Name — Karen A. Wyle
Age — 58 (had to pause and do the arithmetic…)
Where are you from — That depends on when. I was born a Connecticut Yankee, moved to California at age eight, moved up and down that state, went to law school in Massachusetts, moved back to California (up and down), and have been in Indiana (in the Midwest) for 25 years.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc —
I stayed in school as long as I could, for fear of having to cope with the adult world. Leaving college with a B.A. in English, I decided that interests in writing, logic and psychology might suit me for the practice of law. After law school, I held two law firm jobs, both briefly, but long enough to discover that riding in elevators full of “suits” made me hyperventilate, and that there was little point in earning money I had no time to enjoy.
I did some freelance law work for a while, until a law school classmate asked me to share her job as a staff attorney with the California Court of Appeal. I might still be there, if I had not met the gent who became my husband. He had moved to L.A. from Bloomington, Indiana, after an amicable but painful divorce. He hated L.A. We ended up in Bloomington, where we’ve lived for twenty-four years. We have two wildly creative daughters and are within months of an almost empty nest. (The dog will remain.)
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I’m seeking reviews for my latest novel, Division, which came out as an ebook last October, as part of the countdown to its paperback publication in March. Division is near-future science fiction, intended for both SF and general audiences. Teaser: new technology gives conjoined twins Gordon and Johnny new choices — but who gets to choose?
I’m editing the rough draft of my next novel, another near-future SF story. It posits the ability to record the emotional high points of human experience. The playback of such recordings is used for various purposes, including as a punishment — the technological equivalent of “an eye for an eye,” making those who inflict suffering experience it themselves. But the recordings have some unexpected properties . . . .
I’m also an attorney, and I’m also working on a nonfiction guide, for writers, to law and lawyers.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I don’t know how early I began writing, but I had a poem published in a local paper’s “Youth Said It” column when I was in third grade. As for why: why was my older daughter already a cartoonist at age three, and my younger daughter a dancer at the same age? Sometimes, we’re born to do things.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I would guess that I thought of myself as a writer, or at least a future writer, very early on. By age ten, I aimed to be the youngest novelist ever published. (Then I found out that some British upstart had been published at age nine.)
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I wrote my first attempt at a novel at age ten, as a labor of love for my fifth grade teacher. I didn’t complete another novel (or other book-length work) until many years later. My older daughter, then eighteen years old, was taking part in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo or Nano) for the second time, and I decided I’d give it a whirl, hardly expecting to last more than a day or three. Four weeks later, I had the rough draft of my novel Twin-Bred.
Twin-Bred grew out of two longstanding interest: mediation (a process where a trained, neutral third party tries to help parties in conflict reach a settlement they both can live with), and twins. Shortly before the start of Nano 2010, I read an article about womb twin survivors (people whose twins die in utero or shortly after birth). The article dwelt on the fundamental bond between twins, and the long-lasting trauma that twin survivors may feel. I’ve been reading science fiction so long that I very often filter new information through a science-fiction lens. It occurred to me to wonder whether the connection between twins could, in the right circumstances, overcome the gap between two sentient species. And who better to pursue that possibility than a womb twin survivor, who would know better than most the importance of that connection?
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I might call my style both precise, literate, and deliberate.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I like short titles, and tend toward the literal. Division involves the question of whether conjoined twins should or should not lead separate lives — so the title popped up fairly quickly. That isn’t always the case: it took me months of head-scratching and fumbling about before I decided on the title of Wander Home, my afterlife fantasy/family drama.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t have messages so much as themes. I tend to focus on family relationships, the process of coming to know ourselves, and the consequences of our individual choices.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Division is science fiction, not fantasy, and as such is meant to stay within our current notions of scientific fact. It predicts some likely advances in current medical technologies.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Gordon and Johnny, the conjoined twins in Division, must weigh their own desires and dreams for the future against the claims and desires of those they love. That’s a situation I’ve been in more than once.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
That’s a tough one. I’ve been reading a long, looooong time. Any answer is going to end up as incomplete as an Academy Award acceptance speech (the kind where the actor later realizes with horror that he forgot to thank the director and his mother).
