Category Archives: Fiction

A Teaser from the Trunk

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Going through my trunk of completed but never submitted, came across a 23,000 word novella, Camphorville Connection. Later parts likely need revising, but I like the set-up. Enough so, I thought I’d share it here as a teaser.

CAMPHORVILLE CONNECTION
JD Fox

1

This story is true.

Honest Injun. Swear to god. Cross my heart and hope to—

Well, I won’t hope that. Better the verse remains unfinished. The past stays incomplete anyway, all full of flotsam and jetsam.

C’est la vie.

-2-

Month and I hated Camphorville.

I almost wrote ‘with a passion’, but that would understate it. We hated it so completely there was no passion left. We were recurrently dragged there by our parents, being too young to have our votes count. Time there passed in drying coats of paint and construction of malicious sobriquets.

I came up with banal originals such as Boogerman, Zitface, and Greaseomatic.

Month likewise dipped into the oft-mined well of physical attributes, calling me Doughboy, Pudger, and — while pissing next to me in a Denver International Airport bathroom sixty-five miles outside of Camphorville — Dickless.

That last one was a bit harsh. I did have a dick. And still do. It just hadn’t seriously started doing the growing thing a couple more years would bring about.

Of course, compared to Month’s gigantic one, it did look so minuscule it might as well have been nonexistent.

Now, in retrospect, Month’s likely wasn’t any larger than your typical 14-soon-to-be-15-year-old’s, but such is perspective, time and space and mental state affecting such things as they do.

Most of those nicknames were only casual, throwaway ones anyway. Only a couple outlasted all the others and actually passed from the realm of insults to being used as, I guess, endearment of sorts.

Leaving the typical appellations behind, I came up with calling him Month.

I thought his real name, Augusten, was stupid, and the shortened form of August, which the folks favored, even stupider. So did he. I used to call him Aug, or Auggie, but then one day it just came out all sort of spontaneous, like ‘What’s up, Month?’ or “Stop it, Month” or “I don’t wanna, Month” and it stuck.

At first, he used to get mad when I called him that, since that’s what you’re supposed to do at such things, but somehow it seemed to fit better than Augusten, August, Aug, or Auggie.

Mine is harder to explain why it stuck.

Maybe it had such staying power mainly because it was Month who came up with it and I wanted to hold on to it for that purpose, like an amulet around my neck that I never took off. Or maybe like one I couldn’t take off. Such things as cause and effect blur with time and it really amounts to a fourth of one, a quarter of the other.

Month called me Bent.

In lieu of Benjamin, Ben, Benj, or Benjy, all of which my friends and family and enemies used depending on the situation, the gender, and the context.

When my folks would ask him to get me, he would say, “Oh, do you want me to get Bent?” as if that meant something. Apparently it did to him and he would laugh. Apparently it meant something to my parents, too, as they would frown. I seemed to be the only one confused.

I eventually became less confused, if not totally enlightened, thanks to the help of classmate Gary Willicker, who happened to overhear one such exchange during a sleepover at my house. He tended to have a rather cosmopolitan knowledge of slurs, body parts, and other wondrously curious things. I became less confused about other stuff that night as well.

Regardless, Bent and Month stuck and I don’t remember us calling each other anything else, except for the mean-spirited, aforementioned epithets, and ‘Month’ was actually the very last word I said to him. Before he disappeared.

Temple Thoughts

“My name is Temple Grandin. I’m not like other people.
I think in pictures. And I connect them.”

So begins the biopic Temple Grandin. This thought-provoking film tells the story of a woman living with autism. Notice that I used the word “living” and not “struggling” or some other woe is me verb. It is a life and not a battle. In fact, living is too weak a verb. Better to drop the “with” and change “living” to “leveraging.”

This thought–provoking film tells the story of a woman leveraging autism.

Much better. At least to me, since I mostly think in words. Or at least I think I do. Describing how you think seems to lose something in the description. We can communicate how we think, but that’s not the same thing as conveying it. “I think in pictures and I connect them” gives me a better understanding of how Grandin’s mind works. But that’s not the same thing as Understanding; not the same thing as knowing, “what it’s like.”

This natural – yet altogether profound — human disparity is captured especially well in an exchange between Temple and her professor [my emphasis in bold].

Dr. Carlock: Okay. Okay. Can you bring everything you’ve seen to your mind?
Temple: Sure.
Dr. Carlock: Even if it were an everyday object, like, say, shoes?
Temple: I see all the shoes I’ve worn, my mother’s and other people I’ve met. And you have three pairs, one needs a new heel. And I see the newspaper ads and TV ads and… Can’t you?

I certainly can’t. I’m not even that good at basic visualization. At least not as good as I think someone who is good at such visualization would be. Heck, even “thinking in words” may be an overstatement of orderliness regarding my junk-drawer mind. It might be more accurate to say I think in splotches of half-formed reality; a mishmash of a little visual this and a lot of textual that.

