What we do for love

As I said yesterday, I wanted to compare what I’m going through with what i put Danny Ambrose, the female protagonist of my novel With Malice toward One, through.

The differences are easy to see. I am married. Danny was not when the disease reared its ugly head. I live with my husband. Danny and Alec were parted while she tried to finish with a messy divorce to be with Alec. I’ve been in this from the initial diagnosis. She was not. In fact, her lover, Alec Johnston, kept it from her as part of the difficulty in a long distance relationship. He had another, less altruistic reason, but I won’t spill the beans here.

The comparisons are easy as well. When Danny hears how mortally sick he is, she flies to him, worms her way into his life despite his best efforts to keep her at arm’s length, and stoically goes about doing whatever she can to make him live. She cooks things he can stomach and that taste good in an attempt to keep his strength and weight up. This is an issue I’m all too familiar with. Chemo–whether oral or IV–affects the way things taste. She forces him to observe the ‘civilized proprieties.’ Of course, she’s better at bullying him than I am, though it doesn’t always work. Again. Real life.

Example: One afternoon, Danny comes home to find Alec watching TV, the coffee table buried under a deluge of crumpled paper towels smeared with thick, brown slop.

–from With Malice toward One, by Donna Rubino, copyright 2017

“Had some pudding?” I hid my smile.

“Thought to.” He cast an accusatory eye at the table.

I chuckled. “Where’d you spill it?”

Without tearing his stare from the TV again, Alec slowly raised his hand and pointed vaguely to his chest and stomach area. There, on the dark red shirt he wore, I saw smudges of brown stroked about in an almost painterly fashion.

I wrinkled my nose. “That’s disgusting.”

“You should feel my chest.”

My jaw dropped. “It soaked through to your skin and you didn’t wash?”

He shook his head.

“Aren’t you all sticky?”

“I am.” Alec’s voice wore a hint of annoyance–or defiance–I couldn’t tell which. “But it’ll go away. Yesterday’s orange juice did.”

“You’re saying you haven’t showered since then?”

“Before…and yes.”

“Since when, then?”

“Where’s the difference?”

“It–it’s just civilized!”

Alec’s mouth drew back in perfect definition of boredom. “Go away, Danny.”

My back arched but I kept my voice even. “I will not.”

“If I doan’ want to bathe, I won’t.” Alec finally faced me head on. “And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“No? We’ll see about tha–”

“I told ye there’s nothing here for ye, now get away!”

“I’ve had it! Enough is enough! Go take a shower.”

“No.” His hooded eyes hid their anger, even if it was clear in his voice. “I don’t have to answer to you.”

“That’s crap! I’m here with you–for you! And if that means I’ve got to bully and harass you into clean clothes and decent meals then that’s what I’m gonna do.” I crossed my arms [ ] and stood still, iron-willed and furious.

“Go away and let me die in peace,” Alec grumbled, totally indulging his feelings of mortality and depression.


Yes, it sounds pretty authentic now that I re-read it, as does the rest of the chapter, which grows darker and is too long to post here. Of course, bathing isn’t my hubby’s issue. He’s fastidious about cleanliness, but is stubborn as Alec when it comes to doing what he doesn’t want to, like exercising. I’ve been told to go away and leave him alone several times.

Like Danny, I also relented when my husband decided to sleep apart from me… in the den. Danny’s Alec sleeps in another bedroom so she won’t disturb his sleep. My husband says he does it so he won’t disturb my sleep. PotAto Potahto.

I tend to write long, complex stories. I also know that a first time author should confine her story to a specific word count–well below my usual. I have, therefore, been cutting scenes that are more introspective and have less action and overt feelings in order to bring my word count down. I fear that by doing so, although I’ve captured some of the reality of dealing with a cancer victim, I may have short-changed Danny in the personal emotions department as well as in not enabling her to touch back to the memories of other characters dear to her. Time will tell.

As I continue to chart the journey my husband and I are on, I hope to see alignment with Danny’s and Alec’s journeys for accuracy and reality’s sake. If I don’t see accurate parallels, I can determine how to better align our emotions and actions to make my fiction as real and raw as my reality is.

Of course, there will always be a magical element in the fictional fight. That IS how and what I write. But who’s to say there won’t be a magical element in our reality as well?

Don’tcha just hate it when a good story ends?

Downton Abbey, the acclaimed PBS Masterpiece series, has ended after six exciting seasons. The main characters all received happily ever afters: Lord and Lady Grantham, hale and hearty, parental duty done, have grandchildren in the nursery. Robert has Mary and Tom to help run the estate, and Cora has her hospital work. Mary and Henry, Edith and Bertie, and Isobel Crawley and Richard Grey have all happily married. The indomitable Dowager Countess Violet is healthy and as pithy as ever. Barrow has metamorphosed from his self-centered, angry, conniving self into a man who realizes the value of friends and ‘home’ and has earned the title Butler, while Mrs. Hughes and Carson retire on Downton property with a pension, and Anna and John Bates have a son. Fellowes has even left us with a hint that Tom Branson might find favor with Edith’s new magazine editor.

What made it a hit? The attention to period detail in fashion and costuming, in history and news, in servants and service? In the interplay of station upstairs and downstairs? The beauty of Highclere Castle and  its natural surrounds?

All that, and the uniqueness of the characters and their personalities, certainly. The drama, births and deaths (and occasional resurrection… or maybe not), the interplay of fate as crafted by Fellowes and by history with these characters, surely.

Did we love Mary at her bitchy best? No, but we did love to hate her for it. Did we root for Edith to earn a happy ending through all those seasons? Yes, and were disappointed, as often happens in life. And dear Sybil. How we cried at her death, and our hearts broke knowing that Tom would have to raise their darling daughter without her.

We made it through the war to end all wars, through turning the Abbey into a hospital, went from horse and carriage to horseless carriage, watched candles give way to electricity, and telegrams to telephone. We saw the modern evolution of the kitchen–fridge, toaster, mixer, and all.

We learned that Cora was one of the golden era American princesses whose parents married them to British nobility, surrendering fortunes to gain them titles. Thankfully, for Cora and Robert, it was a love match–even if he didn’t seem to let us know it initially. But even that rang true. After all, his upper class Victorian and Edwardian upbringing didn’t allow for public displays of affection, so his coolness was appropriate. But in time, Fellowes warmed him up.

Thing is, all of this is what makes for a great novel. The depth of fully realized characters, the tension and conflict between them, their goals, and the world their occupy. Drama, Humor. Setting. Detail. Story. Story. Story.

Downton may have ended, and will remain a fond memory for many of us, but that empty Sunday night space only means an extra hour or so each week that we can lose ourselves in a really great novel.