Tuesday, September 3, 2013

“A Lifetime Ago”

            A lifetime ago, I took one year off from teaching to play the role of homeroom mother—and to research and write a novel. I spent months hauling books to and from the library as I researched the setting for my story. Hour after hour, I took notes on the histories, cultures, religions and languages of my fictional characters. Eventually, I merged all of those notes into a plot. During the nine months of that long ago school year, I gave birth to characters and watched them grow and develop.
            When summer shifted into fall, I boxed the first draft of my novel and tucked it away on the corner of a footlocker. Its visibility often nagged at me to delve back into the pages and visit with my friends, but work and responsibilities made it easy for me to ignore my creation. During the next year, the box changed locations several times, and eventually I secured it on a shelf in my closet. I could still see it there, begging for me to return for a weekend or a holiday, but I ignored its pleas. Over the years, the box became buried under shoeboxes and bags filled with crafts I’ve started but never finished. It collected dust in my mind. Frankly, I totally forgot about it.
            Before we moved Mom in with us, I did a major overhaul of all of our closets. We were, after all, combining two households into one. I uncovered the novel one day and spent a couple of evenings rereading the yellowed manuscript. The 3.5 floppy disks tucked into the box reminded me that I’d written these words long ago.
            Resolutely, I began to revise and rewrite my story. I double checked all of that long ago research, this time in the comfort of my home using the miraculous Internet. I layered my more mature writing style into the book, but basically didn’t change the original structure of the plot, the color of the characters.
            My resolution to seek an agent faltered when Mom moved into our home, and I realized the amount of care she needed wouldn’t allow me the luxury of revisions or rewrites if my novel found a home. This time, though, I didn’t box my work away. Instead, I purchased a new, white three-ringed binder. This time, I kept my handiwork nearby for quick reads and editing. I even asked a friend to read and critique it.

            When Mom died, I moved the binder into my desk drawer and headed back into the classroom to clear my head of grief. This summer, one project after another seemed to demand my attention, and I avoided glancing at my neglected volume by shoving calendars and journals on top of it.
            A few weeks ago, I pledged to return to the path I started a lifetime ago. I Google searched for possible literary agents. I decided on a company and agent to approach, and I began the process of writing a query letter, and a synopsis, and selecting my best three chapters.
            Yesterday, I sent this story, first dreamed of a lifetime ago, off to an agent. I won’t get a response for three to six months, and I know the answer will read something like “Thank you, but . . .” However, that’s okay because I’ve accomplished such a major goal. I’ve taken a single idea, developed it into a wonderful story peopled with interesting characters. Even if it’s taken me years, I’ve wound my way through the long and convoluted writing process all the way to the final step.
            And today? I think I’ll start another novel because one’s been floating around in the background for a while. This time, I have no other responsibilities than seeing to the needs to these new characters as I give them lives, so maybe it won’t take another lifetime.    
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

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