You aren’t your story. Uhm, what?

millertypewriterThe Dude threw himself on my office floor, face down. “Aaaaarrrrggggghhh.”

“Good day, then?” He raised his head enough to give me the look. If he wanted tea and sympathy, he chose the wrong cabbage patch. Still, I’m better at the emotional stuff than his father.

“For a school that talks about preparing us for college, you think they’d give us enough time to actually submit our applications.” He’s been hammered with work. Junior year was supposed to be the big hurt. Apparently it was just the warm up. “I’ve forgotten everything we talked about yesterday.”

I’ve been helping him with the essays. When he speaks, he’s engaging, funny, even poignant (he gets it from me), but somewhere between his head and the pencil his words take a snooze. So we talk. I ask him questions and he takes notes. He writes something heartfelt and his English teacher edits the crap out of it until he sounds like every other kid from his high school. My guess is that he sounds like every other kid from every other high school.

“Dad says my Red Sox hat as beacon analogy doesn’t work.” I knew his father’s critique had bothered him. The Dude had closed up like a hermit crab, arms across his chest, slumped in the teenage hunch of lalalala I can’t hear you. “It’s my favorite sentence in the whole essay. It really says something about me.”

He’s right. It does. His father is also right. As analogies go, it’s a little clumsy. Like something a seventeen year-old might write.

Coincidentally, I just attended a workshop on voice–the unique character of a writer’s work. We struggle with finding our voice, refining it while keeping it authentic and real. It’s the soul of a writer’s work, and what keeps the reader coming back again and again.

Getting critiqued is hard. It helps us grow, but let’s face it. It’s much more fun to hear about how wonderful we are.

Authors often quote the platitude “Our stories are not ourselves.” I don’t find this statement comforting. At best, I hear “We like you, it’s just your writing that sucks.” The real truth is that we are our stories. That’s what voice is all about.

I try it out with the Dude anyway, and he responded, “If we are not our stories, what’s the point of writing college essays? What happened to all that talk about wanting to know who we are, blah, blah, blah.” He’s extra emotive with the blah, blah, blah part.

That, Dude, is an excellent question (he gets that from me as well).

I think our stories are ourselves–as flawed and quirky and beautiful as we are. Perhaps hiding our voice might make us less vulnerable to the sting of rejection, but as the Dude would say “What’s the point?” How else do people know who we really are?

Writing is only one form of telling our stories. We each tell our stories every day in what we put out in the world. Be brave. Share your voice.

And Dude–don’t let the world edit you out of your own story. So far, it’s been a real page-turner and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Photograph : Typewriter of Capricorn by Emdot © 2007 Creative Commons/Flickr

 

 

 

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Happy Effing New Year

shot glassI’ll confess, I’m not a fan of New Year’s Eve.  It feels too much like New Year’s Eve! ® to me, like if you aren’t having the best time ever, you’re a total loser. I thought I was alone in my lack of Auld Lang Syne enthusiasm, but it turns out, I’m wasn’t.

My first real New Year’s Eve with my now-husband was the usual–a frat guy style bash where I spent most of the evening getting beer spilled on me while drunk women invaded my personal space to tell me how amazing my date was. He’s soooooooo niiiiiiiiice. Thank you. Your inebriated assessment is reassuring. Women traditionally show sound character judgment when they’re three sheets to the wind.

Our second New Year’s Eve we went out for dinner, where he informed me that his two best friends had a bet going about whether we’d get engaged this year or next.  He thought it would be funny to propose at midnight to ensure they’d argue the technicalities for the remainder of their lives. Knowing the two guys involved, they would. I was primed, ready for the ring. I couldn’t wait to say yes.

I opened my fortune cookie at the end of the meal.

You will be getting married soon.

It wasn’t midnight, but I guess he was excited. This is it, I thought.

“Who’s the lucky guy,” he said, without a trace of irony in his voice. His face was was blank. It’s a look I’ve seen our son wear on countless occasions. Apple, meet tree.

I know he is oblivious to what has just transpired. I thought he was going to propose any second, and instead he was asking the waiter for the check. I shouldn’t have been pissed off, but I was.

Senior Dude actually proposed a week later. I told him that I thought he was going to propose on New Year’s Eve. He said he didn’t want to be cliché. I told him that he was almost single. Then he explained that he hated New Year’s Eve, the forced joviality, the crowds and the noise, and I knew we were meant to be together.

