How this adventure began|
Early one morning I had a dream. I don't remember the dream exactly, it faded right away, but I remembered the two people involved as if I had a snapshot of them, a glance at their relationship. I was able to lie in bed and wake up slowly, moving the dream into a day dream, let it continue to roll on and on in my head until snapshot became scene.
It was Sunday, I was six months pregnant, and my husband had fallen into the lovely habit of getting up with our two-year-old on the weekends so I could sleep in. (Bless him, bless him.) I took full advantage of his generosity that morning, feeling privately guilty all day for the indulgence. I didn't tell him I'd been awake for an hour before I actually got up.
I suspect the dream was inspired by the dedication in my book austenland, which was being copy edited for publication at the time: "For Colin Firth--You're a really great guy, but I'm married, so I think we should just be friends." Maybe my subconscious mind had been playing with that idea while I slept. What if he and I did meet, what if we did become friends? What an unlikely (and yet fascinating!) idea.
But what I nightdreamed-to-daydreamed was Becky and Felix. I'm not Becky, and Colin Firth is not Felix, but I suspect that's where the characters began before they evolved into their own selves. What would happen if a Utah Mormon housewife met a dashing Hollywood actor and they fell into friendship? They are so opposite--what would the attraction be? A romance would never be a consideration for this woman. She's happily married, she has stringent views on right and wrong, she would never do something that she believed would endanger her family. But now she and this unlikely man find some connection. What would he make of all of it? How would they form a relationship? What would they have in common?
The daydream didn't stop all that day. My husband noticed that I was awfully spacey. That Sunday afternoon we drove 35 minutes to his mother's house for dinner, and I didn't speak the entire way. I was still imagining scenes, the interaction of these two characters, making myself laugh. I daydream a lot (it's practically my profession), but it's rare and fantastic for me to be so taken with a story that I can keep those scenes playing through my head for hours and hours. I found right away a pattern of speaking between them, a way they interacted that felt natural and interesting, and I loved hearing them converse. I didn't want them to stop.
Not once that day did I consider it an idea for a book. It's not the kind of book I usually write. And besides, I can't write every daydream into a novel, not if I want to do anything else--like sleep, or eat, or breathe.
Then Monday came, and the daydream didn't go away. I remember, I was lying on the carpet in the basement playing with my two-year-old, still imagining scenarios with these two characters, when I suddenly thought, I should write these down. I didn't take it seriously, I've just learned to record ideas before they go away. Of course, I have dozens of book ideas for every one that I decide to tackle into a first draft.
But then during Max's nap, I thought I'd jot some stuff down before getting to my real work, which at that time was final rewrites for my young adult novel book of a thousand days. Then when I began to write my daydreams, I wasn't just scribbling down some ideas, but the scenes themselves. Normally, my daily word count goal when writing a first draft is 1000 words. That's a high goal for me, but one achievable if I use my sparse writing time effectively. That Monday, I wrote 4000 words. I kept writing, every spare moment I could grab, and in a week I had 50 pages. Before I put it on hold to return to rewriting my young adult novel, I had 20,000 words. I've never experienced a writing flow like that. And it didn't keep up. But for the next several months, whenever I had a day or a few days between other projects, I found it very easy to jump back into Becky and Felix's story.
After having my baby girl, I thought I'd take a maternity leave from writing, give myself a couple of months relieved of any pressure to write so I could recover and sleep and enjoy the little ones. But this book kept close to my ankle, panting, nudging a ball toward me with those puppy dog eyes, just begging to play (is that a cumbersome metaphor? Cause that's just how it was). When my baby girl was asleep on my lap, I propped a pillow under her to keep her comfortably against my chest and allow me to have my hands free, and I'd sit beside my son on my bed, he playing a game on his computer, while I worked this story on mine. Just a couple of months after my new baby was born, I had a first draft. It wasn't very good, and was only about 50,000 words (my final draft was 130,000), but there it was.
I spent nearly two years after that re-writing this book, frequently putting it aside for other projects (and just not having much writing time at all since the toddler didn't nap and the baby girl needed my happy attention). In all that time, I was always eager to return to the story. That is not always the case. Writing for me is very hard. It's work, and there are often a hundred things I'd rather be doing. But this book, for the most part, was fun. (Except for that one part, which was sheer pain to write, but also necessary for the story.) It took me many drafts to find the story, to fine tune it, to understand these characters and their relationship and why it mattered at all. But I completely enjoyed the adventure.
I can never say if any book will be right for anyone but myself. I write to my internal reader, and we all have such individual internal readers. But this much I can say--I love this book for myself. Usually by the time I'm reading a book's proofs, I've read it so many times I can barely stand it anymore. I'm ready to throw the manuscript at the wall and run away screaming. Except with this book. Even to the very end, it was a joy. I never tired of it. I couldn't wait to turn each page. This story was a rejuvenating writing experience, and I feel so lucky that I got to tell it.
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