Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Story Time!

As many of you know, I’m about to embark on what I hope will be the final revision for my first novel, Hollow Souls. Given the momentous task ahead of me, I’ve naturally procrastinated all summer, and yet I’m still thrilled by the world I've created, and excited to see the novel in its finished (and hopefully much shorter) form.

So, it might come as a surprise to learn that I’ve already begun drafting my second novel, a coming-of-age, cross-country drama entitled Red Road Crossing, which, as the title implies, has a Native American theme. While my first novel is told in third person, from the perspectives of a mother and daughter, Devi Marconi and Olivia Harper, my second novel will be told in first person, through the eyes, ears, hearts, and minds of five characters: Meg, a seventeen-year-old girl in search of her long-lost mother; Meg's half-brother, Jonathan; Meg’s stepmother, Billie; Meg’s first lover, Indigo; and Meg’s father, Thomas, owner and operator of a vision quest camp for troubled teenagers.

Since I plan to explore such varied voices in my second novel – in a similar vein to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying – I’ve begun to practice writing the voices with which I’m unfamiliar, such as ten-year-old Jonathan. A while ago, I tested my abilities by writing a short story from a young boy’s point of view. Called “351” – and posted on my Ruby Hollow website – the story draws its inspiration from my own childhood fishing trips with my father. I’ve decided to post it here today – just to see what you think about it. Have I accurately captured the thoughts of this boy, or is he too smart for his own good? I’m looking for honest opinions, so please don’t hold back.


My dad's boat is older than me. I know every dent. Every leak. I know how the cushion feels on the green aluminum seat under my shorts. I know the metal side is cold in the morning and burns my hand by noon. Even when I'm back home, I can hear the sputtering motor in my head.

There's a slight breeze as we skim across the water. We're going fast, trying to make the most of the day, so the ride's a bit bumpier than usual. I'm glad for the cushion.

The sun's coming up, and the water's still. Dad's behind me, steering the boat.

“Smooth as glass,” he says. “Fog's burning off. Shaping up to be a nice day.”

I can feel his eyes on my neck.

“You okay, Charlie?”

I listen to the motor and the splashes below. “Wish I could stay longer.”

The marsh comes into view. “I know. Two weeks is never enough.”

What he doesn't say is what I'm feeling. I wish I could live with Dad all year long. He has a small house on stilts, in the middle of a marsh near the gulf. Bought it after the divorce. He uses the beat-up boat to run errands and ride to and from his bait shop on the shore. He's got a few fishing buddies around. He may have a car somewhere, but I'm not sure.

I look forward to our summer visit. We get up early every morning, when the sky's still a purplish blue, before dawn breaks. We head out, whether the radio says rain or shine, to fish for trout or redfish. The redfish are fun to catch – tough to find and even harder to reel in.

We return to his tiny dock by late afternoon, and I usually swim – though when the tide brings the jellyfish in, it's time to get out. We spend the evenings playing cards, taking boat rides, or just talking about stuff. We usually fry up the day's catch, if there is one, and eat it with our fingers. Something I could never get away with at home. When it's dark, we fish some more. The light on Dad's house attracts bugs, which lures some pretty huge fish, and we use his big nets to scoop them up onto the dock. We get to bed by ten or so, and we're up again by five.

It's a routine, but it's ours – those two weeks a year. The rest of the time I live with my mom and stepdad in Chicago.

My folks split when I was seven, and me and Mom moved a thousand miles away. We didn't take much with us. A man up north was waiting, and he had a lot of nice stuff to share. Maybe that's why they split, I don't know.

Dad fought to keep me, but Mom wouldn't let up. I guess when he was eighteen, he held up a gas station on a dare. The gun wasn't loaded, but it didn't matter. He had a record, and Mom brought it up as much as possible, saying he wasn't fit to take care of me, and the judges always agreed with her. Dad used to say it was the stupidest thing he's ever done. But, after awhile, he stopped talking about it, and we settled for our summers.

We're deep into the marsh now. There are seagulls in the sky, screeching and searching for food. I can see other fishing boats anchored in the reeds.

Dad and I haven't had much luck this time around. We've caught a few trout here and there, but often, come suppertime, we've had to thaw out packages of frozen fish from last month's catch. Course, as Dad always says, “A bad day fishing beats a good day working.”

He shuts the motor, pushes his pole along the bottom, and guides us through the reeds. I spot a few swirls near the water's edge, so Dad drops anchor, and we quietly bait our hooks with raw shrimp.

