Tuesday, November 16, 2021

WHAT WE'RE WRITING: HANK's NEW BOOK! KIND OF. MAYBE.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I love that I missed the posting deadline for this! It's so emblematic of the whole writing craziness. Because ---know what I did yesterday?

I SENT IN MY MANUSCRIPT!

THE FIRST DRAFT IS DONE!


First: let me say how AMAZING it was to be the GUEST OF HONOR at Crimebake!

Here are some photos. The bag the committee put in my hotel room!


Giving my keynote speech.

Doing my online session for virtual Crimebake. Which you can STILL watch! Hallie's too.  I'll put the link in the comments.


Ahd now, darling patient Reds and Readers. This is the FIRST DRAFT (which no one should ever see) of my new book. It'll be interesting to see how much, if ANY, of this lasts in the final version. And, as you can tell, it needs a new title.


HER NEW BEST FRIEND 

FRIDAY 

Chapter 1 


Alyssa swirled the icy olives in her martini, thinking about division. She stared through her chilled glass at the mirrored shelves of multi-colored bottles in front of her at the hotel bar. Division, as in divorce. Not only the physical division, hers from Bill, but what would happen when the lawyers came. When they created a ledger of their lives together, then started the financial division. Followed by the devastating subtraction. 

Bill had subtracted her from his life, that was easy math. With a lift of  his chin and a slam of the front door and a squeal of Mercedes brakes. She’d asked him why he was leaving her, begged to know, tried to understand. But Bill always got what he wanted, no explanation offered or obligatory. She had done nothing wrong. Zero. That’s what baffled her. Terrified her.  

She jiggled the fragments of disappearing ice. Division. The Weston house. The Osterville cottage. The jewelry. Her jewelry. The first editions.  The important paintings. Club membership. The silver.  Money. The lawyers, human calculators who cared nothing about her, would discuss and divide and then, Bill Macallen would win. Bill always won. 

All she’d done for the past eight years was addition. She’d added to their lives, added to their social sphere, organizing and planning as “Bill’s wife,” fulfilling her job to make him comfortable and enviable and the image of benevolent success. She’d accepted it, and all that came with it. And then, this.  

I need a break, he’d told her that day. She pictured that moment now, a month ago, could almost smell him.  Bill talking down to her, literally and figuratively, wearing one of his pale blue shirts, elegant yellow tie all loose and careless, khaki pants and loafers. A break! As if his life with her was a video he could casually put on pause while he did more important things.  What things? Could knowing be worse than imagining?    

Alyssa felt her shoulders sag, assessing the other parts of her life grouped on Bill’s side of the ledger. She understood, she did, it was difficult when a couple split. Allegiances were tested. Loyalties strained. She jabbed at the closest green olive with the little plastic stick. But Bill had taken the friends. She’d have thought some of them, at least, would’ve stuck with her.  

But they’d all sided with Bill. Every single one of them. And now--at the club, at the gym, at the mall—all Alyssa got was pitying glances. Fingertip-hidden whispers. Unanswered calls.  As if they, in their hot-house world of affluence and connection, knew something she didn’t.  

The music from the speakers in each corner of the Vermillion Hotel’s earnestly chic dark-paneled bar floated down over her, some unrecognizable tune, all piano and promises, muffling conversations and filling the silences. A couple sat at one end of the bar, knee to knee. On vacation, on business, clandestine. Impossible to tell. At the other end, a sport-coated man, tie loosened, used one finger to fish the maraschino cherry out of his brown drink, popped it into his mouth, and licked his fingers before he went back to scrolling the phone in front of him. Alyssa was in the middle. Alone. She drew in a deep breath, all peaty scotch and lemons and strangers and elusive perfume. Alone. 

When she and Bill first met, that night at the charity event, they both had big plans. Now only he had them.  When she wasn’t Bill’s wife anymore, who was she? And did she have the power to change that? 

Her phone lay face up on the zinc bar, its glowing green screen taunting her with the proof. No matter how many times she looked at it, her calendar messaged her new reality.  

You have no events. No. Events. Only blank days, one after the other, calendared out in front of her.  She scrolled back through her past, the listings grayed out now, ghosts of occasions. Charity balls, gala dinners, speeches by successful entrepreneurs, justice-for-all somethings, and a fundraiser where they’d auctioned off A Day with Bill Macallen. That went for thousands. Everybody loved Bill, and somehow, calculating again, Alyssa always felt like the beloved plus-one. Now, in the excruciating math of marriage--addition, division--she was the minus. 

