Eyes Wide Open, and Pen (?) in Hand
** Be sure to read to the end for a chance to win an autographed novel.
Yesterday, Monday, was celebration day. On Sunday I sent Sunset Bridge to my editor. These days that’s as “easy” as attaching the manuscript to an email and clicking “send.” Of course everything that went before? Not so easy. Months and months of hard work, and at the end, seven days a week of it. Recently when I eked out time to attend our early morning church service, I could see the greeter silently struggling over whether to send me to the visitor’s table, since I looked unfamiliar. My husband is his minister.
Submitting a novel, particularly one that’s the culmination of a series, is a bittersweet experience. Last night as I lay awake at two AM, I found myself imagining what life will be like for my characters in a future that will never be recorded. Clearly I haven’t let go of them. In a series that depended so heavily on characterization, letting go will be doubly difficult.
On the plus side? I’m FREE!!! At least for a little while. Free to refill the well, to clean my study–does it look like it needs it?–to weed bushels and bushels of bad guys from my gardens. To make the baby quilt that will shortly be used by a new granddaughter. Free to help out after the birth, to visit friends and family, do a library appearance and another at the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster, OH. What fun!
Last night, to note this historic occasion, my husband and I took the Metro into DC to a Latino restaurant we wanted to try. Normally we drive, an event so fraught with anxiety we usually stay in Northern Virginia. This time we breezed in on DC’s subway system, and in ten minutes we were walking down G Street, just two blocks from our destination. The food was fine, but the trip? The trip was so filled with color, that despite my break from writing, I found myself storing scenes for the future.
Apparently my imagination has yet to note we are on a well deserved break.
Readers often ask where we get our ideas. Here’s the truth. There’s a magic door inside each of us, and when we fling it open, ideas are jostling to be the first over the threshold. How can I NOT use that real life scene last night at the Metro station when three talented African-American men in Redskins shirts assembled and began an impromptu a capella performance of Motown and gospel music? How can I NOT record that my husband and I, so delighted with the entertainment, danced while we waited for our train? Or that a dozen different people dropped money into their bucket, and everybody applauded.
How can I NOT point out that when we take the DC Metro at rush hour, the conversations around us will be about the Iraq war (by people instrumental in policy) or the inner workings of some esoteric bureau we never knew existed? Or that riders, desperate for personal space, will block an empty seat with a briefcase or purse. Or that some others prefer to stand, so they have a clear shot at the door. Or that the live announcer can’t be heard but computer generated messages are clear as a bell–which means it’s easy to miss our stop, but if we happen to notice it and leap to the platform, we’ll remember to avoid closing doors.
How can I NOT someday note the number of homeless people in this affluent corridor, the exquisite carved stone detail on the landmark Colorado building, the way downtown DC, unlike Manhattan, clears out as darkness descends.
You want to write a novel? You don’t have to dig. Open your eyes, take out a pen, or your iPad or any note taking device, and simply record whatever you notice. Let it percolate. At worst, you have details for a scene you might someday write. At best? An entire plot could unfold.
See, there’s a young woman who works in the Colorado building as a paralegal. One night on her way home, she notices a man collecting money for a trio of a capella performers, and he seems vaguely familiar. Once she’s on the Metro–standing so she can leap off and get home quickly for a date with a guy from some shadowy government bureau–she remembers WHY he looked familiar. . .
Now it’s YOUR turn. Try taking what I’ve told you and building your own plot. On Thursday October 28th I’ll do a random drawing of everyone who comments here and gives us a line or two of story, using at least one of my observations. The winner will receive an autographed copy of one of my novels, your choice of any paperback if I have extras on hand. Don’t be shy. Don’t try to be Hemingway. Have fun.
But how could that man be her brother. He had been kidnapped when he was 10 years old. She must get off this Metro right now to find him. As she waited for the doors to open her mind wandered to a time that was so heartbreaking for a 8 year old girl………..
Familiar because…his eyes? Small, drawn and beady, yet bulging behind the bottleglass lenses, his stare reminded her of a classmate at GWU. She remembered his intelligent questions and coy remarks often made after class. Why is he collecting money near the Metro?
“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day…” Her head swiveled to follow the sound of this Motown refrain and as it did, her eyes connected for a moment with the guy holding out the money hat for the group. Her gaze moved on but then returned because there was something about him.
Hey, your study looks pretty good! The phone is in its cradle! 🙂
You’ll note I didn’t put up a photo of the table behind my desk?
Emilie, I would never try to write a novel but what the heck here’s my door opening for you.
How could she not recognize him, she just last week saw his picture in the obituaries which she was looking through to see the column on her recently deceased aunt. And she thought it fascinating to read about the ex-government agent accused of espionage and other unpatriotically crimes. But what struck her the most was how much he looked like a boy she went to school with. A troubled boy with a not so happy home life, a boy she often thought about and wondered what had happened to him. She shook her head and thought she must be mistaking the whole thing and left it up to an over active imagination.
Thanks Emile!!! You Rock!!!!!!!
Ah, everybody’s sticking with the guy collecting money thread. It’s fun, isn’t it? Last night I began wondering about a homeless woman (remember I mentioned this) who waits every night for an old acquaintance to come down from her job as a cleaning woman at the Colorado building, because the friend sometimes brings her things that have been thrown away. And one of them is . . .
