A Birthday Remembrance

As you know, I didn’t get Frontiers finished in time for publication today. I had fought to make today (which was slightly earlier than I had planned) in memory of one of the real-life inspirations for my novel(s) – although I never told her that (and never would have). However, she’d known I was writing the first one, Passports. The last time we saw each other in person, in mid-2013, she’d urged me on to do the best I could and said she was sure it would be great.

Free Stock Photo: A mixed flock of waterfowl flying in the sunset

Free Stock Photo: A mixed flock of waterfowl flying in the sunset

She died back on February 2. I wrote a post about her eight days later. If you’d like to re-read it, click here.

Today would have been her 46th birthday.

Have a good Sunday, wherever you are reading this. And thank you for reading, following, and sharing my novel-writing site. :-)

“Delays, delays, delays”

For some reason, among all my London commuting on trains or in traffic I clearly remember one episode years ago of being stuck on the Underground’s Piccadilly line in north London. As the train waited motionless for what seemed like interminable minutes just outside a station (it was probably Arnos Grove), the driver came on the public address system and explained there’d been a problem at the station moments before and that he had to wait for verbal confirmation to proceed. We all heard him sigh and mumble, “Delays, delays, delays….”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a subway train

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a subway train

What does that have to do with this post? It’s that I won’t get Frontiers published tomorrow. And I’m thoroughly annoyed at myself over the “delay.”

Yesterday, I found several more “tiny errors,” including the word “talking” where it should have appeared as “taking.” I’ve only read that chapter about, oh, half a dozen times recently. And I’ve also run it through Word’s grammar check? I don’t understand….

Not exactly something to put me in the best frame of mind. I desperately wanted it out for Kam’s birthday, which was November 9th. But I also thought to myself what she might say if I could tell her. With her warm smile, she would probably observe something like, “Rob, it’s soooo nice of you, but don’t release it for me if you’re not happy with it. Get it the way you want it. C’mooooon, now….” (She often softly drew out words for emphasis.)

So I will “scrub” Frontiers a bit more for a few days. I feel better finally telling you all. I had become increasingly grouchy as I realized I would not make my self-imposed deadline.

I’ve been at this since January. A few days more to “make sure” is neither here nor there. Everyone, do please try to control your eager anticipation for a little while longer. ;-)

In Her Memory

Following on from yesterday, some “insider” info. If you’ve been stopping by since February, you may know. They were not idle words: I am going to do it. She will have her own page among the front matter:

image

The cameo appearance has made it into the tale as well.

I’ve left everything I could on Frontiers’ pages. It’s not perfect, naturally, but hand on heart I feel I’ve given it my best effort. That’s all we can ever aim to do, isn’t it?

Free Stock Photo: Sunflowers in a field.

Free Stock Photo: Sunflowers in a field.

A thought, a dedication, a nod. Just something. In a two decades’ long friendship, she never let us down. I pray I haven’t let her down now.

Whew, I need a cup of coffee….

Sworn To Secrecy

Not exactly an uplifting Monday post. For that, I apologize in advance. Sorry.

Sunday evening, my wife got an email from a friend whom we, and most everyone else, already know has a serious, long-term illness. She wrote that she has just been told she probably has only months to live. She noted that the only person who knows that is – unsurprisingly – her husband (they have no children).

And now, so does my wife; she’s second. She asked my wife not to tell anyone else; but, naturally, my wife immediately told me. However, I don’t really count as someone else, because I’m essentially a “dead end,” a cul-de-sac: I’m certainly not going to tell anyone.

There I was yesterday morning, thinking, oh, I’ll have a quiet day and try to “de-stress.” In my creative cocoon, I was seeing light at the end of the latest tunnel: the sequel is almost done. Finally, that struggle is nearing its end.

How unimportant the likes of that always seems whenever we are unexpectedly thrust back into unforgiving, actual reality.

View of a section of Trent Park, London, at dusk. [Photo by me, 2014]

View of a section of Trent Park, London, at dusk. [Photo by me, 2014]

Earlier this year, we’d already endured the worst death I have ever experienced. “I wonder if that’s what they told Kam?” was my knee-jerk response when my wife told me about this, more distant, friend. Later, we tried to lose ourselves in the first episode of the newest season of Downton Abbey.

