A Long and Fatal Love Chase
I think there are little moments—little catalysts that set us on the right path in life. If we’re listening. If we’re willing to put in the work. Here are three of mine.
About six years ago I was fresh out of high school, and I was plugging away at my first year in college. I was going to be something in the field of Criminal Justice. Maybe a police officer. Or a parole officer.
Yes, I loved to write. The dream was to be a published author. My senior year of high school I had even written a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and had a full-page blurb printed in the local paper… Still, ten out of ten experts agreed that that was not how a person made money, or secured a retirement that involved people food, rather than cat food. College was the thing. A Real Job was the thing.
I continued to write in my spare time, but nothing like a full book. There wasn’t time.
Not long into my second year of college my major changed. I was nothing like the other students in my Criminal Justice courses. I was going to be an artist. One teacher suggested maybe I could consider illustrator as an educational route. “You’d make a great children’s book illustrator, with a little practice,” she said.
Around that time, I was looking for something new to read. I had just reread Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and I thought, “There has to be more in her repertoire than this.” So, I went questing for more. There was Jo’s Boys of course, and a few others. But then I spotted it. A Long and Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott. The Louisa May Alcott. And it didn’t look like any of the other things I had read by her.
If you’re familiar with Little Women then you are aware of Josephine and her penchant for writing desperate heroines and tragic, ridiculous tales. You remember how she had a stint as a newspaper writer—offering up works that certainly were not up to the standard of a Good and Proper writer?
You remember how Jo was based off Louisa May Alcott herself?
Oh man. A Long and Fatal Love Chase was bad. I mean. Miss Alcott was an excellent writer, so the writing was fine, but that book… That book was bad. I’m going to spoil it just a little for you. Essentially the main character becomes involved with a man, then they become estranged because he’s a cad, and she travels the world to avoid him and eventually she dies. I remember reading it and thinking, “The author of the classic that has stood the test of time… She wrote this? No way. How?”
I dug around a little. It was written before Little Women, under a nom de plume. After I had finished it I sat back and thought… Well, if she can write this and go on to be successful couldn’t anyone? Couldn’t I?
It was then that I first looked into getting my high school book looked at by publishers. All the big names and most of the small ones wanted me to have an agent, and a list of other things which I didn’t understand or couldn’t afford. I was going to school full time and working in fast food part time. Editors charged upwards of a thousand dollars. Agents needed paying. Book cover art… and formatting…? There was just no way. Discouraged, I discarded the idea of being a published author yet again.
I changed my major. I was going to get my degree in psychology—no! Sociology. Obviously.
After that I was going to be an actor. I took fencing, and a class on creative process where we spent half of some classes sitting and breathing, or walking in circles and breathing. We stared into each other’s faces and attempted to mimic the movements the other person was making as they made them without taking our eyes off their eyes. I was very good at that particular exercise.
I submitted the book I had written in high school to one of those “pay us to publish your book” sites. Just to get a quote to try and figure out if that was the right route. Their price was too high for me, and when I told them it wasn’t for me they continued to call me endlessly.
I performed in a play at my university where I played four different roles, one of which had to get very wet in a pool that had been constructed as part of the stage.
I fiddled with writing short pieces.
I dropped out of college.
I started work in an office.
I drafted a couple of different story ideas. Whole sets of chapters, strung together. I did not finish them.
I went back to college. I was going to be something in the field of sociology again, or perhaps city planning, or something to do with geography. (I'm still mulling that over. College is still something I want to finish. I love learning, I just hate how college is structured.)
Then, while I was working in the office I got it into my head to participate in NaNoWriMo again. In earnest this time. I created Somerlarth, and the characters began to come through. Before I knew it, I had the first full draft in my hands.
I dithered over it. I edited it within an inch of its life, and started on the second book without letting go of the first one.
I went out with this girl and she told me she was also writing a book. Very exciting. We laughed and commiserated about how the day job was The Thing. Someday the book would get finished. Somehow. Eventually, she got back together with her ex, and we lost touch.
A friend of mine visited and saw a scarf I was trying to weave on a cardboard loom. “You are never going to finish that,” he said, the moment I showed it to him.
A few months later I caught up with the girl. She and the ex had broken up again and she had consequently fled to Germany to be an au pair—still writing though, in her spare time. Not any closer to publishing though. Someday.
The scarf had gone half-finished into a box in a closet long before that.
Something twanged in my head. Three catalysts.
The travesty that was A Long and Fatal Love Chase.
The unfinished scarf in the closet.
The aspiring author turned German au pair.
I was either going to make something, or I wasn’t... I was either going to make the leap and try to become a published author, or I wasn’t. It was going to be good, or I was going to try again.
I had enough money to foot the bill of getting everything done. If I really wanted to. I was in a better state of mind to do all the research required. If I decided to make the commitment.
So… I did it.
If it’s bad then there’s always next time, but the only way to know is to try.
If Louisa May Alcott had the guts to be a beginner—to be bad and then continue on to be fantastic… why not me?
Why not you?
(P.S.: The scarf never did get finished. It's ok to let some things go.)