The Road We Travel

Where we find ourselves is rarely where we had imagined we would be when we began…

In 2013 it was supposed to stop with one book: a fictionalized auto/biography and university students’ travel story, set in the 1990s and including references to some real contemporary events and people. As I noted the other day, I would write it and about “a dozen” copies would be bought. Afterwards it would disappear without much of a trace and so would I:

[Passports on my desk. Photo by me, 2018.]

I both hated and loved writing it. And in the weeks that followed its release no one was more surprised than I was that it had not just disappeared without a trace. It was attracting some readers.

I had been bitten by the writing bug. I thought: I wanna do more. That led to the second volume, which I began in early 2014, weeks after that first had appeared. Its creation, though, was not nearly as much “fun” as was that first book. That second’s was broken up, weeks into my writing, by the shocking early death of a long-time woman friend who had served as a part inspiration for one major character.

Her death so wrecked me I almost gave up writing then and there, deleted this web site and indeed vanished. I couldn’t face the manuscript; all I saw in it was her. Within a month or so, however, I had resolved I would write it in her memory and immortalize her. I altered its planned story slightly to include even MORE of “her” and decided I would even give her under her real name a fictionalized “cameo” in it:

[Frontiers. Photo by me, 2018.]

Putting her in the novel for real? Her younger sister later told me that her late sister would have been utterly floored and wowed at what I had done. Those words made me feel much better.

With that one finished, and with that praise and approval, I felt rejuvenated. It was again as if writing was worth tackling. I thought again: I have lots more to say.

That led to a third volume, which I had nearly finished and was proofing and considered the best of the three overall thus far… when the bottom fell out: my mother and then my uncle both died within two weeks of each other in October 2015. I chose to leave the manuscript as it was written, their fictionalizations unchanged: I knew it would have been the last thing I would ever write fictionalizing them from the position of their having been living people; from now on they would be only memories.

[Distances. Photo by me, 2018.]

When that second sequel was out, I was at a loose end. Do I do a fourth volume?

I felt I needed next to try something entirely new. I started it early in 2016. It would be the late 1700s: a new century, new characters, and a completely new tale set amidst actual history, but this time also including some famous actual real people as major speaking characters … and I was off and running:

[Conventions: The Garden At Paris. Paperback. Photo by me, 2018.]

Throughout it both the historian and the storyteller came out of me. At first I was overwhelmed by the scope of the subject I was attacking coupled with needing to develop interesting fictional characters. But I felt it also was the sort of book I truly wanted to write; and my late uncle had told me I should write something much like it.

As a well-known historian was once told by his publisher: “Can you get more Jefferson into the book? People love reading books about Jefferson.” Remembering that anecdote, I sure tried:

I happened also in writing it to have developed a great fondness for Gouverneur Morris. He is relatively unknown to most people. Yet he was perhaps the most well-traveled “Founding (American) Father” in Europe and in that sense is truly fascinating:

And they were often rather busy while here in Europe, beyond their diplomacy. Of course, in a romantic tale, I could not ignore that:

Americans’ former rulers, and when not at war with France always wary of France, the British were central in events and became so in the novel:

And former enemies of a decade before did often become friends:

Paris was in the 1780s and 1790s, much like it is today: it was a “fashionable” place – and even so in the midst of a growing revolution:

Europe was also then, as now, a place of people moving around seeking a better life:

Paris was in the late 1780s and early 1790s also one of the most important diplomatic posts in the world – perhaps, given the upheaval there, even the most important:

And what became known as the French Revolution was also often not a garden party:

Unsurprisingly, it also unleashed unpredictable lawlessness:

That revolution is today too often perceived as something of a costume drama sullied with the occasional dramatic guillotining. In fact, it became a horrifying foreshadowing of mass murdering “revolutions” of the 20th century. Especially from 1792-1795, thousands and thousands were slaughtered en masse not because of what they had actually done, but just because of who they were:

Within five years, by the end of 1793 – marked essentially by the execution of the former queen – France had already changed beyond recognition. A thousand years of monarchy had been wiped out. Due mostly to land confiscated from the Roman Catholic Church, millions who had had nothing now had land of their own to farm:

As Americans of the new United States, for the first time we found ourselves caught between friends in civil strife overseas – between those associated with the collapsing monarchy, which had fifteen years before supported our bid for independence, and who were now assailed by often brutal revolutionaries who claimed to admire our new republic and its “all men are created equal” slogan as well as our own violent revolt against monarchical Great Britain:

Finding ourselves caught in the middle would happen, of course, again and again and again down to the present day. The difference was then we were a tiny country, an insignificant player on the world scene, looking on largely helplessly:

I was exhausted by the the time I finished writing it in 2017. Yet I also felt I could not leave it where it ended. I began to feel yet again as if I was just getting started.

Because I am insane I am now writing a sorta-sequel:

[New tentative cover for Tomorrow The Grace. Click to expand.]

One won’t necessarily need to read that previous novel to enjoy this one. Naturally, though, I hope a reader would want to do so because reading it will provide various background and give a reader more of a grounding in a complicated tale.

What we learn about our personal approach to writing is… we learn as we go. That is one of the reasons I want to tell anyone who wants to write a book… to just write the book. Too many new writers, I feel, spend too long “winding up,” taking more creative writing classes (even sometimes after already completing an advanced university degree in humanities or social sciences), counting words (if you love writing, you should not need to count words to display “progress” to yourself), and overall seem fearful of not producing “the greatest novel ever”… so they never actually bring that story bouncing around in their heads to life by risking actually putting it to paper.

Writing is much like swimming: taking pointers while on land is helpful of course, and having a lesson or two or three in the water is necessary, but ultimately you must attempt to swim in the deep end entirely on your own. I know I have since 2013 learned I take pride in writing complex tales with multiple characters who learn and change (and may make mistakes) as the tale progresses. Are the books perfect? Of course not.

Nothing is perfect. The aim is not perfection; it’s the creation of the new, in discovering what you are capable of, and in bringing enjoyment to readers. So, as with my very first book in 2013, what I had thought would be a single novel about the Americans in Europe in the 1780s and 1790s, will be two. And I’m also thinking that, perhaps, there may eventually even be a third. 😉

A key to writing is this: pinpoint your passion. If you focus on what you love to write about, you will find infinite story possibilities before you. You have potentially a world of readers: if you enjoy writing about something, many others out here will almost certainly enjoy reading the same thing that you write about.

On that positive note, let’s have a good Monday. 🙂