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December 7, 2015

Robert Daniels: The Promise

Posted by emily

Robert Daniels is a clinical psychologist whose debut novel, ONCE SHADOWS FALL, releases on December 8th. His gripping new thriller is about Atlanta PD Detective Beth Sturgis, who teams up with reclusive former FBI agent Jack Kale in order to track a dangerous serial killer. Robert almost didn’t finish the manuscript, until, on the anniversary of his wife’s death, a miraculous accident reminded him of a promise he’d made to her. His book is a reminder of her faith in him, and of the strange and beautiful ways lost loved ones can still have an impact on our lives.

I lost my wife to cancer several years ago. She died on December 24th, the day before Christmas. Our wreath, tree and the presents under it suddenly took on a different meaning. She was a tall, beautiful redhead, who had the amazing capacity to see the good in everyone and put up with me. Cynthia was not only my best friend, but my first reader as well. I'd been writing all my life but had never considered it as a career, nor did I understand on that first day of grade school when we began to learn our ABCs that they were giving us the keys to the English language.

With Cynthia's gentle encouragement, I took up the manuscript I'd been working on every now and then and began to write in earnest. At night I'd read to her in bed, and in our family room by the fire, and when we walked along the river together. She listened and encouraged me to keep at it. Though our time with each other was short, one thing I can say with certainty: She made me a better man.

When we learned she had cancer, everything came to a halt. There were more pressing matters to attend to.

On the last day of her life, I sat with her on the hospital bed with an arm around her shoulders and her head on my chest and read the latest scene I'd written. I did it because she asked me to.

At some point, she looked up at me and said, "Robert, promise me you'll finish the book."

I smiled and told her I would.

Those were the final words she said to me. We've spoken many times since, though not quite in the same way. Though I knew she was gone, I continued to read. It's hard to put these words down now because my vision is starting to swim a little. I don't know how much time passed, but I'll swear on any Bible you want, I felt it when her soul left her body.

Eventually, the nurses came in and made me leave. The manuscript went up on a shelf. Over the next few months, I went through the motions of being a psychologist. But it was no good. I wasn't being fair to my patients. I sent them to other doctors, grew a beard and withdrew from the world. For almost a year, my son, who was not quite school age, and I traveled together, to England, Greece, Italy, France and finally back to the U.S.

On the anniversary of Cynthia's death, I dressed in a suit and went to the cemetery to visit with her. I told her how our boy was doing and about our trip. As I spoke, I felt her hand slip into mine. Psychologists have a name for this, but I'm convinced it happened.

When I returned home, while hanging up my clothes, I inadvertently knocked the manuscript off the shelf. It fell to the floor with a thud. I stood there staring at it as Cynthia's last words came back to me.

Two weeks later, I finished the final chapter of ONCE SHADOWS FALL. Jane Dystel, the only agent I ever asked to consider the book, accepted it. She and her partner, Miriam Goderich, pored over the manuscript and gave me some much needed advice, which I incorporated into the story. 

Months passed as the book made its rounds. Some editors found it wasn't their cup of tea, and some said it wasn't right for their house. But all of them were complimentary and encouraging. Didn't matter. I'd finished the story.

A year went by, and it was again December 24th. We were about to leave for the cemetery when an email arrived. Matt Martz of Crooked Lane was interested and wanted to acquire the book. I gave Cynthia the news later that day. My son also wrote her a letter, which he placed on her grave. He told me I couldn't read it.

In a little less than a month, the book will hit the market. I don't know what will happen. What makes one book a success and another not is the stuff on butterfly wings. Thus far, the critics have been kind with a starred review among the early returns. If it finds an audience, I'll be pleased and honored and humbled. No author could ask for more. From my standpoint, I need no presents this holiday season. I already have mine. Any success the book has will be icing on the cake, because my last thought at night before sleep takes me is that I kept my promise, and that has made all the difference.