Begin at the beginning

This month, in honor of NaNoWriMo, I’m sharing essays, musings, Q+As and more on crafting fiction.

Mural on Lexington Ave., Asheville, 2011

Mural on Lexington Ave., Asheville, 2011

My first novel was written in five weeks, mostly on my computer at work. I was the assistant to the PR director at a resort hotel at the time. My boss was more of a do-er than a delegator so, when I wasn’t affixing address labels to press releases (this was back when press releases went out by snail mail), I had a lot of free time.

The novel, titled Waiting for the Owl, was terrible. It was hasty and poorly organized — a rambling tale of travel and the search for self by way of trying to recapture some cloudy semblance of a former self — but it had energy and purpose. I can’t criticize it too harshly, even now, because as much as I’ve learned how to write better, I’ve also learned that the way to get anything right is to get it wrong, first.

The part of me that’s still a little bit precious about fiction probably saved a version of that first novel, somewhere. It’s probably a hard copy, yellowing in the back of my filing cabinet. I keep my MFA folders in my suitcase, under my bed, and every time I pack for a trip I have to move them. It reminds me of how far I’ve come (and, in some ways, how far I haven’t come). And also how grateful I am for thumb drives because hard copies are cumbersome links to the past.

I hope no one ever reads my first novel. I did submit it to a handful of agents not understanding that a first draft of a first novel bore little resemblance to an actual finished project worthy of representation. I’ve cringed a bit in subsequent years when I pitched those same agents with more developed manuscripts. But, with the intention that my first novel will never again see the light of day, I offer this pitch to the universe. Because, dammit, why not?

The saying goes, when you hit bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. But Rosie Kites, recently dumped and discouraged by her dead-end job in a college town, has a different take on that theme. There’s nowhere to go but back — back to a time when things felt exciting, on-the-verge, and downright magical.

Stirred by the return of a childhood vision in which she spotted Gypsy caravans camped on a rural roadside, Rosie embarks on a trip to track down those wanders who sparked her imagination. The trip, she hopes, will help her regain connection to people and places she’s let slip from her life. She also hopes the Gypsies — if they existed at all — can offer her advice on what her next move should be.

Waiting for the Owl hits the road from Georgia to Upstate New York, gathering the sites and sounds of Americana along with old friends, colorful characters, and a poignant lesson about being true to yourself.

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