Especially lots of text of the hearing kind; that internal voice which is quiet to the world but is reading aloud inside my head what I just wrote. It judges the flow, phrasing, and so on. It’s there, too, with story dialogue, which is usually the first thing that comes to me in writing fiction.

I’m lousy with description, large casts of characters, and keeping time periods, ages, and hair color straight. I have to work hard, and do work hard, at these things. Dialogue, though, comes comparatively easily for me, as I hear it clearly in my head.

If you go inside your  head and think about your thinking, what do you feel is happening? What do you see? What do you hear? Or are those two verbs not applicable to you? They certainly aren’t always applicable to me. Perhaps you have better words; ones that would more accurately describe your experience. Or maybe you might become so frustrated trying to do so that you end up saying, “I just think and thought happens.”

Which is a valid enough statement since it is your mental milieu and no one else’s. As long as you can successfully navigate the You landscape to get your thoughts where you need them to go in order to live a fulfilled life, the route is less important.

But sometimes we focus so much on the aforementioned disparity that we spend an inordinate amount of effort trying to correct our thinking to better conform to normative ideas of thought-processing. In effect, we strive to eradicate a perceived or identified weakness.

The problem though is that sometimes such striving causes us to under-appreciate – and thus underutilize — a strength.

Grandin, however, realized early on that although autism gave her some challenges, particularly social ones, such issues were far outweighed by the gain it provided in the powerhouse visualized thinking it encouraged. She saw things in ways “normal” people didn’t and made conceptual connections that normal people couldn’t.

If she corrected her autism, she would be correcting her brilliance. So instead, she embraced it, leveraged it, as a part of her and became (and is becoming) all the more brilliant.

Temple Grandin is a living example of playing to ones strengths and the movie is a resonating suggestion for the rest of us to do likewise.

———–

JD Fox’s Awesome Opossum Bonus:

Dialogue at work.

Years ago, I took a writing class at college where one of the assignments was to compose a short piece of fiction containing dialogue. The restriction was that each piece of dialogue must be three words or less. I decided to take it a step further and told the whole story using only dialogue. Flaws notwithstanding, I think it still holds up fairly well.

MOOD SWINGS
You’re so young.
Too young?
No, it’s just…
Just what?
I’m just surprised.
Consider yourself lucky.
Are you legal?
Legal enough.
How much?
Fifty.
That’s too high.
Suit yourself.
What about twenty?
You’re kidding, right?
Fifty’s too high.
I’m worth it.
Do you swallow?
That depends.
On what?
My mood, mostly.
What else?
The person.
But you’ll suck?
For fifty, yeah.
That’s a lot.
Fifty’s the price.
I’ve got twenty.
Good for you.
And this.
What’s that?
A bus pass.
And the twenty?
And the twenty.
Hand them over.
Here you go.
Okay, then.
So what now?
Go in here.
Here?
Yeah.
It’s dark inside.
And your point?
No point, I…
Good.
What now?
Pull it out.
Like this.
Yeah. Like that.
And you’ll…
How’s this?
Oh… my…
You like that?
Yeah.
And this?
Oh, God, yeah.
That feels good?
That feels great.
You close?
I’m close.
Okay, then.
I… Oh, Oh…
How was that?
Incredible. You swallowed?
Yeah.
Why?
Because of you.
Because of me?
And my mood.
What does…?
I told you.
What’s this?
Your bus pass.
It’s yours now.
Don’t want it.
You earned it.
Don’t need it.
You’re worth more.
I know.
More than twenty.
I know.
I live nearby.
So?
Want some coffee?
No.
We could…
No.
I mean…
No. Just go.
What about you?
What about me?
It’s cold outside.
I’ll survive.
I know, but…
Don’t worry.
Too late.
I’ll be fine.
Spend the night.
No.
Please.
Why?
I’d feel better.
Oh, you would?
You would, too.
You think so?
I know so.
Nearby, huh?
Around the corner.
That’s convenient!
Sometimes.
It is cold…
Yes, it is.
Well, okay, then.
Good.
Which way?
This way.
Lead the way.
Here we are.
Already?
Up these steps.
What’re you doing?
Take my hand.
Why?
There’s ice here.
Oh. Just don’t…
Don’t what?
Get any ideas.
About what?
What this means.
A warm bed?
Spending the night.
What’s it mean?
You tell me.
Tonight you’re safe.
And tomorrow?
Tomorrow’s another day.
Tomorrow I’ll go.
We’ll see.
I will.
Whatever you want.
I won’t stay.
It’s your choice.
Yes, it is.
But for tonight…
What?
Sleep on it.

Million Years Start

Okay, so i went to a retreat recently for persons living with HIV and I intend to blog about it, but in the meantime this is a sort of how I write post revolving around a little exercise I did there that hopefully will end up being a completed short story at some point in the near future. it’s fairly complete in my head, but there are so many other stories going on in there at any given point in time that I’m not sure when exactly near future will be.

