Finding Sara was the first novel I wrote.
I had no plans to write a novel; I hadn’t written a thing since high school. Well, that’s not entirely true—I did write a 20 or 30-page paper on equine bodywork while I was in massage school (the Jack Meagher Method, for anyone interested in that sort of thing).
I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I was fortunate to be raised by a strict grammarian. My grandmother was an English teacher, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone more wrapped up in right and wrong than my mother. So while all those rules of grammar and punctuation are unfathomable to many new writers, to me they’re as natural as breath. I absorbed them rather than learning them, so while I can’t always say why something is correct, I generally know that it is or that it is not. And I know when I can relax the rules in favor of voice.
So that’s a big plus.
Three or four years ago I was recovering from a protracted case of Lyme disease. I hallucinated. At times I had no idea what year it was, how old I might be, who was President, or where the heck I lived. I couldn’t complete a sentence, and I forgot simple words, as well as names and faces. I was angry, in a tremendous amount of pain, confused, and determined to get better. So I decided to start writing as a way to “hook the wires back up.”
I had already undergone nearly two years of antibiotic treatment along with medicinal herbs and heat therapy (forcing daily fevers upon myself). But I’d reached the end of what mainstream medicine could do for me. I stuck with the herbs and the heat, dropped the antibiotics, and began to write. I hadn’t written in a very long time. I also hadn’t read a book in decades.
So I wrote crap.
I kept writing anyway. As my mind improved, so did my writing, and so did my body. The pain diminished, my thoughts grew more ordered, and I became, once again, me.
And I’d written a pile of scenes about a girl named Sara and her struggle against impossible odds. All she wanted was to be normal.
I could relate to that.
I shuffled through these scenes and found the bare bones of plot. The rest was nothing more than a lot of hard work, writing and rewriting, cutting, adding, cutting again. Finding and fixing all those holes that develop when you write organically, rather than with a plan. (Yup, that’s a fragment. On purpose.)
When it was finally done, I liked it.
But I saw it as nothing more than a story, written with a reasonable amount of competence. It had a good plot, although the actual writing lacked brilliance. When it was first released by a small traditional publisher, I was astonished that people liked it.
I know this is getting long, so kudos to anyone who’s read this far. But a facebook friend recently wrote something that made me scroll back up and read it again.
Paraphrased from memory: We expect someone to save us – in movies (and I’ll add, in books) the man saves the woman physically, and she, in turn, saves him emotionally.
And I laughed, because that’s not at all what happens in Finding Sara. By writing in a literary vacuum with a damaged brain, it seems I’d bypassed the norm and instead told a story that’s a little bit unique. And thank goodness someone else pointed this out to me, because I would never have noticed on my own.
Yes, in this and future books, my men are shorter than the average hero, doughier than the average hero, and often they have less hair than the average hero. They aren’t likely to physically rescue anybody. Meanwhile my heroines are damaged, but working to fit in, only to find that there’s nothing wrong with standing out. They want something, and they go after it hard, then decide maybe it’s the journey that mattered, and the goal is no longer their heart’s desire.
While they work their way toward this conclusion, I swat them around like cat toys.
I seem not to follow the rules of any specific genre; I just tell a story. I imagine booksellers will have trouble deciding which shelf my books belong on.
Finding Sara has undergone a light rewrite and a bit of a face lift, and will be available in most e-book formats within two weeks. The paperback will follow close behind. And, thanks to that facebook friend, the next time I have to stand up in front of a group of people and discuss the book, I might actually have something to say.