Matthew Dicks is the author of THE PERFECT COMEBACK OF CAROLINE JACOBS, one of our fall book club selections. Every author approaches the blank page in a different way and we asked Matthew to share a bit of his writing process–specifically for this novel–with us today.
Here’s how crazy my writing process can be:
I open the next chapter of my manuscript in a hotel room. Mother and daughter have just stepped foot inside.
Why are we here? I ask myself.
I honestly don’t know.
Mother and daughter begin speaking. Daughter is not happy with the hotel room. It reeks of cigarette smoke.
Really? I think. Cigarette smoke? That’s annoying. I don’t blame her.
But I’m still not sure why we’re here. It can’t just be for this back-and-forth mother-daughter bickering. Right? None of this is interesting.
Mother goes into bathroom to wash up. Then she hears something.
I hear it now, too.
It’s her daughter, still in the other room. She’s on the phone. She’s up to no good, I think. She sounds different. Sneaky. Mother agrees. What is her daughter doing? Let’s go find out.
I honestly have no idea what she’s doing at this point.
Mother exits the bathroom. Then I hear it, just as she does. I catch enough of the daughter’s conversation to realize what she is doing. And it’s perfect. It’s dramatic. It will increase the tension between mother and daughter. It’s a moment that will wind its way into the mother’s heart, causing her to feel both guilt and admiration at the same time.
It even pushes the plot forward. Hints at what’s to come. This is good. This is why we are here. This is why I started the chapter in this hotel room.
To think I had no idea about any of this when I sat down to write.
This is the internal dialogue that took place in my head as I wrote the first 500 words of the chapter. This is the kind of internal dialogue that takes place almost every time I write. I have absolutely no idea what is about to happen most of the time. For me, writing is almost like reading. I discover the story through the act of creation. During the act of creation.
For a long time, I tried and failed to write novels because I didn’t know that writing in the blind was a thing. I had yet to hear authors compare the writing process to driving down a darkened highway late at night, only able to see the sliver of the road ahead illuminated by the headlights.
I used to think I needed a plan in order to write.
Then one day I started writing without a plan. Accidentally. That was the moment I discovered how I was meant to write. That first, accidental attempt to write without a plan resulted in my first novel, Something Missing.
Four novels later, I’m still writing in the blind. I still have no idea what is about to happen most of the time.
It’s crazy. It’s how I work. How many writers work.
There are many days when I feel more like a chronicler of some alternate reality rather than a novelist in charge of my fictional world.
Caroline Jacobs is a wimp, someone who specializes in the suffering of tiny indignities in silence. And the big ones, too. But when the twinset wearing president of the local Parent Teacher Organization steps out of line one too many times, Caroline musters the courage to assert herself. With a four-letter word, no less.
Caroline’s outburst has awakened something in her. Not just gumption, but a realization that the roots of her tirade can be traced back to something that happened to her as a teenager, when her best friend very publicly betrayed her. So, with a little bit of bravery, Caroline decides to go back to her home town and tell off her childhood friend. She busts her daughter out of school, and the two set off to deliver the perfect comeback . . . some twenty-five years later. But nothing goes as planned. Long buried secrets rise to the surface, and Caroline finds she has to face much more than one old, bad best friend.
THE PERFECT COMEBACK OF CAROLINE JACOBS is an enchanting novel about the ways in which our childhood experiences reverberate through our lives. It’s the story of a woman looking to fix her life through an act of bravery, and of a mother and daughter learning to understand one another. Deceptively simple and highly engaging, this latest novel by Matthew Dicks is perfect for those of us who were last to be picked at sports, and for everyone who is thrilled not to be in high school any more.