Why I Wrote The Saint’s Mistress part two

Part two of a story wherein a very amateur writer who is already too busy feels compelled to write a novel about Saint Augustine and his mistress…. I had an opening scene in a pear orchard, based on an experience Augustine describes in the Confessions, and I had an irrational passion to tell this ghost-woman’s story.  I borrowed more books from the library, and stayed up late doing internet research.  In our crowded household, there was no quiet place to write, so I got up at 5 a.m., was in Bruegger’s or Au Bon Pain with my laptop the minute they opened, and wrote for an hour in coffee shops before work.  Every day.  For two years. I did eventually tackle the Confessions, and had to read it twice to understand it.  My husband and I travelled to Milan, where Augustine and Leona lived for several years, and to Ostia, where his mother, Saint Monnica, died. Then came a year of editing, rewriting, and harsh-but-loving criticism from my two beloved writing groups.  Whole chapters that led nowhere were slashed.  Hundreds of dead-weight adverbs and adjectives lost their lives.  Confusing names were changed.  Characters disappeared. And that was easy compared to the five years that it took to find an agent or publisher.  Try being a first-time novelist with zero contacts, trying to sell a novel in the middle of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and while the publishing industry is in the process of the biggest transformation since the printing press.  Or, on second thought, don’t try it.  It isn’t fun. But, my complaints are lies in a sense, because I actually loved doing all of the above.  With every day that passed, both Saint Augustine, whom the world knows, and Leona, a mere ghost, felt more and more real to me.  Sometimes I forgot that I was making it all up, and felt like I was telling the story the way I knew, absolutely knew somehow, that it had really happened.  I loved them.  I still do. A trail of books led me to them, and I hope that my own finished book accurately expresses their time, their love and their spirits.

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