Who will be the next chapter?

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

Have you ever noticed how many films and books either begin or end with a disclaimer that the project is a total work of fiction and not based on any person, living or dead?

I beg to differ.

Great authors write about that which they know – except J.K. Rowling and Stephen King (I hope) who have imaginations that are way, way out there.

Whether movie or novel, characters are often amalgams of real people. Sometimes they're indistinguishable to everyone except to the author himself.

I wrote my first novel – in longhand – when I was 10 years old.

A ream of lined notebook paper in an orange and black racing stripe binder detailed the life of 16-year-old Patricia Lynn Fitzgerald who was convinced those around her were trying to make her insane.

Things I've since gleaned about that novella: I longed to be 16; I wanted to be Irish Catholic and I must have watched Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight once too often.

Sadly, when my family home burned in 2001, The Diary of Patricia Lynn Fitzgerald also went up in flames.

When I was finally 16, I was a voracious reader of Harlequin romances. And though I knew nothing about real romance, I was convinced I could write a similar novel based on reading hundreds of these formulaic books.

I researched Crete (I secretly longed for a Greek boyfriend) and spent every waking moment at my manual Smith-Corona pounding out the love story between a young virginal English girl and the wickedly experienced older Greek hero.

I let a few girlfriends read it and they said it belonged to the masses. I then convinced my speech/debate teacher to let me read it out loud during class over a five-day period.

The girls were enthralled; the boys bored; the teacher shocked.

Somewhere in my historical annals, Cherub in the Fountain lays in the bottom collecting paper mites never to be seen again.

I wrote fiction a lot before the babies came and then after, there just wasn't time.

When they started school, I entered the workforce in earnest and between home and the newspaper, the last thing I wanted to do was sit at a word processor or computer and write.

Being a reporter in a small town provided lots of fodder to ruminate on and I started making notes for the next book.

Often when I'd meet an interesting character through my work, I would joke, "You'll be a chapter in my book."

Years later, the power was out at Ten Broeck Manor and Tom and I sipped adult beverages and shared newspaper stories in the dark.

Interspersed with tales of drowning victims, murder cases and car wrecks, I threw in a few stories about growing up in Appalachia and the people who made my life rich.

"You should write a book," Tom said to me.

"About what?" I asked.

"These characters you grew up with. They're bizarrely fascinating."

And so the long-awaited book that I'd been mulling over for 30-plus years began.

I promised myself to write two pages a day. Yes, just two.

Like Hemingway, who wrote about 500 words per day, I thought it better to leave something for the next day and the next day.

While this writing goes on, so does life. And note taking.

When Mayor Gerald Hethcoat retired a few months back, I told him at his party, "You'll be a chapter in my book."

Colleague, friend and work-husband, Chris, told me last week he's expecting two chapters in my book. That's a tall order to fill when it's already turning into Proust's Remembrance of Things Past – a not-so-easy read at 4,225 pages and seven volumes.

Last week I sat down and re-read what I've written so far on my yet unnamed next book.

"Darn, that's pretty good," I thought as I made a few edits. "You really need to pick up the pace."

And so I shall.

Will it ever be published? Doubtful.

Not even self published? Even more doubtful.

Why bother? Who are you writing for?

For me, writing is cathartic. It allows to me to live outside myself, say and do things that I would never or could never do in real time.

I write to please myself, and to remember things past.

I'm already pondering my next chapter and wonder who will be featured.

Years from now my heirs may choose to publish posthumously The Great American Novel.

That's probably the best solution anyway.

I won't be around to field the dozens of calls, emails and texts that all begin, "Carolyn, is [fill in the blank] modeled on me?"

But to answer it now.