If you have not read the entire Shift Series, and do not wish to be spoiled, I recommend NOT continuing to read this post. It is full of spoils!
Well, it’s turning into a bit of a Cecelia month here on the website, isn’t it? Last week, I wrote about writing Cecelia’s death. This week, I’ll write a little about her life, more specifically, about writing the relationship she shares with Felix.
I don’t want to go too far into the specific details around Felix and Cecelia’s relationship for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I’m hoping readers will get to read more about it for themselves soon. What you all already know (or do if you’ve read STAND,) though, is that Cecelia and Felix are linked, the same way Drake and Leah are. What you also know about Cecelia and Felix, is that they have shared a multi-decade long distance relationship, Cecelia living in Tubac, while Felix lives on the East Coast with his wife and children.
“I found this breathtaking girl sitting in the grass. And she was staring straight back at me. Despite everything, all the reasons I shouldn’t, and never would have under normal circumstances, I went up to her and introduced myself. We shook hands—and I was never the same after that.”
I slid down into one of the chairs at the table. I knew exactly what he was talking about.
“We spent the next three days together, inseparable.” His voice got thick. He shook his head; when his eyes met mine, they were broken. “I… but I didn’t live in Berkeley. I had a wife, and two daughters, at home in New York.”
It felt like he’d just kicked the wind out of me.
“I did things in those three days…” more head shaking. “But I loved my wife. And I loved my daughters. And Ce—Leah’s Aunt never wanted to take that from me.”
“So you left her there?” Jesus Christ.
“Did my parents know?”
“She told them.” He nodded again. “I visited her every summer, when you went to visit Collin in Berkeley. I missed last summer because—“
“Because Leah was there, and I didn’t go to Berkeley.”
He nodded. “I was going to visit in the fall but…”
I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes until I saw stars. This was seriously fucked up.
“But that’s why she never told you,” he said. “Because how do you explain that to a kid?”
I laughed, one short, semi-cracked chortle. How does one explain well-intentioned adultery to a child? Because that’s what we were talking about here, wasn’t it. Not like he was traveling across the country so he and Cici could play Scrabble once a year.
And therein lies the part I most worried about when writing about Felix and Cecelia in STAND: would readers be upset by their sustained adultery? Would they hold it against Cecelia, diminishing the importance of her character? Would readers be unwilling to see Felix’s portion of the story, blinded by their disapproval of his decisions? I still don’t have the answers to those questions, other than to say that readers’ feedback has been on the large positive. I haven’t yet received any angry letters, so either most people didn’t feel betrayed by Felix’s adultery (and Cecelia’s aiding of it) or nobody has yet seen fit to write a letter about it. 🙂
Cecelia and Felix’s relationship was another of those things that I couldn’t change. When writing SHIFT, I wasn’t certain why Cecelia seemed so knowledgeable about whatever was happening between Leah and Drake (more knowledgeable than even I was for a portion of the first draft!) Plus I knew she was telling a version of the truth, and was comfortable with that truth in this scene in SHIFT:
I knew that I’d get nowhere by talking about shifting, just like yesterday, so I tried a new topic. “So, why don’t you have any kids?” I realized, too late, just how rude that question sounded.
[Cecelia] shrugged and I was glad when she didn’t seem insulted by my lack of forethought. “No reason, really. I guess I just never met anyone I liked enough to have them with.”
But it didn’t become clear why her response was only a version of the truth until RECAST, when Leah finds the index card with Felix’s name on it: in that scene when Leah asks her almost-rude question about Cici’s childlessness, Cecelia is simplifying things with her response. Because, like Drake says, “how does one explain well-intentioned adultery to a child?” Even if it was any of Leah’s business at that point, their hike in the desert was neither the time, nor place to discuss it.
It’s a balancing act writing about things–be them choices, lifestyle, relationships–that don’t fit a mold, especially if they are a little uncomfortable. On the one hand, the characters and the story are telling me how it is. On the other, as the writer, I’m sometimes stuck wishing it didn’t have to be that way. Then walking the fine line of how to explain it, when to reveal it, and even if revealing it is right. Just because you know something about a character doesn’t mean you have to include it in the story. Sometimes the delete* button is a writer’s best tool.
*Then again, I never truly DELETE anything. I save it all. Sometimes it makes it on the website, sometimes into another story. Often it never sees the light of day again. But it all gets saved because you just never know.
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