I played hooky from Southern Exposure two weeks ago. It was a time of now and then. Let me explain.
Now and Then in Real Life
Now: We drove to Pensacola where my husband performed a small, private ceremony outdoors near the beach for our lovely niece and new husband.
Then: On arrival, memories of the wedding of my niece’s parents were suddenly as clear as the cloudless day. My husband performed that one, too. I remembered standing in their tiny kitchen in Tallahassee with my sister-in-law creating appetizers. My brother-in-law decided he had to shop for a toy for our young son and disappeared. Luckily he returned just in time, and they’re still married today. And now, so is their daughter.
Now: The drive down memory lane continued afterwards when the parents of the bride, my husband and I, all headed to New Orleans for three nights.
Then: I lived in the Big Easy in the 1980s, and New Orleans was the birthplace of my writing career. I hadn’t been back since Hurricane Katrina in 2004, so I was ready for almost anything. We stayed in the French Quarter, which looked much the same–but then it’s been there in one form or another since 1718. On our last full day we drove toward the lake, where we had lived, to see how our neighborhood was faring.
We knew that Gentilly and Lakeview had been hit particularly hard by flooding. Our house more or less straddled both communities. You can guess the result. The houses on both sides of us are gone. One is a vacant lot of neatly mowed green grass. The other is brand new, built off the ground so the next flood won’t wash it away. Despite the fact that our house was nearly destroyed, somehow it was rebuilt. It looks almost exactly the way it did, although I swear the brick is a different color tan. Sadly the huge magnolia which shaded it, added beauty, and gave our children a place to climb, died in the flood.
Despite huge changes, the neighborhood is recovering. Our children’s school was destroyed, but a new school of temporary buildings and a different name has replaced it.
Of course we did all the things we’d loved, including a long trip on the streetcar, which we took many times when we were in residence.
Now and Then: We drove home through Tallahassee where my husband and I met at Florida State University, another trip through time. We were reminded how much we’d loved those years and that campus. It was a joy to walk familiar ground, if only for a few hours.
I came home ready to write my new book, The Perfect Daughter. Suddenly now and them became real again. It was time to figure out how to tell my story.
Next week I’ll explain a bit more about “now” and “then” in novels. Because yesterday often feels like today, not just in real life, but for characters in novels, too. It’s our job as novelists to decide how best to convey that to our readers without dwelling too long on things that happened before the story opens.