Origin Stories and Anniversaries

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Photos courtesy of Gareth Phillips

 

The idea for my novel, Rook, was born out of a dream. I’m just grateful it arrived on my day off.

The dream came while I was living in the apartment my husband and I first shared after we got married, a place, I’m certain, which contained magical properties. Stretching over 1500+ square feet on the basement level of a Depression-era mansion, this space featured terracotta tiled floors, a three-season porch, steam heat, a room-sized butler’s pantry, a staircase to nowhere, one bathroom (covered in mismatched tiles—crazy-quilt style), as well as six separate exits to other parts of the house, including the boiler room. There was a forbidden fireplace and two non-functioning dumbwaiters. One of these became our liquor cabinet. A room-sized vault, with two sets of metal doors and a dial lock, served as our guest room. The previous tenant, a friend, had disabled the locking mechanism so that…well, you know. No one ever suffocated or got locked in while visiting us, but this apartment was so labyrinthine that guests often got lost trying to get back to the bathroom or kitchen.

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Living room and vault

 

Our bedroom opened onto the porch through french doors with beveled glass panes, and we slept under floor-to-ceiling, built-in wooden shelves filled with books. The books and the strange arrangement of space, I’m sure, helped usher in that Rook-dream of thieves, houses, and ghosts one late September morning.

Along with a thick, strange mood and a few images (which survived), I woke from the dream with a few words: stealing from the houses of the recently dead. I scribbled them into the notebook that I kept by my bed. The words bloomed into something more. I remember thinking: this is a good idea for a story, and an hour later, this is a good idea for a book. At some point, I switched to the computer, which I usually reserved for editing, because my hand just couldn’t keep up. Occasionally, I paused, thinking I had captured it all, and tried to do something else, but more ideas came. Eventually, my husband got curious. He’s a writer too, so when I said “I’m writing something, maybe a book,” he just smiled and left me alone.

By the end of that day, I knew my characters by name. I had mapped out a plot, written a beginning, and an ending. I knew the title and its significance. I had churned out six, single-spaced pages of text. (A big deal for a poet—I hadn’t seen that many of my own words together in one piece since my last research paper.) By the end of that week, the page count climbed to twenty. The rest of the novel, naturally, took much longer to develop. Still, the process elated me. It felt like watching something strange and intricate rise up out of deep water—the architecture of it incomprehensible, even chaotic at first, then unbelievably connected and orderly. Writing it was a pleasure and a gift.

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Bedroom and books

 

For a long time, I polished up this novel in solitude. With much anxiety, I finally let my husband read it. I researched the next steps—synopses, query letters, literary agents—and plodded on through the process. At this point, I’ve obliged several requests for my full manuscript and collected a significant pile of rejections. (My favorite is the elusive, non-response rejection—it’s made of pure silence!)

This process neither pleases nor elates.

Last October, I met with several members of BACCA and accepted an invitation to join their group. Since then, I have read their stories, and they have read mine. Slowly, chapter by chapter, story by story, we give each other our attention and time and consideration. After years of silence and solitude, walking through the rooms of Rook by myself (for the most part), I’ve finally allowed company in. Like the initial dream, this experience is another gift—one that I hadn’t known to ask for before.

While I continue seeking agent representation, our meetings seem even more necessary. Not only are these authors wise about all stages of the process, they are fierce and understanding—a rich paradoxical mix that creatives need to thrive and survive. Some say that one must grow a thick skin for this business. That might be easier. We need to be sound enough to weather the rejection that comes, but it’s through a thin skin that I see and feel. Without this sensitivity, what of worth will I have to write down?

During the brutal querying time, having a few careful readers, who know how to put books together, who care to look at the details—to sort out what’s working and what needs work—well, it means everything. Anniversaries are good moments to pause and say thank you. So, to the demigods of deadlines and leisure time, to the sender of provocative dreams, to the architects of the magic mansion, to my first reader and best champion, and to the thoughtful members of BACCA: most grateful thanks.

Noelle Beverly writes poetry and prose, promotes local authors in the surrounding community, and is new member of the BACCA Literary group.

 

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4 thoughts on “Origin Stories and Anniversaries

  1. Stories that come to you – as opposed to those force out because a paper is due – are the very best and truest. The characters are so real it’s hard to remember they are fiction. Thank you for sharing your journey!

    Reply

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