Careful Mistakes wasn’t meant to be a novel. I was an interior decorator (designer to British readers), I wasn’t a writer. Well, in truth I’d written a book about ten years before this, but I’d had one agent reject it so I thought that was that and felt clearly that my life’s path was choosing chintz, wearing dramatic earrings and being completely bored with earrings and chintz. It took me about seven years of sitting and chatting for hours with my clients to realize that the only thing that interested me about the work was hearing people’s stories. It’s odd, but there is something about choosing fabrics that makes people feel that they are in a therapy session. A surprising number of things bubble up over the satin and the stripes and I did nothing to discourage that.
Careful Mistakes was intended to be an hour or so of coming to grips with my father’s death. He had died a few days before from cancer and I since I’d been so consumed with his care and making sure that my mother was helped with the aftermath, I felt that I hadn’t really and truly processed the fact that he was gone. I began to write, the words flowed and fifteen pages later I finally realized that I was no longer writing about my father.
The words that came out did deal with the death of an Episcopal Bishop, something my Lutheran father wasn’t, his adult daughter and his granddaughter. I put them in Connecticut, far away from the California that my father’s family settled in eight decades before. Initially the Bishop was the most important thing on the page, but once again the characters took over and I let the old man die in the first few pages.
All sorts of characters began to come on to the pages, some uninvited and some that were deleted in later versions. Over the next few weeks, I let my business slide. Granted a recession in the building trades had reared its ugly head, but in the past that had made me work harder. I stopped wearing those stupid earrings and let myself wear sloppy clothes, even in public. Meals around our house became slapdash and there were stacks of paper held together with massive clips on all the horizontal services.
My family didn’t complain although they could have. After all, I was a writer now.