To celebrate, here’s another little excerpt, this time from a scene between Robby and The Girl He’s Had a Crush on Forever. All you need to know to understand it is that someone has just played an embarassing joke on the girl, Becca Reese, and now Robby has managed to find her before anyone else does. Obviously, all of my usual disclaimers about rough drafts and their inherent craptitude apply. As does the “no plagiarizing, not that you’d ever want to,” thing. Go make up your own damn crappy novel instead.
Anyway, this is from Chapter Five, and is excepted here from a scene that has quite a bit going on before and after what you see here.
“Are you all right?” Robby asked.
Becca sniffed and then looked at her skirt. “I think so.”
“I was worried about you,” he said lamely.
She tilted her head and appeared to be seeing him for the first time. Her eyes narrowed in that cute way they did when she was concentrating on a particularly vexing math problem. She said, “Did you… were you looking for me?”
The words rolled out in a jumble before he could stop them. “Yeah, no, I mean, I—yeah, I guess I was.”
The half-smile on her face quivered and turned into a full-fledged one. “That’s really sweet of you.”
“Really?” Robby asked, feeling a little lightheaded.
“Really,” she said firmly. “No one else bothered.”
“I think everyone else was kind of stunned.”
“They were too busy laughing, you mean.”
“Happens to me all the time,” Robby muttered.
“Even T-Rex,” Becca continued, as if Tommy Rexman hooting like an overgrown orangutan was a new phenomenon. “Why weren’t you laughing, Robby?”
Robby shrugged. “I didn’t think it was funny.”
Without warning, Becca leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead.
Robby didn’t know what to say. Her lips had touched him! He’d been touched by her lips! Becca Reese’s lips! On his forehead! Touching! He was still searching for the right words—any words!—when Becca said, “Oh my god! I’m so sorry!”
“For… what?” Robby asked, feeling flushed.
“I shouldn’t have.”
“No!” said Robby. Then, fearing she might actually think he was agreeing with her, he said, “I mean, it’s okay. I didn’t mind.” He wanted to add, “You can do it again if you want,” but he didn’t want to push his luck.
Becca said, “What about Abby?”
“What about her?”
“She’s your girlfriend. I feel awful.”
Robby chortled. “She is not my girlfriend. She’s practically my sister.”
“Oh,” said Becca, nodding, and then again, “Oh.”
“I think we’d probably kill each other,” Robby added. Something about that thought didn’t quite ring true, but he wasn’t in the mood for self-examination. Not with Becca Reese’s lips just seconds removed from kissing him! Becca laughed and shifted her weight from foot to foot. Was she actually nervous? He’d seen a lot of impossible things lately, but that seemed the least likely one of all.
She said, “I always thought you guys were a thing.”
“We are,” said Robby, “just not that kind of thing.”
Ah, Puppy Love. I guess I’ll use the next few days to get a head start on my September goal of 30,000 words!
Lately I’ve been feeling like I need a crash course in parenting. Ethan is a very “spirited” child. Even at 18 months he has all kinds of qualities I think are wonderful—he’s affectionate, clever, creative, funny, musical, energetic, and sweet—but he’s also very, very stubborn. He likes to test limits and push my buttons. Currently, he hits when he’s frustrated. He thinks my attempts at discipline are a game. I’m afraid that if I don’t get my act together soon I’ll fail him as a parent.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the fact that he’s a strong-willed child. So was I. I think it’s a quality that has helped me as an adult to reach whatever level of success I have achieved in my life. It’s a great quality in a child and I don’t want to stamp it out of him. I just want to learn the best way to effectively parent him so he can harness that willfulness in a positive way.
I think parenting is tremendously rewarding—the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, really—but it’s so hard, too. Always in the back of my mind is the fear that I’m doing something that’ll screw him up. He’s such a good, sweet boy and he has so much potential, and I know he just needs the right kind of parenting to help him become everything he can be. But what kind of parenting is it? That’s what I don’t know.
So, I went to Amazon to try to find the “right” book to help. Now I’m even more confused. They all claim to be the one-stop-shop for parents, and they all sound great… until you read the reviews. Some people say Book X is great; others say it’s all wishy-washy New Age crap. Some people like Book Y; others think it just “enables” the kids in a bad way. Book Z sounds good until you read the review that says using its techniques will create emotionally stunted little Hitlers.
What’s a dad to do?
I was thinking more about my first-draft doldrums last night and came to this epiphany. The first draft is like trying to write about someplace you’ve never been. It’s necessary because in doing so you learn about the thing you’re creating, but it can be painful at the same time because you’re kind of thrashing around in the dark trying to figure out where you’re going. With the subsequent drafts, at least you already have a sense of the geography and have done most of the heavy lifting beforehand.
I discovered this because shortly after writing about how dissatisfied I was with my latest effort, my subconscious mind worked out some of the kinks and revealed to me a few ways to make the chapter work better. Funny how that works out. No wonder I’ve always had so much trouble in the past—I’ve put too much effort into getting every word in the first draft “just right” and didn’t give myself the freedom to make mistakes.
Now I’m making all kinds of creative mistakes left and right! Hopefully that turns out to be a good thing.
