A friend who joined A.A. told me about a thing called a 'living amends.' As I understood, it meant that by not drinking A.A. members atone for past mistakes.
That's right. Simply by not driving drunk, say, or showing up toasted at Back-to-School night or not gambling away the family pay check, A.A. members make their amends and show repentance. Having spent a lot of time in the confessional booth as a kid (and saying my Hail Mary's and Our Father's after), my thought, then and now was, "Sold!"
It got me thinking about what form repentance could take for the characters in my books. This is especially important for me, since I discovered early on (with my second novel) that I like to write about bad people doing bad things much more than I like to write about good people doing good things (maybe my parents shouldn't have spent their hard-earned money sending us to Catholic school, but that's another subject for another day).
The character I fretted about most is Christina Cardiff, the lead in my upcoming thriller, Riptide (Avon/HarperCollins - October 2009). She 'married up' (I know there's another way to put that but as authors, we don't judge!), got bored, started drinking heavily and wants out. Plus, she might or might not have had something to do with her husband's drowning in the pool of their East Hampton estate. I worried a lot about Christina as I wrote this book. She isn't someone I'd be friends with. Seriously, she's somebody I wouldn't even want to talk with if I met her at a party (not that I get invited to many soirees in the Hamptons).
I grew up a lot writing this book, because I had to let go of a lot of my own judgments and get out of her way. Riptide is Christina's story. Not mine.
So the question was, what does a happy ending look like for her? Without giving anything away, the answer went right back to what my friend told me about A.A. so long ago: a living amends.
Moving forward for Christina would mean mending her ways, changing how she lives and simply not doing any of the things any more that got her into hot water to begin with. No bright lights. No blue ribbon. No applause. Just a woman who's messed up and doesn't intend to do it any more. From this perspective, plotting was easy. All I had to do was make her life fall apart just as soon as she had checked herself into rehab. Lost and rudderless, she has to choose between seeking comfort in her old ways (and a lover named Danny Cisco) and trying to change with a living amends. Her version of repentance.