Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Or as we say in my house, Happy Celtic New Year.

I've been on a writing spree since Thursday. I have 8 completed chapters, 80 pages, and 21,206 words. I am thrilled. I had something like 14,000 words on Friday morning. My, how time flies...

I finished some really important plot points, such as the first time Eva meets Brixton:

I noticed him in French class, the next period, when Brixton Davis was placed in front me, according to the rules of alphabetical order. The teacher, Ms. Quinn, went through the alphabet in French and then gave us an assignment.
“I am going to split you up into pairs. I want you to interview each other and then we’ll come together as a class and we will begin to learn some basic phrases, ok?” Ms. Quinn proceeded to split everyone up. Brix and I ended up together.
He turned in his seat, smiled and said, “Hi. I’m Brixton.” His hair was long, flopping over his forehead in bangs, his eyes were hidden behind black-framed glasses, and I’m sure his face had blooming acne.
“I’m Eva. Brixton? Like ‘Guns of Brixton’?”
He nodded. “Yup. Named after a Clash song.”
I quickly wrote that down on a piece of looseleaf. My hair was in a ponytail, tied back with a huge scrunchie. My braces had another six months to go and I hadn’t yet learned the mysterious secrets of makeup, though I admit to never really being fond of the stuff once I learned about it anyway.

And Eva's Confirmation:

“Gram!” I exclaimed. “I found my Confirmation name!”
Glancing up from a simmering pot, Gram turned around, wiped a hand on the cartoonish lobster on her favorite apron, and said, “Let’s hear it, Eva.”
She put on a thoughtful expression. “Dymphna. Tell me about her, Eva.”
“St. Dymphna,” I began, “is an Irish saint. She was a princess. When her mother died, her father tried to marry her and Dymphna ran away with her confessor to Belgium. Her father found her and chopped off her head.” Gram’s eyes bulged for a moment. “She’s a virgin martyr,” I said helpfully. “And the patron saint of mental illness.”
“Hmm. And you feel strongly about this name, Eva?”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Then you should take it,” Gram said.

Dad looked at me and I swear, his eyes went cold. I wonder if he still sees me as that colicky baby who drove my mother to sleeping pills, which drove her to suicide. Or maybe he looked at me and still saw the spitting image of Evangeline and that made him take pause.

“Yeah, but…” He hesitated. He wanted to ask me why I picked the patron saint of mental illness. “It’s your decision. But I hope you girls don’t think your mom…it was an accident, what happened to her.”
Vic and I stared at him. He turned awkwardly and left. I waited until I heard his footsteps recede down the stairs, then got up, went to Noel’s empty room and found his pack of Marlboros. I opened the window and lit the cigarette, coughing as the tar and nicotine hit my lungs.
After a few moments, I felt calm.

And back in 2009:

He steps away from me, disengaging his long-fingered hand, and undoes the buttons of his chef’s jacket. I see the thin white T-shirt emerge again. My mouth goes dry. I suspect that he’s flexing his arms a little more than he would ever do with me as he slips the jacket off.
Tonight, I think I saw Brixton-as-a-boyfriend, meaning he was solicitous and on some level, trying to impress me, despite the problems that he and Jade seem to have.
But now? Now everything’s uncertain. I thought for sure that I, the mother of his child, one of his oldest friends, would supersede any other woman who happened by in his life. That is awfully arrogant of me.
I catch the red line out of Harvard Square and I think, I only got a week of Brixton-as-a-boyfriend treatment. One week, and I ended up knocked up.

Senior year of high school (1997):
But I only smoked away from the house. It would’ve broken Gram’s nurse’s heart to know I smoked four or five cigs a day, that I went through a pack in little more than five days.

“Hey, what do you think about Tracey?” Lana practically whispered.
“I don’t like her. You know that.”
“Eva, you don’t like people,” Lana said, waving my statement away. “I don’t like the way she’s all over Brixton all the time. You don’t think they’ve…” Her hands twirled in circular gestures.
“Gone to the ballet?” I asked, watching her hands.
She sighed, exasperated. Jeez, it was only a joke. “No. You know. Do you think they have? This summer, anytime I saw them together, she was all over him.”

And once again, 2009:

Am I in a transitional state, between life and death? Maybe I’m like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, dead but not knowing it.
I fight against that thought. I am not dead. I’m merely spiritually confused. Right?

