My Pre-Pandemic Pilgrimage to the Williamsburg Bridge
When a publisher agrees to publish a novel, the manuscript goes to an editor whose job it is to scrutinize the writing, the story, the big things, the little things. When it works well, it can be a very wonderful collaboration to get a piece of writing as strong as it can possibly be ahead of publication, and also to anticipate anything that would seem inauthentic or otherwise raise questions for readers. We do not want readers to wonder whether that scene would really go like that in real life; we want a scene to be as close to real life as possible so that readers can focus on the content and experience of the scene.
I received feedback from my editor, the unbearably brilliant Jennifer Pooley, about ten minutes before Thanksgiving 2019. Jennifer's feedback was thorough and deep. I agreed with her points, but I panicked - according to my contract, I had 2 months to do the work. How was I going to do all that with the holidays upon us? The wonderful people at Blackstone had a solution: do your very best, they said. Work as hard as you can, and get us the manuscript when it's done.
Okay, I said. Deep breath. I worked as hard as I could. I did all I needed to do for my day job and whipped up all the holiday-hoop-la that was required. Every moment that was not holiday or paid job, I was immersed in editing.
And the whole time, a strange count-down drum was beating in the far distance. I didn't really pay much attention to it because I didn't know - none of us did - what it was counting down. And my life had three goals: 1) family, 2) paid job, 3) and revising. Everything that was not related to those goals had to go on the back burner. Background noise. Ignore it, keep your eyes on your own work.
January came and went and I made great headway, and even got to hang out in a small house on Plum Island (a key setting in the book) for a glorious couple of days of revising.
In February, the pandemic drums were getting louder. On Thursday, February 27, 2020, I realized there was one element of research that I had not completed. I had not met the Williamsburg Bridge - the setting for an important scene in the book - in person. And by now, the pandemic drums had become pretty loud. I called my husband and said, I think I have to go to New York tomorrow. If I don't, I might not get another chance. Go, he said.
The next morning, I went to Boston's South Station. I had heard that hand sanitizer had already disappeared from the shelves of Boston's drug stores, but in a small CVS, I found shelves full of small bottles of sanitizer. I bought two bottles, and like the books about stone soup, they kept dispensing long after I thought they should be empty.
I took a bus to New York and a subway to the Lower East Side. I went to a wonderful hotel near the bridge - Citizen M at the Bowery - and the very kind man who checked me in even moved my room so I had a view of the bridge.
I didn't go anywhere I didn't need to go. I didn't touch anything I didn't need to touch. I got take-out for dinner. I worked feverishly.
And on Saturday morning, February 29, I took an early morning pilgrimage to the middle of the Williamsburg Bridge to see the sun rise, just as my character does. And it was beautiful. Just as beautiful as I wanted it to be. That afternoon, I took the train back to Boston.
I got my edits in to the publisher on March 6, and by then, the pandemic drums were full on, no longer muffled and distant but completely audible. Nobody quite knew what was upon us, but we knew it was happening, we knew it was real. The following week, I relaxed. I sent my daughter to school all five days. I stocked up on groceries. I went to the eye doctor. On Friday, March 13, we began a pandemic lock-down that a year later isn't really over.
A few of my pictures are below. I have a postcard from the hotel on my refrigerator and I feel so wistful when I look at it. I believe we will get back to feeling safe in the world someday, I just wish we knew when and I wish it would come sooner. But until that time, I hope everyone is staying safe.