She wonders if this can be the same “loser” guy she dated in college and who stalked her until she had to drop out and enroll in a university in another state just to escape him. What if he has come to the city just because she is here? What if she didn’t actually escape him after all? NOW what will she do……go out with him and see if he is one and the same, or call and break the date……
she soon realized that he was an eye witness in the assination plot that the shadowy government bureau tried covering up……I’m definitely not a write but the imagination can go on!
It was 3 years ago. He was in the elevator of the Colorado Building as she was leaving the building, and he was carrying a large box, filled with the things that had been on his desk. How could a man go from a highly paid executive government position to collecting money in a hat in just 3 years? What could she do to help him?
He was the guy she had the date with that night. Did he see her watching him? Should she pretend she saw nothing? Ask him about it? Pretend she thought he was just helping out some deserving friends, when she’s really wondering if he’s undercover? She began to wonder exactly what his job was for that shadowy government agency.
She wishes she hadn’t seen him.
The old woman is waiting again on the street by the Colorado building, she doesn’t always remember me, she doesn’t always remember her own name, but she always remembers that I bring her treasures. Sometimes it’s a piece of string or a rubber band, sometimes it could be a brush that someone got tired of using, but tonight is different. Tonight I bring her a real treasure, will she recognize it. We’ll soon find out.
🙂 This is fun Emilie
For me, too.
As I got closer to the old woman, my mind raced back to the days of my childhood. I wonder where all of those years have gone and why did she leave me? She seemed so happy then, taking care of all 6 of us kids. Always smiling and singing her favorite songs. She even got up earlier on Sunday morning just to get all of us fed and ready for church. Then, one day, all of a sudden she was gone-never to return. Could this old woman, standing on the street corner, realy be the woman that left us all those years ago? Would she recognize the scarf in my hand that she had knitted for me so many years ago? Or maybe it isn’t my mother after all!
Pulling out her wallet, she extracted the well-worn photo she had been carrying for years now. Gazing at it intently she wondered, could it be? Could this be the same little three year old that her mother had carefully tucked into the bed next to hers all those years ago? The same one who had been missing the next morning? A tear rolled down her cheek, and fell onto the photo, as she softly whispered, “Darren, was that you?” Then she remembered the song the group had been singing on the Metro platform…..”You Are My Sunshine”… and she could almost hear her Mama’s voice, softly singing along. She gasped and reached for the emergency cord.
The 40 something looking woman standing right next to the Metro doors looked like she was ready to jump out of her skin. Her skin was a pale, non-blemished ivory and her hair was black, short and perfect, not a hair out of place. She had that classic look about her except for the small beads of sweat that were dripping down her forehead as her eyes were darting from person to person. She was starting to freak me out when the next thing I knew there was a loud BOOM. Chaos ensued.
It had been at a Steeler/Ravens football game in October of 2006 near Halloween. She had tried to attend that game with her Dad.
Her Dad had driven in from Monroeville and she had left her apartment on the south side of Pittsburgh to meet in the Heinz Field stadium parking lot. He had driven over the Fort Duquesne Bridge, closely following vehicles on the Allegheny Avenue turning onto the North Shore Drive which circled the parking lots. She had tucked a Baltimore Ravens jersey into her duffle bag along with a bottle of fake blood; this was to become her “football costume” for the game. Her Dad had his classic black and gold Steelers jersey on when he parked his Ram truck,locking it and walked over to her “Z”. Game time was approaching so they decorated their jerseys with the fake blood, smearing a lot on the Ravens team jersey which she wore.
As they approached the ticket gates, she was digging for their tickets (it was her treat for her Dad’s birthday and she had both tickets in her wallet) when a knife flashed out of the blue, cutting the black leather shoulder strap on her new Dooney and Burke purse. She took a breath. Her purse was gone, her Dad was standing by the ticket gate with his back to her. He never saw the person who stole her purse but her father knew something was wrong from the look on his daughter’s face.
She had only noticed his eyes, the same crystal blue pair that now stared at her on the platform of the DC Metro. There was no mistaking those eyes. Those corneas had been so clearly inscribed into her memory of that last day with her father that she would never forget the eyes that had caused so much pain in her life.
Opps! too much?
Absolutely not. Enjoyed it all.
She remembers WHY he looked so familiar. The man she saw was her father! But there was no way it could be. As a marine he was called halfway across the world during the Gulf War and was said to have died overseas. They brought his body home and she and her mother buried him in Arlington. His body was unrecognizable, but his dog tags were found next to the body. Could they have been wrong? Did her father really make it back home? Would he recognize her after 18 years?
She recalled his powerful hands. Their strength and sinew. But there was something else about them, something… extra. He was a six-fingered man! Her father was slaughtered by a six-fingered man.
I leapt onto the metro car, catching my breath and grabbing my coat to keep it from getting caught in the closing doors as I thanked my lucky stars that I had made it in time. Grateful for the rows of empty seats waiting before me, I fell into the nearest one. As I started to set my briefcase down beside me, the bold headline of the “Washington Post” lying abandoned two seats over caught my eye. And suddenly, I wished I was anywhere but on that train.