Life is full of harsh moments like this. Yet this is new to me: What does one do with information like this when you are asked to keep it in confidence? The person facing the terminal illness has shared what she has been told of her fate, yet where does that leave those few who are told and then sworn to secrecy?

All I can say is that, having slept on it, possessing such information leaves me with a guilty sense of awful insider knowledge. Even if keeping it “quiet” is based on the best of intentions (to spare feelings, worry, etc.), important people are being left out of the loop; and they shouldn’t be. Ultimately, in my humble opinion, it’s never fair to them.

The Sheer Terror

As we know, dreams make good fictional plot devices. However, our “real” ones are often stranger and funnier than anything we can concoct, of course. How bizarre our brains can be.

I woke up about 5 this morning all disturbed after a nightmare. Wide awake, I slipped downstairs. I poured a glass of milk and sat for a moment in the kitchen before going back to bed.

I’d thought I’d been quiet. But my getting up had disturbed my wife. As I returned, in the darkness she asked, “Is everything okay?”

“Fine,” I whispered. “Sorry. I had a nightmare, was all dry and just needed a quick drink.”

“About what?”

As I climbed back into bed, I admitted, “It seems ridiculous now, but it was frightening while I was dreaming it. It was about Kam.”

I heard a sharp intake of breath from my wife.

I continued, “No, no. It was weird. I haven’t dreamed of her since she died. We were in a restaurant together and no one would serve us.”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a waitress with an empty tray.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a waitress with an empty tray.

My wife burst out laughing. Kam was an avid restaurant goer. Countless times we had all ventured to places she had chosen. She had excellent taste.

If my wife wasn’t completely wide awake before then, she was now. After regaining control of herself, she asked, “Was anyone else there with you two?”

“No. Just she and I.”

“Well, wherever she is,” she smiled, “she must be trying to tell you something.” :-)

Death and Social Media

On Wednesday, before I left Pennsylvania, I emailed my wife the 80 percent finished sequel manuscript. “I just want you to have a copy,” I messaged her. I didn’t say it in so many words, but she guessed why.

We nodded to it after I returned. I’d had a chill. If anything had happened to me on the trip back to London, I wanted her to have the unfinished book. Someone else she chose could’ve eventually finished it. A year of my hard work so far – and especially all “of myself” and others I’d shared within its pages – would not have been lost forever on my death.

Thinking on that caused me to reflect on that in terms of social media too.

Naturally my wife had had our late girlfriend Kam’s number stored in her phone. I don’t know if she has deleted it and I won’t even ask. And Kam never did Facebook or Twitter, so we don’t even have the likes of those to hold on to.

One of my Facebook friends is a cousin who died in 2010. I will never unfriend him. His page is now essentially a running memorial of wall postings “to him” on his birthdays and other occasions.

You probably have similar stories.

Inevitably this will get worse. Abruptly anything on Facebook, Twitter, or another personal site, could be the last post we ever make. Maybe that’s morbid to bring up, yet it is always worth bearing that in at least the back of our minds.

Free Stock Photo: Girl working on a laptop.

Free Stock Photo: Girl working on a laptop.

Interesting too is how, as years and then decades pass, those who live after us will have masses of “information” about us due to our social media legacies – more than any ancestors had ever left behind before. Essentially, future generations won’t have trouble finding out about us. In fact, we’ll probably bore the hell out of them.

Who’ll need a “Who Do You Think You Are?” TV show two centuries from now? After all, those uploaded photos of you drinking those four beers out of straws via that stupid device sitting on your head, will still be easily accessible for all to see. Nothing like leaving the likes of that as a profound “family history” to the great-great-grandchildren, eh? ;-)

Wheels Within Wheels

I was so pleased that Sandra Wheeler commented twice yesterday on my “What Women Like (To Read)” post. In it, I’d made reference to her online erotic novel. And, by the way, if you read any of it, be forewarned: it’s definitely for adults.

Amidst my first comment in reply, I noted this:

As with you, I don’t pretend [my writing is] “high art,” but “art” is in the opinion of the reader. I do know I put a huge amount of effort into creating a barrage of characters, happenings and relationships because I believe the real world functions like that – as a mess of people interacting unpredictably on a variety of levels. “Wheels within wheels,” so to speak. And maybe that’s “art?” In the end, that’s always for someone else to decide.

