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I sent the first draft of a short book, a novella, off to a publisher yesterday. It is rough, very rough. Names used for characters in one place change to other names later on. Answers given at the end need questions in the beginning. In places, it is just childishly awkward.
It sits at 41,500 words, right at the cusp between novella and novel. When I started it, I intended it to be about 20,000 to 25,000 words, broken into four parts, each for sale on Amazon for 99¢, $2.99 for all four. That changed, somewhere along the line.
I started it on January 3, on a challenge from a friend, to see if I could create in a month something that would sell. But an odd thing happened along the way. It wanted to be better than it was going to be. It wanted to mean something. It gave me no choice but to head in that direction.
Now it’s off, out of here, on somebody else’s laptop. And I’m off in a week for a month in Costa Rica. Which is perfect. Because in month, when I get back, I won’t hate it so much.
That’s an odd truth about this process. There are times I just loathe what I’ve created, angry at myself for the time spent, effort wasted. But in a month, I’ll read it with fresh eyes, and what the book wanted to be will emerge from a pile of pages.
Surprises every turn. Over Christmas, a friend invited me down to Costa Rica. He’s down there at a newish job, had lovely things to say about the area, the country, and I’d always wanted to see it. He’s got a house a minute from the beach where he’s learning to surf, friends, and knowledge of the terrain. But I wasn’t sure if he really meant it or was just being nice, and I had things to do.
Then a couple of weeks ago, he reiterated the invite, and asked if I would assist his lovely and fun fiance to get there as well. We talked about logistics, he booked our flights, round trip for me and I’ll be gone for a month.
As a result, I have an adventure in front of me, a new old dog waiting when I get back, days full of laughter and great company as she and I pull it all together for her life transition, I try to finish a book and maybe complete a major business transaction with untold but significant impacts on my own life.
Decades ago a dear friend, Bill, drove up my driveway with a very young boy. His brand new wife, a very unstable woman, had just committed suicide. The boy was her son.
Bill left the child with my wife and me for the day. We had a good time, if I remember. He played on the deck in a huge stainless bowl full of water. Late in the day, Bill came back and picked up the boy.
I don’t know when I realized Bill was trying to place his lost son with a family who could care for him. My wife and I weren’t ready. It was some time later we adopted our daughters from India, and they taught me some much needed lessons about unconditional love.
Years later I was meeting with my lawyer, Max, who was also a friend of Bill. We were laughing and doing legal business when Max told me Bill had visited him the same week he’d visited me. Max and his wife, Teresa, did not hesitate. They accepted the boy into their hearts and their family. The next couple of decades were not easy. But their commitment never waned.
Some years passed. I was again in need of Max’ legal fangs, and went to his office. On the floor, on a huge pillow, was the skinniest dog I’d ever seen. She barely struggled to her feet when I came in the room. Max mentioned that she was a bit of work, getting her out to go to the bathroom, lifting her in and out of the car. She didn’t have many days or weeks left, he said.
“Why don’t you put her down?” I asked.
“She isn’t ready,” quickly came Max’s reply.
You have to realize how much this startled me, coming from one of the toughest people I knew, an Irishman from Chicago who could make his blue coffee cup turn red with his every-day language.
“She isn’t ready.”
From there we argued about the Catholic Church, abortion, the I.R.A., the death penalty, homosexual priests, etc. He was a damn good lawyer and had no problem defending what seemed to me contradictory superstitions. But he walked his talk, and taught me something by his actions, if not his words.
Not that I wasn’t receptive. I have been laughed at by more than one person for putting spiders outside, even houseflies. For using live traps for my kitchen mice, and driving them a half mile away so they wouldn’t beat me back to the house. That was all part of a deal I made with my higher power when a couple of pets suffered during a time I thought it was okay to kill porcupines. Long story.
Last week, I was helping a friend, Stacy, wrap up local business before she left the country to join her fiance and start a new life. One of the items on the agenda was finding a vet who would euthanize her two old dogs. Molly, who is quite old, has cancer and not long to live; the smaller one has cataracts. The clock was ticking.
I took over that difficult process. With the help of friends on Facebook, I found a kind local vet who would come and transition the animals. Everything was set to happen on Saturday. I was ready to foot the bill.
Before you judge Stacy, you need to know she is one of the most compassionate human beings you could ever hope meet. She assists people in grinding poverty, and in the last days of their lives. But Stacy had to go, and there was no one, even her ex who shared the dogs’ history, who could take them. And the dogs lived for her voice. This was mercy, not callousness.
On Tuesday I joined another of her friends who had a van to move Stacy’s furniture. I met the two dogs. Rubbed ears. Got sniffed. When I got home, I paced my living room for more than an hour. One thought kept pushing me around.
“They aren’t ready.”
All night and the next day I chewed on the fact that I was facilitating death, and they weren’t ready. But I could not take two dogs, especially a small yapper, and had no place for either while I escorted Stacy to her new love and life in Costa Rica.
Yes, I will mention the rainbow I saw to the north when I came to my decision. And pretend it’s irrelevant.
Right after which, Stacy left me a text: the small dog had a home! Some friends had come through, but could just take the little dog. I waited. I was willing to wait a day or two, too, while things resolved without my effort, but I was smiling a rainbow of my own.
Stacy called an hour and a half after texting.
“My heart is a little less heavy,” she said, as she asked for the telephone number to tell the vet there would just be one animal to euthanize.
“I’m going to lighten it the rest of the way,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“Molly can stay here with me. I talked to the house-sitter earlier about taking on an old dog while I’m gone, and he said ‘sure.’ When I get back, Molly will be here with me until she’s ready to die. If it doesn’t work out for you in Costa Rica, you come back for her. If it does, I’ll have a life-long friend, even if that life isn’t too long.”
All I could hear were sobs on the other end of the line, because I was crying myself. I don’t really know why, except I knew it was my job to be the boatman to take Molly from this shore to the next.
Sometimes things work out just how how they’re supposed to, and that feeling is overwhelming. My tears were in gratitude for being where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there, that I would be there when Molly was ready, and not send her on her way before she was.
I’m also looking forward to taking her to the beach, which I’m told is one of her favorite places. Mine too.
*Names have been changed.
I have just completed Chalice and I loved it.
As a lover of English Literature (and taught Latin as well), I appreciated your email style of communication in our modern world, and the intense capture of two people developing in love.
Would love to discuss Chalice with you sometime.
I was at Dudley’s when you approached our book club, and handed out a copy. One of our book club members received it first, but I did not want to wait after (the) succinct introduction you gave us, so I ordered in for my Kindle… you kept me up until 2.30 am!
…I can’t wait for the next.
Martha Hendrick, Bend OR
In order: An old friend and racer called to tell me he finished Chalice. I thought I’d get criticism or compliments on the racing angle. Instead, he thanked me for the story, saying he didn’t know if he’d ever read anything that described love in that way, and he thanked me again.
Then I got an email from a woman who had read about half the book: “Just wanted to let you know that I am really enjoying this read! It is creative and really sucks you in. As we all live in such a cyber world of texting and email, it almost makes me feel as if I am the recipient of the communications between them. Thank you so much!”
Two book clubs in Bend may take up the book, they seem enthusiastic, and in a few days I will present to another that has already selected and read the book.
Finally, “Vintage Drift” did a nice article on the book in the issue that came out this week. Sales seem to be picking up a tick. Fingers crossed that more readers will enjoy and tell their friends.