Children’s books like The Secret Garden and A Little Princess (both by Frances Hodgson Burnett) and A Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis awoke my imagination and left me with images in which I still delight.
Innumerable science fiction books have formed my view of humanity’s place in the universe (and also made it hard for me to keep track of what has and hasn’t been invented yet).
George Eliot’s Adam Bede, whatever its imperfections, highlighted for me the terrifying and fundamental fact that our actions, very often, cannot be undone, nor their consequences averted.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I don’t really have to choose, do I??
Mary Doria Russell’s science fiction novel The Sparrow is one of my favorite novels, and an inspiring (if intimidating) example of what can be achieved through that genre.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m straddling several: Man-Kzin Wars XIV, a multi-author anthology set in a universe created by Larry Niven; Starters, a YA dystopia; and Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I became aware of SF author and blogger John Scalzi in 2013, and scarfed up quite a few of his books as fast as possible. He’s been described as a contemporary Robert Heinlein (though with rather different politics). His novels combine humor, suspense, and poignancy, and his characters tend to be wonderfully resourceful.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m seeking reviews for Division, the near-future novel I described above. I’m also editing the rough draft of my next novel, another near-future SF story. It posits the ability to record the emotional high points of human experience. The playback of such recordings is used for various purposes, including as a punishment — the technological equivalent of “an eye for an eye,” making those who inflict suffering experience it themselves. But the recordings have some unexpected properties . . . .
I’m still writing the rough draft of a nonfiction guide, for writers, to law and lawyers.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
That’s easy: the Office of Letters and Light, the nonprofit organization behind National Novel Writing Month. I owe them more than I can say (at least, without crying).
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
A former high school classmate recently asked whether I considered writing a “hobby.” I’m afraid I bristled, and replied: “More of a passion.”
I don’t count on paying most of my bills from writing in the near future. I do hope and intend to keep writing fiction for at least as long as I keep working at my “day job.”
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I might come up with a less abrupt transition between the end of the last “chapter” of Division and the beginning of the epilogue.
I’m not sure whether I’d trim any of the early chapters. They set up the key conflict, which takes a while to arrive. I’d love to hear from readers on this point.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
No, I don’t.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’d love to! The Prologue and first chapter of Division are at the end of this interview.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I’ve had to teach myself to include more sensory detail and sense of setting in my work. It’s also difficult to avoid over-using certain words and phrases (some over-common in general, some my own individual fallbacks).
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I don’t necessarily have a single favorite author. That said, Mary Doria Russell, whose book The Sparrow I mentioned above, is one of my favorites. I love an author who makes it easy for me to love her characters. Her dialogue is brilliant. Her style suits my sensibilities.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I haven’t done any traveling to promote my books. All my “appearances” have been online.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
All of my covers have been collaborative efforts, though the collaborators have varied.
For Division, I went to Shutterstock (my favorite source of stock images) and found two poses of the same model. I used those poses for a provisional mockup of conjoined twins Gordon and Johnny. A friend who’s a graphic designer, Michelle Hartz, did a cover-worthy version, which required recreating some bits that the source photos didn’t include (some hair on one twin, one elbow on the other).
One of my beta readers, Lehsa Griebel, came up with the idea of putting the twins on puzzle pieces. Designer David Leek created the puzzle pieces and placed the twins on them. David and I went back and forth several times before we decided on the final placement of the pieces. I came up with the idea of including a “ghost” image of each twin next to the puzzle piece bearing the image of the other twin. I also had the idea behind the title graphic, which David implemented. I chose the color scheme in a general way; David refined it.
Once the ebook/front cover was finished, David did a beautiful spine and back cover, which readers will be able to see on March 20, 2014.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
This may not be a responsive answer, but I find promoting my books far more difficult than writing them.
As for the writing process itself, by the time I’ve made too many editing passes to count, and am trying to proofread, my eyes tend to cross.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I did some research on conjoined twins, some of which I’ll remember. More fundamentally, I know I learn more about writing with every book I write, even if I can’t identify the exact lessons.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Well, yes, as a matter of fact . . . . (If this answer is a reasonable length, it means Fiona took pity on her readers and cut some of it.)
