Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

20170113_123932We drive under a telephone line that is completely booked by a row of fat pigeons all squinting in unison in the direction of the orange sherbert glow of morning sun.  “Look,” I say out loud in spite of what the rest of the passengers in the vehicle think. “Dawn Patrol.” From what I gather, these greasy little sky-rats  are here every morning, holding a meeting on the same wire.They remind me of their slacker seagull cousins who squat together on the beach, and all face the same direction waiting for that perfect wind, like surfers who wait for that perfect wave. These guys remind me of a story that I started a few years ago. It’s nowhere near finished, but I need to get back to it soon.

My son in the back seat watches the world float by his window while quietly grazing on dry breakfast cereal. We are on our way to pick up his cousin and drop him off at daycare. En route, we notice a child’s flip-flop in the middle of the road. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we noticed the child’s flip-flop because it’s been there for two days. It doesn’t look abused or broken in any way, just abandoned. Forgotten.

I could smell the slightest whiff of a poem about an abandoned shoe as an allegory about society in general gently rolling in like that perfect breeze meant for seagulls. The beginning of a random metaphor started to form in my head that I planned to use at a later date, when I hear, “I wonder why you only ever see one shoe in the road,” my son’s mother said. “It’s never a pair of shoes, it’s only one. I wonder why that is?”

I can feel the Train of Thought pull away from the station. I had to seriously contemplate when was the last time I saw a pair of shoes abandoned and discarded in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I have never seen a pair of Keds on the ground as if they were some victim of some heinous violation cast aside and left to rot in the gutter. I thought about it longer than I would have liked to. It kind of bothered me, truth be told. Because, not only was it another unknown that might be worth at least a few minutes of research for… I dunno… in case I get swept up in bar trivia at the local Chili’s, but counting this scenario, along with the birds taking in a sunrise, and the cereal munching munchkin in the back seat (whom I’ll come back to in a minute), it now looks like I have a few more ideas to build stories around. The last thing I need right now is to add to my growing list of works in progress.

I mean, is there an epidemic of singular shoes dotting the landscape? Do other people notice this? Does the lost shoe feel a sense of detachment and ennui because its favorite sock got eaten by a dryer and now feels lost without it? Is feral footwear common? What about other articles of clothing? How do they feel about it? How often do they get cast aside?

These things are the sugar in my coffee. These are the things that give me a warm fuzziness in my belly because it feels like my obsessive nature has finally been directed into a more positive, and less destructive path. Over the past few years, I have turned into a storytelling savant. I’m constantly asking “what would happen if..?” and among other things, I try very hard to not use zombies as a McGuffin because I ran out of ideas. “At long last, Frank and Carol could now share that kiss in the happy home of their dreams. But they couldn’t because zombies. The end.

Every week, I eagerly await another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. Sometimes I play, sometimes I feel a little too out of shape. Other times I collect story prompts like seashells, and of course, there are those moments when something that can’t be easily explained comes charging into my personal space, like say, figuring out why one shoe ends up in the road and not the pair. Instead of defaulting to logic and reason to explain it (which is really boring and smells an awful lot like bullshit), I prefer instead to faceplant directly into the blueberry pie of “Just Make Shit Up” (which might be tedious to the listener, but dagnabbit, it’s not my fault that you ask the most random crap and expect something extremely insightful and intellegent to roll off my tongue.You ask a rhetorical question, you get a left field answer. Deal with it.). I mean, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers…tell stories. How else do you think this works?

I can’t take on other projects. Not right now. My current first draft is nearly complete, and I’ll jump into revising the beast over the course of the next few days. I have several other half started projects right behind this one that need to be finished. These projects are moving slower than I’d like because writing is only taking up a little of my day. When I’m not writing, I’m taking my son to therapy (details, and perhaps the whole point of this post below), and when I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of the family. Which is why it may be dangerous to draw my attention to something that will cater to my obsessiveness like a lonely shoe.

As a Crime Action Drama

Mr. Deveraux could not stop his limbs and extremities from twitching, while Mrs. Deveraux remained the stronger of the two, and opted instead to chew off the skin around her cuticles. Their home has always been a peaceful sanctuary, they’ve fussed over it for years to get it to that point. But this morning was almost too much to process. Melinda had been missing for a little over twelve hours. Since that time, almost an entire squadron of police officers had taken up residence in their once pristine stainless steel kitchen with laptops and various pieces of tracking equipment that they’ve never heard of, and they weren’t entirely sure, but it looked like there were a couple of FBI agents huddled closely in the hallway talking about something, looking grim.

The Lead Investigator’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. “We are all going to get through this,” he said. “We are going to get your daughter back. I have called in our finest to track these guys down. Also, once word got out that it might be the Oaxaca cartel, the FBI became very interested. Whoever did this is going to have a very bad day, understand?” Melinda’s parents do their best to acknowledge. “Good, now when that phone rings, I’m gonna need you to remain calm, and act normal.” Mrs. Deveraux laughs an empty laugh, because her normal felt like it has been trodden under by so many police issued boots in her garden full of mums.

When the phone finally did ring, it was as if everyone started breathing again in unison. As if they were allowed. A technician punched in a code into his laptop, and gave a signal to the Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator donned his headphones, and gave the cue for Mr. Deveraux to lift up the receiver.

“Hello?” The tremble in his voice choked back hard.
“Do you have the money?” The voice at the other end was computer generated. The expressions on the cops faces let the Deveraux’s know that they were dealing with professionals.
“Do you have my daughter?” Mr. Deveraux sneered, “Is she still alive, you son of a bitch?”

The next voice wasn’t computer generated. It was the sound of Melinda, scared, hopeless, weeping, but very much still alive. Mrs. Deveraux clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle whatever might be pushed out of it.

“You have such a pretty child, Mr. Deveraux,” the emotionless voice continued. “Her eyes are quite captivating. It would be such a shame if she were missing one.”
“You bastard!” Mr. Deveraux bellowed. “If one hair is out of place on her head, I swear to God I will…”
“Do you have my money or not, Mr. Deveraux?”

