Undue Influences

Undue Influences

January 1st

Diaries are written to never be read by other people, and that is an important difference from a manuscript.

Dear Diary,
I have started my new novel, just like I resolved to do! This project, Dearest Diary, will be codenamed Caterpillar, as it is basically in larval form. Get it? Or should it be called Ovum, as it is actually not as developed as a full larva? No, that sounds stupid. Caterpillar it is! Welcome, Caterpillar!

This novel is going to be a romance, in which our heroine, Margarite, an investment banker, meets Jacques, a poor tile-layer, and falls in love with him. Her well-to-do family will put all manner of obstacles in their path toward fulfillment!

On a side note, the house next door has finally been occupied. The moving truck arrived near dawn, right as I was beginning Caterpillar during my early-writing time. Perhaps Jacques should arrive at Margarite’s villa at dawn. Very romantic!
Weather: Sunny, cold.
Emotional Weather: Sparkly!

January 5th

Dear Diary,
I’ve just finished Chapter 1! It is ten pages long, which seems to be a snappy pace for a romance. Jacques is quieter than I imagined before, but Margarite has become far wittier, perhaps to compensate. The tone is lighter than expected. But romantic comedy is all the rage, these days. And they make good films, too, I hear. Are you listening, film agent muses?

As an aside, my new neighbors have finally made an appearance today. I think they arrived late last night; this was the first I’ve seen them. I waited until afternoon to go introduce myself. It’s one of those fancy new open relationships, I assume. The woman, Ramona, is tall, dark, and friendly. The taller of the two men, Frankie, is talkative as well. Maybe my character Jacques should be more like my new neighbor Frankie. Would that make Caterpillar more upbeat? In any case, he defers to Ramona, and I noticed her changing the subject quite often as he spoke.

The third neighbor, Johnny, is silent, his face consisting mostly of glowers and frowns. Margarite’s father is like that. Strong, weathered, with a certain aura of disapproval.
All and all, I like my new neighbors!
Weather: Sunny, cold.
Emotional Weather: Clear.

January 30th

Dearest, dearest Diary,
I’ve completed chapter 3 of Caterpillar. Margarite and Jacques are clearly smitten, and I’ve established that Margarite’s father is set against their evolving romance. He’s set up a dinner party, and has plans to publicly humiliate Jacques in a way that Margarite cannot pin on him. Very intriguing!

Jacques is more talkative than he was in Chapter 1. I will have to go back and tweak that in my second draft. Thankfully, I have you to remember these details for me, Dear Diary! Jacques is much like my new neighbor, Frankie. I’ve decided that he will be blonde, like Frankie, with shimmery blue eyes, rather than the Sicilian look I’d established earlier. More notes for draft 2!

Speaking of neighbors, my late-night writing has been disrupted, of late. Long black cars arrive at my neighbor’s house at all hours, and stay idling in the drive, waiting for their occupants to return. I assume that’s the way posh chauffeurs do it, standing outside their running cars in snowstorms, while their bosses have elegant dinners inside. Margarite’s father should have a chauffeur who does this.
Weather: Snowy.
Emotional Weather: Shimmering.

February 3rd

Dear Diary,
Chapter 5 of Caterpillar is complete! The dinner party scene was a success, and Jacques was knocked about quite a bit, and Margarite is having her doubts, and her relationship with her father is more strained than ever. It was all rather humorous, and I regret having to do it to Jacques. I’ll make it up to the poor dear, of course, later in the novel, as he is destined for great things.

During the dinner scene, the drivers of the arriving cars stood by their doors with the cars idling. I had to add in a bit of fluff to include this detail, and it came off rather more sinister than I’d intended. Should I keep it in for draft 2? Maybe not.

Still, my neighbors Ramona and Frankie’s social life has continued unabated. Johnny, my silent, disapproving younger model for Margarite’s older father, has taken a room opposite my writing room. Through the thin curtains of his window I often watch him pacing, continually smoking elegant black cigarettes, while the other two talk to their guests in the sitting room below, who consist mostly of men in long, dark coats, and who don’t sit down. Margarite’s father should smoke something like Johnny’s fancy black cigarettes. Perhaps Margarite disapproves, and I can use this minor conflict as a proxy for the larger one regarding Jacques.
Weather: Dark and frosty.
Emotional Weather: Buffeted by winds of excitement.