During one of the workshops I attended, we each took a different writing prompt from a pile and saw what we could do with it in a short time-frame: the goal of reading it at the talent show that night what we had written earlier that day (which we all did). My time got shorter as I went on a hike. I almost stayed at the inn and kept working on the story, but I wanted to do as many retreat things as possible… time always requires a trade off.

My prompt was Never in a million years did…

I dropped the “did” and started writing in long hand, but soon switched to my easier to read typing. I wrote the dialogue first, as that is always what I hear the most clearly and gives me the best sense of my characters. I’m lousy with setting, physical description, and other grounding items. I have to work hard on adding such things during revisions.

I usually “see” the story via the back and forth conversations of the characters in my head, then build the full text story around that framework. I feel characters — that is, sense what they are feeling when they speak — more than have an external visual of them as I write. I sometimes will have some specifics in mind with regards to how the character (or setting or house or city or whatever) looks, etc, but the emotional context is always the primary starting point and is what drives the story for me.

During revision, as I work on completing this as yet unfinished story, I will change decapitating as a member of the audience kindly pointed out afterwards that the word doesn’t go with fingers; an embarrassing oops…

I also will have to research the two movies mentioned as in my initial conception of the entire story, which at first only included mentioning One Million Years, I was mixing their plots up.

That said, I thought I would go ahead and post unaltered what I read at the talent show, flaws and all, some already mentioned and others to come out during revising:

————————————————————————————————————

“Never in a million years,” Marcus said.

“Why not?” Donnie asked, right hand hanging over the top of his best friend’s open locker. It’s color, blue, marked his grade, as did Donnie’s, also blue, as if the lockers already being in the least cool wing of Plankton high didn’t scream their ninth grade status loud enough.

The gym, cafeteria, and parking lot full of cars of kids old enough to drive lay a social grand canyon away at the other end of the school. Cars like the black 1986 Firebird driven by the boy front and center of their current back and forth.

“Well, for one thing, he’s a senior.” Marcus said, pulling out his English Composition book. “He’s not going to be interested in going out with some stupid little freshman.”

“I’m not stupid. And I’m not little”

“Oh, gee whiz, don’t be such a geek. You always take things so literally. I didn’t mean you specifically, I just meant freshmen in general… though, hmm, come to think of it, you are more towards the puny side. One thrust and he’d probably split you in two.”

“Haha, you’re so funny you’re not. And besides it’s not like I’d be asking him to sleep with me…”

Marcus snorted and glanced at Donnie.

“At least not till a second date, eh?”

“I’m serious, Marc.”

Marcus clicked his tongue and slammed his locker, nearly decapitating Donnie’s fingers.

“I am, too. Hello, Earth to Donnie. Think who the hell you’re talking about. He’s not just any senior, he’s Jacob Alexander Rivington III, for Christ’s sake.”

“So? I’m Donald Alan Johnson the first.”

“You can’t just call yourself ‘the first.’ That doesn’t even make any sense.”

“Sure I can and sure it does.”

“Whatever,” Marcus said, invoking their usual one-word conversation ender and starting to walk towards class. But Donnie wasn’t finished and continued as he fell instep beside Marcus.

“It’s not like I have bad breath or cooties or anything. I’m intelligent, halfway-attractive, witty, and—“

“and still way, way out of his league. We both are. Not just other side of the tracks, but a whole other railroad. Get over it. Over him.”

They took their seats.

“It could happen. Be like a John Hughes movie. Like Pretty in Pink.”

“Molly Ringwald with a dick? Now there’s a vivid image.”

“Well it could, and you know what I mean,” Donnie said, studying the chewed-up pencil in his hand, running a finger along the myriad indentations; a pencil that had fallen out of Jacob’s backpack earlier that day during a rare juxtaposition of their respective lunch paths. “I just need to find the right approach to give this back to him.”

Marcus glanced over at him.

“Oh, yeah, nothing says go out with me like here, I found your spit-covered, gnawed-on piece of wood.”

“I wouldn’t say it like that.”

“How would you say it then? It’s just a stupid pencil. I don’t think a boy whose family lives in Chester Heights and who drives a frigging firebird to school gives a damn about losing something like that.”

The bell for class rang.

Donnie frowned, Marcus’s words causing reality to infringe on fantasy; he now envisioned approaching Jacob and Jacob laughing at him. Or worse, Jacob not laughing at all; just taking the pencil with a socially polite Thank You while giving him a pitying look, or maybe even scrunching up his face in way that said What a weirdo.

“You’re probably right,” Donnie said, shoving the pencil into his pocket and trying to forget about it.

#

But he couldn’t forget about it.

Or about Jacob.

That night at home he gave up on trying to concentrate on Math, History, or any of the other utterly unimportant to him at the moment things he was supposed to be thinking about. He didn’t tell his parents this, of course, but said he was going to study in his room.

Door closed and TV volume low, he tried to distract himself with video games, MTV and much later with Channel 4 up all night. The latter proved the most successful with a prehistoric double feature, a movie with Raquel Welch called One Million Years BC and another one, a comedy, starring Ringo Star as a caveman.

