Sieze the Toast

\”I\” before \”E\” except after \”C\” and when sounding for \”A\” as in \”neighbor\” and \”weigh.\” So where does that leave us?

The Joy of Filling Pages December 16, 2006

November is over; the madness has barely begun.

Excerpt from Afterthought:

Prologue the First: The Monster in the Closet

In which my internal Editor decides that she has had enough of my Foolishness and attempts to stage a Coup, but is Thwarted by a Deus Ex Machina which I keep on Hand for just such an Occasion.

I was doing so well. Not great, mind you, but I did manage to get some writing time in between moving furniture, putting out my family’s interpersonal fires and installing new software at my non-WriMo best friend’s insistence.

I typed for ten minutes continously before I heard a small pleading voice.

“Let me out,” it said. It was my internal editor. I’d coaxed her into the closet with a trail of m&m’s and locked the door.

“You can come out in twenty-nine days. Take a nap. Have some candy.” I went on typing for another five minutes.

“Please let me out. It’s dark in here!”

“There’s a flashlight on the top shelf, next to the Balderdash set. I’m pretty sure it has fresh batteries. Now shut up.”

She did, for about thirty seconds. When she spoke again, her voice had dropped and octave or two.

“I hate you.”

“Now, that’s just uncalled-for.”

“Your voice is indistinctive and your antagonist is weak.”

“I haven’t even introduced my antagonist.”

“Exactly. You should start over.”

“Dude, for the last time. Shut. Up.”

The closet door rattled. I could hear her scratching at the deadbolt.

“Stop that, right now.”

“Attica! Attica!”

“Har-de-har-har.” I went back to writing.

Gradually, I noticed the sounds from the closet growing louder and louder. I lost my train of thought as a series of ever-growing thumps and bangs issued from the closet door. I finally looked away from the screen and saw her shadow creeping over the threshold. It was seething.

I decided it was time to put my writing aside for the night. Eight hundred words was not a bad start.

Half an hour ago, I returned to my computer and opened the file where my novel resides. I briefly scanned what I’d written. As I did so, my internal editor renewed her attack on the door.

“That’s quite enough of that!” I said. I glanced at the closet door and did a double-take. Its splintered whitewashed surface pulsed outward with each thump from within.

“Awkward construction,” my editor hissed.

THUMP!

“Pointless asides.”

CRUNCH!

“Onomatopoeia!”

With a primal scream and one last fearsome thrust at the closet door, my internal editor burst forth from her prison. She lingered momentarily in the unexpected glare of my desk lamp. Lightning flashed

(“YOU NEVER MENTIONED IT WAS RAINING!”)

as she bounded across the room, flung me from my ergonomic chair and proceeded to backspace mercilessly over the eight hundred words I’d written in the last forty hours.

“Hey, don’t–” I began. She spun around, eyes flaring, mouth foaming, massive pink eraser vibrating thoughtlessly in her hand.

“Right,” said I.

I picked myself up and dashed into the hallway, past the bathroom and the collage of dog pictures on the wall, to a red-painted stainless steel case with a glass front.

“Do not open until November,” it said in bright red letters. I pulled my sleeve over my hand and punched the glass, which fragmented with a very satisfactory crunch-tinkle. Reaching through the spiderwebbed fragments, I retrieved Old Reliable and a full clip of tranquilizer darts. I locked and loaded and returned to my room.

My internal editor had erased my entire story. Grinning and drooling, she proceeded to open the spreadsheet where I’d stashed my character profiles.

“Freeze, Baby,” I said.

She spun around to face me. Fever sweat trickled over the laugh lines by her blazing eyes.

“You won’t,” she crooned. “You can’t and you won’t. Deep down, m’dear, you know you need me. You know you–“

She cocked her head and peered at the tranquilizer dart buried in her shoulder.

It took me a few tries to lift her unconscious form from my chair and drag her away. I’ve stashed her in my brother’s closet for the time being. Let her bother him about his science project for a while, I say. She’s going to the basement tomorrow.

