I am saying good-bye to the Flanagans and the Kellys and it is both a happy and sad moment. They have existed in my imagination and computer database since 2004 when I created them as I wrote Triple Decker.
When I write, my characters become real to me. I can feel when dressmaker Peggy pricks her finger on a pin and worries about blood on a fabric.
I want to slap Katie when her unbending and old-fashioned morality makes life difficult for her daughter Jess to develop her relationship with Globe reporter Aidan, the way the young woman feels is best.
I can cry with Peggy when her son is killed. If I couldn’t go to Fort Bragg to protest the war, I could send Peggy. I did enough research to see the flag-draped cardboard cartons and hear the bagpipes playing for Peggy to experience.
I understand Peggy’s frustration working in an uncaring corporate environment.
The Mission Hill neighborhood is not a creation, but a recounting of a world changing through gentrification.
If the Flanagans and Kellys are figments of my imagination, they are composites of the many families that lived in Mission Hill.
I have a friend with a six-year old son, who is a great story teller. But as he told his grandfather, a story has to have a problem. The Flanagans and Kellys have their problems. In one way, the Flanagans and Kellys remind me of my two French-Canadian aunts who were still fighting about a prom dress in their seventies. However, let any outsider be a threat to the other, and that sister would come out swinging.
Marriages survive but husbands and wives grate on another. The Flanagans and the Kellys are no different. Peggy’s “Old Goat” frustrated her, but she protected him with the ferocity of the clichéd mother lion protecting her cubs.
As they go through the transitions in their lives, the transitions I put them through, I almost want to apologize to them for making them suffer.
I put the novel aside for well over a decade, although from time-to-time I thought of my imaginary friends. Their stories remained buried in my computer but rose to my mind’s surface by miscellaneous triggers.
After writing Coat Hangers and Knitting Needles, I was drained. It was my first non-fiction book about abortion before Roe v. Wade and it was painful. In fiction, it is possible to make things better for characters, but in non-fiction, suffering cannot be sugar-coated if you are looking for reality.
For the first time in my life, I could not write, with the exception of blogs.
The way back to writing happened in two steps. I found a publisher for Murder in Edinburgh and brought out Triple Decker from the depths of my database.
It was like a homecoming. As I walked through the rooms of the Triple Decker, it was as if Peggy greeted me and said, “I’ll put the kettle on.” I’d forgotten things like the claw-foot tub in Peggy’s bathroom which she’d painted blue and stenciled with flowers. I wanted some of the goodies the families has prepared for the Super Bowl despite how the day changed their lives forever.
So, after several months of getting reacquainted and polishing and after my husband put the book through his own severe and welcomed critiqued, I will send it off to be readied for its publication later this year.
The cover is done. For the first time, there will be art work within the book, something this publisher is willing to do.
In a few moments, I will hit the send button and it will arrive at the publishers.
I have the same feeling I had when I took my then 18-year old daughter to Logan Airport for her gap year at a German Gymnasium both sadness to see them go and a combination of relief and pride to see them go.