Thursday, February 28, 2013
It's been almost a week now, and I'm still getting used to the idea... I won an important contest at the annual ANWA conference (American Night Writers Association, i.e. LDS women writers who have time to polish their talents typically after the kids have gone to bed) and it changes a lot of things for me as a writer. This book has undergone at least 7,642 revisions because I'm OCD about getting it right, but somebody recognized that it's good writing. One judge even gave me the full 35 points on the evaluation. In the BOB (beginning of book) contest, this won third place.
And by the way, in the other category I entered, historical fiction, I won first place with the beginning of a Book of Mormon novel. I'll post that next week. Both books are the beginnings of trilogies. I've added an author's note that's a sort of book jacket blurb to summarize the stories.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In Living It Down, Polly Burke has it all—marriage to a successful lawyer, two lively teenage daughters, a beautiful home, the Gospel. Why isn’t she happy? Dejected, confused and joyless, Polly questions her own worth. As depression threatens to overwhelm, she feels the only way to recover herself is to take a self-imposed “time out” and withdraw from everything familiar while she reevaluates her life to make necessary attitude adjustments. Her husband Winston calls it selfish; Polly calls it self-preservation.
Her journey to recovery and greater self knowledge involves renting the basement apartment of Aunt Sophie’s vintage Victorian home, meeting vivacious, creative Lainie McGuire, and helping her 15-year-old daughter through a moral crisis with a predatory boy. Coincidence brings an old flame, Todd Kendall, back into her life. Can the changed man from the past, the man she never wanted to see again, be the key to the future? Polly’s spiritual quest to reconnect with her values, to reclaim her best self through forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation, takes her on a surprising path back to a state of joy. Maybe there's no such thing as a coincidence.
Living It Down (95,000 words) is a character-driven contemporary drama set in Utah Valley. It has elements the LDS reading public can relate to--real people with real problems trying to live the Gospel anyway. Its companion pieces, Living It Up (95,000 words) and See You in the Morning (89,000 words) are also complete.
Living It Down
By Pamela Williams
Tuesday, August 8, 1995
Polly sat cross-legged on the bed thinking she ought to do something about her hair, but the brush was so far away.
Today’s the day to tell Winston. It could be now or tonight, but I can’t delay it another day. She glanced at the window. Even with the blinds closed, she knew it would be another bright summer day in Orem, Utah. All that sunshine out there and all this gloom in here because…
“Polly, are you awake?” Winston’s voice interrupted her thoughts.
“Yes.” Her husband opened the door and peered into the room. His den was small, like a cocoon, dark and airless this morning, and her yellow satin pajamas stuck to her skin. She almost laughed at the irony, feeling like a long-term guest in her own home, sleeping here on the sofa bed these last two months.
“It’s seven thirty and I’m leaving for the office now.” He waited for her response, but when she didn’t speak, he put down his briefcase and stepped inside. “Did you hear me? I said I have a court case today but he’s a no-nonsense judge so I’ll be home by six. We could go out to dinner. There’s a new restaurant…”
She looked at him and took a deep breath. “Winston, I’m leaving.”
He closed the door. “Say that again?”
“I mean I have to get out of here. I am leaving.” Polly pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “I need a time out.”
She watched him absorb the information, process it, then dismiss it as something she couldn’t possibly mean.
He went to the window and opened the blinds. “Time out? You mean like a child?”
Denial. She could have predicted that. “I’m not a child. It’s just that I… I need to go.”
He licked his lips and looked around as if he’d entered another dimension. “What’s a ‘time out’ for grownups? In duration, I mean. What can I expect?”
“I don’t know yet.” She recited her plans as if she were simply informing him of the day’s usual activities. “Aunt Sophie has a basement apartment I can rent for a while.”
His jaw dropped and he squeaked, “You’ll what?”
“No one’s lived there since before Uncle Walter died, so it’s available.”
He stared at her, sudden perception in his eyes. “You’re serious.”
“What part of “leave” don’t you understand?”
