A Visit from Abraham Lincoln
In last week’s blog, a Wizard in the form of my youngest son, Carter, helped me take the first step along the road I am still traveling. Ironically, the next step on that road also involved a son, the middle one, and soccer.
My copy of A Dare on the Bridge stayed on a preferred corner of my desk, and every time I saw it I got the urge to write something. I took that as a good sign. The urge to write needed to become irresistible, and it did. I read in the local newspaper, the Daily Press, a brief article speculating that Abraham Lincoln had suffered from a genetic disease called Marfan’s. The subject of genetics fascinates me, and this article stayed with me for several days, including a three hour drive to a soccer tournament in Northern Virginia with my middle son, Nelson. Weekend soccer tournaments involve some cheering, some encouragement, and a lot of standing around, so instead of hanging out with other dads, I holed up in the hotel room to write. On the drive up I had roughed out a plot with some fuzzy characters, but sitting down with a legal pad, scrawling at the top “Chapter 1,” gave me a shiver. Was I really going to begin a novel? Did I have it in me to complete even a chapter? Was I nuts?
By the end of that weekend I had a finished chapter that I judged to be “not bad.” As fuzzy as my characters may have been at the outset, they sharpened on the printed page. I could not leave them hanging, so chapter two became a must. Not being a “science guy,” I soon hit a wall where my limited knowledge of genetics prevented further progress, so I told my characters to take a few weeks off while I learned enough to finish their story. When I returned, knowledge in hand and head, they were just where I had left them.
Thirty-nine chapters later, I had produced Bethesda’s Child. But was it any good? As close as Pat Conroy and I had been in college and through our mid-twenties, my contact with him in the 1980s had been occasional. He lived in Italy for much of that decade, and his growing literary production (and fame) kept him as busy as I was with a law practice and four children. By 1990, he had returned to the U.S. to live and write in San Francisco. I sent him my manuscript, reluctant to trade on a friendship but lost as to what to do with 535 typed pages that by then had become an obsession. Pat admitted he was stunned that I had written a novel, but praised it highly and asked permission to send it on to his agent in New York. I did not linger over that decision long. Nor did attempt to conceal my excitement when that agent, Julian Bach, called to offer representation.
So, said I (fortunately no one heard me), there really can’t be much to this writing business. You get an idea from the newspaper, grind out a novel, find an agent, get published, sell the movie rights, bank a million dollars and it all works out, right? Not exactly.
The “not exactly” is the subject of next week’s blog.