Saturday, August 20, 2016

WILDCARD WEEKEND -- When Moving is like Writing a Book

Anne McAllister has just moved. She is still recovering.  She wishes she had finished her latest book. She would like to be recovering from that.

Fifteen months ago my husband, The Prof, and I bought a house.  It was not entirely unexpected since we had been saying we were going to move permanently to Montana someday -- and we meant it. But we weren't expecting to do it then.

But then we saw this house. It had bookshelves. Lots of bookshelves. A whole wall of them.  And it had a view across an alfalfa field that seemed to go on and on and on. The view ended in mountains whichever way we looked. What's more, the house was on one floor; it had a garage; it had more than one bathroom.  These may not seem like big deals to you, but to us they were new and exciting prospects.

There were also grandchildren nearby. Four of them.

How could we resist?

Well, we couldn't.   So we bought the house.

And because it really was more spur of the moment than even we are used to doing, we thought, next year we'll move, that will give us plenty of time to sort out 43 years of living in the same house. Yes, I know, lots and lots of people have not lived for 43 years, let alone done it all in one house.

But we had.  

We'd raised kids there and dogs there. We'd raised a rabbit there, and a bionic cat. We had memories upon memories of life in that house which we loved. And I had an attic load of books.  

Too many books.  Besides all the author's copies of the nearly 70 books I'd written, I had foreign editions of all those books in multiples. I had research books. I had genealogy and family history books. I come from a family that never stayed in one place (unlike us, apparently) for more than a generation, so I had books about South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Montana, Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan -- not to mention England (two whole shelves on Cornwall alone), Germany, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and the like.

Oh, and I have a husband who was an English professor.  Suffice to say, he has his own fair share of books.

So over the months that followed, we weeded and tossed and boxed, and weeded and tossed and boxed.  And our daughter came to visit and tossed even more and packed some and weeded out a lot.  And eventually we got it down to, well, still more books than most people can even think about in a lifetime.  But it never seemed urgent.  We were moving next year, after all.

And then it was -- next year.

Not only next year, it was June of next year which had, apparently, become June of this year!  The Iowa grandsons were coming for summer camp and then I was going to Pittsburgh for a genealogy conference, and then we had to pack and pack and pack and pack. 

And the more we dragged out of the attic, the more I began to see the similarity to writing a book.  Once you open the attic, you're in the middle of a book. Everything started out smoothly as first chapters often do. Then the end is a long way away and you don't worry so much about how you're going to get there. You just b.e.l.i.e.v.e. that you will.

But in the middle it isn't so easy to believe. The stalagmites of books were everywhere.  The more we brought down and sorted (how many Czech copies of A Cowboy's Gift shall I keep? What about Turkish Santorini Brides?), the more of a mess the living room became (very much like the middle of a book).  Where should I put them while I tried to sort them?   And where did I put the ones I had already sorted?

It seemed endless, but the deadline continued  to approach.  The movers had a date in July they'd written in blood on their calendar. It was up to us to meet it.

While I was struggling with the books and the china (we are the repository of several family lines' china collections, it seems) and a myriad other things on the first floor, the second floor and the attic, The Prof was struggling, it turned out, with his own debacle: the basement.

For years I had thought of the basement as a sort of subtext -- where we put the freezer where the gallons of turkey soup he made every year after Thanksgiving and Christmas went to hibernate, where the titles to the cars were in neat little folders all their own. That sort of thing.  Turns out I was wrong.  The basement was very nearly the downfall of the whole affair.

In the end we had to get a couple of college students to come in and help him drag stuff out and  dispose of most of it because, well, it needed to be disposed of.  It turns out that the basement saga was a sort of giant multi-volume addendum to the book being written upstairs, a multi-volume addendum that didn't have much to do with the book.  So some of it survived and got boxed and came with us, and some is living in a landfill in Iowa. 

This is the cutting process that I do regularly at the end of a book, when I know what a book is going to be about at last, which is almost never what I thought it was going to be about at the beginning.   

What we needed, I discovered, was the judiciously editorial hand of Ann Leslie Tuttle who was my editor for a number of years and whom I could always count on to cut the irrelevancies in my books. She knew what I was writing about even when I didn't.  Our move needed her badly.

But at last things pulled together. The contents of the house were boxed and waiting for the movers who took one look at the various flights of stairs and, sweltering under the July Iowa heat and humidity, muttered to themselves and manfully lugged all of it down to their very very very big truck.

Then we had three days to clean things up and make things look as if we'd never lived there for 43 years.  This might be the copyediting process after the fact, just a little more fraught. Well, okay, a lot more fraught.

And then we left.  With our two dogs, our oldest grandson and his mom, we set off on our 1100 mile journey to our new life.  The moving book was done (well, except for the moving in part, which is still ongoing and which is the topic for another blog). 

The real book, of course, got lost in the process somewhere around June 10th.  I would have loved to have finished it before we left. I tried.  O'Driscoll didn't cooperate.  So I'm back dealing with him again.

He likes our new digs, as do I. As do the dogs. As does The Prof. The eldest grandson and his mom gave their stamp of approval, too, before they headed back to their lives. Nancy the Cat Slayer (no, she doesn't, but once in a photo it looked like she was and the name has stuck), my dear friend, has already come and approved as well.

It's like opening a new manuscript, starting fresh.  We're opening boxes and wondering where the heck we put stuff.  Kind of like a book all over again!

In publishing there are not just new books, but revised reprints of earlier books. Recently Anne re-issued the first three books about the Tanner brothers, Robert, Luke and Noah.  

These are, it turns out, much easier than either writing a new book -- or moving -- and they got really fine covers as well. If you haven't met the Tanners and you like cowboys, you might want to check them out!

1 comment:

  1. We've lived in our house for 39 years. I think you just convinced me we should just go ahead and die here. :-) I hope you're very happy in Montana.