This was the chapter, more than any other, where I came closest to leaving Guilded Age. 

I don’t think much of that behind-the-scenes drama is reflected in the work, except in the sense that Flo’s and my contributions here are not only segregated by page numbers and scenes, but literally on different worlds, with little of Flo in the Sepia scenes and little of me in the Arkerran ones.

I wrote the Sepia scenes that began the chapter, which I’m still pretty proud of. Flo yelled and yelled at me for the last three pages of them not meeting her expectations. The heck of it is, I don’t even remember her criticisms any more specifically than that, and if you asked her, I’m not sure she would either.

All I remember is that at some point I started yelling back, yet again. And, reader, I’d fucking had it. I was done. We’d had so many clashes at this point that they were coming to dominate even the history of the partnership, and the promises to do better by each other were ringing increasingly hollow.

I do have a very clear memory of sitting in an oceanfront eatery not far from my apartment. I’d gotten there on foot, trying to walk off some of the tension. And I was waiting. Waiting for my love of the work to kick in, for the food in me to cool my temper. Waiting for the perspective to return that would tell me it was worth all this drama to finish what would probably be the most ambitious work of my career.

Reader, it did not. There is a point where health becomes more important than any ambition, and I was well past it.

I returned to the apartment to find my phone where I left it and some phone message from Flo, which I ignored, but either I called back or I answered her next call, not sure. Flo conceded completely that those Sepia pages were fine (what you’ll see of them is pretty much my original draft). “I don’t know why I said that,” she admitted. “I don’t know why I chose to die on that hill.” (And I was reminded Flo had demons she couldn’t always articulate.)

Moreover, she felt that we had to make some real changes to how we did things. These included getting off the five-day-a-week schedule (after Chapter 35) and scaling back our plans from 60 chapters to 50. I had mixed feelings about the former but readily agreed to the latter. As you may recall, the fact that Guilded Age’s outline kept getting longer and longer was more Flo’s will than mine. I concede that a 24- or 30-chapter version of Guilded Age would have accomplished less, artistically, than what this one did, but it sure would’ve been less stressful for Flo and me. And the 60-chapter version, well, I don’t think there’s any scenario where we would’ve finished that together.

“I can’t do this without you,” Flo said.

I came back. But not… all the way back, if I’m being honest. Outside of Sepia World, where Flo nearly left me to my own devices after this, I would keep making contributions to Guilded Age, writing and otherwise, but I often felt more like an editor than a co-writer. My engagement would return by the series’ end, but not in a hurry.

But you know what? Honestly? Flo’s part of Chapter 34 is just fine, and Chapters 35 and 36 and their surrounding material are probably as good as anything else we did. Sometimes taking a step back from the work is good for you and for the work.