A little girl is running in between the little ducklings. Her back is to me, but I can hear her sweet giggle. I stop. It sounds like Aimee.
“Daddy!” She calls out, running. I want to tell her not to run across concrete—but I can’t. She doesn’t know me now. If anything, that stabs at the heart.

His eyes drop to my coffee. “Since when do you drink coffee?”
“I’m feeling kind of tired,” I explain. “Thought it might help.”
He looks like he wants to say something else, but Aimee is clutching his shoulder. Her big brown eyes—not mine, not his, but my parents’ eye color— fix on me.
“And who’s this big girl?” I ask. Aimee beams.
“This is my daughter, Aimee.” He peers down at her. “Can you say hello, sweetie?”
“Hello,” Aimee says in her tiny voice.
“This is Daddy’s friend Jade.”
Friend. Friend. He just called Jade his friend. Not girlfriend. Friend. Then again, I wouldn’t be too thrilled if he introduced our daughter to a girlfriend. Not that she’d know what the word means, but still…
He bounces her up in his arms. She screeches in laughter. We have a happy daughter, one with a sunny personality, who likes to laugh and dance. I’m not too sure where she gets that from, considering, but I’m glad for it. She must feel so secure clinging to her big, tall Papa.

“She works at a stock photo agency in Paris,” Brix says, accurately describing my job. “She’s also addicted to coffee.” His eyes rest on my half-finished Starbucks. He looks disturbed.
“I haven’t been feeling like myself,” I say in explanation.
His eyes soften. “Yeah, I’ll say.”

Sunday, October 25, 2009

10,000 words

I hit the 10,000 word mark today. Yay! So in honor of that and the Yankees going to the World Series *hopefully*, you're being subjected to more snippets, Chapters 2, 3 and 4.

As I walk through the square to Olivia’s, I hear the street musicians play, strumming beat-up acoustic guitars, and I notice impassioned activists passing out fliers on Ending War Now! or Everyone Deserves Equality! Get Rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or Darfur is our problem, too.

“So what if they did it?” I say aloud. “Right there, on that bed? Brix can’t live without sex for more than five days at a pinch. You know that already.” I straighten my shoulders. “C’mon, Eva. It’s only a room.”
I take a step.
“I’m fixing to change my clothes here,” I say to my reluctant self. “Just…think about Brix sitting on the bed, watching you with that dopey smile that he thinks is sexy.”
After three more steps, which bring me to the bedroom door, I admit, “It is pretty sexy.”

Much of what I think remember about this time in my life is just that: I think I remember it. They’re false memories, after years of asking my brother and sister about every detail that they can remember. Sometimes I can unfurl the false memories into a whole recollection.

My second birthday a week before Christmas was what triggered him. I’ll always believe that because not long after, he asked his parents, who were still spry in their fifties, to keep the children for the time being.
Next September, Matthew said, I’ll be back. Next September, I’ll know what to do.
I lived with my paternal grandparents in Brookline, in the same house that my father grew up in, until I left for college. I was seventeen years old.

My first confession before my Communion went like this: I painstakingly said to the priest, “I cursed at my brother. I disobeyed my grandpa. I hate my father.”

No human at death’s door can be assured that they learned all there is to know in the world, that they achieved a spiritual plateau and everything is fine and now we can die and ascend.
So maybe reincarnation does make sense, in a way. I never gave it much thought before. I’m a Catholic. God gives us life, we are born, we receive sacraments, we die, we ascend to heaven, hang out in Purgatory or go to hell.

It’s time to go to Brigham and Women’s Hospital and visit myself. God, that sounds so weird.

I’m afraid of what I’ll find. A coma seems so ominous. Unconscious really is a nicer word for the condition. Unconscious doesn’t signal respirators or a vegetative state, where my body lies prone with no activity at all.

“She’s doing better,” I lie. “I, um, I don’t remember much about accident. But I thought I’d stop by. I’m really sorry she’s in such a bad way.”
“Thank you, Jade. Really. You don’t have to—I know you don’t—” He turns to the wall and stops speaking. He squeezes Eva’s hand. “It’s really nice of you,” he finally says. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.” What does that mean? It could mean that Jade is actually nice. That she’s considerate and cares about Brix. If I have doubts about any of Brix’s girlfriends, it’s not because of some misplaced sense of jealousy. I saw what Brix’s taste in women was for a long time and “considerate” and “nice” are not the two words for those girls.

