It’s an incredible feeling to get receive a letter like this one that Kylie from Elsewhere sent to me . . .
Tag Archive for Before You Go Preller
The idea for my young adult novel, Before You Go, came fully formed. Page one, four teenagers traveling in a car at night. The radio plays. The car spins out of control, hits a tree, someone dies. Then the story rewinds six weeks into the past. The book is divided into two parts: “Before” and “After.” The book catches up with the accident about two-thirds of the way through.
I had to decide what song plays on the radio, though I guess I could have punted that one. Selecting the Petty song seemed in some ways a mistake. Classic rock. Maybe these young people would have been listening to something more current, more typical of teenagers of that age: rap, possibly. But I went with Petty because: 1) It was still believable, certainly; and 2) The song was perfect. Besides, nobody would know.
Can you name the song from the clues in the scene below, which represents pages 1-3 of the book? I’ll send a free, signed book to first person who guesses it — just send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address.
NOTE: Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! I’ll be sending the book out to Carlos in San Diego who correctly guessed, “Here Comes My Girl.” The key line from that song? “And then she looks me in the eye, says, “We’re gonna last forever.”
This is the moment between before and after, the pivot point upon which story, like a plate, spins.
Two cars drive down a bleary road. One headed east, the other west. A small animal moves from the shadows to paw the asphalt. Not thirty seconds sooner, nor a moment later, but exactly now.
To the eastbound driver, traveling alone after a long night, the animal appears only as a dreamlike shape, two red eyes floating in the misty wash of headlights. He veers to avoid it and in doing so drifts into the approaching lane.
Music plays from the westbound car, intermixed with teenage voices, laughter. Eyes widen when the car swerves toward them. The driver jerks the wheel and the car cuts counter-clockwise, careens across the left lane. A foot stomps the brake pedal, back tires lock and skid, loose gravel sprays from the wheels. The side of the car crashes against a mighty oak that has stood undisturbed for over one hundred years. The front passenger’s door collapses inward, its metal panel crushed like a paper cup.
It happens fast. The span of a heartbeat, the time it takes to squeeze a hand, to shut your eyes and . . . nothing. Blood flows, bones shatter. It is the slice of a razor: when before becomes after, when everything changes.
And all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men . . .
There is a moment of stunned disbelief, an absence of movement, the vacuum suck of unreality. The music still plays like the soundtrack of a frozen photograph: a car on the side of the road wrapped around a tree, broken windows, mangled metal, the cold-eyed moon indifferent; a record voice bounces off a satellite to sing about a town that seems so hopeless.
After a pause, the summer bugs start in again, the buzz of cicadas, a cricket, the croak of a bullfrog from a muddy pond. Now the screaming begins from inside the car, drowning out the other night noises. Hysterical, high-pitched, piercing. The driver’s side rear door flies open, a figure staggers out from the backseat. The figure turns, eyes wild and unseeing, falls to both knees in the middle of an empty road on a warm, wet, shimmering summer night, battered head in bloodied hands.
Movement appears from inside nearby homes. Shadows cross behind the panes, curtains shudder. A door opens and a shaft of light spills to the ground, stumbling like a drunk on the sidewalk. Phones are found, numbers punched, 9-1-1.
Hurry. An emergency. Car accident. Hit a tree. Hard to see, sounds bad. Morgan Road, please hurry. Woke up to a crash and screaming, terrible screaming.
Come and stop the screaming.
Two of the four passengers will walk away with minor injuries. A miracle, some will say. Thank God, thank God almighty. The third will suffer a concussion, three broken ribs, cuts, and bruises. The injuries will not be fatal.
The final passenger, who sat in the shotgun seat opposite the driver, never had a chance. Death came instantly, like a curtain closing, a theater turning black.
The night animal scurries into the underbrush, its role in the passion play complete. One car races unscathed into the distance, hurtling east like a bullet from a gun. Taillights dim, then fade. The crashed vehicle plays a song from the radio.
This town, it seems so hopeless, so hopeless.
That’s the scene when you run out of miracles. The light, the light just disappears.
Rest In Peace, Tom Petty. Thanks for the music.
The entire book left me in awe, frankly. But why I’m posting today is the ending was just so perfect. A man is sitting in his chair while his wife prattles on and on, perhaps representing the banalities and sometimes-pettiness of suburban life, the smallness of minds. She goes on uninterrupted for almost two full pages. Then he comes the final paragraph:
But from there on Howard Givings heard only a welcome, thunderous sea of silence. He had turned off his hearing aid.
Wow. The end.
A thunderous sea of silence.
And by best last line I should say, best ending for that specific book. For Revolutionary Road, the man turning off his hearing aid was just right. Shutting out the noise.
