Suicide Girl Is Here

I’m sitting in my best neighborhood coffeehouse, it’s 3:00 p.m., and I’m writing in Word because this place has no WiFi. (I’ll post this later.)

Right now I’m thinking, Is that blond boy with the modified mohawk and Keen bicycle messenger bag Colin?

I feel urgent, wanting to write this post. I don’t know why. For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the girl the blond boy has just joined. I wish I’d brought my camera. I want a picture. I don’t know why. I’m worried about her, this beautiful girl with the nose ring, black eyeliner, and skinny purple jeans. The only reason I’m here is because I hoped she’d be here.

Something’s unfolding with her in a big way. But this is probably just me creating a story. I realize this about myself. I understand the difference between fiction and reality. Most of the time anyhow.

Today she’s smiling and engaged in her conversation with Blond Boy, who may or may not be Colin, but who is definitely not her usual after-school companion. So which one of the two boys is Colin?

I truly want to know if this Colin is going to break her heart. Or, if Colin is going to help her to not commit suicide. I suspect she’s suicidal. But then, again, I can’t know—maybe she’s only a drama queen.

I first noticed this girl, who is a writer and a reader, a few weeks ago with her usual companion, the boy with the white plastic belt and falling-off jeans. In my day (yikes, am I that old?), their topic of conversation was a taboo subject. But these two spoke about it as if about whether or not they’d smoked cigarettes that day. I was seated next to them. I admit that I was caught off guard, shocked you might say.

She said, Congratulate me, I didn’t try to kill myself today.

He said, Congratulations, jeez, I’m really proud of you.

Something, something, something that I don’t remember, and then he responded, But if you want to keep the pills down wrap them up in gum…

I know, right? The conversation was so nonchalant—scarily so—and maybe I would have set it aside as the latest in teenage-angst talk except that a week later the girl, who has porcelain skin and eyes the color of spring, sat at this community table writing a “Dear Colin” letter. Bruises ran up and down her arms, and an industrial-sized bandage wrapped her left wrist. A novel sat beside her: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Oh, here comes her usual companion but with a yellow plastic belt and a female buddy in tow. I peg the group as creative/hipster outsiders like Molly Ringwold in “Pretty in Pink.” I’m glad to see the girl clowning with her friends even though she’s none of my business.

Actually, I do know the “why” about all of this. I suspect that my prurience has everything to do with my desire—my anxiety, my internal steam build-up—to discover the idea for my next novel.

Angst and Bad Writing Juju

Yet another angst-ridden, as-yet-unpublished novelist’s moment, a frustrated and self-doubting moment, an all-too-familiar and tiresome moment that previously led me to rant against succubus novels. Three posts ago, I mentioned my epiphany about the climax scene. I wrote that scene last week. Now, it feels anticlimactic.

I was so jazzed before I wrote the scene, so what happened? I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, that the answer relates to suspense. I’ve been giving this concept a lot of thought. Here’s what occurs to me:

I might be torturing myself about what constitutes suspense that gets acquiring editors a-drooling. And this may be because I just finished reading the latest crime novel by a bestselling novelist, and this bestseller loves the surprise whodunit twist within a twist within a twist until the plot is wrung dry as dust.

As I’ve come to expect from certain writers, this novel’s culprits were indeed characters who appeared or were mentioned only in passing. They didn’t even merit “subplot character” status. I’ll admit that I was surprised by one of the villains, but that was because I’d forgotten this character existed. The twist felt like bad storytelling juju to me — ham-fisted and too manipulative — yet it got under my skin. This novelist sells; she must be doing something right, right?

(Sidenote: Seems to me I vowed (this post) to read only nonfiction until I completed the first draft. Alas, case in point for reinstating that vow right here, right now: I’m letting another novelist’s trickiness mess with my head. Susceptible, that’s me; hence, the vow.)

Questions to self: Can’t the culprit be a character that readers might actually suspect? Can’t the surprise and suspense stem from unanswered WHYs or HOWs? Can’t the cool thing be the way the disparate puzzle pieces fit together? Given interesting, well-rounded characters, can’t their personal-story resolutions count for as much with acquiring editors as whodunit resolutions?

I’m just asking, that’s all I’m saying, just asking.

P.S. Will get back to the cliffhanger from last Friday later this week — if I can remember where I was heading with that post!