MADDIE AND THE GHOST
How do I go about writing a book? Is it all in my mind first? Do I outline?
I wonder why I always think of a violin when I begin. I’ve never played; I don’t think I’ve ever touched one. Still, I picture its strings, long and loopy, hanging over the edge; it’s impossible for them to make a sound. They certainly can’t sing.
That’s a new book, a story unformed, the writer uninformed; I have only a glimmer of what might be ahead. And each sentence that remains after writing, and rewriting, takes me closer to understanding what I’d like to say; each sentence tightens the strings so that in the end, the story is there.
Often though, there’s a nugget of knowledge when I begin. Round and smooth, I turn it over in my mind, It’s something that belongs in the book. When I began NORY RYAN’S SONG, I knew Nory would give her brother, Patch, her place on the cart to find the ship for America. When I wrote MAGGIE’S DOOR, I saw my father bent over a book, and I knew he was my character Sean, in love with learning.
I have a few nuggets, as I write my new book. One is a ghost, skinny, with a hint of nail polish. The other is an ambulance driver. And yes, there’s a war.
Here I am, more than a third finished; it’s still unformed. The protagonist’s name is Mariah; no, it’s Madeleine. Her older brother, Claude, has gone off to war; no, it’s her older sister, Genevieve. And which war? Is it Iraq? No, it’s the Second World War. And Mariah/Madeleine, is left to find her grandmother. In Brooklyn? So far from the action? Maybe she goes to Alsace.
So I write and think. It’s coming, I tell myself. I’ve learned to love Maddie, I’ve put her in a place that will change her life; I’ve surrounded her with characters that, I hope,will make her grow.
It’s not easy; it’s never become easier. But soon, maybe she’ll sing. I hope so. I spend my days trying to make it happen.