Part of a series of blog posts about the-story-behind-the-story of my forthcoming novel (March, 2012), The Edge of Maybe.
Where did this book begin?
I began this book with Polly. In the early 2000s, I wrote a short story called “Fair Game,” about the friendship of two eight-year-old girls named Polly and Nell. In it, Nell and her mother, Lindsey, find the body of a teenage girl on the stairs to their house, and Lindsey muses about what will happen to the girls and their friendship when they get older:
Polly spends the night Saturday. “Can we make a shrine for the dead girl?” Nell asks. Polly, behind her, nods vigorously. In between holding Squeaky and Bluebell and snacks they create the shrine. A shoebox, collaged and painted and glued. Feathers and glue and glitter and magazine pictures of girls like princesses, models, fairies. The girls they want to be. It’s beautiful.
When they bring it down the long stairway, somebody’s already been there. A Mylar Pooh balloon, a vase of pink chrysanthemums: We miss you, Cheri. Rest in heaven. Mom. The girls place their shrine next to the flowers. “Come on, Polly,” Nell shouts, running back up the stairs, scooping up a neglected yellow rubber duck. “Let’s teach Duckie to float.”
“Fair Game” became a long short story, then shrank and became a short short story, and then was published by a (now-defunct) literary journal called Pindlyboz, and then sank to the back of my files.
But the character of Polly, and Polly’s family situation, stayed with me. I was interested in what happened to a child whose family faced the question of “maybe” family members.
The characters in “Fair Game” became the seeds of the characters in The Edge of Maybe, five years later in their lives. Only now do I realize how Nell and Polly’s experiences mirror each other; In “Fair Game,” Nell and her mother find a dead girl on the stairway; in The Edge of Maybe, Polly and her mother find a very live girl – a maybe relative – on theirs.
But even before that, where did this book really begin?
Do you mean the impetus behind the book? I began with two questions: “What makes a family a family?” and “What do we owe the people in our lives?”
Yes, the story for The Edge of Maybe began with “Fair Game,” and Polly and Nell. But looking even deeper into my own family, I realize how many times these questions have come up in my own life, and how these themes run through much of my work: Hidden family members. Issues of claiming and not claiming. Questions of responsibility to the people in our lives.
Through exploring these themes in writing — especially in The Edge of Maybe — I’ve come to a deeper understanding of my own history, and the changing nature of my answers to those questions.
The Edge of Maybe is forthcoming from Last Light Studio in March, 2012. Watch this space for pre-order information, coming SOON.