Friday, November 4, 2011

The Ultimate Inspiration is the Deadline

The whole concept of Nanowrimo is to give yourself the freedom to write whatever it takes to get to the end of a story, to FINISH the story as a whole by setting yourself a really arbitrary deadline - like 50,000 words in 30 days.  Will it be perfect at the end of that 30 days?  Good heavens, NO!  In fact, it will probably be as rough as riding a bicycle with two flat tires on a pockmarked gravel road on the day you hit your deadline - but that's not the point.  The point is to GET IT DONE.

So, with that in mind, I have a deadline I must meet, a goal that I must keep whittling away at in order to have even a shot at meeting it.  So, since my last two days have been filled with work-related meetings and preparation for said meetings, I've got a bit of a hole to crawl out of.  Like a 4500 word deficit kind of hole.  Nonetheless, I can only pull up my bootstraps, put my creative machete between my teeth, and hack away at the word jungle I've entered.

I got a bit stuck today, caught up in the mire of exposition.  I do LOVE exposition as a writer, but does my reader?  Probably not so much.  It just felt good to be feeling that history with my Main Character, Marlon.  He's been at his father's funeral for the last 2000 words, time to get him to the after-funeral gathering at his house and the blow-up between his mom and his grandmother.  I'm in a quandary about whether to show the kerfuffle in its entirety, or begin the scene just after Grandma has stormed out.  I guess only time and fleet fingers will tell.

Nanowrimo 2011 Day Four

Word Count for the Day (so far): 1640
Word Target for Day Four: 6666 (I know, right? Who thought THAT was a good idea?)
Total Words Written (so far): 3314
Writing Music of the Day:  Ben Folds Five, Whatever and Ever, Amen & Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown

