I don’t live near the sea anymore. I thought I would miss it – but the mountains of North Carolina have taken up residence in my heart. I was raised beside the wild Pacific, on a ranch and vineyard, one of only a few along that shoreline, nestled into the mountains and hills of the Big Sur coastline. The coastal landscape along the winding Highway 1 is at once stunning and agonizingly lonely. It’s melancholy – like me. Giant Redwoods tower above you on one side and then within a few steps, cacti and wild California brush co-mingle with an intoxicating scent that you get to enjoy when it rains – or when the landscape is warmed on summer days.
It was there, on those lonely hills, that my life became both deeply painful and shockingly beautiful.
When I left California, nearly seven years ago now, I did so with little more than a weekend trip to the mountains of North Carolina to decide it was what was next for us. I knew very little about the place that would be come home to Jackson and I.
I put aside my novel, A Thousand Years, for a while. But I may have found a good way ahead for a novel that was floundering. It’s still a lot of work and a major rewrite. So much so that I’m contemplating making part of the wall in my dining room (that’s really just an office and a place for the dog to sleep her life away), into a plot wall. I have no idea how I’ll make this work, but in my head, it’s something like this . . .
But I’m thinking character’s names, important dates, scenes, etc. and then plugging in and moving around as need be. In part, this novel is two distinct stories – and that’s where it got weird and confusing. I wanted to get the thing written. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t fit the entirety of this story into one novel. It just didn’t want to work with me. What I’m saying is . . . it had a mind of its own.
If I’m honest, this “novel” should probably be written as a script. Except I have no clue what I’m doing in that regard. I have never attempted, nor do I know where to start, when it comes to writing a script. Two of my favorite writers, directors, and show runners – are the two men above (Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof). What they did with LOST – in terms of the characters, is and always will be inspiring to me. While I loved the storyline, that faithful viewers followed throughout its 6 seasons, it is actually the characters themselves that I grew to love more than the plot.
I didn’t care about all of the explanations about the weird things that happened on the island as much as I cared about the character’s journeys. They were weird, complicated, beautiful, and sometimes, really bad people. It was hard, at many points, to determine whether you hated or loved a character. Or maybe hated is too strong a word. Either way – they were complicated. A character like Sayid Jarrah, for instance, was terribly hard to figure out. He was a torturer – literally. Yet, he was deeply burdened by his past life – regretting all of it. He also found it much easier to slip back into his old ways when the need would arise. But I digress. The point was, I loved Sayid. But it wasn’t always easy to love him. Sawyer is another example. He was deeply, deeply flawed. He pushed everyone away and seemed, at times, to happily convince others to hate him. Yet, we learned throughout the show, what started him on this path. And that made all of the difference in the world in how you viewed him.
I love writers and directors who can tell stories like that – stories that make you love the characters in spite of their flaws, that is. All along, A Thousand Years, was a novel about family. The problem is, I started too far along into the story. Birdie Langston’s story didn’t start where I started writing the novel. It went way back. Way, way back. That became apparent quite quickly. Birdie (the protagonist) was trying to get through to me the whole time. I listen well. Except when it comes to writing. Sometimes I get something in my head and don’t see around the original vision, even when a bigger story is taking shape.
I’m now rambling on – but while I’m on my tangent – let’s talk about LOST again and how characters take on a life of their own. Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof could certainly clear this up for me, but there are times I wonder if two of the LOST characters were intended to become who & what they became (when the show runners began working together). Those two characters are Desmond & Penny. They played pivotal roles, in the development of LOST overall, in my opinion. But I’m not 100% convinced it was always meant to be that way. Or perhaps I should say, I’m not certain they started out this way. And yet, in spite of that, the two are among my favorites. They also happen to be the stars of my favorite moment of all six seasons of LOST. It’s hands down my favorite. There’s no way to explain what brought these two to this moment, so I won’t even try. But it is, without fail, the moment that always, always gives me chills. I have seen it dozens and dozens of times and it still gives me chills at exactly the same moments, literally every time. Penny is Desmond’s “constant.” And man, this was an incredible TV moment. It’s romantic, beautiful, and a bit of encouragement – for all of us hoping that rescue was somewhere on the horizon.
If I’m wrong, and Penny & Desmond were in the plan from day one – to always have this moment (that would usher in a whole new direction for the show) – it only drives home for me how important it is for the writer to take a backseat. A story that wants to be told should be indulged. Even if it takes you to Scotland, England, and a freighter in the middle of the ocean – way out of the action on the island.
And so, I’m back. But the clock is being reset and the story is starting somewhere else – in another day and time. It starts with the family that raised Birdie and the soil they love, the hard work that made them, and the determination – that created the woman that Birdie would eventually become.