On Hold

On June 30, I suspended work on my second novel, working title Lidija. I’ve just posted the opening scene. As they say in the business world, I ran out of runway, and for the foreseeable future, I will be back in that business world. For more information about my business activities, please visit my LinkedIn profile.

Will I keep writing fiction? You bet. I must. I don’t know how much, but I will. As James Baldwin wrote,

“You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable…The world changes according to the way people see it, and if [with your writing] you alter, even by a millimeter, the way…people look at reality, then you can change it.”

 

Andrew Visits

Andrew provided the fourth miracle at St. Leo. The day of remembrance for bereaved parents fell during my week there. At 7 pm, I borrowed a votive candle from the church and took out my photo of Andrew. I lit the candle and once again a crazy idea grabbed me and I, well, I started talking to Andrew. We spoke for 20 minutes. Me out loud, imagining what he would say.

Andrew, circa 1991, Dallas

Andrew, circa 1991, Dallas

His irreverence gently skewered me, a beacon of rationality. I could hear him, chastising me for pressing gifts and letters on the two who didn’t want to hear from me, even though I knew it wouldn’t work. Even though I knew they didn’t want anything from me. He said, “You are such a dork. You’ve been annoying them.”

Annoying. Great. Thanks. Now you tell me.

“All you had to do is ask.”

One Man to Another

At St. Leo Abbey, Father David showed me the way to the third miracle. I resisted letting go, equating it with abandonment. The moment my firstborn landed in my hands, I vowed I would never leave him. My father abandoned me, and I can imagine nothing more shameful.

Blessing 2When I finished my story, Father David sat silent for a minute. “I sense your suffering. A big part of that is the pain of rejection by people you love. But letting go is not at all the same as abandoning. You aren’t abandoning them. They abandoned you.”

I felt freed of a burden. It’s not up to me. There is nothing I can do. I must wait.

Father David offered me a blessing. I’m not a religious man, but I thought, “He believes he can channel the Holy Spirit. Nothing to lose.” He crossed himself and gently put his hand on my head. “May God bless you.” It was a gift, from one man to another.

Miracle No. 2

The church organ provided the second miracle. Wednesday, I found the organist tuning up for a concert. Pipe Organ 2

We chatted. Something moved me: “If you were asked to use your music to drive the Holy Spirit into a man’s soul, what would you play?” He studied me, then directed me to the acoustic apex: Eight pews back, center of the nave. I stood, arms at my sides, looking up at the stained glass rose window above the altar. I held myself as if about to receive a painful blow. Blown Away Man cropped

The music started, big and powerful, a concert of sound with low bass notes that shook the walls. Within seconds, my body began to tremble uncontrollably. Tears burst out of me, streaming down my face. Sobs wracked my body.

When I collapsed into a pew, the organist shifted to a soothing melody. Slowly, the tears stopped. And something remained open.

Miracle No. 1

The first miracle came from a reading from St. Augustine. Two messages resonated. First, he said that if you want to impart something to someone, you need to know who they are and speak in a manner they will understand. The intended recipient must be willing to listen. You have to wait until they are willing.

Augustine then talked of John the Baptist. Before he baptized Jesus, many people thought John was the Messiah. “Nope,” he said, “Not me. But he’s coming, get ready.” John could have said yes and been believed, basking in the stolen glory. “He saw where his salvation lay,” Augustine said. “He understood that he was a lamp, and his greatest fear was that he might be blown out by the wind of pride.”

Just as Brother Stanislaw read that word “pride,” a sunbeam exploded through a stained glass window, spotlighting the church’s pale butter-colored walls like a rainbow.

Message received.

A WEEK OF SILENCE

The Benedictine monks of St. Leo, in central Florida, welcomed me with warmth and respectful silence.
St Leo Abbey
I read Augustine, Merton, and Thich Nhat Hahn. I re-read Alain de Botton’s “The Consolations of Philosophy.” David Brooks’ book, “The Road to Character,” shed light into how others had confronted deep tragedy and life-altering difficulties.

