December 30, 2012: Nothing changed.
On Christmas morning I found this note in the comments section of my blog:
“I have been waiting for you to post the Christmas Eve prompt just so I could do something for you… a Christmas gift of sorts for giving me something to make me write again. Hope your Christmas is filled with joy. And here’s another short tale for you:”
Some of you have read the work of this person before. Lindsay. Quite a number of months ago, Lindsay started posting wonderful short pieces as comments on my blog in response to the Daily Journal Prompts I’ve posted. I don’t think I know Lindsay personally (do I, Lindsay? Have we met? Am I just being dim?) but I feel so incredibly lucky to have come to know her work from the writing she has shared with me (and us.) I have to admit, when I look for images and listen for lines to post as prompts, I sometimes imagine Lindsay coming to my page, writing something, sharing it with us. If you look back over the Daily Journal Prompts for this past year, you will find quite a lot of her words here.
Thank you, Lindsay, so very much for your writing, your willingness to share. And now, thank you especially for this:
They Were Heading Home ~ A Christmas Gift from Lindsay
They were heading home. Like in the song, ‘Driving Home For Christmas’, only they weren’t so much driving as being driven. Down on their luck this year like last, and going back to where they belonged. Curled into each other in the back of a beat up ’64 Dodge truck, a failing winter sun on their faces and their cheeks nipped by cold. And just maybe they’d get there in time.
Joe promised her it would be alright. Mary wasn’t sure. She said he should have called first. Just in case. Just in case there was not room. After all, they weren’t expected. Joe reassured her that it would be fine and he put her head on his shoulder and he sang Christmas songs to her in a voice that was nearer and nearer to whisper.
Mary slept fitfully and when they stopped for gas Joe got her to stretch her legs and he fetched her a paper cup of ice and that felt better. And the man in the gas station gave him a bag of broken Oreos that wouldn’t sell, and some milk, and a blanket to keep them warm, and he wouldn’t take anything for his kindness.
And stars crept out one by one, and the road was a little rougher than before and their breath hung on the air like smoke. Joe kept looking at his watch and he held Mary closer and felt the kick and kick of the unborn baby pressed between them. And Joe said it would not be long now, really it wouldn’t.
And Joe should have called because the house was full when finally they were there, and a makeshift bed had to do and there was space in the backroom where old chairs needing mended were stored and empty suitcases and bottles of hooch that were labeled by year.
‘Like in the story,’ said Joe’s old man. ‘You know, and there should be shepherds and wise men and gifts.’
‘And angels,’ said Joe’s mom.
And they laughed, though Joe was paler than laughter should be and Mary held her breath and counted the seconds between one stab and the next. And Joe’s mom put water on to boil just in case, and the doctor’s number placed by the phone, and all the lights in the house were on.
The story has an ending, as a story should. And because it is a Christmas story it ends happily as it must and maybe you’d think it was more of a beginning than an ending for, though the birth was not easy or quick it was fine, and the baby arrived before it was Christmas and it was called Jack and his leg a little twisted so that he would one day be called Jitterbug Jack for the way that he walked and he laughed every day of his life, I promise he did, and that would be another story.
→Happy 4th day of Christmas, everyone. And if you don’t celebrate the holiday, I still wish you a happy day. And a joyous new year! As always, thanks for reading. -PMc←
December 29, 2012: Near the end…
December 27, 2012: He told us stories.
The very wonderful Michael Downs (have you read his collection The Greatest Show? You must.) tagged me in the crazy literary game called The Next Big Thing. So it’s this thing that a bunch of us are doing to talk about our work-in-progress, and to join in a world-wide conversation about writing and the writing process. I know many of you have heard of this, and nearly as many have been tagged. In fact, trying to find writing folks with blogs who haven’t yet been tagged has been a bit of a challenge. For instance, I wanted to tag Samantha Hoffman, whose new book is What More Could You Wish For. She, however, had already been tagged by Randy Richardson, whose new book is Cheeseland. (And by the way, Samantha tagged me, too, in a bending of the official rules…but that is another story. I love her rebellious ways.)
I have been contacting a number of writers whose work I admire to see if they are willing to play. I should also say that there are a multitude of writers I would love to tag, but who don’t keep regular blogs, and so don’t quite fit the game’s profile (I’m talking about you, Dennis McFadden; and you, Eugene Cross; and you, Stacy Bierlein; and you, Anne-Marie Oomen; and you, Aaron Stander—just to name a few.) I tried to tag a few people who graciously declined because they are too busy right now: (Katey Schultz, Ben Tanzer.) I also tagged a couple of folks I haven’t heard back from yet, and so perhaps they will join in on the game when they get a chance to consider the invitation: Vanessa Gebbie, Carrie Etter (no pressure, folks. Join in if you like.)
