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.

 

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Throw out 50 Thoughts #20 – If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all

snowballToday is Day 11 of National Novel Writing Month. To be on pace for 50,000 words by the end of the November, I should be somewhere around 17,000 words. I crossed the 32K threshold last night.

It’s been a heady, liberating experience. My writer friends have asked me – What’s my secret? It’s simple. Don’t think. Write.

I generally work with careful deliberation. Every move considered, planned, and re-evaluated. I like to do things right the first time, or at least limit the amount of rework required. My biggest work complaint was the ready, fire, aim nature of the business I was in. The pace of our projects didn’t give me time to think, only act, which only created more work down the road as I had to fix what never should have been wrong in the first place.

Sitting down to write a novel in one month is a daunting task. Writing 2,000 words in a day is not. These posts are generally 500 words, and as much as I love you all for reading my work, I don’t spend four hours making sure my thoughts on every subject are crystal clear. On the other hand, I have a nearly finished novel. It’s taken me four years to get where I am, and it’s still not right. I’m still agonizing over bits of dialogue, and the ending that isn’t paying off the way it needs to, and moving the lens to focus on a different part of the story.

To succeed at NaNoWriMo, I had to let go of the idea of having it be right. It won’t be right. A first draft never is. I don’t even consider this to be a first draft. I see this as the primordial soup that I will draw from when the real work of creating a first draft begins. I have an outline. I know where the plot is going. I have the main characters in place. Each day, I target a list of scenes and let the words go. No editing. I repeat. No editing.

I know there are inconsistencies. I will fix them later. Some of the places need names. They will come to me later. I type asdf and move on. A scene is in the incorrect point of view. That character is speaking to me for a reason. Roll with it. Some scenes don’t move the plot forward. They inform the plot, however, and will make the first draft that much richer when I craft it.

I’m not growing a novel. I’m tilling the soil from which it will grow. Perfectionism has its place. I do not leave the house without directions to where I’m going. I’m learning, however, that while the devil is in the details, the joy is in the chaos, and I have to wonder how often getting it right has prevented me from just plain getting it.

So this week, I loosen the stranglehold of control I impose on my life, and in the wise words of Steve Winwood, just roll with it, baby. Like one of those little snowballs in the cartoons, when I reach the bottom of the hill, I might be big enough to take out the whole chalet. Look out, here I come.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph, “Playmobile Snow Day,” by Scorpions and Centaurs © 2009 Creative Commons

 

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