Christmas Day – A Short Story

[Excerpted from a novel-in-progress]

Atari 2600 Video Game Systems were the hot item of Christmas 1977, as everyone in Randy’s third grade class would affirm under oath. But they were way too expensive and a waste of money and no one in the Copperstone household other than Randy seemed to care or appreciate the severe gravity of the situation that everyone, absolutely friggin’ everyone, in his entire school was going to get one and that Randy would be left out and be a total complete loser if he didn’t return to school in the New Year having gotten one.

“Maybe next year, when the prices come down,” his dad said philosophically, being all Father Knows Best during one of Randy’s numerous attempts to reason with him. “And you can stop making that gasping noise, as, believe it or not, you are not going to die if you don’t get one. Now go finish bringing the rest of the groceries in.”

His mom was no better.

“Oh, quit exaggerating. I doubt everyone in your school is going to get a Safari for Christmas.”

“A-TA-RI.”

“Atari, then. Whatever. I’m frankly sick to death of hearing about it. Now get up off the floor like a big boy and go set the table.”

So cold-heartedly deaf were the ears of the wardens of Copperstone Prison that Randy eventually stopped bringing it up, though it would be a lie to say he’d forgotten all about it. Nevertheless, by the time dawn broke and paper shrapnel littered the living room, he had resigned himself to returning to Mr. Fenway’s class disappointed and empty-handed.

Well, maybe not quite empty-handed, as he did get some nifty other gifts like the little trash can of something called Slime, which was exactly – and wonderfully – what it claimed to be. The green stuff oozed through his fingers in the way that, well, slime tends to do, feeling so utterly gross he just had to share it with as many of his classmates as possible.

“You know you can’t take that to school, don’t you?” Mrs. Copperstone reminded Randy as his eyes got a certain gleam in them.

“I know, I know,” he said, even though he also knew from the moment he opened the can that that was exactly what he’d do. It was slime, for crying out loud. He had a kid duty to share it.

All in all it would have still been a decent enough Christmas, especially since Andy – provided Andy’s mom didn’t inexplicably change her mind as she sometimes did – would be spending the night.

But, out of the post-present-unwrapping, barely-past-dawn blue…

“I think you still have one more present left,” Mrs. Copperstone said, causing Randy’s heart to skip a beat. His mind leaped to the obvious and he just as quickly tried to squash that mind-leaping before his hopes could get too far up. His dad smiled. His mom smiled. Everyone full of smiles around a tree obviously now barren of unwrapped gifts.

Randy peered into the void that currently underwhelmed the tree as if he expected some new thing to fall down from the pine branches. He walked slowly around its base, his hand stretched out like searching for a secret door or portal or something.

“Though as I recall, I don’t think Santa put it under the tree,” his dad said.

“You know, now that I think about, I think you’re right. But I can’t quite remember where he put it, though…” His mom paused as did Randy, every fiber of his body listening to her in a way he usually didn’t. She put her hand up to her chin as if she were giving the matter serious thought. Abruptly she pulled her hand away and shrugged. “Oh, well, I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. It’ll turn up.”

Randy swallowed, his heart doing that weird skipping thing again. He started tearing through the house, wildly opening hall closets, kitchen cabinets, and drawers so small that they couldn’t possibly hold anything of interest but needed checked anyway. Similarly with the crowded medicine cabinet in the bathroom.

Under the bathroom sink turned up nothing as well as did behind the living room curtains. He turned up the couch cushions but the only things he discovered there besides general lived-in grime was a couple of stray quarters, a petrified Cheetos, and a cap to a pen long gone.

Randy pocketed the quarters but that was hardly worth a one more present left.

After he had searched almost the entire house and seized nothing of Christmas interest, he stood in the middle of the now disheveled living room glaring at the barren tree as if it were holding out.

Think, think, think he commanded himself.

And he thought, thought, thought.

There was his parents’ room, of course, that he hadn’t searched. But he wasn’t allowed in there. The only other room left in the house was his room, where, despite the clutter, he knew every inch of space and would certainly know if a present were lurking about.

Randy tapped his fingers against his side. Then he stopped tapping as he realized his room technically wasn’t the only room left after all.

Of course, he thought, smiling as he tore back into the kitchen and out the side door to the attached garage. Again with the rummaging through crap, more crap, and yet more crap and still coming up with squat for all his efforts. At length, he huffed back into the house proper, feeling agitated, tired, and his adrenaline spent.

The present remained hidden; remained out of sight.

Out of sight? He scrunched his face up.

Outside…?

Around here somewhere wouldn’t have to mean inside the house.

“Whoa, whoa. Where are you going, now?” Mr. Fargo asked.

“Outsidetochecktheyard,” Randy said in a blast of run-on words and already standing with the front door open.

“In your pajamas?”