In the years since we’ve tried a few times to change our New Year’s Eve malaise, but have learned that our best Eves have been the ones we spent at home, whether it was putting plastic insulation over our drafty sliding door, or binge watching episodes of The West Wing.

The other night, I was reading on the loveseat while the Dude sprawled across the sofa. He turned on a Modern Family marathon, and I put the book away, popped some popcorn and joined him. Very soon, Senior Dude wandered in, ousted the Dude from his seat after much wrestling and laughter, and we watched the television family grouse that all they did on New Year’s Eve was watch television and fall asleep.

My husband and I turned to each other and smiled. We’re normal enough to be a television family, except I don’t look like Sophia Vergara.

I looked over at the Dude and saw that blank look I love so much.

“You don’t have plans for New Year’s.” It wasn’t a question. I already know the answer.

“I’m stuck with you losers.” Strangely enough, he didn’t look too upset. I guess that apple really didn’t fall far from the tree.

I smile, and take a handful of popcorn. “Right back at you, Dude.”

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “World Through a Shot Glass,” by Lisa Bunchofpants © 2006 Creative Commons

Lesser Angels – A NaNoWriMo Excerpt

broken angelI’ve been hard at work trying to get to my 50,000 words. I’ve had a few setbacks–a skunk invasion, a concert, music to track down. My head is so full of my story, that I have no thoughts left to throw away. Instead, I’ll share an excerpt of what I’ve written. It’s a rough draft, so it will be interesting to come back in the future and see how it has changed.

Jasper had taken a book from the library. Cummings. The infidels called him Keats, but that just happened to be what he had on hand at the time. He loved it all, the way the words skipped across the page, bled past their borders. There was so much life in and around them. He wondered how humans could have ever let them go. Humans gave up reading around the time they stopped being rational. The time they stopped being…human.

He laid down on the long grass, taking in sunshine and green. When he closed his eyes he could still see the light, a soft glow in the midst of the darkness of his mood. He even thought he could see the trees in the distance, knowing it was only a trick of his memory. He could see Aaron, putting a long blade of grass through his hands and blowing through them to see if they would sound for him. Olivia would laugh, loud and unfettered. She would throw herself on the grass next to Aaron and ask Jasper to read to her. He’d choose something inappropriate just to see what she’d do. May I feel, said he. She would grab the book and read in that raspy voice, full of the world. Aaron would blush, his freckles standing against the pink in his cheeks, not wanting to hear his sister say the words, yet listening, still, as was he. He once thought he loved her, but he decided that he loved the sound of her voice, with the sun, and the smell of grass, and a memory that was clean.

 Jasper came up the path, kicking up dust, a huge canvas satchel slung over his shoulder. “Aren’t you a lazy lot.” He’d grown in the last year. He bested Corbin by at least two inches, despite being two years younger. He dropped the satchel on the ground with a thud and a wicked grin.

Aaron and Olivia sat in the overgrown back garden of Arcadia. Their uncle had to let go of the gardener, and their aunt wasn’t exactly about to get on her hands and knees to weed the place.  Aaron was chewing a piece of grass, while Olivia watched the sun shine through a leaf, examining the veins like paths from stem to stern.

“What’s that?” Aaron and Olivia both grabbed for the bag, but he tsked them, so they stopped.

He jumped up and stood on the bench that Olivia had abandoned, and raised his arms to the side. The sun filtered through the tall pines behind him, backlighting him like some sort of deity. “I bring you the true Enlightenment.”

The war had been waging for over ten years at that point, with no end in sight. In fact, it had only gotten larger. With each county until Bureau control, two more were added to the liberation list. Occupation wasn’t easy, either. The Infidels didn’t come to The News with the enthusiasm The Bureau had expected.

“Jasper, stop being a drama queen and just show us what you’ve got.” His eyes were full of promise. He might not have had Olivia’s flair for drama, but he generally delivered in the end. He opened the satchel and dropped a pile of books on the ground.

Olivia wasn’t impressed. “That’s the big reveal? Uncle’s library is full of the things. It’s like trumpeting the arrival of a chair. Not even—a chair one could actually use for something. These are a decorative relic from a less-enlightened age. You had me all excited, Jas. I feel so cheated.” She flopped back onto the grass with a dramatic sigh. “Now I’m so bored.”

