DebraMilligan.com

 

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Some of the Story Behind the Stories

My husband and family have been and continue to be the highest priorities in my life.  They have inspired me to develop my creative self.  Because of the enrichment from my commitments to home-making, I have been able to use to their deepest potential the talents that God gave to me.  I live my life, collecting images and weaving a story from them.  The fiction forms in my mind, often in the midst of domestic duties.  Actual composition begins when the “scenes” and “narration” begin to roll like film in my head.


In the case of THE DAWN, organizing, writing, continued research, revising, and final edits took a little over three full years (September 2008 – November 2011).  Looking back, I can see that I was preparing myself for this grand effort for at least three years in advance of writing the draft.  The novel was called NOTTINGHAM from its inception in 1993.  Halfway through the proofreading of the final draft, the proofreader and I agreed that the title was all wrong.  It then took me about three minutes to come up with the right title:  THE DAWN.  This tome thereby left the trilogy of novels starting with “N” that I conceived in 1993.


When I first began to write THE DAWN, I had no idea that it would grow to epic proportions!  I simply followed the rule that I used to teach writing to my children:  Whatever length it takes to tell the story is the length you must use.  Don’t make your composition longer or shorter than is necessary to say what you must say fully and well.

The initial writing of NORTHSTAR, my first novel, occurred over several years in spurts during the late 1980s.  The novel was first published in 1994 by a small publisher who proceeded, with his son, to embezzle $10 million of his company funds.  Crime was evidently a family affair.  A federal case quite literally ensued and my novel and copyright were returned to me.  Life then took me in the direction of homeschooling my children; and I persisted in reading and in researching “my novels.”  In January 2012, I input and edited NORTHSTAR, thus creating the digital version.  There are print copies of the first version “out there” and I must accept the possibility that they will probably become collectibles!

NOCTURNE was written swiftly and rather unexpectedly during the first two weeks of July 2012.  It was revised during the next two weeks.  I accomplished final edits and proofreading within ten days after the end of revisions.  This short novel was conceptualized in 1993 and researched shortly thereafter; but I threw away all materials for it just before I began to draft THE DAWN in 2008.  I honestly thought the thing was defunct.  I’d even told friends one morning in late June 2012 that I was spending the summer resting and recovering from the previous summer of finishing revisions and beginning to edit THE DAWN.


The next day I wrote the first three pages of NOCTURNE.  Little did I know that a third piece of fiction was part of my recovery!


The process of composing the first draft of a short novel like NOCTURNE was akin to piecing a small, intricate quilt.  With an oeuvre like THE DAWN, the work felt more like weaving a huge rug, a huge weighty rug.


Although these works of fiction were conceptualized decades ago, I persevered within a very busy life to accomplish research and compose passages of dialogue and narration in those cloth-bound journals.  I then culled the writing from the journals for each novel and revised/edited those bits and pieces of writing onto the 8-1/2 x 11 pads of paper.  Next I organized the written pages and research materials into file folders.  Work on my laptop began when the organizational (pre-planning) process ended.

For some insight and a clue into how the trigger in my Muse is pulled, here is a link to a Warner Brothers cartoon. Although I am much more a Hanna-Barbera enthusiast, I realize in total retrospect that this lively clip must have set off all cylinders in my creative mind to move toward the writing of NOCTURNE.


I recall watching this cartoon sometime in 2006, and then I purchased an 8- or 10-CD box set of John Dowland compositions shortly thereafter. The music was not-so-endearingly referred to by Dear Daughter as “Trip-A-Trip.”

I no longer own that box set of English Renaissance music. I offered it to Dear Daughter during an artistic purge and she politely declined. I believe that the rapid-fire writing of NOCTURNE in the summer of 2012 was assisted by the departure of the Trip-a-Trip music from my life, but also by a lengthy discussion with Dear Son who always inadvertently focuses my Muse on something quite fantastic, i.e., imaginative or fanciful, remote from reality.


With influences from both of my children, I trip the light fantastic!


A clear sign that I am about to start to write a novel is that I purge the files of all unnecessary materials and inferior writing.  I then store the remaining files in an area where I can’t see them, such as a detached garage!  I basically do not want to see anything concerning a novel until I am forced by my creative self to commit my entire self to writing this piece of fiction, work that can last anywhere from several months to several years.


When that commitment can no longer be avoided, I drag out the storage boxes, sort through the files, and set to work.  I then organize my life around the writing instead of the writing around my life.  I insist on enjoying my life and try my best to not allow writing to overtake it.  There were very many times, however, during the writing of THE DAWN that I had to surrender to my muse.  It was during those times that my husband and children were the sources of strength, laughter, and perspective to me.

The Summer of 2017:

The Point of the Sword


The summer of 2017 started as a more-or-less typical summer, hot-beyond-belief and open to unscheduled fun. I always try to create the sense of the spontaneous during summertime. The summer weather here in the foothills of northern California can, oppressively, begin in early April and endure well into October, but I nevertheless hold fast to my years of upbringing in the Northeast, rotating clothes and accessories throughout the 4 seasons, even though there are only 2 seasons here: wet and dry. Or dry and wet, depending on how wonky the weather gets.


I am often accused by my children of jinxing the start of autumn by bringing out the jackets and coats too soon, but I really don’t care. Wearing a fleece sweatshirt, shorts, and felt woolen clog slippers is the California costume for October, one that I do don. The inside of me, however, resolutely remains quite New Jersey.