“Oh,” Randy said, newly conscious of being covered in little toy boats and anchors that were fine for sleepwear but hardly fit for the public square. “Oh, yeah.”

He headed towards his room to change when his mom called out to him.

“While you’re in there, could you check and see if there’s a stray sock lying around someplace? One came up missing when I did the wash.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Randy said, letting the words flow behind him. Socks. Of all the stupid…

“Of course I don’t know how he can find anything in that pigsty,” he half-heard his mom as she continued to speak, thinking here we go again and starting to tune her out. “I mean, just the other day I was cleaning under his bed, and-“

Randy didn’t hear what she said after the and as under his bed dimly registered. Then not so dimly. He flew to his bedroom on wings of new found adrenaline and dove under the bed.

There it was in plain sight, not even wrapped, the holy grail of Christmas: an Atari 2600 Video Game System.

Despite the prolonged effort of searching that could render many an event anticlimactic, Randy still nearly wet his pants at seeing the gift as an actuality. He was sure Andy nearly did, too, as he excitedly told him – gushed — over the phone about getting the present from the coolest parents ever.

“So when can I come over?” Andy said, his voice vibrating like he was bouncing up and down on the other end of the line, which he most likely was. “When can I? Huh? Huh? When can I?”

“As soon as you quit jabbering on the phone,” Randy said, “We’ll come get you.”

All of Randy’s words may not have been heard as the other line had already hung up.

The Boat (WD writing prompt)

Writer’s Digest Writing Prompt and my ‘500 words or fewer’ response.

One day, while reading your favorite book on the beach, you notice a boat slowly drifting to shore. It eventually lands near your spot. A person, draped in pirate clothes, yells to you from the boat, “I have a treasure map and I need help. Are you in?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” I said, turning to page 80 like option A instructed me to do. I started to read what lame action my choice had brought me when I heard a man’s voice calling to me from nearby. The kind of from nearby that tends to make some people jump, and being one of those people I did.

A man draped in pirate attire straight out of Hollywood stood next to me holding out a map that looked so ancient it was amazing he could hold it in his fingers without it turning to dust. It was also amazing that he could hold it because quite a few digits of each hand were missing.

I looked back down at page 80 thinking I had surely read it wrong. But clear as ink page 80 began, “Yeah, sure, whatever,” and continued on as I have described.

“Here we are,” he said, thrusting a stub of a finger down on the unfolded paper between us and causing me to shift my gaze back to him. The strange markings on the map were mostly illegible to me save for the giant X upon which that same truncated finger landed, accompanied by an unnecessary, “We need to go here.”

I tried to focus on the map, but that half a finger creeped me out, as did the fact that I had just read “”Here we are,” he said” when he had regained my attention.

He noticed my staring at his mangled, finger-challenged hand and said, “If it has teeth, ye best stay clear of it.”

I nodded, but couldn’t help noticing that he smiled when he said it and an exceedingly large number of teeth occupied that smile.

“I’m glad you’re in on this with me. I’m always willing to share my treasure with the right person. I used to have a first mate but he was careless and met an, um, unfortunate fate.”

“Oh? What happened?”

I probably shouldn’t have done what I did next. I should have just waited for his answer. But curiosity got the better of me. So instead I looked back at the page again, and sure enough, the scene was written as it had played out, all the way to curiosity getting the better of me and continuing on. So I read on about me reading on.

“He had a tendency to keep reading when he should have been paying more attention to me,” he said, causing me to jerk my head back up at him. But I was too late.

Too late? I thou

Wanting Willies

Okay, the title of my blog post here is a bit playful as a lot of fun things could be said about a certain kind of willy, let alone about wanting them. But here I’m meaning the kind of willy that for whatever linquitic reason always travel in packs.

It is the hair-raising kind of willies that can scare the bejesus out of you, which is yet another strange fear phrase we have. I’m not sure if Be is a twin to the Nazareth one or not, nor if Jesus stays when Bejesus leaves, but such things are for another blogpost.

Here, willies is not only a neat term, but also the title of a 1991 movie; an admittedly very cheesy movie and highly predictable if you’re paying attention. But so what? It is still a fun one. And I love how it involves a story within a story: a story of boys camping out and trying to “outscare” (and outgross) one another with a scary and/or gross story that can top the previous one told.

Such a scenario isn’t just situated in the realm of horror. Nor is it kept even in just the realm of fiction in general. Storytelling itself is the fundamental way we communicate, whether it is the fact-based storytelling of science, the faith-based storytelling of religion or the outright Mr. Roger’s neighborhood full of make-believe.

It is an excuse to a boss of why we were late, yet also it is telling our spouse about the day we had, letting a friend know about a nice vacation spot, or letting others know about how you see the world; the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

We make up stories thoughout the day, some of us spinning truth with a little fiction, others of us with more fiction and a dash of truth, but the overall goal is the same with wanting the listener to share in what you have to tell, whether for a momen, an hour, a day, or a lifetime.

