Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Book I Didn't Write

In March 1997, I was working at Ash/Craft by day and moonlighting as a stringer for the Star Beacon’s sports department. There is very little work for stringers in March - the basketball and wrestling seasons have ended and the baseball, softball, track and tennis seasons have yet to start - and I was getting antsy.

If the Star Beacon wasn’t going to keep me busy, I needed to find someone who would. I walked to the Harbor Topky Library and cozied up to The Writer’s Market, making note of the publishers who used freelancers to write books – mostly for middle-school libraries - on assigned topics. Then I went home to update my resume, make copies of some clips and compose a cover letter.

The spring sports commenced a few days after I dropped my letters in the mail, and I was a busy writer again. Two weeks later, a staff position opened at the paper. I was hired and the lulls disappeared from my sports-writing schedule. None of the letters to the publishers sparked a response and I soon forgot about them.

But one pleasant afternoon in September 2001, the answering machine was blinking when I got home from Ash/Craft. I listened to the message a couple of times before realizing the caller was asking about the resume I had sent out four years earlier. I returned the call, and the woman asked if I was still interested in writing a book. “Yes I am.” She read off the available topics. There were three, with the common thread being that I knew nothing about any of them.

I opted for “The People of Central Asia,” because it was barely three weeks after 9/11, and I thought that Central Asia included Afghanistan. I soon found out that Afghanistan is not considered part of the region, although a number of other Stans are. Unfortunately, that was all I found out. Reading about the peoples of Central Asia proved to be wonderfully soporific after a day at Ash/Craft and an evening at the Star Beacon. In a week or two, the thrill of being asked to write the book was displaced by the certain knowledge that the project was destined to end in embarrassment and failure. I called the editor and told her it wasn’t going to work.

That fall, working a reduced schedule at the paper to give myself time for researching and writing was out of the question. I needed the steady income of two real jobs. Debbie and I had been divorced in June, so there was child support and a pile of credit card debt. There was also an October Surprise that year: my furnace died.

The disappointment lingers. But these days, I often think it was all for the best. It was a worrisome and hectic time. And yet, in the spring of 2003, almost as soon as the credit cards were paid off and I was able to relax a little, my legs began to clamor for attention. Funny things had been going on with my legs for several years, but only once in a while and never for more than a few minutes at a time. Now the funny things were more frequent, lasting longer, and intruding on my life, which they had never done before. I can’t help but think the circumstances that kept me too busy to write that book also kept the progression of my Multiple Sclerosis on hold for eighteen months.

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