Always

Wednesday, and somehow Pay the Bills Day kind of snuck up on me unawares. That’s probably not a bad thing; it certainly means I am not living paycheck-to-paycheck (at least for the moment), which means a lot less stress (there are few things more stressful than money problems) for the time being.

And yes, I am thoroughly enjoying being free of that stress for the time being. I am sure at some point it will return with a vengeance, hence my embrace of the current status.

I’ve recently been immersed in #shedeservedit this past week or so; the final round of edits came in from my editor, and no sooner had I gone over them, rereading the entire thing yet again, then the page proofs dropped into my inbox. I actually have more time than usual to get these done–which is quite lovely and marvelous–and this of course is only checking for typos and mistakes and missing words, etc. But it’s been weird spending so much time in Kansas again in my head lately.

Immersing myself into that world has also been an interesting experience; particularly when you take into consideration how much different the story is now than where it was at when I first wrote it. It was, sadly, inspired by the viral rape cases in Steubenville, Ohio and Marysville, Missouri; much as I hate to admit this, the sexual assault of teenaged girls by their classmates etc. wasn’t really on my radar until those stories went viral–and of course, the Stanford swimmer rapist. All three cases horrified me to the very core of my being; and given that the only recourse I had to effect change was to write about it, I decided to start writing what I obliquely referred to as “the Kansas book” for a very long time (despite the fact that I had always titled it #shedeservedit).

Ah, Kansas.

We moved to Kansas when I was fourteen (I turned fifteen later that summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school). To say it was a bit of a culture shock is putting it mildly. The entire state of Kansas is less populous than Chicago, and the biggest town (small city) in the county was smaller than the suburb where we had lived. I don’t know how many students my suburban high school had, but the building itself was enormous and we basically had a campus; the town library was on the property and we had a field house by the football field, with locker rooms for the home and away teams. My high school in Kansas had 180 students, and my class, the largest in school history, had 48 kids. The school was simply a lobby, a single hallway for the classrooms, and a gym, which had a stage for plays at one end of the basketball court. Our hall lockers didn’t even have locks–which was unimaginable at my former school. We actually lived in a very small town (population 942) about eight miles north of the county seat; that town was the second largest one in the county. My high school was consolidated; five small towns and all the farms in the community sent their kids there–it was sixteen miles from where we lived.

Kansas, and my high school there, had a profound influence on me in many ways. I had taken a creative writing class at my former school–got an A, and some praise from the teacher, but nothing overwhelming–but it was in Kansas where I really started writing. My English class required us to write papers my junior year; my teacher very generously allowed me to write fiction, and so I did. Everyone in my class loved the stories I wrote, and my teacher, the hallowed Mrs. Anderson, encouraged me to pursue writing as a vocation–which was the first time I ever had any kind of encouragement of any kind from anyone other than my grandmother to do so–and that was when I actually began to believe it was something that could happen for me; that I had the ability to tell stories and write and even possibly, at some point, get paid to do so and maybe even make a living doing it. (It only took more than twenty years after graduation, but I did eventually start getting paid to write; it was even my primary source of income for a very long time.)

The town in the book–Liberty Center (a nod to Philip Roth’s When She Was Good)–is obviously based very slightly on the county seat; mostly the geography more than anything else, as well as it also has a small college, a park on the way out of town just before a waterfall; and another park on the other side of town rumored to be a gay cruising spot. I’ve written about this town, and this county, a lot over the years, but the name of that town has changed numerous times–everything from Greenfield to Kahola to Carterville and finally, Liberty Center. (Sara, the first young adult novel I wrote chronologically, is also set in that same area; however the county seat in that book had a different name; Kahola, I think) I’ve not set foot in Kansas since we left for California in February 1981; so this is all from my memory, with an occasional glance at Google Earth or Google Maps. Obviously, everything there has changed dramatically in the forty years (!) since we got on Amtrak and headed west at two in the morning; I tended to stick to my actual memories than the reality of what has changed.

So, when these notorious sexual assault cases involving kids (sorry, I still, and will always, think of college students as kids too, YMMV) became so viral and so ever-present everywhere, I knew I finally had the story for the book I wanted to write in this fictional town–I’d made any number of false starts over the years; some of which may eventually became the seeds for other books–but I have always, always, wanted to write a book set there, and writing a toxic masculinity/rape culture book set there just seemed like the right way to go. I had everything in place that I wanted or needed to write the book; the only thing I didn’t know how to do was end it. So, as I mentioned the other day, I finished the last book I had under contract sometime in the spring of 2015, and took the month of July to write this first draft–96,000 words, nineteen chapters, and missing the concluding one. I didn’t get the story right in the first draft, but set it aside to do other things for awhile before coming back to it. I worked on it around other projects over the years since, and finally, last year, finally recognized the truth I’d been avoiding–it will never be finished unless you sign a contract for it with a deadline. And so I did, and now it will be released in January of this year.

And yes, the deadline was precisely the panicking terrified motivation I needed to make the changes to the story that made it gel and possible for me to write an ending.

And of course, as always, I have been plagued with doubts every step of the way while writing this: am I the right person to write this book? Is a white male the right person to do a book built around toxic masculinity and rape culture? Am I taking a spot in publishing away from someone who might be better qualified and better experienced to write such a novel?

But writing is about taking risks, and trying to push yourself. One of the reasons I started doing the stand-alone books all those years ago was because I worried about getting stale and bored writing my two series; originally, switching back and forth between them helped keep them fresh and new to me…but around 2009 I was starting to feel like those books were becoming repetitive (how many car accidents has Scotty been in?) and stale; that I didn’t have anything new or interesting to say about them. (I kind of am feeling that way with Scotty right now–Chanse has ended, although I may do some novellas with him; but am hopeful once I get everything done that I am working on currently that I can sit down and gather my thoughts on the next Scotty book into something interesting and cohesive and frankly, worthy of the character) I use the stand-alone books to push myself further as a writer, into exploring other things and voices and tenses, which I hope makes the series books better.

I guess we’ll have to see how that goes, won’t we?

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone, and will check in with you again tomorrow.

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