I Want to Tell You a Story … Cassandra on the Island

I want to tell you a story.

Let’s begin like this- I wrote a novel for my thesis when I was working for my Master’s at the University of Southern California and I made the head of the department cry.

I had few interactions with this professor. I like to think he liked me, he personally asked me to take a few advanced courses and met with me now and then to discuss agents and my writing, but we were of different worlds. How else do you explain the meeting of a poet and a novelist? We use the same words, but for a novelist it is about the meaning, where for the poet it is about the music beneath it.

To graduate, I needed people to sign off on my thesis. I had one from a fiction professor (I can’t remember his name now) and the head of the department promised to be the second… and he delayed… and he delayed.

I was working on campus, which was fine for me since I didn’t have to drive anywhere and there was a Carl’s Jr on campus and I was a little addicted to their crispy chicken sandwich (I don’t need to say more about that here). But on this day, instead of waiting in the outrageously long line of students and eating that awesome sandwich, I decided to bother the delaying professor. He was in his office and knew why I was there when I walked in. He didn’t make eye contact with me and promised to start the book that afternoon, shrugging me off.

I had to accept that answer and leave.

That night I received a call after 9 PM. It was him and he was crying. He kept saying the word “beautiful.” He talked to me about the book for over an excited hour, asking about why I did certain things, what they meant. He was figuring out different tricks I did in the writing in between his emotional outbursts.

It is not often a writer gets to speak to a moved reader the second after they finish their book, but I was having that experience here, and it was with someone that surrounds himself with books and writers! This is legit, right?

He wasn’t planning to read the book straight through, he said. He was planning to finish, maybe skim bits. He skims, he said. He skims most books from students, he said… but here he didn’t. And once he started he couldn’t stop.

He told me what he loved, what made him laugh and what made him cry.

He asked if he could share the book with others, and I said that was fine. He said I didn’t have to worry about my thesis, and he couldn’t wait to buy the book in print… and then he was off the line.

Now… let me be clear… I’m not telling you this story about a crying professor to brag. I’m telling you this because it was the first time I truly felt like a novelist.

Cassandra on the Island got me an agent shortly after graduation (nothing happened after that… oh well). It was the first work that lit a spark, and shortly five novels followed in only a few years time. The other books would find their way into print, many with small presses, making me a bridesmaid in the bigger publishing world, never a bride. But through all that I held onto Cassandra.

I always told myself once I had a strong relationship with a new agent or a more established publisher, I would give them Cassandra, but that chance never came. So it sat on my different computers and waited with me, for the inevitability of an audience we hoped would arrive. There was a secret schedule, the book and I believed, we just weren’t given the blessed date to mark on the calendar.

I’m tired.

I’m not saying that to say I am defeated or depressed. I’m just tired.

The world is exhausting, the publishing world is exhausting, and I rarely enjoy books now (which is why it is probably a good thing I don’t do the book reviews as often anymore). I could continue to wait for Cassandra on the Island, but there is a chance… maybe there really isn’t a due date for this story, a right time?

Maybe, it is simply a tale I get to tell and if I am lucky someone will read it… and it will mean something to them as much as that professor.

Kurt Vonnegut (one of my heroes) has this trick in many of his novels where he begins talking to the reader and then slowly, beautifully slowly, his voice steps away and the novel begins. He might emerge again at the end, but many times he didn’t, just allowing the story to speak for itself.

Maybe that is what I am doing with this introduction now? Declaring to the world that, yes!, I am going to share one of my completed, unpublished novels here on this site. It is a shorter work broken into sections and each section will be shared on this site one at a time! Hear ye! Hear ye!

“Cassandra on the Island by Scott D. Southard has humor, surprises, adventures, death, wit, ghosts, pirate treasure, scandal, sex, love, beauty, and a hurricane.” 

Each new section will be shared every other Friday. Previous sections (if you need to catch up) will be available via a page I create for the book (on the sidebar). Those are the ground rules! Do you get me? Are you onboard? Are you ready?

There are three ways I could explain and introduce Cassandra on the Island. Let me do each briefly here.

-There is the ethereal explanation-

Cassandra on the Island is a story about time and how we mark ourselves in it.

There were two influences to the philosophy and structure that makes up this novel. The first is the idea of “spots of time” that was expressed in Ode to a Grecian Urn by John Keats. For those that don’t know what I mean, I will do my best to explain this quickly.

Our days go by speedily. We get up, go to work and suddenly we are back in bed. There is a birthday, there is a holiday, and time speeds on faster and faster. But Keats in the Urn saw a moment frozen, a moment of being alive. These are the moments that when we look back at our life that stick.

We each have these precious memory moments. A smile. A laugh. A moment of accomplishment. Love. Birth. These are the moments that when you close your eyes that everything rushes back to you easily, as quickly as a breath. For good, or bad, these are the moments that mark you and your time here.

I like to think of this book as a collection of memories, and you need to put them together like a puzzle. Only then seeing the full picture when it is together.

Some would say that there are dream elements to this book. What is real and what is not? But couldn’t someone say the same about our own lives when we look back at them. When you think back two years, five years, ten… does everything feel real as this moment right here, or is it like a dream? Maybe we are all ghosts in a way? Boo!

-Cassandra on the Island is the story of a second chance-

I wanted to take someone who had a horrible life, the worst possible… and give them a second life.

Cassandra was not a good person. Not at all.

How low in the gutter Cassandra lived (and thrived) you will see in the introduction (named “Her Gardening”), but she is a survivor and she made something of herself. This book is in many ways not about then, but about what she hopes to be. What happens after.

The funny thing is when I first wrote the book it felt important to tell people that they can have second chances, but now that I am older I realize how rare that actually is. And it gets rarer each year as we become more and more connected in the world, thanks to the internet and social media, etc. It’s too bad. I think there are a lot of people that could thrive with a restart.

The other thing I wanted to say, and this might be hard to explain here, is that there is a piece of the eternal in all of us. You will see what I mean as the book begins. I am proud of this work and I think you will enjoy it if you give it a chance.

If you do enjoy reading the book, please share it with friends and other readers.

Honestly, in today’s congested literary world (where you can pick out a specific flavor like a candy bar at the store), the “new” only can find a place through recommendations. That is not me complaining, just stating a fact, and I do hope this book finds the audience I always believed it deserves. If you turn out to be that audience, I hope you will help.

-I could let the book speak for itself-

That would probably be the best way to begin. It is how that professor first experienced it, as well as the few others that had a chance to read it. I’m stepping away…

I hope you enjoy Cassandra on the Island.

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