Let Me Take You Back…

In 2009 I was beginning to move toward writing something of substance. A series of tough years had essentially reduced my writing output to two or three journal entries per year that consisted of essentially the same words every time:

“I can’t believe it’s been [insert a ridiculously high number here] months since I’ve written in this journal!

S.J. Varengo – Personal Journals (2000-2009)

Something happened, briefly, in 2009 where whatever it was standing between me and writing stepped out of the way. In the sort of inspiration that writers giggle about, because most of us have experienced it at one point or another. It’s the “out of the blue,” variety. There’s no clear cut explanation as to why such a thing should, quite literally pop into my head, but I heard, almost audibly, “Cerah was the chosen one.”

Then something else happened. My son enlisted in the Marines, an event which coincided with increasing dissatisfaction with my job and brought to light that unknown quantity that had been preventing me from doing any serious writing through the beginning of my forties. That gremlin in the machine turned out to be severe depression, and within a year of my son’s enlistment I had lost my job and for the next five years counted it a massive victory every time I fell asleep, or at other times it was a win if I woke before four in the afternoon. They were hellish years, not just for me but for my family, and I can promise you that even the feeble quarterly “I can’t believe it’s been…” entries were prolific compared to my output during that time.

But in 2015 we moved out of the house we’d been in for the past sixteen or so years. Our kids we’re of on their own and we no longer needed that much space.

And something bizarre seemed to happen, almost at once. I began functioning, to all appearances like a person ready to plug into society. I worked diligently getting our new home set up and in order, and although at first we didn’t have internet, I began going to the library to… to do what? I actually wondered the first few times I brought my laptop and got onto the library’s network. I did some casual web browsing, my first in a while, and I started thinking about doing some writing. [Reminder to me: write a post about the energy contained within and generated by houses in which we dwell].

The next time I went I wrote a short story in one sitting. Then the following visit saw me revise it. Having the internet meant having a thesaurus at my fingertips, so I started trying to remember some of the craft I’d developed after college and before writing ceased. And the writing began to improve.

I’d like to be illustrating this post with pictures from the different years I’ve called to memory herein, but during those years I made a point of, and was quite successful at remaining out of the camera’s line of sight. Believe me, you’re not missing much. (I’m WAY better looking now anyway.)

My Hero

But there is one portrait I’d like to share. It’s of a little 4 GB Sony flash drive. Nothing spectacular about it in anyway, at least to the naked eye. For you to really appreciate its significance we need to flashback (see what I did there?) once more.

I did manage in 2009 to write a first chapter based on the words Cerah was the Chosen One. Maybe a page of chapter two as well. But it had been stored on an external hard drive that had failed somewhere around 2012, and so I naturally thought that it was gone for good. Until the day I grabbed this flashdrive to take to the library with me. I’d been starting to feel good about the short fiction and had even begun writing poetry again, and I felt it prudent to start making redundant backups of my work. Thus the flashdrive.

What I hadn’t expected when I pushed it into a USB slot, was to see the words “Cerah was the chosen one” on one of the files already on the drive. I can tell you quite honestly that I held my breath while I double-clicked the file, fully expecting it to be corrupted, or only the opening sentence or…

But it was everything I’d managed to write in 2009. To be honest, it was not much. The original chapter one made up but a fraction of the finished version, but it had enough of my original idea to enable me to start again, tentatively at first, and eventually with a vengeance as the writing began to happen every day, and the chapters began to mount up and there was no drying up, no running out of ideas.

I have written before about how the book was originally one section longer than the current version, and when I had finished writing the story, it comprised only two books. My writing/publishing/business partner Craig Hart brilliantly pointed out that if we could convert the two books into three it would give more of a series feel to it. And since both the first book A Dark Clock and the second, Many Hidden Rooms were both comprised of three sections it wasn’t particularly hard to convert them into three books of two sections each.

We then replaced my thoroughly lame self-designed covers with three masterpieces of fantasy artwork, created by Mr. Hart, and elevating the books to another level altogether.

This edition, released in 2018, has enjoyed some moderate success and has been well reviewed, but even at the point of their release in this “final” format, I had given no thought to releasing them as audiobooks, and by 2021, the year after which audiobooks became very much a part of my life, I pretty much thought that ship had sailed.

Here is a lesson I would like to share. In general I don’t presume to teach, or preach, or even reach in that direction. My experiences, I recognize, are mine, and may have to relevance to anyone else. But I’ve also learned that sometimes this stuff, this magical insanity that is the creative life, is just what someone needs to hear about.

So this lesson was, never give up on that out of the blue inspiration. From the moment I conceived the oft repeated line I knew this could be a good story, and that it had fallen to me to tell it. To the extent that I was able at the time, I accomplished that.

But there was still a sense in me that it could be brought to life in the hands of the right narrator. Still, I couldn’t shake the “ship has sailed” mentality until discussing one element of the story with the woman who narrated my novel Jelly Jars, the amazingly talented actress and performer Aven Shore.

It was a conversation that featured her typing the words “I’ve got to record this.”

Next Time: Coming to (New) LIfe

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