How To Start a Rewrite

I need to print out the original for reference. Compile a PDF. I should use that junk paper that’s already printed on one side. How many sheets do I need? Load the printer. Print the first chapter. Neatly jog and staple, vertical, upper left corner. I will need my index cards outline. The pile could get scattered, best to use paperclips or a rubber band. Oh look, the foam from an earbud disintegrated in the desk drawer. It made a real mess, must clean now. Hmm, no suitable rubber bands. I wonder what’s on these memory cards? Ah, a bookmark! I can always use another bookmark. Danielle’s business card. It’s her old information. This roll of Lifesavers is ancient. I forgot I had this tape measure. Another bookmark! Not enough paper clips. I don’t recall what this key unlocks. Is this battery still good? Maybe I only need the early part of the outline right now. All these books on the desk are too close, I feel cramped. The compile didn’t keep the proper formatting. The music is a little too loud. Recompile? Switch to headphones so I can concentrate? (Now that I’m getting serious here.)
This could make a good blog post. I should write it down.

The Writer’s Junk Drawer

When my writing loses direction and momentum, the easy first response is frustration. A few days of this often leads to Keyboard Avoidance Syndrome. K.A.S. can go on for a while. K.A.S. is easy, just pick up that remote, push a button, and catch up on the previous season of Casual, Bosch, and whatever suggestion pops up on the Netflix splash page. K.A.S. inevitably leads to malaise, which, without any effort, mutates into shamefully indulgent self-pity. Oh, poor pitiful me, writing is easy for anyone else! (Insert retching sound here.) Occasionally it leads to interesting exercises to shut up this whiner and kick his ass back into the real world where “buck up, little slugger” is an appropriate response.

I have a “junk” drawer. I call it that, but it’s not really junk. It’s a drawer full of notes I’ve scribbled on anything, from receipts to fast food napkins. There are articles and advice columns torn from actual newspapers. It also contains a small collection of mini composition notebooks. I carry one with me all the time. Except in the shower, of course. There are more of these than I recall completing. Over the years I’ve filled the notebooks with character name ideas, title possibilities, random thoughts, and things I’ve heard or seen. And random dinner menu ideas. Not sure why I put food ideas in these, but I did.

I was carrying one of these notebooks when I crossed the border from Canada to the USA a few years ago. In a case of mistaken identity, or more likely the extreme exuberance of the border patrol thinking they were going to break up the monotony of the day by capturing a violent fugitive, my wife and I were cuffed and thoroughly searched. (I’m not of the same race as the fugitive, but why let pesky details like that get in the way?) When we were permitted to go back to our vehicle, my wallet was on the front seat with the contents spread out around it. Among the Papa Murphy’s coupons and insurance cards, was my notebook. As we drove away, I contemplated what they must have thought if they read the notebook. One of the pages near the back had only three words, scrawled rather large: “The fart bet.” I can’t say anything about that note, except you should feel sorry for my poor wife. The initial horror at the thought of them reading it changed to laughs as I decided they deserved it for needlessly putting us through the ordeal. Ok, there’s proof some of it is junk. Though some of it is gold.

The material isn’t necessarily the benefit. I sat down today and decided to go through the drawer. Desperation. I sorted. I organized. I read. I laughed. I was glad my desk locks.

Click.

Not the lock, but the K.A.S. leaving the room. It was gone, and all I wanted to do was write. The fear, or spineless avoidance was gone. No matter how worthless those little notebooks and bits of paper would seem to any sane person, the “junk” lead to this. Writing. And as cliché as it is, it’s like riding a bike. Today I’ll embrace the cliché, but only because I’m on the bike again.

NaNoWriMo excerpt – #3

Rough draft, the protagonist, experiencing a triggered memory flash of an unfamiliar event and a girl she doesn’t know…

Her palms were slick red, almost black in the moonlit woods. Droplets pulled at her skin as they let loose and fell to the pine needles and dirt. The sound of the rushing creek filled the air around her, barely audible over her pounding heart and desperate breathing.

Twigs snapped behind her. Needles and branches brushed on someone or something coming toward her.

A girl stumbled from the trees into the break. She wore ragged jean cutoffs. Her plain black t-shirt was torn from her left shoulder down the front far enough to expose the brightness of her white bra. Dark hair was matted to her face. She dripped sweat as she panted. She bent forward resting her hands on her knees. She looked up at Lissa. “Spence, what the fuck happened?” she asked when she saw her friend’s hands.

“I don’t know,” Lissa answered, still trying to control her short, quick breaths. She held out her hands, palms up, like she was trying to give them to the other girl. The other girl backed up, shaking her head in refusal.

“She was like that,” Lissa’s voice trailed off as she turned her head slightly, looking toward a small tight grouping of trees.

“Like what?” the other girl asked.

“I tried to help.”

“What the fuck is going on?”

“I was too late,” Lissa started to cry, adding to her breathlessness. She pointed to the trees, a trickle of dark liquid snaked down her wrist. She wiped at it with her other hand, smearing more of the stickiness on her forearm. She let out a sob.

“Is that blood?”

Lissa nodded, tears streaming down her cheeks.

(Part of) another random scene

Lucas looked at the place where Irene’s left pinky and ring finger had been attached to her hand. The skin was discolored, shiny patches surrounded by scaly flaking skin. She rested her hand on the table. She was sensitive about it, but never hid the hand. Her mutilated hand was the only exposed evidence of the ordeal.

Lucas thought about the word “ordeal.” It sounded like a cop, doctor, or school teacher type of description. An easy label, for someone who hadn’t endured what the victim had. The word sanitized it, made it more acceptable and appropriate for polite conversation. Each time he heard somebody use it, he’d picture himself smashing every tooth out of their fucking face. But he’d continued to hold himself in check, straining to keep the tremors in check. Every bit of this new disease, caged anger and frustration, would travel through every nerve, muscle, and bone of his body on an unrelenting search for release.