Nothing had changed for him, now. Bill was always jetting off, to New York, or Chicago, or someplace exotic. She reached into the shoulder bag hanging from the curved back of her bar stool, slid her hand into a side pocket, and pulled out a postcard of a goofy monkey perched in a palm tree. Bill sent them just often enough to be manipulative; unsigned picture postcards of bananas and big fish and blue skies. Here’s where you aren’t, he was seeming to say. Here’s where you never will be again. Here in Weston, where she was, she had slush. Slush, punctuated by crocuses. Spring in Massachusetts.   

She imagined Bill walking in and seeing her, alone on a Saturday night, on this well-worn stool at a suburban hotel bar. Brown roots showing. Manicure failing. Bare legs, and courtesy of the doomed-to-divorce diet, gone almost scrawny at five pounds thinner.  If Bill had caught her here—which he wouldn’t, she’d picked this place because no one came here--he’d have sneered that dismissive sneer at her vodka with three, now two, olives. Alyssa Westland Macallen, almost-divorced at 35. She swirled the ice again. Childless, friendless, pitiful. Her husband, fifteen years older, was off having all the fun. That didn’t seem fair. 

“May I get you another, ma’am?” The bartender, all cheekbones and concern, paused, wiping out a champagne flute with a blue striped towel.  

Ma’am, she thought. All she needed. Might as well have cliché stamped on her forehead. 

She looked at her watch, pretending. “Oh no,” she said. Profoundly surprised. “How did it get to be so late? Everyone will be expecting me.” 

“Ah.” The bartender held the flute up to the row of tiny lights twinkling above us. “Of course.”  Alyssa watched as he checked the glass for spots, then, turning away from her, slid the it into place on a thin wooden rack. 

Bill. William Drew Macallen. Where are you? And with who? There could be no other reason but that he was tired of her. And on to wife number two.   

Eight years three months and 27 days.  She stared at the pale place on her finger where her wedding ring used to be. A piece of jewelry the universe prescribes that means one is married, and happy and off-limits. There was no piece of jewelry denoting sorrow, or confusion, or disequilibrium. And now her once-welcoming, once-glamorous home was empty; and when the nights got dark and long, it terrified her. As if Bill were lurking. Watching. Waiting. Even when Bill was gone he was there. Present in every shadow. She hated being alone in that house. Hated it.   

“No thanks,” she said to the bartender. “Just the check.” 

“But it’s early.”  

The voice beside her--inquiring, hesitant--startled her.  She hadn’t noticed anyone walking up behind her,  and had deliberately left the black padded barstools on either side vacant, a barricade against intrusion or discussion. Or introduction. Alyssa was not here to find companionship or conversation. In fact, the last thing she wanted to do was talk to anyone. What would she even say? Even the simplest of questions—how are you?—could send her to tears

The newcomer’s fingernails were bitten and nubby, and her pilling sweater just the wrong shade of blue and uneven across the shoulders. She slung a raveled canvas totebag over the back of her stool. Her curly-wild hairstyle had been an unfortunate decision, as was her hair’s not-quite-auburn color. 

96 comments:

  1. Oh, goodness . . . how sad for Alyssa. And now I, too, want to know why Bill walked out, but I guess that's the big mystery here. [Can't wait to read the rest . . . .]

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    1. Thank you! What a scary (and fabulous) moment to send in a first draft! But it is a WONDERFUL feeling!

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  2. Ooh - and you left us hanging at the newcomer!

    Congratulations at sending in the book, Hank, and on your fabulous Crime Bake honors. Don't worry about being late today (although several of us were suffering withdrawal...) - you earned it.

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    1. SO crazy. I woke up this morning, all happy at having sent the manuscript and ready to edit like mad. I went to Jungle Red, first thing ,as always, and OOPS! A few frantic emails, some crazed typing, and all good. ((Smiling))

      And awww...thank you!

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  3. HANK: Wow, you have had a BUSY week sending in your first draft of TBD titled new book and having so much fun at Crime Bake as GOH. The pics are great.

    Ah, now I can see which name starting with "A" you chose for your protagonist: Alyssa.
    It fits her well. And this scene in the bar with her life unravelling is so good. The division and subtractions from her life now that Bill has left. And the mystery woman at the end of the scene...hmmm. Want to know more about her, too!

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    2. Thank you!! And that is why it WAS called Her New Best Friend. Because you can imagine what happens next..but ah, no, that title is not to be.
      (And between us, I am still not sure about Alyssa.)
      Yes, it has been a pretty whirlwind time. But all wonderful.

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    3. Hmmm, maybe you need to ask the FB hive mind to brainstorm another title, then.
      OK, it might by ALYSSA OR NOT.

