CHUNKS FROM THE RIVERBANK
I loved reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries and letters, and one image has stayed with me over the years. She compares writing a story to a river flowing between the banks of real life. That metaphor resonates with me, because when the words are coming fast, it often feels more like channeling than creation. Woolf also describes how sometimes chunks fall from the banks into the river and are transformed into something that belongs in the story. This is not the same as writing an autobiographical novel or deliberately adding real-life details—mining the riverbanks already passed. It’s more like a magical trick of synchronicity. Somehow these bits of the riverbank just seem to fit where they fall. I suspect most writers do it, perhaps unconsciously. Sometimes, with those of us who are pantsers, those chunks even divert the course of the river.
There are examples of this in the novellas that make up my new release. I happened across a public rehearsal of the San Diego Youth Symphony in Balboa Park when I was just beginning to create the character of Shane in “Probation,” and he then became a youth orchestra leader, and what I heard that day became part of Beth’s reminiscences. I had a headache the day I wrote the scene in “House Hunters” where Frank, Kayla, and Gia get to know one another, and poor Gia suffered from frequent headaches as a result. Kayla’s profession was borrowed from a “Wheel of Fortune” contestant. A few years earlier, I had just begun to develop the character of Jesse Aaron in Guilty Knowledge when I saw an attractive black man. It wasn’t a case of “What if I made this character black?” but “Okay, Jesse is African American.” He isn’t a fictional version of the man I saw or based on him in any other way. It didn’t affect the basic story of a witness who claims to be psychic but added another dimension. I hadn’t set out to write an interracial romance, but it gave me the opportunity to say something I’d always wanted to say on the subject. Even further back, I read War and Peace while I was writing my first published novel, Stonebridge, and when I reflected to myself that the character of Natasha was awfully fickle, my character Ted Demeray immediately answered me, “Well, young girls are fickle,” and that exchange ended up in the novel and allowed me to introduce a piece of Ted’s past.
Sometimes the water in the flowing river splashes onto the bank too. In an eerie coincidence something that happens to one of the Reluctant Hearts characters happened to me after I had turned in the manuscript. I’d love to tell you about it, but it’s too much of a spoiler. You’ll have to read the book first!
Four couples, four stories: Darien Francis and Richard Li meet during a bank robbery, but she’s afraid to love again. Shane Kenniston and Beth Parker are reacquainted years after she had a crush on him, but she is a recent widow, and Shane’s life was upended by a false accusation. David Early and Kate Howard meet in the Laundromat, but her life is consumed by the needs of her disabled child, and David isn’t ready for the responsibility. Realtor Frank Ellison meets Kayla Barnes at an open house, but a mistaken first impression derails any chance of romance. Can they all overcome the obstacles to love?
“Was he abusive, or was it a bad breakup?”
Darien was silent for a moment, and he started to speak, she supposed to apologize, but she went ahead and said it: “No. He died.”
“Wow,” he said. “That is a bad breakup. I mean…I’m sorry, that was stupid. I can’t believe I said that.” He rubbed the back of his neck, palpably distressed.
“It’s okay,” she said. It was okay. Enough time had passed that it was safe to joke about it. She wasn’t offended. She was even amused, and she smiled to show him she was. Then she started to cry, and she didn’t want to do that, not here, not now—damn!
“God, Darien, I am so sorry. That was unforgiveable.”
“No, no,” she said. “It’s all right,” but she couldn’t stop. She kept crying, and he put his arms around her, awkwardly at first and then like a friend, comforting her, and she hid her face against his shoulder—his good shoulder—and let it happen. It was so stupid, so unnecessary, so undignified, so downright unsanitary—and she could not stop. It was terrible, painful, and then it started to feel good. It was a real catharsis, letting out what she had held in for a very long time.
When she finally stopped, he asked, “Do you want to tell me about him?”
“No.” She backed away from him and searched her pockets for a tissue, but of course at this moment, of all times, she didn’t have one. He did, though—a whole box stood on the coffee table— and he gave her one, and she blew her nose. Her mascara was running, and her face must be blotchy and red. “This is so humiliating,” she said. “I never do this. I feel like such an idiot.”
“Why? It’s perfectly natural. I’m glad to know you’re not so tough.”
“It’s unprofessional, and it makes me feel ugly. It’s a good thing you’re not attracted to me.”
She peered at him, sniffling, and dabbed at her eyes. “You’re not, are you?”
“Which answer will get me in the least trouble?” he asked.
She laughed shakily. She felt a lot better. “If you were before, you wouldn’t be now.” He gave her another tissue, and she managed to get most of the mascara off. He rubbed away a stray smudge with his thumb, and his fingers brushed her cheek. The soft touch was even more comforting than being held in his arms. She closed her eyes.
He kissed her. It was the briefest pressure of his lips against hers, gentle and sweet, but she felt it deep inside. She opened her eyes. His were wide with surprise. “I think we just went off the clock,” she said.
Linda Griffin is a native of San Diego and has a BA in English from San Diego State University and an MLS from UCLA. As soon as she learned to read, she knew she wanted to be a “book maker” and wrote her first story, “Judy and the Fairies,” at the age of six. She retired from a position as fiction librarian for the San Diego Public Library to spend more time on her writing. Her stories have been published in numerous journals, including Eclectica, Thema, Avalon Literary Review, and most recently, Willow Review. Reluctant Hearts is her sixth book published by the Wild Rose Press, following Seventeen Days (2018), The Rebound Effect (2019, Guilty Knowledge (2020), Love, Death, and the Art of Cooking (2021), and Bridges (2022).
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