My thanks to David Halperin, author of Journal of a UFO Investigator (Viking, 2011) and the forthcoming sequel, The Color of Electrum, who invited me to be part of this writers’ blog hop (My Next Big Thing). Read more about David’s new work on his blog: http://www.davidhalperin.net/the-color-of-electrum-ezekiel-visits-the-60s/
Followers of this one will note its own UFO connection in the archived post of September 28 http://loveandwar-novel.tumblr.com/post/32456342618/his-mothers-letters-continued-to-arrive-her . Coincidence? Extraterrestrial influence? You be the judge.
But first, the ten questions all hopping bloggers are answering on the theme, My Next Big Thing:
1. What is the working title of your book or project? The Weight of the Heart
2. Where did the idea come from for the book or project?
After I thought I’d finished my first novel, Love and War, many years ago (it turned out, of course, that copious revisions were still to come), I was looking for something new to write. I had partial manuscripts of two other novels (The Dowager of Levittown and Memories of Earth), but neither of those were calling to me. I went on a meditation retreat every winter which was held at an old farmhouse in Massachusetts. My room had a lovely fireplace and an expansive view over snowy fields. After dinner one evening, I sat in a chair by the fire with a notebook on my lap, free associating whatever came to my head. Boating accident on the Thames popped up, and this is something I haven’t experienced in writing before or since, the idea just clicked and the characters starting pouring out.
3. What genre does it fall under, if any? Literary fiction.
4. If applicable, who would you choose to play your characters in a movie?
This is my favorite question. (I thought no one would ever ask.) Jeremy Irons as the society plastic surgeon Lionel Ashton; Judy Dench (in a smashing red wig) as his villainous wife, Beatrice. Keira Knightly as the caterer, Rita Havisham; Jude Law as the disgraced physician, Devin Montague.Vera Shadovski, the fortune teller hired for the guests’ amusement, might be played by Shirley Maclaine. For the Captain? Ewan McGregor. I could go on. The Weight of the Heart has dozens of eminently castable characters.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your manuscript or project?
A party boat sinks on the Thames; an extravagant birthday gala ends in disaster: from the caterer and crew below to the high society guests feting a wealthy plastic surgeon on the decks above, an international cast of characters grapple with the foibles of their lives in the course of an evening that will end in tragedy—Downton Abbey meets Ship of Fools at the end of the twentieth century.
6. Will your book or story be self-published or represented by an agency? I will be seeking an agent shortly.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? You don’t want to know.
8. What other book or stories would you compare this story to within the genre?
Ship of Fools, as mentioned above. The Bridge over San Luis Rey, that old high school English classic, in the interconnection of multiple lives joined by a tragedy. But The Weight of the Heart, more than anything, is a social satire. Though I haven’t read the novel, what I know of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy makes me think there might be a similarity of theme and tone.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book or story?
I would have to say the muses. There was, in fact, a real-life party boat accident on the Thames in the late 80s, though my book drew nothing from it. I’d forgotten about the actual incident by the time I finally sat down to write (and re-write) in earnest. The wonderful Irish novelist Edna O’Brien wrote of the real-life event from the point of view of those who lived along the Thames at the time. Her book was called Time and Tide. I remember attending a reading she gave when that book came out. I told her of mine and that it centered on the passengers. “Ah,” she sighed. “The passengers.”
10. What else about the book or story might pique the readers interest?
In the truth is always stranger than fiction category: I re-read Ship of Fools after finishing a first draft of my novel and discovered that Katherine Anne Porter finished her book a scant mile, as the seagull flies, from where I wrote the first draft of The Weight of the Heart, the same small coastal village (population: 7500) on the coast of Massachusetts. It was not until checking that reference to post this blog that I came upon the name I’d long forgotten was the ship in Porter’s novel. It’s the Vera, the same name I gave the fortune teller on my ship of fools, The Merrymaker.
And now, for the next big thing: please check out this upcoming blog:
Feb. 21: My friend, supporter, and sister-novelist, Mary Lambeth Moore, writes about her novel, Sleeping with Patty Hearst__ - a literary page-turner about the illicit loves of a North Carolina woman and her two daughters in the 1970s. Lee Smith says: “Mary Lambeth Moore is a natural storyteller with a great story to tell.” http://sleepingwithpattyhearst.com/SleepingwithPatty.php
Jack rose from the bench and set off a few steps down the path to the parking lot. “Forget it,” he said over his shoulder. “You have a ride. Let’s just get back on the road.”
Molly got to her feet. He called over his shoulder, “Do you want to stop for breakfast or something?”
“Breakfast? Yes! I’m starving.”
From a distance, she was aware once more of Jack’s slight limp, the right leg dragging stiffly after the left, lending a peculiar spring to his stride. Both hands swung from his arms awkwardly as though unaccustomed to being empty; his head swiveled cautiously from side to side.
