Long before I was ready to “be a writer” I read extensively about other authors' methods, how they came to be writers, and their experiences. Jan Karon described the moment when a rough, foul-mouthed character named Buck Leeper walked into her novel. “What am I going to do with this one?” she asked perplexed. She said she just waited and watched. Over time, this character grew to be one of her favorites. He became so real to her that she caught herself praying for this fictional character.
I never doubted that these authors were having these experiences. I just couldn't wrap my brain around how one could be surprised by one's own creation. That is until it happened to me.
One morning I opened my laptop and wondered what I would write. I gave it some thought, got a kernel of an idea, and started writing. As I wrote, a scene formed and I wrote everything I imagined as it came to me. I knew before I typed it that there was going to be a knock at the door and I'd already figured out who would be knocking. But then as Astrid got to the door and answered it, there were two men I'd never “met” standing there looking back at her. Instantly Astrid knew who they were: her father-in-law and brother-in-law. I was stunned into a panic.
I texted my friend Tammy, who lives in the timezone an hour ahead. I knew she'd be awake. “There are two men standing at Astrid's door! What do they want with her??? This is the craziest thing.”
We texted back and forth. Tammy offered some ideas for their story line and then she wrote, “I think you're just going to have to sit on this for a little while.”
“I can't! I have two more inches to fill before my day's page is done.”
I returned to the scene and in a few minutes I figured out a way to finish the day's page and tie up the loose ends at the door.
I have shared this scene with no one until now. I feel certain that it won't make it into the next draft, so I'm happy to share it here today.
The women talked for a few minutes more and then Astrid heard a knock on the door. "That's Derrick. He said he was only going to leave me alone for a few hours. He's come back to check on me."
She smiled. "I love you so much. Thank you for calling me. We'll talk again soon, okay?"
Astrid stood, steadied herself, and made her way to the front door. As she opened the door, she greeted her brother, but he wasn't standing there. It was Reid's father and brother.
"Sam, Patrick, hello. I was expecting my brother. Would you like to come in?" Astrid offered.
The men looked at each other and stepped inside the door.
"I was just going through the closet, getting things ready for a donation pick up. Patrick, are there any of Reid's clothes you'd like to have? He has such beautiful things. I'd much rather they go to people we know, but there's so much of it too."
Patrick was silent. The men looked around the condo, tourists in their own museum.
"Is there something I can help you with?" Astrid asked, getting slightly frustrated. "My brother will be here soon. I have a few other things I'd like to do before I finish for the day."
Astrid twirled the gold wedding band around her finger with her thumb. Looking at these men was like looking at her husband except without his effortless warmth. She put her ringed hand on her belly.
"Astrid," Sam started.
There was a knock at the door. The three Coles turned toward the sound.
Astrid let out a deep sigh and walked to the door. Derrick was standing there holding two Dairy Queen ice cream cones and wearing a smile on his five-o'clock-shadowed face.
Astrid let out a cry and put her arms around him."
Derrick saved the day! And with ice cream! Derrick's appearance at the door was the way I ended my day's page. I liked that he arrived after all, just later than I'd planned. I didn't know what to do with that part of the story, so after that day, I wrote other backstory while I let my mind process the scene. I knew there was conflict and I felt better knowing Derrick was present for it. For Astrid.
Four days later, more story unfolded for me. This is what I wrote next:
"Astrid stepped back from Derrick and took one of the vanilla cones. It had started melting, so she licked it to tame the mess. She looked up at her brother. "They're here," she whispered.
"Sam and Patrick."
"What do THEY want?"
"I have no idea. I was on the phone, heard a knock on the door, and came to the door. I thought it was you."
"You let them in?"
"Yes, I was so shocked. My manners took over."
Derrick licked his ice cream, thoughtful.
"I'd really like to march in there and kick both of their asses, to tell the truth."
"Yes, I know. I feel the same way, actually," Astrid admitted. "What do I do?"
"I have no idea, but we'll figure it out together." Derrick said. "We'll finish our cones and head back in."
Astrid bit into the cone, eating the last few bites as she had since she was a child. Methodically, she ate one layer in a circular pattern and then moved down the cone to the next layer. Derrick devoured the cone in four bites. No method for him.
