Wednesday, October 26, 2011
EDNOR SCARDENS - From Semi-eulogy to Four Book Fiction Series
A cardboard box landed on my front doorstep yesterday. As the UPS truck drove off, I felt a bit like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings...springing out the door, grabbing the box and withdrawing back into my house cave. Opened the box and carressing "my precious", I sighed happily that the day I held my printed book in my hands had finally arrived.
The journey from first putting pen to paper - alright, hand to laptop keyboard - had been a long one, and I wondered how many writers had traveled the same road I had. I was sure that none had started the same way. Most begin with the intention of writing a short story, novella or novel. They jot down ideas or carry a germinating story seed in their head for varying lengths of time until, like a baby, it just has to come out. My own process didn't even faintly resemble that. My creation was born of fear.
Allow me to backtrack a bit in explanation. Years ago, my parents began the sad journey from independent living to assisted living, to nursing facility, and I was afraid that I'd be called upon to put together a eulogy for one or both of them. I'd been fairly self-centered as a teen, and when I married a military pilot and moved away from home, I missed alot of the everyday things that my parents did. Long distance phone calls were expensive, and we didn't have the luxury of extended discussions. The end result was that I missed the opportunities to delve into my parents' past lives, to understand how things really were for them growing up. My mom had a penchant for spinning yarns about her life whenever she wanted to make a point or issue an obligatory parental warning "from experience". My sister-in-law and I used to call it "The World According to Irene". As an example, when she first entered an Assisted Living community, each new resident was welcomed in the facility's newsletter with a brief spotlight based on their answers to general questions. Mom listed her favorite hobby as ice skating. She was in a wheelchair, so you get the idea. Even if I had gotten the time to delve into her past, I'm not sure the answers would have been dependable.
With each family member's passing, my original core of relatives grew smaller, and I had a recurring dream that when my turn came, there would be no one at the service other than my own children and grandchildren. And they wouldn't know squat about my life before I became their mom. The dream always continued with one of them standing at the lecturn, fidgeting, and then realizing that they knew very little about me. It sounds selfish, but who can control their dreams?
So to save them this embarrassment and assuage my fear of an ignominious send-off into the great unknown, I sat down one evening in 2009, intent on typing out a half-assed autobiographic page or two that I could email them for safekeeping until the eventual time came. What I hadn't counted on was how much I would remember. As I wrote down little vignettes to keep the account from reading like a timeline diagram, I became possessed. When I finally looked away from the computer screen, dawn was breaking through the window. Without realizing what I was actually doing, I sat there, night after night, for three weeks straight, until more than 350 pages had been disgorged. Surely, my kids never wanted to know that much.
The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards contest caught my eye, so I edited like mad, changed the names of people and schools in the story and entered it. Although I didn't make it to the final round, I wasn't willing to just let the manuscript sit, so I passed it around to family and friends, unaware that they were actually serving as beta readers. More changes came, adding and deleting to better suit a story that some would actually want to read. It wasn't strictly autobiographical anymore, but the emotions of the main character still glowed in my brain. I knew I couldn't let the story and the characters end there. So I kept writing about them through books 2, 3 and 4. By the end of the Charm City Chronicles as I've dubbed them, the characters have matured into adulthood, some married, some living through tragedies and some succumbing to them.
I sent out query letters to literary agents and was encouraged by the number of requests I got for fifty page samples, but without magic, vampires and the like, I didn't find one willing to take a chance. Then one day I got an email from the head of a nascent group...Fantasy Island Book Publishing, and the result is what you see in the photograph. One journey has been completed, yet the most difficult one lies ahead: marketing, media, social networking, and sales.
And although they'll need to clarify which parts of the book are fiction vs. nonfiction, I don't think my kids will have as much trouble delivering a eulogy. Just don't let let the opening line be, "The World According to Kathleen".