If someone had told me a year ago that I would actually manage to knock out two books in one year, I’m sure my face would have gone ashen. It would have been beyond my comprehension how I could manage such a thing. Well, things happened, the books were written, and here I am to give you a little back story to the latest, THE HANDYMAN’S SUMMER. I’ll tell you, I may have some insight into Handyman Ed’s future and destiny, but I ain’t got a clue about my own.
Anyway, it wasn’t very long after THE HANDYMAN’S HISTORY was published last winter that I began to think about a fifth book for the series. It came together quickly. One morning I sat down and asked myself: “Okay, what kind of book do you want to write about Ed and Rick?” You see, I know where the story is eventually heading, but I wasn’t ready to go there yet. I wanted to do a book that continued the story, but not terribly far into the future from HISTORY. So I closed my eyes and thought.
I decided I wanted to jump ahead two years, which put me in 1987. I also realized I wanted to do a story where Ed and Rick were working together on something. HISTORY was truly Ed’s book; as I’ve said before, poor ole Rick pretty much just stood around and said “yes, dear,” and “I’m supporting you a hundred percent.” I thought it would be fun to give them a project that required both of them. Well, that was easy enough. I just had to give them another house to buy and makeover. Still…that was kind of boring. There had to be more to it. The house had to have a gimmick of some sort.
I went backwards in my mind to my hometown, my source for a lot of the detail I add to Porterfield. I recalled an abandoned house a few blocks from my home where the local bag lady squatted. I didn’t know anything about her other than her name: Ellie. I had always been curious about her, but if I ever got any details out of anyone who genuinely knew anything, I’ve since forgotten. Actually, I was kind of glad. Since I wasn’t pestered by the truth I could create a whole story for Ellie’s counterpart in Porterfield. I named her Evie, and then let my imagination go wild.
I also decided I wanted to write about young Neal Soames, the gay teen Ed had begun to mentor at the end of HISTORY. That particular subplot took on a life of its own, and took the book to places I did not see coming. It’s unsettling when the characters take over your keyboard and begin writing the story. I always feel a bit like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, minus the pea soup, thank heaven.
I also knew, despite the cliffhanger-ish ending of her story in HISTORY, that Muriel Weisberg would be back. With Gordy “marrying” Pete and moving to Fort Wayne, Ed was in need of a new sidekick. There is a scene near the end of HISTORY in which Gordy and Muriel meet. They introduce themselves, and take measure of each other. It’s unsaid and not even implied, but at the moment I felt as though Gordy was handing the torch to Muriel. The unspoken words are: I have to go away, so keep an eye on my bro and his snotty husband, okay? Muriel is more than up to this task. I loved writing her dialogue even more in this book than the last one. Frankly, I think we all need a Muriel Weisberg in our lives. Oh, and Gordy fans, don’t despair. He makes a lively appearance in THE HANDYMAN’S SUMMER.
So, once I had the raw materials, I sat down and began to write. The blank parts of the plot filled in while I wasn’t really paying attention. Somehow, despite a lot of anxiety about life in general, I found myself at the computer every day with my fingers banging away on the keyboard. I listened to the music playing, shoved Jasper away from the screen, and threw toys around the room to get him interested in something else. Somehow the book got itself written. I was almost in tears at the end, amazed at the final result. It’s a powerful story in many ways, and I will not be surprised if people tell me they cried over it, as they have with the older books. I’m not one to brag on myself, but let me tell you, this one is good. Very good. I’m sure you’re going to like it, but let me know one way or the other, okay? I’m still a neurotic, insecure writer in need of feedback. Oh, and leave a review on amazon.com. Please! If I sell enough of these, hopefully I can write another one!