Naton was Todd’s colleague. He was an English professor, too. And he loved writing, too. And he came from a working class family in Appalachia, too. And he was an Ohio University alum, too. Basically, Nate was Todd was Nate, and when he read the short piece Todd had written about his dad’s boxing gym while still a doctoral student at Ohio U, Nate knew what needed to happen next. And all Todd needed was the right inspirational piece, the perfect motivator, to assure himself that the story of Lo’s Gym was truly worth writing in book form. You don’t think God puts people right in your life path for very specific reasons? I sure as Hell do.
Todd, Nate and two more professors of English at Siena College decided to form a writing group on the side, a chance to share each other’s writing projects and discuss, plan, inspire, motivate, and perhaps, eventually publish. They chose to meet at Coffee Planet, a sweet cafe on a street corner in Ballston Spa, N.Y. on a Sunday afternoon in late March 2013 to discuss, among other projects, Todd’s short boxing piece. I tagged along, eager to explore the town and burn some energy while they worked.
I had been drained of energy that winter. But on this particular day in March 2013, I was heading into week 2 of the second trimester of pregnancy and had regained all my energy back and then some, just as everyone said I would. I also knew I was carrying a boy, though I had absolutely zero actual “proof” yet—I just knew. I hesitated to tell others how strongly I felt about it because I wanted to avoid being smirked at, but, people of God, I knew. I never once pictured having daughter, not once. And I’ll tell you this, honest to God, I only participated in coming up with some random girl name a few evenings before we officially learned the gender of our baby because Todd insisted. I knew, I knew, I knew. I just knew.
So, at Coffee Planet, I fed myself and little baby boy a BLT. The writing group got started with their discussion of what to do with Todd’s boxing piece, and I set out to explore the small streets of a very charming town with so many interesting shops I didn’t know what to do with myself — except go in them and peruse, of course. That day, as I walked around, I felt that little fella flutter around for the first time. That awkward, gassy, bubbly feeling I read about, happened in an art shop in Ballston Spa that March afternoon. It happened again on our way home, traveling south on I-787 to Albany. It was like he was saying, “Hi! I’m here! I liked that BLT!”
Of course, you probably know the rest. The 20-week ultrasound proved my gut instinct was spot-on, and we learned we’d have Huntington Jay Snyder a few months later. Huntington would be the inspiration behind how Todd developed the themes running through what is now, “12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym.”
Nate, Todd’s colleague and mentor who I mentioned earlier, had been battling stage IV lung cancer for some time. He mustered the energy to focus on what he loved — writing — and was around just long enough to see Todd through the very beginning stages of Lo’s Gym, and to congratulate him on becoming a father when Huntington Jay was born three weeks early on August 31, 2013. The new dad didn’t leave my side, and talked to Nate on the phone as I laid in the Bellevue Hospital bed recovering from a c-section section. Nate’s health was rapidly declining, but he still had the energy to care deeply about Todd and his work. Nate cared about the story of Lo’s Gym being told. It needed to be told, he insisted. A series of both fortunate and unfortunate events would occur in the next couple of years that gave Todd a foundation of sorts. He was awesome at this new dad thing, but he realized just how hard being a parent — a father — really was. What kind of dad did he want to be now that it was real? He understood his own father more clearly now. Writing sort of took a back seat for a bit. And, then, Nate passed away. All of this, plus a chance encounter with an editor from WVU Press at a conference, eventually lead to Lo’s Gym in book form.
But I credit that Sunday in Ballston Spa as one of the most important pieces of the making of the book, because it moved the conversation forward. Todd’s colleagues were supportive, and with three of them knowing what he was working on outside of teaching, he was held accountable in a way. Also, that coffee shop BLT was damn good.
All this stuff seems romantic and glorious and beautiful and perfect, but it wasn’t always. The book writing process is stressful for the author, without question. But what most writers’ significant others may not tell you is that it’s a Hell of a rickety wooden roller coaster ride when you’re the emotional support system (not to mention one of many sounding boards, and possibly even a reader of the unedited, mostly unseen drafts).
I’ll describe what it was like in a day in the life of a writer’s [full-time working mom with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and a constant craving to create] wife next. Coffee saved a lot of lives in this crazy process.
...to be continued. (I love typing that. So damn cheesy.)