Dan L. Hays revisits the major turning points in his quest to write and publish a book, and builds the strength to believe in his writing.
I was in Farmington, New Mexico in January 2008, to rest, edit the manuscript I was working on, and get grounded. The first day I drove around town, exploring old familiar haunts, and began to relax into the calm I always felt while I was there.
I talked with a friend named Janice on the phone for a long time that night. She commented how much my grandmother had laid bad messages on my creativity, and how damaging that must have been. It started a train of thought, but I didn’t know it at the time.
I called Karen Monday, and she asked (for about the third time) when I was going to write the book about my grandmother. She thought that when I wrote about later events, the reader would be puzzled about the “I may be crazy” comments floating around in my head. (Much as I had been at the time of those events.) In her mind it made sense to go ahead and write about Grandma, to inform the readers. I saw the logic of it. I had planned to write that book much later – because I only remembered those events in 2003. But what happened with my Grandma was an essential part of my story and really did need to be explained early in the process, to illuminate what I would write later.
I drove to the Farmington library on Tuesday to see if I could flesh out a few thoughts about what I was calling the “Grandma book”. As I walked in, something struck me. It was in this library that I had written the inner child exercise where I uncovered my grandmother saying “they’ll call you crazy and lock you up.” I walked through the book stacks and sat down with a pen and legal pad, at the same table I had used before. It was odd to be back, about to conceptualize the book that would expose Grandma’s lies to the light.
I began to write, and it was as if I already knew on a subconscious level the essence of the story, and now brought it to the surface to capture the story on paper. I wrote with confidence and clarity.
Where would this story begin? A mental picture jumped into view – the day I received the phone call from the publisher in 1986, when he was excited about publishing the book I had written, Search For Peace. Why was my response terror instead of elation? For a reason I could not verbalize in the moment that scene had to be the start of the story. I wrote it down:
I sent the book to several ACA publishers. I sent it to Claudia Black’s publishing company. Four days later, Jack Fahey called. He was Claudia Black’s husband, and her business manager. He raved about the book, even quoting passages of it to me. It freaked me out, and I didn’t follow up with him.
I would have to write about the wheat harvest novel – but something in me said to keep that brief – that experience was a whole separate story.
In 1991 and 1992 I went on the wheat harvest to research for a book about my Dad and what had happened to him that changed his life, made him sober up and start recovery. I wrote the book about it over the next 2 years, and in 1994, I sent query letters out to agents for the book, Nothing Left to Lose.
The significance of the wheat harvest novel, for this current memoir, was that I had walked away from it – I had abandoned a second book. I knew I needed to include the conversation with Joe Vitale – which brought up that terribly significant question.
I paid a marketing expert named Joe Vitale to help me draft the query letter, and as we were discussing it, Search for Peace came up. I told him how I had just stopped pursuing publication of the book. He looked at me curiously, and asked “How are you going to make sure it doesn’t happen again?” I stumblingly commented that I was in a different place now, but I really didn’t have a good answer.
The inner child exercise – that I had done in this library, and at this very table, was key to unlocking the mystery of my writer’s block.
In 2003, I felt like something was coming up. I went to the Farmington library, and little Danny remembered about Mamaw. She was my Dad’s mother, and when we lived in Farmington, I took the bus down to Fort Worth for the first time when I was eight years old, to visit relatives. I stayed with Mamaw for about a week. She asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her a famous writer. She said, “Oh no, you don’t want to do that.” I asked her why, and she said, “If you’re a famous writer they will call you crazy and lock you up.” I wrote the incident, but didn’t really process it, and forgot about it for a couple of years.
As I continued to write I sensed something special was happening. I felt confident – about my talent as a writer and how to exercise my craft. I wrote as rapidly as I could capture thoughts on paper, but with a sure hand, a clear vision – and no uncertainty. Thoughts gathered into scenes, scenes collected into chapters, each chapter leading to the next without hesitation.
It was a glorious, breathtaking experience: the instant where a set of life experiences resolved themselves into a book – the next book I was to write. It was transcendent; I went to a special creative place. I would take great delight in writing this book – a joyful story of healing, of the reclamation of a writer’s talent. It was a story of leading my writing gift from the chains of a deep darkness to the light of day where the product of my pen could be shared with the world.
Finally, with the thoughts fully captured on paper, I sat at the table and just looked at the pages I had written. I could barely wrap my mind around what had just happened, but I was terribly excited by the joy of the experience. I was energized. I was empowered!
It was like that crisp fall night playing softball when I was at bat and hit a screaming line drive just out of reach of the shortstop; as I sprinted around first base and headed for second, I saw the outfielders frantically chasing the ball toward the fence; I knew I had the footspeed and decided to go for it, made the turn at second, dug deep around third base, flew across home plate standing up, with a big smile and a whooping yell at my “in the park” home run, joyfully alive with the thrill of having done something exceptionally well.
Now I felt the same thrill. I was astonished by the comprehensive vision of the next book I would write and how quickly it had emerged. I smiled and gave a quiet fist pump, forsaking the yell since I was in a library.
Then I did savor the moment.
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