So, now that I have finished another novel that I have been working on for more than twenty years, I have decided to turn away from the hometown novels and take up some science fiction/humor again.
And I, of course, am not smart enough by any stretch of the imagination to avoid choosing my disastrous first novel from 2007, AeroQuest. This particular novel is spectacularly in need of a serious overhaul and re-write.
First of all, it has too large of a cast with new characters introduced in almost every Canto (what I inexplicably re-name chapters). Likewise they are interacting in too many different settings and planets and spaceships without enough individual explication of each. It screams out in agony to be divided into smaller chunks and both expanded and simplified.
The first book, Stars and Stones, will be centered on the planet Don’t Go Here. That, of course, is a bizarre world populated entirely by sentient beings who were marooned on the planet by pirates and space wolves. Even more bizarre, the populous has responded to a growing population with limited resources by adopting a caveman culture based on a lone cartoon holovid of The Flintstones.
The characters and the plot-lines will be pared down and simplified.
And, having done some work on AeroQuest 1 already, I also got a headstart on AeroQuest 2 by creating a cover for it.
So, you can clearly see that my daft plan is to re-write that simply awful book as a trilogy. A Sci-Fi trilogy? Wherever did I get a foolish idea like that?
Well, I always claimed that the original was half-inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy, and half-inspired by Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. So, that should make for one seriously off-kilter mutant amalgamation of a book series.
Being retired is a total pain in the Biblical word for donkey. I thought I would be challenged with nothing to do and probably die from lack of challenge as so many do who find their identity in their profession. I was a public school teacher. I loved being a public school teacher. I lived for the challenge of working with kids, especially trying to teach them to write well. And then my health began to betray me, and I was forced to retire.
In this country, loss of a job that defines who you are makes you basically worthless. Republicans will tell you that you go from being a “maker” into being a “taker”, and takers are basically parasites.
So, now I am a parasite, a blight on society, a “taker”. Decent hard-working people shouldn’t have to put up with a burden on society like me.
“If you don’t work, you shouldn’t be allowed to eat,” they self-righteously tell me.
“So, if I’m too ill to stand in front of a class all day, I should starve to death?”
“No, of course not! Don’t dramatize! You just need to do something else.”
So, I haven’t just sat back and enjoyed my pension which I worked 31 years to get. I have done things. I rebuilt the siding on the back wall of the house. I repaired all the cracks in the pool twice (once getting it back into shape for swimming, and then fixed only to be forced by the city to remove the pool because I couldn’t spend $9,000+ to bring the 1970 electrical system up to code.) I am now re-setting the bricks in the retaining wall.
I also took up driving for Uber to earn extra money. I needed extra money because hospitalizations cost me so much money I had to take out a bankruptcy which I will be paying off for the next five years while supervised by a State-appointed executor. And then a lovely Texas motorist bashed my car in the driver’s-side door costing me car-repair money (because insurance can’t be expected to pay everything) and leaving me unable to get well enough to return to driving for at least five months (up to the present day).
I have at no point had money enough to go on vacations or do the recreational activities that other retired seniors get to do (at least the rich white ones with lots of investment money and property). I haven’t been well enough even to be a substitute teacher (which I loved doing back in 2006-2007 when I was well enough and between teaching jobs). So what can I do with all my “free time”? Besides deal with aches and illness without the medicine I can’t afford, I mean?
Well, I did start out in life with a passion for writing and drawing. I am living proof you can’t even make pocket change for indulging those passions unless you’re as lucky as former teacher Frank McCourt, author of Angela’s Ashes. But I have the time and the incurable obsession.
I began the most creative and productive period of my life by writing eight YA novels. I have two more well into the writing of the first draft. I also re-started work on my graphic novel which takes lots of time when you have arthritic hands to draw with. And I have been blogging practically every day.
So, since I retired I have basically been doing nothing. Well, nothing for the greater good and advancing the fortunes of mankind as a whole as my Republican friends who criticize me for being a “taker” on the dole apparently do with their retirements.
I finished a novel over the weekend. It was one of those novels that you have to write before you die because anything short of finishing it would leave your whole life incomplete.
So, now that it is finished, I can go ahead and die, right?
Well, of course, it is not as simple as that. I created a cover for it. But it is not proofread and formatted and I have to give it time to cool down, being fresh out of the oven, before I read it over again, make adjustments, and publish it. And I have two other novel drafts that haven’t yet reached the published state of being. So, I better put off dying for just a bit. Any clown can tell you that giving birth to a novel that you have been composing for 4o years and writing down for six months takes a lot out of you. And you have to stop and take a breath. At least one. Before you forge ahead with the next one. I do have Recipes for Gingerbread Children already formatted and I am working through the final edit. I am still in poor health yet and could drop dead at any moment. My computer is all funky from some sort of virus, hopefully not computer flu… or computer black death. So, I am still in a mad rush to beat an unknown deadline beyond which I am really dead.