The photographer poses them on the paved path in front of the bridge. He might catch the pond behind them, the classic Bostonian look. It’s early afternoon and the sun is behind the photographer, giving the couple light, but not enough to wash them out.
The photographer moves them on to pose with the wedding party, in front of fragrant, colorful tulips. They look so happy. He laughs. She turns to look at him and her face lights up…
I turn away. Some things are too private, even if they’re in public.

But, no, it was her. I wonder how it’s possible. He called her Jade. Is she now inside of me and I in her? This cannot be real. Stuff like this does not happen. And if she is now in my body, apparently living my life, then God only knows what sort of wreck my life is becoming.
I feel it intuitively. She’s vengeful. Why else would she keep the kid in Paris and not be with Brixton? What possible reason could she have for not using her claim on that wonderful, but misguided man?


I'm writing the "Boston portion" of my story--the bulk of it takes place there. I'm also putting together my story playlist on iTunes.I had one for Book the First that I listened to on the subway and such and it helped keep me in the mood or remember motivations as I was going along.

There's a lot less research for this story than the last one. It alternates between the '90s-2006 and 2009. I've actually lived in (and frozen my ass off in) Boston, so there's that. The present tense keeps it interesting for me (and for those of you who read it when it's done, please check my verb tenses) and the outline lets me know what's up next.

Unfortunately, my characters are Red Sox fans. And unlike what a friend said to me today ("You can change that. You're God!"), I really can't change that. It's all right though. They have redeeming qualities, I swear. And it's not even an important plot point. It's background flavor.

This might crazy as hell to anyone who doesn't write, but really, it's the characters that see you through. I come up with characters first, then a premise (sometimes that comes together), then a plot. The characters develop, for me, as I write. They come to life. If there's something in the story that isn't true to them or their situation, then the story comes to a halt. The characters demand things. They're opinionated. They decide to change personalities or love interests or nationality or names. In effect, I decide direction. The rest...I couldn't even tell you where it comes from.

BUT--setting. That is one thing I control. And since Boston is a city that I actually know, here are photos. It'll help me to have them up here to look at as I go along. I like having things that remind me of my settings or characters in a file (on the computer, but also in my desk).

Public Garden, winter
Copley Square. Hancock Building, roof of the Boston Public Library & the Prudential Building
The Esplanade. Charles River. May 2007
Boston Common's gazebo. War protest.
Public Garden. Pond.
The Boston "non denominational holiday tree"

Monday, October 19, 2009


It's 5:04 in the am and I've been awake for an hour, after being woken from a sound sleep. Insomnia is alive and well. This of course means that I've already checked my email, logged on to Facebook, checked on my various games, listened to David Cook sing "Lie" and stalked Chris Pine, who seems to my latest in a long line of unattainable boyfriends (I like 'em that way) via Google.

Before I go back to bed and start either chanting like a Buddhist in my head or conjugating French verbs or, God forbid, do mental math, here's a quick update:

Yes, I'm still writing.

It's going pretty well. I have 22 pages (double spaced), I'm in the beginning of chapter three, and so far, the present tense is going all right.

Here are a few lines, randomly chosen:

He sidled up to me, expectation all over his aging face. Expecting what, exactly? A welcome? After all these years, after all of the disagreements and disapproval between us, he wants me to jump up, hug him, squeal and be a daddy’s girl? Is he fucking kidding me?

Something crunches with a sickening thud—and I am looking straight up, flat on my back, unable to move. I lay on cold, gritty asphalt. Only the honking of a car, as if the horn is right against my ear, and the stopped sedan and a screaming woman glancing at me and inside her car in turn—only that is real. The car’s headlights blind me.
I can’t move. I don’t know what happened.
The man I was running from, my dad, kneels beside me and says, “You’re hurt, sweetheart. Can you hear me? You’re hurt. An ambulance is on the way.”
Then everything became sweet, silent darkness.

I shut my eyes tightly. The only thing I’m aware of is the darkness behind my eyelids, the blank confusion of my mind. And that’s when I try to push out of the confines of that mind, out of the realm of reality. If I did it once, I can do it again, so I try with my entire psychic might to push myself out of this blond creature’s body and into my own battered one again. Nothing.

