Somewhere Along the Way, out from Boldstrokes Books this month, is my newest novel. It’s not a romance, it is, in fact, an anti-romance. It’s also not, as one reviewer speculated, an autobiography, nor is it a memoir. But it is a very personal books. Certain character aspects, events and feelings that I write about I’ve borrowed from my own life but that’s all. I want people to be clear that I know what I’m writing about because it I lived something very similar to it.
It will be obvious to anyone who reads the book, that I’m steeped in the practice of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and its twelve steps. I’ve been in AA for almost forty years. It saved my life and I don’t have any problem saying I’m drug addict and alcoholic. I don’t particularly deserve praise for recovering any more than I deserve condemnation for being an alcoholic and addict. It’s a big part of me and that will never change.
I’ve written a bunch of romances and I love writing romances. Falling in love is both a universal and deeply individual experience and describing how that happens for two fictional characters is great fun. But I wanted to write something different and bless Boldstrokes Books for letting me have my way.
This is not an amusing book though I hope there’s some humor in it. It’s sort of heavy, but I promise there’s a happy ending. And as with many of my novels, there’s a history lesson embedded within the story. More on that below.
Why did I write this book? Well, for one thing, I’ve always been interested in the phenomenon of forgiveness and its essential role in human life. I don’t mean me forgiving other people and other people forgiving me though those two actions are vital. I’m talking more about self-forgiveness. If we have consciences-and fortunately most of us do-we become our own worse critics.
This is a story about a woman learning to forgive herself when she believed she had done something for which she was not forgivable. This is but one of the many lessons AA teaches you but I believe it’s one of the most important. We actually have to forgive ourselves before we can forgive other people. It’s the recognition that we are all, at bottom, flawed human beings. I didn’t know this before I joined AA and accordingly treated myself and everyone I knew horribly. I was the queen of judgement, an adept practitioner of condescension, criticism and sarcasm. If I thought you were lacking in some way, you were dismissed. I don’t, as we say in AA, have to do that anymore.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Alcoholics Anonymous- too many for me to refute all of them and good news- that’s not my job. I wanted to try to represent the process truthfully but in an interesting way in a fictional setting- mostly to see if I could. I will say most of the fictional treatments of AA I’ve read or seen are problematical. It’s a hard thing to depict accurately. I’ll leave it to the readers to decide if I’ve succeeded.
The history part: the story takes place in the 1980s in San Francisco in the LGBT community and that means AIDs. For those who didn’t live through that because they’re too young or they lived in an area of the country that was untouched by it (not many places were unaffected), it might be difficult to understand the impact the epidemic had on entire generation of queer people.
I went to see a documentary with two friends a couple years ago: We Were Here. It told the stories of five different people who lived in San Francisco in those years. One of my friends had cared for and buried her brother. The other friend had taken care of and lost his lover. I was a community volunteer and took care of several PWAs- People with AIDS as we called them. They didn’t want to be referred to as patients or victims.
When we walked out of the theater, I said, “We were part of an historical event.” I’d not thought of it in those terms before. In the thick of it AIDs constituted normal life for many years. I wish it hadn’t had to happen but it did and because of it, the LGBT community had to grow up in the most painful and tragic way imaginable. The seeds of the fight for marriage equality were planted during the AIDs epidemic. We had to take a decade off from fighting for political power but we learned far more important things- compassion and how to get along with each other. And the coming out process was accelerated. It was hard to hide when you were sick and dying though some tried to.
I don’t think it’s normal for people in their thirties to confront their own mortality. I don’t want anyone who is young to ever have a practice of asking their friends who has died this week. Though I’m a better person having lived through that but I don’t want it to happen again to another generation. I know some long term AIDs survivors. They never thought to see old age and they tell me it’s both a blessing and a curse. Yes, we sometimes talk about what happened and it’s far away and yet extraordinarily present at the same time.
I cried when I wrote parts of the book. Max’s experience with her Shanti client Keith is almost verbatim from my memory. I didn’t even bother to change his name because he’s been dead for thirty years.
This book is not meant to be downer though it no doubt will be for some. If you’re not familiar with the 80s, the story is a snapshot description of what it was like then along with a portrait of addiction and recovery.