by Linda Rodriguez
One of the most difficult times for an author is when a story comes to her—a story that excites and inspires her—and it's not in the genre she usually writes. I think some writers just set those ideas aside for some later time that never really comes, but that's not something I'm prepared to do. In the past couple of years, I've had a change in my entire life, battling invasive breast cancer, and along with it, an involuntary hiatus in the publishing of my next mystery in the Skeet Bannion series. But during that traumatic time, a story came to me, and I started writing it by hand when I was just out of the first of three back-to-back cancer surgeries. I couldn't use the computer because my right arm was so swollen and had to be elevated on a pillow, so I wrote out the first few scenes by hand through the pain and sleeplessness and panic, not knowing where these characters were going, but totally seduced by the possibilities. I mentioned these scenes to my agent, and she asked to see them, so I had my son type them for me and sent them to her. She was as excited as I was and basically told me to go for it. (Have I mentioned how much I love my fabulous agent, Ellen Geiger of Frances Goldin Literary Agency?)
I had no idea what a huge project I was undertaking when I began. As I delved into this story and the characters and built their world, constantly being interrupted by surgeries or cancer treatments or medical appointments and all the freelance work and teaching I took on to finance all those expensive medical treatments—there's a reason so many cancer patients end up with poor credit ratings or even bankruptcies; it's a damned expensive disease—the scope of the book and its world kept growing. I alternated between excitement and despair—“I think I'm writing a really good book, but it's probably going to be unpublishable.” My completely supportive husband and agent kept me going. “Just finish the book,” they both told me innumerable times.
Finally, I came to the end, but I wasn't happy with the ending. I felt as if I'd rushed it because the book was already so long. I set it aside while doing a couple of major cash projects and then began revisions. That was a long process because this was a long, complex novel. By the end of the revisions, I was very happy with the book, except I knew I needed to completely rewrite the climax and ending, adding probably two chapters. My agent said, “Just finish the book.” I had to turn to a very busy time of freelance manuscript contest judging, developmental editing, and teaching.
Finally, I've finished those commitments, and tomorrow I begin those final chapters. I'm also starting to wonder how to convince my mystery fans to follow me into a world of gods walking the earth with humans in modern America and jumping with some of those humans back to the American frontier at the beginning of the 19th century as part of a campaign to save the planet from destruction. I know many of my mystery fans are adventurous readers, though, because after liking my mystery novels, a number have gone on to read my books of poetry, so I hope their literary adventurousness will lead them to try what I call a contemporary fantasy—in the fashion of Alice Hoffman, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, and Deborah Harkness. I can promise them the same attention to character, motivation, setting, complex narrative, and language that they enjoyed in my other books. Whether that will be enough, I won't know until later.
Still, I'm excited to finish this book, Gathering Gods, and send it off to my agent. By coincidence, it's good timing since the Starz series of Gaiman's American Gods (a wonderful book that shares the basic concept of my book and almost nothing else, not even the same gods, since most of mine are Indigenous) is set to premier in 2017. But whatever else happens with the book, it certainly got me through the toughest period of my life, so it will probably always be one of my favorites.