Blog Brainstorms

I Haven’t Written That Book Yet

March 3, 2017
Open Books Opens Minds

I always thought it would be fun to write a book. I was sure of the topic — it would be the story of my heritage, stemming from the fact that I’m a first generation American and how my family ended up in the United States.

I have yet to write that book. But last week I celebrated the release of my second novel.

Open Books Opens Minds

The theme for “Drinking the Knock Water” came to me while on a tour of the Hudson River when we saw the Statue of Liberty at dusk.

Growing up, one of my fondest memories is of my friend Kim and I biking to the library with empty backpacks slung over our shoulders. After an hour spent roaming the stacks, we’d cycle home, each loaded down with, on average, 10 books. We would gleefully retreat to one or the other of our bedrooms (we lived on the same block, so we alternated turns), where for hours we sat on the floor in silence, reading our treasure trove. No conversation occurred, or was necessary. On cooler summer days we’d read stretched out on the trampoline in Kim’s backyard.

We opened our books one by one, read them and then returned to the library for a new cache each week.

Oh so boring, you say?

Perhaps for some, but for Kim and I, the hours we spent delving the imagination of others was priceless.

Open Books Opens Minds

Drinking the Knock Water developed legs after visiting the historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman raged. Washington Irving’s headstone, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Fast forward years and years, through history degree, law degree (and close to five years in practice), two kids and a husband’s medical practice I managed in between making hot chocolate on demand while being a picture-perfect field trip mom.

That book had still not been written.

Oh, I tried several times. I pulled out a yellow legal pad and began penning a story I was certain was worthwhile to tell. But that was all I did. There were no notes, no outlines, no research into the history of Nazi Germany and the forced relocation of peoples believing themselves fortunate to have escaped near certain death by gas.

In short, there was no organization or method. I mourned the fact that I could have been an author. If only.

Open Books Opens Minds

Even though I used Sleepy Hollow for inspiration, I didn’t want to write a thriller or chiller. My intention was to tell a story about people who experience loss and disconnection with the world around them based on a theme of fertility. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

When I turned 40, I was invited to join a women’s organization in my town known for imposing rigorous research topics on its members who gladly spent hours reading, researching and writing lengthy papers on topics not of their choosing. We read them aloud to the club, presenting PowerPoints with pretty (and sometimes nitty-gritty) pictures. And even though, as an attorney, I knew how to track down a footnote to the nth degree to find the answer that could win a written argument on its merits, I had never learned how to research to be able to tell a story.

After several years and several papers, particularly the pivotal one chosen by me about Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero With A Thousand Faces,” an anthropological analysis of cultural similarities in storytelling around the globe and spanning millennium, I began to understand the complicated process of getting your point across — in prose.

And so I began writing my first novel.

I learned a novel plants a seed of truth, and from there roots burrow down into the soil, growing and developing buds as the story evolves and blossoms. If it the roots are good and the soil is fertile, with regular treatments of fertilizer and water a story will continue to bud, bloom and share a beautiful perfume.

I don’t want to bore you with a regurgitation of the hows and whatnots of novel-writing. You don’t want to know about the time spent mulling over the spelling of a word, its etymological history, the variations of synonyms, and why understanding a word’s antonym can open a Pandora’s Box of meanings.

Open Books Opens Minds

When I write a story, I need to see the stage I set it on in person, and smell the surroundings. That’s the only way to make it seem real when I turn it into simple words. Phillipse Manor Station, Lower Hudson Valley.

You aren’t interested in the time lost in thought as I track an idea, drowning in the Google Sea of thoughts, ideas, numbers and lessons. Or the trips we take simply to research and smell the environs about which I write. Or the the 3 AM ideas that wake me up or the stop-in-mid-sentence dinner conversations with Dr. K when I say, “Wait, wait, wait — I need to write down what you (or I) just said.” You aren’t interested in the late night dinners, or the dinners that never got cooked and we ordered take-out in exhaustion. The brain drain of finishing a chapter or even a thought, leaving my mind numb and unable to hitch two words together to speak aloud. The days when I tell myself that I’ll write three pages and only finish one new sentence. Or the number of times I edit a novel before it finally gets the go-ahead (30, most likely).

And I still panic. Particularly when the characters I’ve created wake me up in the middle of the night insisting that the story line would be better if it goes in this direction (or that) and they whisper words, words that jolt me awake from my dreams to make sure I capture them in notes erratically typed on my cellphone.

So, let’s re-write that entire scene, Emily, my characters whisper. Even though you’re not supposed to keep your cellphone on the bedside table.

Open Books Opens Minds

“We all live with ghosts. Some are those of people who’ve never been born.” Drinking the Knock Water.

There are the lunch dates skipped, the sleep lost, the friends who just don’t get why all you do is sit at your desk and stare at a computer screen, wishing for the words to come. Any word. Please, just one to get the flow moving. And the friends who ask, “Where have you been lately? I haven’t seen you forever!”

And most frightening of all, there are the what-if’s. The fear that once you, the author, open your head up to the world, allowing all to see what goes on inside there, well then. What will the world think of you?

But there is also freedom. Once a thought is processed and written, whether it be on my blog or in a point in a novel, it makes space for more thoughts, more creativity, more ability to stretch my mind in new directions.

But all of that would be boring — like listening to your car mechanic tell you the step-by-step process of how he rebuilt your carburetor. You’re just happy the car runs.

And you’re happy there are good books to read. As am I. And I’m equally happy to write them.

Did you enjoy reading this? If so, please share! And thank you!

Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,  https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.

Interested in Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage? Find it on Amazon and in Indie bookstores.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Linda Rae Hill Winter March 5, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    I want to be like you! My book is the story of Greeley… with changed names but meaty content!!

    • Reply Emily Kemme March 5, 2017 at 7:04 pm

      Write it, Linda!

      • Reply Linda Rae Hill Winter March 5, 2017 at 7:34 pm

        Omg I know too many secrets! But it could be fun!!!

        • Reply Emily Kemme March 5, 2017 at 7:34 pm

          You’re so funny!

        • Reply Brenda Hickey Craft March 6, 2017 at 4:23 pm

          Please change the names to protect the not so innocent.

  • Reply Julie Villumsen March 5, 2017 at 9:58 am

    I didn’t realize you are a first generation American. So am I! I read your blog. It is very interesting! Your depiction of the struggles a writer faces is beautifully penned. FYI…My dad’s country of Denmark was taken over by the Nazi’s. He was 10 . To this day, when he speaks of it, tells the stories of all that happened, he cries. The stories of how the Danes protected and saved the Jewish people is absolutely heart warming. You may want to have coffee with him some time. Not for your writing, but just for a story from someone who is still living and has a memory bank of historical references.

    • Reply Emily Kemme March 5, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Thank you, Julie. I’d love to sit down and visit with your dad. His story would be a great addition to the novel and would help provide another perspective. Message me his contact information, if you think he’d be willing to talk with me.

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