Anyway, that ending reminded me of all old post I had written maybe four or five years ago. Since I think it still has entertainment value, here you go . . .
Stylist magazine has put together a list of The Best 100 Closing Lines from Books. Here’s a few of my favorites . . .
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Animal Farm, George Orwell
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Steig Larsson
“She opened the door wide and let him into her life again.”
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
“It’s funny. Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx
“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.”
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
“A last note from your narrator. I am haunted by humans.”
The Beach, Alex Garland
“I’m fine. I have bad dreams but I never saw Mister Duck again. I play video games. I smoke a little dope. I got my thousand-yard stare. I carry a lot of scars. I like the way that sounds. I carry a lot of scars.”
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
“The old man was dreaming about the lions.”
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
“I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.”
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
“Are there any questions?”
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
“I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran.”
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
“She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.”
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
“I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”
The Outcast, Sadie Jones
“He didn’t think about it, he went straight to a seat facing forwards, so that he could see where he was going.”
Before I Die, Jenny Downham
“Light falls through the window, falls onto me, into me. Moments. All gathering towards this one.”
They also compiled a list of 100 Best Opening Lines from Books.
As an author, I guess it’s something to think about. It’s even more important with picture books. As James Marshall once told me in an interview, “The ending is what people remember. If the book fizzles at the end, they remember the whole thing as a fizzled book. It’s important to have a very satisfying ending for the reader. They’ve entered a world and now they are leaving it.”
Perhaps my best closing line comes from Hiccups for Elephant:
From A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade, as “Red” enters the library:
“I passed the mess and crossed the halls. Until thar she blew — me treasure!”
From longer works, I especially like the closing lines from Along Came Spider:
“Without looking back, Trey nodded, yes, tomorrow, then stepped inside, yes, and was gone.”
Here’s the closing lines from Bystander:
“All the while quietly hoping — in that place of the heart where words sputter and dissolve, where secret dreams are born and scarcely admitted — to score winning baskets for the home team. To take it to the hole and go up strong. Fearless, triumphant. The crowd on their feet. His father in the stands, cheering.”
Recently a reviewer wrote that the last line of The Fall brought tears to her eyes, that it wasn’t until the final moment that she fully realized the book had touched her in that way.
I don’t think it was the brilliance of the last line, but more the culmination of feeling. Here it is anyway:
“I guess I will remember everything. Your friend, Sam Proctor.”
And while I’m updating this section with recent titles, I also like the last lines of Before You Go, if you don’t mind me saying so:
“He didn’t know what would happen with Becka. Maybe that’s why he needed to be alone on the beach, to watch the sunrise, to be okay with himself, despite everything. Sometimes life seemed impossibly hard, full of car wrecks and souls that shined like stars in yellow dresses. So much heartbreak and undertow. Jude bent down, picked up a smooth white stone, measured its heft in his hand. And he reached back and cast that rock as far as he could.
Just to see the splash.”
In my © 2012 Young Adult novel, Before You Go, a car full of boys drives off to Amityville to view the famous “Amityville Horror” house. It’s a minor scene, just something for my characters to do while driving around. Not coincidentally, it was a trip that my friends and I made several times when I was a teenager. Always dull and uneventful. I guess it was an aimless, Long Island-type of thing to do.
It gave us a destination, at least.
From the book:
When they reached their haunted destination at 112 Ocean Avenue in the town of Amityville, Lee killed the lights and coasted curbside. The boys stared out the windows at the old, silent house. It was three stories high with seven windows facing the street, a few tall trees and a low, neatly manicured hedge set off a few feet from the front of the house. At a casual glance, it looked about as scary as a cucumber sandwich.
They had all been there before, even though the drive to Amityville was more than half an hour. Thee was something magnetic about the place. The house was famous for its ghostly legends, and the second-rate Hollywood movie that was based on all the weird stuff that happened after the DeFeo murders back in 1974, scaring the living daylights out of the next family that moved in until, one night, they fled the house and never returned. No one would ever know what really happened.
Lee turned around in his seat to once again retell the tale, his voice hushed and mysterious, drawing out the words to build suspense. “So after the murders, the Lutz family moved in,” Lee began.
The boys had all heard it before, about as often as Green Eggs and Ham, but no one tried to Lee up. After all, it was his car and they were a long way from home.
“I guess they got a bargain price,” Jude opined.
“Yeah, but after they moved in, all this sick stuff started happening,” Lee said. “Like, swarms of flies were everywhere, even in the winter. The father of the family used to wake up in a cold sweat every night at three fifteen — the exact same time of the murders. Green slime oozed from the walls. And one night they saw a demon’s face in the flames of the fireplace.”
HAPPY HALLOWEEN, BOYS & GHOULS!