The Lead Investigator nodded silently to Mr. Deveraux. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have your money.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “Now, listen very carefully, this is what I need you to do next. I need you to grab an article of clothing that belongs to Melinda.” The Lead Investigator snapped his fingers at a cadet to whisper something in his ear. When he was finished, the cadet ran upstairs to her room. “I need you to take that piece of clothing and drop it on the corner of 5th and Elm. Walk across the street and when a brown Oldsmobile parks in front of you, get in the back seat.”

The cadet reappears holding a tiny, pink flip-flop. The Lead Investigator holds it up for Mr. Deveraux to see. “I’ll be using one of her flip-flops, will that do?”
“That will suffice,” the voice said.
“Will my daughter be in the car? Where are you taking me?”
“Be ready at 10:30. Bring the money.” The line went dead.

As A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel

It rained the night before, and when the kids were waiting for the bus the next morning, none of them seemed too worried that the sun  was hidden by the clouds. The lack of sunshine made everything look dull, except for Rebecca’s very pink backpack and Mark’s very yellow rain slicker.

On the other side of the street, in the old lot where the old drug store used to be, there sat a very white sneaker. Shoelaces untied, and sitting upright collecting rain. Rebecca noticed it briefly before her friends started talking about lip gloss. Mark didn’t notice it at all because he doesn’t like talking to too many people. Charlie noticed it right away, and he knew exactly what it meant.

It means the Fog Giants have returned. There was going to be plenty of long nights ahead.

~***~

See, things like this are a bone for me to chew on. It’s things like this that make me remember why I should carry a notebook everywhere I go. It’s things like this that yank my attention away from whatever I’m working on at the moment. So please, for the sake of progress, don’t allow me to occupy my mind with such things. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded about that part of my WIP where a flock of blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire.

It also doesn’t help that I have tied that project to the other thing that we are leaving the house for. Let me get back to that.

Recently, I have posted about my son, and how he wants to talk at length about anything, but he hasn’t developed the skill to form words yet. I have always been of the opinion that he will come around to it, but still, there were other characteristics that were telling us that he might need a little help.

The problem was recognizing that he had a problem to begin with. He’s still two, and he’s still trying to get used to things like eating a proper meal, or sleeping in his own bed, or learning words, or not being so focused on certain things. It was hard to tell if he was being difficult, or if there was something more sinister afoot.

To put our minds at ease, we tested him for hearing and vision, and determined that the best course of action would be to see a speech therapist. After a few months of regular sessions, we have made small breakthroughs and tiny miracles. But, for all the progress we have made in regards to getting him to say the simplest words, it didn’t solve the mystery as to why he still flaps his arms when he gets really excited, or why he prefers to walk on his toes.

To REALLY put our minds at ease, we went back to his pediatrician to finally ask the question we’ve been putting off for too long. Is our son autistic? It only took a few minutes of an unofficial yet very effective method of determining he wasn’t to give us some relief. But with that burden taken away from us, and most importantly, from him, we were still in the dark as to what seems to be affecting him.

It took a less than fruitful session with his speech therapist to have her bring our attention to something called Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a very real condition that affects mostly children. It often mimics autism, but it isn’t autism. It is a very real condition, and the cruelest aspect of this condition is, it’s not recognized officially as a real condition.

To put it simply, SPD is where the person has a difficult time responding or reacting to whatever stimuli they’re exposed to. Think of trying to process something as simple as walking along a beach. Everything you experience, the feel of the sand between your toes, the smell of the salt air, the sound of surf, all collide at the same time like traffic weaving through a poorly attended intersection at rush hour. Everything is snarled and not going anywhere too soon. Reaction times in the individual with this disorder are slowed, or often times, not present at all. Or in the case of my son, happening all at once to trigger this extremely excitable reaction where he flaps his arms, open his mouth wide like a lead singer of a metal band, and have a vein or two swell up in his neck.

It is a very real condition. Unfortunately, no one in the healthcare community can come to a consensus on how to define it. Look, is it on spectrum, or is it another version of OCD? Figure it out and get back to us.

It is quite cruel.

Fortunately, my son isn’t at that level. He’s quite happy, and he’ll respond to things and look you in the eye and talk to you…the best he can. But he’ll still do it on his own terms.

Because SPD isn’t uniform and has a broad definition, and has the traits of something else without being that something else, and it does different things to different people, there has been no formal diagnosis of this condition. That means doctors can’t officially prescribe anything, let alone talk about it. The only thing they can do is suggest Occupational Therapy.

Which is where we were going to this morning, my son and I. This is where we’ve gone for the past few months.20170114_104609

His speech therapy is touch and go. He’ll either be in the mood to say something or nah. Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, is so… much… COOLER! There’s a ball pit! And big bouncy balls! And a tunnel and more toys! It’s a process of learning through playing…or what we used to call it in my day…playing. Occupational therapy is a welcome supplement to his boring ol’ speech therapy. And I think the biggest takeaway from attending these sessions, is my child has to take the lead as to what he wants to do. It’s up to the adults to go along and work with it. So, it’s a learning process for me too.

So, I suppose I could be one of these concerned parents and talk at length about getting your child screened and look for the warning signs and blahblahblah. “I need you to feel empathy for my baby because reasons!” But, I don’t feel like it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it either. He’s not sick. He’s normal, he just needs a little boost. And while I could be the loudest crusader to get this condition the recognition it deserves, I really don’t think that’s necessary. It is what it is. It’ll probably stick with him for the rest of his life, but we caught it early enough so he’ll know how to deal with it when he gets older, and that’s all we can do right now. Still though, it would be nice to see him walk normally, talk normally. I love my boy, and I’m happy with my boy. I am proud of every one of his accomplishments every day.

I could complain, but I’d rather deal with it in my own way.

He has several quirks. That’s all they are. Just quirks. Things he does. Most of them are indicative of the condition he has, the rest are all his. And instead of Googling what they all are and fret until I mis-diagnose the hell out of it, I have decided to make him the hero of his own story.

Because, I’m a Storyteller. It’s what we do.

