I talk a lot about when I was fifteen. And not just because all the clothes I coveted at that age are now back in style (but this time, I can actually afford them, which is glorious.) A lot of defining moments in my life happened when I was in tenth grade. My first visit to Paris was among them. But there is another event that took place that year, one I talk about a lot less, because at the time it was utterly insignificant. And yet, ultimately, it impacted my whole life.
At fifteen, my favourite colour was red. I wore red glasses. My favourite top was a red long-sleeved tee from Suzy Shier with silver dragons printed on the sleeves. (It was hideous. My God, I do not know why I bought it at all, never mind what made me wear it over and over again. But I adored it. Go figure.) In January, I needed a new notebook. I always carried one around, so I could scribble story ideas in class while appearing to pay attention. I chose a beautiful red one with gold trim at Wal-Mart. My style at the time was occasionally misguided, but it could never be said that I didn’t know what I liked. And I loved red.
One Sunday evening, probably about a month later, I escaped family dinner with a lame excuse about homework left undone. I tiptoed down to the basement, where my parents kept the computer, and opened Encarta Encyclopedia. No one could say I wasn’t working if I was reading the encyclopedia…! (I was not nearly as clever as I thought – but no one came looking for me, so it was neither here nor there.) I browsed aimlessly and eventually stumbled upon an article about the Basques, an isolated group of people living in Northern Spain and Southern France. Slowly, a story began to form in my mind…
In the next week, I wrote two chapters of a story with a Basque main character in my beloved red notebook. After chapter two, I wasn’t sure where to go next with the narrative. So I simply stopped writing. That wasn’t unusual for me, at that age. (In fact, although I’m more disciplined now, it still isn’t – sometimes I just need to get half of an idea on paper so I can move on with my life.) The next week, a friend picked up my notebook – I wasn’t shy about letting people read it. She devoured the two chapters before demanding, “What happens next?”
“I don’t know.”
“You have to finish it!” she insisted. And continued to insist, for days, until I picked the story up again. I finished it later that year. It was hardly a work of literature, but my audience of one was thrilled.
For some reason, that story and those characters stuck with me. I picked the draft up again and again over the years, revising and rewriting from different perspectives. But I for a long time, I couldn’t quite make it what I wanted it to be. My ideas changed. I grew, and so did my characters. I turned my focus to a character who originally played a minor role in the story, and ultimately wrote a whole book about her. It became my first novel, which debuted four years ago.
It’s been seventeen years since that night in my parents’ basement. My second launches next week. Both books feature the characters I developed on a Sunday when I was fifteen because I didn’t want to hang out with my aunts and uncles. In fact, although it bears almost no resemblance to the original, my second book – Before the World Opened, which you can preorder here – is the final version of the story I started all those years ago in tenth grade.
When I bought that red notebook at Wal-Mart, I couldn’t have begun to predict what a significant part its pages would play in the next half of my life. But in retrospect, it was the best four dollars I’ve ever spent. It will surprise no one to know I always pick black notebooks now, but that red one will always have a special place in my heart.
#allblackeverything #vans #celine #jcrew #privacyplease