103,113

One thing I realised when I rewrote the conclusion of Just Another Week in Suburbia is that the original conversation between Casper and Jane was too scattered. Part of that was intended to follow Casper’s fragmented thinking. And part of it was just me trying to cram everything in and letting stream of consciousness dictate the order (or the disorder, if you like).

The conversation (published in the book) works much better. There’s an evolution to it. It starts with a sense of hopelessness, explores all the dark nooks, and then retreats just enough towards the light to offer hope – or at least the glimmer of it.

Interestingly, people give me different feedback about what they believe would’ve happened after the final page – how the characters would’ve worked out. (Similarly with August Falling.) I have an idea. It’s not set. But it’s where my imagination has ruminated.

I’m not giving it up, either. There’s more to that story – not a full-blown sequel, but a look at where Casper and Jane are (emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually) a few years on. Would it be the implied fairy tale ending of, And they lived happily ever after?

I’m also fascinated about that neighbourhood, and the lives of the other characters who live in that street. That’s where a sequel would take place, and it’s in that story we’d see Casper and Jane. I think it would be nice to revisit them, however briefly.

But it’s not a priority in my writing world at the moment as I’m trying to get through so many things (and have earmarked other projects for revision). Most writers will have lots of things they want to write, and not enough time to write them. That’s where this sits at the moment. But feel free to hit me up in comments or social media with what you think might’ve happened.

Looking through this scene, it’s even bigger than I remembered, so I’m going to break it into two further parts.

Here’s how the scene from last week continues …
 

Chapter 53
(in the original manuscript anyway)

Thunder fills Sofia’s, a roar that threatens to tear the world apart. The window Jane and I were sitting by explodes. A flash of silver spears the café, like the thrust of a sword. Part of the wall collapses. As does the archway. Sunlight floods in. Glass showers us. Our table is upended. Others fly. People scream and sprawl. Some are buried under bricks. Our table hits Jane in the back. She cannons into me. We fall towards the floor.
      Jane’s arms hook around me. Mine go to her, but more for balance than anything else. My left hand lands on her belly. There’s no bulge there or anything. But in that instant, I make a connection. Because this instant stretches until time has almost stalled.
      I see myself rocking my baby to sleep, pacing with it as it cries in early mornings; reading to it, playing with it, teaching it to feed Wallace; I see myself in the pool teaching it to swim, at parks on the swings, and tucking it into bed. I don’t know its sex. Nothing tells me. I just see us together and in that sight I’m sure the world is right.
      Then I hit the floor left shoulder first. My iPhone spills from my hand as breath crashes from my lungs. My head whiplashes, hits the floor. Jane lands on top of me. Her forehead smacks mine, cutting her open. My iPhone twirls on the floor on its lower right corner at eye level. Cracks web up its face. A text sounds. It’s a message from Luke. Despite everything, I can read it:
     

U OK?

     
Normal speed resumes. Tables, chairs, and people crash to the floor around me. Glass sprays over us, like confetti at a wedding. A roar fills Sofia’s. It’s not the initial explosion, which has subsided, but something else. My iPhone stops spinning and lands face-down on the floor.
      ‘Casper!’
      Jane stares at me. Blood streams from her left temple. I want to lift my hand to it. But I can’t move. I still have no breath. Sofia’s sways, like I’m lying in a hammock. I’m sure I ask Jane to give me a moment but no sound comes from my mouth.
      There are others moving around us – it’s hard to keep track. The roaring loudens. Smoke wafts in. There’s the smell of melting rubber. A screech.
      Jane pushes herself up from me, kneels by me, grabs me by the wrist and pulls. Now that she’s out of the way I can see that a car has come right through the wall of Sofia’s. It’s tyres are still spinning. Smoke plumes from them as they burn into the floor. But the car’s not moving. It’s stuck on debris or something – I don’t know. But if it moves, this car will run over me.
      This silver Porsche.
      Jane pulls and pulls my wrist and I try to help her by pushing off the floor. Others around me help the fallen. Some are buried under rubble. The car’s engine guns until it’s almost whining – whining for me. Then Beth is there, covered in mortar and dust. She jumps in front of me, hands pressed against the boot of the car, screaming at Roger, as if that’ll stop him. The Porsche roars louder, like it’s angry, and wants to drown her pleas. It lurches forward a foot. The tyres scream. Beth stumbles back, almost trips on my ankle.
      The Porsche’s tyres are seeming to make purchase on the floor now and the car inches forward. Beth retreats until her butt is almost right in my face. It really looks like she didn’t wear panties. The Porsche’s bumper pushes against my feet. I try to draw my legs up. Jane tries to pull me up.
      A figure rushes the driver’s side of the Porsche – it must be Leon, although he’s just a silhouette in the sunlight. He tries to open the door but can’t. He pulls the cuff of his sleeve down and punches the driver’s side window again and again until it shatters. He reaches in, grabs the driver – grabs a flailing Roger – and pulls him right out through the busted window. The Porsche’s engine dies. The tyres still. My saviour drops Roger on the floor and kneels on him, thrusting his knee into Roger’s chest.
      Now I can see my saviour properly.
      It’s Jean Jacket.