He chuckles in his sleep. It’s the most adorable thing in the world. He also likes to look up at the sky while he’s walking. It’s his preferred activity over anything else to do outside. Recently, I was stringing Christmas lights around the house. I switched them on, and as he was passing by with eyes cast skyward he said, “Bye!” It wasn’t directed to anyone. It was directed to the lights. At first, rationality took over. “Well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it has something to do with the red bulbs, and somehow relating them to watching taillights move down the driveway every morning as his mom goes to work.” Red light means someone’s leaving, which means “Byyyye! See you laytor!

So, instead of freaking out, I just think of the lonely flip-flop…

Untitled Story Idea…

A family moves to a haunted house, and it’s a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. The ghosts that reside there, mainly an old married couple, have been there for a very long time, and haven’t found a way to leave. The only person in the family that knows it’s haunted is the toddler, and he isn’t saying much. The ghosts aren’t very good at scaring people out of the house, because no one has lived there for such a long time, and they couldn’t find it within them to scare them because they were grandparents at one time. So, they spend most of their time looking after the children to make sure they don’t get into trouble. Somewhere along the line, the ghosts figure out that if they can get the baby to laugh, then the hold that this house has on them begins to loosen. Good deeds remembered, they are allowed to pass on once Christmas lights are hung and illuminated.

~***~

Another one of his quirks, and this is something his mother and I need to focus on, is that he has this obsession with doors. The way they open and close, if they latch or not, if they have a lever or knob, do they squeak, how much effort is needed to go through it. We REALLY lose him at the grocery store where the doors open on their own. *GASP! What sorcery is THIS?* He will literally spend the better part of an hour opening and closing doors. It’s something that we learn to live with.

I’m not sure how to break his fascination with them. Once he gets on a door binge, it’s hard to stop, and that’s something that we are slowly learning at Occupational Therapy. It appears that both of my children have their father’s obsessive nature.

There are good days, and there are bad days. But mostly, they’re good. His OT is quite adept at getting him away from his door habit and directing him to playing with blocks and puzzles, and as a result, his obsession has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is my own curiosity. “Why doors?” I ask to myself…in the same tone as “Why one shoe?”

Revision to ‘Kids of St. Anthony’

Story so far:

A social worker who has lost her child to cancer, and as a result, going through a divorce, is now set to task for finding homes for three young siblings. They reside at St. Anthony’s Home for Wayward children; an orphanage. For the most part, all the children that reside there are normal children, but there is a wing of the church that not a lot of people know about. It’s the wing where they put the “special” children.

The oldest of the three (based on my youngest daughter) has a habit of drawing what appears to be circles on paper with crayon. The middle child has hushed conversations with people who aren’t there, and the youngest cannot cope will unless there is an animal present.

To the system, to the nuns that run this place and to the social worker, these children are perceived to have special needs.

It turns out, they’re partially right. The youngest needs to be in close proximity to animals, because they can talk to him, and that’s how he has been in touch with the outside world. The middle child as actually holding conversations with ghosts. They warn her of danger and teach her history. The oldest, who looks as though she draws in anger and frustration with every circle getting deeper as each crayon gets ground down, is actually drawing very intricate talismans that are crafted to protect all of them. All three children team up with the social worker to solve mysteries and stuff. She ends up adopting them…until zombies…the end.

UPDATE:

First of all, enough of the frickin’ zombies.

Second of all, it might be wise to turn this into a series and expand the universe. Because all the cool kids are doing it!

Why not have this orphanage be home to other children with secret abilities? Maybe it’s been a home for children like this for a long time. Like this one child who shows no attention to the world around him, except when it comes to doors. He might come in handy in a pinch.

The bad guys are closing in on our heroes, and the youngest child is feverishly opening and closing a door to a closet; essentially, opening a door to nowhere. At the right time, he opens this door to nowhere, and it turns out that it’s a door to somewhere. They all escape danger because a toddler opened a closet door to reveal a field of wheat somewhere on the other side of the world…next chapter.

Conclusion

This is me blogging because I need a kick in the ass. This post has taken a week in re-writes and has ended up being approximately half the length of my current first draft. It feels like I’m stalling, but I need free up the log jam in my head.

It’s important to let you know that I haven’t gone anywhere.

I would love to write a short story a week, as I’ve pointed out previously. Respectfully, I’m not sure when Mr. Bradbury laid down the gauntlet about doing this, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t have to take care of kids and household at the same time. Right now, I’d be satisfied if I could finish a chapter a week.

This year will be the year I wrangle all of these ideas that land in front of me and turn them into something interesting maybe. I’m hoping that I will be able to find more time to get to them, but the chances of that are quite small. As much as I’d like to lock myself away in a shack in the middle of the woods, my kids need me right now.

And they are most important.

More to come.
Watch this space.

©2017 AA Payson

WIP “Foxglove”

WIP “Foxglove”

Author’s Note

This year, I am making a concerted effort never to publish a first draft of anything. It’s not the best habit to get into, especially when I plan on sending things off to be printed. This work in progress, is a work in progress. If anything, it was a practice in seeing if I could write around a thousand words a day. Which this is. Which will probably be the last time I do that. A thousand words every couple of days…much better to manage.

This was a rough idea. In the beginning, I couldn’t see where I was going with it, and was prepared to go about it at a completely different angle. It took me the longest time to figure out where it was going, until it hit and everything fell into place.

Very Brief Synopsis: It’s an adventure story, filled with sacrifice, political intrigue, love, fighting, monsters, and the main characters are mice. Criticism is always welcome, and as always I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.

My plan is to tinker with the chapters throughout the week this summer and publish on Fridays. Many other stories are in the works, so expect a bunch of stuff.

