Clutter and the New Year

I like the New Year—mainly because I force myself to think about where I really want to be… a year from now.  I’m old enough to admit that I’m not real concerned with certain kinds of ‘resolutions.’  I just want to be some better version of me a year from now.  I am and always will be a “work-in-progress.”

Are you making writer resolutions for yourself?  I’ve been thinking about where I’d like to be—and I definitely want Water’s Edge on the shelves by the Christmas season next fall.  So some goals relate to getting elements of those stories complete for two different projects.  Maybe my writer resolution this year should be to just finally finish what I’ve started.

As to other resolutions, I’d like to keep things simple: Eat Better, Pray Better, & Love Better… just Be Better (thanks Ms. Gilbert).  What are your plans?  Just remember–don’t clutter your life with too much furniture–that way, there’s room to move freely when you need to.

Writer Elf, Come Spy on Me Tee Hee

Elf on a Shelf“What the F*** is that?!”  No really, I thought.  What WAS that?  Seeing the Elf on the Shelf for the first time creeped me out a little.  Maybe it was the strange plastic face reminiscent of a demented kewpie doll.  Perhaps it was fact that it was sitting above my friend’s television set, staring at me.  Frankly, when my friend explained the little story to me, I found myself even MORE creeped out… and a little intrigued.

See, that Elf on a Shelf is a scout elf for Santa, a super-secret spy that watches children and reports back to Santa, a sort of BigBrotheriswatching effect, only somehow visions of sugarplums should factor in somewhere.  Someone is making a mint off of this thing.  I should know.  My mother-in-law was kind enough to gift our household with one—it came in a package that included a book explaining its purpose.  “No touching,” I explained to my four-year-old, “or Cookie loses her magic.”  See, in the story, scout elves get new names given by their families.

This is the worst sort of manipulative bribery, akin to Veruca Salt’s daddy attempting to buy a squirrel if only she will SHUT UP.

I LOVE IT.  I’m hoping it works.  If I get five days of good behavior from my holy and lovely terror named Leia, the silly elf will be totally worth it.   She thinks she’s getting an extra present from Santa if she’s good.

Hmmmm.  That “extra present” concept really got me thinking.  What if writers had Writer Elves?  Little spies that would report how good and hard we’ve been working to some magic editor at the North Pole.  If we were extra good, we could be offered a contract… you know, a little somethin’ somethin’ to keep us doing the ‘right’ thing.  I would have, like, a hundred of these creepy little guys all over my house.  Because how many of us keep thinking, WHILE we’re writing, that we hope/want/need for it to go somewhere, for it to matter?  Is that ego? Hubris? That one fault that will force us into failure because we’re focusing on the wrong thing?

Woe.

F***ing elf is making me far too serious.

But I might be getting an extra one, you know, just in case it reports back my good behavior to some good luck fairy.

Water’s Edge: Excerpt from Chap 1

A Little Context

For Serena, moving to a new town and a new school is only half the problem.  Left behind by her father to live with near-strangers, Serena must learn to live quietly and suppress her powerful gift.  If she can’t figure out how to do that, members of The Order might notice that things around Serena aren’t as “Normal” as they should be.  Making new friends and attracting the attention of an artistic young man with his own disturbing gifts only complicates matters.

Excerpt from Chapter 1

Once in the hallway, I leaned against the row of lockers, taking deep breaths, trying to blink away the tears.  I hated my life right now.

I saw the girls’ restroom and escaped inside.

I checked each stall to make sure I was alone.  I turned back to the door and locked it.  Just a few minutes of privacy.

And the lovely things about bathrooms?  Always plenty of water.  I have a thing about water, did I mention that?  It’s kind of important.

Inhaling deeply, I tried to channel the power weighing like a brick in my chest, tried to shift the filter, imaging the breath flowing all the way to the bottoms of my feet, I felt the water pulling toward my call, answering, and grief swirled through my heart unexpectedly.

There were ten porcelain sinks in this restroom.  With a little flick of the power seated in my chest, I let the water pour.

Each of the ten faucets twisted on and water gushed, thundering.  I exhaled, pushed the air out, willing the negative feelings and hurt to flow down the drain with all the water.

Steam began to rise, the heat fogging the mirrors.

I breathed in and the air was heavier, damp, and soothed my heart some.

It took me a few minutes, but as I began to feel calmer, the water’s fury eased.  I breathed out and let the water’s power go until each faucet was only tinkling.

I swiped at a mirror, looking at my reflection.  Green eyes stared back, my dead mother’s mouth, my missing father’s straight nose.

But at least I didn’t look like I had cried.  Never let ‘em see you cry, I thought.

I walked down to each sink, turning the knobs manually with my hand, cutting off the flow of water.

I gathered up my bag from the floor where it had dropped.

My Nano ALL Finished–Woot Woot

Participant-180x180-2Yep. I actually did it. I wrote a 50,000 word CHUNK during November. I am actually impressed with myself. Was it any good? Heh. Would I have been able to accomplish that if I was teaching during Nanowrimo? We’ll find out next year, as I fully intend to try again. I’m also planning on wearing the cheesy tee-shirt every chance I get.