I also hold onto my years of home-schooling, routines that reinforced in me the strong sense that summer starts in June, after “school is out,” and ends with the Labor Day weekend.


This summer of 2017, I did not plan any writing projects, and I took a hiatus from the translation of THE DAWN. My personal life shifted into a slightly higher gear. I wanted relaxation and unstructured days and nights. I started a cross-stitch of “Père Nöel” using some newly purchased, thick Gütermann embroidery thread. Fiction was the furthest thing from my mind. For some reason, I’ve yet to detect that such a mental state, or condition, means I am about to write a novel.


By the 4th of July, that novel had begun to work its way out of my creative consciousness. The cross-stitch got stored away, for who knows how long? Life developed a few turns and several definitive changes for this writer. The movement of change has always been a creative catalyst for me. I found enough of it during the summer of 2017!

THE POINT OF THE SWORD, I now understand, had been cogitating in my psyche for about four years. I’d been moving sail toward something, but what I did not exactly know. My interactions with people near and dear to me, and distant and dear to me, became filled with very ripe pickings for fiction. I jotted them down into my Writer’s Journal, thinking, “Oh, I’ll use them in the Westerns.”


Always the Westerns. Those beauties keep moving further out on the horizon!


It is difficult, if not impossible, for me to pinpoint precisely when the resurrection and simultaneous crystallization of memories, souvenirs, and inspiration take place within me. I do nonetheless know that this process of fictional fermentation had been ongoing since the summer of 2014.


At that time, I encountered, through fate, three women, all of whom had known grand loves, last loves, lost loves. Knowing that I am a woman of independent mind, and a writer, these younger women entrusted me with insights and confessions, from their wounded hearts, from their valiant lives, lives that would, all too soon, be no more. Private passions had become a muted anguish for each woman.

One young woman, in particular, lived in Broadstairs, Kent, England. We became artistic soulmates for one another. THE POINT OF THE SWORD honors our eternal bond.


There was also for me the final unspoken adieu of a very long goodbye to a dear dear friend. She’d been my most ardent, steadfast, even vocal, advocate during the writing of THE DAWN. This colleague and confidante proved to me with certainty that art aspires to the heavens.


Our enduring friendship will long endure: she is among the brightest stars that now shine upon me, inspiring me to be all that I can be. Our shared sense of the reverent and the irreverent penned many a line for me and helped me to pull the trigger on millions of words.


More than a decade ago, I reached out to this former colleague who was in despair; I did not realize at the time that I was reaching toward my future. She perhaps knew this truth, in the way that she had of knowing things I did not know, could not know. The unique and magical, timeless quality of our friendship, the chemistry of my innocent knowing and her naïve cynicism, created a comical, dynamic synergy between us. I believe that our pragmatic yet poetic process continues, in a metaphysical way, because her soul carries me with her.


I undertook the unanticipated writing of this novel with a sense of conscience and duty, not unlike the almost agonizing awareness of a person bound by the seal of the confessional. It was therefore with neither enthusiasm nor desire that I began to compose this novel.


My feeling was akin to what the French call devoir, which means “duty,” but it also means so much more than duty, or moral obligation. There is also the sense of a devout commitment, an uncollectible debt, that I felt, and feel, toward those women with whom I’d shared a symbiosis of sentiment, of heart, of silent sorrow. We divined the sound of goodbye that would ne’er be spoken.

That symbiosis became a sacred vow this past summer. I knew the time had come for bold images and a lush sensibility to become rendered into writing, to journey from sensual conceptualization to artistic realization. My many childhood summers on Long Beach Island, specifically in Ship Bottom, New Jersey, were transmuted, through tenderness, time and tears, into a love story. Not a romance novel, but a love story.

I was, of course, largely unaware of the compelling impetus that was about to overtake my normal waking hours. In late June, a day trip to the historic Rainbow Tavern Lodge in Soda Springs, California (less than an hour’s drive from my residence) got, as Dear Daughter called it, my “creative juices flowing.” During her summer vacation, my lovely daughter witnessed, once again, that laser “focus” of her mother, writing intently on the 8-1/2 x 11 lined yellow pad of paper. And then the Laptop came out, which she’d predicted wouldn’t take too long!


I wrote the draft in about 10 days, and then I took a break from the writing. The weather was still incredibly hot: triple-digits for weeks on end had become the norm. I went online in search of a setting for a promo shot. And I found the romantic video of a House for Sale, one that was approached through an arched gateway over a murmuring creek, echoing the sounds of summer.


The house was near a piece of property that . . . within the next month . . . became . . . mine!!

So, you see, kismet and the creative force can turn toward earthy and practical decisions in no time. The history of that house-for-sale was in long supply, starting with the description of the Entertainer’s Kitchen. I asked Dear Husband, “Why do I think of Wayne Newton?”


Even though we passed on that piece of real estate, complete with Writer’s Cottage (!), the various buildings on that piece of land offered stories and tales and details that only a novelist can appreciate. Life will bring to any writer, and to any fiction writer, the material needed. There is no need to go in search of it.


The revisions and finalization of this novel required two weeks of re-shaping and polishing. That space of time flew by, even though the triple-digit temperatures did not subside. As for the promo pic for THE POINT OF THE SWORD, I decided that my outdoor equestrian setting, known as “The Horse Property,” will work better for it. That highly arched gateway to the softly flowing creek will have to wait for another opportunity.


But not for another novel! At least not right away! First, the Writer’s House must be built, not too far away from that soothing stream of water that trips and ripples so softly over rocks and stones, merrily on its way to a tranquil night and a happy day!