Thanks for reading…

Foxglovecover
I can totally do covers…

1.1 Autumn

Foxglove stirred slowly in the morning sun’s rays that were streaming through the slats on the side of the house. It’s been ages, he thought. There were times when he and his kin thought the Spring Rains would never stop. The foraging patrols would return with their hauls of nuts and seeds and tales of how their old warren has almost completely vanished. The new colony is young and thriving. There are very few who still possess the memory of their old home. There are very few who speak of the old days and of the perilous journey. Names of the fallen are still uttered in hushed reverence when the moon is high. Foxglove remembers those days well. The scars and the throbbing pain in his bones remind him almost every morning.
The sun is high in the sky today. The blue skies have returned, and the grass is tall and dry. From his straw bed, he can hear the colony returning to their holes. The Elders shuffle and discuss the news of the day, while parents call their rambunctious, laughing pups inside to rest. Bedding is tended to, food is traded, and everything grows quiet. Everything is as it should be. Despite his nocturnal instincts, he rouses himself from his bed and breathes deep the country air that filters its way inside. Soon, the humans will wake and start their day in a mighty clamor.
This morning is a good morning. He wonders for a moment how many of his children will witness a sunrise. He wonders how well he has taught them, and bristles at the thought of one or all of them standing at the ready to defend their colony, or their young. One by one, thoughts, dreams, concerns and questions left unanswered float through his aging mind, and one by one, they disappear like so many of his brethren. Slowly, the nagging of guilt and fear gives way to feelings of joy and contentment, for today is a good day. Today is a good day to move on. He steadies himself on one leg, tidies up his bed, takes one last inspection, and limps quietly from his hole.
He shuffles along the avenue of wooden beams and horsehair plaster. He remembers when he first found this space, and the joy felt when his kin could finally settle in peace. As he passes through, the hum of the colony as soft as power lines. Mothers telling tales to their pups. Fathers diligently preparing their homes for their expanding families. The coo of a lovers’ embrace. The weeping of an elder thinking of their departed other half. All around him is life. Every so often, he likes to be reminded of it.
“Out for another stroll, eh?” Foxglove recognized the voice, even if he couldn’t see the mouse it was coming from.
“Ah, Primrose,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be out so early.”
Prim smiled her warm smile as she straightened his whiskers. “You never expect it, dear. It’s always new to you.” Foxglove grinned as he tried to find another thing to focus on instead of her gaze. In his life, he has faced dangers that would make an average mouse soil themselves in fear. He has grappled with beasts who wouldn’t think twice about ripping him to shreds. He has lived a life of bravery. Yet, he could never find the courage to look into Prim’s eyes. She could always see right through him. “It’s always good to stretch your legs. To get out of your hole for a while.” Some days are better than others to get him to talk.
“Oh yes,” he said, small talk not being a skill he possessed. “I like coming out here when the sun comes up. It… it reminds me… of…” his thoughts evaporate.
“It reminds you of…home?” she whispered. This was not the first time that Prim has heard this. She never tires of it.
“Yes. Home,” his thoughts snap back. “I loved the old warren. When I was young, the grass was so green, and there wasn’t a sniff of a dog anywhere. Did I ever tell you the time I faced a pack of rats, and took all of them on myself?”
“Oh, yes dear,” she chuckled. “I was there, remember?”
“There I was,” there is a sparkle that returns to his eyes when he talks about his past. “Outnumbered, desperate and hungry. They were there to take what we found, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. Not on that day.”
“You were so brave,” she took his paw and held it gently.
Foxglove sighed. The moment, relived many times before had gone again. It wasn’t courage that finally made him catch her gaze, it was resolution. “Ah Prim, I am so tired. I can feel the warmth of the world again, but the days seem so short.” He clutched her paw and leaned in closer. “You’ve always been there for me, Prim. This old mouse might be forgetful of the last time he ate, but he sure remembers you.”
“Fox, let’s not talk about this right now,” Prim’s voice beginning to shake.
“No my dear, I need to talk about this now,” strength returning to his voice. “Were it not for your care, your sympathy, your love, I probably wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. Most of the colony seems to think that I had everything to do with their salvation, when the reality of it is, none of it would have been possible without you.” Prim is holding on by a thread. She can feel him slipping away, and is powerless to do anything about it. “I never did thank you, love. I and every other mouse here owes you. Never forget that.” And with that, he turned and shuffled his way towards the hole in the baseboard. It leads to the land of the humans. They’re awake now, and should be able to see him. The pain has taken him. He drags himself out into the light. He has found his freedom.

[to be continued]

©2016 AA Payson

Lessons Learned From NaNoWriMo (in response to Chuck Wendig)

Lessons Learned From NaNoWriMo (in response to Chuck Wendig)

The water was warmer around the dock. lake-425029_1920

It was probably the only shallow part of the lake. The safest part. The part where a few dozen suburban Boy Scouts who have never experienced swimming in a natural body of water before splashed and thrashed and screamed and silently cataloged every moment to be saved for the time when they teach their own children. Against the serene and majestic backdrop of the Maine Wilderness, it was loud, it was chaotic. But, it’s what is supposed to happen in the middle of summer, and you were a pre-teen, and warm weather came at a premium. There was fun to be had.

Your feet ran across sharp, tiny pebbles all the way to the water’s edge. As they broke the surface of the lake, they slid across a frosted layer cake of algae to find themselves floating, while the rest of the body did all the work. This is where everyone splashed and played; an area of no further than 20 feet from the shoreline. It was warm. It was safe.

It was not where you were going today.

Today, you stopped focusing on the kiddie section, and put the rest of the scenery into context, as if you’ve spent the majority of the summer in blissful darkness, and suddenly remembered where you are. Today, you walked all the way to the edge of the dock and noticed that even though it was a warm summer’s day, the nearby mountain range sliced thick atmosphere that was rolling overhead. Undetected. Like sharp shears through Spring wool. Even though it didn’t hit you right away, but even with all the thrashing about in the warm, shallow end, the waters beyond the edge of the dock were fairly still.

This was the day you had to swim out to the platform, the one closer to the middle of the lake, swim three laps around it, and tread water for 10 minutes while trying not to pass out from exhaustion or panic. Which sounded easy enough on paper, but once you fill you lungs with air and dive in, you quickly find a new respect for mountain fed lakes, and just how deep and cold they are. The water is just a few degrees above forming ice crystals. It surrounds every inch of you, steals whatever air is left in your lungs, turns your blood into Hershey’s Syrup, and makes your feet long for the time when tiny rocks tenderized its soles. They wish they could feel something, anything. They need something flat to propel the body that is currently going into shock out of the water. Nothing is found. The body starts flailing, the mind goes into survival mode.

