I WANTED to write a novel someday about a girl.
Having written two novels about boys, Never Hug a Nun and Try to Kiss a Girl, I wanted to tell a story whose main character does more than hop freight trains and pee on bushes.
But the problem was… who.
Who was this girl? What did she want? And what was she all about?
I journaled about different ideas for about eight months. Mostly, when no ideas came my journal entries consisted of: “This will never work. I’m going take a nap.”
Then one day a girl named Mimi Maloney got on her Schwinn and rode across the blank screen of my computer.
Mimi, Mimi, Mimi…
Like all girls, she seemed smarter than boys, but with Mimi you could tell she was way smarter – not in trivial things like math or science. She was smarter in life.
Without warning she sneaked into an all-girls prep school, pulled the fire alarm and hid in the bathroom until all the nuns and students left, so she could raid the principal’s office and steal some school letterhead.
What was she doing? I wondered
Turns out Mimi was in love. She hurried home and typed up a fake letter on the Royal typewriter in her room – a letter from the school to her parents saying that they were sorry, but “due to overcrowding” they could no longer fit her in as originally planned next fall. Instead, the letter said, why don’t you send her to that fine public high school down the road? (So, that was it. She had a boyfriend at the public high school.) What a schemer. No boy could think like that.
I felt embarrassed for the eighth grade boys in the story compared to Mimi. They reminded me of me—shallow, gross, mired in juvenile delinquency.
Boys like Patrick Cantwell and his best friend Tony Vivamano. They stole a snow globe paperweight from the desktop of a cruel teacher and put it in the hand of the gold statue of Mary on the church roof. (Didn’t they think someone would notice that up there?)
The Archbishop saw it during a visit. Archbishops are always looking at roofs.
It’s discovery touched off an Inquisition that raged for the final two weeks of eighth grade. Whoever did this, and by God, we will catch them… Whoever was responsible for this sacrilege will have their Catholic high school acceptance letters torn to pieces — and end up in the opium den of the pubic schools. (That was always the threat back then near the end of Catholic eighth grade.)
The boys were in trouble and Mimi agreed to help them.
Of course, you say, of course the boys probably have to fall in love with Mimi. I was against it, but they got lured into the project and ignored all my finer subplots I had outlined for them. The boys shook me off and zoomed in after Mimi. She was just too much for them to pass up – freckled, fast, bike-riding, self-determined, self-reliant, self-doubting, loud, quiet, shy, assertive, green-eyed, perceived by most as just an average girl, but secretly she was a genius in lying, organizing small criminal matters, and love. That was her only weakness – falling in love. That—and fainting in a crisis.
I AM NOT A CROOK
Well, the book was galloping along strange enough, but then it got stranger. One night, to my astonishment, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger took over a chapter. Nixon appeared in a white tennis outfit playing Ping Pong in the White House basement with his Chinese master Feng Wu. Nixon was working up a sweat.
Just then, Kissinger comes down the steps to warn Nixon about the possibility that the upcoming Senate Watergate hearings could upend his presidency. Bagghhhhh, Nixon says swatting the ball.
I was going to erase Nixon. This isn’t your book, I said. But he urged me to leave him in. Nixon got all insistent and jowly about his request. This could be instructive to the youth of today, he argued.
He did have a point.
His downfall did have some parallel to the main story. The snow globe investigation was raging in the same weeks (late May 1973) as the Senate Watergate hearings were about to start. Nixon was ready to lie just as bravely and earnestly as the boys who put the snow globe on the roof. Nixon had Kissinger to help him prepare a statement. But the boys had Mimi. (Had it been the other way around, history may have been different.)
LATE MAY ENUI
Meanwhile, back at the school, the dandelion seeds drifted in the breeze above the blacktop playground crowded with kids. Summer was oh so near. Emotionally blank eighth graders wondered: How could it be almost over? Who am I? Can I name all the planets?
The big question was who put the snow globe in the hand of Mary. That’s what the investigators asked each student in a dark room with a bright light in their eyes. Mimi knew what to say. She had the kind of answers I never had when I was in the principal’s office.
A few times I doubted her chances of getting away with it all, and felt sorry for her. She came close to blowing up once. But Mimi was a meticulous one. Always on the move, romping through the book with a plan of her own, and the boys only too eager to chase after her.
When I looked out the window one afternoon, the winter snow on the roof had melted into spring and it was over. The end. Tah-dah. Time to do some work around the house. Mimi had given me a book. I don’t know how she did it. But I know it wasn’t planned by me. I was just the stenographer to her daydream. She was running the show, the whole book and everyone one in it.
That’s how Mimi is. No one knows where she is today.
Snow Globes and Hand Grenades is scheduled for release November 17. You can pre-order a copy on line at Left Bank Books, a fine independent book store that has a cat roaming around.