But in the meantime, there is this story.

I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. The event is a sort of contest, not against other writers, but against each individual’s own inhibitions– collectively known among participants as the Internal Editor– as each participant attempts to write a work of fiction consisting of at least fifty thousand words between 12:00AM on November 1st and 11:59PM on November 30th. My novel was called Afterthought.

Excerpt from Afterthought:

She found the tuna.

I would like to take this opportunity to pause and count to one thousand while writing out each number as I come to it. I shall do it like so:

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty, forty-one, forty-two, forty-three, forty-four, forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three, sixty-four, sixty-five, sixty-six, sixty-seven, sixty-eight, sixty-nine, seventy, seventy-one, seventy-two, seventy-three,

[…]

Now, there is a very good reason why I decided to count to one thousand and write out each number in long form at that particular time, but I can’t remember it just now. Perhaps I’ll elaborate upon it later. In any case, as I was saying just before I started counting to one thousand in long form for the past few pages, Iris finally found the can of tuna that she had been looking for. The supermarket actually had many different varieties of canned tuna available, including chunk light tuna in spring water, chunk light tuna in tuna oil, lemon flavored tuna in a pouch, garlic flavored tuna in a pouch, a small lunch kit including a can of tuna, a packet of spicy mustard and some crackers, and several other varieties which escape my mind at the moment. Iris picked out the regular chunk light tuna in spring water, and from the brands available, including the generic store brand, Starkist and Chicken of the Sea, she settled upon the store brand at last and put the single can of generic store brand chunk light tuna in spring water in her basket with the bunch of bananas and her purse and the shopping list, from which she had now found two items but did not plan on crossing anything off of the list at any time in the forseeable future, meaning that the word “bananas” remained unaltered on the list precisely as did the word “tuna” and the word mayonnaise. Iris had been in the supermarket for a little less than three minutes and had already located and obtained two of the three items on her shopping list. Now she only needed to find the mayonnaise and she could proceed to the front of the store, pay for her groceries and leave. She truly looked forward to leaving the store, for she had decided that once she finished her shopping, which is to say, once I had caught up to my desired word count for the day, she could go to the library and surf the Internet and try to pick out names for the characters she wanted to include in her upcoming epic science fiction story which she continued to plan even as she shopped. She carried her basket with the can of tuna and the bunch of bananas and her purse and the shopping list along the aisle of canned goods to the end of the aisle near the front of the store, where the aisle intersected with a wide lane that separated the shelves and their endcaps, some of which were refrigerated, from the cash registers. She followed this lane past a tall display of snack crackers, most of them cheese-flavored, some with sour cream and onion flavoring, but all of them on the savory side of the flavor spectrum and loaded with saturated fat, sodium and other preservatives. Having passed the display without being tempted by the crispy crackery goodness she beheld, she turned right and entered an aisle of basic condiments. She passed ketchup and mustard of many many different types, everything from dijon to brown to stone-ground to yellow blended, and she found the mayonnaise situated between the mustard and a small selection of horseradish, across from a shelf of sesame seed oil, soy sauce and a few other condiments which were probably of Asian origin but which she could not readily identify, although she thought one of them might be peanut sauce and another wore the overly innocuous look of something intensely spicy that derived its greatest joy in life from tempting people who could not fathom its spiciness to pour it onto their food in copious amounts and expect it to be sweet or salty or at the very most mildly spicy, and then, on trying a bite of their thoroughly sauced meal, discover that the sauce was indeed the gastric equivalent of drain cleaner and suffer the aftereffects for hours or days after that single badly-planned experiment. Iris believed that the sauces had a conspiracy, and she approved heartily. After all, what else can a sauce do to amuse itself? But in any event, Iris had found the mayonnaise, and the market only had four kinds available, low fat and regular, store brand and leading national brand, and she picked out her jar of mayonnaise, regular, leading national brand (which was called “Best Foods” in her part of the country but sometimes went by the name of “Hellman’s” in other places) just as I noticed that I had passed the forty thousand word mark and furthermore that I had reached the ninety-ninth page of my book. I wondered whether I should pause now that I had achieved forty thousand words, or if I should keep going and withold celebrations until I had reached or filled the one hundredth page of text in this book which I had started writing twenty-eight days ago and now believed that I was within sight of finishing, even if the finished product made very little actual sense and was full of ramblings about pens and sauces and stories that appear in junior high school literature anthologies and instances where I gave up all pretense of writing creatively and simply counted to one thousand in long form. This became a moot point as I reached the one hundredth page.

