Writing a Book with My Dad During Protests, Power Outages, and a Pandemic

Written by: Connor Judson Garrett

Twenty-seven years ago, I met Kevin N. Garrett, a man that would one day become my writing partner. He also happens to be my father.

When I was a kid, he used to tell my older brother and I his mashed-up remixes of fairy tales, such as Little Blue Riding Hood and The Medicinal Tequila, and Robin Hood and The Three Little Pigs. After the Harry Potter series came out, it took over our story time. A few years later, The Lord of The Rings movies captured me and my brother’s imaginations.

My mom and dad were both authors and travel writers. I always had a love of stories, and I secretly wanted to be a writer. However, I didn’t consider myself to be intelligent enough to make it my profession. The desire to write kept growing until it was so overwhelming that my self-doubt was consumed by it. Writing was no longer just a thought, or even a hobby; It rapidly transformed into a compulsion, supplanting even my love of soccer. By then I knew that no matter how good or bad I was with words, I would write for the rest of my life.

When I was in high school, my dad and I watched Big Fish together. He is my best friend. However, our friendship hasn’t gone untested. A few years before, when I was in middle school, he had been in a severely damaging car accident. Overnight, he turned from Dr. Jekyl to Mr. Hyde. As a kid, I didn’t understand what brain trauma does to someone, so I just resented him. The truth is, when you’re young, you don’t always know how to forgive, but as his brain healed, the dad that I knew and loved returned. In fact, he became even more kind, more loving, and sharper than he was before. So when we watched Big Fish together, the father-son dynamic combined with the sense of whimsy we shared through fractured fairytales, struck a chord with us. Almost in unison, we said to each other, “We’re going to write something magical together someday.”

Fast-forward a few more years, I had just completed college. I skipped my own graduation ceremony to move straight to Los Angeles. I was wrestling with the plot of a science fiction book I’d written and rewritten seven times since I was sixteen, while also working as an advertising copywriter. During that period, I wrote two poetry books, completed my first novel Falling Up in The City of Angels, and co-founded a non-traditional publishing company Lucid House Publishing with my mom Echo Montgomery Garrett and dear friend Jawad Mazhir.

All along, however, it remained on my heart and my father’s to find a way to collaborate.

I sent him a document with a list of ideas and asked him to pick one. He chose the rough sketch for a fantasy book, which would later become Spellbound Under The Spanish Moss: A Southern Tale of Magic. We began working on it immediately, drawing on our own journey as father-and-son and as two individuals reconciling our respective evolutions. Shortly after we started outlining the novel, I left for Beirut, Lebanon, to live with my girlfriend for three months. The week I arrived, protests ignited. A proposed tax to WhatsApp, the very form of communication we would use to finish the book, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The people were fed up with the corruption that had in part led to the country’s economic collapse.

If my girlfriend and I had to go to the grocery store or wanted to go out to eat, chances were the road was blocked by burning tires. The country was literally up in smoke. My dad and I redoubled our efforts and used that time of me being relatively stuck to get the book written. Meanwhile, I was surrounded by tremendous loss, which informed the tone of the book — though it’s anything, but sad. Spellbound Under The Spanish Moss: A Southern Tale of Magic deals with love, loss, grief, and the loneliness that comes from being different, but it does so with humor and a triumphant spirit.

Another thing I learned while I was there is that electricity does not function the same in all parts of the world. At certain times of the day — I think 2pm, 6pm, and midnight — the electricity goes off throughout the country before restarting ten or so minutes later. In the scheme of things, it’s a minor inconvenience. But we were learning how to work through difficulties and hardships and channel love and hope into our writing during this period. What we didn’t know then was how critical this skill would become in the months to follow.

We were about seventy percent done with the first draft of Spellbound Under The Spanish Moss when I flew back to the United States to start a job working in operations for an ecommerce company. About a month after I returned to Los Angeles, the COVID pandemic began. This time, my dad and I were both in somewhat of a partial lockdown. As an advertising photographer, who frequently travels, all of his jobs were canceled and delayed.

I spent about three days being stressed over how the pandemic affected my livelihood before I gathered myself and focused on being grateful. And once again, we had to double down on the things we could control, which was, at the time, really just this fictional world we were transcribing onto the pages.

We finished the first draft as Los Angeles was shutting down. All the while, we worked using WhatsApp as we had become accustomed to when we were an ocean apart. By mid-April the lockdown was full-blown. I flew back to Atlanta, where we finished revising Spellbound Under The Spanish Moss.

By the time we started sending the book out for blurbs, we knew our partnership had indeed conjured up a magical tale. Confirmation came in the praise rolling in from famed actor Pete Onorati, Grammy-award winning musician Speech of Arrested Development, Harper Lee award-winner Patti Callihan Henry, The Pat Conroy Literary Center Executive Director Jonathan Haupt, writer and editor Susan Cushman, publisher of The Georgia Hollywood Review Miles Neiman, publisher of The South Magazine Michael Brooks, and Kathy L. Murphy, founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club with 800+ chapters in the U.S. and 15 overseas.

My mom added revisions and edits of her own, and our book was subsequently selected as a Pulpwood Queens Book of The Month Selection for 2021. By the time we wrapped up the production side of Spellbound for market, it solidified not only a father-son project, but also, our family business as writers and publishers. We set June 7 as our southern fantasy novel’s launch date nearly a month ago, anticipating that readers would be in need of an escape from the pandemic.

What we did not anticipate were the recent peaceful protests. At first, we were conflicted about the timing of the launch. But the truth is, we wrote a story that at its heart is about loving your differences and therefore loving the differences of others.

Spellbound is also a story about facing your fears; something we are all doing to various degrees during this time of unprecedented change and challenges. But there’s hope in our book and in real life. The heroes of our story don’t all possess superpowers. They are heroes, because they face down their fears and sacrifice when the moment requires it of them.

My dad and I spent 27 years learning how to collaborate, and this past year we learned how to create in the middle of chaos. The themes in Spellbound include orphans, adoption, disabilities, prejudice, female empowerment, and unconditional love. If it weren’t for protests, power outages, the pandemic, and yet more protests, we might not have found the ingredients it took to bring these memorable characters to life.

And thanks to still being somewhat in lockdown, we have made use of the time and space to work on the next book. We are already a third of the way into writing and concepting the second book in the series. This one is set in Puerto Rico, an island with a rich history, lore, and vibrant culture. It features many of the characters and themes of the first book and ironically involves protests, other real world events, and unexplained phenomenon in the vein of magical realism. Additionally, the loose Caribbean sequel expands on a hidden world and primeval forces hinted at in Spellbound.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *