Thursday, July 4, 2019

#58 Inside the Emotion of Fiction HER SECRET SON by Hannah Mary McKinnon

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****Hannah Mary McKinnon’s HER SECRET SON is #58 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece.  

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? My third novel is called Her Secret Son. I never get hung up about (or too fond of) the original titles I give my novels because I know they’ll more than likely change. Actually, I often hope they do because the sales & marketing geniuses at MIRA (HarperCollins) have far better ideas than me. I’d originally called this book THE SON, just to give it a name, then THE BOY IN THE RAIN, which was too melancholy. When my editor pitched Her Secret Son as an alternative title, I fell in love with it immediately.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Her Secret Son was published in paperback, eBook and audiobook formats on May 28, 2019 by MIRA (HarperCollins).
What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I started writing the novel around June 2017, and the final copy-edits were done almost a year later. In between I worked on editing my second novel, The Neighbors (MIRA, March 2018) and outlining my fourth. I often flip from one project to another, depending on where we’re at in the process. I find it next to impossible not to be working on something.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? I write mainly in my home office, and while I occasionally work at the library or a coffee shop, the vast majority of my writing time is spent at home. I share the office with my husband Rob, who runs an electrical business, so it’s filled with the company’s files, too. Of course there’s also a book case stuffed with my “to read” pile. I’m quite happy sitting in the peace and quiet during the day, or late into the night. In the summer I’ll migrate to the garden with my laptop, and the fireplace in the living room keeps me toasty during the winter.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? A huge jug of water, some cups of tea. I’m not a coffee drinker (maybe that’s why I don’t write at coffee shops). I’ll sometimes listen to music but it’ll be chill-out tunes, nothing with lyrics as I find them distracting. I write on my pc, although I’ll edit at least one round of the manuscript manually with a big fat red pen (which results in a bloodbath). I tend to write in the morning, once my kids have left for school and I’ve been to the gym for a workout to get my brain going.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? How far would you go to protect the ones you love…when they may not be yours to protect?
     When Josh’s longtime partner, Grace, dies in a tragic accident, he is left with a mess of grief—and full custody of her seven-year-old son, Logan. While not his biological father, Josh has been a dad to Logan in every way that counts, and with Grace gone, Logan needs him more than ever.
     Wanting to do right by Logan, Josh begins the process of becoming his legal guardian—something that seems suddenly urgent, though Grace always brushed it off as an unnecessary formality. But now, as Josh struggles to find the paperwork associated with Logan’s birth, he begins to wonder whether there were more troubling reasons for Grace’s reluctance to make their family official.
     As he digs deeper into the past of the woman he loved, Josh soon finds that there are many dark secrets to uncover, and that the truth about where Logan came from is much more sinister than he could have imagined…
     Tightly paced and brimming with tension, Her Secret Son is a heartbreakingly honest portrait of a family on the edge of disaster and a father desperate to hold on to the boy who changed his life.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

Chapter 1 (pages 11 – 16)