We fish for a long time, feeling a nibble here and there. But the swirls soon disappear, and our luck runs out again. We move to another spot, but it's the same story.

Dad takes us for a boat ride, perhaps to a better cut, but we have even less luck here. Not even a nibble. So we take a lunch break, eating our ham sandwiches in silence. I feel terrible, and Dad doesn't look much better. It's our last day together. My stepdad will be waiting on the shore in a few hours, next to his rented sports car. They don't even trust me to take a plane by myself. Or maybe it's Dad they don't trust.

After lunch, we search for a luckier spot. It's the hottest part of the day, but I'm determined to catch a big one.

A few hours pass, and still nothing. I see Dad glance at his watch.

I cast my line out toward a lonely bunch of weeds. “I wish time could stop.”

“I know what you mean, son.” He smiles.

Maybe a boy isn't supposed to say so, but I love my dad's smile.

The gnats nip at our faces and limbs. My sunburned skin itches in places. But the breeze feels nice. Suddenly, I sense a tug on my line. Often, a nibble can catch you off guard, and the fish is gone with your bait before you've even had a chance to touch the reel. But, this time, I'm ready. I pull back gently and snag him. He puts up a fierce fight, pulling out the line as fast as I can reel it in.

“Got something?” Dad keeps a firm grip on his own pole, eyeing his bobber but watching my struggle closely.

“I think it's a red.” I'm excited, but it's hard work.

“That's it, son. He's wearing out – holy shit! I've got one, too.”

We're playing tug o' war with our lines. I pull my red in first. He's a big guy – nearly twenty-eight inches. The hook's deep inside, but I manage to yank it out, and he falls near my feet. I grab him quick, slimy as he is, and drop him in the ice chest. Dad flops his own catch next to mine. It's a few inches shorter but still beautiful.

“Looks like you beat your old dad this time.”

I'm beaming, worn out but proud. The fish are flopping about, slower now but still fighting to find a way overboard.

Dad glances at his watch again and frowns a little. “I'll have to take you back in a few minutes.”

My throat feels choked. The fish look lifeless now amid the chunks of ice. “Too bad there's no time to eat 'em.”

“Oh, these are too good to eat. I'll have 'em mounted for next time you come.” Dad shuts the ice chest. “Well, let's get going.”

We each take our places – him near the motor, me up front.

The ride's long, but not long enough. It's late afternoon and cool again. The wind blows my hair. Mom'll make me cut it first thing.

Soon, the boat slows down, and I can see the dock, surrounded by seagulls. My stepdad is on time as usual, leaning against the hood of a slick black car.

The boat putters toward the wharf, and Dad ties a rope to a crusty post.

Mr. Chuck, the nice old man who owns the boat launch, stands nearby. “Your son's getting big, Lou. He'll be a man soon.”

“He already is.”

We climb onto the dock. My stepdad watches silently. He doesn't even wave.

Dad opens the ice chest, and Mr. Chuck spies the fish. “Nice catch.”

“Charlie got the bigger one.”

There's an awkward pause. Mr. Chuck knows I'm going back. “You know, Rita just bought me a Polaroid. Haven't tried it out yet.”

My stepdad stands up, waiting, probably wondering what's going on.

Mr. Chuck's back in a flash – well, for an old man, he is.

Dad kneels and reaches for the redfish. We hold them high, though I want to put an arm around him.

The picture soon fades into view. My eyes are shut a little, but we're both grinning.

Mr. Chuck hands it to me. “You gotta remember these moments.”

“Oh, we will.” Dad gives me a hug. “Good luck at school. Call me if you need anything.”

I fetch my backpack from the bow and head toward the car, but I want to turn back.

My stepdad opens the door. I look down at my picture. What a fish. My friend Bryan'll be jealous. As I get in, I see my dad watching me from the dock. He looks sad. I try to smile. It'll be a hard year, but next summer will come eventually.

In 351 days.


Bane of Anubis said...

Hey, Laura,

what a sad story. As far as capturing the age, sounds good to me, but b/c I'm childless, I may not be the best judge...

I'm in the same boat (NPI) -- I've got a story full of 13-year-olds and I'm constantly worried about making them too old (not too worried about going the other way)...

Good luck w/ the final cut of HOLLOW SOULS - I imagine the process has given you loads of good experience for RRC.

J.J. Bennett said...

I love your attitude. Writing about personal experiances are very special. Good luck with all the work ahead...!

Laura Martone said...

Thanks for reading my story, Bane. I appreciate it. :-) Yes, it is rather sad. My parents got divorced when I was really young, so I think my own sadness and frustration fed this story, for sure. Write what you know and all...

