Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years After

Where I live, the events of 9/11 were not just images on a television or messages of heartfelt sadness. They were those things, of course, but they were also a motorcade of funerals, a stream of floral arrangements, a vital Thanksgiving meal months later. That day led to random moments of pain and sadness when otherwise meaningless things were noticed to be missing. And it also led to phone calls from people whose voices had almost been forgotten, calling..."just because, well, it's been a while, you know?" and we knew.

For me, 9/11 was highly personal for reasons I won't get into here. But it changed things in me about my writing, about what I wanted to accomplish and be remembered for: Writers write.

Those who know me personally or even merely from random lines in places like AgentQuery Connect or From the Write Angle or via Twitter probably get a sense that I like to joke around. Often, I joke because I take most of life so seriously — sometimes too seriously, perhaps. After 9/11 I took my manuscript very seriously. It had been mostly notes before that day. Maybe a few dozen pages of tripe were written. I don't think any of it survives except for its setting. My story took place in Hoboken, New Jersey, which is just across the river from New York City. The attacks were a point of demarcation unlike any other in my lifetime and I needed to decide when my story took place.

I decided that it was to be a year in the life of a family: From 9/10/00 to 9/10/01. I wrote nightly for months and most of that ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. It was my first serious attempt at a novel, and I made the mistakes that most writers make on such efforts. Too much back story, too many details that don't matter. I ended up putting it aside for months and working on other things. Short stories, mostly. A lot of freelance assignments. Some of which I'm proud of.

Eventually, I went back to my story, took it apart piece by piece, and started to build again. Perhaps too subtly, I wove 9/11 into the manuscript. It's there, but the story takes place before the events, so it must be done with care. I've had people tell me to change the date of the story or to make it more apparent. And I still think about it. The manuscript still has elements I'm uncertain about, and I've put it aside several times to work on other projects and let my mind work through those elements and help me decide if they're flaws or just need a bit more polishing.

By the time the polishing is done and it goes off to agents, I suspect I'll have come close to finishing another manuscript and several other short stories and a bunch more articles I'm proud of. But this story is one that will be with me forever, whether it gets published or not.

In a sense, it will be part of my personal 9/11 legacy. If nothing else, I have that.