One: starting your novel