I recently finished writing a new novel. I wrote the whole thing, all nine drafts, since May of 2015, the same time it takes to make a child. It was a relief to complete the book and I planned to take at least a few weeks off to rest, to recover from my late nights and sleepless days. Someone said recently that writing a book is like running a marathon. It’s nonstop adrenaline until you’re done. And when you are done, you’re left still energized, still revved up. Crossing the finish line does not convince your body to instantly change gears. It takes a little time to slow yourself down, get your heartbeat back to normal. Get used to walking again, or in my case, get used to living a regular day where characters are not running lines in my head 24/7.
So I looked forward to a month or so of peace. And even then I’d planned to compile a short story collection, not a novel. Maybe I’d wait six months to start a novel because I need downtime in between them.
Last week though I took a trip to Fillmore, California. It’s a small (14,000 residents) town, with an old downtown area, a one screen movie theater, and an adorable train station. The whole town is only a few miles across. The houses are mostly old, mostly worn. It’s there that I had my first case of homesickness for New England. To me, it was any old town in Massachusetts, being Taunton where I grew up, or Easton where I spent several years, Middleboro, where I bought my quaint brick home, or Bradford, where I ended up before relocating to sunny Southern California. Here everything is bright and shiny and clean. Often I feel like I’m in Disneyland.
It’s an understatement to say I overreacted emotionally to Fillmore. I literally cried on the way home, something I rarely if ever do. I HAD to live there. We HAD to buy a house there. I didn’t care about my boyfriend’s long commute or the low property values, or the fact is was wicked far from Burbank and Glendale and the places I visit all the time, or Santa Monica where I work when I’m in the office. I HAD to live there. I threw quite a little tantrum.
In a day or two I calmed down but not before writing an extensive brainstorming sheet and outline about a new novel called Homesick that I would set in Fillmore, or a fictional version of it. No sooner did I write the outline, and start envisioning characters and events that were filling my brain faster than I could write them down, that I started feeling panic, exhaustion. It’s too soon! I thought. I can’t already be writing another book. I’m not ready. I need to sleep. I need to spend some time as Tracy, not immersed in all these people that will invade my house and thoughts and life for the next nine months like unwelcome bossy relatives.
Now that I’ve had a few days to absorb it though, I’m okay. Writers do not always choose their next book or topic. Sometimes it is chosen for them, by the characters, by the emotions they feel, by events that are surely laid out before them by a God who wants them to tell a story. I took out six research books from the library last week and tomorrow I will spend the day in Fillmore, walking down the streets, visiting the Town Hall, eating lunch in one of the little restaurants. I’ll take pictures for my book file and imagine my characters in this location or that. I’ll overhear their conversations and watch them as they live the lives I’m destined to record.
Welcome to the next book, I say as I prepare to give over my life to the new characters.