My wife doesn’t like to buy me presents.
This is not an anti-love or an anti-affection thing. No, not at all. This is because I am the King of Presents. Seriously, I could teach classes on the subject. I remember conversations, take notes, and buy things early when inspiration hits. And birthdays and Christmases, because of my mad skills, are filled with tears and exclamations of “How did you know?” or “How did you remember that?”
How did I remember that? I’m the King of Presents, that is how I remembered!
The fact is when it comes to receiving gifts, I try to make it easy for people. This goes back to a mistake by “Santa” when I was in fourth grade. I wanted a CD player, and by mistake the old man in red got me a tape deck. Since then, I keep a gift list up to date with ideas (which I forward to family members, including my wife, before every holiday) and I even highlight the stuff that means more to me that year (last year it was the new Indiana Jones blu-ray set). Yes, I go away happy with every holiday, but there are no tears, no surprises, and the exclamation is usually a nice “Thank you.”
It is one of the sacrifices of being the king.
As I noted in the first part “Braving Austen” my wife was the one who pushed me to write the book and argued for it, but there were years in between her declaring her love for the idea and my actual creation of it. And by the time, I was ready to begin working on the book, she was used to me working on other things. So she really had no reason to believe I was thinking Austen 24/7 or that the dream project was in the works.
So what happened that turned an idea (possibly silly and highly questionable) and a pile of notes into my next major project?
Well… our first child did that.
I will remember every moment of the birth of my kids, and for my son, it was a long hellish time for my wife with over 20 hours of labor. They were even planning to make her wait longer until I got into an argument with the nurses in the hallway. It involved a lot of pointing, a threat of a lawsuit, and loud voices. I rarely get that angry, and when I do it also rarely pays off, but this time it did; and my wife was moved to the front of the line.
I remember the first cry of my son and the happy and awed expression on my wife’s face upon hearing it; I remember them showing us him for the first time; I remember how he turned to me because he recognized my voice; and I remember holding him for the first time.
My wife gave me that moment, those memories…. And I wanted to give her something to say thank you. It had to be personal, nothing from a store, and something only I could give.
That gift had to be A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM.
Up until I began this process, I had been doing some work around the book. As I noted before, I would occasionally read her books, go through an occasional biography, noting ideas, and preparing an outline. There was more that had to be done, a lot more preparations, but it was a good place to be in. Right before all the really hard work.
I began that year, by re-reading her books again. These were never simple readings, but more detailed examinations. Using highlighters, this was me collecting names, quotes, plots, and words I wanted to use. A few months later, my cheap paperback copies (You should have seen those copies, they were ugly versions of the books) were covered in paperclips, colored tags and highlighters. I then began collecting and creating printouts in a folder of things I wanted to make sure I use.
It was a laborious process… and by the time I was ready to write I had a different word doc for each chapter, filled with the outline for the chapter, character names, words, and quotes I wanted to use in that bit of the book. I rarely prepare this much for my books. (Heck, I wrote a book on this site last year that I was making up as I went along- PERMANENT SPRING SHOWERS). There could be almost be an argument that I was avoiding the next part.
See, now I just had to do the actual writing…
This should have been the easy part! I’ve written other books! I love creating a first draft of any novel, but this…. The idea of actually starting was beginning to freak me out and it almost caused a writer’s block.
I had to change my perception. I stepped away from the idea that this was the Jane; this was just a Jane. And with some very deep breaths, I began to fill in the chapters, page by page, thinking of each chapter almost as their own short story as compared to part of a massive whole.
Oh, did I mention yet I was doing this all in secret?
My wife is very perceptive, much more than me. If we were in a Sherlock adventure, she would be the great detective, and I would be Doctor Watson, but not the cool Doctor Watson from the BBC TV show Sherlock. No, I would be the bumbling one from the movies from the 1930’s. (Seriously, I love those films. I have the box set on blu ray!)
When the kids lose something, they ask my wife first to help find it. If she is busy and they have to ask me, they have actually been known to roll their eyes. Have you ever seen a two-year old roll her eyes before? It stings, yes, it stings.
So how was I able to write an almost 500-page draft of a novel over the course of a year with mountains of notes and “Sherlock” not noticing?
To begin with I used an elaborate code system. I had a folder with another title on the desktop of the computer. And was even known to use different names for the characters, in the mischance my wife opened a doc by mistake. That was on the computer end.
Reading Jane is not new to me. And she has seen me take notes around the books before, knowing that this was always in the back of my mind. But most of my creation took place because of three lucky breaks.
First, my wife had a job that was about an hour away from home. So I would be alone in my house every day from five to a little after six before her and my son were home (he was at a day care near her work).
Second, it is a tradition for me to escape from the house each Sunday morning to go and write. That is another three hours of creation right there.
Third, my wife and I would alternate nights helping our baby fall asleep. So in those evenings where the duty was on her shoulder, I could put on the headphones and disappear to England.
Piece by slow piece. Random chapter by random chapter, the work began to take form. And after 8 months of it (in September), I had 500 pages in front of me. A dream in a red three-hole punch binder.
This first draft was messy. Really messy.
Since I was writing what inspired me at the moment (jumping from chapter to chapter), my voice was not consistent (I was in some ways still trying to find it for this book), and the plots and characters didn’t line up perfectly.
But I still had three months, so I began editing, going through the book again and again and again. It wasn’t until December 15th that I felt confident enough to print up the book. In a better world I would have had a chance to throw it at an editor, but my wife should see it first, right?
So, this draft of the book I gave to my wife wasn’t perfect. It had spelling mistakes, and still had things to cut (It was about 60 pages longer, for example, than the one you will be able to read), but it meant something to me.
And when my wife opened the present and lifted the binded copy of the book she knew what the gift meant from me…. It will probably remain the most powerful present I will be able to give someone else.
I don’t like to talk about my marriage on this blog. That may seem odd to my readers since they know I talk alot about my parenting and life experience. But for me, marriage is so much more personal. So I haven’t written about her on her birthday. I didn’t even write on our tenth anniversary.
See, in my opinion, while good parenting is just good parenting (and we can all use ideas, a laugh, or advice from time to time), but what makes a true marriage work is different for every couple. My wife is very much my soulmate, and I like to keep it the one thing private, the one thing between just her and me. Our marriage works, it keeps me sane, and it inspires me.
And if it wasn’t for my amazing wife, you wouldn’t have a chance to read A Jane Austen Daydream.
Truly, she earned the dedication at the front of it.
I hope you like my new novel.
If you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBookshere. Thanks for reading!…