Writing update for When Does Life Begin?
I’ve spent the last few months finishing and editing my fifth novel, When Does Life Begin? It’s been a long process from its original draft when I was still a kid to what it is now. As long as everything goes well with the physical proof, the novel will be available on September 23, 2023, in both paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon.com.
History of the story
I dreamed up Lydia Dawson (once spelled Dahson) in early 1995 when I was 13 years old. Officially, it was the first novel I started as a teen, but it was the second one I “finished” in early 1996. There were two drafts, the first of which I destroyed when I rewrote the story. The general premise was Lydia and her friend group experiencing life as they worked and went to college. Lydia wanted to be an actress and built everything on that dream. There was a guy she loved (of course) named Jason Caldwell, who complicated things for Lydia. Jason had a younger sister named Marienne. There were some other characters, Lydia’s brother and sister, Luke (her twin) and Phoebe, a best friend, Vicky, and a new friend, Blake. There were also tons of other characters complete with lengthy descriptions. I swear, I thought I needed to have as many characters as Melrose Place, or something.
What’s the same, and what’s changed?
Lydia and Jason are still in the story, but their stories and arcs are different. Luke is still around, but he’s an older stepbrother now. Phoebe is now a high school best friend, and Marienne is Jason’s cousin. Vicki (changed the spelling) is a new college friend. Blake’s role and name have changed (mainly because I used “Blake” in Jordan’s Sister). He’s now Kolton and has a much larger role in the story.
All the other secondary characters in the original story are not in this story. I might save them for another novel someday and give them new stories.
With the exception of an acting workshop that Lydia is participating in during the summer, the rest of the story is brand new. In the draft, Lydia wanted to be in movies, but in the new novel, she wants to be on Broadway someday. It just made more sense for how I changed her character.
The new story
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t draw from some personal experiences for this novel—but that’s true for each of my novels. I often give my characters pieces of my true emotions. Lydia is probably the character who is most like me (personality-wise) in all my novels so far. She doesn’t look like me, but our hearts are the same.
Are any of the characters based on real people?
No, and sort of. I draw inspiration from real people all the time, but I never write an exact match. I may pull a couple of physical traits from one person and mix personality traits from several other people I’ve encountered. I’ve played Dr. Frankenstein to model the right characters out of parts of friends, family, and people I’ve known.
Are any of the events true?
Some events may be based on actual events but everything is highly fictionalized.
May 29, 2024
I’ve wanted to be an actress for as long as I can remember because it goes well with lying, one of my exceptional skills. Just don’t tell my mother; she raised me with this whole moral code I knew I’d break the moment I met Jason five years ago.
It was my second day of college classes, and I was a scared, shy, and awkward girl who’d only been kissed as part of a play. The only time I felt like myself was when I was pretending to be someone else on stage. But that was freshman year, and sometimes it seems like a lifetime has passed since then.
Now, I’m sitting on a bench at the cemetery. Marienne’s grave is in front of me, and I wish she were here instead. It’s hard to believe she’s been gone a year. She’d died the day before my birthday, so now I’m getting ready to pass another one without her.
I’d met her freshman year at our university, and it felt like we’d known each other forever from day one. She was the brightest, most attractive person in the room the day I chose a bean bag next to her in our theatre class.
A bottle-blonde since her early teens, Marienne had shined in a crowd—channeling Marilyn Monroe both on and off the stage. We were fast friends and soon roommates for the next four years once we’d sorted out everything with the housing office.
Marienne was brutally honest. She never liked Jason as boyfriend material since she’d known him her whole life. Despite that, she’d go to bat for me with him anytime she had the chance. Though she didn’t understand my endless faith in him, she trusted my instincts and figured he must have had some redeeming qualities only I could see. She wasn’t quiet in her opinion that I deserved better than her “man-child” first cousin (her words, not mine). Maybe I did, but it’s hard to hear criticism when you’re in love, and even harder to comprehend when you feel a soulmate-like allurement to a person—a connection you can’t even explain to yourself.
“Marienne, I miss you so much.” The wind blew through the cemetery and shook the fresh bouquet of daffodils I’d placed on her grave.
If she were here, Marienne would say, “Of course, my dear, because I’m the most fabulous person you’ve ever known or ever will know.”
Modesty wasn’t part of her unique grace. Acting came naturally to her, and she could turn on the waterworks in an instant for a scene. I learned so much from her during our brief friendship. For me and those who loved her, she is forever twenty-one, her image permanently etched in our minds.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch movement on the gravel walkway beside me that draws me away from my thoughts. As I turn to face the other cemetery visitor, my breath catches in my throat. I haven’t seen him since before Marienne died, but I’d know him anywhere. Jason Caldwell—the man who’d shattered my heart.
He stands still for a moment before taking a seat beside me like no time has passed and then speaks, unsure of the power of his own voice. “Hey, Lydia. How you been?”
The nerve of him.
Check out the rest on September 23! Preorder When Does Life Begin? now on Amazon.com.
Thank you for reading,
Brandi Easterling Collins