“Have you ever looked at them?” He did that eyebrow thing. Corbin could do it too. It was an appropriate punctuation mark for so many different conversations.

She shrugged. “Every day, you moron.” Aaron cocked his head like a confused dog.

Jasper sat on the ground, and picked up one of the books. “There are words inside. Stories. Amazing stuff. Some of it real, some of it imagined.” He opened the book to show her. It had words and drawings, elaborate and colored, but they didn’t move like News tablets, and they didn’t speak either.

“They certainly smell funny,” said Aaron. They had a musty scent, and the paper was yellowed and brittle.

“You have to be careful with them. They are very old.” Olivia continued to flip through the pages, scanning the text. It was a story of a mongoose and a snake. “What is a mongoose?”

“It’s a type of animal.” Jasper pulled out another book. “This one is all about different planets.” The pictures in that one looked more like the tablets. Not drawings, but still photographs.

Aaron picked up another book with only words. “Are they all like this?”

Jasper nodded. “Every last one of them. Father caught me looking at them and thundered at me, ‘What are you doing, boy? That’s an offense against the state.”

“What did you do?” Aaron’s eyes were wide and frightened.

“I asked him why we had them, then. He told me they were decorative, like paintings. I was to look but not touch.”

“So you didn’t get in trouble?” Olivia continued to skim the pages.

He looked at the book over her shoulder. “I told him that you dared me to do it.” He laughed and she pulled a hunk of grass and threw it at him.

Aaron was still engrossed with the book in his hands. “This is… amazing.”

Jasper lit up. “I know! Isn’t it? I think we ought to read all of them. We’ll meet here, every day. If we’re careful, no one will notice that the books are missing. But no one can know.”

“Not even Corbin?” she asked. She imagined she and Corbin poring over a book, heads together.

“Especially not Corbin.” Jasper rolled his eyes. “He won’t understand, and he’ll tell Father. He won’t be able to keep it to himself. Neither would Rosamund.” He was right. Misbehavior was not high on their to-do list. “So it’s a deal?” He put his hand in the middle of the three of them. She put her hand over the top, and Aaron joined.

“Deal.”

 

He had started it, the chain from there to here. What would she be had he not held apple for her to taste? Would she still be in Eden?

He thought of Aaron’s face, open and sweet. He would whistle tunes that he imagined he’d heard, with words long forgotten. Jasper would dance with Olivia, both of them spinning until they fell to the ground. Jasper once thought he loved Aaron as well, but decided that he loved being drunk with joy, knowing that when he fell, the ground was there under his feet.

But then Aaron’s whistle became the sound of the drone, and he saw Aaron’s face under a helmet. The sun behind his eyes became the flash of fire, and he felt the heat against his skin, and he heard the wave again. He spun, but Olivia didn’t have his hand, and he couldn’t feel the ground beneath his feet. He grabbed at the grass with his hands, but it screamed and pulled away, and the world began to tilt. He tried to scramble up the slope, but the wave came after him and he knew if it reached him it would pull him onto the rocks below where he would splinter and break.

He could hear Aaron singing. Imagine there’s no heaven. There is no heaven. Not any more. And the wave kept coming.

When he captured his breath again, he was drenched with sweat, clutching handfuls of grass, the book still at his side.

 

NaNoWriMo – Day 1 Report from the Trenches, sort of

nanoWhile you read this, my fingers are dancing across the keyboard to the music of my next work-in-progress. Either that, or I’m staring at the screen muttering “Write something. Anything, you idiot woman.”

The working title of my NoNoWriMo book is “Lesser Angels.” It’s a dystopian love story, sort of Handmaid’s Tale meets Thor. Shakespeare meets J. Peterman. Trust me. It all works. One of my Twitwit followers said the concept alone ensured success. Since I’ve just started writing today, I can’t tell you much about it, so I’ll tell you about my other great work of art.

My first novel, tentatively titled “One Good Reason,” is about learning the difference between what you think you should want, and what you really want. We all have our personal mythology. Sometimes it’s created for us, a la Luke, you’ll be a jedi like your father. Sometimes we make it up ourselves.  But what happens when myth and life diverge?