I realized after I’d clicked “post” that one of the efforts in the sequel I am most proud of is in this draft chapter (click for larger version):

image

It is an example of “inspiration” taking me in a story direction I had never anticipated. If you are a recent follower, you may not know that I decided in that chapter to fashion a bit of “immortality” for a dear friend of ours who died back on February 2. You may (or may not) have seen the sidebar link to a “memorial” post I wrote about her shortly after her death.

Free Stock Photo: A burning candle.

Free Stock Photo: A burning candle.

I placed that now late friend, Kam, in a scene in her native London with fictional James and Isabelle. I also orchestrated it to have Kam talking about two other real life people: myself and my real life wife, Helen. Call it my little effort at being a bit “Hitchcock” – and then some – in slipping us into my own otherwise fictional tale.

In addition, unbeknownst to Kam on that page, I had James and Isabelle agree how Kam reminds them of fictional Valérie.

A bit of “wheels within wheels” there which you, and only you, a reader of this blog, would know about. Why? Because I have also explained previously how, in Passports – which was written entirely while Kam was alive, and published two months before her death – I partly based Valérie on real life Kam.

The other day, Book Quotes shared this on Twitter:

“You can love someone so much…But you can never love people as much as you can miss them” – John Green.

So painfully true. Kam is gone from our lives far too early and totally unexpectedly. In Valérie, she lives on for me somewhat “ghostlike” in these books – in small asides, in certain behaviors, in comments. But now, in having Kam walk on properly as herself, she will now make her presence felt forever as the lovely, real person she was – even if only briefly.

I think there’s probably at least a little bit of “art” in that. But when it comes to the living and “art,” we have to be careful. I commented separately to Sandra:

….I’ve noted on here that my uncle (my writing name is a pen name) is a HarperCollins police/crime author. He has been writing for over 30 years. He’s written for TV and film too. Growing up I couldn’t understand him very well – his world was not mine at all. Frankly, until I was in my early 20s, I thought he was “odd.” Now, a couple of decades on, I “get” him much better. But I always admired what he produced, even though it wasn’t what I really liked to read.

For years, we’ve been good friends. He told me recently that he believes I should have “a blog” and write about my experiences – traveling, living abroad, etc. When he wrote that (on Facebook) I had to control my laughter – especially because I fictionalize him in the books, and he has no idea my books exist.

This is my secret – known only to very trusted friends, and certain (all English, no American) family, and that’s fine for now. But when my uncle does discover it, I suspect he’ll laugh; yet I’m not entirely sure that will be the reaction and don’t want to cross that minefield until I have to. I am uber-cautious in that regard because we had an ugly family experience some years ago when he wrote a biographical piece for an anthology in which he discussed my grandfather using my grandpa’s real name. My mother went absolutely ballistic when she read how he had described their late father….

More “wheels within wheels.” Sometimes it’s hard to keep track. Being a writer is, uh, indeed at times, “odd.” ;-)

A Small Tribute

While walking our dog a few days ago, I had a “brainstorm”: in the sequel, in London (some of it is taking place in Britain), I would give our deceased friend Kam a literary cameo. I don’t know yet if it will make the final book, but here’s part of the early draft (click to enlarge), and I hope you enjoy it:

image

A few points. In that scene, I’ve fictionalized a reasonably well-known club where we had hung out with her a couple of times. My choosing to place her there was owing to the fact we met Kam frequently after work at clubs, pubs, or restaurants.

Rob and Helen are also real people. And guess who? Like certain über-famous directors “walking on” in their own films, I thought I’d slot myself in as myself: Kam always called me Rob, and my wife’s name is actually Helen.

What fiction allows us, eh? A couple of other bits. Early in our real marriage, we did live in Godmanchester. (I even met the former prime minister, John Major, in person once, when he was still the area’s MP. Ah, another life goal fulfilled. ;-) ) Kam was also almost 27 in late 1995 (although the time frame is fictional in this sense: we were not yet married in 1995). I thought I would also drop in a small “inside joke” about Kam resembling Valérie – which of course she does, given fictional Valérie is partly based on very real life Kam.

