I wish I could claim that the ten-day gap between my fourth secret and my final one was some attempt to build suspense. In truth, I've spent most of the last ten days immersed in the galleys of Bitterwood, hunting for typos and fine-tuning the prose. If my count is correct, this is the sixth time I've read this novel cover to cover in a year. It's disturbing to think that I'm still discovering mistakes and infelicities after so many passes. Of course, Nobody Gets to Girl made it to print with what I consider a pretty glaring problem in the second chapter. I call my hero by the wrong name on page 17! The protagonist is named Richard Rogers, and 90% of the time I call him Richard, but on page 17 I slipped up and called him Roger. The book was in print before someone pointed it out to me.
This isn't my fifth secret, by the way. But, I've been struggling to figure out a fifth secret that met the following criteria: 1. It should be something I haven't wanted people to know about me. I think this exercise is only of use if I'm pushing the limits of what I'm comfortable revealing about myself. 2. It should be PG 13. My family reads this blog sometimes after all. 3. I shouldn't take anyone else down with me.
The last criteria is a real stumper. Because, so much of the stuff I don't talk about is stuff that happened between me and someone else. I've been divorced twice. There are dark and juicy mines of secrets in both those past relationships. I could conceal the identities of my fellow students from college twenty years ago with fake names, but fake names wouldn't really work in concealing the identity of my ex spouses, since there are only two possible candidates.
Still, I think I'm going to break the third criteria and reveal something that very few people know about the creation Nobody Gets the Girl. I owe this novel to the collapse of my second marriage. In the fall of 2000, I'd been married to Anjela for about five years. Our marriage had been through many rough patches prior to that fall, but, still, around October things were taking an especially dark turn. I won't go into the details of what was going wrong with the marriage since I would like to respect Anjela's privacy at least a little in all this. But, during this time, I was having a lot of trouble sleeping. I actually went to a doctor about my insomnia. And, when I did sleep, I would sometimes have the most vivid dreams. Some writers really mine their dreams for inspiration. I seldom remember enough of mine to find them useful, and the few I do remember seem too incoherent to shape into fiction.
One common thread of my remembered dreams, however, is that they are usually set in the same house. This house is no place I've ever lived, but I know it well... it's my dream house. It's a big, Victorian mansion, full of secret passages and hidden rooms. It sits alone in a field, with no neighbors in sight. The layout of the house is nothing I could ever sketch out in my waking moments, but, in my dreams, its a very tangible place, and I move around in it with a certain familiarity.
But, one night in October of 2000, I had a very vivid dream about a woman wrecking my dream house. The woman wasn't Anjela, or anyone I could immediately identify. But she was moving through the house, reaching out with fingernails like swords and ripping the walls. The strangest detail of the dream was that she was traveling along a heavy iron rail, wearing elaborate wheeled boots that had long iron spikes shooting out from the ankles. I remember in the dream chasing this woman, watching her tear the house to pieces, until suddenly the whole front half of the house collapsed, leaving what was left of the place looking like an enormous dollhouse.
In retrospect, it's easy to interpret the dream as my fears about my own house falling apart, at least metaphorically. At the time, though, when I woke up, I took the time to jot down some notes about the dream. Due to my having sought medical help for my insomnia, I was keeping a sleep log of when I woke up at night. The following day, I held on to that strong and strange image of the woman with swords for fingers and spikes on her heels. I began to think about who she might be and what her story was.
Also, it was around this time that, grasping at straws, I decided that the reason Anjela no longer seemed to be in love with me was that I had stopped writing. When we met, I'd been at a very productive and creative stage in my life. I'd finished my second novel, a very bad book called Dragons. And, I'd started my third novel, a much more promising book called Bitterwood. The first year we were together, I was writing all the time, churning out chapters and stories at a rate that I look back on with a certain degree of envy. Of course, back then, I could crank out story after story because I didn't really have a sense of what was a good story and what was a bad story. I would just take any cliched idea, pop in some cardboard characters, drive them toward a twist ending, and call it a story. As I grew as a writer, I found my output slowing. It took time and thought to write a good story, not just an afternoon's whim. I went from writing a couple of stories a month to writing a couple of stories a year. So, in October 2000, I felt like the reason Anjela had lost interest in me was that I wasn't the person I'd told her I was when we met. I'd told her I was a writer, but I'd evolved into someone who was only tinkering with the craft. I worried I was a poser, and she'd found me out.
So, I decided that I'd win her back by writing another novel. And I wouldn't screw around with this and drag it out for years like I had with my previous novel efforts. It was November. I'd finish my book by the end of December. I told people at the time that I was doing it in honor of the new millennium. If I started a book in November and finished it at midnight of New Years 2001, I could claim I'd written the first novel of the new millennium. But, the real drive behind my writing was my desperation to prove to Anjela that I was still the same creative writer that she'd fallen for a few years before.
I had plenty of ideas for novels when I sat down on November 15 to start writing my next novel, stories I'd thought about for years, and put a lot of planning into. But, when the actual typing started, I decided I'd tell the story of the girl who'd destroyed my dream house. The woman became the character Rail Blade. My protagonist was a wannabe stand-up comic who never was quite brave enough to quit his day job and chase his true dreams.
There was some good news/bad news with my plan to make Anjela love me again. The bad news, duh, was that it didn't work. She moved out sometime in December without having read a word of the book. To this day I'm not sure if she ever read it. The good news is, before that novel, writing had always been a very intellectual pursuit for me. Suddenly, I was writing in a state of high emotional stress and it all comes out in the pages of the book. I felt like my life was being taken from me by forces I had no control over... which was, of course, the same problem that Richard Rogers must confront as his entire life gets erased by a time machine accident. All of my existential angst found a voice in Richard.
There are other hidden parallels, things that no one probably ever suspects are drawn from real life. Right before Anjela left, we had a cat named Easter put to sleep. Easter had long had serious health problems. We were there with her as the vet slipped a needle into her veins and put her down. A night or two later, I wrote the scene where Dr. Know kills Rail Blade with a syringe of the same poison. Dr. Know is crying in the aftermath, claiming he killed her because he loved her and didn't want to see her in pain anymore. I know that Dr. Know is sincere, even if Richard doesn't believe his motivations in the book.
As fate would have it, a few days later I arrived home and found Anjela packing up her truck. The doors of the house were wide open so that people could cart off her furniture. I walked into the freezing house as an icy rain was starting to fall and found that the furnace was only blowing cold air. She drove off with me sitting in the rain removing the cover from the exterior furnace trying to figure out what was wrong. I didn't solve the mystery of the broken furnace. I eventually gave up and went inside broken home and wrote the next scene in my book... the scene that had given birth to the whole novel to start with, the scene in which a woman with spikes on her ankles rides a rail through a house and destroys it.
On that cold December night, it sucked really bad that my cat was dead, my furnace was broken, and my wife had left. Still, I wrote that scene that night, and the next scene the next night, and kept going until my book was finished. The whole time, my brain felt full of lightning, like the story was an electric current and I was merely its conductor. It was a deeply satisfying creative experience, worth the price I paid for it.
And, once it was on paper, I slept like a baby.
That's it, the fifth thing almost no one knew about me. Thanks again to Eric James Stone for tagging me. Now, it's time for me to turn this over to five people. So, Nancy Fulda, Oliver Dale, Vylar Kaftan, Rick Novy, and Gail Z. Martin... tag! You're it!