While I don’t care for it, I am at least a little familiar with the work required to edit. I thought I’d spend a little time, here and there, posting excerpts in an effort to motivate myself to make the novel into something actually workable. Here’s a scene, just for funsies…

a little background to help us all with context: Serena, our first-person narrator, has just left an unwanted therapy session with her high school counselor. Unfortunately, her life has gotten a little complicated: 1. Her power is out of control, so she’s trying to stay away from Travis. 2. Travis’ ex waterhasn’t quite figured out that she’s an ‘ex’ and takes great delight in harassing Serena. 3. Therapy isn’t really her thing. 4. She’s the new kid in her high school—is there really anything more to be said?

I suppose it was proof that the Fates have an evil sense of humor, because when I got back to my locker after my session with Ms. Nelson, Travis was waiting for me. The halls were busy as people headed out to lunch, some kids rushing out to the parking lot, others down to the cafeteria. At first I didn’t even see him, too lost in my own thoughts. But then I noticed the boots and looked up.

Oh God, I thought, he is so cute. He stood there, leaning back against my locker, his dark green shirt bringing out his eyes. He was staring at me, his head tilted down, his expression intense, and I felt my insides curling with warmth. Then I felt my gift shifting, moving beyond my body, and I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that things weren’t under control and that Travis Rue apparently had a girlfriend, one supremo preppy bitch of a girlfriend named Amy Duncan.

“Here,” Travis said, pushing something he was holding at me. I looked down, realizing he held my books, the books I had dropped with Amy’s help earlier.

“You been trying to avoid me, Serena,” he said with raised eyebrow. Sadly, now I had the perfect excuse.

“I see your girlfriend gave you my books.”

“My girlfriend?”

“You know, that blonde girl with the great attitude? I mean, what did she do, run straight to you?” I grabbed my stuff from him, trying to shoulder past him to get to my locker where I could just shove things away.

“Are you talking about Amy?” And I tried not to let myself be reassured by what sounded like his genuine perplexity. “Amy is not my girlfriend, hasn’t been for months.”

“Oh yeah? You might want to explain that a little better to her,” I mumbled. He had crowded in behind me and I could feel the warmth of his chest on my shoulders. He reached up past my head and put his hand on my locker door. Now his body was partially wrapped around mine and I could smell his cologne. I just wanted to turn around and bury my nose in his neck, just breathe him in. I tried to inch away.

“Is that what you think of me?” He asked, his voice now deepening by his distress, his mouth near my ear. “Is that the kind of guy you think I am? That I would just forget my girl and chase after some new tail?” He slammed my locker closed and I flinched.

No, I wanted to tell him, No, I don’t think you’re that kind of guy, but I didn’t. It was better this way. Then I didn’t have to explain anything else to him, didn’t have to make up some elaborate lie that would backfire on me later. But this hurt.

“You’re not who I thought you were either.” His disgust was plain. Abruptly I was cold as he backed up. I whirled, watching him as he walked away, biting my lip to keep from calling out to him.

“Wow. You really screwed that up,” said a voice near me. I turned to see Kimber looking at me like I was the lowest scum. “Find your key yet?” She asked even as she walked away.

Rewriting for Intensity

Revision has got to be the biggest pain in the a**.  Seriously, if I could just get it right the first time… but that’s not really the way writing works.  It takes stamina to push through a long draft, but sometimes it takes time to fully develop that right voice, the right tone.  My intent during the original writing of Water’s Edge really lacked authenticity, and frankly–bite.  So here’s an excerpt from the original, following by the revision.  I think the second feels much stronger than the first… but maybe I’m wrong.

Excerpt 1: Original, no revision

Mr. Johnson’s Junior History class felt like torture.  This morning, I tried to tame my hair up and back in a bun, but I could feel it starting to tilt.  I tried to flick whatever was in my eye OUT, and I’m sure I looked stupid blinking.  Between that and my hair falling over my ear, I was definitely not looking my best.  Even as I realized that I was out of lead in my pencil, another spitball landed in my hair.  What was this, fifth grade all over again?

When the third spitwad hit my hair, I gripped the edges of my desk, taking deep breaths, trying real hard not to scream and cry at the same time.  I didn’t know if I was going to survive this school.

This was my ninth day, nearly completing my second week.  Every day had been an exercise in endurance.  Not a single person had spoken to me—well, teachers spoke to me, and employees of the school, but no one else.  Not that I had tried terribly hard to speak to them either, but the kids at this school really sucked.

I wish I could say that they hadn’t noticed me, but the glob of sticky paper now tangled in my curly bun said different.  My hands were gripping the desk so tightly, the knuckles ached.  I had what my mom used to refer to as ‘a moment,’ and I lost control a little.  It happened sometimes when I got emotional or upset.