You start to sink.

You forgot how to swim.

The broomstick shoots below the surface. There’s a voice yelling at you to grab on to it.

Someone pulls you in.

Lesson failed.

Lesson learned.

Thirty days, hath September, April, June and November. Which means as of the first draft of this post, it will soon mean “pencils down”.

This is my first year in participating in NaNoWriMo. My approach in doing so was something akin to walking the labyrinthine floors of any given Vegas casino for the first time; Get the lay of the land. Get a feel for where the action is, where to start playing. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll figure it out eventually the longer you acclimate yourself to this environment. Find a table, break out your chips, start playing.

I know how to write. I’ve been doing it for years. Just…not professionally. Writing 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days I figured would be challenging, but doable. “I can do this,” I thought to myself back in October when I had a spark of a plot and not much else. “I’m able to crank out about 200 words in 15 minutes. Which means that if I don’t get up to pee, eat, take care of a toddler, refill my coffee, acknowledge any other responsibility in the house, I can average 800 or so words an hour. Which means I can crank out 1667 words in a little over two. I can do this. This is going to be the yard stick by which I measure all future accomplishments.”

I didn’t take into consideration the occasional writer’s block, or the stretches of days where the icy grip of ennui and depression steal the last breath from you. I also didn’t take into consideration that I may have over-inflated myself in my research skills just a touch.

In as much as I’d want to admit to myself that I was prepared, I wasn’t. I just wasn’t. I suck, and that’s it.

Yes, I had notes and source material, but it didn’t matter squat if I kept finding more, and adding to it every day. Yes, I had a frame of reference that I found a little too late where I could craft the story much easier with a lot less headache. But, it doesn’t matter if I didn’t know what I was doing before I started. I mean, I thought I knew, nobody told me how cold and deep the water was.

A wing and a prayer. That’s it. That’s all I had. You see that guy waaaaay in the back of the pack of the Boston Marathon? The one that jogs a quarter mile, then ducks into a bar for a beer and a burger when no one’s watching? The guy whose boobs shake every time he plants his foot? Yeah, that’s me.

I suck, and that’s it.

This post was supposed to be shorter. It was, in fact, supposed to be a reply to a recent post on Chuck Wendig’s blog a few days ago. But, me being me, I thought it would be better to wildly thrash about on my own blog, vent a little in hopes that I can keep a little something going from the previous month while at the same time, answer his questions by not posting an epic tl;dr reply in his comments.af86b-tldr_longcat

Recently, he asked his followers, specifically the ones participating in NaNoWriMo this year, what their individual experiences were, and what they learned from it. This was my first year. I thought that I was better prepared for it, found out otherwise. Here’s my take-away from it…

How’d you do?

On One Hand…

The experience was exactly what I needed to get me out of a writing drought. While forging ahead at breakneck speed with a single spark of inspiration that I carried in my shirt pocket for a couple of days, I was secretly wishing that I would knock this project out of the park on my first time around, become the next J.K. Rowling, become insanely rich and tell every doubter and hater I know that they can all go stuff it.

On The Other Hand…

That moment when you’re scrubbing up in the shower, or you’re driving with the windows rolled down, and suddenly you’re belting out a tune that you haven’t heard in ages, but you forgot most of the words?

“It’s not the things that you do or the thing somethinsomethin doo doo…HOLD THE LINE! Nuhnuhnuhnuuuhnuuhhnuh TIME!…”

Like that. A nasty habit of mine I’d like to break is starting strong on any given project, and then fizzle out after a few pages. It’s not that I’m completely naïve and think that writing a book was a linear process and I could start on page one and not stop until I reach page two hundred and whatever.

Okay…maybe I was a little naïve.

I am easily distracted. And I’m not talking about your usual Jump-On-Facebook-And-Stay-There-For-Hours type of distracted. My level of distraction is hovering somewhere in the clinical range; the type where they have to give it a snappy acronym or a Latin moniker. The type where they have to give me a pretty little bottle filled with pretty little pills, that can pull in some decent coin on the street….

…what was I talking about?…

I start something, find a shiny object to play with for a while, and by the time I return to what I was doing, I had no idea why I started in the first place. This is the type of thing that slows me down, always. Like this post. It was supposed to go up days ago.

The end result being, I didn’t finish my novel. And, I’m okay with that, because above all else NaNo is a learning experience.

What Did You Learn?

Well, I learned that…

  • Planners and Pantsers are connected, even though all evidence leads to the contrary. I believe that all of us that are brave enough in the first place to grapple with this Word Beast for a month, that it’s probably a wise idea to adopt the attitudes of both. Making stuff up as you go along is fun and you’d be amazed at where you can go, but I believe that it can only take you so far before you have to stop and ask for directions. I believe that in order to finish your goal, you would need to have the mind of a Planner, and the soul of a Pantser.
  • However many notes you have, double them. Triple them if you have to. There’s no such thing as too much research.
  • I need to take time out and read more. Even if it’s just a few pages. Not Twitter, Not other blogs. An honest to goodness book. It does the body good.
  • Quiet and solitude are valuable commodities. Music is a good stimulus, but there’s only so much I can take before I get completely distracted and start making new Spotify stations. I must look into stealing myself away to write, which is impossible these days. My boy likes to get into trouble. I’d like a quiet space with blank walls and maybe a few windows, a laptop, access to wi-fi, blank notebooks, note cards, pencils, an area to make coffee, and a door with a lock on it. That’s about it. Distractions are a killer.
  • A proper 3 Act Structure is not necessarily the only way to craft a story, but it’s a sturdy framework, and it’s worked out pretty good for a lot of people so far. It’s a good place to start, don’t discount it, don’t deny it. Use it.
  • Using Scrivener will probably help out a lot. Yeah, it was very confusing at first, but so was Blender, and you figured that out eventually. Bite the bullet, buy a copy, and stick it on the above mentioned laptop.

Where Will You Go From Here?

Me from 2007 would have thrown in the towel weeks ago. I would have drowned in that icy lake of my own ambition, wept at my untimely demise for a few days, and started on something else that was a little less scary. Like, a Top 5 List about neckties or something.