• Keep pen and paper, or some other means of taking notes, with you at all times. Don’t assume you’ll remember your great idea five minutes from now — write it down immediately! Get or jury-rig a lighted note pad for your bedside table. (A clip-on book light attached to a cheap note pad will work.) If you tend to get ideas in the shower, as many writers do, you may want to buy an AquaNotes note pad, a pad and special pencil for writing in wet conditions, which you can stick on the wall of your shower. Otherwise, you’ll have to mutter your bright idea over and over to yourself until you reach dry land.
• Become compulsive about multiple backups of your idea notes, works in progress, rough drafts, subsequent drafts, etc. Use “the cloud” (Web-based storage), e.g., Dropbox or Evernote. (I use Dropbox. Once it’s running on your computer, it will back up a document stored in your Dropbox folder every time you save. But check periodically to make sure it’s still running!) Email attachments to yourself (and then check whether your email host is periodically deleting them). Put files on a separate hard drive and on flash drives.
• This one is YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). That said, I and many other authors find it essential to keep the inner editor gagged and stuffed in a closet when we’re working on a rough draft. Don’t be afraid to leave blanks or bracketed notes as you go. (One of my rough drafts included the note “[insert appropriate South American country here].”) National Novel Writing Month, in which participants aim to write a novel of at least 50,000 words within the month of November, is a great way to accomplish this. There’ll be time enough later for lots and lots of rewriting.
• A related point: find the process that works for you. Some authors outline in detail. Others find too specific an outline stifling, and work from less organized notes of possible scenes, or with no notes at all. Some have a fixed time of day for writing, and allow nothing to disrupt it; others flit back and forth all day between writing and other tasks. Some use computers; some still write longhand, and a few swear by typewriters.
• Think seriously about self-publishing. There’s a wealth of info and support out there for indie authors. Conversely, this is a risky time to sign a contract with an agent or publisher. Because of the uncertain and fast-changing conditions in the publishing industry, many agents and publishers are inserting “rights grabs” and other clauses in their contracts that could cripple an author’s career. Some of the worst language may be hidden in unexpected places like “warranty” clauses. If you do sign with an agent or publisher, try to find a way to pay a good IP attorney to go through the contract with a microscope. Don’t let the allure of “having an agent” or “being published” lead you to grab at an offer of representation or publication without vetting it thoroughly. (A related point: don’t assume that a traditional publishing contract means your book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, Target, etc. It ain’t necessarily so. And lately, some traditional publishing contracts give the publisher the option to publish only an ebook and forego a printed book altogether!)
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for sharing my creations! (Please keep reading!)
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
It was probably one of that ancient set of readers featuring Dick, Jane and Spot. (“See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!”) The first books I actually remember are Carolyn Haywood’s Betsy books (starting with “B” is for Betsy).
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I’m an on-and-off professional photographer. When I’m not actually working at it, I take the occasional photo for my own satisfaction.
If a lifelong compulsion may be deemed a hobby, then reading is my primary hobby.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I’m writing this answer two days before the return of Sherlock, for which I’ve been waiting impatiently. I also watch some reality competitions with an artistic focus, including Project Runway, Face-Off, and So You Think You Can Dance. Despite the show’s somewhat belligerent name, the hosts of SYTYCD have a positive, appreciative approach that complements the competitors’ superb dancing.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Food: dark chocolate in almost any form (unless mixed with mint or peanut butter).
Colors: pastels, especially combinations of same.
Music: Celtic and other folk music; classical music from the Romantic and late Romantic periods (e.g., Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff).
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
If I had the voice for it, I’d have loved to be a singer. Leaving out such radically different universes: perhaps a teacher of science or history.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I have a rather neglected blog, “Looking Around,” at http://looking-around.blogspot.com, and an author website, http://www.KarenAWyle.net. The latter doesn’t get updated as often as it should. I pay more attention, on a daily basis, to my Facebook author page, at http://www.facebook.com/KarenAWyle.
