The House that Jack Built

The first character to take up occupancy in my mind as a living, breathing human being, was a handsome, successful architect named Jack Harrington. Jack and I ran around together for a long time before I ever put fingers to keyboard to tell his story. I wanted to write about a man who has it all—, a wife he still adores after twenty years of marriage, three beautiful daughters he’d do anything for, and a life most people would envy. That life is turned upside down when his wife is hit by a car and plunged into a coma. I wanted to show Jack’s struggles to rebuild his life as he becomes the custodial parent for his daughters—, two of them teenagers with all the accompanying issues —and I wanted to show his conflict when he finds a new love. These issues make up the core of my first book, “Treading Water,” which led to two sequels, “Marking Time,” and “Starting Over.” It’s “Treading Water,” however, that is the book of my heart.

Since I finished “Treading Water,” I’ve thought of my writing as “The House That Jack Built,” tying into his career as an architect and the unexpected building blocks that came from “Treading Water.” As I was finishing “Starting Over” in July 2006, I decided to drive out to Chatham, Massachusetts, so I could finish it in the town where it was set. Yes, this was a huge indulgence, but it coincided with the half-way point of summer vacation, and my kids were driving me nuts. The first thing I did when I got to Chatham was drive around to check out the four streets I had chosen from hundreds on a map to place my characters’ homes. I figured if there was, say, a cement factory on both sides of the street, the people of Chatham would know I hadn’t bothered to come out there and check. I am pleased to report there were houses on all four streets, but on the corner of the fourth street, there was something else, —a red house with a sign on the side that said, “The House That Jack Built.” No, I am not kidding, and yes, I sat there and cried. If ever there was a “sign” that I was on the path I was meant to be on, there it was. It was without a doubt, one of the most amazing moments of my life, and I will never, ever forget it. (Thanks to my NEC friend Janet Campbell for taking the picture for me!)

That same week, after I got home and told my sister-in-law this story, she approached me at a family party to say, “You won’t believe this! I was having trouble sleeping at my friend’s house the other night and got up to see if she had a magazine or something I could look at.” She found an old copy of Architectural Digest, and there was a spread with the headline “The House That Jack Built.” She had torn it out for me and that page is framed over my desk to remind me that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s about the journey, not the destination.