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Pickle Me This

December 17, 2018

Lightbulbs

Photo of a cup of tea beside a computer screen in which the document's title is revealed as THIS DOWNFALL.

I still remember the day I started writing Mitzi Bytes, in late June of 2014, and how we’d had dinner out on the porch, and I had this idea for a story, and we talked about it through dinner, the conversation providing the momentum for me to finally get started. Iris was still a baby, so didn’t have a lot to contribute but Stuart and Harriet had seemed as invested in the project as I was, and that night Stuart washed the dishes even though it was my turn so that I could sit down and begin writing.

Always for me, writing books has been a family project. We spent dinner last night brainstorming titles for my latest manuscript, a #MeToo era novel about a woman whose older politician boyfriend is accused of sexual misconduct alleged to have taken place a decade before, and that that woman herself is estranged from the boyfriend for mysterious reasons, having returned alone to their hometown months before in disgrace, only makes the situation more complicated to navigate. The novel unfolds over the week that the scandal does, the story of their relationship and his betrayal gradually revealed. 

“Wow, you’ve sure done a lot thinking about this,” Harriet said to me, after drilling me on all the details, but I knew about the worn tread on the outdoor carpet on the boyfriend’s mother’s porch, and about the protagonist’s sister who runs a Montessori school, and I was more than a little proud of having impressed her. She was fixated on the hometown though, in the context of her Grade Three social studies project on communities, I think. 

“Well, what’s the major industry?” she kept demanding. “Tourism? Resource extraction?” I confessed I didn’t know, exactly. I knew the town had a drug problem, opioids, and that the librarians were trained in administering Naloxone. Harriet did not consider this sufficient. “I think,” I told her, “that the town had at one point been a manufacturing base, but then the factories closed down, as they do.” But what had the factories made, she wondered. A novelist has to be specific. 

“Light bulbs?” suggested Stuart. Yes, maybe light bulbs. The town doesn’t even have a name—maybe we could call it Edison. (I just googled to see if there is an Edison in Ontario, and there is, an Edison Mountain, named for a mine owned by THE Thomas Edison, but it turned out he didn’t invent the lightbulb after all? Further googling reveals that the incandescent light bulb was invented several times in various places all over the world—but it was two Canadians, Woodward and Evans, who sold a patent to Thomas Edison in 1879. Who knew?) 

And then we got back to titles, and Harriet suggested the novel’s title be a warning to the protagonist: “Stay Away From That Man, He’s Bad News.” And I thought about “Bad News,” because of the role the media plays in the story. Then she and Iris started rhapsodizing other possibilities: “Love in the Darkness.” “Terrible Love Story.” “The Shadow of Love’s Heart.” “Don’t Tell Mom, The Politician is a Smarmy Git”—that one was my idea. 

“Summer of Love?” Harriet suggests, but no. “What’s the season?” she asks, and I tell her autumn, fall. The novel takes place in October, and it’s raining a lot, and I start thinking about fall, falls, being fallen. “So now I now how downward spiral goes,” is a line from a poem I wrote many years ago that has found its way into my new book, which is about downfalls, the kind that happen to men and the kind that happen to women, and the distance between those two experiences. And there we had it—downfall. This Downfall. An actual title. after months of edits on Untitled Story Draft Two

Always trust in the process of discussing my novels over dinner, might be the truest writing advice I know. 

One thought on “Lightbulbs”

  1. Love it! Such a nice peek into life at your house (and the liveliness of your writing life).
    -Kate

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