Monday, October 14, 2019

#88 Inside the Emotion of Fiction "HARROWGATE" by Kate Maruyama

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****Kate Maruyama’s HARROWGATE is #88 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?
HARROWGATE. I had saved the file as this, the name of the building where the story takes place. I came up with tons of other titles including THRESHOLD which I liked quite a bit, but the publishing company liked Harrowgate and we went with it.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date?
47North published this book in September 2013

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction?
This started out as the last five pages of a screenplay written in 1999. The screenplay was terrible, but those five pages wouldn’t leave me. It then bloomed into a novel in my graduate program at Antioch University Los Angeles.
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 wrote/write at my dining table as my kids grew up around me. It’s usually a disaster area as my husband often works at home and my kids did/do their homework at this table. I worked while they were at school. Perhaps it will get tidier as they go off to college (this is my last year with them) but we’ll see. All I ask is quiet, I gave up tidying up before working as it would take too long and eats up valuable work time.

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?
Laptop. You have two kids and two jobs, you work whenever you find a spare minute. Patterns varied throughout. I made sure to sit down at least three times a week for three hours at a time and made sure to get out at least two or three pages during that time. But sometimes it came much longer, sometimes if I had a little more time before getting my kids from school I worked straight through. When I was editing for my publisher I was working 8, 9 hour days as we had a very short time span in which to complete a huge developmental rewrite.
What is the summary of this specific fiction work? I don’t like to summarize, for reasons of spoilers, but this is the jacket copy: Michael should be overjoyed by the birth of his son, but his wife, Sarah won't let him touch the baby or allow anyone to visit.
Greta, an intrusive, sinister doula has wormed her way into their lives, driving a wedge between Michael and his family. Every time he leaves the Harrowgate, he returns to find his beloved wife and baby altered. He feels his family slipping away and, as a malevolent force begins to creep in, Michael does what any new father would do—he fights to keep his family together.
Kate Maruyama’s debut novel, Harrowgate, is a chilling, richly detailed story of love, loss, and the haunted place that lies between. And how I pitch it when people ask: A man’s wife and kid are dead but still living with him. He tries to make it work.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt?
Michael’s wife Sarah, and child, Tim are dead (Sarah lost Tim and died in childbirth) but living with him in his apartment. Time moves differently for them, so any time there is an interruption, like a visitor or when Michael steps out for groceries, Sarah disappears and months pass for her. When they return to each other, Sarah is more emaciated and Tim has aged considerably. Michael’s mother, Helen and his sister, Anna drop by and are insisting on a funeral for his wife and child. Michael is panicked by the idea of a funeral, what will happen to his family if he leaves the apartment, and where Sarah goes when she disappears on him? Michael wants Anna and Helen to leave, but he knows that more time spent with them now means that they might leave him alone later. Helen has been away too long and knows him too well to accept a quick goodbye. The lies are building. He feels a childish shame, lying to Sarah, lying to his mother. But this keeps Sarah and Tim with him. He’s doing this for his family. People have done worse to keep their families together.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. This appears at the beginning of Chapter Eight in the book.
He leads them into the kitchen, hoping that the act of making them tea will cover up whatever body language his mother can read.
Helen says, "How are you holding up, honey?" He doesn't know why his mother's comforting voice makes him want to cry, but he reminds himself that it would be perfectly natural for him to totally lose it right now.
He clears his throat. "As well as can be expected." Fill the kettle. Start by filling the kettle.
She says, "Anna said you were doing all right and I flew home as soon as I knew you were back. I kept calling."
Anna says, "He's not doing the phone these days."  Now that Sarah's not here to annoy, maybe she feels the need to annoy someone.
His mother is trying to smooth over Anna's sharp tone, "She picked me up at the airport and we came right here." She has something stored up to say; he can tell by her overly pleasant tone.
Michael asks, "How's London?" Is small talk allowed? Turn the burner on. Get out the milk.
He goes to the fridge and opens it wide, but closes it quickly almost all the way when he sees two bottles of breast milk in the door. Well, they were bottles of breast milk. They look absurdly empty and clean, like they came with the fridge, like ice trays. Michael snakes his arm into the fridge and fetches out the mercifully narrow carton of milk.
Helen says, "London's…nice. Michael, we need to talk about the funeral."
Funeral. Fuck. This was gonna happen. You knew it was gonna happen.
Mugs. Get the mugs.
Now Anna starts, "We're doing it Saturday. Mom can't wait any longer."
Helen chimes in, "You have to understand how this is for Betsy. This is her daughter. She needs to lay her to rest."
Why does he feel like they're trying to talk him into breaking up with Sarah? Like they're her bitchy high school friends, offloading a boyfriend with that "this is for your own good" tone.
Anna says, "No big deal. A bare bones funeral. Sarah wanted her ashes scattered…"
Michael says, "No."
Anna says, "It was her wish. She wanted her ashes scattered in the cloisters where we used to play when we were little."
Michael snaps, "That was a promise she made to you when you were twelve."
Anna looks like she's been slapped; tears come to her eyes.
He realizes he's been a little sharp, but if they scatter the ashes, will she be gone? And he was gone too long. And maybe she's gone already. But Anna's acting like a little brat.
She's not letting this one go. "She always said."
He's losing his temper, at least his voice is, he doesn't know what he's feeling. He says, "She always said that you two made hundreds of pinkie promises when you were little and it's the sweetest thing I've ever heard, but I think this is up to me now."
No, he's pissed. Why can't they go away and leave them alone?