Excerpt from Division, a near-future novel by Karen A. Wyle
Ellen walked softly up to the boys’ bedroom door and put her hand on the knob. She really should break the habit of peeking in on them. You peeked in on babies, and the boys’ third birthday cake had already gone stale. But there was something so soothing about watching your children sleep, and knowing you had met all their needs for one more day.
She turned the knob and opened the door, a little at a time. It opened silently: her husband Frank, both indulgent and practical, had oiled the hinges.
There they lay, the night-light’s glow just enough for her to see them, in the “big boy” bed that Ellen had purchased the year before. Both Gordon and Johnny had been pleased—and in Johnny’s case, rather smug—to graduate from a toddler bed before any of their peers. Their broad torso had made the change a necessity.
A movement caught her eye from the near side of the bed. Johnny’s head had turned; he was awake, and looking at her. She tiptoed toward him, her finger to her lips, then knelt down next to the bed and whispered as quietly as she could: “Lie still, sweetie. You don’t want to wake your brother.”
Johnny yawned. “I was just thinking. About the puppy.”
Ellen suppressed a sigh. The neighbor’s puppy had got out and encountered a car, a cheap one with the minimum required programming. Apparently the puppy had been too small to trigger the system’s evasive response.
“The puppy died.”
She could hardly deny it. “Yes, sweetheart. It did.”
Would he ask about her own mortality? She had not yet found a satisfactory way to respond to such questions.
“Will Gordon die some day?”
Ellen tried to beat back something like panic. “Johnny, darling, please go back to sleep.”
“Will I die when Gordon dies?”
He was so smart. She could almost wish otherwise. Sharing several vital organs as the boys did, sharing a bloodstream, the death of one brother would surely doom the other.
“Hush, baby. You and Gordon will live and be well for many, many years.”
And now, a voice from the other side of the bed. She had not realized Gordon had awakened. “And we’ll always be together.” Gordon’s face bore the sweetest, sleepiest smile.
She stood up, leaned over, and kissed first Gordon’s cheek, then Johnny’s. “Yes, darling. Of course. Now, both of you, back to sleep.”
“G’NIGHT, MOMMY . . . .” The boys mumbled together, their two voices indistinguishable.
“Good night.” She watched their eyes close, backed out of the room, and silently closed the door.
Gordon opened his eyes and stretched their right arm. He moved slowly and carefully, so as not to wake his brother. Gordon usually awoke first, but allowed Johnny an extra few minutes of sleep.
Relaxing against the mattress, he thought with pleasurable anticipation about the recital, running through the Romance in his mind. He could not help but echo some of the motions he would make with the bow, and Johnny mumbled a protest.
“Time to get up already?” Johnny pushed them up onto their left elbow and looked around blearily. Then his head jerked over toward Gordon’s. “Hey, isn’t it Saturday? What time is it, anyhow?”
“Time to get up, is what! We leave for the recital in ninety minutes, and we’re going to practice one more time.”
Johnny flopped them back down on the bed. “Damn.”
“It’s only one recital every six months. If I weren’t being nice to you, it’d be once every two.”
Johnny growled deep in his throat. “The hell it would. Anyway, we’ve practiced enough. Let’s sleep another half an hour.”
Gordon tensed the diaphragm muscles on his side and tried to jerk them into sitting position. He met some resistance greater than their combined weight: Johnny must be hanging onto the bed frame on his side, holding them in place.
Getting frustrated would do no good, and he would not spoil the morning by losing his temper. “Come on. This is silly.” He cast about for an inducement. “When we get home, we can watch that extreme sports show you like.” He suppressed a shudder. “For an hour!”
“You let go right now!” He tugged upward, hard, even though it hurt, and was both glad and sorry to hear Johnny grunt in pain. But he could not tug hard enough to break Johnny’s grip.
“I’ll call Mom! She’ll smack you!” It might happen. On the rare occasions when the boys were not partners in crime, there were few methods of discipline that affected only one of them, and Mom sometimes resorted to an old-fashioned approach. She knew all the spots that only one boy or the other would feel.
As if he had already called their mother, Gordon heard footsteps and then a knock on the door. Johnny’s head swiveled toward the door, and he looked alarmed for a moment; then he relaxed. “That’s not Mom.”
