It's been a little over a week since The Girl in the Bay debuted—I've been overwhelmed by the positive response the book has been getting—and I thought I'd share the essay I wrote for our first issue, which explores the origins of the story.
If you haven't read Girl, I hope this entices you to pick it up. At the very least I hope you enjoy my musings on the creative process.
One thing I’ve learned in my years as a professional writer is that stories have lives of their own; that they exist independently, in another rarified sphere, and that some of us, for reasons that remain unfathomable to me, are chosen by those stories to be their vehicles, to share them with the world. How many times have I found myself in bed or in the shower or just stretched out on my office floor, eyes closed, lost in a hypnogogic state, watching an entire movie play out in my head? Images erupt, unbidden, dancing across the movie screen of my imagination. It’s like a download from some cosmic computer: worlds unfold, characters live and breathe, struggle, triumph and die, and I observe it all with curiosity, wonder and immense gratitude.
I don’t know where these mind-movies come from—some would say the unconscious, but I believe the unconscious is just a doorway to something bigger, more mysterious, and far more magical—and, really, I don’t want to know. The fun is in the effort to translate that story-download into words, giving it life on the page.
A few years ago I was at a spiritual retreat center in South Carolina—a place I go regularly to slough off the world and sit in the silence—when the download started again. This time it was the tale of a teenage girl, eighteen years old in 1969, who meets with a tragic death—and yet, impossibly, doesn’t die. She’s resurrected, fifty years later (but mere minutes to her), in a world that is both familiar and terrifying: the world of 2019. I followed Kathy Sartori—the name came later—as she tried to solve the mystery of her own death and of the doppelgänger with her face and name who’d lived out Kathy’s life in the five decades that had passed.
Every day the download would begin again and every day I’d race back to my cabin, flip open my laptop, and, like a dutiful secretary, do my best to transcribe the information that had been dictated by the Story Gods. By the time the retreat was over, I had pages and pages of notes.
Which I promptly forgot about.
That’s not unusual. Ideas come and go in the writing life. On occasion those ideas take root quickly and the stories find their way into the world with astonishing speed. But, more often than not, they sit quietly in a file on my computer, gestating, evolving, waiting for me to periodically revisit them—adding details here, new characters there. And that’s as it should be. You see, another thing I’ve learned over the years is that stories don’t just have lives of their own, they have their own timing, as well; and, however anxious I may be to tell the story right now, I’ve learned to surrender and allow the tale unfold in its own way, on its own unique schedule. It knows, even if I don’t, when all the elements are in place, when it’s exactly the right moment to be birthed, like Athena leaping from Zeus’s forehead. That’s sometimes meant waiting years—on several occasions it’s been decades—till all the elements were in place.
In the case of The Girl in the Bay, those elements were Karen Berger and Corin Howell.
Karen and I have a shared history that began on many of the same Brooklyn streets that Kathy Sartori walked. My respect for KB, as both an editor and a friend, is boundless—and when she launched Berger Books, we both knew this was an opportunity to work together for the first time since the early, and creatively exhilarating, Vertigo days. The first idea I pitched her didn’t resonate—she’s not an easy sell!—but when I shared Kathy’s tale, Karen responded enthusiastically, offering ideas and insights that helped me see my own story more clearly, the mark of a truly gifted editor.
Karen also has a great eye for new talent and soon brought Corin Howell to my attention. Corin’s relatively new to the business, but Karen had faith in her talent and, with each new character design, each stunning page Corin turned in, she proved that Karen’s faith wasn’t misplaced: I can’t imagine The Girl in the Bay without her—or without the superb contributions of colorist James Devlin and letterer Clem Robins. What was once my story alone is ours. And now that you hold the book in your hands, it’s yours, too.
We hope you enjoy our tale of murder, time travel, personal identity and cosmic mystery. And we look forward to more downloads, and more stories of Kathy Sartori, to come.
©copyright 2019 J.M. DeMatteis