Anna stands, stunned. Helen walks up behind Michael and lays her hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently. He succumbs for a moment to give her that knowledge that she's doing some good, but then gently extracts himself and goes to the cabinet for the teapot.
They only have one. They got it while honeymooning in London. They spent all day in Camden market looking for the perfect English teapot. White, simple, big enough to hold several cups, tall enough to keep from spilling out the lid when poured. They talked endlessly over that teapot; it was an obsession of Sarah's. Finding it in a little shop in Islington one day before their flight out was a major victory. She put it in her carry-on wrapped in sweaters so it wouldn't be broken on the trip home.
A week later, they were hustling down Madison Avenue to get to the subway on their way to dinner at a friend's apartment. It was a gray November evening, pissing rain and Michael stopped, stock still in front of the Crate and Barrel. Looming there were shelves upon shelves of the same model of teapot. His heart sank when he saw the display, wanting to protect Sarah's obsession, her gratification over finding the right pot. He tried to get between her and the window but it was too big and bright. All was gray and dark outside and there was the dazzlingly lit display against a brilliant red background. He threaded his arm around her waist and started steering her past it, when he saw her look up and catch a glimpse. The moment of recognition, astonishment. Her face fell. Then it lit up and she laughed.
Sarah said, "See! I told you it was the perfect fucking teapot!" She shoved him in the chest and then pulled him in for a squeeze. Her hair was wet and cold, her scalp warm underneath when he kissed her head. He remembers feeling lucky he married her.
Helen interrupts his reverie, trying to smooth things over again. "Whatever you do with the ashes, honey, she has to have a funeral. Too long has passed."
He hasn't had long enough. He won't be able to protect her from this either. Too many teapots.
       He turns around to see Anna mouthing to Helen, "You tell him."
       He says, "Tell me what?"
       Helen looks at Anna, and then says, "Michael, honey. Her mother has bought coffins. And. Betsy is set on having a coffin for the baby."
       Anna chimes in, anxious to push the point home, "I didn't like it and I tried to talk her out of it, but then when you said you'd named it, I thought maybe you'd be okay."
       Him. Named him. Fuck. Please leave. Leave now.
       Helen says, "You can keep the ashes, honey. They're only coffins."
       Only coffins. He doesn't move. His hands have moved to the counter and he's not sure if he wants to fall to the ground, slug Anna or collapse into his mother's arms and weep for days.
       There's the hand on his shoulder again. But if she hugs him, he'll completely lose his shit. He pulls his shoulder away like a petulant teenager and moves over to the table, sitting in one of the chairs. There's Rosie the Riveter, stuck in her triumphant smile, "WE CAN DO IT!" A conspiracy of women doing what is needed.
There must some magic spell that will make them go away. Who gives a fuck about coffins? Empty boxes. Doesn't matter. Will it be white? Will it look tiny in that gigantic church?  
Is he worried that he'll cry at the funeral? He's supposed to cry. Now he's only worried about Sarah and where she and Tim are. He has to get rid of Anna and his mother.
       His voice is definitely cracking enough. "You guys. Fine. Okay. Whatever." This helps. The kettle whistles, giving him something to do. Relieved, he gets up to pour it.
       Anna asks, "And the ashes?"
       "Give that one up, Anna. What time?"
       Helen smiles, tears coming to her eyes again, "My brave boy." That means so much more now that he has a boy of his own. So much about his mother means more, now that he knows that feeling, that pull, that need to do anything he can for his child. He tries not to think about the fact that he won't get to see Tim grow up. He tries to think of what to say. 
Helen says, "It'll be at ten in the morning; the church is booked."
       Pour the water. Change the subject. He says, "Where are you staying?"
       The tea is brewing and Anna's moving back down the hall. Michael follows her, hoping for an odd moment that she's headed toward the door. But soon he finds himself following her awkwardly to what very well might be the bathroom. He continues his path with purpose as if he had business at that end of the apartment.  Helen follows him, the end of an awkward parade.
Helen chatters with relief for the question. It's the easy part, the everyday. "The subletter miraculously bailed on the lease two weeks ago. I'm at 336. It's kind of a wreck, but it'll do. I can stay for up to a month if you need me." The address for his grandmother's home became its name somewhere along the way. 336 Central Park West, 1920s. Two bedroom apartment most definitely not overlooking the park.
       Anna's going back into the nursery. Michael's getting anxious. There's an awkward pause in the conversation as she heads over to the bookshelf. He wonders if it's too soon to say goodbye; how soon would arouse suspicion. A little too loudly, he speaks like a host at a party, "Wow. Well…you must be tired." What is Anna after?
       His mother smiles at him; she knows her cue. She claps her hands on both of his shoulders and squeezes, looking at him warmly; he feels like he just aced a spelling test or something, uncertain of what kind of praise he's going to receive. She says, "Be strong, Michael, we'll get through this." She drops her arms, he goes in to kiss her, but she stops him, saying "If I hug you I'll start crying again."
Anna has gone to Tim's bookshelf and is running her fingers along the bindings. She pulls out a tattered copy of Four Fur Feet by Margaret Wise Brown. She tucks it under her arm.
Her fingers trail along until they find a first edition of Where the Wild Things Are. She takes that as well. Anger surges in Michael as he sees her continue the process, looking for more pieces of Sarah to take with her.
"Anna." he says, too sharply. He can't make this an issue, he has to pick his battles. If he makes this an issue they'll stay longer.
Anna looks embarrassed, caught. "I…was going to…I'm sorry, but they were ours and I was thinking of my children…" she trails off and starts to put them back. Anna's nowhere near having children and her imaginary future children are somehow challenging the existence of Tim.
What if he gets old enough to read? But Michael says, "No, it's okay."
She looks at him and vacillates for a moment before taking them down and grabbing two Beatrix Potter books while she's at it. She's like a child who's been given permission to take some candy and grabs an extra piece with some shame. She slips out of the room and heads toward the front door. Michael follows.
