In recent months I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be caught up in “artistic flow,” when thoughts and ideas start tumbling, scenes start presenting themselves nearly whole, and characters begin to get uppity and say whatever’s on their minds.
Then our publisher politely pointed out that B.K. Sherer and I had agreed to give them the book referred to as Eden 4, and, as the first three Eden thrillers continued to go great guns, “yesterday” was as good a time as any to get the next book to them.
Writing with a co-author has produced both the most wonderful and most miserable experiences of my literary career. Let me be quick to say there was only one “miserable,” and there were plenty of warning signs, which I chose to disregard due to youth, inexperience and hunger for that particular contract. It was the year I came to understand “Life is Too Short,” not only in my mind, but in my bones. I came out of it having learned not only a valuable lesson, but with–despite everything–a lovely book.
The Edens are the first and only fiction series I write with a co-author. Pre- Edens, if you’d asked me to write fiction with someone, I would have demurred, not understanding how writing something as personal as fiction–which gets free range inside the author’s internal universe–could be shared.
The Eden series was born in Lake George, NY, on a “girls weekend” shortly after my best friend since elementary school, B.K. Sherer, returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was by then a Presbyterian minister, an Army chaplain and an officer. The minister part, I got, having grown up with one.
The Army chaplain part lost me completely. What had happened when she was Iraq also was beyond my ken. No clue. When she talked about it, in a language that somehow treated alphabetical letters as words, I realized that there was a gulf between our current worlds. (I saw some of that same lack of comprehension in her eyes as I spoke on the phone to my then-toddler daughter.) And there was a decision for both of us. Did we continue to remain friends up in the simple atmosphere of good movies and Mexican food? Or were we willing to commit to the hard stuff–the unexplored worlds and strange languages?
If you’re reading this, you know the answer. We dove in. The water was deep. But Jaime and Yani–and a whole bunch of wrestling with the meaning of life and death and relationships with God and money and Bedouin tribes and Greek islands were there in the depths. Up to that point, I’d written a number of successful nonfiction books, I’d ghosted for myriads of celebrities, and had hundreds of magazine articles to my name. I’d also come very close to publishing several of the novels I’d written in my little office (closet) under the stairs in my “Upper Village” apartment in NYC. Chasing Eden was the first novel that I sold to a major editor (Jennifer Enderlin) at a major publishing house (St. Martin’s Press). We got a 3 book contract.
What a journey those three books were. We wrote the other two as she continued to be deployed to Iraq. Three times, total. None of those deployments were easy. Some were harder than others.
We continued to write, by email and Skype, and we met up in Germany and France and Germany again. Her experiences, and my experiences, were folded into the books. (Jaime is NOT B.K.–she is both of us, and, mostly, her own self.) We regained the kind of verbal and nonverbal shorthand we’d shared from sixth grade through high school. I even gained somewhat of a fluency in Alphabet–er, Army.
The fit between B.K. and myself has never been benign. We met in Mrs. Conard’s sixth grade class when she moved to town (my family had moved in a year earlier). From the get-go, we had the ability to annoy each other on levels usually reserved for siblings and rival political candidates. In some ways, we seemed to be exact opposites–she was athletic, musical, brunette and way too smart, while I was smart and (as Elphaba would say) blonde.
But the real reason we had this IAC (instant annoyance capability) was that we were too much alike. We were both competitive, iconoclastic, imaginative, adventurous, and stubborn. We both knew, even at 11, that we somehow wanted to change the world. For the 6th grade talent show, where most of our peers sang or played piano or tap-danced, we co-wrote and co-starred in a play about the French Underground in World War II. We never got together to try out make-up or play Mystery Date. We started a spy organization called D.A.G.G.E.R., co-wrote books about a teen spy group called OOS (the Order of the Orange Surfboard).
Then we graduated from high school. She headed for Florida to become a marine biologist. I headed for Wheaton, Illinois, to become a journalist. Of course, nothing happened the way we’d planned it. I ended up at NYU and she ended up at Princeton Theological Seminary. I came to her graduation. She and my dad traded off being ministers at my wedding; she was also maid of honor and he was also father of the bride. Then we kind of lost touch for a while. Until she went off to Iraq, and I kind of published one of her letters into a magazine story before she got back. Then we went to Lake George, and Jaime and Yani followed us home. They had adventures through three books.
And, for 4 years, we knew we had to do a fourth. Last week, we knew (were told) the time had come. And, I was completely at a loss as to what “Eden 4″ would look like.
To be continued…