BUBBLES REBOOTS, the 7th and latest book in my Bubbles Yablonsky mystery series, was published Tuesday, much to my deep regret.
I’d secretly harbored this notion that as long as BUBBLES REBOOTS was still in draft form, my old buddy Josh Simon, would stay alive. It’s like the proverb – “Man builds house; man lives. Man finishes house; man dies.” Apparently, I’d gotten it wrong.
Shortly after Josh shared his terminal diagnosis publicly, he asked me for a favor. I said, sure, anything. Want me to write another Bubbles book and put you in it? (This was an idea we’d joked about before he got sick.) “Yeah,” he said, somewhat taken aback. “That would be great. But I need something else, too. Knit me a Mike Nesmith hat.” No brainer.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The hat was easy, but I will admit restarting Bubbles after such a long hiatus was reminiscent of jumping the ole Camaro. I had to draw a timeline of events and imagine what Dan “The Man” aka Chip Ritter, her slimeball, slip-and-fall-attorney of an ex husband, would have been up to the past ten+ years. The whole Lithuanian princess thing needed to be resolved and then there was her hunka hunka burning love, Stiletto, a dead ringer for Mel Gibson. There were some definite challenges, not the least of which was how Bubbles could continue to swoon over the doppelgänger of a drunk, raving racist.
There were also joys. Lots of joys. Because writing about Bubbles and her world of Lehigh, PA, allowed me the privilege of returning to a more innocent era – before social media and constant strife accompanied our morning coffee. This was the land of Sanka, potato salad, A-Treat soda, Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Misery and PolkaFests. Sure, The Steel was gone, replaced by a casino (The IngotGold), but the people and pace were the same. I cooled my heels on the stoops of tidy row houses with their overflowing gardens and green Astroturf porch mats and pot of red geraniums. I found comfort in her pink-walled hair salon, the bevy of nattering blue-haired clients, of a loyal – if forever fretting – boss and best-friend Sandy. Genevieve still had her musket – no AK-47 for her – though she’d taken her taxidermy hobby up a notch. Mickey Sinkler was chief of police, but a chucklehead nonetheless with a no-good son.
Then there was Josh. At first, I wrote him as a stud. That was problematic because Josh wasn’t a stud, though there were aspects of him that transcended classic sex appeal. For starters, he was smart. A math whiz in school, always ready with the witty remark and the pithy statement of the perceptive outsider. He was supportive. (Even when I was pulling 35s in Calculus to his 90s.) And obsessively – madly, one might say – in love with a friend in our group. She, too, was smart and shy. She was also in love – with someone else, someone the polar opposite of Josh. We all saw the writing on the Liberty High boys’ room wall; Josh didn’t stand a chance.
Still, he persisted. Always, he persisted, showing up at my signings, traveling across the whole state of Pennsylvania to meet the girls of our blog, The Lipstick Chronicles. He kept me company while I signed a gazillion books at Costco. (Man, those were the days.) And chimed in faithfully online. People I hardly knew became his closest friends. For a weird little introvert with strange perversions and a platinum moral code, Josh was surprisingly popular.
Josh was foremost in my mind while I wrote BUBBLES REBOOTS, of course. I thought of him and his unrequited love. The happiest I ever saw Josh in high school was when he was with her. There’s a photo in our yearbook, the two of them laughing which captures their bond in a snapshot of supreme nerd-dom. I wrestled with recreating this love triangle in the book and decided to skip it. Josh needed to be Josh, booming voice and all. He needed to be alone – except for his sisters, Rachel and Lenore, whom he loved dearly, and Beth, with whom he seemed to be especially close. Once I understood that dynamic, I understood how to finish BUBBLES REBOOTS. Josh had suggested the idea a few months before things started falling apart. I’d disregarded his advice and then, one night while pulling my hair out revising, remembered.
He was dead by then. His passing in December took most of us by surprise. I remember thinking I’d been cruelly misinformed. Hadn’t there been weeks of good news, better scans, better results indicating he’d be around a lot longer, maybe even into the next Trump administration? I hadn’t finished the hat, goddammit. It’d been sitting on my needles for close to two years. And the book. It wasn’t done. He couldn’t just die like that. THE BOOK. WASN’T. FINISHED. For once, I didn’t want him to shut up.
So, this is where writing becomes something of a miracle. After I absorbed his death, I dove back into the revisions. Josh, as I remembered him, at least, was still very much alive on my screen. And, as he had during my moments of high-school rejection (I’m talking to you, senior prom), he once again helped me through a devastating personal crisis. During my darkest moments, he and Bubbles, a silly combination, came to the rescue with laughs and warm memories. The only word that comes to mind is gratitude. Deep humbling gratitude.
That wasn’t the last miracle, though.
Shortly after I announced that 10% of all BUBBLES REBOOTS proceeds would be designated to the two charities Josh had selected – Planned Parenthood and The Cancer Research Institute – a MYSTERY DONOR came forth to announce he would match up to $250 of those charitable contributions. Now, this book is not, and never was intended to be, a gold mine. It is simply a labor of love. I have already decided to eat the not-insignificant costs of professional copy editing, etc. It’s the least I can do. And at earnings of $1.93/book, I’m not sure how much we can raise, but it would be wonderful if two big donations could be made in his name. Like Margie Mancini would put it, just saying.
Meanwhile, I’ll dig out the Mike Nesmith hat and finish the last few stitches. And then I’ll put Josh to rest once and for all.