I used to have what I termed “Chapter Two Syndrome,” a terrible affliction that prevented me from ever writing more than two chapters of anything. I could write poems, songs, and even short stories, but novels were completely out of the question. It was not for lack of trying, or even for lack of interest. If anything, my inability to write anything longer than a snack wrapper was due to too much interest—as soon as I settled into writing one thing, five new ideas would pop into my head and hold hostage my ability to focus. Indeed, buried in a brown accordion file in the highest, darkest corner of my hall closet are a hundred-plus “novels” without a Chapter Three. Like those jeans that have not fit me since 1998, I just can’t bear to throw them out.
Around ten years ago, I overcame my self-inflicted disorder. What prompted this transformation, you ask? A combination of coming out, a lot of coffee, and a little television show called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I was in my second year of law school, and I had just rediscovered BtVS after a couple of years’ absence. Thus, I had missed the whole “Willow’s gay now and has a girlfriend named Tara” storyline, but was quickly sucked in. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I had always identified with the character of Willow, and my fascination with her being gay was really about acknowledging that same part of myself which had been buried for way too long. But I digress…
So once I discovered the magical gayness of Willow and Tara, I spent an inordinate amount of time combing the internet to try and figure out what I had missed, and along the way discovered a previously unknown world within the web: fan fiction. Some of the writing was amazingly good, while some was, well… not the greatest. Yet even as I critiqued the poorer writing, I had to give the writers an A for effort. These people had not only completed (in many cases) novel-length stories—something I had never been able to do—but they had put their work out there for the whole world to see and to judge, something that takes incredible courage. After months of lurking, I finally decided to suck it up and add my own contribution. What started out as a three-chapter short story (I was determined to get past Chapter Two) evolved into a 200-plus page opus, complete with a beginning, middle, end, and even an epilogue.
What was different than the 100-plus other attempts I had made to write long-form fiction? For the first time, I could see past the idea for the story and imagine how the characters would act within it. The characters were alive in my head in a way they had never been with anything lengthy I had ever tried to write, and that spurred me to keep writing even when I got stuck with a certain paragraph or chapter. I wanted, even needed, to tell their story.
Several pieces of fan fiction and a law degree later, I decided I wanted to write a novel, with my own characters in my own, original world. Actually, I decided I wanted to write the next Great American Novel, a grand narrative full of depth and meaning that would inspire generations. So I started writing, and stopped. I tried another idea, and stopped again. Chapter Two Syndrome was back in full effect, as if I had learned nothing from all those pieces I had written about Willow and Tara and the rest of the Scooby Gang.
It finally occurred to me that the problem was that I was not invested in my characters, or their story. I was trying too hard to write something grand instead of something I was actually interested in writing. I realized that if I was going to actually finish a novel, one that was wholly original from protagonist to “The End,” it needed to be the kind of book I would want to read. That being settled, I still needed an idea—like most good ideas, it finally hit me when I was not trying to think of it. I was driving the 900 miles to my best friend’s wedding in Iowa when an image formed. I imagined a woman walking alone beside an empty road, struggling to get home after some horrible disaster. I could see this woman, this strong yet broken woman, who was surviving but not truly living. Then I wondered what would happen if she finally found something—or someone—worth living for.
The more I thought about her and her story, the more I realized that I had never read a post-apocalyptic novel that featured a woman as the protagonist, let alone a lesbian. And that is how my first novel, After the Fall, came to be. It took three years, a lot of nights and weekends, and a very supportive partner, but I finished the book last year. And on July 19, 2011, After the Fall will hit store shelves, thanks to the fabulous people at Bold Strokes Books. Hopefully you will enjoy reading my novel as much as I enjoyed writing it. And just in case you’re wondering, I have finally kicked that nasty Chapter Two Syndrome, once and for all.