How incredibly wonderful and precious it is for us as humans to have such a device at our disposal. Every story we tell, even if just for a good scare, or to invoke a “gee whiz, that was lame” connects us humans with its common ground language that we are blessed to be able to interpret together.

“Dad, can you tell me a story.”
“I always do son, I always do.”

Overcoming Can’t

So the Draft of Hello Kitty is done. Now what?

Which really isn’t a what at all now, but more of a how.

For the plan after I finished Thumbs, the work before Hello Kitty, was that I would revise. Not Thumbs, which needs to ferment some more before such revision. Not Jeff of Yellowstone, which needs revision, but more of the fine-tuning kind. And certainly not yet Hello Kitty which has just been finished. Instead, I had/have my sights on the novel That Fargo Kid, which not only needs revised but in some places fixed.

In fact, I intended for Hello Kitty to be just a short story to end 2011 and act as a buffer between the long work of Th and the expected long work of revising TFK; however, HK turned out to be a fairly long work in itself. Sometimes stories are like that, making me cautious to do another buffering ‘short’ work before such revision, as it could easily take up another few months or more.

Yesterday towards that end I moved TFK notes, an attempted formal timeline and incomplete reverse outline to OneNote (an amazing program) along with the current draft to the Working file on my computer. Everything is set. So what now?

Well, I should probably: read all 468 pages (134,000 words) of TFK first to get my mind back into that groove; take notes of certain sequences and/or details which I will likely need to change, delete, or expand; kill darlings that don’t fit; and generate copy that fixes some things.

However, all of the above are wide-scope strategies that intimidate the daily. When I’m in the midst of writing a novel, my day-to-day goal is straightforward: 1,000 words a day and I feel like I’m making progress on the story.

Here, the envisioned work ahead is more difficult for me to break up into daily chunks that will leave me feeling satisfied with that’s day’s output. Heck, it is downright overwhelming and the urge to drown in a sea of can’t washes over me: The story is broke; it’s unfixable; go on to something else, something that will get you back into the bliss of 1,000 words a day.

But in the end I don’t want to just write 1,000 words a day. I want those 1,000 words to be good words; the best that I can create. So I owe it to my craft and to my story to make every effort to thwart that nagging can’t.

An effort that overcomes can’t and takes do all the way to done.

That Fargo Kid – Draft Thoughts

That Fargo Kid post-draft thoughts.
Draft 2, 134,016 words.

A bit late on getting this down, but I call Draft 2 from March 3, 2011 of 134,016 words the first official draft. Draft “1” was more a rough cut, so hence draft 2. But draft 2 “finished” has several loose ends and an unconvincing ending. The ending in itself I like, with Randy’s realization of his deeper feelings for Donnie that transcends the physical, but that outcome’s credibility is stretched based on what has come before in the form of Randy’s behavior.

The problem is twofold. The first involves the original length and the second involves what type of story I want to tell. Right now the novel seems an unwieldy, bastard child containing too many different stories; I mean different stories pulling at the protagonist in unhelpful ways, not just via entwining fictions or internal character conflicts.

I wrote D1 with a short story in mind, but then after completion decided it didn’t probe deep enough for the story I wanted to tell: a rich, complicated relationship between Randy and mentally-challenged Donnie that changes/develops over time. So I set about expanding elements; going way back in time and moving forward literally year by year. But in the course of expansion, some of the already written components of the story had to be tweaked or outright omitted.

Some of my original sequences were downright off and when I went through with the expansion I also worked to make everything more logically consistent with respect to school time, calendar, days of the week, etc. The problem is, I really liked the language of some of those written parts and labored over how to make certain passages fit in the revision. It maybe would have been better if I had never finished the rough cut version, leaving me with less of a structure in place…

The second fold of the problem is Randy becoming too worldly in terms of sexual experience. As such experience unfolded, I though this could work, making him into an anti-hero. After all, the cornerstone of the story is his relationship and possible abuse (depending on perspective) of Donnie; make him into the kind of person that is using pretty much everyone, male and female, for gratification, including Ken’s younger brother Carson.

But in retrospect, that seems to make the story less about That Fargo Kid and more about That Randy Kid. For how do I get someone who is using people in that fashion to really care what happens to Donnie at the end when the others attack Donnie? And the addition of Carson as told seems to take the story in a different, unwanted direction. Carson might be better as an outtake – a dark short story in itself. I might have to deconstruct this draft and mine it for different story strands:

Story 1: Original, Randy taking advantage of Donnie and also, later, Andy. Exploitative with respect to Donnie and Andy, but Randy retaining an innocence where it seems the events have sucked him in (the power of circumstances) rather than his actively being (merely) an exploiter himself.
Story 2: Randy becoming (more) corrupted and using others besides Donnie and Andy; more exploitative all around with Randy being conscious of his exploitation and working it.
Story 3: Cookie Monster (Dark short story, involving Ken’s younger brother Carson and Randy’s abuse)
Story 4: Tree (Dark short story involving Richard, Robert, Kevin and Randy)
Story 5: Nerds (Dark short story involving Kevin and Carson)

For the ending to play right, I need to strengthen Andy and Randy’s scenes together. And I’m thinking now such scenes would be stronger if they didn’t ever have sex during the course of the story – leaving that unrequited urge untapped and pushing a jealous Andy to incite the crowd against Donnie.