Excerpt for the Day

        The smoke-laced minty breath of Grandma Barb washed over his ear a moment before she whispered in her growly voice, “Don’t worry, kiddo. We’ll getcha outta here soon. Can’t even believe yer momma brought you today. It just ain’t right, bringin’ a little kid to a funeral like this.”  She patted his knee and tapped Anita on the shoulder.       “Hey! I’m going to take the kid out from under this tarp to get some fresh air. It’s stuffy under here, and I need to stretch my knees.”  His mom shot an annoyed look at Grandma Barb, and nodded at them both dismissively, but caught Marlon’s arm long enough to warn him in a low voice.        “Don’t go far, be nice to people, and don’t get dirty.”        He nodded solemnly, his nine-year old mind already far off in the crisp air and November sunshine.  He politely waited for Grandma Barb, helping her heave her round sloping body off the rickety folding chairs, weaving her gently through the throng of his fathers friends and family, and walking her slowly out of the black pavilion the funeral home had provided.  A few times, a random adult stopped him long enough to pat his shoulder or arm with a pitying look or a “Hang in there, sport,” but he only smiled and nodded.  He didn’t know most of them.  They were mostly people his dad had worked with at the University or from his dad’s side of the family – the brown side, his dad had liked to say.  Marlon didn’t have words for these strangers today. He hadn’t been able to find his voice for days now, since the last moments he’d spent with his dad.          They finally broke free from the black-clad crowd and crunched through the brown grass and crumbling leaves of the old cemetery. Marlon steered his grandmother over to a large pink headstone that looked wide enough for her to sit on, and waited to steady her as she searched her enormous purse for her cigarettes and lighter.  Once she had one lit and had taken a deep drag, she sank down on the sturdy pinkish headstone of one Clarence Highwater, and gestured for Marlon to run along.          He didn’t need to be told twice.  He checked over his shoulder only long enough to confirm that his mother was too busy to notice if he took a walk, and began to head up the hill towards the larger, more ornate stone crypts that looked like tiny houses.  He remembered walking through this cemetery sometimes with his dad, since it was close to both their house and the University.  It was a quiet place for them to get away and have long talks when his mom was having her friends over to visit or she shooed them out of the house because they were “restless souls”.  He’d walked side by side with his dad, sometimes holding his big, brown hand that was surprisingly soft and gentle, but with rough spots where the pen hit his fingers when he wrote or graded papers.        His dad would point out the really old or interesting headstones or names, and they’d wonder over what the lives of their inhabitants had been like.  They would always pass a moment of silence at a newly minted grave or anytime they came across a life that had been cut far too short.         His dad had only been thirty-three.  Would some other kid come through this cemetery someday and wonder what had happened to cut Charlie Grunt’s life so short?Marlon crested the hill and spied another funeral procession of parked cars and black-clad people huddled in groups on the other side, hidden from his own family’s mourners. The only differences seemed to be that the cars in this family’s funeral were much nicer, there were a lot of teenagers in attendance, and the faces were mostly pink.
        Marlon spotted two boys roughly his own age sneak away from the crowd and wander through the surrounding headstones.  They were both dressed in black suits and shiny black dress shoes, a mirror of his own clothing.  The white-blonde of the younger and the more golden yellow of the older boy’s hair stood out in sharp contrast to the absence of color in their jackets.  They looked like the kind of kids who played team sports and went off-roading on growly 4-wheelers with their dad.           He didn’t recognize them from his school, and even if they had gone to his small-town school, they might not have been friends with a mixed kid like him.  Some of the kids at this school had asked things about his white mom and black dad before.  Most kids didn’t say anything, but they didn’t know quite to make of Marlon’s dark skin and soft black curls.  Derrek Farragut had it in his head for the longest time that Marlon had to be good at basketball, and had tried for months to get Marlon to play on his team at recess.  Marlon had finally relented, only to be confronted by an angry Derrek later on about why he sucked so completely at basketball.  But some kids just expected him to be into certain things because he was part black.  Things like hip-hop, rap, and basketball.        The two blonde boys didn’t look like they were talking to each other, just touching the headstones and righting the odd fallen and faded silk flower arrangement, kicking a tuft of deadened grass with their shiny black shoes.  He suddenly felt the urge to say hello to the boys, ask what school they went to.  Ask them who they had lost, maybe find someone to talk to who could understand for just a moment what he was trying to get away from right now.       He was getting away from the crying.        Or, more accurately, Marlon was getting away from not crying.       Everyone was so weepy – people he didn’t even know.  People it seemed like couldn’t have ever known his dad because Marlon had never seen them before in his life, but they all acted as though it was a great big painful tragedy for them with all their tears and hushed, wounded voices.  How well could they have really known his dad if his dad had never even talked about them?         And tears? Tears didn’t mean anything.  Marlon knew that because his own pain was so deep he didn’t even have access to his tears anymore.  They had all hidden away, burned up in his rage at the injustice of it all.  Those cardboard people with their drippy eyes were here and Charlie Grunt was not.  Charlie Grunt, who never did anything just because someone expected it.  Charlie Grunt, who looked stupid when he danced by himself in the living room to the oldies radio station, but looked like a graceful giant when he held Marlon’s mother and slow-danced with her to the radio.  Charlie Grunt who could skateboard and play the bongos.  Charlie Grunt who, when he got mad, went for long walks on bad roads and smoked cigarettes then lied about it to his family because they cared enough not to want him to.  Charlie Grunt who read The Hobbit to Marlon cover to cover, then made him read it on his own.  Charlie Grunt, who always drove too fast, like he was in his beloved Chicago, instead of the ultra Midwestern suburb in the middle of a cornfield city of Bloomington, Illinois.  Charlie Grunt, who had always been so big and solid but shrank into a marionette version of himself, bony and shriveled and hooked to a set of wires, by the time the cancer had taken its toll on him.  Charlie Grunt who wouldn’t be around any longer as Marlon’s teacher, confidant and hero.         Marlon’s anger made him even more restless and twitchy than usual, so the only way he found to control his urge to start hitting all those strangers with their tears was to get away from them.  Get away from his rage for a while.  Sometimes he could control it with his drumming, but it seemed like he wasn’t going to be allowed even that today.  Today was for the cardboard people, so they could have their say.  Marlon couldn’t watch it.But he could watch these two brothers like a reflection in a funhouse mirror – and see himself in their desire to get away from all the pain.  The older boy looked in his direction and Marlon thought maybe he’d seen him, because he cocked his head to the side and put his hand to his forehead to shade his eyes.  Marlon raised his hand as far as his shoulder in a wave before he heard his mother looking for him.       “Marlon! Where are you?  Marlon!!”       She wasn’t happy to have to look for him.  He didn’t have to see her lips tightened into a fierce line to know that. Her tone of voice said it all. She’d be even less happy that he’d made her yell all over the place to find him.  She didn’t like to seem anything less than perfect in front of his dad’s relatives, especially Grandma Esther.  Marlon knew the two women didn’t exactly like each other, but he could never figure out why.  No one ever discussed it, or mentioned it even, and they always were coolly polite, smiling glass smiles at each other when they were forced to be in the same place for any length of time.         Grandma Esther didn’t seem to like him either.  For the life of him, Marlon couldn’t figure that out either.  He couldn’t remember doing anything in particular to anger her, and Grandpa Joe had always treated him the same as his cousins, Hudson and Kennedy.  But Grandma Esther always kept him at arm’s length, her hugs strangely stilted and her conversation overly formal.  Like he was a foreigner that she didn’t quite want to make the acquaintance of or see again.        He’d asked his dad about it once, and his dad had sighed and chewed on his lip for a moment before answering only, “She loves you just fine, Marlon.  She just doesn’t know you very well, and she may never find a way to reach out to you, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still love her and Grandpa Joe.”  The very next day, Marlon had heard his dad’s voice raised in anger behind his office doors, “I don’t care about any of that, so I don’t see why you should! He is your grandson, Mama, your own flesh and blood and if you keep treating him like a leper, you will no longer be a part of our lives.” 
        But Marlon never got the chance to see if Grandma Esther was going to change how she acted because it was only a few weeks later that Charlie Grunt had gone to the doctor to see about a pain in his side, and the world had been sucked up into a tornado for them all.         “MARLON!”  The blonde boy started to raise his hand, but Marlon wouldn’t get the chance to meet him now.         “Coming!”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wasn't it John Lennon who said, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans?"