The knock was softer than Mom’s impatient rap would have been, and it came from lower on the door. Gordon relaxed as well. “It’s Dodi!” She must have popped over from down the street to check up on them. Dodi would have Johnny seeing reason soon enough. He called out to her. “Come on in!”
The door cracked open. “Are you decent? Can I come in?”
Gordon snorted. “We’re so decent we aren’t even out of bed yet! Come help me get this bum moving!”
Dodi’s round face and wavy dark hair emerged through the partly opened door. Apparently reassured that her friends were not unduly exposed, she came in and stood at the foot of the bed. She wore a frilly pink dress instead of her usual jeans. Dodi always dressed up for the boys’ recitals. “Why aren’t you up?”
Gordon glared at Johnny. “Tell her why we aren’t up yet, won’t you?” He tugged again and fell forward, stubbing his nose on the mattress. Johnny must have let go, or even shoved upward at just the moment Gordon started pulling.
Gordon pushed their torso back up to a sitting position and turned his head toward Johnny’s, clenching their right fist. Dodi scurried forward to Gordon’s side of the bed, grabbed the hand, and unfolded it. “Oh, Gordon, don’t let him rile you. And Johnny, stop teasing!” She reached out to take their other hand; Johnny obliged, and Dodi, with obvious effort, pulled them out of bed.
She had always been short, but the boys had not always been tall. Now, at eleven, they were shooting up. It was strange to be looking that far down at their friend. Dodi looked back up at them, her eyes wide with curiosity. “What’s going on?”
Johnny shrugged their left shoulder. “It doesn’t matter. Pick us out something to wear?”
Dodi cocked her head to one side. “Didn’t your mother do that, last night?”
Gordon shook his head. “She says we have to start making those decisions for ourselves.”
Johnny made a face. “Something else for us to fight about. Oh, goody.”
Dodi sighed. “Well, if you both want me to choose something . . .” She looked at each of them for any opposition, and finding none, moved to their closet. “Oh, good! You have a new blue shirt. You look so good in blue. It brings out your eyes. But look at your suit jacket! Gordon, what were you eating the last time you boys dressed up?”
Gordon gaped, indignant. “It wasn’t me! Johnny was holding a hot dog and got excited about something, and he waved it around, and mustard went flying off onto my side.”
Dodi and Gordon both looked toward Johnny, who nodded sheepishly. Dodi got what Gordon thought of as her domestic expression, comically adult and determined. “I’ll get something to clean this up.” She hustled out into the corridor; Gordon could hear her quick steps as she headed for the bathroom.
The boys extracted their suit pants from the hanger, found a clean undershirt and laid the blue dress shirt on the bed. Dodi reappeared, jacket draped over her arm and dangling toward the floor. She handed it toward Gordon, who dropped it on the bed next to the shirt. Dodi stepped closer and sniffed at their right armpit, wrinkled her forehead for a moment, then smiled. “Ooh, my wittle boys are growing up! You stink like grown men. Do you have time to take a shower?”
Johnny smirked. “Well, I’d like to be clean for our recital, but this fellow wants to practice instead. Again.”
“Be nice to your brother! I guess you can manage with deodorant. I’ll get out and let you get dressed.”
“Just a moment.” Johnny held up their right index finger. “Gordon? Private moment.”
Gordon obediently held up the other index finger and put it in his left ear. Johnny put the index finger under his control in Gordon’s right ear. Gordon shut his eyes.
Johnny looked back toward Dodi, a long, lingering look. “I just wanted to tell you—you look really pretty in that dress.”
Dodi blushed and smiled, then blew him a kiss and backed out the door, still smiling.
Johnny pulled the finger out of Gordon’s ear. “Let’s get dressed—fast!” With luck, Gordon would be pleased enough at his cooperation not to get too curious about what Johnny and Dodi might just have shared.
The boys washed up, applied the recommended deodorant, and scrambled into their clothes with impressive efficiency. Gordon was as pleased as Johnny had hoped, and rewarded him by agreeing to have breakfast before they practiced. Dodi joined them, their mother beaming at the three of them as she flipped pancakes and poured juice.
