The above picture was taken during the summer of 1994 at Mission San Antonio de Padua in Jolon, California. I’m holding a mission-period adze blade I excavated that day.
I am excited to share that I finished my second manuscript in August! If only publishing books could be as easy as writing them. I am not ready to query this one yet. It needs to rest. And then it needs to be revised. And a synopsis must be written, which to me is roughly equivalent to pulling off my own fingernails. But finishing any manuscript is a huge accomplishment, no matter what happens to it in the end. So I am happy, and proud, and exhausted. I am going to share a few details, and anyone who knows me will realize the utter truth of writing what you know. And anyone who knows me will also understand that some of what I have written has nothing to do with anything I know. Paradox? Yep!
It’s 1986 and Eleanor Blake is an archaeologist at a large and famous museum complex in Washington, D.C. Full of passion for her work, Eleanor has spent the past three summers on the teaching staff of a dig in Israel. A traumatic incident in the field frightens her into giving up fieldwork and she hides behind her desk job, refusing to admit that she is unhappy. During a road trip to install an exhibit at a rural museum in Tennessee, she meets the handsome and irascible Tom Gage. The circumstances of their meeting make her skittish and even rude but Tom won’t let her chase him away and deflects her bad mood with humor and jokes.
When she reluctantly joins him for dinner they realize their situations are remarkably similar. While Eleanor is too afraid to pursue her life’s work, Tom has been influenced by his parents to choose a career in movies instead of the theater he loves. As their feelings for each other deepen, arguments erupt. Tom gives Eleanor advice he isn’t willing to take himself, and Eleanor resents this interference from a person who has no idea what she endured in Israel. Even so, a sense of connection over their shared challenges leads to romantic feelings and a relationship that seems doomed to fail. From the Great Smoky Mountains to the halls of the National Museum of Natural History, to an isolated and starkly beautiful eighteenth-century Spanish mission in California’s Valley of the Oaks, Eleanor and Tom will fight themselves and each other to find the courage to pursue lives of purpose and fulfillment. It just may be that following their dreams will lead them far away from each other, and separate them forever.
It was an emotional journey to write this story and the pain and confusion of my characters as they were pulled in many different directions was very real to me. On the other hand, setting a story in 1986 was great fun. It allowed me to make passing references to pop culture: Duran Duran, MTV; trends in food and beverages: Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream and “New” Coke; and sociological and political issues: women’s equality, AIDS, the Cold War. What does the future hold for this as-yet untitled manuscript? Only time will tell. I think the best part of writing this story is how it enabled me to remember places and recall work I have done. I have reached into my memories and revisited some of my happiest and most beautiful moments. I don’t think any writer could ask for more from the experience of writing.