After taking a couple of non-credit creative writing classes at our local university in the early 2000s, some fellow students and I formed a critique group. We got together every other Thursday night, critiquing one another’s works in progress. I cherish those times and often think about them. While I had always loved to write, this was the first time I was actually doing anything concrete with it. During this time, over the course of a year or two, I completed the first draft of a novel that I called Lifting the Fog. I set this first work aside with plans to revisit and incorporate all of the feedback and edits that I received at a later date. I then moved on to Beneath the Shady Tree, which started out life with the name, The Other Side of the Barn.
Except for a few interludes where we stopped getting together due to life happenings, our small group continued to meet pretty regularly until this thing called Hurricane Katrina. Needless to say, the meetings got shelved. Then the writing got shelved. Truthfully, our lives as we knew it got shelved. The greatest natural disaster in American history ravaged the roof of my second-story condominium, and printed copies of my work in progress, as well as the computer I had it stored on, got ruined. I consider myself fortunate since my sister’s home suffered no damage, and she graciously took me in during the long rebuilding process. However, Katrina affected everyone in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. It’s hard to describe, but a new reality took hold. Our energy was consumed with getting back to our homes. Progress was excruciatingly slow; one step forward, two steps back. As appreciative as I was to my sister, it’s a stressful situation to be in someone else’s space because, well, it’s someone else’s space. The larger tragedy of lives lost, families separated, institutions and traditions in shambles constantly loomed over our collective conscience.
In my new normal, I made the decision to go back to college to complete a degree. I think I needed to focus on purpose and direction. Katrina bombarded me with the realization of how fleeting and fragile our lives are, so that inspired my decision. So as I carried on with my new normal, the story never stopped playing in my mind. However, in part because of my adapted, busy routine, it took me years to get back to actively writing. I started seriously doing it again around 2012, when I came up with the Beatles-inspired linked short stories that I self-published in 2014, Rain Clouds and Waterfalls. Now that I had forayed into the indie author world, I wanted to continue. Actually it was more than wanting to continue – I had a need, a compulsion, to continue putting my work out there. While I had no digital or physical copy of my beginning chapters of Beneath the Shady Tree, I had kept most of it in my head.
The basic story structure and main characters remained the same. I had gotten to know them quite well since Katrina! I hope this winding journey of “Beneath” has served it well. I know I enjoyed creating it, writing it, and carrying it around with me for such a long time.
just as sometimes the novel itself takes unexpected path, or even a hard right or left turn
It is so admirable that you were able to move beyond the tragic consequences of Katrina and return to college, get a degree, adapt to your “new normal,” and write Beneath the Shady Tree, your second novel, by remembering the beginning chapters after the digital or physical copies had been destroyed in Katrina. What a testimony to your spirit and writer’s passion.
Thanks, Piper. Katrina pulled me to Baton Rouge as a volunteer from Iowa with the Red Cross. I helped for mere weeks, but I did glimpse how people’s lives changed so drastically. Thanks for sharing your story. Nice to see the good that can come out of devastation. Congratulations on your newest novel!