There are multiple loose ends, particularly involving the different levels of abuse (or use, depending on perspective) that take place throughout the story. I should either refine them or eliminate them altogether:

1) Andy’s physical abuse by his mother
2) Andy’s emotional abuse by Randy
3) Carson’s abuse by Randy
4) Carson’s (near) abuse by Kevin
5) Randy’s abuse by Kevin
6) Randy’s abuse by Robert.
7) Margaret’s role in things
8) Andy and Randy’s boyfriend status
9) What happened to Richard and Robert?
10) What happened to Kevin?
11) Need to hint more about the thematic meaning behind Donnie’s collection of rocks.
12) Need to hint more at the meaning (and symbolism) of Keebler and its significance with regards to Donnie’s understanding of boyfriend.

The story focus has moved away from Donnie into a less literary and more boysploitation realm. I need to reel it back in; not for qualms about writing such things, but simply because the increasing worldliness of Randy has diluted my original story, which requires more subtlety as things change between Donnie and Randy (and eventually Andy too).

I haven’t developed the non-amorous portions to the extent they should be developed. There are a lot of different components – and expressions — of intimacy and I need to show their more nuanced aspects. I especially need to nail the ones that contribute to Randy’s taking advantage of Andy’s liking him. I also need to make the symbolism in the story clearer without being explicit or obvious to the point of distraction.

And, of course, I need to ensure the final story is ultimately about That Fargo Kid!

Something About Pumpkins

ENGL 3050 Assignment
Write a (exactly) 500 word opening, starting with this sentence:
“I don’t know where we used to get our pumpkins when I was a kid.”

Something About Pumpkins
JD Fox

“I don’t know where we used to get our pumpkins when I was a kid.”

A pause hung in the air as if it weren’t sure of its purpose. But before it could be hijacked by his companion, Kyle Lampier sent it on its way by filling it in with an added chuckle. He then grabbed hold of the rigid stem and began to scalp their recent purchase. The outer shell was no match for the sharpened Cephalon blade and he got halfway though the flesh when James took hold of his arm.

“Don’t know or don’t remember?”

Not looking up, Kyle used the pretense of continuing the beheading of the pumpkin to shake both hand and question off. Sitting at James’ kitchen table, Kyle sawed with a purpose: one that said, let’s not go there. I’m a man with a mission.

James Greeley watched him work, Kyle’s fingers turning white from gripping the blade so tight. His own fingers curled and uncurled as if they were loitering; hanging out on a limb and waiting for him to act. To do something, like maybe take hold of Kyle’s arm again. But coming up on their one year anniversary together – less than two months, on Christmas Eve, as hokey as that sounds – James knew better.

It wasn’t fear of response, but the opposite. When pressed about certain things from his past, Kyle would go armadillo with his emotions, curling up good and bad ones alike into an impenetrable ball. His defenses had been down enough at last year’s Christmas Eve party, no doubt due to wine, to toss James his phone number in an uncharacteristically flamboyant gesture made less elegant by subsequent vomiting. But sober as a saint most of the time and stomach contents generally contained, their relationship moved in slow increments.

Which actually suited James just fine. His eight-year-old son, Dennis, had seen enough of what wrong relationships look like, both when James was with the former Mrs. Greeley and also when he was with a post-divorce rebound that shouldn’t have happened. During the three years since then, James had only dated two other guys. Kyle is the only one that Dennis had ever met. And that was after six months.

James watched Kyle a moment longer, his lips struggling to keep from repeating his question. But he decided that now was not the time to press for revelations and risk spoiling the mood. Not with it being his weekend with Dennis and Trick or Treating just a few hours away. Sometimes it’s better to let things drop.

So it surprised James when Kyle spoke.

First, though, Kyle cut all the way through the pumpkin, pulling the top off and holding it up like a botanical souvenir. He studied it a moment, then set it down, along with the knife.

“What’s the difference? It amounts to the same thing, doesn’t it?”

As he began degutting the pumpkin, James moved behind him, placing encouraging hands on his shoulders.

“Not necessarily…”

WorkFoRcE

Aaron had his headphones on when the world began to end.

He sat in his cubicle working his way through email.

He tried to think of the best response to a request asking him to assist an item forwarded to him by a senior process analyst who had received a request for assistance on an issue brought up to him by a coworker who had received a request from a customer transferred to him by one of the several dozen customer service representatives that answered the one working number of the two toll-free numbers the company listed.

The customer apparently knew someone who had a friend who said her cousin was told by his wife that she had gotten a good deal once on something similar to what the customer wanted, and the deal was much better than what the customer currently was receiving. The customer wanted to know if they could do that.