Helen turns to him as she passes, her brow furrowed with concern. She says, "I'll take you to dinner tomorrow night. You're losing weight."
He says, "I was in the field, Mom."
"All the more reason. Dawat. Tomorrow night."
Michael scrambles, "Can you. I'll be dealing with stuff around here. Can you bring it?" He knows what happens sometimes when he goes down the hall. He doesn't know what happens if he leaves the building for the time it would take to eat a meal. The funeral is still five days away. Maybe only five more days with Sarah and Tim. Maybe more, he doesn't know.
His mother regards him a moment and agrees with a nod, stepping out the door. Anna reaches in, pecks Michael on the cheek, dropping one of the small Beatrix Potter books. She scrambles for Jemima Puddleduck and heads out the door. Stupid book anyway. Dumb duck. The door slams shut with too much of an echo. Michael closes his eyes for a moment, not wanting to find the apartment empty. Not wanting to look.
He feels hands creep around his chest, holding his arms down. Sarah's doing a spooky voice, chanting rhythmically, "He travels round the world on his four fur feet, his four fur feet, his four fur feet, he travels round the world on his four fur feet and never makes a sound, oh."  He spins around and catches her, tickling; she laughs.
"You're freaking me out, lady." He puts his arms around hers now, pinning her. Keeping her. How long can he keep her?
She laughs, trying to squirm free, "That book always creeped me out when I was little."
"Why did you put it on Tim's shelf?"
She shrugs. "Sentimentality."
He kisses her, not letting go of her arms, "I'm so glad to see you." He relaxes, pushing her away and looking her over. Not worse. Still skinny. Warming up. She's wearing the peach batik again and he can't help but think she wants something when she does this. Living Sarah refused to wear this so many times, that her wearing it now worries him.
Michael looks concerned and she mirrors his face, asking, "What?"
He asks, "How long has it been? For you, I mean." On her confused stare, he says, "How long have I been gone?"
She says, "You only just went out."
"I don't understand." He pulls her to him again, happy to hold her bony form.
"How long were you gone?" She asks this like she understands the question.
Milo. Dr. James. Anna. Mom. A thousand years? "Uh, like an hour?"
She looks up at him, frowning a question, but then shrugs, "It is what it is, honey."
Michael asks, "Where's Tim?"
"Sleeping." She hugs him tighter. "Let him sleep."
"How long have you been here?" He doesn't understand how she knew about Four Fur Feet or when she came back or what she overheard.
She says, "I don't know. Stop asking questions, you're making me nervous. What did my sister want? Aside from the books."
He feels he’s balancing lies on both sides now and it’s hard to keep track of how much information he should give, how much he’s already given. How much he needs to manipulate. He's glad she didn't hear everything. He doesn't want to talk about the funeral. Not yet. He'll tell her about it that day in case it's goodbye, but he doesn't want to worry her. He'll spend every minute with her until then.
He says, "Mom flew in, you know. She wanted to touch base."
"That's who it was." She traces her hand around his cheek, fondly, "Her boy."
He says, "It's different, isn't it? Now that we have Tim, everyone is different."
"Especially parents." She looks into space a moment. "I don’t think I could handle seeing my mother now."
He says, "She can't handle seeing me, so it works out for everyone."
"Can't get rid of my sister."
Michael smiles. "She loves you." Looking at Sarah, he understands Anna's behavior. She lost her best friend and her compass and doesn't know what to do. He doesn't know how weird he's going to get when Sarah's gone for good.  Maybe he'll get snippy and petty, too.
But Sarah's face has fallen. She looks startled and a little distraught. A smile glimmers for a moment, but her face goes back to incredulous. Michael wheels around. The sympathy bouquets. More teapots.
Sarah moves toward them, her fingers pass lightly over them and her shoulders slump, defeated.
Michael says, "I'm sorry, they must have come…I bet Anna and my Mom brought some. I. I'm sorry."
She touches one of the lilies and squeezes the petal between her fingers. She smiles, looking at Michael. "Nothing to be done, is there? I mean, it's there, isn't it?" She makes a Vanna White sweep of the table with her arms, saying grandiosely, "and it appears that you need sympathy." She starts to go through the cards, reading them aloud.
Her theatricality is thorny. "So sorry for your loss." She tosses it on the table. She pulls another one, "If there's anything I can do." She flicks it in the air and it lands on the rug. "Our hearts go out to you in this time of need." She pulls another one. "Call me." Her eyebrow goes up and she laughs, "My replacement's moving in."
He plays along warily. "Who is it?"
"Ha." His partner's gay, so the joke works, but the edginess in Sarah's tone is increasing. He's not sure where she's headed, but it's nowhere good.
She reads, "We're sorry for your loss." Flick. "We are so sorry for your loss." She's angry now. "'We are so sorry for your loss.' What did you lose, Michael, can I help you find it? Was it a ring? A puppy? A home?" She's getting hysterical and the temperature in the room has plummeted by at least twenty degrees. "What did you lose?" She pulls the cards out of all of the other arrangements without reading them, throwing them on the table.
She then starts pulling at flowers, their petals coming off in her hands, releasing their woody floral odor. She seems to find that satisfying, and pulls at more. Soon, she's reaching into the dark forest of sympathy bouquets and ripping heads off the flowers, fistful by fistful, throwing them into the air. Michael hears a sickly plinking. Some of the blossoms make a completely unexpected noise when they hit the table: they've frozen. Frost-covered stems remain.
Michael says, "Sarah."
All warm color has gone from her; her face is gray, her thinness shadowed and he sees that she's wearing the nursing gown again; the same one he'd seen her wear that night he came home from the grocery store. Her arms fall by her sides as she sits down in a chair, still.
He speaks sharply to her as if to a child. "Sarah." She looks up at him, glowering. She breathes heavily, the shadows in her clavicles growing and receding. There's something in her eyes that was not there in life, a darkness lurking. He's frightened by this look. "Sarah!" His call leaves a breath of mist in the air. She's not answering him; she's looking right at him, her eyes focused on something beyond him in another place.

