Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Twist of Light





     When my son was small he had a playmate who could read auras.  She could read personalities and moods simply by reading the colors that surrounded a person.  Her mother told me that when this little girl was only three, she told her mother that the baby in her tummy wasn’t there any longer.  Indeed, the mother told me, a day later a miscarriage was confirmed.  I asked the girl, she was about seven by then, to read a visitor in our home.  The girl came to me later when she could find me alone to tell me that the woman’s whole abdomen seemed to be filled with darting black balls.  She said she’d never seen that before, but I assured her that she had described our guest perfectly.  A very difficult person, she was plagued with anger and old hurts.
     This child was the inspiration for Lizzy’s gift of seeing colors in A Twist of Light.  Lizzy and her older sister Ellie suddenly find themselves orphaned and have one goal; to stay together.  Set in California’s Central Valley, but narrated in part by the adult Lizzy, who is now happily ensconced in coastal Sussex, the story is one of survival, adaptation and finally transformation.
     I knew from the moment I put Lizzy to paper that she was special.  Apart from her gift for seeing colors she presented herself to me as someone very familiar, almost someone I knew or had known.  Characters can do that when things are going well and Lizzy never hesitated to take over the manuscript.  I would get up in the morning and my first thought was usually about what Lizzy was going to do that day.  I knew there was a lot of me in Lizzy, but Lizzy was braver than I’d ever been and she was so strong that I had to love her.  Once the book was published I finally realized who this child had been all along.
I was living in England at the time and my mother in California would call me every week at a particular time.  When I picked up the telephone and heard her voice I thought something must be wrong since it wasn’t her day to call and when she started crying, my fears were confirmed.
     “How did you know?” She kept repeating to me, her voice trembling.  Finally, she told me she’d just finished A Twist of Light.  “I’m Lizzy, that’s me, but how did you know?”  Then I started crying and her story came out, all the sadness, pain and all the confusion of a child living with a mother who was drinking herself to death.  She told me all the things about my grandmother that she’d never been able to share and it turned into one of the longest telephone calls I’ve ever had.  This was years before free long distance calls, so it must have cost her a fortune, but it was money very well spent.  I’d always been close to my mother, but this drew us even closer for the rest of her life.
    I still don’t know how Lizzy came to me, but now I knew who she was.  Perhaps I’d overheard something or maybe the information was so much a part of my mother that it was part of the DNA that was passed onto me.  Like my little friend who saw the colors of other people, some things simply can’t be explained.  By the way, my little friend is now an attorney out in California and she must be a very good one since she just made partner.  Maybe she is still able to read people’s colors.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Careful Mistakes





Careful Mistakes wasn’t meant to be a novel.  I was an interior decorator (designer to British readers), I wasn’t a writer.  Well, in truth I’d written a book about ten years before this, but I’d had one agent reject it so I thought that was that and felt clearly that my life’s path was choosing chintz, wearing dramatic earrings and being completely bored with earrings and chintz.  It took me about seven years of sitting and chatting for hours with my clients to realize that the only thing that interested me about the work was hearing people’s stories.  It’s odd, but there is something about choosing fabrics that makes people feel that they are in a therapy session.  A surprising number of things bubble up over the satin and the stripes and I did nothing to discourage that.

Careful Mistakes was intended to be an hour or so of coming to grips with my father’s death.  He had died a few days before from cancer and I since I’d been so consumed with his care and making sure that my mother was helped with the aftermath, I felt that I hadn’t really and truly processed the fact that he was gone.  I began to write, the words flowed and fifteen pages later I finally realized that I was no longer writing about my father.

The words that came out did deal with the death of an Episcopal Bishop, something my Lutheran father wasn’t, his adult daughter and his granddaughter.  I put them in Connecticut, far away from the California that my father’s family settled in eight decades before.  Initially the Bishop was the most important thing on the page, but once again the characters took over and I let the old man die in the first few pages.

All sorts of characters began to come on to the pages, some uninvited and some that were deleted in later versions.  Over the next few weeks, I let my business slide.  Granted a recession in the building trades had reared its ugly head, but in the past that had made me work harder.  I stopped wearing those stupid earrings and let myself wear sloppy clothes, even in public.  Meals around our house became slapdash and there were stacks of paper held together with massive clips on all the horizontal services.
My family didn’t complain although they could have.  After all, I was a writer now.