This year, for NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month in November) I wrote a semi-fictional novel of my family history, told through the perspective of a pocket watch that is passed from generation to generation. It's something that hasn't been done much in literature, though I'm not the first to do it. The book was written in 23 days and has 55,000 words - this is how you 'win' NANOWRIMO.

These are the notes from each day as I wrote. It was a challenging thing to bridge family history with fiction but necessary if I wanted to tell a cohesive story because so much of the actual history was not recorded or shared. I've included all that I have been able to find and fictionalized other parts with what seemed likely based on oral history, actual records, or my own experiences.

Below are the notes from my final day of writing. The first draft of the novel is complete at just over 55,000 words. My writing process was to wake up at 6am each morning, have coffee, and write between 1600 and 3000 words. Then I would have breakfast and move on with my day. I might have been able to do this another way, but I've learned that by having a no excuses wake up and write time that is unlikely to be disrupted, I get the work done. There were a few days when I also wrote in the evenings - especially if I felt an extreme amount of inspiration or motivation to complete a story or write a specific piece of it.

It's not perfect by any means, but it's on the page and that's what matters.


Day 23: It’s Thanksgiving Day, 2023. I’ve finished the book but I don’t think I can ever publish it. At least not while my father is still alive. I want to be clear, I think he deserves this story to be told, but what I’m not sure about is whether I am comfortable destroying the carefully constructed version of himself so utterly.

I just called my sister to wish her a Happy Thanksgiving. She is at my fathers. They seem to be having a nice time. My mother told me earlier that, as he did with me on our last visit, he completely forgot who she was at one point. They’ve always had a better relationship than he and I. She’s long made efforts to be the peacemaker and to bridge the vast divides that separate her father from his sons. My brother hasn’t talked to him in decades. For me, it’s as I wrote in the story - I made peace for my daughter. My uncle walked me through the process, I had to swallow my pride, I had to visibly let bygones be bygones - but, as I write this, I see - there really is no healing of those wounds. I forgive him for all of it, but the wounds are a part of me.

At one point, he said to me wistfully, I wish we were a warmer family. The truth is, we are a warm family with a cold father. How different our lives would have been if he had returned the love that his wife, his children, his parents, his siblings, his friends had all wanted to shower on him.

I didn’t write this novel to destroy him. I wrote it to heal myself. I wrote it to tell my child about the people that she comes from, but - as I wrote in the final chapter - one of the things that writing this book revealed was just how important and unsung the women in my family have been. I wish that there were a way to know their stories. Maybe my daughter will take it upon herself to write the tales of her grandmothers stretching back through time. I hope so. While I sense it, I feel that I’m simply not able to tell the stories the right way, from a female perspective.

I want to point out once again that much of this novel is fictionalized. The stories are based on real people, real events, real places, and in some cases real oral histories that have been passed down - but this story is as much fiction as it is reality. Perhaps more so. I had someone suggest that I change the names - at this point, that’s not something I am willing to do. This, after all, is meant to be my story as much as anyone else’s. If I change the names, that stops being so.

My father didn’t share much even when he could. The stories of the Watts Riots are based on two or three stories he told. His wife Gloria was mentioned in passing but never elaborated on. I’ve tried to fill in the blanks while still keeping the structure. I’ve tried not to engage in flights of fantasy that are too far outside of what was told. An example is a fun story that I’ve left out.

My father disappeared for several weeks when my mother was seven months pregnant with me. He had moved her back up to Tacoma and was working in a music store. They were stressed about money. When he returned he had managed to borrow some money and he never was seen again without a beard. He may have disappeared a few days before Thanksgiving 1971 and returned in the second week of December. He claimed to have been playing music. I’ve always found it interesting that DB Cooper, the famed airline hijacker - who was clean shaven but otherwise resembled my father - boarded the plane he hijacked on the day before Thanksgiving, 1971. I’ve always had a fanciful suspicion my father was actually D.B. Cooper. I’ve left this kind of thing out of the story but at the same time - I manufactured my grandfather’s mob connections based on a few stories that seemed to fit that theme. That story feels much more likely than my father being D.B. Cooper even though I still have my suspicions. The timeline fits and I”ve never figured out how they paid for all of the expensive surgeries and care that I needed after I was born with a rare birth defect. In today’s world, that would have been millions of dollars in medical bills - maybe it was just different in 1971.

I relay that story because the truth is, I don’t know what secrets my father has buried. Maybe his justifications are worthy. Maybe he made an astounding sacrifice and it changed everything. I just feel like it’s important that I leave room for him to escape judgment from what I”ve written, because the truth, as Horus explained, always lies somewhere between the two perceptions of participants.

As I wrap up these author notes on this Thanksgiving Day, I want to express my gratitude to my brother and my sister. I don’t know what this journey would have been like without you. I’d like to express my appreciation to all of those people who took me into their homes and their lives. Those families that looked normal but were like alien things from another planet to me. I’d like to express my sympathy and sorrow to my other brother - the one I’ve never met in person - it wasn’t just you he abandoned, but I think it was you who perhaps suffered the most.

I don’t know what happened to the watch. It is likely in that file cabinet, but maybe it is gone. It doesn’t matter, the story of the watch likely ends here…but maybe not.