A bolt of strong anger shoots through me at the thought. I’m almost breathless at the depth and strength of it before chuckling helplessly at the awesome power of rage. Me, jealous? Me, jealous of Brixton with a girl? That’s like being jealous that fish can swim and birds can fly.

Even Lindsay acknowledges that Massachusetts drivers are angry, angry people.

And the last thing running through my head was this: If Brix is cheating, then we should be through. If that bitch has wormed her way back into his heart, then I should be unspeakably angry with her and with him. Hell hath no fury like…
And even in that nanosecond of frenetic activity, I knew, somewhere in my heart, that I would never be any kind of opponent against Eva Fontaine in the competition for Brixton Davis’s heart.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Look, an actual summary!

Hey guys,

Remember that soul-swapping story I may have teased some of you with? Well, I basically finished the outline, so I can actually write it now and I am very excited. But here's the cool part: there's an actual summary!

One September night in Boston, two women are involved in a car accident. Jade Preston comes to unable to move, unable to speak, but able to hear and understand everything around her. Eva Fontaine wakes up to discover that she doesn’t look at all like herself. She looks like Jade Preston.
Eva was hit by a car, running from her estranged father at her brother’s wedding rehearsal and now lies in a coma. Except that Eva’s interior wakes up inside of someone else’s exterior—as she sleeps beside Eva’s childhood friend, Brixton Davis.
Brixton and Eva have a long, complicated history. They went to high school and nearby colleges together. They each had a parent commit suicide. Eva has stood by and watched Brixton fall into debauchery and depression after his father’s death. Brix has watched Eva stonewall her father, who deposited her and her siblings to their grandparents to raise. As adults, Eva lives in Paris and Brix visits her, desperate to be away from another failing relationship, they give in to attraction and familiarity.
Eva becomes pregnant. Despite this, she doesn’t want a romantic relationship with Brix. Two years after their child is born, Eva is commanded to attend her brother’s upcoming wedding and finally, it seems that the romantic possibilities open up for Brix and Eva.Except that Brix is involved with another woman, Jade, though the relationship has reached a stalemate.
But the accident changes everything. Unable to reconcile what has happened, Eva researches extensively, until she must accept that this is all real—that her interior has jumped into the body of the woman she thought of as an abstract figure. Jade endures a body in a coma and overhears all sorts of information about the woman she thought was cold-hearted and incomprehensible.

I've read that Audrey Niffeneger wrote Time Traveler's Wife because she thought of time travel as a metaphor for her own failed relationships. Cecelia Ahern said she wrote P.S. I Love You because she wanted someone wiser than herself to tell her what to do and what to expect just as she was graduating college. Alice Sebold wrote The Lovely Bones years after she was raped as a freshmen at Syracuse University; another woman had been raped and killed there earlier and the police told her she was lucky to have survived.

I've never thought very deeply about the 'why' of my stories, of why I write them. As far as 'why' goes, I usually stick to why the story unfolds the way it does (and believe me, that's a recent phenomenon on my part; read past blog posts for that). The themes tend to develop on their own, which is fine, but in high school, I remember that we discussed themes endlessly. Our teachers made it sound like they were all purposefully inserted and some of them are--at least with the more controlled, better edited novels--but I insisted then and still insist that a lot of themes just kind of...happen.

(As Sparknotes puts it so well, theme is the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a work)

I suppose knowing why those authors wrote what they did is going into "author's intention," which I despised discussing in lit classes. In my adventures in novel writing, I'm learning that the author can intend all she wants, but sometimes the development of the characters or the plot or themes are out of your control. And that's fine, because some real gems can come out of that--in The Keegan Inheritance, I realized toward the end that Henry had seduced, then betrayed a French woman, seen her flogged by the French army and felt enormous guilt over that. It influences how he acts toward Mady, for one thing, and represents the reason why he wants to get out of spying so desperately.

"What the hell do you want to say?"
"Step into someone else's shoes." Sometimes, I wish I could be someone else, to have a wider range of experiences and emotions, to do things I will never get a chance or the guts to do and to meet people I'd never meet in my own sphere (or, that is, to meet said people and actually say something to them). Or to step outside of yourself for a minute to paradoxically see yourself better.

So, identity is a big theme. As is friendship. Overcoming obstacles. Spirituality and maybe even religion (gasp!). That's all I've got for now. Do you guys have any themes you gravitate toward in the books you read? Or any themes in what you write? How important are the author's intentions in the actual work, do you think?