I got an e-mail last night from one of the Bolivian hatters asking if I had known before I began writing the dead & the gone if a certain piece of action was going to happen. I replied that I really didn't remember.
But later that night, I went searching through my computer and I found my original notes about the book. It occurred to me that people might find it interesting to see the process by which the story and the characters evolved. I considered waiting until closer to the June 1 publication date before bringing the notes over here, but I'm not at all certain I'll remember then to do it. So I decided to do it now, and put one of those links on the left side, so that anyone who ever wants to read the notes can.
There are a couple of things I noticed myself when rereading the notes (which I wrote over several days, about a year ago). The first is that a lot of things I thought would happen in the book never did. The second is that all three of the major characters changed their names. Carlos became Alex, because I prefer the name Alex. Niki became Julie, because I was concerned Niki sounded too much like Sammi, a name I used in Life As We Knew It. And Juliette became Briana because Niki became Julie.
While there are many many changes from the notes to the novel, there are many things that stayed the same, so if you want to stay unspoilered, stop reading right now. I'm about to set up the nickname poll, so there will actually be something else to distract you. And if anyone feels like commenting, please either do so in a spoiler free manner, or e-mail me directly.
Okay? Now let's see how my cut and paste skills are holding up.
What I know:
Carlos has two sisters, one with asthma or maybe diabetes
Dad is at a funeral in Puerto Rico.
Mom is a nurse; she leaves for the hospital the first night and is never heard from again.
One sister won’t move away from the apartment as long as they don’t know if their parents are dead.
NYC rises to the emergency. It has more supplies and aid, National Guard.
Conditions deteriorate; the air quality becomes bad. Gangs.
Looting to survive. Breaking into rich people’s homes- stealing fur coats and luxury food items.
No electricity- no elevators. Corpses on the streets become commonplace. No heat. No food.
The waters keep moving inland; everything becomes covered with water, then ice.
Starry Night poster belongs to asthmatic sister.
Asthmatic sister dies. Other sister agrees to leave. Journey to Fresh Air Fund family.
Shea Stadium scene.
Family is middle class, moving upward. Catholic?
Father’s family is all in Puerto Rico for the funeral. Mother’s family is scattered, maybe an aunt or grandmother in the area.
Family is Latino because I don’t want another white upper middle class family.
Carlos is smart (goes to elite public high school), hardworking. He doesn’t get along with healthy younger sister.
Healthy sister is tough, a survivor, fights with asthmatic sister.
Family- Papi is super of building in the West side. Family lives in basement apartment. Mami is some kind of hospital technician.
Carlos, oldest brother, is 19 and in the armed services, probably Marine, stationed in a western state, probably CA.
Alex is a junior in high school. Smart, determined to go to college, goes to a Catholic prep school, works in the local pizza place.
Juliette is 14. Niki is 12.
Papi is in Puerto Rico when it all happens. Mami is called to the hospital in Queens where she works. Neither is seen or heard from again, but there is a phone call the next day which might have come from Papi. Carlos calls the next day before the kids realize that Mami is gone. Kids hear from Carlos maybe a couple of times during the book, so they have no reason to think he’s dead. At book’s end, they begin journey out west to find him.
Maybe an uncle who owns a bodega. If they do, early on he brings Alex and Niki to his shop to help him load his truck with food. He brings food to Alex (or Alex and Niki are told to carry food in wagons back to their apartment). Niki steals some chocolate and some instant lottery tickets, one of which turns out to be a winning ticket for $10000.
Gay couple in building. One of them talks to Alex at very beginning, getting pizza. Mistakes Alex for Carlos. Later on the couple leave NYC and give Alex keys to their place and to their neighbor’s place- they were taking care of neighbor’s stuff while they were in Europe. Papi also has keys to at least one apartment, people he was supposed to paint for while they were gone. Maybe another set or two of keys. Alex and the girls go door to door and tell people to give them keys if they’re planning on leaving NYC. They end up taking things from all the apartments- food, water, warm clothes (fur coats), maybe portable fireplace, barbeque, anything that can help them stay warm and cook. They also take all the booze, which can be used for barter.
