I started writing what is now a novel-length manuscript two years ago on a farm in Nebraska and I finished Draft 12 this summer on the edge of a lake near Algonquin Park.
Bea, my main character arrived fully formed in Nebraska – a 20-year-old lifeguard dealing with the loss of her grandmother, but so much else has changed. At first, her nan had died, now she’s had a stroke. At first Bea guarded at a tiny lake outside of the city, now she stands on the edge of Lake Ontario in her red singlet. I also switched from the third person to the first – the first time I’ve ever written in the first-person in any sustained sort of way. I still remember the day I switched that first chapter over and was covered in goosebumps – a pretty good sign…!
As it’s set in Toronto, it’s made me see my city differently. I know the lake like I’ve not known any other lake, I notice the falafel place Bea and Malcolm go to on a date, and when the air show takes over in a few weeks, I will think of the end of the novel, when Bea sits on a ferris wheel watching the Snowbirds tear through the skies.
I’ve had some brilliant eyes on it and soon need to start in on the (daunting!) task of finding a home for this 327 page creature, but even with that looming, I’ve got to say, I do so love this world of Bea and Malcolm and Nan.
An excerpt of “The Opposite of Drowning”
My arms spread wide on the murky bottom, the water a thick and opaque green. Blood pounds in my ears and the water is so cold, the bones in my arms weigh more than they should.
My lungs ache like they can’t remember ever being full.
Something brushes the backs of my hands, trailing up my forearms like fingers. Seaweed, it’s just seaweed. I kick the feathery green tendrils away from my thighs and kick up to the surface.
Malcolm’s head bobs up on the other side of the dock. He’s the dark-haired lifeguard who juggles flutterboards when he’s bored.
“Nothing,” he calls out. “You?”
“Nothing.” I blink the lake water out of my eyes.
Donna is screaming on the beach. The sound of her grief separates the space between my ribs.
“You sure? Want to take a moment?”
“I said I’m fine. Ready? One, two – ” and we dive under on three.
It’s dark under the dock. The wood is coated in slime and the halved car tires are buried in tiny shells. My arms sweep past mucky leaves and a muddy grey branch covered in algae. The seaweed reaches up and tickles the underside of the dock. I try to keep it from my legs.
There’s a pop can buried in the muck, ‘7 Up’ bleached out and barely readable. Bubbles trace my cheeks and my lungs start to burn. I pull my arms back down to my hips in a big circle. Still nothing.
And just as I run out of air, something catches my eye – something wedged right up in the corner of the dock, right at the end. I kick up to the surface.
“Malcolm! I might have it.” It. She. The balloon-child.
I dive back under and grab the yellow balloon. It has a smiley face drawn on it and “Thanks for finding me!” written in a speech bubble.