Novel, Take Two.
September 22, 2008

So here I go, again, drinking the writing antidote, but gallon-sized, this time.

I read somewhere that John Grisham always starts a new book the day after he finishes the book he’s writing, and although I needed a little more time than that, off I go, again.

Most of all, I feel relieved that I’ve even come up with a new novel premise; I really had to dig deep. As I told a writer friend, my new novel is going to be about a nineteen year old young woman who dies before her time, and has to come back to “life” as another person, namely, her same aged next-door neighbor, to continue with her life.

She will then live next-door to her “previous” parents, sisters, brothers, family, without being allowed to disclose who she really is.

I’ll have her interact over the backyard hedges, as a babysiter for her (old family) next door neighbors, and play with family dynamics on both sides, along with all the personal conflicts that go with it, along with her attempts to fit in to her new place in the world, and her new family.

I’ll balance out both lives with the main character, who told me yesterday that her name was Carly before she died, but is now Kinsey, having a talent or ability her old self didn’t have, maybe better parents, different financial situations, her old boyfriend being attracted to her new self, too, etc. and etc, along with exploring the inner conflicts that come from losing her old family.

I don’t have all the details yet — I know from my past novel that it’ll come as I’m writing.

This will either be a novel, again, or a YA book, maybe series. I’m thinking, since YA is so hot these days, with an age group known to read and spend money on books, besides it being a great genre for books in series, AND with a usual word count that is approx. 1/3 the count of my finished novel, it could be a smart move to write in/break in through this genre.

I remember the first time I heard a more seasoned writer say that if you couldn’t break in with your first book, you write another — and sometimes another, and even another. I found the concept horrifying and absolutely mind-boggling — not just the amount of work indicated, but you think, what about THIS book, the one you wrote for years and put all the hard work into, emptied your soul into, not to mention the query, synopsis, edits and rewrites.

But that’s not it — only now do I really and truly get it — you can’t drown or live in just one book, no matter how attached you are to the characters and story. Even as the writer instead of the reader, still the last page turns. Nor, hopefully, do you want to write only one book, if you plan to make writing your career.

So, now I’m looking at it like, in the future, when Harper Collins (or some such yummy publisher) offers me the three book contract, wouldn’t it be awesome to have the three books already written?

The first page and a half of my new novel is copied below, still drafty, of course. I’m going to have fun with this one.

New Novel, Still Untitled: Working Title: The Girl Next Door.

Untitled Chapter One

When you die, you wake up in a huge Winn Dixie feeling as confused as you always felt under those blinding florescent lights. I’d been expecting a different kind of light, and angels playing harps — not muzak, and The Carpenters singing Rainy Days and Mondays. Wandering the aisles in a daze, (I’m not the only one), I linger in the produce section, studying myself in the mirror over the dewy heads of iceburg lettuce.

Wow — the big zit on the left side of my chin has (poof) disappeared. Also gone is the scar that, for as long as I can remember, etched a thin, white road across my left eyebrow, separating it into two sections if you looked real close. The ragged scar on my right kneecap that I sustained at age ten after taking a dare to ride my bike down Mammoth Hill without using brakes is also gone. So is the beauty mark on my cheek.

All identifying marks are gone! I don’t even have fingerprints, anymore! I think I’m about to lose it! I’m freaking out!

Breathe deep, says the kid in charge of carts (there’s still a kid in charge of carts).


“I said, take a deep breath. It’s okay.”

Only, he talks in my head; his lips don’t move at all. He’s the same guy who’d handed me a cart when I first arrived, manifesting next to me as soon as I walked through the automatic doors. Pointing me toward the shining aisles as if all of this was perfectly normal stuff, he’d also handed me a list: a survival list for death. (I swear!)

As it turns out, you still have to eat.

You don’t need money, though. And, just like the wish of women everywhere, you also don’t gain weight. You can choose your own face, hair, skin color, body type and age; at least that’s what I heard over the p.a. system earlier, when they welcomed us. (That, and can Wanda please report to aisle five for clean-up.)

However, I guess the shape shifting stuff happens further down the line. If going by my life means anything anymore, I have a feeling I’ll be stuck at death 1.0 for a long time. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve always been pretty much okay with how I look. Although it could be fun to change things up a little bit, I’m already so over change I can’t even tell you, after finding myself here.

I think they pump some sort of happy gas through the store ducts, too; not like the kind the dentists use, but more like an infusion of wisdom, part of the very air, that helps you get your bearings, shop for your list, and integrate the fact that you’re dead.

I see Maybelline’s Great Lash is hanging in its usual slot in the cosmetics aisle, a comforting beacon of green and pink just as hard to miss here, too. I take two, and put them in my cart. You never know when they might throw the Afterlife Ball, and of course you’ll want to look your best when The Big Guy (That’s what they call him, here – The Big Guy) asks you to dance. (The guy wrapping roasted chickens even said, though not to me, that everyone gets at least one dance.) A long, thick set of lashes always sets off a gown beautifully; I still know at least that much – I did go to prom, and even a wedding, once.

I better grab an eyeliner pencil, eye shadow, eyelash curler and lip gloss, too. Mom always said we should put our best face forward.

The Big Guy’s helper, his intake worker, I guess, has a long table with three stacks of forms set up right in front of the Deli section. And, drum roll please, he happens to be the Easter Bunny. (And he’s eating purple pickles.)

I know, I know; at first I thought it was a joke, too, but it’s no joke. The lady behind the counter weighing tubs of macaroni salad said that it helps the newly dead children, puts them at ease, and that the adults at least find it funny, if not comforting. I have to agree; there isn’t anything scary about the Easter Bunny. He looks like a real rabbit, too – a jack rabbit, going by his ears, although walking upright. The kid in charge of carts waves me into line, parking my cart full of makeup next to the boxes of saltines. I’m wearing the same unisexual, baby-blue, long-sleeved nightgown as everyone else, and still feeling woozy.

Each time he’s done writing, the Easter Bunny looks up, smiles, and sends the newly registered off to finish their shopping lists, but not before pressing a foil-wrapped chocolate bunny into each person’s hand. I’m allergic to chocolate; I always was, and I know that chocolate bunny is going to taste like – dare I say it? – heaven. I’d hazard a guess that I’m not allergic, here. Not to chocolate, nuts, shellfish or cats.

I wonder when I can get a cat? Will it be a dead cat, too?

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’m dead. Instead, I’m noticing irrelevant things – like, how white the Easter Bunny’s teeth are, and how the icing on the donuts in the Bakery section has been so artfully and impeccably applied.

But I’m dead!

It’s still all a little disjointed, the details of what happened, or how it happened, because it all happened so fast. It’s the last thing you’d expect to have happen on a sunny, quiet Tuesday morning. I’m supposed to be babysitting for the Maxwell’s this afternoon, and little Joey is expecting me to read him the new Junie B. Jones book. Truth be told, I couldn’t wait to read it, either. Those are some funny books.