So I finally did it. I told my boss I needed a year off from my teaching job at Boston University in order to turn in a solid draft of my next novel to my agent. Goal: last day of August 2012 (when I turn forty). I am thrilled and terrified. No salary, no health insurance, loads of time. I’m starting this new series to mark my progress, primarily for myself, possibly for the one or two of you out there who might be interested. Bottomland is the working title for the book, easily changed at this point. But I thought it might prove a working title for the series as well—it sounds down on your luck, hitting the bottom of the barrel, while in truth bottomland holds the richest soil, running near the river and having been flooded almost yearly. It is new earth, fertile, unplowed. My year will be strange, poor, and hopefully prolific.
The novel is another family-inspired story, this time on my father’s side. A few summers ago, my now late aunt handed me a photograph of my great-grandfather and his children, my own grandmother Bess in the back row, appearing regal with high cheekbones, unafraid. She died when my father was in his twenties. Two of her sisters, the “little girls” of the family, sit in the photograph on either side of my weighty Germanic grandfather. They would disappear together only a few years later. This from a quiet Iowa farm shortly World War I. Only one daughter returned. The other, Merle, was never heard from again.
Right now, I have the novel split into five voices—the two missing sisters, my own grandmother who stayed home in the aftermath, their father Julius, and one of the brothers. These multiple voices could be suicide for a novel, but I’m following them for now. When I saw the photograph, every one of the characters took on such definite personalities, I felt I already heard them. So I have Bess beginning the book, her section close to done, and now Julius, making his way from the old Germany and finding land—surviving the suspicions of German-Americans in that first war. The two sisters are next, the brother Lee (my father’s namesake) who I envision fighting against his father’s homeland in World World II. We’ll see what happens. At this point, I’m moving forward and am having a fine time. Hopefully the salary pinch won’t make me too nervous to continue doing so.
Why did I finally take the jump? Advice from an old friend, “Sometimes if you want something, you just have to make it happen.” “Make it happen,” I wrote on a scrap of paper and taped to my refrigerator door. Silly? Probably. But I’m doing it. And I’m writing this first post on April Fool’s of course. I’ll be writing an installment every month or so—I don’t want to bleed time and energy from the writing I really need to get done. We’ll see where I am 17 months from now when I go back to my day job. I’ll keep you posted.