I started writing my novel Circling Back decades ago. It began as a short story but then just kept going. The main character, Grace, grew out of stories my well-seasoned friend, Arlene, told about growing up on a ranch in Utah. Her Danish grandmother was the youngest wife in a polygamous pioneer family. As a kid, Arlene became her father’s “right-hand man” helping him raise rough stock for rodeos. Like many rural western women, she was bred tough. Arlene’s life journey from that ranch to raising kids in remote ranger stations, assisting with early ethnobotany research, nurturing fledgling ski resorts, and finally being our county librarian for decades was anything but ordinary. My character Grace took Arlene’s experiences under advisement and then stubbornly traveled her own path. Fictional characters have a way of doing that.
I began writing the novel in earnest while working as the weighmaster at a pumice mine at the base of the Eastern Sierra. When the snows laid deep, business slowed down giving me the chance to putter in my fictional world (with the generous approval of my boss — thanks Griff!) Eventually, I completed a 500+ page manuscript that contained everything including the kitchen sink. It took ten massive rewrites, many critical eyes, pints of red ink, and dozens of self-inflicted pep talks before I trimmed the book by almost half. After twenty-five years, I finally felt as if I’d learned to write a novel — the hard way.
Experienced writers often say to throw your first manuscript under the bed and forget it. I was tempted to do that several times but I loved my characters too much to abandon them. I felt I owed it to Grace to get it right because in some way, it meant I’d get it right for Arlene too. She taught me that to accomplish anything important in your life, you have to be a fighter. I’m grateful I was able to persevere for all three of us.