Just to state the obvious (which I’ve been told I do well), writing a book and directing a musical theater production are really different. I can say this because I’ve done both. When I was writing my first novel, How I Grew Up, a theater friend kept reminding me “There’s no opening night.” He was cautioning me about rushing to finish the book. Even so, from putting my first thoughts together to holding the printed book in my hands was about a six month process.
My second novel, Eli’s Heart, took longer. When I first started the book a flood of memories meant an outpouring of words. Much of the story takes place on the campus of the old College-Conservatory of Music of Cincinnati, and revisiting that time in my life brought back many of the moments I had lived, and had loved. Remembering the place, the people, the experiences, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Most of what I wrote I didn’t use in the book, but at a writer’s workshop at our local library one of the panelists made a comment that resonated with me: sometimes what we write the reader doesn’t need to read, but we need to write it. I think I understand. Those words immerse us in the world we want to create.
With a book, there is also no closing night. Eli’s Heart was released at the end of June last year. I’ve had some modest success with it. It’s not a performance such as we experience in theater, where the audience is present and together applaud our work. Instead, our audience comes along one reader at a time. Just to have someone say to me, “I read your book and I enjoyed it” is a round of applause.
A reader review on Amazon can be a standing ovation, and I received one of those yesterday. This reviewer didn’t just enjoy Eli’s Heart. He got it. He recognized who Eli was and appreciated his courageous life. Thanks, Steven Daniel. You made my week!
Excerpt from Eli’s Heart
Before his final lesson in the afternoon he knew he was in trouble. He was having pain across his chest and in his neck and his heart was racing. He knew he needed to get to the hospital immediately. He didn’t want to frighten his student, a freshman boy named Jamie. “I’m so sorry, Jamie,” he said as calmly as he could. “Something’s come up I have to take care of immediately. I’ll try to make up this lesson next week.”
Eli’s plan was to get to the street, hail a cab and get himself to the hospital, but that didn’t happen. He walked out of his studio and started to close the door, but the horizon tipped crazily and everything faded. He heard the voice of one of his students shouting too loudly and frantically for this to be a lesson – or a dream. Through the fear and pain he had one clear thought: I never want Krissy to be as scared as I am right now.
Krissy was in Aaron’s office going over lists with him when the phone rang, and the staff member who picked it up took the message. She tapped on the door and said as gently as she could, “Krissy, Eli’s being taken to the hospital. He collapsed at the school. I’m so sorry, I wish there were a better way to tell you.” Krissy sagged against the desk and Aaron stood quickly and put his arms around her to support her.
“Get my car here immediately. Immediately,” he snapped. Krissy was white as a sheet and looked at Aaron with fear and pain in her eyes. He helped her with her coat and put his own on as they ran to the elevator.
She whispered, “He could be dying.” Aaron’s car was waiting at the curb when they stepped off the elevator, and they ran through the lobby and onto the sidewalk. Aaron’s driver pulled away quickly.
Krissy clung to Aaron as they drove. “Ever since I married Eli, I’ve known this could happen. Do you know what I think to myself sometimes that I can never say aloud to him? ‘Please don’t die, Eli. Don’t ever leave me.’” She started to cry. “No, I can’t cry, I can’t. I have to be strong. I don’t want Eli to see how terrified I am.”
When they reached the hospital ER entrance she ran inside, identified herself and asked where Eli was. She ran into the examining room where Eli was lying, hooked to a frightening number of tubes and wires.
He had been given a mild sedative and seemed calm. He looked at her and smiled. “I’ll be okay,” he said softly.
She was shaking, but tried to control herself and smile back at him as she went to the bed and rubbed his arm. Everyone in the room seemed remarkably calm to her. She looked at his heart monitor and it seemed as if her own heart stopped. It was all over the place. How could they be so calm? Her husband could be dying.
“Can I stay here with him?” Why were they waiting? They should be taking him into surgery right now. How could they possibly wait? In spite of herself she looked at his heart monitor again. It looked even worse.
“For a while. We want to be sure he gets a good night’s sleep and is more relaxed.” Someone brought a chair for her to sit on so she could be close to him. She held his hand and rubbed his arm. There was an IV in his other hand. There was so much she wanted to say to him, but the medical people seemed busy with checking all the equipment and what she had to say was private, between them.
Eli looked at his wife, wishing he could say something that would help her. He could see how distraught she was. The sedative had calmed him. He said again, “I’m going to be all right, Krissy.” She gave him a shaky smile. He wanted to take her in his arms and comfort her, but that wasn’t possible.
cover by Tristan Flanagan
Here’s the link to the review:
Kindle edition is available for the ridiculously low price of $3.99.