I don’t have the luxury of dying yet.
I have to deal with the death of another beloved character, I can’t seem to write a comedy adventure novel without killing somebody at the end of it. Shakespearian comedies all end in marriages, and it is the tragedies that end in mass deaths. But like any clown, I have most things backward in my life. You learn that as a teacher in public schools, you really are just another form of professional fool pursuing your profession foolishly. That is kinda what life is for. And it doesn’t change when you retire and try to become a foolish writer of foolish novels to leave behind as a foolish legacy to a whole foolish world.
But, as for the question of whether there is life after writing… I really don’t know, and I am still not ready to find out.
The sad truth is that as this world progresses in the days since the Trump election, it becomes harder and harder to stay positive and happy. It becomes easier and easier to figuratively stub your toe on the bad news each new day brings and fall into the deep dark pit of black depression.
Just after signing the paperwork for the bankruptcy, I get a couple of explanation pages from my health insurance, assuring me that I will have to pay somewhere around $4500 for my emergency room visit and 3-day hospital stay. After I earned my first $100 dollars as an Uber driver, I ran over a glass bottle and punctured a tire in its sidewall, costing me over $100 to replace it. And my bank account, in spite of scraping and saving and spending money like Scrooge McDuck, a thoroughly squeezed nickel at a time, does not contain near enough money to pay this year’s property tax. In spite of the blood, sweat, and money put into this last summer’s pool crisis, we may still lose the house. I may soon fall off of that cloud that I stand on.
The Trumpinator hasn’t been helping. He got the tax plan passed that benefits him to the tune of $12 million dollars every year, and may give me $50, or nothing, or I may even have to pay more. His tax plan removes the mandate from Obamacare that was its tentpole, probably causing its imminent collapse. $4500 may only be the first wound in that battle. And none of the terrible things he says and does get him even a hint of condemnation from the Republican Toad Army that backs him. We are headed for even greater levels of income inequality, possible revolution and civil war, and general chaos, assuming North Korea doesn’t begin nuking us first.
But the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune do not find their target completely undefended. I have ways of dealing with double-danged downers that are all but unknown to those who are basically unartistical. (Yes, I know that is not a word in English, but I am creative.)
Do you remember that little perfume-bottle figurine that I bought at Goodwill and vowed in this goofy blog to repaint to express my artistical madness and creativiticockle? (Yes, I know that isn’t a word in English either.) I broke out the enamels and the acrylics and the brushes and the other stuff, and invited my daughter the Princess to paint with me. She got out her ceramic dragon, a middle school art project that she never yet finished painting, and we both set to work.
We talked and joked and laughed at the table in the family room. We talked about art styles and painting techniques. We talked about art classes at school. We talked about many important father/daughter artists sorts of things, and the regret we both have for never seriously trying to learn to play music.
And the result was the healing of many old heart-wounds and the painting of many spots of very nice paints. You can definitely fight back against a world of darkness by creating rebellious little acts of artistry.
I finished a novel rough draft today. But the end is not the hardest part to write. Well, this one was, but not because it was the end of the story. It was the part where a character you have carefully crafted over time, and really learned to love, has to die because that is simply how the story goes. It was not a sad death, or an unresolved death, as such. It was a fulfilled life of meaning and magic that simply came to its ending point. My own real-life story may come to an end sometime in near the future too, and I can only hope it is half as much a satisfying completion as this one was. And yet, my heart is sore from having written it.
The novel is called Recipes for Gingerbread Children. It is a story of a little old lady. She is alone in the world, except for the people in the little Iowa town where she is now living, especially the middle school age people who gather at her house to eat her gingerbread cookies and listen to her German fairy tales. She was also a concentration camp survivor, so this story has Nazis in it. Don’t worry though. They are dead Nazis. And there is a werewolf in it. But only a baby werewolf. Oh, and there are two twin teenage girls who are practicing nudists in it. But you probably aren’t worried about them. There are also fairies in it. She tells fairy stories, after all. And the whole book is more or less a collection of fairy stories. And there is a lot of magical gingerbread cookies.
But I had to write the “character dies” part that I knew was coming for about six months. It is the part that will make or break the story. It is the part I will most need to polish and rewrite. But the fact remains, the story ends with a death. So there is that. Life with gingerbread in it is also life that eventually comes to an end.
And that part of the story is always really, really hard to write.