Where: Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland, England
When: July 2003
What: Two thousand years ago, a 10-foot-tall and 70-mile-long stone wall loomed over the undulating hills of northern England, built at the order of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to keep the savage Scots from raiding and pillaging Roman territory to the south. Today, the remains of Hadrian’s Wall form the largest ancient structure in all of Northern Europe. This photo shows the path alongside the wall as it winds toward a series of crags called the Nine Nicks of Thirlwall, seen here in the distance towering above the pond.
Here’s how I described the experience of walking here in one of my American Adventurer columns from last year: “A ragged mist swallows the rolling hills and checkerboard farmland ahead of me. An icy wind whips at the hood of my jacket. I’m alone today, a solitary hiker following in the footsteps of history, and this is just what I came for: a bleak and breezy walk along the ruined skeleton of England’s most impressive ancient monument.”
I’ve never been wholly satisfied with that description, though. I think it’s because I wasn’t able to use my column to talk about why I really chose this walk. I mean, who among SmarterTravel’s bargain hunting readers would actually care about the personal crisis I was going through in 2003?
But here I can talk about it all I want, and this is what I wanted to say: I was at a crossroads in my life in the summer of ’03, and Hadrian’s Wall is one of the places I went in search of the proper road to take next. Penny and I were separated and I was living on my own for the first time since college. I took six weeks off from work and went to Europe that summer to find myself, and I was drawn to Hadrian’s Wall because it gave me the opportunity to take long, solitary walks in the moody countryside near the Scottish border.
There was something wonderfully anonymous about “following in the footsteps of history.” I took comfort in the idea that 2,000 years ago there might have been someone else standing near that wall, feeling homesick and confused, and wondering what to do with his life. It helped me keep my own problems in perspective. Melodramatic, probably, but it is what it is.
Anyone who knows me today knows that Penny and I eventually got back together, moved to Cambridge for two years and then to Beverly, where we now own a house and have started a family. But back in 2003 that outcome seemed improbable at best.
This is the trek that began the long process of helping me work through what was going on in my heart, and I think I’ll always look back on it with a kind of bittersweet nostalgia. It wasn’t a straight line from there to reconcilation, after all, and things would only get worse between us before they’d eventually get better.
So yeah, bittersweet, for sure. But it was still a hell of a walk.
I’m about two solid days of writing away from reaching my 20,000-word goal for the end of the month. Fingers crossed. Sadly, my first draft feels like it’s about 50 percent dreck and 50 percent crap. (Okay, maybe one percent good. Maybe.) For some reason, this is bothering me more than usual today. I don’t like the way the chapter I’m working on right now is turning out. But, oh well. It’s just a skeleton of a story right now, and the flesh and blood will come later. Or so I keep telling myself.
From time to time I like to use this space to write about books I’ve just finished reading. Not every book, just ones that are noteworthy for one reason or another, if only to me. This time, the book is Careless in Red by Elizabeth George. Though I don’t read a lot of “crime fiction,” I do enjoy a good mystery every now and then, and that’s what this one is: a good mystery.
About 10 years ago I discovered Elizabeth George’s first Inspector Lynley novel, A Great Deliverence, while stocking the Mystery & Suspense aisle at the bookstore where I worked the summer after college. Careless in Red is the 14th and most recent in that series.
The actual murder investigation that drives the plot here takes a back seat to the development and reinvention of Lynley as a character after the life-changing events of the previous novel, With No One As Witness. That’s what I enjoy most about these novels: There’s a lot more to them than your average mystery. They are, for lack of a better term, “literary.”
The Lynley novels are best read in sequence. If you’re looking for a good British mystery, start with A Great Deliverence and settle in for a great ride.
After the apparent debacle that was The Clone Wars movie (currently at 18 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and the horrifying mess of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, I keep thinking that Star Wars is dead to me—and I keep hoping that George Lucas will just start feeling the same way himself.
This snippet from Joe Joe Neumaier‘s “Dear George Lucas: Stop Ruining Star Wars!” article in the NY Daily News got me to thinking about it again.
Just keep in mind that when some of us saw the Death Star explode that first time, it already was in 3-D, It blasted off the screen, into our heads and lodged in our movie memories like a permanent scene in an Oscar night movie montage. We don’t need 3-D AT-ATs and forest cruisers that jump off the screen. We just want you to stop. Create something new.
That’s really it. Create something new. Please. No, Lucas doesn’t owe the fans or anyone else anything. He doesn’t have to stop if he doesn’t want to, and lord knows he’s still raking in the money. On the other hand, he keeps saying how he wants to make all these small indie movies that no one will watch, and how that’s his real passion now. So do it already!
In the end, I have a nice DVD set of the original trilogy in my collection. I’ll probably pick up a copy of Revenge of the Sith someday, too, and that’ll be it. The prequels and expanded universe stuff has diminished Lucas’s original vision considerably, but I just try to savor the stuff I like and ignore the rest.
I suppose it’s like a tree falling in the wilderness. If I never see the Clone Wars movie or any of this other dreck he’s putting out, did it ever really happen? Based on the reviews I’ve been seeing, I sure hope not.
I’m about halfway to my goal of reaching 20,000 words in Coven Hill by the end of the month. My pace slowed a little because of the week in the woods without a laptop, and then some revisions I decided to make as a result of thinking about things during that week, but I’m still basically on schedule. And for the first time in ages, I’m actually enjoying the act of writing again. That probably means the bottom’s about to fall out and major writer’s block is just around the corner, but for now I’ll take it as it comes and keep forging ahead.