Editor’s Corner: Making my novel great

The phrase “life is short” has been said for so long, I’m surprised people don’t realize how contradictory a statement that is.

Life is long. Life is writing a 30,000 page novel. Once you’re 100 pages away from finishing, you don’t thinking about the blood, sweat, and years you’ve worked on the first 29,900.

All you think about is those last 100 pages.

The initial 29,900 are done. Gone. You could go back and try to rewrite them, but what’s the point? You’d have to start all over, and nobody in their right mind going to write two 30,000 page books in their lifetime. Those 100 pages are all you have left to make a good book great or a terrible book mediocre.

But that’s impossible. Those 100 pages at the end will not significantly affect the quality of that book one way or another. All 30,000 have to still be written, printed and bound, but those first 29,900 pages tell the real story.

I think the first person who said “life is short” only had 100 pages to go before the end.

I realized this a couple of weeks ago, when I attended my step grandmother’s funeral. She was my grandfather’s second wife, and the second wife he had to bury. She was always kind to me, and I was saddened by her passing, but not nearly as much as I was for my grandfather.

See, my grandfather and I share the same name, but I’ve also noticed we share certain character traits. We’re both military veterans. We’re both book lovers. And while we each can get by in solitude, we’re both in our element when we’re enjoying the companionship of others.

So when I saw my grandfather silently crying during the funeral service of his closest companion, I lost it. In over 23 years of knowing him, I had never seen my grandfather cry. Not once. I, who at 9 years old did not shed a tear during my great-grandmother’s funeral, had my face scrunched up and eyes leaking like 2-year-old throwing a tantrum.

Of course, this was a funeral. It’s the place for people to cry and hug and share memories, then eat afterward. So I found myself stuffing my face and smiling at the reception with the other funeral goers, collectively patting ourselves on the back for dealing with the grieving process in such a timely and civilized manner.

If only the grieving process was as simple as a funeral.

Afterwards, my grandfather came to my family’s house for a visit, where he was supposed to spend the night. Later, when my mother told me David Tate the elder was agitated and wanted me to help calm him down, I was not prepared for my grandfather to show signs of advanced dementia.

David Calvin Tate served in the Korean War. He used to give me a penny for every leaf I collected from his driveway in the fall. That was not the man I saw in front of me that night, asking me to testify against family members for imagined abuses.

My usually quick wit failed, but the realization that both my father and I could very likely end up the same broke me down for the second time that day.

After things had calmed down, my father came to talk to me explaining that it hurts him to see his father like that. But fathers are hard-wired to spin adversity into learning experiences.

“That’s why you have to live every day to the fullest,” he said. “Because you never know when it’s all going to end. But it will end someday.”

He was basically telling me to make those first 29,900 pages count. My grandfather is 80 years old, and certainly has fewer days in front of him than behind. But my 52 year-old father, to a lesser extent, is in the same position. The advice he offered me was just as applicable to him.

The holiday season is upon us, and reminding people that they should be thankful is as traditional as Thanksgiving turkey. But right now, what I’m most thankful for is that I have another day to make my 30,000 page novel the best of its kind.