To describe the plot in straightforward terms, it’s about a woman in her mid-20s who gets fired from her investment banking job and has to go back to working for her uncle at a family-run company. It’s also a love story–a young woman torn between choosing the right man, and the right man. The bad choice isn’t always wrong, and the good choice is not always wise.

I have a recurring nightmare that I’m back in one of my prior jobs. I think they’ve all been featured in my somnambulist ramblings at one point or another. My prior jobs haven’t been awful, either. One of them I’m downright nostalgic about (you know who you are, you rocking people, you). It’s more the sense of going backwards and having to decide whether to make the same choices all over again. Does one try to recapture what is lost, or build on new ground? Is it possible? Is it wise to try?

When I was actually in the job I’m nostalgic about I said I was going to quit, go back to school, get a Master’s in English Lit and teach/write. I didn’t. So my life is like my novel. I’m working through another set of revisions, trying to get it right. I’m close, I think. I need to fix some elements around the resolution to get to a really happy ending. Whether anyone else thinks it’s worthwhile is yet to be determined, but that’s not really the point, anyway.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, let me know. One can never have too many NaNo buddies, My handle is jnbeverett. I’ll be posting progress on Twitter! @jnbeverett

One step closer to crazy – NaNoWriMo

JpetermanNovember is National Novel Writing Month! For those of you who are unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge to write a 50,000 novel in just 30 days. That’s a couple thousand words a day. Sometimes it feels like a lot. Then again, most of my blog posts are around 500 words, so I’m deceived into thinking that it’s not so much.

Last year was my first challenge, and I did finish around 80,000 words, but I had a guide. I completely rewrote my first novel from beginning to end. I knew the characters, however, and many of the scenes were already in my head. This time it’s different. I’m working with a notion and a blank page.

I thought it would be fun to share the journey with you. It’s also hard to come up with blog material while immersed in the NaNo experience. I run out of vowels and writing doesn’t pay enough to buy more. So you get to hear me think out loud.

My first novel was a light piece of fluff. Funny, real, sort of romantic. These days my mood is kind of dark. I want to lurk in the shadows and live inside characters that don’t necessarily follow the rules. My life is about as twisted as a ruler. Writing is a place to safely let the snakes out of the can.

I also want to create my own world. Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus is one of my favorite books of all time. I am not a fan of fantasy/science fiction. All of the details take me out of the story and the characters. I skip though pages of magical incantation, technology, and sociopolitical structure of worlds I don’t give doodly about.  My husband loves the genre. It makes me snooze. Night Circus, however, was different. Erin Morgenstern’s descriptions pulled me into her world and made the story so real and compelling, like walking through a strange and wonderful dream.

I have one more week to plan. I’ve taken the notes from my first novel off my enormous white board and I’m ready to start again.

So, how would I describe what I’m working with? It’s really odd, but that’s what I’m going for, right?

The ingredient list :

Wuthering Heights – dark, tortured souls with intertwined pasts. Two families, one outrageously wealthy. The other on the fringes.

Gone with the Wind – unrequited, obsessive love and a main character with a questionable moral center willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. A sister/rival so naive you want to smack her around.

Thor – two brothers, one lesser, battling for approval and acceptance, irreparably broken, but much more compelling than the elder who gets all the glory despite being a tool.

J. Peterman Catalog – a lux environment with a touch of exotic vintage novelty which feels like the world we live in, but is sort of bullshit–meaning I invented it, it doesn’t conform to reality, get over it.

Throw in a lot of booze, sex, scheming and plots gone wrong. I told two friends I wanted to do this. Simultaneously one said “NO!” and the other said “YES!” That tells me that even if I don’t finish the book, it could be a lot of fun. Hope you enjoy the ride.

Photograph, “J Peterman Venetian Masks” by Morgan Day © 2010 Creative Commons

 

Writer’s Platitude for the Weekend

broken pencil“I decided a long time ago that writers should not be encouraged. They should be discouraged. That’s more helpful to a writer than encouragement, because I think he’s going to learn a lot more that way.” I decided a long time ago that Erskine Caldwell ought to stick to writing, and keep his advice to himself.

Original quote in quotes by Erskine Caldwell

Photograph “Writer’s Block” by Marie Coleman © 2010 Creative Commons