Twenty years ago an image came to me when I was writing a skit for a group of my friends. While it had nothing to do with the project I was editing, I jotted down a few notes and slid them into a desk drawer. Weeks later I revisited the idea and wrote a scene in which a woman in her early thirties is sitting in a Hospice Center watching her brother slowly deteriorate from the AIDS virus.
A few weeks after that, I shared it with a group of friends and while I listened to one of them read the scene out loud, a little voice inside my head whispered, "There's a novel in that scene...you need to write that story."
At the time, my life was fall apart. Almost everything I had trusted and relied upon had failed me. Addictions to coffee and sugar and unhealthy relationships kept me circling the drain. Exhausted and stressed by too many commitments, my nervous system was shot. Being single, solitary and unsure of what to do next, I desperately looked around for a template of how to maneuver through the murky waters of the unknown without drowning myself in the process.
But no one could help me.
All of my friends were either dating or married. Many had children, or babies on the way. While they could sympathize with my situation, none of them could truly understand what it was like to physically, emotionally, and psychologically disintegrate...and do it alone.
And so I began to write the story of Allyson and her brother, Michael in the hopes that getting lost in the process would provide me a respite from my life. Little did I know it would help me to completely transform it into something completely new.
I had no idea how to write a novel. No clue how to edit. I was inexperienced and scattered and the earlier drafts revealed how much baggage I needed to unload. I wrote the chapters out of order, for at the time I'd sit at my little PC and write whatever came to mind. It was a schizophrenic process and one that I abandoned more than once.
In 1999 I left my job as a classroom teacher to finish the book. And I did in the spring of 2000. At 1,200 pages, Surfacing was a behemoth. Over the years I've honed my editing skills and cut over 800 pages of sloth and sap and excess stuff that weakened the story. Three more novels have followed which reveal new dimensions of the characters and breathe more life into the stories which will eventually span more than seven generations.
Who'd have thought it would have begun with a simple scene? A small, but powerful image that lit a fire in my unconscious and eventually would reveal a bonfire of exposition?
For the past three years I've been hopeful that the third book in the series would be published first. That Surfacing would eventually find a place in the publishing world. How surreal to come full circle. To appreciate how swiftly twenty years can pass. To prepare the latest draft of a book I would not write today, but to understand more fully that had I not written it all those years ago, I would not be who I am in this moment.
I can now breathe in the delight of finally being able to share this novel with the world...my first baby. My first attempt at finding my way through the shadowy waters of composition that taught me how to create and trust my own healing process. To trust my instincts. To listen to the characters as they whisper in my ear.
To continue listening as the years unfold to that still, small voice that says, "There's a story in that image...write that story."