If I go with this, Kam will become the only outright real person portrayed in a speaking role in the books so far. It’s just something: words and memories are all we have left. Tomorrow (May 2), she will have been gone three months. May she rest in peace.

20140501-114444.jpg

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’re having a good Thursday….

Women And Men As “Just Friends?”

In the car yesterday, my wife and I drifted again into reflecting on how we still find it impossible to believe Kam is gone. If you’re a regular visitor, you may know our friend had died suddenly back on February 2, and that her loss has gutted us. She had only turned 45 in November.

Sixteen years ago, Kam was the first girlfriend of my (future) wife’s I’d met. She behaved towards me initially rather like the sidekick in late 1990s Brit romance-comedy films: the no-nonsense pal who isn’t too sure about this American guy who’s clearly after her best friend. All these years later, I still remember the skeptical looks and careful questions. Fortunately, I passed muster.

A British-born Sikh, Kam had boyfriends at various times. There were some English guys. I remember an Irish rugby player. There was even an Italian. Her parents had also “introduced” her to various “marriageable” men in the Sikh community, including one from Canada.

On that latter, Londoner and European that she was, I recall her moaning softly, “He’s okay. But I don’t want to live in Ontario.” Obviously she had never found the guy she apparently wanted to marry (or one who had wanted to marry her also). She had told us she was free to marry anyone she wanted, Sikh or not. In arranging “meetings,” she said, her parents were only trying to help; what mattered was only what she wanted.

While we drove, as we finished our latest reminiscences about her, my wife abruptly revealed this to me:

“I never told you this. Kam and I agreed years ago that if I died, she would’ve married you.”

I was so stunned, I laughed. But then I realized my wife wasn’t kidding. I had been party sorta to an “arranged second marriage” someday, although no one had ever bothered to tell me.

20140425-111915.jpg

It was tremendously flattering. It was also jaw-dropping to discover that she had been that fond of me. I had always believed Kam and I had gotten on well, yet her usually somewhat formal, unemotional and subtle manner had always also left me feeling a bit unable to gauge what was really going on inside her head.

Several weeks after Kam died, her sister told us that in her last hours in hospital Kam had instructed her to tell us goodbye and that she had loved us. When I heard that, it took everything I had to hold myself together. I almost fell apart on the spot.

I had never before fully appreciated how as a married man the death of an unmarried woman friend can seem so difficult to characterize properly and awkward to mourn. As time has moved on, I have realized Kam’s death has upset me more than the loss of anyone I have ever known. The only ones that might have “rivaled” it to date were perhaps (when I was much younger) those of my grandparents; but the loss of grandparents is of a vastly different life order than the death of a close contemporary of course.

Men and women as just friends? Is it really possible? Kam’s death has led to that theme increasingly slipping into the writing of the sequel. Does there always have to be an unsaid undercurrent of something more than friendship?

You may know by now one of my characters is partly based on Kam. Her personality, style and attitudes, help underpin Valérie. Indeed I’m having to temper my writing: since February, missing Kam, I’m finding Valérie’s role just keeps getting bigger and bigger….

It’s A Nightmare

Yesterday morning we were told our girlfriend’s ashes will be scattered on March 10. Busy with other things in recent weeks, I had forced her death (mostly) to one side, trying not to think about it. Suddenly, it had all come rushing back.

So, virtually out of the gate, I was depressed and in a foul mood.

Then there are those times you wish you could smash your head down on the PC desk in front of you repeatedly. I came that close later on. It was after I had finished spending part of the day in another type of nightmare.

I am working on a chapter in the sequel involving one. It contains references to certain happenings in the current book, sexual symbolism (it has to have that, doesn’t it?), etc., and so on and so forth. I do think it has potential.

20140304-171645.jpg

Yet I just don’t know. I’ll leave it for now and move on to more “conventional” storytelling. I have to ponder it some more.

20140304-164030.jpg

I know yesterday was just a “first go” at it, and you are never supposed to throw in the towel at the first attempt. Maybe in the near future I’ll have a few glasses of something strong, re-read it afresh and re-tackle it. Being a bit “tipsy” might help. ;-)