85,151

What do names mean as far as characters go? For me? Just about everything. Names personify people. It’s like the Jerry Seinfeld routine where he says if you name your kid ‘Jeeves’, you’re pretty much consigning him to a life as a butler. Based on your own relationships, experiences, and encounters, the moment a name is mentioned you’ll conjure up a preconception of the person attached to it. You might even think of certain characteristics that people with the same name share.

I have lots of rituals when it comes to naming my characters. To begin with, I’ll scribble a lowercase and UPPERCASE alphabet in a notebook. When I come up with a first name, I’ll scratch out the lowercase letter that name begins with. I’ll do the same for the surnames with the uppercase letters.

This is to ensure that, if possible, I don’t have characters whose names begin with the same letter. Hitting names that begin with the same letter can confuse readers. Well, that happens to me (as a reader). Hey, I thought Tom was married – why’s he kissing the neighbour? And then I backtrack and find that it was actually Ted, not Tom. Tom? Ted? At the start of reading a new book where you’re orienting yourself with the world and its inhabitants, that similarity can be confusing.

Years ago, I scoured the net and compiled lists of surnames, printed them up, and divided them by nationality through a couple of folders. While you can just as easily Google surnames now, it’s efficient to be able to open up a folder, go to the nationality I want, and pick a surname. Some of these surnames have meanings, or are derived from location. That’s also something to consider when picking the right surname.

As far as the first name goes (and while I could again just Google), I own a couple books of baby names. I like to read the meanings behind names, to see if it will have any special significance for the story. Some times there’s not. But other times I pick something for the meaning, which gives the character that added layer. Readers may never know it, but I know it’s there.

Sometimes, it’s just about feel. For Just Another Week in Suburbia, I wanted a name for the protagonist that was a little bit unusual, but without striking (i.e. memorable) connotations. ‘Gray’ was chosen as a surname because it wasn’t as strong as black or white, but something in the middle – something potentially bland. Nobody paints their house grey, or buys a grey car, or does anything in grey. And ‘Casper’? He was named after Casper the Friendly Ghost, because as a character that’s who he was – invisible and inoffensive within his own world.

His wife actually started the book as ‘Melissa’. But as I wrote the early chapters, that just didn’t feel right. I didn’t picture her as a ‘Melissa’. So, through the powers of FIND & REPLACE she became ‘Jane’. Now that felt like who she was meant to be. The only problem was that one of Casper’s best friends was named ‘Dane’. It could’ve been idiosyncratic for Casper to have a ‘Jane’ and a ‘Dane’ in his life, both close to him, but I decided that it would become distracting. So ‘Dane’ became ‘Luke’.

In August Falling the protagonist’s name is ‘August’, which (in Latin) bears the meaning of ‘majestic’ and ‘venerable’ – these are things that August isn’t. In fact, he’s the opposite. But I liked the irony of this character who had the majesty of this name, but was flawed, vulnerable, and doubting.

With the novel I’m currently writing, the character’s name is ‘Luke’ (yes, the Luke from Just Another Week in Suburbia). Although that was predetermined (thanks to Just Another Week in Suburbia), it felt right – a simple but strong name that feels like it belongs to somebody who could withstand a tremendous assault (without trying to give the story away).

My own name has been abbreviated to ‘Les Zig’ for simplicity. I would’ve liked something exotic for my first name, like ‘Lazaros’, but as a handle ‘Les Zig’ will do just fine.

Names – they’re simple things, but mean everything.