Yesterday at the library event, the librarian mentioned the story I have on my website that I titled The House That Jack built. It's about my writing career, how it all started and the first character who ever took up residence in my mind as a real live person. I realized I've never shared that story with my blog readers, so here it is!
The House That Jack Built
Writers work toward the ultimate goal of publication. We stress over sentence structure, editing, agents, pitching, querying, etc. The list of things to stress about is endless. But how often do we stop to take a moment to appreciate the special journey we are on as authors? Since I started to write seriously four years ago (UPDATE: make that seven years now!), after saying for years I was going to, I've had a few amazing things happen to me that never would've happened if I hadn't embarked upon this journey. I have several anecdotes, but this is my favorite....
The first character to take up occupancy in my mind as a living, breathing human being, was a handsome, successful architect named Jack Harrington. Jack and I ran around together for a long time before I ever put fingers to keyboard to tell his story. I wanted to write about a man who has it all—a wife he still adores after twenty years of marriage, three beautiful daughters he'd do anything for, and a life most people would envy. That life is turned upside down when his wife is hit by a car and plunged into a coma. I wanted to show Jack's struggles to rebuild his life as he becomes the custodial parent for his daughters—two of them teenagers with all the accompanying issues—and I wanted to show his conflict when he finds a new love. These issues make up the core of my first book, "Treading Water," which led to two sequels, "Marking Time," and "My Side of the Street." It's "Treading Water," however, that is the book of my heart.
Since I finished "Treading Water," I've thought of my writing as "The House That Jack Built," tying into his career as an architect and the unexpected building blocks that came from "Treading Water." As I was finishing "My Side of the Street" in July 2006, I decided to drive out to Chatham, Massachusetts, so I could finish it in the town where it was set. Yes, this was a huge indulgence, but it coincided with the half-way point of summer vacation and my kids were driving me nuts. I had earned this night away! The first thing I did when I got to Chatham was drive around to check out the four streets I had chosen from hundreds on a map to place my characters' homes. I figured if there was, say, a cement factory on both sides of the street, the people of Chatham would know I hadn't bothered to come out there and check—if I was lucky enough to see the book published. I am pleased to report there were houses on all four streets, but on the corner of the fourth street, there was something else—a red house with a sign on the side that said, "The House That Jack Built." No, I am not kidding, and yes, I sat there and cried. If ever there was a "sign" that I was on the path I was meant to be on, there it was. It was without a doubt, one of the most amazing moments of my life, and I will never, ever forget it. (Thanks to my friend Janet Campbell for taking the picture for me!)
That same week, after I got home and told my sister-in-law this story, she approached me at a family party to say, "You won't believe this! I was having trouble sleeping at my friend's house the other night and got up to see if she had a magazine or something I could look at." She found an old copy of Architectural Digest, which is mentioned in "Treading Water," and there was a spread with the headline "The House That Jack Built." She had torn it out for me and that page is framed over my desk to remind me that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and it's about the journey, not the destination.
I still have fingers and toes crossed for the "Treading Water" books. Maybe someday...