I knew the phone call was coming. I had known for seven months, since my father was diagnosed with stage four cancer of the lungs and brain, that it would come. I had seen him grow weaker, seen him move from the hospital to skilled nursing, then back home and, finally, to a nursing home for the final three months.
I knew the call was coming. I had known it since my last visit with Dad, when he held my hand and pointed to a framed cover of COLD GLORY that my mother and sister had placed by his bed. He pointed at that book cover and said, “Just keep working.” It felt like an ending…I think he and I both knew they were his last words to me. It wouldn’t have been his way to say “I’m proud of you” or “I love you, son.” He was a man of few words, a gentleman and a gentle man. But I had told him on the previous visit that I was stuck in the writing of my next book, SILVER CROSS, that it just wasn’t going anywhere, that the story wouldn’t seem to get traction.
So he said, “Just keep working.”
It was like receiving a blessing, a benediction, a sending forth. Go out there and write that book, Dad didn’t say. And while you’re at it, write a lot more books. You’ve been given a gift and an opportunity to share it. Now go and do it.
The call from my mother came a few days later, on March 27, 2011. Dad was 82. My mother and sister and I spread his ashes at his favorite fishing spot and in his garden, the places where he was happiest in life.
A week later, I sat down to write. Just keep working.
So I did. Over the next six weeks, I finished the first draft of SILVER CROSS. Three-fourths of the book was written during that time period. Now it is in my editor’s hands, slated for publication in the fall of 2012. It is second in the series that begins with COLD GLORY, following Nick Journey and Meg Tolman on their next “modern historical” adventure. Most of it was written with my dad’s gentle voice telling me he knew I could do it, that he had faith in me, that he was sorry he wouldn’t see these books in print, but he knew what I could do, and that I would do more.
All in three words. Just keep working.
Thursday I head for New York City and Thrillerfest, where I am looking forward to networking with other thriller writers, visiting with readers, and talking up COLD GLORY. (I’m on the “Is Truth Stranger Than Fiction?” panel on Saturday at 4:00 as well.) Plus I’ll get to meet my agent and editor face to face for the first time, and at age 47, am seeing New York for the first time as well. A journey of discovery.
I will make the trip in the knowledge that I miss my dad. But he gave me a great gift at the end of his life, and that was the oh-so-gentle push I needed to finish the next book. That, plus the way I try to interact with my own sons, is Dad’s legacy. Not a bad legacy, that.
Just keep working.
I will, Dad.