Nanowrimo 2011 Day One

Word Count for the day (so far - I'm not done!): 979
Expected Total so far: 1667
Current Progress: 979

This year's project for me is tentatively titled The Rude Awakening of Marlon Grunt, and is a pseudo re-telling of the amazing Frank Capra movie, It's A Wonderful Life.  I've done quite a bit more prep work for this story than I have in years past.  It looks like I'll need it since this year my "free" time is quite a bit less available than in years past.  The idea coalesced from a series of ideas that sort of wound up fitting together like a puzzle.

The first part of the idea was from a true story that a colleague told about a strange boy who she found on her couch one morning.  The boy had obviously come in and crashed on her couch by mistake, making for a very interesting morning for her and her family.

The second part of the idea was born from a story that a different friend told me about someone who had, regrettably, tried to take her own life when still a teenager and the subsequent events (or lack thereof) that had changed her life for the better.  Sort of a gift about how pointless suicide is, doing nothing to solve the problems you have, just creating pain for others.  And I began to wonder what had motivated that person to find a purpose beyond their pain.

Both of these ideas dovetailed into the great story that I simply MUST watch every year - the evergreen tale of George Bailey who dreamt of great things, but kept getting deterred from the life he expected by the life that was actually happening around him.  Wasn't it John Lennon who said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans?"  George, tired of the hand life has dealt him and looking for a way to deal with the dire mistakes of those around him, seeks to end his own life, believing that his death would leave his loved ones better off.  He is, of course, shown the error of his ways by his guardian angel, Clarence.