Present Day Me would probably strangle 2007 me. No, we are not giving up. No, we are not wasting any more time writing blog posts that no one reads. No, we are not going to catch up on our Netflix cue. We are going to sit our ass down in front of the monitor, and we are going to finish this bastard.

By the end of the month, I made it to the halfway point; About 26,000 words. Personally, I would like to regard it as a benchmark. Not bad for a first timer, but compared to the people who have done this through the years, I barely showed up. I know I should regard other participant’s progress with little regard, but it’s kind of hard not to take a peek at what others are doing. The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was myself (turn off the cheesy music). I know I can do this. When faced with trying to write in a linear fashion, because I thought that’s how you do it for some reason, it slowed me down, it allowed doubt to take over, and stopped me dead in my tracks. Suddenly, getting ready for Thanksgiving was more important.

I will be continuing this. I will probably scrap everything and start over again, but I will be continuing this. NaNoWriMo has taught me self discipline, something that was rather lacking these days. I understand the nature of it now, and even though the usage of the month of November is a good measuring stick, I’m not going to let that hinder me now that we’re in December. I don’t have to use November. I could just as easily use April, June, or September…because all the rest of thirty-one. My novel, such as it is, is a mess. I will be spending however long it takes to get it into a cohesive work, and get it ready to publish. Because it means that much to me. I will finish this.

Present day me isn’t afraid of the water anymore.

Finishyours

Excerpt: WIP of Chapter 4 from “The Nature of the Beast”

Excerpt: WIP of Chapter 4 from “The Nature of the Beast”

wolves-654839_1920

…Unfortunately, these were no ordinary wolves. These wolves were way too large. Some walked on their hind legs. One, catching the attention of the shocked brave, grabbed him with an almost human hand by the front of his coat. He lead the man further away into the woods, and dropped him in a patch of brush. Hiding him from view. The wolf then looked the brave in the eye, and whispered. “Sit! Stay. Good boy.”

The brave looked on in disbelief as the wolf ran back to join the pack.

By this time, the sun had set.

The brave crawled back in shadow. He could not hear his brother. He did not know if he still lived. He could not see, but he could hear. And all he heard were the ghastly screams of the Wendigo, and the monstrous growls of the pack.

Moments later all fell silent. And then just as quickly, a chorus of wolf song. A signal to the night sky of a battle hard fought and won.

Quickly, the brave returned to the campsite, concerned about his brother.

By the campfire, the brave saw what was left of the Wendigo. Pieces of his flesh removed. Limbs missing. His jaw and heart removed. By the campfire, he expected the pack to surround their kill, and perhaps take in more in their frenzy. He expected to see wolves. Instead, he saw men. Several men. Some naked and kept warm by the hair on their body. Some barely covered in scraps of what was left of clothing. Some covered in blood. Some nursing wounds. All surrounded the kill. None approached the tent.

“You know, when I told you to stay, little one, I meant stay there until this was all over and we walked away.” A voice, deep and foreign, forceful yet nonthreatening echoed through the trees. “If we wanted you dead, we would have taken care of that in quick measure.” It was one of the pack of men. The brave, knowing that spirits were at work here, stepped forward. Head down, awaiting judgement. “Come, come forward. No use in hiding it now. You’ve seen us. Surprise.”

“Wh…” the brave stuttered. “What are you?”

“French,” was the reply given in the brave’s language, followed by a rousing chorus of manly laughter…

Working Cover for a Working Title.
Working Cover for a Working Title.

It was a good day, yesterday. This is the roughest of the roughest draft. 95% of what has been written will probably never see the light of day, and that’s okay.

But, I do hope that this little exchange makes the cut.

“Fearsome Critters” (Working Title for Current NaNoWriMo Contest) Intro

“Fearsome Critters” (Working Title for Current NaNoWriMo Contest) Intro

Author’s Note: This is my WIP for this year’s NaNoWriMo contest, which means it is by no means completed. However, I’ve taken the liberty of bending the rules slightly, decided to use what I’m currently working on now, rather than starting fresh.

I’ve decided to do this for one very important reason:

Old Habits Die Hard

I have no boundaries set. No real deadlines. I have self-discipline in other areas of my life; I know how to wash a dish and brush my teeth and stuff. But like with everything else in life, in order to get good at things, you have to keep doing it.

When I blog, it’s no big thing. My topics usually aren’t the type of thing that make Google AdSense spin into a tizzy, quite the opposite, actually. They have less to do with current events, and more to do with an individual trying to make sense of things through writing. I’d find a topic to write about, take my time with it, sometimes days, edit until it sounds something like my voice, find a few choice graphics, maybe craft something of my own, and post. I take my time with it, but the point is, I finish it. It’s one topic meant to be chewed on for a few minutes and then published. Sometimes, I take a little longer to work my way through it. But I finish it.

The same cannot be said when it applies to writing fiction. Writing fiction is not like writing and article where I can grab one or two sources and build post around it. Not for lack of trying, though. Last year, I thought it would be cool if I constructed a story, and posted a chapter (or part of a chapter) a week on my blog.

It didn’t quite work out the way I expected.

What I learned from this experience was the importance of brevity, not to mention the importance of note taking and research. Also, reading something more substantial than a Twitter feed was worked into the equation as well: Dialog sound robotic and stiff? Try reading a book and pay attention to how the professionals do it. Like a certain story arc? Try writing it out or making a diagram. You know, all the little things that might have been helpful as I slowly lost steam halfway through the project.

I will return to it.

Someday.

But getting back on topic, when it comes to crafting something out of thin air, like writing a short story or a novel, being that I have no deadlines and no pressure to finish a current project, I will revert to my old habit of abandoning something that I start, purely out of lack of interest. It’s a pet peeve. One of many. And it bugs the shit out of me.

Also, even though I’ve had oodles of time to figure it out, I have yet to find that balance between being a domestic and becoming the next Tom Robbins. So, forgive me if I started a little on the early side with this, but I’ll take every Mulligan I can find to get this done.

