COVID 19

I have a bit of a commute from my home to my college where I teach. (Well, that’s a pretty severe understatement, actually. It’s far. Really far.) When I left work this afternoon to head home for the weekend, there was still no indication as to whether or not we would be returning the next week – meanwhile, colleges all over the country are scrambling to move to remote learning (as it’s being called).

Then I got home and checked my email – and there it was. We will be adding a week on to our spring break – so next week (when we should have had class) and the week after (our actual spring break) will be used by faculty to move their current face to face courses online. It wasn’t stated, but I’m assuming we will be online for the remainder of the semester.

I’m in shock. I’m feeling a great loss. While two of my classes are already online, and six credits of my load are my Teaching Chair duties, my creative writing poetry class is (was) in person. I’m a firm believer that creative writing classes need to be in person – there is a community aspect to it – you have to trust the people you are handing your work over to. Especially when you are doing it for the first time. I guess I can be glad they were able to have that community feel before this all went down.

But all that aside – I’m crushed that I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students. When we met this morning, I had no idea that this would likely be the last time we would all be sitting in a room together. I’m heart broken. If only this decision could have come even one day earlier.

Beta Reader Returns

It’s hard to know when we write something if others will like our work or connect to it. It can hurt if someone doesn’t because it feels personal – they don’t like my story, which in turn means they don’t like me. We are not always the hardiest of folks, we writers.

So when my first beta reader, Ann, told me she had finished my novel and was ready to hand it back over…I was braced for it. She was one who went into this saying she’s not a writer, so she didn’t necessarily feel qualified to respond – but I countered that most readers aren’t writers. I just wanted her reaction. (And if she could point out any errors I may have missed, I’d surely appreciate it.)

So when she told me that she loved the story, which she had been reading over her lunch hour the last few months, that she was missing her time with these people every day – I was relieved. I wanted to just puddle right there – someone else likes my story, sees these people the same way I (and Jack) do.

She had some great feedback throughout – pointing out things that were confusing or didn’t follow. She marked errors that I was sure were no longer present in the document (I had edited four or five times by this point…). And I thanked her for every single mark and comment.

I am also excited for an excuse to go back and revisit Alice, to work through some of these points.

Beta Readers

The thing I loved most about my time in undergrad and grad school was the community of writers who were available to read stories and provide feedback. It’s a little trickier when you’re out of school to find these same sorts of communities. If you are lucky to live in a big city, there are usually a plethora of writing groups that you can join. But small towns or small cities…well, you might just have to start one and hope someone shows up.

One perk of being a college teacher, especially in English, is having friends and mentors who love reading and writing as much as you do – who when they find out you are writing a novel offer to read it. And when you follow up to ask how serious they were about reading it, they actually take you up on it. For me, that’s Amy and Ann. I owe my teaching career to them. They are closer than friends. And I’m about to hand over a copy of my novel to each of them – I feel like I should be more nervous about this. But maybe lack of nerves is a good sign…?

Another full copy goes to my sister, Kelly. The remaining half a copy goes to Jack. He’s been reading along since I started.

I’m a treehugger, I swear I am. But there’s just something about the physical – the heft of the pages. I wrote that. I may have sat and stared at this for a bit just trying to take it in.

Once I hand them over, I will, for the first time in over two years, not be actively working towards writing and polishing my WIP. What does one even do?

Oh yeah. Start something new. 🙂

Timeline for All Falling Things

August 17, 2018 – Alice and Stanley bump into each other on the street.

May 24, 2019 – Alice unpacks her office box at the end of the novel.

Along with using PowerPoint to track characters and locations and a few other things, I used an Excel calendar to track the time of the story. I realize this might date the novel, quite literally (though one doesn’t need to know these dates to read the book), but it helped me with a few things. For one, accuracy. When the temp spikes or drops, when it snows or rains, when the Cubs beat the Pirates 10-0 during their 2019 season opener, it’s all what actually happened on those dates. Sometimes the internet comes in handy, eh? (I can also tell you that the Cubs game lasted three hours and twelve minutes, had 40,692 folks in attendance, and that there was a high of 74* F.)

The novel takes place during a length of time that is less than a year – which Alice notes as she is marking her goals. She had given herself a full year to figure out her life, but it took her less than that.

I’ll also note that all of the locations are real, though I will admit that I have not been to all of them. The one exception is that the Art Garage does not exist in Chicago – it is based on the Art Garage in Green Bay, WI, where I live. I just loved the concept so much that I wanted to model Lily’s gallery after it.

The End. Sorta.

I am a bundle of emotions at the moment. I started Alice’s journey 753 days ago. And today, I got to type “The End.” 753+ days of thinking about and writing about and talking about these characters as though they were living breathing people. And just like that – “The End.” It feels physically anticlimactic – surely there should be fireworks… (soundless ones since my youngest cat is frightened of the noise).

I’ve been writing since I was a kid – I’ve always loved reading and making up stories and writing them down. But before this day, I had never completed a novel. I have written hundreds of poems and dozens short stories – but never a novel. Never something this… BIG. But I did it. Is this what marathon runners feel like after their first race?

I’ve done chunks of revising and editing as I’ve gone along – but now it’s time to pull out the official red pen and go start to finish. Wish me luck.

“After Stanley typed ‘The End,’ he sank back into his chair and smiled. It didn’t matter what happened next – Stanley had accomplished what he set out to do. And he was ready to do it all again” (333).

Inspiration

This post contains spoilers for All Falling Things.

It was my intent from the moment I started writing this book that Alice and Stanley were not meant to end up together. I just wrote their break up. I knew it was coming since the first page – and even then, it wasn’t easy to do.

It’s not that I’m jaded. It’s that their romance is not the point of the book.

After my own marriage ended, it was pretty easy to regret that it ever happened because of the hurt and pain associated with the end of it. But as time went on and I gained more distance, I realized that if given the chance, I would not have done anything differently in my own life. If not for that relationship, most of the people I hold so dear to me today, who are my family on this journey…we never would have met. This relationship was the thread necessary to tying me to these other people. And when looked at from that point of view, regret is easy to erase. I would not trade these people for anything.

When I started to write Alice, that was the idea I wanted to explore. Stanley’s mother says to him, “Not everyone in our life is meant to stay. Some people are just meant to teach us something.” This is, please excuse the pun, the heart of the book. A happily ever after doesn’t always mean romance. If not for each other, though, how different would Alice and Stanley’s lives be? We can’t know. (Well, I can, because I created them – but I hope you get the point I’m making.) Without each other, Stanley isn’t reminded of why he came to Chicago, and Alice never finds herself at Shiri’s opening meeting Lily. Remove this thread from their tapestries, and they are walking down very different paths.

Some call it fate. Others call it chance. Whatever it is, their paths needed to cross in order for them to find their right places. It just turns out, their right places are not with each other. It doesn’t mean their love was not real (I did love my ex, after all). It just means that their love was not meant for more than that.

Alice’s happily ever after was never in “finding a man” – it was in finding herself. And she does just that.