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    4. AHh....maybe. usually when a name fits, you know right away. Or...not. As in this case. But I had to go on. Remind me to tell you why it has to start with A. Which, at this point, is no longer necessary. SO COMPLICATED!

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    5. Alyssa = A. Bill = B. I wonder if the new mystery friend has a name that begins with C...?

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    6. You are so hilarious! But… That is very very very close to the truth. And because you guessed, I will tell you: when I was trying to describe this plot to my agent, the characters had no names. So I called them A B C and D. And there they stayed. So then as the book progressed, I kept their letters so my agent would know which character they were. Now of course, it doesn’t matter at all. But it still feels like it does.

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    7. I love this answer, Hank. Thanks for giving the background to the letters and the names.

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    8. Thanks, Hank for explaining the original reasoning behind the A,B,C,D naming of your characters! But since it no longer has to be that way, the door is wide open...which makes choosing the right name even harder!

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    9. Yes, Debs, I so agree! And some people already call her that throughout. I may do that. xxx

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    10. Yes, Grace, that is EXACTLY right! xxx Ahhhhhh

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  4. Congratulations Hank on the Crime Bake honors. I was SO sad to miss this! And also congrats on the compelling first draft opening. It's an honor to get to read it. Do you expect a lot of editing on this one?

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    1. Thank you! And I must say, we truly missed you. There was a few times, I have to say, whereI actually looked for you--and had to remind myself you were not there. You are SUCH a part of it.
      DO I expect a lot of editing? It depends on what moment you ask me. I could make a good argument for keeping it all. I could make an equally good argument for cutting it all. I am also considering making the whole thing into first person.
      What do you think about THAT??? xxx

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    2. I think, EEEK. And this first third-person scene is so good!!

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  5. Wonderful opening to the first draft! Looking forward to seeing the final copy although I cannot imagine any changes needed, I do want to know what happens.

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    1. Thank you SO much! We shall see...it's in the editor's hands now..
      You see I yellowed "green screen" since I wondered..are the screens really green? ANd I did not have time to go back and check. :-)

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  6. Alyssa wouldn’t be my first choice, but then I could stop critiquing and write my own book!

    Amelia?
    Annabeth?
    Alice?

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    1. Oh, I just don’t know why this name is giving me so much trouble. Think think think think think.
      And her name actually is Alice, by the way. She changed it. :-)

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  7. Hank, my husband's phone has a green screen, since he never changed the default wallpaper it came with.

    Well written scene! I had to shake off the deeply depressing feelings about poor Alyssa's future propects.

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  8. Congratulations on sending in that first scary draft! Do you ping-pong between "This is the best thing I've ever written" and "This is dreck, and I'll never publish again?" I do incessantly until I get notes.

    Anyway, I came away with two VERY STRONG feelings about (A WIFE'S BEST FRIEND?)
    1. I want to read the whole thing right now!
    2. I want Bill to die. DIE, BILL, DIE.

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    1. Oh!yay! That’s a possibility! Keep thinking keep thinking keep thinking!

      And that’s exactly what I hoped people would want… Your number two. Xxxx

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    2. But, since it is a cat and mouse game, we have to be wondering which one is the new friend?

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    3. Yeah, something like that. They want it to be very very clear that there's ugliness and threats and gaslighting and danger. They don't want..well, my word choice, not theirs, but I think they don't want sophisticated. They want THE MURDER LIST.

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    4. I keep wanting some "potential con artist" name. The Shell Game. Or some allusion to money. The Marriage Scheme. Even though that's not right.

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  9. I could hvae used this as a how-to example for my workshop on Voice! Brava!!

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    1. Oh my goodness, thank you thank you thank you! This is the most worrisome part of it to me. Oh gosh, thank you!

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  10. Also to answer the writer's question on how to layer in more inner dialogue. So good!

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    1. Really? Really? Can you call my editor and…
      Thank you, truly, this is incredibly reassuring.

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  11. Great job! Never trust a guy in khakis and tasseled loafers.

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  12. I already don't like Bill. I'm interested in Alyssa and her side of the equation/division. And I am definitely intrigued by who the heck has sat down (not quite) beside her. Hmmmm....

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  13. Yes, yes, yes! Cannot wait to see what happens next!

    You still aren't sold on "Alyssa"? If her real name is Alice maybe Alicia works better. I knew a third-grader Alyssa so I am biased, in favor of almost any other name.