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?  
I like that push/pull between worlds and loves, between the family we come from and the family we live in. And how terrifyingly isolating it is when you can’t help your spouse through whatever emotional moment they are having.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us?
Anything edited was an excellent choice in editing. As it was edited on the computer, I don’t have marked up drafts and my editor wouldn’t like his notes shared publicly, I think. He was excellent, but asked that his identity remain private.

Other works you have published?
I have published short pieces in several print and online journals as well as in three anthologies. You can find more on my WRITINGS page here:

Anything you would like to add?
Thank you for having me!

          Kate Maruyama was raised on books and weaned on movies in a small college town in New England. She writes, teaches, cooks, and eats in Los Angeles, where she lives with her family. 
     Her novel, Harrowgate was published by 47North in 2013 and her short story, “Akiko” is featured in Phantasma: Stories and “Crying Wolf” is featured in Winter Horror Days. “La Calavera” can be found in Halloween Carnival: Volume 3Her short, non-genre fiction has been published in Arcadia Magazine, Stoneboat and on Role RebootGemini MagazineSalonThe Rumpus and Duende, among others. You can peruse some of these pieces on the Writings page.
     She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, where she is now affiliate faculty with the BA program. She is an instructor with Writing Workshops Los Angeles and co-founded and edits the literary website, Annotation Nation.  She has served as a juror for The Bram Stoker Awards and for the Shirley Jackson Awards.


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