As a non-parent (and as a former freak-child), I have a lot of trouble writing kids, even in HOLLOW SOULS. They're always too mature for their age (at least according to some readers), but I've read plenty of books and seen plenty of movies where maturity levels are all over the map. I mean, look at CALVIN & HOBBES... that was one mature kid.

Good luck with your book, Bane, and thanks for the support re: mine. I really am excited to see HOLLOW SOULS finished once and for all (as if that ever happens!), but I admit to being a little burnt-out. I've been working on it since late 2000. Yeah, I'm one of THOSE people.

P.S. What the heck does "NPI" mean? I've been keeping a list of blog lingo and abbreviations (so that I'm not totally in the dark), and I can't figure that one out.

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, JJ! Good luck with your projects, too!

Steph Damore said...

Hey Laura - that's cool that so much of your life transfers to your writing - vision quests, divorce, Chicago - like you said, write what you know. I get that. I don't think that I do that though. Maybe because there's nothing much worth writing about. That's okay with me, I don't need any unnecessary drama. Make believe works fine too. =)

Re: Character maturity - I think Charlie's maturity level is right on - not too mature at all. Kids are pretty introspective, especially about divorce. Good luck with editing HS!!!

Yet said...

Wow. So sad. That reminds me of someone I knew who took out welfare on her baby-daddy who was perfectly willing to take care of the child and pay for it. But, she just wanted the money and nothing to do with him. She didn't want her kid around him even though I thought he'd better for it. Oh well. I know that's not really related to your story but you know, a good story brings out emotions. And here mines are. Sigh. Great write.

Ps...I think it's perfectly smart to start another book while editing the first. If only others could take the same hint...

Laura Martone said...

Steph - Thanks for the positive reinforcement. Sometimes, I think maybe it's NOT a good thing that so much of me and my personal history informs my writing. But, in some ways, it does make the writing more genuine, more impactful. It would be a curious thing for me to try writing something beyond my experience - although, to a certain degree, I already do that. I mean, although many real-life things like divorced parents, my childhood in New Orleans, and my visit to Mammoth Cave informed my first novel... I've never actually lived in an underground village, you know. ;-)

I guess I channel my "unnecessary drama" through my writing - in a way, it helps me deal with it, but that's certainly not the only way to go. I'm glad your life is so smooth, Steph... you can just go crazy in the world you create!

P.S. BTW, thanks for your assessment re: my story. I want Charlie to be a smart kid, but not TOO smart, if you know what I mean. You're right that the last day of a bittersweet stay with his father would make a kid introspective. I certainly was at his age, but then, as previously stated, I was a "freak-child"! ;-)

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Yet! Thanks for visiting again, and thanks for sharing your thoughts re: my story. I'm delighted that it inspired you enough (emotionally speaking) to relate it to that sad real-life tale. How horrible. One thing I'm grateful for is that even though my folks divorced when I was really young (age 2 1/2), I got to hang out with both of my parents. I lived with Mom but stayed with my dad a lot. I feel so sorry for kids who are stuck between two parents, especially if the one that has them doesn't appreciate them as much as the one who doesn't have them. :-(

P.S. I was slow to learn the lesson, but you're right. Working on the second while finishing the first might seem distracting, but at least I'll have something to do once the first novel is making its rounds with agents. (fingers crossed)

Becky said...

Looks good to me, but I'm in no way a writer...

As a mom of 2 boys though my only comment is that a boy would definately know if his dad had a car. My boys are SOOO into cars, trucks, boats, basically anything with an engine. Also not sure the 10 at night 5 in the morning schedule would work out either. Maybe with a teenager, but not a young child. OTOH no teen-ager would get up that early LOL!

I love the way you talk about the salt marsh though. That rocks!

Oh, and is that your dad? How neat! In all of my years growing up in Louisiana, I've never been out on a boat, except for those "alligator tours". It took moving to Michigan to experience that!

Bane of Anubis said...

NPI - no pun intended (I just make up acronyms as I go - it's part of being a Navy brat)... I was also a former freak-child, a times too precocious, at times way awkward (there's a certain age range of my life where pictures should never have been taken. Like little Polaroid scars :)...

RE: Becky's comments -- a lot of typical boys do care about cars, but growing up, I know I definitely didn't (then again, I wasn't big into fishing either ;) -- but if he's only seeing his dad once every blue moon, knowledge of the car's not that big a deal, IMO, unless his dad's ride is a Ferrari or some fab muscle car.