February 9th

Dear Diary,
Chapter 7 is done, and I can confidently say that Act 1 of Caterpillar is a success! I’ve changed Margarite’s profession, recently, from investment banker to art dealer. Keep a note for me, won’t you, Dearest Diary? I got the idea from watching my neighbor, Ramona, who has accepted a number of strange packages from late-night visitors, who arrive in dark vans and drive without headlights. That seems unsafe!
Weather: Prolonged dimness and cold.
Emotional Weather: Drafty. Get it? Ha ha!

February 13th

When in doubt, most novelists make their protagonists into chefs in the next draft.

Dear Diary,
I have hit a snag with my second act. Now that Margarite is an art dealer, and Jacques is a freelance art restorer, it’s harder to formulate conflict between them and Margarite’s father. I’ve looked up the details of art restoration online, and its very meticulous and skilled work. Not that tile laying isn’t. But having Jacques as a craftsman made the social distance greater. I’m probably going to change him back to being a tile-layer. That means I’ll need to introduce some project that would take a long time, and require him to be around Margarite and let their romance blossom.

It occurs to me that I need some source of conflict between the two of them. Their relationship is entirely too chummy. Maybe he could be reflooring her kitchen, and she’s a famous chef? Perhaps that can disrupt her carefully constructed life. They should be more like my neighbors Ramona and Johnny, who, I’ve observed, are demonstrative of their affection only when Frankie isn’t around.

I now suspect that it is the silent, brooding Johnny that is the romantic force that keeps Ramona engaged. Is the open, talkative Frankie a third wheel? Have I misjudged their entire dynamic?

Maybe I should introduce Maragrite’s brother into the story. He could be a sort of wastrel son, a black sheep, who has returned, and is staying at her house for a while, since their father disowned him. That sounds like a great idea!
Weather: Clear, yet foggy.
Emotional weather: Foggy.

March 1st

Dear Diary,
My writing has been disrupted, of late. The growing tensions between my neighbors Frankie and Johnny were not my imagination. Last night, as I tried to write the “stuck in an elevator” scene I’ve so looked forward to, the two men had a heated argument on the back lawn. It was too far away to hear clearly, of course, given the vast size of the next lot, but the tone was unmistakable. Frankie was loud, and still sounded amused, almost dismissive. Johnny was quieter, more intense. In the end, Frankie grew quieter, too, and I watched as he was left standing there in the new snow while Johnny went back inside. I’m not sure what to make of it, but it sent my output into a tailspin, and I got nothing written.
Weather: Cold, Damp.
Emotional Weather: Expecting the winds of frustration in coming days.

March 4th

In Iceland, magical realism is simply known as realism.

Dear Diary,
I’ve had an epiphany while watching Frankie through the dining room windows early this morning. He was scrubbing the floor of the dining room with a mop, and later a bucket and rag, while Ramona and Johnny talked nearby. I saw this through my own small breakfast nook, over the low fence, and across the hood of a dark car, which remained from the night before. As I finished up my chamomile, Johnny went outside, into the car, and drove it away.
As I was rinsing my cup in the sink, I saw Ramona enter her own kitchen, grab the entire wooden block of knives, and leave once more. And that was when I had a flash of understanding, when all the details I’d been seeing formed a coherent picture!

What my novel lacks is something unique, something to give it that extra oomph! And that thing is magical realism! If Jacques is a tile-layer, maybe he’s there to create some sort of protective mosaic? Yes! As protection from Margarite’s jealous and evil brother, who seeks to destroy Margarite and her kind, doting father, and claim the family fortune! As an evil investment banker, her brother is in debt to sinister forces, of course. Dearest Diary, please keep these notes for me until I get to my second draft!

Maybe I could add in a scene like what occurred next door, in the middle of the night. Another of the windowless trucks arrived, bearing a long, sealed box. Johnny and Frankie had a disagreement about whether to bring it into the house. In my novel, of course, it will be the evil brother, Antonio, who needs the cursed tiles in the house, to disrupt Jacques’ planned defenses. They can argue much as Frankie and Johnny did, one visibly upset, the other quieter, his voice a sinuous hint in the drifting snowfall. Because this is the end of the second act, the sinister brother, Antonio, will win out, but reveal himself fully to the earnest Jacques. The end is in sight!
Weather: Warm, yet snowy.
Emotional weather: Glowing.