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    1. Oh, I know what a difference that makes! So funny how we get those biases…

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    2. I’m partial to Alyssa because I have a niece with her name, and she’s about the same age as your character. When I was reading this chapter, all I could think was that nobody had ever treat MY Alyssa this way!

      DebRo

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  14. I have to say, Hank, that you generated some strong feelings here. First, I could care less about Bill OR what happens to him. JERK, but not a surprising jerk--money, power, treat people like they're disposable, that's Bill. But I'd like to push Alyssa off her barstool. Get a grip, girl! That's the price you pay for being a doormat, arm candy, whatever. Sitting there moping, feeling sorry for herself. Ugh. HOWEVER, totally surprising development in the appearance of the next character. Now her, I want to know more about. So totally different from Alyssa already--why does she approach this stranger sitting at the bar alone? Will she be the goad that pushes Alyssa into making a new (and better, stronger) life for herself? Or quite a different kind of goad--one that pushes Alyssa to seek revenge on Bill? Things are getting very interesting at this point!!

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    1. I was going to say the same thing, Flora! I expect Alyssa will either grow a backbone and find a life for herself, or she'll murder him, or she'll get murdered... Can't wait to find out.

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    2. Oh, that is fascinating! She is not allowed to be sad ? I’d love to hear about that… And remember, this is Domestic suspense, and this is chapter 1….!

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    3. Oh yes, sadness is allowed--it's just my reaction to her wallowing in it. Unless she was totally naïve, the social set she moved in must have been full of divorces--and it doesn't seem as if she ever made any attempt at a life outside of her husband. So hello, girlfriend--c'mon, let's take at least a baby step to move on. :-)

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  15. Why can't the title stay the way it is now? "Her New Best Friend" with the line through it? As I was reading your way too short snippet, the back of my mind was saying "new best friend? No not really" but that could be a wrong direction. I need to read more. When is the next snippet going to be available?

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    1. I am sitting in my chair, thinking about that. And how, somehow, that could work. You are so imaginative! when is the next snippet going to be available? It’s 119,000 words long, and it’s on my editors desk. So… We shall see!

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  16. I am hooked. I totally agree with Hallie, it is a terrific opening. I also agree with Julia on both counts!

    Hank, please explain why you needed a name beginning with "A." The name Alyssa works, but if you decide to change it, that's fine, too.

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    1. I wondered if that would make everyone curious :-) I answered it above! xxxx

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  17. I have a 2016 iphone with the original screen, a soft blue with a swirl of orange, much like the sky just after dawn this morning.

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  18. I hope you don’t change ANY of it! And when can I expect to buy the book???

    How wonderful that you were Guest of Honor this weekend!

    DebRo

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    1. Oh, thank you, darling. DebRo! It truly was the weekend of a lifetime. And I am still floating.
      As for when you can buy it… Well, we shall see! Possibly the end of 2022, or the beginning of 23. They are still plotting. And I do wish I could find a title!

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  19. Congrats on sending in the book and on your weekend honors.

    I'm not sure I'm at "Die Bill, die" yet, but I sure do want to know what happened.

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    1. LIZ: I am also not at the "Die Bill Die" stage but would not mind if he suffers a bit for his self-absorbed arrogant treatment of Alyssa.

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    2. Yes, who knows who is really good at this stage of the game, right? I certainly didn't when I wrote it. :-)

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    3. Grace, exactly.

      Hank, I don't either. At 60,000 words of a 90,000 WIP, I finally know the killer. I think. Maybe.

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  20. Clearly Bill needs to die. Ugly dying. Like, this very evening. Maybe the messy friend in the wrong blue sweater and the bad haircut is a fairy godmother in disguise. And all those unplanned days in the calendar? Days to find the real Alyssa, and what she needs to make herself happy, because clearly happiness does not come from serving Bill.

    Great first draft. Great hook. You've made me care about Alyssa, and now I want more!

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    1. GIGI! You are right on it. Although..whose fairy godmother is whose??? xoxo

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    2. Fairy godmothers can be tricky and ambiguous. I can't wait to see how this turns out.

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  21. Soooo good! I'm ready to put out a hit on Bill. What a schmuck. Alyssa's real name is Alice? Perhaps she should be an Ariel. Will Durant renamed his wife Ariel and so she was for her marriage and career.

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    1. Ariel--she's tougher than that. HE renamed her? I didn't know that. Maybe BILL made her be Alyssa. Ooh. Good one.

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  22. Oh, so good, Hank! I want to read what happens next! Bill is obviously a big jerk, but I don't trust the messy woman with the raveling sweater at all. More more more!

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    1. Oh, yay, thank you!xoxoo ( And..exactly.....) Isn't it so funny how you can tell our books apart without even knowing who wrote them?

