Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ruta Sepetys is a Genius

I've been away from the blog finishing another draft of the sequel to The War That Saved My Life. It's done now, printed out, sent off to New York, and I'm really happy with it. I know from past experience that I'll be really happy with it for about another week, and then, picking it up again, will begin to see all sorts of flaws, both real and imaginary, but for now--for now it's good. My brilliant editor suggested a fairly large change right at the beginning--please understand "fairly large" to mean "dump these 100 pages in the trashcan, start again" and it helped, though it means I had to get rid of a first line that I really loved. You'll have that.

It's been a difficult week from a physical sense. My daughter had been sick during our snowstorm, and didn't seem to be getting better, and then I started coughing too. We went in to the doctor a week ago and both ended up on prednisone and antibiotics--being stubborn, I refused to take the antibiotics prescribed to me until Friday, when it was clear I really, really needed them. Prednisone is a miracle drug so far as breathing goes, but it messes with you in a multitude of other ways. If you're wide awake at 3 in the morning and contemplating cleaning out your refrigerator, just for fun, you're probably taking prednisone.

So Friday was interesting. I had too much prednisone, cold medicine, and caffeine, I felt like a wreck, and I worked non-stop on my book with great glee. Yesterday I messed with it just a bit more. Tomorrow (not making this up) I'm going to a beach for a few days.

Meanwhile, yesterday evening I started Ruta Sepetys's new book, Salt to the Sea. Her debut novel, Between Shades of Gray, (NOT to be confused with Fifty Shades of Gray. For heaven's sake.) was and is a masterpiece, and I gave my copy away when I was finished because I knew I'd never be able to bear to read that story again. It was so beautiful, and so truthful, and so bleak.

Lately I've developed the odd habit of marking up my books. I never did this before and it seems late in life to start, but there you are. I dog-ear pages and underline bits. Yesterday I had to get up from the couch and go in search of a pencil, because I was so mesmerized by one line in Salt to the Sea.

When I was a candystriper, in high school, I did several months in cardiac ICU. One day a patient there was dying in a mess of blood. They kept the curtains pulled around his or her bed, and I never knew the details, but the person was vomiting so much blood that the entire ICU reeked of it. That's the day I discovered that blood tastes like metal. Like iron. The odd metallic tang hung in the ICU.

So here's Ruta Sepetys. One of the characters, a teenage refugee from war-torn Prussia, is contemplating the senses of another refugee, who is blind. "Did she taste coins in her mouth when she walked over the fresh blood in the snow?"

That is some damn gorgeous writing. To go from blood tastes like metal, to "did she taste coins in her mouth," with "coins in her mouth" so perfect for the situation of a refugee. It's page 13. I'm in love.