The idea for JUST FOLLOW ME came from a different direction than usual. I wasn’t struck by inspiration or tapped on the shoulder by the Muse. I had just finished reading PLOT & STRUCTURE, the fabulous book on writing by novelist James Scott Bell. I set the book down and immediately picked up a pen and notebook and quickly sketched out my lead character and plot, using the techniques outlined in the book. I was excited to get started, so in a way I guess I was inspired.
In his book Bell talks about a “doorway” a lead character must go through in the beginning of a novel, which sets everything in motion. What happens after this life-changing event (the conflict and guts of your novel), leads to another doorway at the end that results in the character’s new reality. I must have had John Lennon on my mind (no surprise), and my first story idea was, What if Lennon hadn’t been shot, if someone had taken the bullets instead of him, either accidentally or on purpose? Then I needed that someone.
Enter Angela Girardi, a nineteen-year-old college student. I had to give her a reason to go to Manhattan and try to meet Lennon. I had to make her alone in the world, so that if she died in Lennon’s stead, she wouldn’t be missed. In fact, my working title for the novel was Like I’d Never Been Born, a line from the Lennon-penned Beatles song “She Said, She Said.” So, Angela became an orphan after the suicide of her mother, and she was given a mission: hand-deliver a letter her mother had addressed to Lennon. Now I was set to begin writing my story with the switcheroo ending in mind.
Angela had other ideas.
I began to write. As I did, Angela came alive, with hopes and dreams and a history. She wasn’t content to be a pawn that I could maneuver to the right place at the right time, which of course was outside the Dakota Building on the night of December 8, 1980. I couldn’t change history, and neither could my lead character. But history could change her.
I continued to write.
There’s always a certain amount of research that needs to be done, even when writing fiction. I grew up listening to the Beatles. I remember borrowing their albums from the library and listening to them over and over, then buying my first one, the “blue” album, which was a compilation of their songs from 1967-1970. I never went through a phase when I didn’t listen to them. So I had that foundation to draw from. But I needed more. As I worked on the book, I immersed myself even further in the music, specifically the Lennon songs, as well as his solo work. I listened to as many interviews with Lennon as I could find.
But this novel isn’t “about” John Lennon—it’s about my lead character Angela, and her mother Jessica. They share a love of Lennon’s music, their common bond (a bond I share with them). In fact, it is this very bond that drives the novel forward and sets Angela on her journey.
I traveled down to Manhattan with Angela, both in my writing and in person, as I made the journey to the Dakota. I walked the same streets she did, made my way through the section of Central Park that John and Yoko favored (later renamed Strawberry Fields in his honor), stood outside the gothic building and imagined it was 1980 and John was inside having tea and baking bread, talking to his wife and playing with his young son. I felt what Angela was feeling, thought what she was thinking. I entered the novel, saw the world through Angela’s eyes.
I continued to write.
I discovered the end of the novel would be different than originally planned. I changed parts, moved parts, deleted other parts, moved parts back to where they had been. I listened to Lennon’s music and his lyrics—and to my characters. Then, finally, eventually, thankfully…
I finished writing. Angela’s journey was complete.
Essentially, I consider this novel a love letter to the famous musician, from my characters and from myself. Art can mean so much to so many, especially “All the lonely people,” as Paul sang, and Angela surely was lonely. I’m excited for you to take the journey with Angela, too.
Photo: Went down to the Dakota while writing and researching the book. Probably around 2006 or 2007.