Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Life's A Pitcher...

...with a collection of curve balls nastier than Hogan's goat.

Back on November 9, I wrote about my Writer's Quandary: should my next mystery novel be My Mother The Murderer, or should it be The Most Horrific Botched Surgical Case In History? Or should I give attention to the treasure I'd recently acquired, unpublished manuscripts of Brun Campbell, the real-life Ragtime Kid?

Well, I'd figure it all out once I got past the major promotional work for A Perilous Conception.


The bookshop tour went very nicely, but a new term entered the equation. I'd intended APC as a standalone, no more stories featuring Detective Bernie Baumgartner and Dr. Colin Sanford. But somehow, the review copies went out proclaiming the book to be the first in the new Bernie Baumgartner series. Reviewers were enthusiastic - delighted, they said, that Bernie would have further adventures.

And then, at every stop on my tour, there were people who'd already read the book, and without exception, they wanted more Bernie. By the time I got back home, I'd decided if there really was that much interest, why not give it a try? It might be fun, and besides, why miss an opportunity to be compared to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

So I settled in, and tried to go to work. I say, tried. I felt exhausted, my mind like a sieve. Okay, I need a week or two to recover from the tour, right? Wrong. I got worse. Finally, I hauled myself off to my doctor, who told me I had Graves' Disease (an overactive thyroid gland), and got me treated. But he warned me it was going to be a slow recovery. I'd need to be patient.

I wasn't. I felt fatigued, did I? Really exhausted? Fine. Step it up a notch or two at the gym. Whereby I managed to strain both rotator cuffs, and got to add twice-weekly physical therapy to my routine.

Talk about frustration. No way could I get another mystery underway. I couldn't put two coherent thoughts together. Develop a plot or a character? Forget it. Literally.

But the Brun Campbell material was there, staring at me. The Kid's story of his life, first as an itinerant ragtime pianist more than 100 years ago, then as a fanatical ragtime revivalist in the 1940s, was captivating, but to say the least, it also was seriously disjointed. I needed to take about fifteen short to mid-length manuscripts, put them into some kind of reasonable order, and type them onto the hard drive. That I could do, an hour here, an hour and a half there.

Now, three months later, I'm feeling a whole lot better, but still have a way to go. Bernie and Colin sit in the back of my writing room, shaking their heads and rolling their eyes. Brun Campbell nods approvingly at the files on my computer. "Kid," I tell him, "I think it's getting to be time for me to give those guys a little attention."

He waves off my comment. "Hey, lemme tell you about the time, it was back in Sedalia, summer of '99, with weather almost as hot as my ragtime playin'. I'm sittin' around with Scott Joplin and his pal, Otis Saunders, over by the Maple Leaf Club, and here comes this gal, movin' double-time, the most attractive creature of the fair sex you ever set eyes on, and both her eyes got blood in them. Saunders, he takes one look at her..."

So, now what? I don't know. I really don't. I guess before I pick my teammates for the next year or two, I need to keep up with my conditioning, and get myself off the DL. Then it'll be time to grab a bat, walk up to the plate, and depending on what the pitcher throws me, either dump the ball into the right-field corner, or drive it to the left-field wall.

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