I think you’re all doing such a great job discussing my book, I can’t imagine what I could add to the discussion! I mean it, all of your comments are so well thought out, and everyone seems so knowledgeable about the craft of writing good fiction. It’s a pleasure to read the comments. Your comments are so much more insightful than any of the published reviews I’ve received. It’s such a relief to find that people really “get” the book and “get” what I intended for the reader to feel while reading it. I’m one of those writers who really believes that you can “show” rather than “tell” a story and you’re right, a lot of writers out there are busying themselves with telling conventional stories with conventional plots and because of it they are missing out on all the other ways there are of being on the page and of sounding on the page. A lot of writers think it’s their responsibility to instruct or entertain the reader, whereas I believe it’s more important to witness – I think it was Michael Ondaatje who said, “a writer should be like a mirror walking down the road” and that’s how I try and think while I’m writing. I also do something else while I’m writing, and that is to say something that no one would dare, dare put down, and that I’m telling a truth that no one else would dare utter. But I can tell by your spot-on comments you already see that, you already know all that about me!
One of the things that I always find interesting about writing books is the editorial process that the book undergoes after the first draft is written – at first under my own hand, and then under an editor’s hand. When I first wrote “Here They Come” I jumped back and forth a lot between the seasons of the year (and I also jumped into the future and then explained events in the past and present, for example, in the very beginning the girl lets the reader know that the dog fell down the elevator shaft and died, then again, towards the end of the book she brings up the scene again, only telling it a slightly different way, with different details). I think for a while it worked in the book, I think it was in keeping with the narrator’s random way of thinking, but when it came time for my editor to edit the book, he suggested I make the telling of the events more chronological. In a way I was sad to change the exact manner in which I had originally written the book, (for some reason I think there’s some magic that an original version contains that subsequent drafts can’t quite achieve), but then I decided that the book was probably confusing enough without me jumping back and forth between seasons and the time.
In the original version I also gave more weight to each of the character’s thoughts and imaginings. I kind of gave in to their desires to revel in their past lives and memories. I had the idea that if I could let the reader know what these characters were daydreaming about, then it would help serve to tell the story of this girl and how her family ended up being the way that they were. Here, for example, is a section about Ma Mere (the grandmother) that I elected to leave out of the original manuscript because instead of adding to the momentum of the girl’s own story, it seemed to draw attention away from it. It is still a method of writing that I’d one day like to make work, maybe some day I’ll get it right. Anyway, this is a section where the narrator is imagining what Ma Mere might have remembered from an event in her own married life. I was soooo close to leaving it in the final draft that I feel I owe it to you to include it here.
Ma Mere was alone on a balcony in the wind on a night when the dog’s were howling, pacing in their run by the garden.
“Shh, shh,” she said, but hardly loud enough for the dog’s to hear and maybe she said it more to herself, to slow her fast beating heart. She was waiting for her husband to come home. She thought she would be able to see him coming down the path, or at least see the moon’s reflection in the glass he would be holding that he would always leave with from the bar or the party. Her kitchen was filled with glasses that did not match, from times before he had come home drink in hand. Sometimes the rims colored with different lipsticks. Like fingerprints she thought she could find the woman whose lips matched the lipstick stains. In the morning she would serve him his juice in the unwashed glass he had walked home with, she would wait to see if he said anything about the lipstick, or at least try to wipe it off, but he never did, and he would fit his lips right over the stain of the lipstick and swallow his juice.
She saw him come with another woman this time. He had never done that before. He held both their glasses as the other woman held up her skirt and danced in front of him on the path towards the house. He stopped on the path and toasted the dancing woman and told her bravo and then lifted both the glasses to his lips and drank from them at the same time. She wondered where he was planning to go with this woman, would he bring her to their bedroom? Would he lock the balcony so that she would be trapped outside, having to listen to their lovemaking through the glass doors, seeing their dark forms through the filmy curtains?
The dogs began to whine. It was their call to their master. He heard them from the path and he yelled and they stopped their whining but started to claw against the fence of their run. She could hear them panting with the effort and she thought if she had to be locked outside on the balcony, then listening to her husband and this woman make love would not be so different than listening to the frantic gestures of the dogs.
