I have a habit of coming up with characters and story ideas and then setting them aside for years before finally getting around to doing anything about them. This was the case with Livia Black, the heroine of my complete but unpublished crossover young adult novel called Black Spot.
Initially, she was meant to be part of a group of twenty-somethings who all had a secret paranormal talent although managed to lead relatively normal lives. There was Sebastian, a prosecution lawyer who was unable to be lied to when he asked a direct question, making him incredibly successful in the courtroom. There was Imogen, who could read people’s thoughts and used the skill to make a fortune playing poker. There was Amelia, who could control technology through the mere touch of her fingertips. There was Ezekiel, a gay ballroom dancer with the strength of ten men. And there was Livia, a reserved woman with a history of incorrectly diagnosed mental illness who could see Death.
Sebastian and Imogen were supposed to be the two romantic leads with all the drama that comes from a couple where the woman can’t lie to the man and she can read his thoughts so effectively it didn’t matter if the man lied to the woman, she would know the truth anyway. But the more I fleshed out the character of Livia (version 1), the more I was drawn to her and her story.
Livia had been just a toddler when she had first seen Death. He appeared as a dark-haired man dressed simply but entirely in black – black plants, black shirt, black shoes – and took people’s souls by placing a hand on the victim. Death wasn’t vicious or malicious, he was just doing a necessary job.
When Livia realised as a teenager what she was seeing and confessed it to her parents and doctor, they had her involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility believing she was suffering hallucinations. Eventually, she stopped telling anyone what she was seeing and they pronounced her cured before allowing her to go home. So she had to learn to cope with what she was seeing all on her own. But she didn’t cope well.
She left home not long after, travelling from town to town to prevent herself from forming attachments. But it didn’t really work: she saw Death everywhere. She moved to the city and took on a job as a make-up artist in a funeral home, reasoning the people she worked with on a daily basis were already dead so Death shouldn’t turn up too often.
One day while having lunch in a crowded food court, she saw Death standing next to a man, the tell-tale sign he was preparing to take a soul. Livia felt compelled to comfort the man and approached him but all she could say was, “God bless you.” The man responded dismissively, “I don’t believe in God.” And Livia’s own response was, “You should.” But as she turned to leave, she caught Death’s eye and Death realised she could see him.
Death himself was once a regular man and is serving out his punishment for a crime committed so long ago he can’t remember what it was. He can’t even remember his real name. He begins following Livia everywhere and peppering her with questions until she admits she can see him. And so begins a tortured love affair, very much complicated by the fact that they can’t touch each other or Livia will die.
This, I thought, would make a terrific basis for a crossover young adult series in the vein of Twilight and my unofficial marketing manager (who I would bounce ideas off) agreed except for one thing. There was already a book with a storyline very similar. I can’t remember the name of the book now but I remember reading the outline and thinking, “Oh, no!”
I also remember thinking that if only I’d progressed with my storyline sooner, maybe I would have gotten there first. I know plots involving Death as a character aren’t new but I thought I’d had a new spin on it. Apparently not. There was only one thing for it: I would have to start from scratch.
The only thing I kept was her name. The character of Livia went through multiple versions. The daughter of a scientist and one of only a few people in the world immune to a deadly epidemic sweeping the world (sounds a bit like World War Z, commented my unofficial marketing manager). The daughter of a scientist who had been researching measles but found the cure for cancer (I think I Am Legend had something to do with measles research, my unofficial marketing manager informed me). Until finally the paranormal and medical focused storylines virtually disappeared and my unofficial marketing manager’s only comment to the latest proposed storyline was, “Mmm. I haven’t heard of anything like that before.”
And that was how Livia Black became an eighteen-year-old girl with amnesia, the result of a car accident six years before that also killed her mother, living on a farm with her father and isolated from the world with her horse her best friend. When her memories start to very, very slowly return, she realises that some of the things she’s been told about her life before the accident don’t match up with what she is remembering. She has to decide if she really wants to know the truth because she’s content living with her father on the farm. But she also feels incomplete and wonders if it’s because she doesn’t have those memories.
I still fondly hold onto Livia version 1 and sometimes wonder (unrealistically) if I could get away with ignoring the fact that there are similar books out there already and just write her story anyway. But it’s a big commitment for a project that has the potential to end with me being told it all sounds very familiar.
Check back in the day after tomorrow when I’ll post the first chapter of Black Spot and you can decide for yourself whether the transition from Livia (version 1) to the new and improved (and unrecognisable) Livia has been a successful one.