In my version, Marlon Grunt is the main character, and he is a sixteen year old kid without a father, living with his boozy mother and loving but crazy chain-smoking grandmother in a trailer park in Bloomington, Illinois.  Marlon has big dreams and great friends, but life keeps dealing him hard blows, and trying to do the right thing all the time is painful.  Eventually, Marlon makes the decision to try and end his own life.  Intervention comes in the form of a guardian angel - sometimes in the shape of Carrie Winthrop (a 17 year old ghost), sometimes in the form of Tre Cool - drummer for Green Day.

Excerpt from Chapter One:

November 1, This year. 

            “Look at him staggering around down there.  He’ll wander into traffic, T-Paul! He’ll be killed!”
            “I rather think that was the point, Clarence.”
The two watched with concerned eyes as Marlon Grunt’s skinny 16 year old frame lurched drunkenly from one side of the golf course pathway to the other.
            “Well, for heaven’s sake, we have to do something!” Clarence, ever the drama queen, was beginning to get that thready, panicked tone to his voice that suggested that he was about to go off his nut and attempt some sort of a miracle.            From the disheveled clothes and glassy stare the boy was exhibiting, it just might take a miracle to get him back on track.  Marlon slid down an embankment toward the road that wound through the country club’s neighborhood, losing his balance and skittering through the gravel that framed the winding road.  He surely didn’t see the pickup truck that was barreling towards him, just about to round the curve and take the senseless boy out of existence.  Clarence gasped and T-Paul rolled his eyes and waved an annoyed hand at the speeding truck.
            The driver of the pickup truck screamed and slammed on his brakes to avoid the squirrel that had leaped, kamikaze-style, onto the hood from an overhanging branch.  The squirrel clung madly to the windshield wiper, tiny body frantically tossing from side to side, as the truck tattoed the road with tire tracks and screeched, spinning, to a halt.  The clattery old truck rattled to a stop a mere fifty feet from where Marlon Grunt was picking himself up from the pavement and lurching off on his mysterious journey once more, oblivious to the violent death he’d just barely avoided.            Cory Winthrop, yet another 16 year old and the driver of the pickup truck, was trying to force some air into his lungs again.  He had collapsed, heart racing, against the steering wheel, and begun to shake.
            “OhmygodOhmygodOhmygod,” Cory whispered over and over again. The squirrel, indignant after surviving his wild ride, chattered angrily at the young driver, chastising him for his recklessness.  Cory heaved in a deep breath and sat up again, and tapped the horn, causing the squirrel to scamper off the front of his hood and dart into the darkness of some roadside bushes.  Before taking his foot off the break, Cory squinted into the darkness, trying to spot what he thought had been a human form crossing the road.  Satisfied that it had only been his imagination plus a squirrel-sized Evil Knievel, Cory slowly went on his way home.  It had been a rough night, and he was looking forward to his bed.            Marlon, on the other hand, was now sitting, practically folded in half, on the pink plastic swing of someone’s backyard playset, crying.  His head hung limp in defeat, and slobber leaked from his mouth.  It was a very unattractive pose, but Marlon was beyond caring.            “Relax, Clarence. I’ve assigned an intervention worker to his case already, she’s been waiting for an opportunity to move up in the organization, and she has just the kind of creative thinking we might need for Mr. Marlon Grunt.”
Clarence harrumphed, the elderly form he’d chosen puffing up with disbelief, like nothing so much as a wet chicken. T-Paul hid his smile and turned to greet his guest.
“Ah, here she is now.” The blurry golden shadow of a teenage girl came forward.  Her form was willowy and frail, but her eyes were bright with determination.  Hazel eyes met T-Paul’s with eagerness, unflinching and ready to face what may come.            “How can I be of service, Mr. Keeper?” asked the soul of Carrie Winthrop.