Derrick swallowed his last bite. Astrid popped the last of the cone in her mouth. She wiped her mouth with the napkin that was wrapped around the cone. She looked up at her brother willing him to fill her with confidence.
"You take the lead, Asty. I'll be your back up."
Astrid smiled weakly and opened the door.
"Sam, Patrick, why have you come? What is it that you want?" Astrid marched right to the heart of the matter. She placed both hands on her hips, her belly protruding. Reid's father and brother stared at her still silent.
"Astrid, we want to be here for you. We shouldn't have been so distant. It was wrong. You and this baby are our family."
Derrick placed his arm around his sister."
Another day's page written. I was on a role for the next few days. Here's what came next:
"With all due respect sir," Derrick started. "My sister is carrying heavier burdens than I can imagine. And she's doing it with an incredible amount of grace. Your visit today, I'm afraid, adds to these burdens. Reid has been gone for three months. She hasn't seen you since the funeral. She hasn't bugged you, bothered you, or asked anything of you. I would appreciate if you would do the same for her."
The room was silent. Astrid looked up at her brother proud that he had her back and at a loss for words.
"You weren't particularly kind to Astrid when Reid was living. It feels a little..." Derrick paused to find the word. "Unbelievable, really, that you'd choose now to warm up to her. It would have been nice if you could have been kind to her when Reid could see it and appreciate it. I know your dismissing her hurt him."
Derrick was on a roll.
"I was never dismissive of Astrid." Sam Cole fired back. "I just wasn't sure she and Reid were right for each other."
Astrid stepped forward. "For one thing, I am standing right here, so you can speak directly to me, and for another, Reid and I were great for each other. I just didn't have the pedigree you were looking for. Reid wasn't interested in pedigree."
Her lower lip quivered and she moved closer to her brother.
"I really don't know what can be accomplished standing here today." Derrick looked down at his sister. "You've been working hard to get the condo ready for the new occupants. You're tired, and you need a break."
"New occupants? What do you mean?" Sam Cole demanded.
"I am renting out the condo for awhile. I've moved in with my grandmother, so I'm not alone when the baby comes." Astrid answered.
"Don't you think you should have discussed this with me first?" Sam Cole shot back.
Astrid blinked, mouth agape.
"Excuse me, sir? Why would I consult with you on what I would do with the condo or any decision I make for that matter?"
"I gave Reid the down payment for this condo. It seems I should have some say in what happens to it."
Derrick ran his rough, grease-stained hands through his hair.
"This is absurd."
The muscles along Derrick's jawline twitched in an effort to maintain control.
"This is not your business, Mr. Cole. Please don't insert yourself where you don't belong."
"It is my business. Reid was my son." Sam Cole snarled.
"Of course, he was." Astrid spoke up. "No one is trying to take that away from you, but he was also MY HUSBAND."
"Barely." Sam Cole mumbled.
"What was that?" Derrick asked.
"Well, they were married months."
"And?" Derrick crossed his arms across his chest, waiting.
"I just don't think that entitles her to everything."
"I AM RIGHT HERE, DAMMIT. TALK TO ME." Astrid screamed. She looked at Patrick. "Where do you fall in all of this? Huh?"
Patrick blinked, looked at his father, opened his mouth to answer, then closed his mouth again.
"Just as I thought," Astrid said. She turned and walked toward the window. She gazed out to gather her thoughts.
"Astrid, I didn't come here to upset you," Sam Cole broke the silence.
"That's bullshit." Derrick interjected.
"That is precisely what you came to do. But your mistake was underestimating my sister. You think you are coming at her at her weakest moment. She's her very best in the seemingly darkest moments. You have picked the wrong time to mess with Astrid, sir."
Astrid listened to her brother. She wiped a tear, and smiled. She kept her back to the men. She rolled her shoulders back straightening her posture and turned.
"You had a very astute son, Sam. He told me you could be like this, but I couldn't believe it. He was a planner. He prepared for the unforeseen, for contingency plans. He anticipated you might get nasty in the future, and so he drew up his will to protect me if you decided to act as he anticipated. Your son was a very smart man."
Now it was Sam's turn to stand mouth agape and silent.
"Well, I'd say that settles it." Derrick said. "Time for you to leave."