He snorted, shifting his feet. “Well, give me a break. It takes a minute for a thing like that to sink in.”
“I know you’re not happy, and you know I’m not either. Something has to change, and that something is me. I’ve looked for shortcuts and alternate routes to get through this and I can’t find any. I have to work it out my own way. Somewhere else.”
He sat on the bed and reached for her hand, but she got up and walked to the window, wishing it were a door. “Polly, have you been reading those women’s magazines again? Because if you have, I’m filing a class action lawsuit today on behalf of all husbands who—”
“Stop it, Winston. This isn’t a joke.”
“Then just tell me what you want. I’ve given you plenty of space to work out this whatever-it-is on your own, but you haven’t done it apparently. How can I help?”
She steadied her breathing. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t feel so lost. Look, it isn’t like changing a flat tire. I’d give anything if you could fix it for me that easily, but there’s no Band-Aid big enough. Something’s wrong with me. I have to repair myself and I don’t know how yet.”
“That doesn’t clear up my confusion.” He stood and came to her.
“It isn’t you.” She stared straight ahead at the knot in his tie, the pulse in his neck. She couldn’t risk losing her resolve if she saw the hurt in his eyes.
“I thought after we talked last night things were better.”
“They’re not. I’m sorry.” She turned toward the window, realizing she should have told him last night that she’d been thinking about this for months. Leaving is so final, and she didn’t really want to do it, but she saw no other way out of this confusion. Seventeen years ago this tall beautiful man had lifted her spirit and made her believe in herself again. Now an awful sense of emptiness had overtaken her, as if she were a loose balloon drifting into the rarified atmosphere, no longer subject to the gravity that had once governed her world.
He let out a long unsteady breath. “Polly, I don’t know what to say. I feel like I’m lost in a foreign country without a map, and I don’t speak the language.”
“I still love you, if you’re worried about that. But love has nothing to do with what I need.”
“You love me?” He turned her around, his hands resting on her shoulders. “You never hold me or kiss me or touch me. You don’t even sleep in our bed. I’ve been patient all these months because I thought that’s what you needed, but I’m pretty empty myself now.”
“I’m sorry.” Her voice dwindled to a whisper. “I don’t like it either, but…”
He held her face and forced her to look at him. “Polly, don’t you know how much I love you?” He kissed her and she responded. It was hard not to. They hadn’t kissed in weeks and she missed him. He nuzzled her face and the scent of his familiar aftershave brought back memories that threatened to unravel her intent. “Look, I have that court thing today, but if I call the office right now I can probably cancel my schedule and we can stay right here in this room until we’ve both made sense of things.”
“That’s a very generous offer.” She touched his thick wavy hair, the rich color of dark honey. When he was in law school, she’d learned how to cut it the way he liked. She stepped away from him and the room seemed to get smaller. “But you must know it wouldn’t change my mind. At the end of the day, I’d still get up and leave.”
“Why?” Now he’d grown impatient. She couldn’t blame him for that.
Exasperated, she threw her hands in the air. “Because I need to get my old self back, and you can’t help me find her. It’s more than depression. It’s an ache in my soul, deep down.” Images from years ago, what seemed like another lifetime, assailed her mind with new doubts and old guilt. Why was it coming back? She’d been so sure it was over.
He hesitated, running a hand through his hair. Denial won. He glanced at his watch and started for the door. “I have to be in court by nine. Why don’t you start your time out by taking the girls to your mother’s for the day and then do something indulgent for yourself—you know, like a pedicure, day spa, shopping. Find something classy to wear tonight when I take you to dinner at this great new Italian restaurant. We can talk then.”
She couldn’t look at him, couldn’t even speak because the pain of his disappointment and her own shortcomings choked her.
He stopped before closing the door. She heard him take a deep breath. “If you want,” he suggested, “we could even go away for a couple of days. Think about it.”
Polly sat on the bed, feeling again like she was floating away and couldn’t grasp anything solid to keep her earthbound. I know I’m speaking these words. Why doesn’t he hear me?