Things are different in NYC than in LAWKI. Electricity comes and goes but it lasts longer. More food. Things deteriorate, especially after the volcanoes. Long lines for food donations. Alex is on a line, and two men get into a fight, and one stabs the other to death.
Alex is glad the men are in line in front of him; he can move up two spaces as a result.
Increased lawlessness. Dead bodies on the streets. Alex’s school stays open although fewer and fewer teachers and students.
Alex and sisters are like jackals, as are most other people. The very strong (gangs) and powerful get most of the supplies, then everybody else fights over the leftovers.
Eating spaghetti sauce for dinner.
Maybe Juliette dies from asthma. Maybe she dies from being bit by a rabid rodent. Maybe Alex gets bit by the rabid rodent. Maybe Alex has to have a tooth extracted.
Bodies at Yankee Stadium.
Busses keep running for quite a while, but very long lines to get onto one (and very few busses actually running).
Maybe gang captures Niki and Alex buys her back with the lottery ticket. Girls cut their hair very short and with all the layers of clothes they can masquerade as boys for safety.
Nuns take some girls to Westchester. Won’t take Juliette because of her asthma. Niki goes and comes back. Either the nuns don’t keep the girls or Niki runs away.
Need to use NYC. What would stay open? Does Alex work (volunteer) in a hospital? Does Juliette? Maybe she gets asthma medication if she works in hospital.
Kids think that scientists will figure out way of getting the moon back in place. Alex believes in family, God, the church, and science. He never loses his faith, but he realizes that he has to take care of himself and his sisters; he can’t count on anyone else to do that.
In the beginning they hear from Fresh Air Fund family calling to make sure they’re okay.
Alex gets through to hospital at end of first day/beginning of second, but hospital has no idea if his mother is there. So much news that things filter in slowly (also no electricity in the beginning). Lots of seemingly wild rumors.
Things very very bad in the beginning, but people pull together. Some people (bodega aunt, gay couple) realize things will only get worse and move fast.
Bodega uncle shows up and asks for food back. He and his family are getting out of town.
Need to have Alex doing things.
The power of the tides never stops and it pushes against the buildings. More and more refuse starts showing up. Maybe not as much snow, but sleet. Salt water doesn’t freeze, but the sleet lands on top of it. Manhattan is being battered to death by the water. Slow but inexorable.
Only after Juliette dies is Alex willing to leave. They can’t go with her, because of her asthma, but her death allows Alex to accept that his parents are never going to return, so there’s no point waiting where they are for them.
Want one violent unexpected death of a major character.
Does Alex have friends? Maybe best friend gets killed, building collapse or racing water or car skidding out of control. Maybe Alex takes friend’s keys and uses them later to take food from his home.
Gay couple warn Alex- Manhattan is an island. Offer to let him use their apartment when they move out. Stay in basement for a while. Basement gets flooded. Move to gay men’s apt. 12 stories up- electricity no longer working. Juliette gets up there but can’t get down and up again.
Older priest; all the younger ones must leave school. Maybe Latin teacher.
Manhattan has evacuation order. Maybe they stay on past the order (many people do because they have no way of getting out). Things even more desperate since there are no more food deliveries. Only when Juliette dies do Alex and Niki leave.
Christmas eve- Midnight mass.
Juliette expect Christmas miracle- return of Mami or Papi, or the moon being knocked back into place. When nothing happens, she loses her will to live, goes into depression, ultimately dies.
Alex does volunteer work bringing food to elderly and infirm parishioners. When they die, he takes what remains in their apartments. Maybe one person he really dislikes, reluctant to take from him/her when they’ve died. Maybe guy in a wheelchair (who he likes).
Flu epidemic. Who is still in the city? Elderly die.
