Joleigh-Anna was created out of my frustration of the fact most of my relatives seem to get together only at someone’s funeral. And my dad came from a large family. Some disagreement back many years ago caused a rift, so . . . yeah. It felt as though many of them were strangers to me as much as, well, strangers would be!
You get back in touch in a small way at the wake or memorial service, and suddenly we want nothing more than to get back all that time, and spend more of it with the deceased, and everyone else we’ve neglected all this while.
Where did the time go?
Slips through our fingers quicker than water. We had good intentions. Even the one laying there in that coffin once had made the same promises to get together more often. To renew old ties . . . But-for various reasons, circumstances and situations – it never happened.
So, Joleigh didn’t start out strictly as a romance, or even as a novel, although there was a romantic element in it. I used the story to express the reasons and excuses we lose track of family and friends, going our separate ways until the next funeral. I could go on and on about this. It affected me that strongly at the time. With a very few exceptions, I still only see these people when we’re sobbing at someone’s wake and funeral.
Okay, that’s the serious aspect of the story.
The story’s written with humor about a young woman who loses a beloved cousin. A cousin who had influenced her life in many ways and whom she was going to miss horribly. On what was supposed to have been her wedding day, Matty is buried. Almost none of her relatives were planning to attend that wedding. Because, you know – only funerals matter.
In the short version, Irvy and Joleigh simply set a new date for which, again, no one seems to want to attend. In the end, she brings them together in her inexorable manner, and gets their promise to show up at the wedding.
The title, at the time, was Bring ‘Em Together, Joleigh!
The novel expands on that theme a good deal more, for when Irvy leaves Joleigh standing at Matty’s graveside in the rain, well, now she has to win him back so that there will be a wedding for her family and friends to show up at. She uses the same method to do that, but I had the extreme pleasure of expanding on it.
I’d love to do that for you now, but I’m afraid it would spoil the story for you! Joleigh’s story is essentially a stand alone one, although many elements of it intertwine with Thomi’s and Stormi’s. For instance, Thomi’s sponsoring Joleigh’s little cousin Jaimee who has a heart ailment, and Stormi’s first love had been a cousin of Joleigh’s on her mother’s side–the Merriwethers.
However, at the time, I didn’t want to complicate Joleigh’s story at all with subplots. I just wanted to it to mainly be about her family’s relationships with each other, and hers with Irvy. Well, really, at the outset, I hadn’t thought of linking the stories together. Only after I’d finished the first draft, did I think there should be more than a mere mention of Joleigh’s friendship with Thomi.
In the novel-once I realized it should be a novel-I saw great potential in the break up of Irvy and Joleigh’s engagement, the ruining of long awaited wedding plans, and the suspense of whether or not they’d get together again.
Before all that, though, I peddled the short story version around to magazines for a while, but as I was young and lazy back then, it never found a home. Got a few personal messages of a positive nature scrawled somewhere on the rejection slips, so I knew if I just worked at it, it had potential.
I ditched the thing for a while.
A long while…
In the early 90s, I enrolled in a home study course through NRI. I did it mainly to get the computer that came with it. Didn’t think I really needed to know much more on how to write a story. I’d been writing stories since I was nine and telling them since I was four. What else did I need to know?
But, hey-what the heck. A computer I might not otherwise get and a certificate I could hang on my walls-those were my incentives to give it a shot. And I had a ball with it. There were new things to learn, but those didn’t come until the third year of the course. The first two years, my instructors were women who recognized the fact they weren’t dealing with a newbie. I clearly knew what made up a story. Camille was easy to please; Roberta, a little fussier, but my marks were still high 90s and 100s; I was happy.
Then, came the third year.
Were my eyes opened!
Gabe did not give either praise or high marks lightly! And, at first, I took everything he said with resentment. After two years of practically nothing but praise, suddenly, I couldn’t write anything that gained this new guy’s favor! Not a thing!
After the third lesson, that year, I wanted to complain and get a new instructor. I think I did exactly that. But Gabe talked me around. And, somewhere along the line, I recognized that this guy could help me become even better than I was–or thought I was. If I could please him, even a little, I could learn to please almost any editor.
With a better attitude toward this challenge, I worked harder than I ever had on my craft. When I finally had the opportunity to turn in an assignment of my own choice, instead of coming up with a totally new one, I dug out and reworked Joleigh-Anna; submitted that to him.
I knew he’d rip her to shreds, but I also knew his critique would be honest and fair. If the piece had a chance of being salable, he’d say so, or tell me how to make it better. I just had to be open minded about it, and not take it all too much to heart.
He gave me a 79 for my effort, my lowest grade of all during that 3 year course. As a short story, it fell horribly short. It didn’t suck, so to speak . . . there was just too much material, too many characters, and too much action, too much potential, to develop it properly as a short story. The piece needed to be a novel, he said. “You could have a great deal of fun with this piece. I recommend you give it a shot!”
I recognized his remarks as valid, but I hadn’t intended it to be anything more than a short story, and that was that. I put the story away again.
Until my parents died.
They passed away thirty hours apart – you can read about them at my memoir site:
StrollingMemoryLane.com – and my world crashed in a way I never knew it could.
Sure I was 47 at the time, but I’d been very close to my father, plus I had finally found the rapport with my mother I’d craved since a kid. She’d started to appreciate my talent, reading my stuff and giving me constructive feedback on it. No, she didn’t spare my feelings! Not a bit! And that’s what I’d been looking for.
Just like that, it was gone.
Following that, I went into a deep decline, had numerous anxiety attacks that continued for some time. Was on medication so strong, I couldn’t get up from the couch even in emergency situations. Finally I tossed the stuff and tried to learn to live day to day the best I could with the hurt and unhappiness. My kids were 12, 11, and 9 at the time, so I had to function for them.
It was natural for me to turn to writing to deal with it all. So, I took Joleigh’s story out of the drawer I’d dumped her in, and began to create an updated tale. My short story grew like I never believed it could into that full length novel Gabe said it could be. It might have grown to the extent Thomi’s did, and undoubtedly Stormi’s will, but, at the time, I ruthlessly refused to meander down those side paths.
I have since revised it to better link with Thomi’s and Stormi’s stories. They are written in third person, while Joleigh is written in first person. Had felt more natural to do it that way with the short story, and I kept it that way when I rewrote it as a novel. I also expanded her family to include a twin brother, Jace, and a four-year-old bro, named Jarrett, who was declared “wonderful comic relief” by one reviewer.
The ending, while it follows that of the original to some extent, allowed Joleigh to pull off her plan far better than she had in the short story. Yes, ma’am, sir; tons more laughs . . . and suspense!