They say the lucky ones experience an incredible, life-defining moment, a moment they can point back to as the second everything changed. Maybe it was sitting down on the bus next to a stranger who became the love of their life. Or witnessing the birth of a child they were told they’d never conceive. Perhaps getting that elusive break the day the boss had flu, launching a career that, until then, was only the stuff of dreams.
And then there are the others. People like me, who have life-shattering moments instead. We’re the ones who want to believe we’ve had more than our fair share of bad luck, enough misfortune to last multiple lives over. We get comfortable, believe nothing else can go wrong because fate has already played with us the most, seen how far we can be stretched and bent, twisted into the shape of a pretzel before becoming brittle and shattering into a million pieces.
For me, one of these moments came late one Friday morning as I stood in Harlan Gingold’s dark, wood-paneled study, the musty air closing in on me. I pulled at the neck of my sweater in a futile attempt to cool down. I’d forgotten how warm he kept this room, as if he secretly longed to be a gecko under a heat lamp and pretend he was somewhere far closer to the equator than the outskirts of Albany, in upstate New York.
His study smelled of expensive whisky and Cuban cigars, wizened fingers left to linger in an ashtray. A stereotypical rich man’s man-cave, complete with leather armchairs and gold-lettered law books Harlan no doubt cited by heart when he valiantly fought—and usually won—his cases in court, something he’d done for longer than I’d been alive.
 We were going over the quote for the pool house extension and elaborate backyard revamp he’d promised his wife for the spring. While he checked the details again, running an index finger down the page, I tried to ignore the buzz of my mobile in my back pocket. Harlan was the kind of man who commanded nothing but your undivided attention. In this case I couldn’t blame him. Not with the amount of zeros he was writing on the deposit check my bosses had sent me to collect.
My phone rang a second time. While Harlan put the final flourish on the paperwork with his thick Mont Blanc fountain pen, I slid my mobile from my pocket and glanced at the screen. My neighbor’s number. Nothing unusual in itself. Mrs. Banks often called for a hand around the house—putting together yet another of her bookcases, repairing the front door, unblocking a sink. Nothing that couldn’t wait or would justify the lecture about people’s dependence on technology Harlan would no doubt dispense if I answered.
“There you go, Josh,” he said as he handed me the check.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll see you next month?”
“Yes. I’ve no doubt you’ll do a great job, as always. My yard has never looked better. Those Fraser firs were the talk of the street when they were lit up for Christmas. Even Ivan was impressed.”
I grinned, thinking I’d enjoy ribbing Ivan about not paying the compliment forward. I wouldn’t give him too much of a hard time. He’d become my best mate since we’d met a few years back, and since then he’d pointed a number of his friends and colleagues my way, including the firm’s biggest cheese and Ivan’s uncle, Mr. Harlan Gingold himself. When I’d told Ivan I owed him one, he’d cheerily replied, “Better make it a big one, whatever it is,” before graciously settling for a pair of football tickets I’d got on the cheap.
Harlan accompanied me to the front porch where he shook my hand as I ignored the ongoing buzzing of my phone. He lifted his nose toward the dark gray, early March skies, swirling with ominous fast-moving clouds, and breathed in deep, nostrils flaring. “Something wicked this way comes,” he said. “You’d better batten down the hatches, son. You Brits aren’t used to our snow. Tell that lovely wife of yours to keep you safe.”
I didn’t bother reminding him Grace and I weren’t married, or argue that, despite my strong British accent, I’d lived in the US for twenty years. I was only too familiar with the legendary winters. For crying out loud, the city competed in the annual Golden Snowball Award, although it regularly lost to Syracuse. As Grace once said, upstate New York was where lake effect and nor’easter storms mated, making trillions of snowflake babies, and everyone’s life beneath a frozen misery.
When we’d said our goodbyes, I finally pulled my phone from my pocket and trudged to my truck, glancing at the darkening skies, thinking Harlan’s prophecy could turn out to be the understatement of the season. Not that I’d mind a blizzard, within reason, anyway. It was Friday, the weekend gloriously stretching out ahead of us. As far as I knew, work didn’t need me, and Grace hadn’t mentioned any special plans. So what if we couldn’t leave the house? It would mean a family weekend; Grace, Logan and I huddled under the blankets in front of the TV, eating popcorn and watching movies, exactly the way we liked it.
If I’d known what was actually coming, how my life was about to be forever, indelibly changed, I wouldn’t have grabbed my mobile so hastily. I’d have taken a few moments to savor how my life had become simple again, full of uncomplicated, innocuous decisions. I’d have mulled over my mundane lunch choices. Thought about which film Grace and I would watch once we’d tucked Logan up in his bed. What Grace and I would do to each other later, after we’d headed upstairs, too. I’d have enjoyed the excitement building in my gut when I pictured the ring I’d hidden at the back of my sock drawer, a gold band solitaire I’d saved up for over the last year in the hope Grace would say yes this time.
