Monday, January 25, 2016

Saving Jake: The Story Behind the Story

Perhaps other readers like to know the story behind the story. I am the sort of person who loves hearing writers talk about how they got the original idea for their books, or how they got to the final version of the books they release. I can't claim to have the following of the average NY Times best-seller, but for those who have read my work and felt compelled to get in touch with me about it, these musings are for you.

Saving Jake took fourteen (count 'em, 14) years to write. I kid you not. The book is very loosely autobiographical and parts of it were so difficult to set down on paper that I kept putting them off. I even wrote an entirely different novel in the middle of that whole struggle. But I kept coming back to Jake and to Corts because there was a story there that I needed to tell.

Originally, the two main characters were male and female. That's right: to Philip's dismay, he started life as a girl named Amy. Jake was originally named Mark. And the working title of the book was Portrait of An Artist Off the Wall. Mark was an extremely depressed artist, Amy was his best buddy, and believe it or not, the book ended with his suicide. Not exactly uplifting, eh? I worked on it with various plans of attack before deciding that the whole thing was untenable. Of course, I was still attracted to the story of this very depressed artist. Fortunately for me, shortly after that Jake himself came and "rang my doorbell," as I always say. And he arrived in his army-green trench coat and red high tops, with long hair that looked like it had been badly trimmed at one point, and a smirk on his face that belied all the pain in his brown eyes.

Getting Philip on board was worse than pulling teeth. He gave me his name very grudgingly. I think if he could have made me write the whole book referring to him as "Character A" he would have been fine with that. But I did eventually get his name. Then he refused to reveal anything else about himself except that he was Jake's best friend. Again, we reached a compromise by letting him tell the story in his own words. No third-person tale-spinning for Philip Corts.

I already had a story ending in mind. I need to have an ending or I don't have a book. But arriving there was like the toil of two and a half marathons without any training. It was hard work, grueling work sometimes, and the end result wasn't always pretty. Fortunately, Jake is extremely patient and knew he wanted this story told, and eventually Philip opened up. Sometimes the scenes he shared overwhelmed me and at least one of them almost caused a car accident when it popped into my head, visually, while I was driving to work. I'm glad that only happened once. Most of the time, both the guys were a little lower-key than that, and I'm grateful.

The idea of merging my depressed artist and his reticent best friend with a shipwreck on Lake Michigan came to me while waiting for a classroom door to open (I was working as a sign language interpreter at College of DuPage at the time). I have a fascination with shipwrecks on the Great Lakes and was reading obsessively on the subject while working with Jake and Corts.

The places and venues in Door County -all of which are real, although one or two of them have morphed since the time of writing- were a given. Door County has always been my favorite escape, so I shared that with Jake and the whole thing took off from there. Especially since Door County is the haven of more artists than you can shake a stick at. Door County, like Jake, is wild and natural and creative. We both love it up there. Corts probably does too, although he'll never admit it.

At any event, I couldn't let Jake kill himself the way Mark did, but he needed an escape and he and Philip gave me a climax to their story that was far better than I could ever have imagined on my own. Hard to write, but very worth it.

I have been asked by readers if I have Corts's particular ability, and the answer is definitely not. Nor would I want it, something that he reminds me of from time to time. But here's the thing: I do know people -a few of them- with some weird and startling abilities, so gifting Philip with his particular talent was not much of a stretch to me.

Saving Jake was the first book I wrote completely from the heart and so I was delighted when my editor and publisher at New Leaf first called me and said, "I love your book and I want to publish it." I made her say it twice, just to hear it. And I'm grateful that there have been readers who enjoy the company of Jake and Corts as much as I do. If you want to read more about that world, please go find Missing Persons, either directly on Smashwords or through the link to Smashwords on my website ( And I hope you enjoy that story, too.

By the way, for those of you who are fans of the Bridgeton Park Cemetery series, I will eventually write a post on how Haunted came about and what it first looked like (nothing like what you've read, I'll tell you that right now.)

If you have questions about my topics, my characters, or anything like that, please feel free to email me through the website or catch me on FaceBook. I'd be happy to answer!!!

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