I doubt many 300-page novel manuscripts have physically traveled as far as the original manuscript of my historical novel, A Decent Woman. See if you agree with me.
I began writing A Decent Woman in the Belgian town of Wezembeek-Oppem, a suburb of Brussels, where I lived with my husband and our young children. I traveled with my bound manuscript on several family vacations to Spain, Italy, Greece, and a ski trip to France. In our 13th year of living in that great Belgian house, I finished the manuscript and found myself separated from my husband.
The manuscript was boxed up en route the tiny Provençal village of Uchaux in the south of France, where I lived in the house that was meant to be our dream retirement home. Retiring in France wasn’t in the cards at that time. I was heartbroken to close the doors of our house and say goodbye to my French friends.
So, the manuscript was again boxed up to travel with my belongings across the Atlantic Ocean to Syracuse, New York. I’d accepted a job as a pilgrimage coordinator for pilgrims looking to visit and volunteer at the Sanctuary of Lourdes in France where I’d volunteered for ten years. As a pilgrimage leader, I traveled from New York to France four times, always with my manuscript in my carry-on. Despite loving the job and the great perks of traveling to France, the harsh, long winters in New York forced me to move south after eight months. I also missed my children who were in colleges in Washington, DC, and Virginia. I’d never been separated from them.
From Syracuse, I moved to Frederick, Maryland where I worked at a residential treatment center for kids and went back to school. My kids were still in college and after I graduated, I felt the need to move closer to the DC area where long-time friends lived. I would miss the children I worked with at the center who still hold a special place in my heart, but I had to go.
I moved to a two-bedroom condo in Alexandria, Virginia where my parents had retired in the ’80s and where I’d been a college student and a single woman. When my divorce came through, I was once again, a single woman in the DC area. I took a year off to clear my head and finally took A Decent Woman out of the box. I enjoyed the DC area and being close to old and new friends, but my heart wasn’t at peace in a huge city with so much traffic, noise, and air pollution. I couldn’t focus in that environment and felt out of place. I longed for solitude, nature and a big change.
The following year, I moved myself and my boxed manuscript down the road to Falls Church, VA where I lived in a large townhouse and worked as a Spanish language Family Support Worker. The urge to write full time plagued me every day. I just had to finish my novel but was exhausted at the end of the day after driving to my client’s homes every single day for two years. I’d come home and try to write, but I didn’t have the emotional and physical stamina for it. I was able to do a large portion of my research, however, which served me well. Nothing we experience is a mistake.
A week after my 50th birthday, I decided to change my life completely. That personal milestone propelled me to fulfill my dream of living a creative life. I found a house for sale in Berkeley County, West Virginia, only an hour and a half from my children who now lived and worked in Northern Virginia. I packed up my manuscript along with cassette tapes with many hours of interviews, loose pages of historical research, and a stack of non-fiction books I devoured for the novel and I moved West.
A lot of sacrifices were made, lots of lessons learned, and in this Federal-style, 107-year old house, I finished my novel.
I am now a full-time writer and I love it. This morning, I gazed at the four manuscript versions sitting on my dining room floor. I am amazed at the hundreds, probably thousands of hours I’ve spent sitting at my laptop, sometimes from sunup to sundown. Definitely a labor of love. I can honestly say I’ve never tired of reading A Decent Woman and my characters are more dear to my heart than when I started.
I then walked up the attic steps and retrieved the box that holds my original manuscript. I was quite nostalgic when I opened the box. That manuscript takes me back to a very happy and difficult chapter of my life. I read the first few chapters and smiled as you would smile at a child during an important event in their lives. I’ve done everything necessary to prepare my historical novel for the world. It’s time. I am excited for the book launch of A Decent Woman in Fall 2014. I’m ready to share my book with the world.
My WIP, historical fiction, Finding Gracia, is well on its way and I am certain the book will be published during my time in this old house. I hope to see my second novel published in 2015. The sequel of A Decent Woman, Mistress of Coffee, will also be written and published while I continue to live in West Virginia, hopefully in 2016.
Although I doubt West Virginia is my forever home, for the moment…I’m not moving! My dream of returning to live and write in the South of France isn’t far from my mind, however. That is still my #1 dream.