What was the one experience that completely changed your life? What happened? How did it change your life?
Well, this one has two answers, and thusly, I’ll tell you about two events, in chronological order, of course.
The first experience that changed my life was finishing Book 1 in The Index Series. The first draft of it, anyway. The first draft was honestly ridiculous, and I’m glad that I disposed the entire first half of that first draft. But writing it was…well, it was an experience, to be sure.
Let’s go back to 2006 for a minute. I was a college senior. It was December; I got my first win at NaNoWriMo. I was taking 18 credits, and it was my senior year. I was also living in the dorms.
The dorms for Pace University were split across several buildings on both sides of the Brooklyn Bridge, and, as far as dorms go, Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights was pretty much your typical dorm. I had a sort-of view of the Brooklyn Bridge, even though the window was ridiculously small; the room was passably comfortable, and the great thing was that, since I worked nights and slept through most of the morning, that I had the building almost to myself.
The night I finished the book was Dec. 16th, 2006. I was working on a midnight-4am shift at the front desk of another dorm building. I was writing one of the final scenes at work, and I had gotten so absorbed in it that the security guard who sat next to me had to tap me on the shoulder to tell me I was free to go. As was the norm for me at the time, I hailed a cab to go to the Brooklyn Heights dorms; I could’ve taken the train for two stops, but the 2/3 line was – and still is – notoriously unreliable in the dead of night. Was it safe? Actually yes. The platform was always deserted. But reliable? Not really. If you miss a train, you’re stuck waiting for nearly a half-hour. Cabs worked better, and it was about $10 to go over the bridge.
I did not shut down my laptop that night before packing it into my bag. I was so absorbed in writing while I was at work that I knew I had to finish what I started the minute I got to my room. The fire has been lit and there was nothing I could do about it except for do exactly as it was asking me: write the rest of the story.
By the time I got to the dorms, it was about 4:30am. Immediately, I popped open my laptop and got to writing again.
By the time I put the words to be continued at the end of the final scene, it was about 6:00.
It was cold. Even though the dorm building kept the heat up, there was always a draft around the windows. But the sun has already started to color the clouds in shades of purple and orange, and I couldn’t sleep. I was tired like all get-out, but I couldn’t sleep. So I got my warmest clothing, got my heavy coat, and walked down to sit on the Promenade to watch the sun rise.
If you’ve never been to the Promenade in NYC, you’re missing out one of the best views in town. It’s the postcard-perfect view of the downtown skyline; stellar at night and, as I found out firsthand, entrancing at sunrise. So I sat there, watching the sun make its way up to another December morning, and all I could think of was, I just finished my first book.
I knew I couldn’t publish it, not in its rough stage, but it was finished. It was done. Since I was three, I kept saying that I’d write a book. And I’ve done it. And somehow, I did not feel elated with the accomplishment. It felt great to finally get it done, but there was a cloud hanging over the entire thing. But even through that, I knew that life as I knew it was not going to be the same after that.
Of course, in 2006 and working at finishing my degree, I had no idea just how my life was going to change. Which brings me to the second event.
The second event was a little later on. January 31st, 2009.
By this time, I’ve already been at my now-former job for a hair over two years. And on my birthday in 2009, I thought I would do something a little out of the ordinary. So I killed some solid money on booking my first cruise. Not Capital Jazz, but instead, the All Star Cruise, better known as the Smooth Music Cruise, currently a defunct series.
But…this was my first trip away. My first trip out of the country, really, and completely on my own. On a boatful of musicians heading to the Caribbean.
Reflecting on it now, I smile because I was just getting into everything. Graphics. Writing. The camera was a pipe dream, if anything. I was 24 and still had no idea what I was doing with my life. I knew one thing, though: I loved contemporary jazz, and traveling on a ship full of music seemed like a pretty good trip to take.
Right now, in retrospect, you can say that the last part of the prior sentence was the understatement of the month.
Do you know what it feels like when you realize that you’re doing something right? Or when you’re exactly in the right place at the right time? When you walk into a job interview and you know that it’s yours within three minutes of setting foot in the office? When you are viewing an apartment to rent and immediately see the layout of your furniture? When I set foot on the Celebrity Century ship, that was how I felt. I accepted a glass of complimentary champagne, spotted the one musician friend whom I did know (at the time!) in the crowd, and found myself introduced to a mess of people, and within the first five minutes of it, I knew immediately that I was home. This was where I needed to be; on that ship, with the people there, at that moment, and that there was nothing more right than being there.
The effect of that trip in my life is pretty much obvious, and I say that, had I not taken that trip, I’m not sure what my life would’ve been like otherwise.
I still remember it in detail. I know there’s a dedicated martini bar on the Century, all in white ultra-modern decor, with soft blue lighting done in such a way that it makes the room look like ice. I still remember that there’s a Scotch tasting room that looks like straight out of a Victorian library. The covers in my room were with a blue runner. I had a complimentary bottle of cabernet waiting for me. My cabin number was 1507; right in the nose of the ship, under the theater, where I could hear the entire jam session. And the back lounge had seats on dais in several tiers. I remember also that the dining room, all two levels of it, was housed in the back of the ship, under the lounge, and though I came alone, I seldom ate alone.
And the rest, as they say, is history.