An author realizes that there are several books that need to be written to fully explain the healing novel he wrote about his father.
Let me see if I can sketch out a timeline – to see how things all connect together.
In 1994, I finished a novel, a fictionalized version about a time when my Dad disappeared and what I thought might have happened to him. He reportedly went on wheat harvest and came back a changed man – he had some kind of spiritual experience and his whole world changed after that. (Ghosts of the Wheat Harvest)
In 1996, I had several agents interested in the book, but after it appeared to need further rewrites, I lost the thread of the book and walked away from it.
Six years later, I did a written inner child exercise where I remembered very damaging words my Grandma had said to me which locked up my writing for many years. I hadn’t done anything yet to work through that damage. It was so shocking, I think I just set the whole thing aside for a while.
It was now 2005. I had spent nine painful years not writing, and it was killing me. I’m not sure how it happened but I decided to try writing once again. I didn’t know what to write about, how to get past the writer’s block, or if I would walk away from another book. I just knew I had to try.
I remember so vividly how the next thing happened. I had driven from Albuquerque to Texas to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family. Everyone had to get back to where they lived, so the holiday just naturally wound down early for us. I decided to leave Saturday and drive back to New Mexico. I could feel something brewing during the long trip home, but wasn’t sure what it was; it was still below the surface where I couldn’t yet see it. I finally pulled in to my garage after the 11-hour drive, pulled my suitcase out of the trunk and went inside, glad to have the long journey over and to be home again. I had a day to rest before going back to work.
Then the direction began to surface. I took out a legal pad and started making notes. Something had always nagged me about the wheat harvest novel, which I had entitled Nothing Left To Lose. It started to become clear. That novel was written from a very loving and respectful point of view regarding my Dad. I started writing it about four years after he had passed away. But during the time between his death and writing the novel a lot had happened. I had remembered incidents of violence by my Dad against me when I was a teenager, one in particular of tremendous violence and the threat of death.
That was the problem : the wheat harvest novel was written at the end of a long, painful – and sometimes very angry – road of recovery from those violent incidents. To just publish the harvest novel wouldn’t tell the whole story.
It was like there was this huge back story that needed to be told. It started to become clear where I needed to start – before my Dad’s death. It was also clear that it was too much to put into one book. I would have to condense and compress too many topics to adequately address things I had gone through. The time from 1987 when my Dad died, to 1991 when I went on wheat harvest to find out about his story, had been an incredibly dense period of my life.
So it would have to begin with the events leading up to my Dad’s death, and the time period after he died where I remembered the most traumatic violent incident with him – the incident that flavored my whole world and had for many years.
I jotted down a tentative title: Freedom’s Just Another Word. (Side note here – when I started reading my journal notes as I was writing this book, I discovered what I had written in 1988: someday I would have to write about the time around my Dad’s death, and the book needed to be entitled Freedom’s Just Another Word. I was shocked to see that, because I had forgotten all about it.)
I saw that Freedom would function as a bookend to Nothing Left to Lose. It was where the story really started, and it felt right that the two titles were from the same line in the Janis Joplin song Me And Bobby McGee. There was a nice symmetry about that.
I began to sketch out the books that would come in between the two, and I suddenly realized that I had five more books to write. Tentative titles began to assign themselves to each book, almost as if I had known them all along, but wasn’t aware on a conscious level.
There would need to be a book about what happened immediately after Freedom – how I began to reclaim my life. (Note: I later realized there wasn’t enough for a book here, but that a book about the events with my crazy Grandma, and how they impacted me – entitled And Then I Stop — needed to be the second book in the series. That book would explain so many elements that would be revealed in the later books.)
There would be a book about how I was forced to deal with my anger – The Tiger Unveiled. This book would be how I worked through my feelings about the violent incident that had just occurred. But more –I had been forced to deal with that anger because of a horrible incident that happened to me around the recovery program I was in. I was the victim of a bogus, codependent intervention. The ringleader many years later told me that no one deserved what happened to me that night. It was a devastating event, but because it compelled me to deal with my anger, it was a tremendous gift!
After the anger subsided, there was a period of Healing The Wounds, as I came to a peace and resolution about what happened with my Dad. I did a number of exercises to make peace – an imagined healing conversation with my Dad, trips to Tulsa where he spent the last years of his life, and a time of grieving how much we had both lost through his drinking and the horrible damage it caused.
I would need to write a book called The Symbolmakers about the men’s group I had gathered with, which fueled both my desire and ability to go work the wheat harvest to find out about my Dad. It was an incredible experience, and my trip would not make sense without explaining this healing time.
My direct experiences on the wheat harvest, Then I Went To Find My Father, had to be developed, because it told the story of how I gradually came to an understanding about my Dad’s story and his experience. I walked in his shoes, metaphorically. It would be an expansion of the wheat harvest novel – there was just too much that needed to be told about that experience.
With all of that as a back story – the wheat harvest novel Nothing Left to Lose would make a lot more sense. I knew that clearly, and I also knew that the damaging messages of my Grandma would need to be addressed and, if possible, somehow healed, if I were ever going to write those books. I wasn’t aware at the time that writing the first book Freedom’s Just Another Word would drive the Grandma issues to the surface, and that they were deeper, darker and more damaging than I ever could have imagined.
“God is a farmer” h.koppdelaney @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“Writing” Marcus Rodder @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.