I am working on a novel I’m calling Third Floor. My goal is to publish it in 2016. That will require being a lot faster than I was with Boundaries! Even the first draft is only one quarter of the way to the end unless following my nose helps me find a shorter trail. The first draft always requires a serious diet. Wish me luck.
A brief summary will give you a sense of some of the some of the things we might talk about during our conversations…
Rachel and Joseph, seven-year-old twins, are frightened by their parents’ fights across the stairwell. The fights are about their mother’s belief that her children are too close. During a nighttime thunderstorm that frightens Joseph, a blowup threatens to spill into the stairwell. Precocious Rachel escapes to the third floor, taking her Big Ben alarm clock, Chanukah candles from the pantry, and sheets from the hall closet. She sets up a bed on a foam pad, covers it with a quilt from the cedar chest, and waits for Joseph to figure out why she had not crept into his room. In the weeks that follow, Rachel takes the lead, urging her withdrawn brother along. They create a haven on the third floor. Their supportive father eventually discovers their secret and decides to keep it from his troubled wife. Much later, when a neighbor’s tip leads to their discovery, their family is investigated, and Rachel and Joseph are sent to separate foster homes. Rachel is the first to run. When Joseph learns of this, he goes in search of her but does not find her. Joseph’s life fills with trouble, Rachel’s with solitude, service, and longing. Neither gives up hope of reunion. When they learn of their father’s illness, they double-down on finding each other seek reunion with their parents.
And now for the first two pages of the rough draft…
THE GREEN GLOW of Joseph Singer’s Big Ben alarm clock showed five minutes past two. Father had taken down the storm windows early, and their big old house felt like a leaky fortress against the peals of thunder, the barbs of lightning, the wind rattling and rain pounding his window. To ward off the cold winning the fight against the furnace, Joseph pulled his woolen blanket tight under his chin and listened for the sounds coming through his door from his parents’ bedroom across the hallway.
Against them he could only make a canopy of his covers with his head and feet stretching them tight. This time he wasn’t going to try again at something that hardly made a difference. Rachel was always telling him to grit his teeth and close his eyes when he heard them. When you keep your eyes open when they’re fighting, she said, your mind makes up bad pictures. When you shut them you can look up into the sycamore and pretend we are in our tree house. You know how you love our tree house, Joseph, she would say.
He tried to think only about the storm. Just listen to it. Rachel said that was another way. Sometimes she tried to tell him how much fun it would be inside the tree house in a storm, especially a snowstorm, after Father had finished making the door and window. She might be right about snow, he thought. That would be pretty neat, but he hated thunderstorms. To have one on a night when his parents were yelling and screaming – well, Mother, anyway – was going to be too much if it didn’t stop pretty soon. Though he found some comfort in knowing that his twin sister was in her bed right on the other side of the wall, the combination was just too much. He tried to wince back the tears coming, and he succeeded. With his sister’s help he had taught himself not to cry out. They didn’t want their parents to hear. Rachel said they must have enough on their minds or they wouldn’t fight like that. He knew she was right, but he also knew she didn’t like it anymore than he did. It’s just that she never seemed as scared.
Soon, he knew, he’d be tapping the signal against the wall, and Rachel would come into his room for a little while even though they both knew how terrible it would be for Mother to find out. Not Father. Just Mother. Rachel always knew the exact best moment to make the break, before one of their parents would come out into the hallway to get away from the other or Father to drag her back in.
He remembered the January thunderstorm that rattled the windows something terrible and lit up the sky with big bolts of lightning even worse than this one. The lightning and thunder were a big surprise that Father explained was because they weren’t supposed to happen in winter. The next day, after weeks of pestering him to move their beds from the far ends of their rooms to the shared wall, they finally persuaded him. Practically headboard-to-headboard, Joseph was certain he would be less frightened, and on the next storms, the ones outside and the inside ones, he almost was. He had Rachel nearly right there, close enough so that he didn’t have to get out of bed to tap the signal.