Another sign of my turnaround in November was a reawakening of my urge to write.
It had subsided since my mania of June with the advent of Paxil, and been dormant ever since. But the story I had been writing was not yet fully told; Emily may have ended the affair but the ending took two more months to end, or longer. Even as I struggled with my mental health the unfolding story kept poking my brain to return to that incomplete manuscript. In November I picked up the copies that my two volunteers had returned to me in July with their edits and began to fold their comments into my revised manuscript. But it is a tedious process.
My mind became more animated and leaped ahead, eager to tell the rest of the story. I started sketching out new chapters, creating clever chapter titles and ‘jotting’ ideas as I relived the painful events of the months just past: Falling and Flying, Love is a Yo-Yo, All Rush and Pushy. But I knew this was the easy part. A lot of polishing and many revisions lay ahead.
As I anticipated my trip to Manila to meet the Filipina Cupid, I fretted about being drawn away from my opus. Such is the mind of the writer when the writing bug is upon him, he doesn’t want to do anything else.
I considered bringing my Macbook Pro with me, but it’s bulky and despite being a laptop still pretty heavy, and if I lost or damaged it my whole professional world would be lost with it, despite my computer back-up devices. So I acquired an i-Pad and figured out how to port my manuscript file to it from my computer.
The 14-hour flight from Toronto to Hong Kong was now occupied with meals, fitful bouts of sleep, and hours tapping on the tiny keyboard accessory of the i-Pad. I felt pretty modern with my mini-computer, if inefficient. Despite these intrusions, and the confining space of those modern flight cubes I was determined not to waste all that travel time in unproductive nothing. Even slow and tedious editing is better than staring at a stupid in-flight movie.
All the flight attendants in business class eventually engaged me in conversation, wondering what I was working on. A novel, I said, about a lost love affair: always an appealing genre, especially to women it seems. All were intrigued at my story: the grieving widower, a broken heart and my Manila quest. I’d give them my business card and point out my website and the list of my books on the back of the card and they would wander away promising me they would check out my books, and no doubt wondering about my celebrity status – a genuine author. I didn’t notice an uptick in sales however. I guess they’re still waiting for the release of my love story, not my dog stories.
Over the ensuing week of my Discovery Suites Hotel discovery, I spent many hours at the keyboard composing and rewriting. Is it any wonder I struggled with this new relationship with Carmen? I was spending hours every day reliving the drama of Emily.
By January and my second tour to Manila I had finished the second revision of the manuscript. It had expanded from a novella sized story of ~36000 words to a legitimate, though slight, novel of 56000 words. I shifted the narrative from a memoir, naturally, to a thinly disguised novel. I changed all the names and locations, but anyone close to me can guess who the characters are. Time to submit it for a second reading. I surrendered my revised manuscript to a professional editor and another erudite friend. I asked them if they could turn it around in 2 – 3 weeks. They may have wondered about my urgency. I said I thought I had a really good story on my hands and I wanted to put it out there, and while the creative bug was upon me, I felt compelled to move the project along. My erudite friend wondered about my motives, and she was probably right. I knew there were other reasons I was putting pressure in getting this book finished. Was I looking for closure? or something else?
While I waited, and in more ways than one, I turned my attention to a jacket cover for this book. I decided this little treasure needed first class treatment and so I opted for a hard-cover printing, and that meant a ‘dustjacket’ cover, not just a print cover that serves dual purpose in a paperback book. I contacted my graphic designerwho had done the covers of my three previous books. But his book was different, it was a love story, and a tragedy, and I wanted the cover to focus on the object of this love. I wanted a stylized picture of an exotic young woman, the subject of the book. I gave Patti a copy of a photo I had of Emily. ‘No, I can’t do it,’ Patti told me, ‘I’m not an artist, I’m a graphic designer.’ This distinction seemed a bit arcane to me but she wasn’t budging so I started investigating Plan B, and Plan C. I contacted my cartoonist, the wonderfully gifted Renée Depocas, in Victoria, B.C., who renders my ridiculous annual Ground Hog Day cardsfor promoting AFS Consulting. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m a cartoonist, and an occasional artist, but not a portraitist.’ I reached into the internet and found a wonderfully creative creature in Tennessee. She was very keen to give it a try but she insisted on retaining copyright on her art and I couldn’t agree that. So I returned in defeat to Patti, and begged her over breakfast to reconsider. ‘No,’ she said, I’m a graphicist, not an artist.’ But then I seemed to recall some interesting works on her website. I pulled them up on my computer. She looked at the portraits of young women she had posted there. She shrugged, ‘I did those many years ago, when I was just 15; I don’t do that kind of work anymore.’ ‘I bet you could, Patti!’
So she gave it a try and came up with something I thought was exactly what I wanted. I asked her to turn it into a cover. I was very pleased and now more committed than ever to finish this novel that had been living in my head, even as I lived it in life.
The feedback from my coterie of editors was sobering: clinical editing from the professional editor, devasting commentary from my savant friend: the plot lacked credibility, the characters undeveloped, the sex scenes too graphic (or just fine, depending on who was opining), the links unlikely. I admit, it was a setback. I could see their points, but I was starting to feel my batteries deplete. I wasn’t sure I could face another rewrite.
I consulted some trusted colleagues at the NCR Chapter of the Canadian Authors Association: Don’t give up, Doug; you are a good writer, and you need to trust yourself. The final arbiter of your work is you. So I did another rewrite and uploaded my proof to lulu.comand waited for it to come back to me. Let’s see what it looks like in print, then I’ll decide what to do with it.
And in the meantime, my ‘real’ life continued.