A few months back, just after the shooting in Tucson, I wrote this blog post, about being there in the shopping center. About how I felt the need to write something, but words were inadequate. That I didn’t know how to write something, or, at the time, anything.
But then a strange thing happened. Just after all this, in the spring, I wrapped up a revision for a book I’d been working on for a long, long time. I suddenly found myself projectless, which is a place I hate to be. I feel uncomfortable in this space, with nothing to work on, nothing specific to write. And I started to mull over what my next book would or should be.
I had a lot of ideas. (I always have a lot of ideas!) I played around with some opening chapters, did a little research on random things. I went on vacation with my family. I read The Hunger Games trilogy. In between all this, I did normal mom things, took the kids to swimming and ran errands, and in doing so, I kept driving by the Safeway. Yes, that Safeway. I drive by it a lot actually. A few times a week, I find myself in that part of town for one reason or another. And every time I drive by, I think about what happened. I can’t drive by without thinking about it, really. Every so often, I’ll turn and say to my husband, if he’s there: “I can’t believe what happened there.” Every time the disbelief feels fresh; all those old feelings from January come pouring back.
Then, some time in the beginning of June, I drove by. I was stopped at the light at the intersection, and I looked over. The shopping center was very crowded. It seemed not at all the way it did that morning. People were just there, doing normal things, living life. Life had somehow moved on. I need to write about this, I thought.
I quickly pushed the thought away. You couldn’t even write a blog post, I reminded myself. How are you going to write a novel?
But the characters came to me right away. I held them in my head for a few days, not wanting to let them out or talk about them or even admit to myself that they existed, but I couldn’t stop thinking about them and their stories. So I slowly started to write them down. They are fictional characters, but in a lot of ways their stories are my own and my city’s and maybe anyone else’s who followed the events that day.
I’ll just write the first chapter, I told myself. Just to see. Then I thought, I’ll just try adding in one more point of view. And then, maybe, this other one. I’ve told a few people about the novel and its origins, but I keep qualifying it with, I’m not sure if I’m even going to write it. Or, if I should write it. But then every morning I find myself sitting down at the computer, and more of the story comes out. And suddenly nearly fifty pages seem to have appeared, almost magically, in this document I keep minimized on my laptop called “untitledsomething.” (catchy, yes?)
Sometimes books are gifts. They come as they are, and you can’t ask questions. This doesn’t happen very often – at least not to me. Okay, it has only ever happened to me once. But that’s what this is beginning to feel like to me now. It is scary and sad and in a way, empowering, for me to sit down every morning and tell this story. But now it has become a story I have to tell. So maybe the least I will do is finally admit it to myself: this is the book I’m writing next.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Last week, we were away visiting family in Pennsylvania, and my husband and I got to sneak away for the night to celebrate our anniversary a little early. After much debate on where to go, we decided on an inn in New Jersey, not too far from where we grew up.
As we walked around the surrounding town and reveled in our (very rare) alone time, I couldn't help but notice a sign. It was an insignificant sign really, just a street sign, that said the name of the township we were in, "West --" I pointed it out to my husband, who had no idea why I was pointing it out to him.
"You know what's in 'East --!" I told him. He still had no idea, and then I told him, it was where a portion of the book I'd just finished writing had taken place. A real, historical portion, and it hit me, standing there, that we must not be too far away.
And thus began the portion of our romantic getaway where I dragged my husband through the backwoods of New Jersey, in search of this place I'd written about, lived, and breathed for nearly the last year and a half of my life, and had thus far witnessed only through old pictures and Google Earth. It didn't seem to matter that the book was already written, revised, and that I'd already begun to think about writing something entirely new. I had to see it! Luckily, my husband had heard enough about the book and the research and had read enough drafts, that he wanted to see it too. Or at least, he knew enough to pretend for my sake.
Only about 20 minutes from the inn, we ended up on the smallest most wooded road I've ever seen, complete with a one lane bridge, six or seven deer wandering right into the road to eat off the trees, and a path so windy, I couldn't imagine it had changed all that much in the past 80 or so years since the time I'd been writing about. "These are the woods I wrote about," I told him. "And they look just like I described them!" My husband pointed out that they looked like. . . woods. But that didn't lessen my excitement at seeing them.
Then we arrived at the specific location. These days it's owned by the state of New Jersey, and there was a large sign in front telling us if we went any further we'd be trespassing and violating laws. So I took a picture of what we could see from the road. It's small and a little hard to decipher, but I felt satisfied in having been there, in that exact same place where my characters end up in the past and the present portions of my book.
Can you figure out where we are? If you can, send me an e-mail with your guess (jill(at)jilliancantor.com), and if you're right, I'll send you a signed copy of one of my first three books (your choice which one!)
Posted by Jillian Cantor at 1:50 PM