A Small Silver Lining In an Enormous Black Cloud

About that mid-October posting hiatus…

To put it briefly, my father passed away on October 11.

We all knew it could happen at any time, but none of us expected it when it happened. I’ll skip the details; you don’t want to hear them and I don’t want to relive them. He had been dealing with cancer for a long time; let’s leave it at that.

I said “dealing with” rather than “fighting” or “battling” very deliberately. Dad disliked the phrase “battling cancer”. His opinion was that thinking about it as a battle gives the disease too much of your time and energy. Far better, he believed, to acknowledge the effects cancer had on your life, make the necessary accommodations, and spend your real effort on doing what you love.

And yes, those accommodations include seeing a reputable physician who can explain the treatment options, their possible side effects, and all of their possible outcomes. (Side note–and this applies to any area of medicine, not just cancer treatment: if someone tells you there’s only one possible treatment, that a treatment is guaranteed to work, or that there are cures that are being suppressed by the medical establishment to preserve their profits, that person is not a reputable physician. They’re either sincere but deluded or, more likely, a scam artist. Either way, do not entrust your life to them. End of sermon.)

In Dad’s case, doing what he loved meant, in no particular order, spending time with the family (and especially with his grandson), cheering for the Mariners, and writing. He did plenty of the first two, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

He began writing his biography of Brun Campbell after he started chemotherapy. Forgetfulness and fatigue are common side effects, and Dad had them both. In the spirit of accommodation, he worked around them. He’d always been a note-taker, so he took more–and more detailed–notes. He took rest breaks when he needed them.

And, much as he hated to let anyone see his work before it was finished, he allowed a few people he trusted to read early drafts of the biography. I was pleased and honored to be one of those people, and as it turned out, we enjoyed working together more than either of us had expected we would.

Let me take a step back in time here. Even thought Dad spent twenty-five years as a specialist in high-risk obstetrics, and did it very well, he never considered it his true calling. In 1995, he retired from medicine and devoted himself to his real career: storytelling. Not “writing”: putting words on a page was just the mechanism for telling his stories. With that background, you can see why he was pleased, flattered, and more than a little amused when I stepped away from the tech industry to devote myself to telling my own stories.

Dad was delighted when I asked him to be one of my beta readers, and he always had excellent suggestions for improving my novels. He had a great ear for characters’ voices. Whenever he told me “I don’t think he’d say that,” he was invariably correct.

In addition to teaching me to listen to my characters, he was always there to remind me that rejection is inevitable in this field, and that the proper response to a setback is a push forward.

That was his attitude to more than writing. He handled disappointing medical news–an elevated PSA, an uncomfortable or awkward side effect, a new shadow on an X-Ray–the same way: “Onward!” If he was very tired or achy, he might drop the exclamation point, but that was as far as he would compromise.

When Dad finished Brun’s story–and it was at least as much a story as a history; Brun lived his life wrapped in fiction, much of it of his own creation–he needed a new writing project. Dad wasn’t going to stop telling stories, but he was concerned about his stamina, unsure if he could still write an entire novel. He had been kicking around some ideas for a time travel story for several years, and he knew I had recently shelved a time-travel novel that wasn’t working out. (That’s one of those coincidences you can’t put in a novel, because your audience will just laugh at the unreality. Fiction is limited, but reality has more flexibility.) We had worked well together on the Brun book and he thought we could expand on that.

When he asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a novel, I jumped at the opportunity and put my current project aside. We discussed some ideas about the story, and on August 18, 2015, he starting writing the first draft of Chapter One of what eventually became The RagTime Traveler. We wrote five drafts over the next ten months–incredibly fast work by both of our standards–and on June 10, 2016, we declared the book complete.

