Sometimes a book is more than just a book. Sure, it’s the first book I’ve written that’s made it into print and it took long years to happen. It’s also the first book I’ve written that is not strictly a conventional mystery. To a reader, it’s only a few hours diversion. To the publishing world, the world in general, it’s barely a blink of the eye.
Still, this book, Flint House, is more than just a book, my first book, my first non-mystery, to me. Many years ago, when I was first married, I worked in an office building on a major boulevard in Los Angeles and across the street was a bookstore. In that bookstore, often enough, was an older woman dressed in yellow, with 1930s make up and yellow hair. A lovely looking woman, one you would notice even if you were twenty-five. I looked at her and I wondered who she was and who she had been since she was clearly trying to hold onto that person. Too shy to ask, I vowed to give her story someday.
I was writing mysteries, however, and I could see no place for her. Then we moved, Portland, OR, and I began to see pieces of a story: a few characters appeared and a setting, an old house. But still a mystery. How could I kill her off? I didn’t want to, but what else? We moved again, Kansas City, a dry well for me as a writer. Then back to L.A. Overwhelming. I couldn’t see her there, though that was where I had found her.
Finally, we arrived in Sacramento. Our son was in high school, and neither of us wanted to move again. I also now had health issues and no energy to start over making friends and learning my way around. I was unhappy. But among the few things I knew about Sacramento, the overheated capitol of California, was that it had blocks of old houses. I needed something to write. Could it work in Sacramento?
I sat down to my desk one day and there it was, Flint House and the curmudgeonly Maisie Flint. My woman in yellow lived upstairs. Flint House was a boarding house. In the first chapter I became Liz Cane, a burned out editor for The Sacramentan newspaper. Liz tells the story. I first went to Flint House on the blustery October day that was Maisie Flint’s last. When Maisie dies, literally at Liz’s feet, Liz is drawn into the effort to save the house for its tenants. I already had a few of the characters, but most of them were new to me. They came to me as I went. The whole story unfolded as I wrote it; as though I had written it before, it was always there. It took years, but I never lost it. I smiled when I opened up the file and added a few words or as much as a chapter. It made me laugh when I needed it.
Out of my unhappiness, came the most positive and hopeful book I’ve written. Life got better as I knew in my heart it would.
Kathleen L. Asay lives near Sacramento and is a writer and editor. She is a past president of Capitol Crimes, the Sacramento Chapter of Sisters in Crime and has a story in and edited both of the chapter’s member anthologies of short fiction, Capital Crimes and The Best of Capitol Crimes, just out. In moving around the west, she wrote for arts magazines, a newspaper, and volunteer publications in several cities. Flint House is her first published novel. You can visit her at http://kathleenasay.com/ .
(What a lovely post, Kathleen. The books sounds wonderful!)