Anyway, below is an “Intro In Progress”(?) for my latest project. It’s current title is “Fearsome Critters”. Please note that this is only a working title, and has very little to do with the book written by Henry H. Tryon. I liked his title, but I won’t be using it. I’m the kind of person who writes first, and thinks of a title later. In the meantime, I will be taking any and all suggestions for a new title, maybe one will come to me. By all means, please engage with me in the comments below.

Thank you, and enjoy.

Also, as you’ll probably figure out, there are some words peppered into the conversation that look like they’re made up. Rest assured, it is very real. It’s the native tongue of the Passamaquoddy people; a Native American Tribe indigenous to my neck of the woods. Again, I look forward to engaging in the comments below.

~***~

Empty Seats (2405779789)

“At this point, you don’t really have to concern yourself too much with these critters.” Eric gestured to the list of seemingly random animals scribbled on the giant chalkboard behind him. “Keep in mind that by this time, ‘The Ancient Age’ ended long ago, and can anybody tell me who ended it?” His words bounced off the concrete cavern of the not-even-half filled  teaching auditorium, and landed in the ear canals of  barely cognizant Twentysomethings who were there only to fulfill an elective. “Anybody?” continued Eric in vain.

Two things haven’t changed much since he started teaching this course: his syllabus, and his wardrobe. It wasn’t for any sort of notoriety  that Eric chose the collegiate life. There was no paper or grand study he felt the need to publish in earnest. Eric was never about the new discoveries. Eric is old. He is old in his clothes, his flesh, and his voice, but his eyes still burn with a shade of his youth. He was born to be the keeper of the word. It is his life’s purpose to carry his peoples  history. There once was a time when he would tell the tale of gods and demons and heroes, and all would stare, mouth agape, and minds ablaze  at the wonderful and mysterious worlds he would conjure for them.

Generations would grow up, grow old, and die before him. Years pass, and as they did, so would the wonder. The once energetic and receptive crowds became smaller and more sophisticated as technology slowly crept in, and disrupted the landscape of imagination. He could remember when a campfire and a full moon would be all he needed. Now, it’s how many ‘likes’ he’s accumulated on his rarely used Facebook account.  Stories don’t matter these days, it’s about connection. He could never understand why every one of his colleagues were so insistent on basing all of their interactions on something so impersonal and shallow. He has a grand total of 63 followers, and is completely indifferent about it. He has a total of  75 people signed up for his class, half of which bothered to show up tonight. He knows when he’s losing his audience, which seems to be happening a lot lately.

“That’s right,” continued Eric. “ Glooskap. You remember who he was, right? Glooskap? Also known as Gluskab? Odzihózo? Son of Tabaldak, The Creator?  ‘The Man Who Created Himself’? The guy we covered in the last class? C’mon, people!” The last part eliciting a slight moan from his students as if they were all prodded with a stick. He wasn’t getting anywhere. Not today. And this was one of his better classes. He glanced at the clock, and thankfully had enough time to fit in the rest of the story before everyone slipped away into lecture-induced coma.

“Anyway, all of these guys right here,” using a yardstick as an extension of his arm, “the rabbit, the muskrat, and the beaver were all as big as houses in ‘The Ancient Age’  They were all respected and revered and feared until..?” Eric paused to see if anyone would join in, “Glooskap came along and shrunk them down to the size that we know today. Now, whether or not some of these critters might have taken issue with that, like hostile feelings that have been harbored by the rabbits for generations because they were the most savage beasts in the land and now they’re just cute and fuzzy, is up for another discussion for another time. And, there are some that would say that would be motivation enough for that little bastard beaver,” Eric paused again to allow his disconnected audience to join in. “ ‘Kwah-beet-a-sis’ to spy on Glooskap and rat him out to his brother…anybody?” another pause.

Malsumis!” exclaimed a faceless voice from the back of the room.

“Oh, good!” Eric sighed. “I’m glad someone is paying attention.” Several bodies turned in their seat to see if they recognized the voice. “It didn’t really matter because Glooskap always knew that his little brother had a thing about murder and mayhem. Oh, and he had a predisposition for turning into a wolf. So any chance Malsumis got to mislead his older brother, he took it. Now, if this is starting to sound familiar, it’s because it is. You can find this same dynamic as far back as Ancient Greece.” He glanced at the clock again, the end grows nigh. “So, to sum up: Malsumis lied to the beaver. The beaver turned to Glooskap, telling him what his brother has planned for him. Glooskap slew his brother, and his body turned into a mountain range. Where that mountain range is, all depends on who’s telling the story.” He wanted to get into modern day parallels, and how the diminishing of all the species could  be interpreted as Man taking dominion over Nature. Or, he could have made several connections from the stories once told by an almost extinct and indigenous race of people, his people,  are still relevant and can be applied  today in terms of war, oppression and sovereignty. But the hour is late, and none of these kids couldn’t be bothered long enough to get their noses away from their laptops  to care.

“ Okay, that’s it for today.” Bodies suddenly sprung to life on cue. Eric ‘s voice rose to try to get over the clamor of  shuffling desks and yawning mouths. “Now, don’t forget that your papers need to be on my desk by the end of next week, and there’s going to be a test on Friday, so look sharp, everyone.” Another chorus of moans.

Eric is a study in busy work: Straighten out your desk, your stack of papers. Collect attendance records. Adjust your older-than-dust glasses on your face. Do this. Do this every day  to hide the creeping disdain that scratches the back of your throat and nags at every thought that once helped you through the day. You used to be greater than this. You used to be respected. A leader of men. There once was a time when you could bend nature to your will, now you’re stuck educating the ancestors of the people who drove yours to the edge of extinction. Don’t think about it. Don’t dwell on it. This is not what you were meant to do. Just finish this day, Eric. It will all be over soon enough. Pack up your briefcase, and try not to notice the pair of eyes that are burning a hole in the back of your skull.

“Class is over, do you have a question?” Eric asked without turning around from the chalkboard.

“Goodness,” said the voice behind him. “The story is much shorter than I remember, Kooda.”