The four writers who have agreed to let me tag them and to follow up with their own posts and invitations are Mark Beyer, Fleda Brown, Tony Romano, and Ken Rodgers. Mark Beyer (past contributor to View From the Keyboard) is a writer now living a glorious ex-pat life in Prague, lucky devil, and his last book is called What Beauty. Fleda Brown (I quoted her work in a Beautiful Sentence post) is a fabulous poet and nonfiction writer who lives in Michigan and whose latest poetry collection is Loon Cry and whose latest nonfiction is Driving With Dvořák. Tony Romano, real Chicago son, writes very fine novels about Chicago and Italian American families (check out When the World Was Young and If You Eat, You Never Die……) Some of you may have seen Tony’s short fiction–“Because the Sky is Blue” recently published by the Chicago Tribune for their Printers Row original fiction series. Ken Rodgers, an Idaho writer and past contributor to VFtK, is a fine poetry (Passenger Pigeons) and prose writer, as well as a filmmaker. You really should visit his Bravo! The Project page; it chronicles his collaborative documentary project about the Bravo Company, First Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment in the Vietnam War.
So, there you go. Tag, you guys are it(s). And in fulfillment of my obligation to the game, my answers to the required questions.
What is the working title of your novel?
Climbing the House of God Hill. It is a bit cumbersome, and also a little close to the title of the wonderful book by Jaimee Wriston Colbert: Climbing the God Tree. Still, I keep feeling myself drawn to this name. The House of God Hill is a topographical place in the novel, set in the town of New Hope (perhaps some of you remember this town from my collection The Temple of Air,) and it is here where one of the defining actions takes place in the book.
Where did the idea come from for the novel?
There are a couple of characters in my story collection with whom I would like to spend some more time; and also the place, New Hope, is one that won’t quite let go of me. So these are two things I bring to the novel. The rest of it, the actual events, come from a scandal that happened in a small town I know rather well in Northwestern Illinois. Something happened between a teenaged girl and a man, and in the “true” story, that man happens to be an immigrant—one of a very few in this primarily white town. (This is the kind of place where folks claim their identity by the number of their family generations buried in the local cemetery.) In the “true” story, a confession and arrest were made. In my story, nothing is quite that clear cut. I intend for it to not be entirely evident who is guilty in what happens, and who is complicit. There are issues of faith and mortality (I keep coming back to these things!) and family and community. The point of view is a community one for the most part, with the emphasis on the voices of a few main characters, among them the teenaged girl, Allison.
What genre does your manuscript fall under?
Mainstream/literary fiction. (Can it be mainstream and literary??? I hope so.)
Which actor would you choose to play your character in a movie rendition?
In trying to answer this question, I have spent far too much time on the internet looking up young women (teenage) actors (who might be an Allison), as well as actors from Latin America (who might be a Guillermo.) Here’s what I came up with: Allison—Odeya Rush. Guillermo—Wilmer Valderrama. But let’s face it, if this book were to be made into a movie it would happen in at least a decade, probably, and Odeya would be too old to play fifteen. Wilmer, however, will be just about old enough to play Guillermo, the accused neighbor.
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In this story of allegation and guilt, scandal and appearance, faith and intolerance, the town of New Hope is stunned when Guillermo Perez is arrested for the statutory rape of Allison Nelson, the home-schooled daughter of his coworker and neighbor; how can our children be protected and what must they be protected from? (Ahhh, the semicolon. A cheater’s way to write one sentence.)
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Good question. How long will it take? I am about 140 pages into it, and that has taken a couple of years. My work starts slow, and then eventually finds its real momentum. I am hoping that I am entering the momentum stage.
What other books would you compare your story to within this genre?
I keep thinking of Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as I hear the voices in this story. The first person plural, the community trying to figure out the truth of what has occurred. Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle also comes to mind. And just recently I discovered the work of Scott Blackwood (we were on a panel together at the Devil’s Kitchen Lit Fest at Southern Illinois University) and what he can do with a story (situation, language, structure) is something I aspire to.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I sorta talked about this in an earlier question, but what drove me to it was spending time in this particular small Midwestern town while the real story—the one I very loosely am basing my novel on—was unfolding. I found myself asking the same questions that the rest of the community did: What really happened? Who was to blame? What isn’t being said or told? And as a writer, I got to ask the other questions, too: What if this was what happened? How would the story go then?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
How about a bit from the chapter “At the Pool”?
“Five months before Guillermo was arrested, Allison stepped out of the locker room at the public pool. And under the high, hot sun of June, we could see what she didn’t yet know. We could see it in the shift of the faces of the teenage boys who leaned against the snack counter with towels held at their waists and who watched the older girls in bikinis and young mothers in two-piece suits climb the aluminum ladder out of the pool, water streaming from their bodies and hair. We could see it in the way girls Allison’s age tilted their heads together and whispered to one another furiously when they spotted her. We could see it in the way fathers with their own daughters—little ones still in water wings or on their daddies’ backs near the pool’s drop off—averted their eyes from Allison, held the wrists of these daughters and gently floated them away from the deep end.”
→I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: thanks for reading! -PMc←