I sat in church with the brothers three times a day, listened to the psalms and the readings, parsed them for life lessons. The brothers’ dedication to each other impressed me. We ate together, talked. They asked questions, listened, and provided compassion and small bits of guidance. Powerful organ music shook me hard enough that I wept.

St Leo Brothers

My hand filled page after journal page of thoughts and feelings. My legs carried me around and around the campus of St. Leo. My eyes read and re-read passages that irritated me, confronted me, or shed wisdom.

Then came the miracles.

Letting Go

I credit a dozen Benedictine monks, a Catholic saint, a handful of ancient and modern philosophers, a Lutheran minister and two Buddhist teachers: They helped me let go.

Brick WallIn early November, 2015, two very important people in my life gave me a reality check that led to this conclusion: My efforts to bring about a reconciliation reflected a certain arrogance, hubris, pride. My insistence on penetrating the wall of silence these two erected was disrespectful. And, very likely, counter-productive.

I knew this a long time ago. Every expert source I consulted told me the same thing: Keep the door open, but there is nothing you can do. That wall can only be broken by them.

There had to be a way, I thought. It’s just that no one has thought of it yet.

Pride.

A reluctance to fully embrace the sorrow.

And to let go.

That’s why they no longer see birthday cards, random postcards or Christmas presents darkening their mailboxes.

Geraldine Brooks

One of my favorite authors visited Seattle yesterday. Geraldine Brooks has become so popular she nearly filled McCaw Hall with fans. She made us laugh: “When I was getting started, I felt lucky if I did a reading for five people and a dog.”

I’ve read her Pulitzer Prize winner, “March,” and “People of the Book.”March

I’m kindling her newest, “The Secret Chord,” a fictional treatment of King David. All highly recommended.

She seems like a wonderful woman as well as a great author. I’m particularly impressed with her depiction of women, their strengths and the threats that face them every day. She used the word “precarious” to describe the lives of women, perhaps a bit less precarious here in the United States than elsewhere, but fraught with life-threatening issues anywhere. I agree.

Murder On The Old Santa Fe Trail

A Western short story I wrote just for fun — Murder On The Old Santa Fe Trail — has been accepted by Planetary Stories/Pulp Spirit. OldSanteFeSaloonRead the story here.  And here’s an example of the illustrations that Planetary Stories/Pulp Spirit want to run with the story.  Many thanks to my friends in the Fort Mason Writing Group for their inspiration and encouragement.

Survival Is Insufficient

I launched my agent quest this morning.  Emails went out to nine agents pre-qualified for their history of selling debut novels and historical fiction.

Most people would look at my odds and argue that even trying is an irrational act.

I agree.

But I’d rather die trying.

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

I did the numbers: Those nine sold 129 debut novels over 10 years.  Maybe one a year made it big.  Perhaps two did well enough that the publisher bought a second novel.  The rest disappeared into the oblivion of fewer than 100 reviews on Amazon.

Each of these agents receives about 20 unsolicited submissions per day.  Adjusting for multiple submissions, that’s about 72,000 novels pitched to just nine agents over 10 years.

The QueryTracker website lists 1,400 agents.

Sheesh!

But what the hell, what’s my alternative?  I recall Joe Simpson’s predicament in the film Into the Void: Fallen into a crevasse, sudden death averted by a ledge, one leg broken, presumed dead.  He can’t climb out.  His fate? Die slowly.

But there is one option:  Lower himself deeper into the crevasse. Maybe there’s a way out.

If he stays where he is, hanging on in quiet desperation, he will definitely die.

But for me, as with Emily St. John Mandel’s Shakespeare troupe in Station Eleven: “Survival is insufficient.” I’ve already managed to survive one of the losses most likely to destroy a man:  The death of a child. I chose, as my mission, to draw from the depths of that chasm of grief something worth writing about. I also chose to make that writing as much fun as possible. Those choices led me into historical fiction with a focus on family conflict. I’ve never had so much fun in my life.

I may never write well enough or catch the attention of the right agent or win the support of the right publisher or strike the right chord for a large reading audience to become a “successful novelist.”

But if I don’t try, it will definitely not happen. I’d like to see it happen. I imagine it happening. So I’m going for it.