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  23. Brilliant opener, Hank! Worth waiting for!!! I am desperate to know who joined Alyssa at the bar...well done. Congratulations on first draft done and being the guest of honor at CrimeBake. Bravo!

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    1. THANK YOU!!!! Whew--that's great. And did you expect it to be a man? (and yes, I dearly wish all the Reds could have been there...)

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  24. If she's thirty-five-ish, would she be named Alice, though?

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    1. Huh. I have a four-year old great niece named Alice, but I don't recall any of my sons' classmates having that name. Alex or Alexandra, sure. And tons of Ashleys.

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    2. I know a family with daughters named Alice (one year older than my son) and Irene (two years younger, I think). But they are family names I believe.

      I certainly don't remember any Alices from my school days or my siblings, but we're all 40-48.

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    3. Yeah, someone very young, or much older, I think, is Alice.

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  25. Congratulations on being Guest of Honor at Crimebake, Hank, and congratulations on sending in the first draft of this new book. I already feel invested in the characters. That you can create writing that has that early of an investment feeling in readers is a great talent. I rather side with Julia in wanting to see the horrible Bill die, but maybe there's an even better way to make him suffer. Alyssa's so-called friends she shared with Bill are despicable, too. While the scenario of rich man leaves wife and loses nothing, but wife loses everything is not an unfamiliar one, but I know your treatment of it will be absolutely unique. In fact, it already is, with the appearance of the female stranger. And, yes, I totally expected it to be a man. See, how unique you are, Hank. So, I agree with Julia's second point, too, that I want to read the whole thing now.

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    1. YAY! Thank you. Yes, those are dangerously cliched waters, and I am treading carefully.

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  26. Oh my goodness! I cannot wait to read this book!
    I don't know if I am a die Bill die person yet but I want something dire to happen to him.
    I love the inner dialogue with all of the addition/subtraction images.

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    1. YAAY! Thank you! (Yes, SO glad you got that! And see, the book is about money....)

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  27. Intriguing opening. But maybe it's because I'm coming off recent pseudo widowhood (he died, we'd never married, it was difficult), but I don't see loss of LOVE in that fragment, only loss of property, loss of friends who didn't seem to mean anything, losses in a mathematical column. Long ago, I was a divorce lawyer for a dozen years, charged with balancing those mathematical inventories, and even then, those property lists burdened even me-the-button-counter with the borrowed emotion that had attached to them.

    Yes, my first impulse was "Die, Bill," but my second was "Get thee to a hairdresser and color those roots, girl." Even I, who have spent much of the pandemic weeping alone in the dark (my dog died, too; it's been a bad two years) could never be THAT passive. She's alone? Get a dog and teach it to pee on some treasured possession he left behind (He must have left something). After eight months, doesn't she have her own lawyer? Is she squatting in the house to get a bigger settlement?

    And did all those friends desert her because she was thinking "And with WHO?" Not to judge (though I am), but the object of a preposition....

    I'm sorry, I really shouldn't rain on anybody's parade, and you did turn the draft in (Yay!), and Bill is a jerk, and maybe if I'd been able to keep reading I wouldn't have had time to think, but given that time-- please, make me like her, rather than be angry with her. But maybe that's why her (social) friends didn't stick around?

    My apologies. I should be delighted for you, not angry with your protagonist.

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    1. Thank you, dear Ellen! And that's what first drafts are for, right? I am delighted with all this wonderful input. (quickly, yes, she has a lawyer, yes she loved him but she is in shock, yes its complicated, and she redeems herself (although she is sad) by the end of chapter 1.) (And truly, hilariously, at the end of the book a dog is a thing.)
      And she will change to who. Right now. xoxo

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    2. And ooh, did I make a mistake? It was a month since her husband left. (They'd been married 8 plus years.)

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    3. Okay, that makes sense--she can be sad after 1 month--especially if she did love him :-)

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    4. How fast do roots show? I stopped coloring my hair 30 years ago, so I don't remember. But if it's just a month, have all of her friends even had a chance to desert her? And aren't there still silent howls of pain and rage radiating from her in addition to her feeling like she got the short end of the financial and social sticks?

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    5. This is all so brilliant! xxx Thank you.

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  28. I'll join in with the "get Bill" contingent . . . and thanks for sharing the first glimpse and a bit of the joy of conference-going. Remember when we took those gatherings for granted? Hugs <3

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  29. . . . and yes, I think the screens are actually green. I remember cruise photos that came out quite odd for anyone wearing green clothing.

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