The eraser slowed it’s hissing in his hand as a chill ran up his spine. The last time he was referred to by his birthname, the Pony Express was still in business. Enkoodabooaoo (Kooda for short, or Eric, as he goes by now) knows this voice.  It was deep and warm and unthreatening in a way that distant thunder is.  “Kids these days, you know?” was the response Eric gave as he slowly turned around. “If it isn’t in their smartphones, they could give a damn about it. There was a time where I held the attention of entire villages. Children used to quake in the bosom of their mothers when I told them stories of the ancient ones and their hold on the Earth.”

“Yes, I remember. And now you have to compete with whoever the latest heartthrob is on YouTube.” The voice replied. He slowly rose from his seat from the back of the auditorium and strolled to the front of the class. He was sharply dressed, well coiffed. He has a grin made of a perfect set of teeth that shone brighter against deeply, if not artificially  tanned skin. “I also remember that you yourself were quite handy with the ladies, for a time.”

Silence. It’s that silence that hangs between two people who have known each other forever. “Nothing?” the man continued shrugging his shoulders. “Okay, well…shifting to small talk then. So,” he paused to put on a pair of spectacles, “how are you liking your new role as Professor of…” he delicately opened a tri-folded flyer he took from the Registrar’s Office, “…sorry, Adjunct Professor of Passamaquoddy Studies? Things going well with that?” he asked, teeth blazing.

“What do you want, Jerry?” the teapot of Eric’s patience set to a low simmer.

Gerard Boucher, or Jerry to people who have the privilege of knowing him, has built a life, and some would say a successful one, of being a predator in the banking industry. He was there in the 80s when Wall St. rose, he was there in 08 when it fell. All the while benefiting from winners and losers. He never fails. He has been, and always will be, all about The Deal.  A connoisseur of the finer things in life, it makes him stand out a little more when he is in the middle of a teaching auditorium, in a state college in rural Maine, in a thousand dollar, tailor made suit. “Kooda,” said Jerry in a sing-song voice contorting his face. “Why so hostile? I’m simply inquiring as to the success of your curriculum.”

“You know perfectly well  that it’s important to keep my history…our history alive. Our people were storytellers. We were never big on writing things down, so I think it’s my duty to make sure something of us is remembered.”

“I completely agree with you, Kooda. But they have this thing called the internet now, or haven’t you noticed?”

More silence.

“What do you want, Jerry?” asked Eric, quieter this time.

“You look worried.”

“Should I be?”

“What do you mean? I only… oh… oooooooh wait… you thought… HA!” an almost unnatural guffaw burst from Gerard’s stomach as he slowly clapped. “You think you… that I’m… oh, Wematin. No. No, not that. Well, not yet.”

“Ah, and there it is! The promise of my demise brought up again.”

“I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, Kooda.”

“It’s Eric now. What am I talking about, you say? Well for starters, when we were kids, you told me I could fly if I jumped off a Mt. Cadillac.”

“You’re never going to let me live that down are you?” Gerard sighed, rolling his eyes.

“And what about that other time? Remember?”

“Which one?”

“At Tribal Council? The punch bowl?”

Gerard paused to recall the event. “Oh. That. I just wanted to know if it tasted like hemlock.”

“It was  hemlock, you asshole! You spiked the punch, and I had to spend the rest of the year making sure everyone didn’t die and putting out fires with the elders.”

“Yes, yes. All in the past. I haven’t tried to kill you lately, have I?”

“No, you haven’t. Then again, I haven’t seen you in over twenty years. You disappear without a word  and whenever you do show up from the great beyond, it’s to expedite my premature funeral. For twenty years… “

“Twenty-Five,” said Gerard.

“Whatever, for twenty-five years, I’ve had to look over my shoulder in case you decided to pop out of nowhere and slit my throat. And now, you waltz back into my life. with your suit and smelling like a Wapeyit  and dripping in cash claiming that you won’t. Your words are clothed in sheep’s skin, but I can still see the wolf beneath it. Since when have you ever been interested in anything in my life, Jerry?”

“Been holding that in for a while, have we?” asked Gerard after letting Eric’s words hang in the air.

“A little bit,” Eric replied. “It’s good to see you again, brother. You look well.”

“And you haven’t aged a day,” said Gerard with genuine warmth. “Unfortunately brother, I’m not here to catch up, and insofar as it pains me to go against my instinct and quash my pleasure, I promise, I’m not here to kill you.” Gerard’s always glowing face dimmed a bit as he leaned in closer to his older brother.

“Oh,” said Eric. “well, that’s a relief? I suppose?” As Mephistophelean as he paints his younger brother, Eric felt that Gerard was telling something closer to truth.  Gerard is a successful and powerful man. Eric could see right through him. He always could. “Still though, it’s not like you to show up out of nowhere and not try to ruin my life.”

“Well, I did just arrive.  If we still have time after all of this, I’ll see what I can do to fit it in.” said Gerard with a wink.

“What seems to be the trouble?” Eric smiled in appreciation to a brief moment of familial warmth. “Are you sick? You aren’t bankrupt, are you? Because I’m the wrong guy to ask for help. Maybe if I…”

“It’s not that,” said Gerard, cutting off his brother’s building tirade as gently as possible. “If there is one thing that you and I have in common other than our mother, it is our ability to survive. Growing up in the wilderness alongside the beasts and elements is nothing compared to hostile wilderness that is mergers and acquisitions.”

“So, what you’re saying is…”

“I make Trump look like a nuci-wisuniket.”

Eric stayed silent, save for the uncontrolled chortle that bubbled from his belly. He read the crease in Gerard’s brow that only showed up in times of trouble. Something uncomfortable and unfamiliar was clouding Gerard’s soul.  “Whatever is troubling you,” said Eric, “ it must be big to rattle your bones like this.”

Gerard’s eyes casting quick glances to every corner of the auditorium in mild disdain. “Say, I’ve never been one to have a heart-to-heart in utilitarian, post-war era architecture. Buy me  a drink?”

“Of course.” said Eric. “I know of just the place.”

“I do hope it isn’t tea out of your thermos.”

“I could take you to the campus watering hole. I think it’s Pledge Week.”

“Tea it is then.”

~***~