Well, I just got home from the fabulous Hawaii Writer's conference, and what a marvelous time I had. I met some really fun, amazingly talented writers, and one of the best of them was Jacquelyn Mitchard. I know you all know her name, and I could literally go on and on about how talented she is, but I thought it would be so much more fun to hear her speak for herself. We are so fortunate that she has taken some time out of her busy, crazy schedule to pop on by and tell us a little bit about her new book, No Time to Wave Goodbye. I can tell you that I've been lucky to read an early copy and you won't be disappointed if you pick it up. The book is available for sale on September 15.
So, without further ado, here is a quick note to the fireflies from Jacquelyn Mitchard:
How The West Side Stories Came to Be
When is a series not a series?
The easy answer is … when I write it. But the real answer is more complicated.
I was scared to death to write a “sequel” to The Deep End of the Ocean. Not only is it my best-known book (It still can reduce me near to tears when someone says, “I loved your book! It’s been a while now, hasn’t it? Haven’t you been feeling inspired?”) but the first book for the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. Anything I wrote that had remotely to do with the Cappadora family would instantly be suspect. Anything I wrote would be seen as desperate as best, meretricious at worst.
What I had was a great idea I could never use.
And so I wrote another novel.
It was pretty awful.
In fact, you’ll never see it without x-treme surgical corrections.
Finally, with trembling, I did what my heart told me and tromped off into the wilderness of what I quickly realized would not be one story that would feature the Cappadoras – at least in some capacity, great or small – but perhaps more than one. Maybe three. Maybe five.
I don’t know now.
And I didn’t know when I began to write No Time to Wave Goodbye, which is not really a sequel in that it does not take up where The Deep End of the Ocean left off and continue the story – but takes place, among the same people and some new ones – thirteen years later in time.
I liked that part for the same reasons I like soap operas (which this story is not). I was meeting the first characters I ever created in real time – where they would be now – with cell phones and iPods and streamlined video cameras.
I liked “age progressing” the Cappadoras so much that you’ll see at least a couple of them in the novel I’m writing now. Far more accomplished writers than I (Louise Erdrich and William Faulkner, to whom I’m not comparing myself) have written books that didn’t so much continue the history of one or two people but dipped into a familiar universe for the next story.
Despite all that elaborate rationale (thought out as much to help me sleep as to explain myself to readers) plenty of people would still think that a “sequel” for a writer is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
At least one already has.
I envisioned review headlines along these lines: Sequel to Deep End’not so deep and Mitchard shouldn’t have gone back to the water ….
Not that real writers, in creative throes, ever really think about what the reaction to a story will be.
I did know that No Time to Wave Goodbye was a good story.
I did know that it could be read and enjoyed on its own, by people who’d never heard of the Cappadoras in another context. It begins a series of new events, not a new take on old ones. The struggles of the past are uneasily resolved. The struggles of the present are the last thing anyone expects.
What I learned from No Time To Wave Goodbye (after the starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, which, of course, I wasn’t waiting for, although while reading it, I felt a strand of muscle in my shoulder relax for the first time in a year) was I could do what I wanted – with dignity.
I also had the time of my life, writing-wise. How vital these ancient characters still were. How much real estate they still claimed in this writer’s mind and heart. I understand now why people write series. They become so involved with the characters – if the characters are dimensional enough to bear the weight and not just a freight train for a ton of plot – that they want to find out what comes next.
My pal, the great mystery writer Karin Slaughter, says that her rogue detective, Lena (whose given name is Selena and who grieves ever day for many things, among them the death of her twin sister, Sylvia) “makes bad decisions.” When Karin lets that character – and it’s true, as a reader, you either want to smack Lena or hug her – make lousy, self-destructive decisions, she says she had to let the other two characters in her Grant Count series have a passionate husband-and-wife interlude, so that she (Karin) won’t be depressed.
Spending a week last summer, teaching with Karin, I could almost feel the allure of that. I’m not a mystery writer, although my stories are dramas that don’t lack for suspense. But maybe there is something else, not a series exactly, that will let me feel that way as a writer while keeping your attention, gentle reader.
And so, perhaps not so surprisingly, my novel to be published in 2010 will turn some familiar faces toward new complexities. But the most important face of all, that of a young woman named Frances Foley, is one you’ve never seen. I guarantee that you’ll remember it. Turns out, I have a crush on my own Yokapanowtha County -- the Italian neighborhood at Taylor and Racine Streets and the exurbs beyond.
That this was a revelation to me is proof of how little we know about ourselves and why writing is the process of the inside of us talking to the outside – even at my advanced age.
In fact, it wasn’t long ago that I remembered how The Deep End of the Ocean started with a crush.
I thought it was a crush on a boy.
Back when I was a young widow with four young kids, pushing 40 and ever so alone, I began to dream at night of my high-school sweetheart, taking refuge in the endless summer nights we shared, lying on a quilt on the hood of his grandpa’s Bonneville, smoking and stroking skin that would never be so soft again.
My honey and I were plumbers’ children, but still privilege. While we had to work, it was only after school. Before our dates, we girls dropped by the cologne counter at Marshall Fields – as one of my pals put it, “renting to own” our cosmetics. Four guys once serenaded me under the window of our apartment, singing “Jackie” instead of “My Girl” in the refrain.
Yet, there were stains on that place and time, just as there were for Francie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A mile from our apartment, a friend parked his car on the railroad tracks until eastbound dragged him and his 15-year-old girlfriend away. She was already dead, from an overdose. Mr. Curry beat his wife so badly he put out her eye and didn’t go to jail. Our great-uncle raped my first cousin.
What I felt wasn’t really a crush on a boy, but on the past –particularly the sweet and profane world in which I grew up. When I wrote Deep End, I keened my own through the grief of another mother, Beth Cappadora. My children’s blunt suffering became the blunt suffering of Vincent Cappadora about his little brother’s kidnapping.
The book was a hit and a triumph.
I put away my west-side Chicago youth.
Or so I thought.
But the memory of those days and nights still danced from the car radio and beribboned my dreams.
Last year, I had another book ready to go – one day to be published. But I found myself writing (around the edges) about the Cappadoras. Finally, it was clear I had the answer to the question that so many readers had asked me since the publication of my first novel: What ever happened to Vincent and the rest of the Cappadoras?
Back to the beginning I went with a purpose. I rewrote and followed the strands. The book bloomed into No Time To Wave Goodbye. Not everyone who read it will have read The Deep End of the Ocean. That’s not necessary. This new story didn’t come from the previous story.
It came from that great interlaced weave of lace and chain link that is my place, my locative past. And as soon as I finished it, I wanted to go there again, because the further we get from the life we once lived, the clearer the details. Why keep that universe under lock and key?
Of course I hope readers like revisiting people who they once considered beloved – as I did. But more than that, I turn to those streets and those nights to find myself. I walk down a block of two flats, and a dog barks. A passing car trails the ribbon of a Frankie Valli song under the viaduct. Under the light in a kitchen window, a girl opens her books. Her hair is mayonnaised with Dippety-Do and wound on rollers the size of a car’s tail pipes and her princess phone is near her elbow.
I know her. I am her.
Thanks, Jackie! I wish I knew how to upload a photo of your cover--or your smiling face--but we all know that I'm techno-challenged and was lucky just to post the words. Maybe Jackie knows how to post a cover???
I'll be back in a few days with all the new news that's fit to print.
Aloha for now---