Foretold—a year ago, I didn’t know the pub date of my seventh novel. My publisher and I hadn’t even settled on a title. I was still ironing out the story’s whodunit. A year ago today, I could not have foretold October 25, 2016, making pub-day, October 24, 2017, surreal.
Tomorrow is my birthday. It will also mark the one-year anniversary of my father’s passing. What were the odds? He was ninety and frail, but that morning it seemed like we’d get through the day. I’d cut into my birthday cake for breakfast. The cake was gluten-free and by that evening it would have been wedge of chocolate-flavored cement. I spoke on the phone with my mother while eating a slice. She’d said my father had had a quiet night, and she sounded fairly upbeat about the rest of their day.
Here, at home, the man who’d installed my new dining room windows came by to collect his final payment. He wore a pink button-down and frayed Red Sox cap; we talked about how the Soxs petered out in the playoffs but maybe the Pats would have a good season. Interesting how irrelevant details will dot a canvas. A paint-by-numbers scene is how I perceive that day. The window man: C4—upper right corner, just a smidge of sunset gold…
It was late morning when the first deep breath call came about my father. Things had started to spiral and quickly turned into the steely gray of imminent. E11—center, focal point… I’d spend the next few hours preparing for the moment. One thought circled—So this is how it goes. On the day I was born, my father had exactly 54 years to live. Not a common stat. Intellectually, I understood; he’d been in a decline. Aside from my birthday, October 25th only signals sixty days until Christmas. But by that fall we’d all given into the idea that my father’s last holidays had already come and gone.
Around two in the afternoon I turned on the television, a Meryl Streep movie that’d been one of her few box office flops. Megan had asked why. “Because when they call, I want to be doing something I won’t ever be doing again.” D9—swirling purples, permanent background.
And so they did.
A bit of time passes, order and a new normal takes root. January came and I turned in the second Ghost Gifts novel early. My Montlake team and I settled on a title. They told me the pub date to which I replied, “Oh. October 24, 2017… Okay. Sure.” The close coincidence is not the kind of thing you bring up. It’s business and a week away from Halloween surely seemed like a fine date to launch the second book in my otherworldly trilogy.
That said, a foretelling was yet to come. It’s something my publisher still doesn’t know. Something I’ve been saving for what I knew would be a mixed-emotion day. After a title and official release date, the housekeeping of publishing says you move on to the cover design. We went through the usual push-pull of iterations with Foretold. Somewhere at Montlake I suspect there’s a note on my file: “Malleable with edits, not so much with cover design.”
Long story short, I found some art I liked. The woman sitting, holding a mysterious piece of paper hit the perfect note of tension and mystery—nothing too ghoulish for my ghostly book baby. Graciously, and I hope because they truly liked the art, Montlake agreed. Of course, the image did beg one question: what would go on the piece of paper?
On a whim, maybe a slight ethereal nudge, I asked a graphic designer friend if she would finesse the stock art. I told her to add these numbers: 15, 13, 54, 3, 27, 8. I gave the altered image to my editor and assumed Montlake marketing would change out the numbers to something they deemed more… marketable. That’s their job.
Here’s the curious thing: no one said a word. No one ever questioned the note or the numbers, made an alternative suggestion or said, “We think it’d be better if the note reflected…” Numbers on paper do play a part in the plot—just not necessarily these numbers. Also, it wasn’t as if I’d asked for the words “Bob’s Pine Grove Soda Shop,” to be inked onto the eerie parchment. Still, it struck me as uncanny that in the world of publishing, which is very much influenced by your publisher, this detail went unopposed.
So the book with the unsettling pub-date—the one I couldn’t have foretold a year ago—would now purposefully tie to the hazy crowded colors of October 25, 2016. I had to find a way to make it come full circle, just for myself. Here’s what the numbers represent: my sisters, mother, and father’s birthdays. The age I turned on that unlikely and startling date. I suppose I needed Foretold—a book that will go on to live its own life with readers—to forever carry with it a personal note from my past.
Happy Book Birthday, Foretold and welcome to the family.
“That you are here—that life exists and identity, that the powerful play goes on, and that you may contribute a verse.” ~Walt Whitman