There are times when I’m writing when I come to a place I’m unsure of. As you know, I have yet to plot before writing and trust instead to the plotting that seems to come naturally while writing. What this means in terms of doubts is that I’ll come to a point in the narrative where I could go (to make it simple) two ways.
These choices are scary to me not only because I, in general, don’t know exactly what it is that I’m going to write before I write it, but because these are not just choices, they are decision points. If I go one way, I’ll meet the love of my life. If I go another way, I’ll land my dream job. If I stop to eat lunch, I’ll see a friend I lost touch with years ago and reconnect. If I skip lunch to catch the train, I’ll be one of the few witnesses to a horrible accident.
Those examples are both prosaic and overdramatic, but hopefully you get the picture. If only I’d chosen to be an artist years ago, I’d draw one for you. But the practical matter is that whatever choice I make will shape the rest of the novel to come. And I’m afraid at these points that I’ll make a choice that will morph the novel in a way I don’t expect (always true) and that I don’t want (yet to actually be true).
With JOSEPH WUNDERKIND, this came with allowing him to go back and see his parents before the adventure of the book was over. I felt that this scene needed to take place but, in the nebulous mass I call my mind, I’d thought this scene would happen near the book’s end.
But apparently I was wrong. I couldn’t get it out of my head that he needed to be given an opportunity to escape the underground world now both in order to break up the action and in order to make his part in the latter stages of the book voluntary. Now he’s not forced into his role by circumstance, but by choice.
Joseph shut the door just as softly as he had opened it, slowly releasing the knob so that the lock didn’t loudly click back into place. The conversation between the police officer and his parents faded into a rustle.
The pain was so clear in his parents’ voices. But now that he was here, on the verge of home and return, he couldn’t make himself do it.
Partly, he was afraid of his parents’ disappointment even more than he was ashamed of having caused them so much worry. He was afraid of the look in the police officer’s eyes, pinning him down as just another irresponsible kid. He was afraid of having to explain where he’d been to his parents, and failing, because he couldn’t tell them where he’d actually been. No one would believe him. They’d never let him out of the house again. They might even force him to see a psychologist.
Partly, he realized he was just as curious about where he’d been as his parents would be. He knew nothing really about the world below except that, according to the chorus, he was tied to that world just as tightly as he was to this one. It was a mystery that would nag at him forever if he didn’t ferret the truth out now.
But mostly, hearing his parents talk about him brought one image vividly to Joseph’s mind. That last glimpse of Cindy’s legs. He remembered the gardeners they found on their way to the chorus and pictured Cindy face up on the grass, motionless, her face now frozen into a mask of shock and pain.
He couldn’t leave her down there on her own.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to the door.