It was the story of six people, all of them young, three male, three female, two of them siblings, two half siblings, three demonstrably psychotic. I had a plan, oh yes I did. I wrote out a plot synopsis, a series of points which I wanted to include in my writing each day, character descriptions, a chart of how all of these people related to each other. And do you know what happened?

Excerpt from Afterthought:

“I was going to go home and start working on this thing I was thinking of,” she said.

“Ooh,” Ian said, “a thing! What kind of thing?”

“A book,” she said offhandedly, if that’s the right word, which it probably isn’t, but I think I do need an adverb there because I need to fill out my word count as much as possible tonight so that I won’t have so much pressure tomorrow which is the last day of National Novel Writing Month and I really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really REALLY want to finish writing these fifty thousand words on time so that I can collect my certificate and tell people that I did in fact write novel of sorts in November, a novel which I guess I would categorize under literary fiction because it’s esoteric and has no plot whatsoever as it stands. I mean, I just spent something like twenty pages describing a trip to the grocery store, and that was before I even got to the point of the chapter, which is this conversation between Iris and Ian where they have an open exchange of ideas and it becomes clear that they have a lot in common but still retain enough differences to keep their relationship interesting and to create extra tension when conflict arises even if that conflict does not necessarily involve them directly. See the plot synopsis about twenty five thousand words ago for a brief explanation of what I mean.

“Oh yeah, you write?” Ian asked.

Well, I got bored. Boredom leads to distraction. Distraction leads to ignoring deadlines. Ignoring deadlines leads to fear. Fear is the path to the Dark Side. On whatever crap came to mind, ramble aimlessly I did.

Excerpt from Afterthought:

Chapter after Chapter the Next

In which I had intended to construct an account of Jordan’s most recent date with Carey, perhaps through Carey’s recollections in the presence of his gang, but I think I just might digress to a continued discussion of the novel that Iris and I are planning; I suppose we’ll have to see how it goes. See, here’s the thing: Carey is just really unsavory and kind of stupid in this draft and I really just don’t like to write about him, especially when I could be writing about the characters whom I do like such as Ian and to some degree Nydia, but their big scene comes later in the novel, and now that I think about it, there’s no rule that says that I have to write this thing chronologically or even in the order in which I plan on placing the material in the finished book, so maybe I’ll just skip straight to that scene with Ian and Nydia in the car that it turns out Nydia stole and Ian doesn’t know it yet, and I’ll reserve this bit about Carey and his horrible friends for a time when I feel more like writing that kind of scene, but for now I’d like to write something exciting and offbeat about two kids trying to play grownups in a car that one of them stole so that they could rush to the rescue of a third kid who needs to be saved from herself although it may already be too late for that and it will certainly be too late by the time these kids get there. Or, the other thing I could do is stall for about a dozen words more because I just found out that I’m close to forty four thousand words now and that means I don’t have to write that much more before I can honestly say that I’ve written as much as I need to for the night because I can still finish this thing tomorrow and might I add that it is a wondeful and exillarating feeling to know that I just might actually manage to write fifty thousand words in the month of November and some of those words were actually good but the most important thing is that all of those words are mine and they came from my brain and I typed them with my fingers and the copyright belongs to me although why anybody would want to copy this dreck is anyone’s guess.

Chapter That Comes Somewhat Later in the Book

In which Ian makes an unusual discovery in Nydia’s car, as hinted at in various other parts of the novel.

