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Third Time's a Charm for a Novel (*Fingers Crossed*)

On Sunday, September 24th, I decided to start my novel (again).

The first time I tried to write the story was the year my dad, Frank, died in 2014. I missed him so much, and I felt like the book project would honor him and be a way of extending his life and my memories of him. His character acts as a catalyst and herald for the main character, Frances K. Waterford. FKW is based on me, but I named her after my dad and the dog pictured (we obviously love the name "Frances/Francis" in my family). My dad was also a man who loved a comfy chair, good books, a cup of scalding black coffee, banjos, and black cats.

A man sits with a Siberian Husky dog
Frances and Frank

The story was supposed to be for him when I first wrote it in college, but when I tried to revisit it in 2014, I found the process was overwhelming and full of sadness. I just kept coming back to my real-life remorse that he was gone too soon—he died unexpectedly of a form of acute leukemia that developed alongside pneumonia over three weeks. And dying at the age of 59 was much, much too soon. My daughter Gemma was just a little bit over the age of 1-year-old, and I wanted him to be able to see her grow up and be her grandpa. With all of the grief and emotions in my heart, I could not sustain putting together a fully realized narrative arc, so I abandoned the project.

In 2018, I picked it up for a second time.

Four years had passed, and time had helped soften some of the sharp edges of my grief. Gemma was going to preschool, so I had a bit of extra time to write during the day. I managed to get some small scenes and character sketches written. But the second attempt fizzled out shortly after because I got caught up with other writing projects that paid faster and more often. The reality of building a full-time freelance career means many times, the client projects get shuffled to the top because you're chasing deadlines and payments that can help keep the writer's dream alive. So, as a mom with a young child, a work-in-progress home, and a fledgling writing business to look after, I shelved it again.

We're now at attempt three.

What makes this one in 2023 different? The honest answer is I feel like I've been sleeping on the dream for too long. Starting my first novel in my late 30s means fully embracing the process even though I'm not really sure where the effort will take me or what the ending looks like. My dad died three months after retiring from a job he worked every day for almost four decades. He had retirement plans; he wanted to spend time with his family and new granddaughter. In my heart, I wish he could have moved back to Minnesota, the place he loved most of all, and had a Harley-Davidson motorcycle again and a house full of cats, Siberian Huskies, and books. But now I can create that for him in the pages of my novel. I can honor his memory and my precious earth-side days, writing the story with a character that holds my truths and begins a journey catalyzed by her dad as well.

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