It was 2001 and I had just turned 30, announcing to all that THIS was the year I was going to finally not just write, but finish my first novel.
I had written a handful of short stories, started and stopped two other novels and had a dusty diploma for a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing above my desk. Now, at last, I was determined and not just to write this one book, but to write for a living. I had a ten year plan. By the time I was forty I would be a bestseller!
First though, the novel. I gave myself permission to write something fun, something not meant to change me or the world, just a good story with a beginning, middle and end. So I decided to write a romance. I found a publishing company, Avalon Books that published sweet romances and had a long reputable history selling their books to libraries. I wrote an outline and then three chapters and a synopsis and I sent it to them.
I didn’t think they would ask for the manuscript. I also didn’t think that they would buy the finished book. All the same, I received a letter requesting the rest of the manuscript. If it wasn’t for that bit of encouragement, I doubt there would have been a novel.
It was not a good summer and fall to be writing a book. I was working as a bird trainer and managing my first new free-flight bird show as supervisor. It was in Toledo, Ohio where the summer was somehow an even thicker, more suffocating blanket of wet heat than my Florida homebase. Before we left for the summer, my boyfriend had broken up with my answering machine and stopped taking my calls. Then all the birdshow staff moved into the same house and we were immediately at odds with each other. No one thought I should be supervisor. And I fought them when I should have been bending.
And in the heat and the strife, it seemed we lost and tracked birds constantly. We found them in residential neighborhoods, in the next county over and once in the cheetah enclosure – where the quick cat came damn close to having a gourmet snack. We tied a falcon too close to an eagle owl in the weathering yard, my favorite falcon, and she was killed. The king vulture almost got me by the throat and the crow that I raised and trained from a chick literally went mad.
I wasn’t well either. I woke most nights with a pain so intense rippling through my right side that my housemates would find me pacing the halls and quietly crying. We passed each other like ghosts. We were all too exhausted from working 12 hour days, 6 days a week, from faking smiles on stage and calling out for lost birds to explain our pain, let alone express empathy. I cannot think of a time in my life that I felt more broken.
And yet, I built a plywood desk to have a place to write and I wrote. I wrote at night. I wrote on my one day off. I wrote one page at a time. I wrote while the sounds of the zoo across the street whispered through the house, trying to drag me away from Marshall and Brooke falling in love, falling apart and falling back together. Still, I wrote. I had surgery to have my gallbladder removed. The Twin Towers fell a few days later. And I kept writing. I wrote until I was done.
Falcon’s Return is not a great book, but it’s not a bad one. Avalon published it.
I’m forty now. And I’m not a bestseller, but I’ve written 11 books. Lift is the one I’m most proud of, but none has a back-story quite like Falcon’s Return. There are a hundred stories in the writing of a book; hobbled together they make up the story of an author’s life, or rather, the changing of an author’s life.
And I have made a thousand choices that have been spun into good luck because ten years ago I sat at a plywood desk across the street from a zoo all throughout an oppressive summer —-and I wrote. It would be nice to be a best-selling author, but it would be nice to win the lottery too. No one can force such splashy swathes of good fortune. But you can show up at the page – write, compose, create. You can change your life one page at a time just by showing up and trying. I think in the end you’ll find your nostalgia is for the journey, not the successes –and that the journey was utterly worth the work.
Happy Anniversary Falcon’s Return! I’m grateful that you’re mine.