On the first morning, here laid open in his stance was the future if she could have read it: Jack was still on patrol. He always would be.
Still in Vietnam.
photo: © David DeChant Collection/Vietnam Archive, Texas Tech University
“There’s something you should know,” Molly said. “About my father. He’s pretty high up at the Pentagon.”
“Geez, Molly. I already offered you a medal.” Jack laughed. “What is he, a general or something?”
“He’s Under Secretary of Defense.”
“Ted Drayton. He’s my father.”
Jack sat down again beside her on the bench. “He imagined the reaction he’d elicit over a beer one day when he told the men he fought with, forgetting as he always did, those guys were all dead.
Seeing his expression, Molly said, “I know how that must make you feel. I can get another ride. Maybe I should.”
The sky had already lost its magic glow. How quickly sunrise died, the heavens emptying of that otherworldly light to become another morning.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I really am. For all you’ve been through, Jack. I’m sorry.”
He gazed down at her. Beneath his eyes, a delicate color glistened like faded seashells held up to the sun. He shrugged and said, “For what?”
photo @ Marty Cohen
He pressed something into her palm. “I want you to do me a favor, will you? I want you to toss it.” “I can’t do that.” “You hate the war,” Jack urged. “You like protest. It’s symbolic.” “What would that solve?” “Probably nothing.” A long minute passed before he reached over and took the medal from her, pocketing it once more. “That’s okay. I’ll find something else to do with my souvenirs. When we get to New York, maybe I can climb the Empire State Building. Want to join me in a little political protest?” New York? Would he give her a ride as far as New York? If she traveled across the country with this man, what would happen? Molly knew what would happen. “You’ll be climbing on the outside, I presume?” “Me and King Kong,” Jack said. Molly shut her eyes, trying to savor the warmth of the sun against her eyelids. “King Kong,” she said after a while. “That was a really sad ending, don’t you think? Did you cry at the end, when they killed King Kong?”
…In the ladies room, a young mother leaned across the counter changing a toddler’s diaper. A middle-aged woman in a polyester pantsuit brushed her teeth over the sink. Molly met her eyes in the mirror, the stranger’s animosity slowly tracking her as she advanced toward a stall. Which camper had the woman emerged from? The Winnebago stickered with tourist attractions, the Dodge pick-up with its row of miniature American flags? Molly had done nothing to offend this woman besides walking into a public bathroom. Why should a stranger regard her with pure hatred? Because of the way she was dressed? An outfit that seemed now too flimsy and short above her bare legs, in her borrowed navy pea coat with Claire’s OUT NOW! button on the collar.
Molly bent low, positioning Jack’s carton of records in the trunk and froze in mid-motion. An olive green uniform was laid flat across the spare tire, the tie carefully knotted, arms crossed above the chest like a sleeping man’s torso. Above the pocket, rows of multicolored medals caught the light. She recognized the globe and anchor of the Marine Corps and below the left pocket, George Washington’s golden profile, a locket suspended from a violet ribbon. The Purple Heart.
Molly set the carton down and turned to face him. “You’re not in the Marines, are you?”
Jack saluted with a flash of his crooked smile. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” he said.
“Were you in Vietnam?”
Jack passed her a carton of records and she glanced down, straining to decipher album titles in the dark. Beatles, Stones, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Clues to a stranger’s past. Molly had the same albums somewhere, lost somewhere, left behind with each move until now she had only this, the clothes she was wearing, the borrowed coat on her back. What would her mother have said? Abigail Drayton, Queen of Order.
A universe of stars gazed back at her in the darkness, miles from any town. After the hum of speeding motion, the place seemed unworldly in its silence. A tall cedar fence shielded the restrooms from view; hardy insects droned near a bare overhead bulb above the weathered LADIES sign. Molly drew back in the doorway, suddenly aware of where she was, a woman alone in the middle of the night at a highway rest stop, expecting for a moment something terrible would be waiting behind the door. She bent over the sink and doused her face with cold water. Her skin looked ghostly under fluorescent light.
When she returned to the car, Jack was awake, leaning against the passenger door.
“I couldn’t keep driving either. I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t want to wreck your car.”
“I appreciate that,” he said. “Not that it’s mine.”
“Whose is it?”
He debated telling her about the drive-away contract. Ten days to deliver a repossessed Cadillac to Brooklyn, but he didn’t have the energy. “Let’s just say a friend.”
photo © Ulrich Beinert
Molly drove for a long time with Jack dozing beside her, his long legs folded against the passenger door. A yellow dividing line stretched ahead, emptiness sparked by billboards bathed in electric light. Mile after mile, the distance between exits seemed to widen. She tried to keep her mind on the road before her, to shut out the nagging, wheedling voice of doom that demanded to know, what now? Where would she go? She had no choice. Enough time had passed. Maybe her father wouldn’t look for her in Canaswego. Where else could she go with fifty dollars to her name?