Aaron found the email address for a staff process analyst and entered it in the To box.

Aaron typed:

Dear Joe,
Not sure about this.
What do you think?
Regards,
Aaron

Outlook automatically populated the space below his name, giving crucial details such as Aaron being a lead process analyst and the company’s slogan:

We Work So You Don’t Have To

Someone had sent an anonymous complaint to the employee suggestion mailbox complaining about the dangling preposition in their slogan, but by the time it got passed along to the branding department, there had been another major reorganization and the branding folks got let go.

The senior management team assumed marketing could take on that role; that there didn’t need to be a separate department for that function. Everyone who worked in marketing assumed it was someone else in marketing who had assumed those duties that branding did. After all, things were still branded, weren’t they?

Sometimes someone would comment that someone should go down to the former branding floor and see if there was anything important that had been left behind. But after some general talk and a meeting scheduled and rescheduled and finally canceled due to a change in job functions, it was more or less decided that someone was probably taking care of it already.

A funny noise came through his speaker that sounded a lot like an intercom. Aaron paused a moment. Some of the streamed electronic audio he listened to was experimental, so he decided the sound must just be part of the feed.

His next message was an updated meeting request to change next Wednesday’s afternoon meeting to Friday morning, unless the software design team needed to have the space for a review session regarding the project underway. In that case it would be rescheduled for next Monday, and a time would be given once the organizational training group had finally decided on a time for their Improving Productivity Seminar.

Aaron accepted.

It sounded like the grounds crew was mowing the yards again. At first he thought it was just more experimental electronics, but paying attention, he realized the noise was external.

Aaron grimaced and turned up the headphone volume.

He continued to answer his e-mail.

And he thought of the cheese and avocado sandwich waiting on him.
His phone rang. With a click of his mouse, he changed the audio from Music to Telephone.

“Constant, Inc. Aaron here… No, I haven’t gotten that report yet. You’ll need to talk to Bill… I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Bill about that. Or maybe Ed. Ed usually knows… Well, yeah, of course, I’ll call you when I find out… Okay, then… Have a great day.”

He clicked the audio back to Music. A meeting reminder popped up reminding him about cake being served in the Indigo conference room to celebrate Amy Gorgoth’s 30 years of service. Aaron took his headphones off and hung them on the side of his cubicle. He got up and took the elevator down to the thirteenth floor where the main conference rooms were. It took him a moment to find the right room, as now the conference rooms were all named after trees. The Spruce room looked like the correct one and had a cake on a table at any rate. There had been something written on it, but most of the slices had been cut and placed on individual plates, making it unclear what the message might have been.

It probably didn’t matter much, though, since Amy had been in Branding and was no longer around anyway. The cake must have been ordered by her assistant who was no longer around either.

Aaron took a plate holding a nicely frosted corner slice with a red plastic fork sticking out of it. He ate while watching all the other Constant Inc. employees do the same thing. He finished his cake and looked around for a trash can to put it in, but they had been removed as part of an effort to “go green”. He placed his now empty plate back onto the table, laying the fork on its side.

As he started to leave, Tom from real estate came over.

“Hey, Aaron.”

“Hey, Tom.”

“Do you have some time today to stop by my office and take a look at something?”

“Sure. How about this afternoon?”

“That would be great.”

“Okay, then.”

Aaron took the elevator back up to the forty-fourth floor and stopped by the break room on his way back to his cubicle. There were no cups on the counter, so Aaron opened up a new package he found in the storage cabinet. He pulled out the cups in bunches and ended up with three stacks in a nice row. He threw the left over plastic wrap away into a yellow waste can. Then he filled a cup with coffee, adding cream and sugar from cylindrical canisters. He thought of getting some chips from the vending machine, but decided it was too close to lunch.

He started to make his way back to his cubicle, but found he had finished his coffee before he had made it there. So he went back to the break room and filled another cup. This second time he made it all the way back to his desk and sat down. He set the cup next to a yellow legal pad that was at the moment blank.

He started to get back to work when he noticed there was an odd light coming in from a nearby window. He noticed it because it seemed to be flashing to the point of distraction. He frowned and got up, walking over to the window. He had to shade his eyes as some of the lights – it turned out not to be just one light – were too bright to look at directly.

There seemed to be some chaos on the streets below: wreckage and fire dominated the view along with people running about waving their arms. The glass that separated him kept most of the noise outside, but he thought he heard the occasional stray shout. Aaron sipped his coffee trying to think of what it might mean.

That is, whether or not there was something he should do.

Oh, yeah, he thought.

He walked back to his cubicle and sat down. He opened up Outlook and a blank e-mail. He looked in the directory and found Tom’s e-mail address.

He typed:

Hey, Tom,
Good to see you today.
Can I come by tomorrow instead?
I think I might take this afternoon off.
Aaron

He then shut down his computer and closed the lid to his laptop. He normally took it home with him, but decided to leave it in the docking station.