In the 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction, starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson (the first and surely the last time those two will find themselves in a film together), Emma Thompson’s character, Karen Eiffel, a weathered and emotionally dark and distraught writer suffering from writer’s block, returns home to the secretary her publisher has sent to make sure she meets her deadline. Eiffel has just had the epiphanous experience of receiving inspiration for the conclusion of her novel. When her secretary, played by Queen Latifah (of all people), asks her how this happened, Eiffel, with irritation and disdain, replies, “Like anything worth writing, it came inexplicably and without method.” I think this is my favorite line of the film. I don’t know that anything worth writing must be or is always received in this way, but I do think that this is often the way of it.
Anyone who has been reading my blog (thank you, by the way) or following me on Twitter knows I’ve been working on a novella and that I recently finished the first draft. Here’s the unfortunate part: the conclusion is garbage; it’s flat and limp. I’ve known this and haven’t really known what to do about it–other than to start edits from the beginning and hope for some inspiration to arrive before I reach the conclusion. Well, that happened…”inexplicably and without method.” Actually, it happened while I was taking out the garbage. It was a freeze-drop-the-bag-stare-at-the-sky, wide-eyed moment. The idea is large and will definitely transform my novella into a novel. The concept is dark and, frankly, it makes me uncomfortable–which means I should definitely write it. So, I’ll be returning to work on this, and I’ll be at it for a good long while. That also means I won’t be posting anymore excerpts here for a good long while. So, I thought I’d post one now.
What I have so far, titled Bear Paw Road, will be part one of what I think will be a three-part novel–maybe four. This excerpt brings us back to Brendan (“Uneg”) and Becca, who are 17 and 16 at the time. Unlike the last excerpt, this one is heavy in dialogue. It’s the summer of 1999 and recent events have caused Brendan’s parents to force him into a summer job at the local grocery store, which pulls him away from his neighborhood friends. Now, enough of my gab; here’s the excerpt:
*For anyone uncomfortable with profanity in lit: this is not adolescent lit and I reflect the language of teenagers as I have experienced it, both as a former teenager and current high school teacher.
The length of Oconaluftee that stretched past my house ran flat and a bit swifter in the center yet still slow and lazy. Spaced almost perfectly down that spine sat three boulders just below the surface, and you could see them from the top of the bank like rounded swells of vertebrae. A day after Yona and I had found the RV and snakeskin, a Sunday, I clung to the long hairlike moss of the rock furthest downstream and let the current drag and massage my legs. Becca sat atop the center rock, a few yards away, legs wide and hands braced in front of her with elbows locked. The water pushed against her back, billowing gently around her hips and waist.
You going to buy me anything with all that money you’re making now? she said.
I can’t buy a damn thing with that money. I just hand the check over to Mom and she shoves it in the bank.
Shit, it’s your money.
Yeah. Dad says I need to save it for college or some shit like that.
You going to college, Uneg?
I was silent for a moment and dunked my head under the water and brought it back up. I don’t know, I said. I guess. I mean, I haven’t really thought about it. That’s just what parents are supposed to say, right? Save your money for college and shit like that. What about you?
I don’t know, Becca said. Dad doesn’t really talk about it. I brought home one of those college fair papers from school one time. He said, there are two types of people: them that go to college and them that work. I’m the working kind. Never said nothing else about it.
We were both quiet then, letting the cool water push over our bodies. Silence was easy on the river, and it never felt out of place as it often can in conversation. But eventually Becca spoke.
You know we’ll be over, right?
Us. if you go to college. We’ll be over.
What are you talking about–why would you say that?
It’s not like a threat, Uneg. It’s just–just, you know, the way it would be.
Why? I mean, I don’t even know that I’ll go. I’ll do whatever you want. I want to be with you.
I want you to go.
You don’t want to be with me.
Yes. I do. But you should go. I mean, you can. You can get out of this fucking place. Do stuff.
I just want to be with you.
What? And live in a fucking trailer, eating goddamn Ramen Noodles every fucking night or nothing at all?
I don’t care. I’d eat nothing, if I had to, I said. I knew it was foolish when I said it.
Fuck you, Uneg. You don’t care because you don’t have any goddamn clue what it’s like in your little palace on the other side of the wall.
I just want you. That’s all I want. I don’t give a fuck about college or money or trailers. I love you.
I was upset and I knew I had upset her. I felt tears breaking free and I hated myself for that. My face was wet from the river water and I hoped Becca wouldn’t notice, but she had heard the quaver in my voice. She released her rock and let the current push her the short distance to mine, where she stopped in front of me.
Becca sat on the river bed with her stomach against the rock, her head just above the surface and her nose a breath from mine. The fleck of gold in her eye flashed and she placed her wet, water-wrinkled hands against my cheeks and kissed both my eyelids. I know, she said. I know you do. But you need to stop. Okay? You need to stop.
She pushed herself away, and the current carried her downriver slowly, where she took to the bank nearest the trailer park.
I won’t tell you what my new idea is, but it takes my characters far into adulthood. I’m excited about this, though I’m sure I’ll commiserate about it here from time to time. And, of course, I’ve still got some short stories I’ve been writing and editing and submitting. Again, for those who have been reading, thank you for your support and encouragement. It means more than you know.