But I didn’t do any of that. Instead I unlocked my phone, looked at all the missed calls from Mrs. Banks and dialed voice mail. My brow furrowed as I listened to her message. She sounded unusually high-pitched and grating, breathless, even, as if she were in the middle of a ten-mile run. A feat in itself considering she was in her midseventies and walked with a stick.
“Josh, it’s Mrs. Banks,” she said. “There’s been an accident. Can you call me? Please. It’s urgent. Call me now.”
I pushed a hand against the truck to steady myself. Perhaps her grandson had put his soccer ball through our bathroom window again. Or maybe the mangy dog who’d been hanging around the house, the one I’d caught Logan feeding his breakfast to, had dug up the tulip bulbs Grace replanted twice already. Although I grabbed hold of both ideas like a shipwrecked man to driftwood, I knew from Mrs. Banks’s voice it was more serious. Way more serious. My next thoughts went to Logan, peppering my brain like fully automatic gunfire.
He’s hurt. Grace can’t call. She’s with him. She told Mrs. Banks to phone. How bad is it? He’s only seven. Christ! What’s going on?
When I tried to hit redial, I missed the button four times, my fingers—thick and limp as raw sausages—impossible to maneuver. Finally I pressed the phone to my ear, and Mrs. Banks picked up on the first ring.
“Josh! Oh, thank goodness.” Her voice sounded shakier than before, and I could barely make out her words with the crackling and whooshing of the wind in my ear.
“What’s happened?” I said, an icy hand sneaking its way down to my stomach, grabbing hold of my innards and yanking hard. “Is Logan okay? Where is he? Has he—”
“It’s not Logan…it’s…it’s…”
Saliva collected in my mouth as Mrs. Banks stopped talking. Just as I was about to shout into the phone, demand she tell me what was going on, she very quietly said, “It’s Grace.”
My stomach lurched, threatened to empty itself right there on Harlan’s driveway. I’d been so sure Logan was hurt, I thought I’d misheard, but she said it again. “It’s Grace.”
I opened and closed my mouth three times, my tongue refusing to form a single syllable until I finally managed, “Is she okay? What happened?”
“I was drinking my coffee by the window—” Mrs. Banks’s voice sped up, an out-of-control freight train barreling straight toward me “—when I saw Grace taking out the garbage and…and, oh, Josh…she slipped on the steps.” Her words came out garbled now, making it harder for my brain to process what it already struggled to decode. “She went down.”
“Where is she?”
Mrs. Banks’s voice fell to a strained whisper, as if she were pressing a hand over her throat, trying to keep her next sentence inside. “When she didn’t get back up, I—”
“Where is she?”
“—ran over and…and…” Her voice tailed off, the last syllables gobbled up by a sob. “We’re outside. The ambulance is here. And the police. You need to come home. Please, come home now.”
“But Grace is okay? Has she broken anything? Can I talk to her?” Silence. “Mrs. Banks, please. Is she okay?”
More silence, a whisper. “I don’t think so, Josh. I really don’t think so.”
Yes, this was one of those life-shattering moments, an instance I’d point to in the future and say it was the second everything changed. And I was right.
Except that worse—far, far worse—was still to come.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? My mother had an accident early 2017, when she fell in a steep driveway and went headfirst into a garage door, sustaining quadriplegic injuries. I suppose writing about Grace falling outside her home was my way of processing Mum’s accident, and the guilt of being so far away (she lives in Switzerland, I’m in Canada), unable to be there or help much. It was a difficult scene to write, exceedingly emotional, and on more than one occasion I had to stop and remind myself to breathe.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. Actually, I didn’t delete very much from this first chapter because I typically write up, i.e. I write a very sparse first draft, then layer and add more as the characters and story take shape. Unfortunately I don’t have a marked up rough draft to share, as I recycle them all.

Other works you have published? My first novel was the rom-com Time After Time, which published in June 2016. Think lovechild of the movies Groundhog Day and Sliding Doors. After that I moved over to the darker side of domestic suspense/drama. The Neighbors was my second novel—a story about an ex-boyfriend moving in next door. The two individuals haven’t seen each other in over a decade and, in their wisdom, decide not to tell their respective partners with whom they have children that they used to be lovers. Secrets, lies, betrayal…and lots and lots of trouble!
     My fourth novel (currently titled SISTER DEAR) is another suspense story about half-sisters, and is slated for a spring 2020 publication.

Anything you would like to add? I think we’ve covered it all. I’d like to thank everyone who chooses to read my novels. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly, and I hope they find it time well spent.
Hannah Mary was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing. She lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons, and is delighted by her twenty-second commute.  She is always happy to join book clubs, chat in person or onling.  So please contact her.

Instagram @HannahMary
Twitter @HannahM
Website www.Hannah


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