I did things about which I am not proud. I padded extravagantly. I turned off my spelling checker after the fourth or fifth typo and never looked back. I created a character who was nothing more than a thinly disguised clone of myself and had a dialog with her, regarding a novel which she/I wanted to write.

I also wrote a few daring passages that would be breathtaking in context, if the context was not so full of senseless blathering.

Excerpt from Afterthought:

Epilogue

And that’s all I have, with about seven hundred words remaining. And how will I fill those seven hundred words, you ask? Why, the same way I filled most of this novel, with long rampling patches of execrable prose (and I think I might have misspelled that word also, alghouth I can’t be sure because I turned my spelling checker off at the beginning of this adventure and I never looked back. Let’s see, only about six hundred words left now. I’d like to thank the academy, ha ha ha. Seriously, though, I’d like to thank the following people for their contributions.

First I’d like to thank my parents, [three name blank] and [three name blank] for life and food and shelter and moral support and all of that stuff. I’d like to thank my little brother, [protecting the privacy of a minor blank], for endless filler material drawn from the stuff he does in his room while I’m busy typing away next door. I want to thank Mister [blank of four names] for advice, encouragement, welcome distractions and just being beautiful.

Who else? Let’s see. I’d like to thank Doctor [fifty-year-old Harry Potter fan blank] for removing two benign lumps from my breasts and thereby providing me with the kind of physical and psychological trauma that makes a good novellist into a great one, and while we’re on that subject, I’d also like to thank Spencer, Brandy, Elva, and that kid who gave me an object lesson in the meaning of the phrase “out of breath.” I’d like to thank my dog, Chloe [blank], for being pretty and fuzzy and totally non-judgemental throughout this entire novel writing ordeal. I’d also like to thank the team at National Novel Writing Month headquarters for all of the software and support forums and of course for having this idea in the first place.

Furthermore, I want to thank Chef Boyardee for making one damned fine can of Spaghetti-O’s Brand canned pasta in tomato sauce. This is a food staple that has seen me through some rough times and perhaps permanently damaged my palette in such a way that I can manage to eat just about anything so long as it mostly tastes like tomatoes. I also want to thank all of the little people, and not just the ones who are no more than four feet and eleven inches tall, but also the ones who are only more little than the people around them, or who have little hands or little minds or some combination of the above. Really, where would we be without all of the little people in this world supporting the rest of us giants? Does this make me a literary giant? Of course not. It just makes me the proud owner of a manuscript that comprises ever so nearly fifty thousand words spread over one hundred and twenty-three pages– and not just the owner of that manuscript, but the author thereof, and the proud writer of some of its better passages and the humble scribbler of all of its unreadable junky bits.

Okay, less than two hundred words left now. I can’t run out of things to say just yet. I need to have a bit more than fifty thousand according to the word count feature here in Microsoft Word 2003 (Office Edition) because the word counter here in Microsoft Word Office Edition 2003 is just a little more optimistic than the one on the National Novel Writing Month website and it tends to put my word count about twenty words higher than the one on the website does. Therefore, as I had stated previously, I will need to have about fifty thousand and twenty-three words in this document in order to make the exercise worthwhile. And what a lot of words it’s been! I hate most of these words now, to be brutally honest, but that’s okay because, love them or hate them, they are all my words that stemmed from my brain and were typed by my fingers, even the words that I had pictured Iris typing because Iris is just a fictional character, as is every other character in this story, and while all resemblances that these characters may have to other persons living or dead is purely coincidental, I must admit that I did start out in the very beginning by basing most of these characters on people whom I had met previously, including a few people whom I know fairly well, although of course I changed them enough to prevent these real people from bringing me a real lawsuit. But now I can see, as I write these last words upon this one hundred and twenty fourth page, that I have in fact written well over fifty thousand words, and therefor it is time to save this novel as a .txt or “plaintext” document and submit it for validation– validation of the word count, validation of myself as a novellist. And here we go.

The End.

 

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