Alex and bf are walking maybe in Central Park looking for fresh bodies. You take the shoes and the watch and they can be bartered for food. It’s after the ice storm, and a tree limb cracks and falls on top of bf killing him. Alex takes his watch, his wallet (because if it’s found with keys, people will break into the apartment) and the shoes and brings them to friend’s parents and tells them he’s dead.
When he tells his sisters what happened, he realizes it could just as easily have been him who was killed. Juliette gets distraught and asks how they could have survived if he’d died.
Alex is the favored child. Carlos has entered military rather than going to community college in part so money can be saved for Alex’s college education. He’s never been the oldest child, but with parents and Carlos gone, Alex has to take on that responsibility, and he has to learn how to handle it.
At some point, Alex makes a sacrifice that in times past he never would have been asked to and never would have thought to. Maybe the first time he does so with a certain amount of resentment, but by the end of the book, he doesn’t even think about it. He’s grown into his role as head of the family.
At some point Niki acknowledges this and the two begin to work as a team.
Jen is always the happy positive one, but she’s depressed after the failure of the Christmas miracle to appear. It takes a while before her spirits lift. Meanwhile Alex has been able to score some asthma medication for her.
Electricity never completely leaves NYC, but it’s sporadic and unreliable. Towards the end, it comes on more frequently (as it does in PA). One day when both Alex and Niki are out, Jen takes advantage to go by elevator to their old basement apartment. Either the electricity goes out while she’s in the elevator, and she ultimately dies of an asthma attack, or she’s electrocuted in the old apartment or she drowns in the old apartment. No matter what, it takes a long time for Alex and Niki to find her.
Niki: I know she’s with Mami and Papi but I wish she was still here with us.
Alex: They’re all here with us. As long as we’re alive, they’re never completely gone.
End of March, NYC calls for a complete evacuation of Manhattan, and that’s when Alex and Niki begin their long march to the west to find Carlos.
Brianna doesn’t have asthma at the outset, but develops it (or some kind of respiratory condition) after the volcanoes start erupting. She sees some kind of medic who says living in a basement is harmful for her, so only then do they move into an upstairs apartment. Maybe electricity is still fairly reliable at that point.
Alex goes back to the apartment and finds about 4-6 inches of water on the floor. Some things are lost (shoes), but he salvages as much as he can, and they realize things are only going to get worse; the water will get deeper and the apartment will be unusable. Maybe this takes place fairly late in the action.
Then electricity (following the ice storm) becomes almost non-existent, and Brianna is pretty much trapped in the upstairs apartment. Kevin dies, Christmas miracles doesn’t happen, Brianna becomes depressed.
Brianna works her way through it. Electricity starts returning. Brianna realizes there’s something she wants in the old apartment. She takes the elevator down, but by the time she gets it, electricity is gone. She waits and waits (on wet floor), then decides to try to climb the stairs. Somewhere in the stairwell she has an asthma/heart attack and dies.
Alex and Nikki have no idea what’s happened to her. Do other tenants know where they are, or do people assume they’ve left? If no one knows, then no one bothers to tell them in their borrowed apartment. Maybe they find her body outside, shoes and watch missing.
People leave bodies out on the sidewalk like they do garbage; every three or four days the sanitation department comes and picks them up. The idea is to find the bodies fast, right after they’ve been left, because there’s always a chance they’ll still have watches and shoes (and any other valuables).
“God isn’t punishing us; He’s testing us.”
“I realized just because we didn’t have a miracle on Christmas, doesn’t mean there weren’t any. Maybe people who needed them more than we did got them.”
Keys from gay couple and for the apartment they were looking after. One set of keys for apartment to be painted. Plus at least one door that opens with the master key and maybe one apartment that opens because there’s a suicide in there.
Briana’s body has either two sets of rosary beads (her own and her mother’s which is what she must have gone down to the basement apartment to get) or else the postcard of Starry Night.