Then Dodi sat quietly in the living room while the boys played. When they were done, she walked with them to the car, then headed off to get her bicycle.
Johnny pouted, though he knew it was unlikely to sway their mother. “I want us to ride our bike too. Why do we have to go in the car?”
“Because you’d wrinkle your suit. I know that crabby tone of voice. Have the two of you been arguing again?”
The boys looked at each other for a moment before shaking their heads.
Gordon and Johnny perched on a black metal folding chair. The student who had just performed came back and sat on Gordon’s side, a sheen of perspiration on her forehead. The boy on Johnny’s side leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Your turn next, Rover.”
Johnny clenched their left fist. Would anyone notice if he punched the boy in the leg, just inches away? He looked out at the audience. He could see his mother’s blonde head, bent forward as she studied the program. If he moved quickly—but then his mother looked up and smiled at him. Johnny sat back, seething in frustration.
At their last recital, as the students milled around before heading on stage, the boy had asked the others if they had ever heard of Samuel Johnson. Seeing blank expressions all round, he proceeded to enlighten the group about Johnson’s comments on women preachers. “Johnson said a woman preaching is like a dog on its hind legs. He said what’s surprising is that it can walk like that at all, even though it can’t do it well.” He aimed his greasy, pimply face at Gordon and Johnny. “Right, Rover?”
Some of the students looked puzzled, and a few of the girls seemed indignant at the insult to female preachers, but Johnny knew just what the little twerp was driving at.
It was bullshit. He and Gordon were good. Gordon, especially—their teacher Mr. Kohler always praised his bow technique, and Kohler was hard to please. Wasn’t he?
Johnny didn’t mind playing, exactly. He liked the music itself, and it was fun to make such intense use of a part of the body he controlled entirely, moving the fingers so fast from one position to another. But he’d have more control if they studied singing. He’d be using his own mouth and throat and lungs. And even though he and Gordon shared a diaphragm, he could take a deep breath when he wanted, unless Gordon made a point of interfering. He was good at singing, too. Dodi said so, and she’d promised never to lie to them about anything, ever. But Gordon complained that Johnny sang too loud, that it hurt his left ear.
Now Gordon was poking him. Kohler had been introducing them while Johnny was lost in thought. It was time to get up and play. As they arose, Johnny turned back to the boy in the next chair. “Watch out. Dogs bite, you know.” He turned away without waiting to see whether the threat had any effect. He would imagine that it had.
Dodi, sitting between the boys’ mother and stepfather, saw Johnny’s exchange with the boy in the next chair and clenched her own fists in angry sympathy. Johnny had told her about “Rover” after the last recital. Gordon had just laughed it off—but he didn’t let things get to him the way Johnny did. And as the more dedicated violinist of the two, Gordon had a better idea of the quality of their performance.
She did like it when they sang, as Johnny preferred. He had cajoled Gordon into learning some duets, and when Gordon wasn’t in the mood, Johnny would sometime sing on his own, while Gordon assumed his martyr expression.
What sort of voices would they have as they got older? She’d know soon enough. She just barely remembered her brother’s voice changing, many years ago when she was small. Well, smaller. Small seemed to be a permanent condition. How much taller would the boys get? Would it be difficult, if they ever wanted to . . . well, to kiss or anything?
Now the boys were standing at center stage, next to the accompanist, and starting to play. She did love Suen Jié’s Romance in F major. Johnny had asked her what they should learn next, when Mr. Kohler let them pick their next selection. Gordon had looked annoyed for a moment, maybe because Johnny had thought of asking her before Gordon had. But Gordon rarely stayed annoyed for long about anything.
It was funny how you could fill different roles, at different times, with the same person. The boys were like her brothers—playmates, the kind of brothers she’d never had, with her own brother and her sister so much older. But sometimes, like this morning, she felt almost like their mother, cleaning up after them, keeping them out of trouble. Ms. Blake had noticed, of course: she called Dodi her little assistant.
And Dodi could feel something else coming, another role. Johnny’s compliment about her dress; the way both boys had started to look at her differently; the way she felt sometimes, looking at them . . . .