The woman was no one she knew and she wondered where she came from. Off the boats moored out to sea, perhaps, vacationers who sailed the coast. She tried to catch her French, listen for faulty pronunciation, and she heard it as well as the German coming through, scattered “ya’s” and glottal stops on words supposed to fall away, as in “pas” she thought, a word meant to linger in the French, but from this woman’s mouth it was cut short. She didn’t not want to hear this woman in ecstasy, she thought it would sound like a steam train making its way up and over a mountain. The whistle blowing shrill and the iron wheels clanging on the rusted ties. She went inside and heard them now in her house. The woman’s shoes scraping on the tile, her husband turning on the radio. And then her husband calling her.
“Matilde! Matilde! he called. From the top of the stairs she could smell the perfume. It was beautiful, some kind of blossom smell she had only known when walking down paths at night, never knowing in the dark what the flower was.
“Feel,” she said to the German woman, and she took the German’s hand and placed it over her heart.
“Sit down,” the German said and the German said to Matilde’s husband, “Go and get the woman a glass of water,” and the German sat down beside Matilde and held her hand and moved Matilde’s hair so that it now was placed behind her ears.
“Eating enuff?” the German asked. Matilde nodded her head. “Sleeping?” the German then said, and Matilde nodded her head again. “Then it’s the summer,” the German said, “the summer skitters all our hearts,” she said and then she took Matilde’s hand and had Matilde feel her heart and Matilde felt such a strong regular beat she wanted to leave her hand there on the German’s breast to see if her own heart would follow the rhythm.
Her husband brought the water in one of the same glasses they had taken with them from the party and had been drinking their drinks from. She could faintly taste the whiskey and smell the cigarette smoke that seemed to come up from the glass’ lip. Her husband sang and held his hands out to the German, wanting her to dance with him to what was playing on the radio, but the German put her finger to her lips, telling him to be quiet and then pointing to a chair where he should sit. It was a chair by the window which faced the dog run and his dogs knew he was there and they were jumping up behind him, two, three feet in the air, their heads and paws sometimes banging on the glass, jumping by his shoulders, looking as if they had come forth from inside him, some sort of demons he could not keep contained.
Matilde leaned her head back on the sofa.
“That’s right, relax,” the German said and smoothed back Matilde’s hair.
With her head still back Matilde said to the German, “Tell my husband we’re going to have a baby.”
“Ah, you hear that,” the German said, taking a pillow from the couch and hitting Matilde’s husband square in the face with it. “You shall be a Papa, that’s wonderful! Congratulations,” she said and she grabbed Matilde’s cheeks and leaned over Matilde and kissed both her cheeks and her lips and then her husband rose and stood over them, and pulled the German to her feet and made her kiss him instead. Matilde then stood up and left them and went out to the door, to the dogs, where when she came into their run, they didn’t even turn to notice her, they were watching the German and Matilde’s husband through the glass, and she knelt down by the dogs and put her hands on their heads and watched too, until daylight when the summer sun was already hot with its rising, and the dogs, like the German and Matilde’s husband had curled up and gone off to sleep.
She went to the beach then and swam in a flat sea and when she returned to her house, the German was gone and her husband was sitting up, his head in his hands, rubbing his chin. She stood in front of him.
“Do you happen to know the name of the perfume she wore?” Matilde said while she handed her husband a lipstick stained glass of juice. Her husband shook his head. He did not know.
“Your dogs need to get out of there,” she said and she pointed to the run through the window glass and her husband nodded his head and he stood and she could hear him go outside and hear the dogs whining and then her husband opening the run’s gate and him telling the dog’s to heel by his side as he walked down the path away from the house.
Anyway, I originally thought that this section would give the reader more of a clue as to why the grandmother, the mother, and the daughter were all a little “f---ked” up when it came to men. I don’t know, in the end I think it was still a wise choice to leave it out of the final draft, (my editor thought so too) but I can tell you it was not an easy decision.
Okay, I’m ready for any questions you may have and I look forward to them!