The first draft took five months; the next four averaged less than half that long. Rewriting is always faster than writing. When we took stock at the end of Draft 01, we knew we had something solid. So we did the logical thing: we started making plans for our second collaboration. I wanted to do a baseball book, something set before the modern era, and it took Dad no more than a tenth of a second to agree. He had some story ideas and so did I, so we put them together, roughed out a very high-level overview of where we thought we were going, and then started Draft 02.

When we declared The RagTime Traveler finished, we sent it to Poisoned Pen Press. They had published Dad’s previous mysteries, and we figured they’d like this one. We didn’t wait to hear from them, though. We immediately started working on Mo’less Jones. When PPP requested some changes to TRTT, we put Mo’less aside long enough to do the rewrite, and then dived back into it.

In late September, PPP sent us a contract for The RagTime Traveler. (Side note: Any publisher’s standard contract is going to favor the publisher’s interests over the writer’s–that’s no different than any other field. So if you’re offered a contract, read it, be sure you understand it, and if there are any clauses you don’t like, negotiate. Maybe the publisher will make changes, maybe they won’t, but if you don’t ask, they certainly won’t. End of sermon.)

Dad and I had a few concerns, so we decided which ones were the most important and sent PPP a counter-proposal. While we waited for their response, we agreed what we would do if PPP didn’t agree to our requested changes–and kept working on Mo’less Jones.

PPP’s response was favorable, but Dad died while we were still working through the formal process of revising the contract and confirming the changes were correct before we and PPP signed it.

Dad was excited about seeing TRTT published. He and I had been making plans for publicizing the book right up to the week he died. He won’t get to see it, and many of those plans have gone out the window with his passing, but at least he knew it was going to be published. Small consolation, yes, but it does help.

The RagTime Traveler will be released by Poisoned Pen Press in June 2017. It’s already up for pre-order at some booksellers. Over the next six months, I’ll be posting updates, doing a cover reveal, and generally whipping you all into a buying frenzy. Consider yourselves warned.

Mo’less Jones is on the Disabled List. Dad was wildly enthusiastic about the way the story was developing. So am I, for that matter. But I’m not ready to face that next chapter. For the first draft, we were taking turns writing chapters. I finished Chapter Thirteen* the day before Dad went into the hospital and most mornings I wake up with a little voice in the back of my head saying “Maybe Dad’ll have Chapter Fourteen ready for me to read today.”

* My superstitious side insists there’s some significance in that, and refuses to listen to the rational side when it points out that nothing bad happened after we finished any of our previous Chapter Thirteens.

If you’ve lost a loved one, you know that kind of reaction is typical. So are the grief spasms when I find something interesting online and realize I can’t tell Dad about it, the more-than-usually fragmented attention span, and the days that are just plain unproductive. So I do the best I can in acknowledging the problems, making accommodations, and getting on with doing the things I love.

Until that little voice shuts up, Mo’less Jones is going to ride the pine, but I will tell that story. For now, his position (center field) will be covered by the solo project I set aside when Dad and I started The RagTime Traveler. Progress is slow, but it is progress.

“Onward!”

10 thoughts on “A Small Silver Lining In an Enormous Black Cloud

  1. Dad would have been so proud. The silver lining that I could see was the lesson of a life well lived applied to all of our own. And it was so good to see you both again.

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    • Over the past month and a half, I’ve been amazed over and over again at how many people believe Dad’s life to have been well-lived. Not that I disagree in any way–but it’s a heck of a role model to live up to.

      And it was good seeing you, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very beautifully written. Your father was a truly amazing man. I am sure chapter 14 will appear to you one day and FORWARD!!!!

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  3. A beautiful tribute. I am so sorry for your loss. Your grief spasms are what I call “cloud bursts” … and I think you will always find those moments when you want to share something and they’re not there. (Sometimes I just share it anyway with my mom or dad — talking into the air. After all, I wanted to be the first to tell my dad that the Rams came back to L.A.)

    How lucky you were to have the opportunity to work with your father on something you both loved. What a great gift! What a beautiful thing. I can’t wait to read the book.

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