People would see the missing fingers and think it was the extent of her injuries. Lucas had seen the rest, just once, when she had a momentary lapse and left her bedroom door open. Hundreds of scars from small cuts and stab wounds covered her torso.

NaNoWriMo excerpt – #2

WP_001616

Another rough draft excerpt from my NaNoWriMo project:

Luna slid the hallway door open, it led to the the bedrooms and the master suite. She heard giggling and the murmur of a deeper voice. The sweet, pungent aroma of marijuana filled her nose. The giggling stopped and the murmur changed, quieter, urgent. The sounds and smell were coming from Simon’s room. He should have been at school.

She walked down the hallway. Simon’s door cracked open as she passed. His eye peered through the opening. Beyond him, Luna caught a glimpse of a girl she didn’t recognize, sitting cross-legged on his bed, wearing only panties. The girl’s long brunette hair draped over her bare breasts.

Luna kept walking as the door clicked shut. She dropped her purse on the bed in the master suite and opened the door to the walk-in closet. The closet was about twice as long as it was wide. The mirrored wall opposite the door made it seem larger than it was. The left side was filled with business suits in black and varying shades of blue and charcoal. Some were jacket and pants, most were jacket and skirt. The floor beneath the rack was a jumble of high-heeled shoes of every color imaginable.

To the right, a row of white shirts and a few cocktail dresses hung above a built-in padded bench. A shelf above the clothing was packed full of boxes and more shoes.

Luna stepped to the end and picked up a gym bag, a promotional gift in a plastic wrapper which she tore off. She looked the bag over, trying to remember where she got it. She couldn’t.

She looked at the mirror, admiring the blue suit tailored to accentuate her figure. Her impeccably shined high heels sunk into the the high-pile carpet. She shook her auburn hair free as she loosened the tight bun. The soft angular lines of her face sharpened in the shadows of her hair.

She kicked a shoe from her foot at the mirror. She was about to kick the other when she heard Simon behind her.

“Mom?”

She didn’t answer. She didn’t turn, instead her eyes locked with his reflection in the mirror. He looked panicked.

“Mom, I can explain.”

She stood uneven, bending her ankle side to side, driving the lone high heel into the carpet. “Go back to your room.”

“I can explain.”

“Go.” She pushed harder on the shoe.

“What are you doing here, shouldn’t you be at work?”

“And where are you supposed to be?” She jerked as the heel snapped. Simon flinched.

“Uh…”

“Right. Go, now.” She turned and faced him. The lines of her face grew sharper as the muscles tightened.

Simon glanced at the gym bag and turned and left, leaving the master suite door open like he’d found it. His bedroom door clicked shut.

Luna kicked the broken shoe from her foot and undressed, dropping the jacket, skirt, blouse, and camisole on the floor. Freed from the skirt, she squatted next to the bench and slid open a panel. She moved aside two shoe boxes, revealing a safe. The keypad illuminated when she pushed the star key. She entered her code and the lock unlatched. Inside there were two neat stacks of banded bills, ten bundles. The bills were hundreds, crisp and new. She dropped them in the gym bag.

NaNoWriMo excerpt

Heat from the candles warmed her face as she leaned over the cake. The tang of sulfury smoke mixed with sugary vanilla filled her nose. A camera flashed off to her side, momentarily brightening the dim single bare incandescent bulb lighting of the dining room.

Chocolate was her favorite. She’d requested chocolate when asked what kind of cake she wanted, but she knew it was a plain white cake beneath the white frosting. Again. Even yellow cake would have been better.

She’d made her wish and blew, but the stupid candles wouldn’t go out. Everybody around her laughed as she blew and blew, but each time the thin green candles would relight. The camera flashed again, somewhere behind her. The laughs floated and danced, living beings, circling her like evil clowns in a macabre fun house. She blew harder, but the candles magically burned again. Black flecks of ash from the candle wicks sprinkled the undecorated frosting. A tear ran down her cheek.

Her dad noticed and stopped laughing. He locked eyes with her. His face took on a look she knew too well, a combination of pity and disappointment. He licked his thumb and index finger and pinched and held the wick of one candle. He repeated this until all of them were extinguished. The camera flashed again.

“Stop the goddamn flashing,” she yelled.

Her mom, whose laugh had changed to a sporadic self-conscious giggle, froze. “Lissa, watch your language.”

“It’s always that goddamn flashing, always,” Lissa said. “If I ever get my hands…”

Her mom’s hand flew faster than Lissa could react. Lissa was caught by a full open hand slap across her face. Her cheek stung and burned as blood rushed to the surface.

As Lissa stood up, her chair tipped backward and fell over, bouncing on the worn wood floor. Lissa swept her arm across the table, pushing the cake onto the floor. It landed top side down, breaking open. She stared at it for a second, taking in the sight of the white cake beneath the frosting before she ran out of the room. Her twelfth birthday had turned out just as bad as all the rest.

Accepted

I’ve been waiting for seven weeks to find out if I’d be accepted to a novel writing program through a northern California university. I received notification yesterday that I was accepted. They only accept “about 30 students per cycle” to this two-year program. I was doubtful I would get in because of the odds.

Seven weeks of ups and downs, optimism and pessimism, waiting and endless indigestion, finally over. The last 34 hours or so have been filled with relief, celebration, elation, disbelief, and nervousness.

Thanks to my family, friends, and coworkers for listening to me drone on endlessly about the waiting. Thanks to everybody that I cornered and forced to hear about my acceptance. Thank you to Mark E. and John R. for your support and references.

Now it’s time to get to work.