The three of them had always assumed, when they were children playing house, that they’d be a family when they grew up. Dodi’s parents had never liked her to say so, and lately they’d been talking up some of the other boys she knew, asking if she ever spent time with this or that male classmate, saying how nice he was. Well, Mom and Dad would just have to deal. If she and Gordon and Johnny—well, whatever ended up happening, it was their business and nobody else’s.
Ellen had several reasons for steering the family to Kap’s Kitchen after every recital. All of them, to varying degrees, liked the food. She and Frank liked, or could tolerate, the prices. But what Ellen liked most were the booths.
The booths had nice, high walls, and there were several corner booths, largely enclosed. She could sit with her family in one of those booths and know that the ubiquitous beach-loving tourists would probably make their way to and from their tables without the distracting sight of Ellen’s sons.
The locals—that was different. Most of them had known Gordon and Johnny for years, and took them pretty much for granted. They might stop to chat, or simply nod in passing. That was fine.
She glanced at the menu for form’s sake. She knew it by heart, and always had one of her three favorite entrees, unless a daily special tempted her. Frank did the same, with his own set of favorites. Gordon was even less adventurous, ordering the cheese ravioli year in and year out. It had taken him some time to find the item he liked best, but once he had found it, he saw no reason to stray. Johnny, on the other hand, took advantage of the fact that the items were numbered: he usually brought dice in their left pants pocket, and rolled them to pick his meal. He might, however, roll again, if the first result was particularly unfortunate.
The waiter came by, took their order, smiled benignly and disappeared again. She turned her attention to the boys, who were regaling her with backstage gossip.
“Denny TOLD EVERYONE THAT he hurt HIS HAND PLAYING softball and that’s why HE MESSED UP, BUT then we HEARD HIM tell Alice that REALLY HE JUST didn’t practice . . . .”
As usual, the boys drifted in and out of simultaneous speech.
“And I WANTED TO tell on him, because HE MADE THE REST of us look bad . . . .”
Gordon was taking the lead, with Johnny fading in and out. Gordon naturally cared more about the success of the recital. Johnny looked as if he were getting bored with the topic. Always sensitive to the demand for equal time, she searched for an appropriate change of subject.
“Did Mr. Kohler say anything more about the field trip?”
Johnny perked up. “It’s on! WE GET TO SEE this guy MAKING THE VIOLIN Mr. Kohler is BUYING FROM HIM.” Gordon was beaming as well: this was one of the relatively rare expeditions that interested both boys equally.
Ellen listened while she temporarily learned more than she had imagined knowing about the construction of violins, until they were interrupted by the arrival of their food. As the waiter set Gordon’s plate, then Johnny’s, in front of the boys, a woman’s head and shoulders appeared behind him: a stranger, an apparent tourist, phone in her hand, with an avid expression. With no wasted motion, the waiter swept his elbow back, catching the woman in the ribs. He turned toward her and bodily herded her away, all the while overflowing with profuse apologies. Ellen raised her napkin to her face to hide her grin. Frank, less reticent, let out a loud guffaw before returning his attention to his food.
Ellen glanced out the window, and her grin faded. Now it was a grimmer expression she would be concealing. The damned Adamant protesters had turned up again, with their hateful signs about sin and repentance, the mark of Cain, and the finger of God. She might not have a spotless soul, any more than any other frail human being, but there was no way she would ever believe that God would make her boys pay the price. God would not have punished her by reaching into her womb and halting the boys’ separation. How could those people believe in so punitive a God, and not fear more for their own souls than they gloated about the supposed jeopardy of hers?
Most of the protesters were just infuriating nuisances, but a few of them had proved dangerous. At least she had Frank by her side. If only one of them could carry a pistol! Even if it was unnecessary, she would like to be better prepared to defend her sons—especially since the Adamants enjoyed the sacrificial associations of knives. When she was a girl, people could carry guns with them, but the political winds had shifted since then.
None of the Adamants had actually attacked anyone in years. But she excused herself from the table, and went to ask permission for her family to use the back entrance, through the kitchen. She would make up some excuse to tell the boys.