I did not want to notice the bottle of water sitting on Mr. Johnson’s desk, or the gurgle from the large bubble that almost tipped the bottle when it burst.  That was me, I thought, I did thatNeed to calm down, calm down calm down, I kept telling myself.

I took a deep breath, forcing the air past my tight chest.  Exhale darkness; inhale light.  I do not know if that meditation stuff works, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  And if I wasn’t careful, I could ruin everything the Beckman’s had tried so hard to give me, the anonymity, the “Normal” life.  There were things I could do.  It wasn’t like I couldn’t protect myself.  But if I did them, if I chose in this moment right now to make the wrong decision and let that water bottle explode, sending that plastic lid across the room to lodge in the eye of the boy who was currently tormenting me, the incident could probably  be explained away.  Especially if there were no other revealing incidents.  But I didn’t know if I could stop there.

Another slobbery chunk landed sickeningly in my hair.

I twisted around in my chair.  The ‘tool’ who thought his little joke was SOOOO funny high-fived his friend.  He clutched an empty plastic pen tube to his chest, his lip curled up in a smirk.  If I could’ve been objective, I supposed he was cute, in a jock-tastic way.  He had sandy-blonde hair in that deliberate tousled look that all the ‘cool’ kids here seemed to have.  He even had a dimple.  But there was something cruel around his eyes, a regular plastic ‘Ken’ doll come to life.  His two friends were just Abercrombie clones with interchangeable hair.  They clearly thought he was hysterical.

I pulled the mush from my hair and flicked the mess back toward them.  I wanted to smack that smirk right off his face, but I settled for flipping them off.  What I really wanted to do would blow my cover clean out of the water.

“Miss Bailey.”  I winced, busted.  “I do not know what was acceptable at your previous institution, but here at Metro Midtown, that gesture is not okay.”

_____________________________________

Now for the same passage AFTER some time, thought about intensity, and revision.

High School is supposed to be the best time of your life, right? At least that’s what people keep telling me, that I’m supposed to relax and enjoy it, meet boys, go to Prom, that kind of crap.  Maybe they’re right.  Maybe that’s the way things should be for most people… most normal people, people who have families and moms that aren’t dead, people that can’t self-destruct and destroy everything around them, people who aren’t hunted by secret societies filled with radical fanatics… for those people high school probably is the time of their lives.

But sitting in Mr. Johnson’s AP History class, waiting on the moron behind me to do something else stupid, has me thinking that if this is the time of my life, I should just quit right now.

It had started with poking—he kept poking me in the shoulder. “Hey New Girl.  Gotta pencil?”

I gave him one.  More poking.  I sighed.  “Got any paper?”

I gave him paper.

He poked me again.

I twisted around in my chair, glaring.  “What?”

“Got the homework?”

I turned to the front.  I tried to focus on the lecture, tried to ignore the occasional prod from the guy behind me, really tried to ignore the fact that I had zero interest in the U.S. Constitution in the big scheme of things… The big scheme of things being that this was my ninth day at this school, I had not seen my dad in a month, and the moron behind me apparently had friends, friends with nothing better to do than shoot spitwads at my hair.  That’s right¸ spitwads, because some things from fifth grade never get old.

I have curly hair.  It’s a pain.  If I want to bother with actually ‘fixing’ it, that means a lot of hair product and effort.  This morning, it hadn’t seemed worth it.  So I had just twisted it up on my head, put a couple of cute clips in it, and called it good.   But at some point in the day, the messy bun had started to loosen.

I wasn’t the only target for spitwads, either.  The girl in the next row and a couple of seats forward also had a couple suspicious white globs in her dark brunette hair, but she hadn’t noticed yet.

When the third spitwad hit my hair, I gripped the edges of my desk, my knuckles aching.  And then somewhere in the vicinity of my chest, I felt a little slip, like my heart had bumped into my ribs, and I tried very hard not to notice the bottle of water sitting on Mr. Johnson’s desk or the way the water seemed to be gurgling, a large bubble nearly tipping it.

That was me, I thought, I did that. Need to calm down, calm down calm down calm down…

I took a deep breath, forcing the air past my tight chest.  Exhale darkness; inhale light. Lately, in my own desperate attempt to find some control, I had been trying some breathing exercises.  I didn’t know if that meditation stuff worked.  All I knew is that I couldn’t keep exploding and making things happen around me.  I had to stay hidden, not draw attention to myself, be Normal.  There were things I could do, but if I did them, if I chose in this moment right now to make the wrong decision and let that water bottle explode, sending that plastic lid across the room to lodge in the eye of the guy whose slobber was currently in my hair, then I couldn’t stay here.  The Beckman’s, the family I was staying with, had been so nice and were trying so hard to make things work for me.  I thought of them, tried to keep calm.

But then I could hear the sound of one of the guys behind me clearing his throat, really nasal and nasty, building a chunk of snot.  I closed my eyes, praying a little.  But it wasn’t enough.

I felt a chunk land sickeningly in my hair.  I was pretty sure he hadn’t even bothered with paper this time.  I tried not to vomit.