My third novel has taken me nearly a decade to write. Not because I’m a terribly slow writer, but because there are a myriad of other obligations competing for my time. I have kids. You know how it is. I’m also a project junkie. Writing isn’t my only full time hobby. In my spare time (what is that?) I restore old houses.
The truth is Gods and Monsters was written in a three month flash of emotional fury whilst recuperating from a severe bout of pneumonia. The book was inspired by a personal experience. I’d had a run-in with one of those jealous, insecure types and I was angry at the damage he had caused between myself and a gentleman I grew to admire very much. It was an innocent thing, but for some reason the other fellow found it threatening. At least he found an opportunity to make more of something than it was.
The manuscript written, my fever having subsided, I realized it probably wasn’t the wisest thing to write about something so personal, particularly as I’d included actual scenes from the real-life version of the experience. The book would have to be rewritten. All books need to be edited. Mine needed a good start over.
The problem: My husband was starting a new job in another state and I was left with the final stages of restoring our 1918 Colonial Revival home, just as the bottom fell out of the housing market. In between projects, during late nights and early mornings, I began to edit and rewrite. A year and a half later, with no buyers in sight, and finding separation was not for me, I moved to join him in Virginia, where we began an arduous three-year search for our next house.
My husband’s new job had taken him to a small town on the North Carolina border of Virginia, a depressed little community that had not quite recovered from the exodus of manufacturing jobs that had left the country to find cheaper means of operation elsewhere. It was a similar story in other nearby towns, but one town in particular seemed to beckon us. It was because of a house we went to Danville. It was a gorgeous brick Victorian on a plot of land once owned by a man named Holbrook—coincidentally the name of the hero in Gods and Monsters. It seemed like a sign, but after making an offer and waiting for nine months for my South Carolina house to sell, we had to give up on the dream. We moved into a rental nearby and watched the market with eagle eyes, and while I watched, I began another round of editing and rewriting.
Eventually and at long last, another house became available, on the same parcel of land once owned by Mr. Holbrook. It had been built in 1897, coincidentally the same year in which Gods was set, and, after three decades of neglect, it required rescuing in a serious way.
We purchased the home for $30,000 cash in March and then waited for six weeks for the pipes to be repaired and hot water installed. No hot water. No heat. We’d been here before.
While we struggled to find financing for the restoration, I at last took the opportunity to rewrite Gods. Again. It still wasn’t right. We faced a cold winter with no central heat, choosing which rooms we lived in according to how many electrical circuits the room possessed, determining how many heaters we could run at once. With large rooms and very high ceilings, it was no easy feat to keep the rooms (whichever rooms we could use because we could not heat them all with the antiquated electrical system) we chose to use.
Winter proved a most opportune time to write. With the house as cold as it was there was not much else to do. And so I did. Several rewrites and untold rounds of editing later, I finally had something I was almost happy with. Spring came, and then summer. At last our finances came through and we could begin working on the house in earnest.
I love history. I love the romance of it, the lessons it teaches, the opportunity research and reading offers me to experience different modes of philosophy, thought, etiquette, and lifestyle of a bygone era. Maybe that’s why I’m such a sucker for these old houses. They are full of history. There are times when I think I can feel the previous owners watching me, looking on approvingly at my hard work.
And make no mistake. It is hard work. Almost as hard as writing (and rewriting) a book. Maybe one day I’ll figure out what I’m doing.
V. R. Christensen, May 25, 2015