March 10th

Dear Diary,
I’ve hit many potholes as I’ve started the third act of Caterpillar. I’m not sure what Margarite’s profession is, anymore, but know that she must have a large kitchen, and perhaps an open courtyard in the center of her Italian villa. If this ends up taking place on a small island, as it did for much of Act 2, then I’ll need to introduce some sort of small coastal village. If it’s still light-hearted and funny, as it was during the latter half of Act 1, I’ll need to rewrite these townsfolk to be more lovable, and less the sinister cultists they are in the beginning of Act 3. The point is, one of these side characters needs to take the place of Rodrigo, as the mailman role doesn’t really fit the tone Caterpillar is currently tending toward. Someone has to deliver the Dagger of Justice, though. Who can it be? Perhaps Margarite’s own father? No, that seems trite.

In any case, I can’t just have him vanish, as Frankie seems to have done next door. Maybe it could be Margarite’s gardener? Though, if I end up going with her living in a cramped apartment in downtown Rome, as was the case throughout chapters 7-9, that’s not going to work, either. But a gardener seems like such a good fit, as it will mesh nicely with the pepper-picking scene in chapter 10. That was so romantic! Of course, if Caterpillar continues to evolve into a legal-procedural thriller, as it has been in these recent chapters, I’ll have to do some revision.

How about having Jacques be a landscaper? The wood chipper that’s been working at odd hours in the garage next door makes me think that a landscaper is just the answer I’ve been looking for! That would eliminate my need for the sea-cult entirely, and allow me to make the family curse more of a metaphor. Genius!
Weather: Cold. So very, very cold.
Emotional weather: Fluffy and inviting.

March 23rd

Reconsider any dinner party or business meeting that requires these.

Dear Diary,
I’ve completed the first draft of Caterpillar! What a journey it’s been, too! Who could have foreseen that what started as a lighthearted romance would become, in the end, a lyrical reminisce on childhood innocence? Of course, a second draft will allow me to sharpen the focus a bit, removing all the fluff about bank fraud, cursed orchards, and a family dynasty built on careful forgeries of medieval manuscripts. But the relationship of Margarite and Jacques remains intact, even if it needs to have less drug dealing and computer hacking. Oh, and fewer references to their underground animal shelter. In draft 2, definitely no animal shelter.

The final image of the book, of Margarite painstakingly laboring to get a plastic-wrapped bundle into the back of a windowless black van, I’ve lifted shamelessly from real life. I couldn’t just watch Ramona struggle under the evident weight of her burden, which had required her to drag it through the snow by one end. So I stopped my writing and went out to help her heave it into the back of the van. It’s a good thing I did, too, as the sheer number of sharp saws and rolls of duct tape already in the back would have made maneuvering it alone a near impossibility!

But the interruption, coming as it did in the closing pages of my novel, was well worth it. I even used her parting words to me, as Margarite says to Jacques: “Don’t think this goodbye is forever.”

It was sweet, and I think she’s going to invite me over soon, for a chat. Just the two of us, I imagine, as I haven’t seen either Frankie nor Johnny for a few days.
Weather: Foreboding.
Emotional Weather: Wistful.

March 27th

Dear Diary,
Time to start my second draft of Caterpillar! Some time during this draft, I will choose a fitting title. Since I have decided to shift the focus during this draft to be more of a cop-buddy story, I’m not sure what might be suitable, as the ideas that had been rolling through my head until now mostly involved cooking, plumbing, or municipal electoral politics. But now that I’ve decided to go in the more obvious direction of having Margarite and Jacques be homicide detectives in Vatican City, I think something more evocative of their carefully hidden secrets might be in order. What is brief, catchy, and evokes the fact that she is a ghost and he a werewolf? I’ll have to think!

I’d ask Ramona, but it seems as if she’s moved away. The house next door is up for sale, and I’m somewhat hurt that none of the three ever thought to pop by and say farewell. I guess Ramona’s words to me a couple of nights ago meant more than I’d thought! Oh, well, I guess I’ll just have to look forward to whenever she chooses to suddenly appear at my door, late at night, when I least expect it!
Weather: Clear, warm.
Emotional weather: Same.

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Aonghus Fallon

Well, I enjoyed it!

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