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Becky! I'm not necessarily looking for a writer's opinion - just wondered if the voice worked. I know you read, after all - which reminds me that I have to get your Kingsolver book back to you somehow!

As far as the car issue, I think Bane's hit the proverbial nail on the head. This is not a typical boy - he only sees his dad two weeks out of the year, and it's their special fishing time, cut off from the world, living in a house on stilts (the same kind of fishing camp, sniff, sniff, that my dad lost in Katrina, sniff, sniff - man, I loved that place!).

As for the hours, those are fishing hours! Even I - the girl who routinely goes to bed at 4 in the morning - am on a different schedule on a fishing day - in fact, if you have to drive a ways to the boat launch, it's more like going to bed at 9 and getting up at 3. When we used to stay at the camp (sniff, sniff), we'd get up at 5 to go fishing all darn day... and be plumb tuckered out by 10 at night. So, this boy, Charlie, would have no problem with this schedule. I appreciate your POV, but it's a whole different world in the marsh. ;-)

Glad you like my description of the salt marsh, though - I really love it out there (save for the gnats) and hope that that comes through in the story.

And, yes, that's my very own Daddoo, holding a freshly caught redfish. I love him so!

P.S. I did a swamp tour once - with my mom, the non-angler. We had a good time - saw a baby alligator and some feral pigs (!) and, of course, lots of Spanish moss! It's hilarious that you do more boat activity in Michigan 'cause I do less - much to Dan's chagrin. It's just hard for me to get used to the slow pace of inland lake fishing after all my years' experience in the bayous, where it's hard NOT to catch something.

Laura Martone said...

Thanks for the NPI explanation, Bane. It might be your acronym, but I like it... so I just included it on my cheat sheet. I feel like such a little old woman with my crib notes, but without them, I'd be lost. You don't know how long it took me to figure out BTW, IRL, ROFL, LMAO, and all the rest, and it took me even longer to finally use things like IMO in a sentence.

Nothing wrong with being a former freak-child and Navy brat - you grew out of most of it, right? (And since I have no idea what you look like - now that I know you're not in fact a dog - I have no frame of reference for the "certain age range" of awkwardness - so that'll remain your little secret).

As I explained to Becky (above), I don't think Charlie would know much about his dad's car 'cause 1. they're on the water the whole time and 2. even when Charlie's gone, his dad's not much of a landlubber. The car is irrelevant, given this particular lifestyle. And, no, he's a humble dad, doesn't make much... so his car would not, in fact, be a Ferrari. That's more the evil stepdad's style.

Lazy Writer said...

The voice sounds great to me! I'm in that revision boat right now, and I admire you for starting another project. I'm having a hard time moving on. I wish you luck in getting everything done.

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Susan. Oh, don't be fooled. I'm not finding it easy to move on yet, but I know I have to. Good luck with your revision - and thanks for the warm fuzzies. ;-)

Becky said...

I bet you're excited about getting back down there! We didn't even own a fishing pole growing up. DH fishes all of the time with the boys though :-). But hunting is his big gig.

Laura Martone said...

I have mixed feelings, Becky. On the one hand, I'm super-excited about seeing the Big Easy (and my family) again. On the other hand, I hate leaving Michigan, especially as it's getting chillier. I love the cold!

But we will be fishing and crabbing soon, so that's something to look forward to!

Strange Fiction said...

Great job Laura! You met both challenges IMO (thought I'd try one of those :) capturing a child's voice and writing in a male POV. I grew up with two brothers and raised three boys and it read true to me. Nice! And awesome that you're starting a new book..that's what got me writing again while my first one simmers on the sidelines.

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Deb! I really appreciate your opinion - especially given your experience with boys of this age. As an only child without cousins, I didn't have much exposure to young boys, so it was a fun challenge to write in Charlie's voice.

Steph Damore said...

Yeah Laura, I thought about this some more today (while folding laundry to be precise). While my life might not make an appearance in my writing, so much of what I read and see does. For example - I watched An Affair to Remember last month and next thing you know, a have an analogy referencing the movie in my current WIP. It's stuff like that that shows up in my work. I could have a field day with all the psychological implications of our writing, but alas, I digress.

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Steph! That's hilarious - I think about writing while folding laundry, too. Course, I also think about food, but I digress...

That makes sense - books and movies influence my writing, too, not just real life. THE HOBBIT, for instance, makes a big appearance in my current novel.

As for psychological implications, well, one of my beta readers is a clinical psychologist - and she already beat you to it! LOL!