A Writer’s Back Pages

Sometimes a writer must interview themself/themselves.

the_obituaries_finalTime was when I heard an author say they’d forgotten this or that about a book they’d written I’d give off a little guff of air and say, “yeah right.”

Well.

It’s about to happen to me.

This Thursday night a local book club will hold a dinner and discussion about my 2005 novel The Obituaries, which is indeed a rare honor; most writers, secretly or otherwise, are interested how readers have, well, interpreted their work. Same goes for me. I have been invited to attend the club’s dinner and discussion and I am moved by the request and will go, but I await the night with not a little trepidation. Why?

I wrote this particular book in 1992-93. Do the math. I have changed drastically since then, truly; as a person and as a writer I’m different from the 1993 version of me. Makes sense, right? But for authors a particular problem arises — the ability to speak of one’s work is hindered by the passage of time. I’m not sure I can remember the reasons for this, the reasons for that.

Interestingly,  this is a novel that has endured quite a journey. I’d taken leave of my job as a newspaper editor for a summer and hunkered down to write it in six weeks. I wrote the book on a very old and slow computer with a program that was made available to me as a newspaper editor — QuarkXpress. If you don’t know what the software is let’s just say it’s not for word processing, but rather is used to layout publications. But that’s what I wrote the book on and I save it to a…

3.5 floppy disk.

Yikes.

Years came and went and I found myself going through my accumulated files one day while down in Texas and I came across this old disk with “The Obits,” scrawled across the label. I tried to open the thing, but there was no way I could because I did not have the program to do so. Finally, it dawned on me that the newspaper I worked at in downtown Houston — Public News — might have Quark; it did, but the version was far too new and the file couldn’t be opened. Then, someone, I forget whom, had the old software at home and lent it to me. I opened the file, work on it a little in late 1998 and filed it away.

Until Kristan called.

I had went to grad school with Kristan and she was wondering if I had a manuscript available for a new press she was working at. I had a novel that I had just finished, but didn’t want to part with just yet so I dug out my trusty 3.5 floppy disk and sent in “The Obits,” thinking that like most of my work it would be destined for the dustbin.

It was accepted. 2004.

That was good news. Yes and no. What followed was an editing process that involved, for all intents and purposes, me interviewing myself from a decade ago. Trying to remember why I did what, and where and when and why. The writer-then wasn’t impressed by the writer-then-way-back-then. The process was tough, but I got through it and the book was published.

And became a Canadian bestseller. I kid you not. 2005.

And now, a few nights from now and a least a decade since I last was in deep with this book, I’ll be sitting in some suburb house staring at a book club with my blank eyes and saying, “I don’t know, ask him,” gesturing at the ghost in the corner, the one that looks like me, only much, much younger.