Hitting “Pause” and Finding “Resume”

Writers are control freaks. It may not be the sole reason we write, but somewhere in there with the story we have to tell and the need to infuse the world around us with meaning is the hunger for a world over which we have absolute control. I write role playing games but I an terrible at playing role playing games. In RPGs the outcome of every decision or action is determined by a roll of the dice and I am constitutionally incapable of surrendering myself to chance.

Of course writers wouldn’t have to create worlds to rule if they could control the one around them. (Which, for want of a better term, is commonly called “reality” or “real life” – though as I understand it there’s some debate as to the definition of those terms.) Sometimes things happen in this uncontrolled larger world that directly impact the worlds inside every writer’s head.

My wife Valerie is fine – which is to say recovering. I wanted to say that at the outset so you wouldn’t become too alarmed by the next few sentences. About a month ago Valerie slipped and fell. (No, I won’t describe the incident; yes, there is litigation involved.) She broke two bones in her left ankle (the medial malleolus and the lateral malleolus – those two bony bumps on either side) and suffered a subluxation of the ankle joint (her foot went backwards and sideways). She also fractured her left elbow (the olecranon, the pointy end piece). The elbow is mending naturally, but the ankle required surgery – a plate with pins – to rebuild it. She’s facing at least another eight weeks before the boot comes off and several months of physical therapy. Her goal is to be up and mobile for our 35th anniversary cruise next May.

Because our bedroom is upstairs, she has taken up residence in a large recliner in our living room, which doubles as her home office. Valerie works from home as a pharmacovigilance senior safety specialist (which, for reasons that escape me, does NOT make her a pharmacovigilante) with a pharmaceutical testing company. It’s a job that involves coordinating testing sites, following up on incident reports, and many other tasks that require three computer screens, lots of reading, international phone calls, and typing. She quickly became very good at typing with only her right hand. However, she’s essentially immobile – which means she needs very close support from a personal care nurse.

This is where the “writers are control freaks” comes in. Valerie is my wife, has been for over a third of a century, and for the first couple of weeks I would not let anyone else take care of her. I took care of all her needs, slept on the couch, tried never to be more than a minute away, called a sub teach my English classes the first few nights, and set my novel on hold. That’s the “pause” mentioned in the title. Living on Dirt – Dirt and Stars 2, aka sequel to Down to Dirt – was scheduled for release in late November, in time for Christmas sales. Now it’s going to be late December at the earliest though even late January is possible. (Novels make wonderful Valentines Day gifts!)

I’ve been gradually relinquishing control of Valerie care. Our local daughter, who stayed with her when I returned to class, and the daughter of a family friend now spend part of each day and evening with Valerie so I can sleep and prepare lesson plans, and attend to other things that needed doing. Like writing. Of course at one level, like most writers, I’m writing in my head all the time. Before Valerie fell I was in the last weeks of preparing the manuscript of Living on Dirt for my editor. In the four weeks since her accident I have typed maybe two thousand new words, but have been thinking about the novel almost constantly. I have dozens of notes jotted on random surfaces.

Now, as I’m getting back into the process of adding words to the manuscript in their proper order, I’ve discovered that while I do remember where I was going with Living on Dirt, I have enough subplot and plot twist ideas, all at least as good as the original, to turn my 70,000 word novel into a 120,000 word novel without getting to the events in Dirt and Stars 3. That can’t happen – while it might make for one epic novel it throw the whole series out of balance and make what I set out to do impossible. But in these new ideas are elements that will make Living on Dirt stronger than it would have been without the long and thought-filled pause. Right now I’m considering them all and making decisions about what combination of adding and subtracting will work best for the story I need to tell.I’m finding “resume.”

I’m finding “resume.”