V is for… [V]iews #AtoZChallenge

Plans change. When you start building, you don’t expect to find an underground river beneath your foundation. When a bride-to-be hires you to design her gown, with intricate lacing and beading, you don’t expect for her to tell you that the wedding is in a week. When you have a novel all planned out and eager to be written for NaNoWriMo (which seems so far away now), you don’t expect to eliminate what you thought could have been a main character—and certainly a co-narrator—along with their subsequent subplots.

But that’s exactly what I did.

The editor bitch in me has awoken (I knew it was time), and she’s itching to make some changes. Better to change things now before I start writing. I know all too well how editing a story before it’s even finished can completely derail progress.

So what’s changed?

Reviewing my latest posts, I’ve discovered that Detective Maye isn’t as essential to the plot of the story as I had originally intended. While I won’t ax his character altogether (we still have a “Lost Boy” to find) his part will get significantly reduced to make room for Tony, who’s character grows more and more with each new post.

A few things contributed to this change. First, I’ve barely mentioned Detective Maye since K is for Kindred, and his last dedicated post was I is for Ice Cold, which seems like ages ago. However, what really sealed Maye’s fate was the outline, or more specifically, the fact that if you sneezed, you probably would’ve missed him.

I’ve said before that Lost Boy is a family story, and the outline was an obvious clue of which family I needed to focus on. So I’m not going to force a subplot that simply isn’t there. A good writer (or maybe a better editor) knows when a character has overstayed his welcome. The three scenes that Maye had (without Leslie) didn’t really affect the plot much, and I don’t think they would be missed if I tossed them, so…

Let it gooooo!

I don’t want to completely give up on the Detective Maye character, which I think is very strong on its own, so stay tuned—you make see more of him on this blog in the form of a separate short story or flash fiction.

However, concerning Lost Boy, Maye is now just the cop Leslie enlists to search for Gregory. He won’t have any dedicated chapters, although I will keep the multiple points of view structure (for now), alternating between Leslie and her son Tony. With Leslie and Tony as the narrators (actually, I think I prefer Leslie’s chapters to be in first person, and Tony’s in third), you will get to see the drastic contrast in how the two main characters react to Gregory’s disappearance.

Well, that’s it for today’s post. A short one, I know—I’m just relieved to post it at a reasonable hour for once. I haven’t decided what “W” is going to be about. I’m debating between a post on potential research interview questions for Leslie’s prison ministry (which is currently still a plot point until editor bitch decides otherwise), or another backstory on Tony. What’s your view? Which do you prefer?

By the way, if you’re wondering if anything else will change with the novel between now and NaNoWriMo, the answer is a definite YES. I still need a real title!

Until tomorrow, A to Z-ers!

T is for… [T]ony Fields #AtoZChallenge

I’m on the clock (59 minutes and counting…) so let’s cut to the chase.

Character Sketch: Who is Tony Fields?

  • Antonio “Tony” Fields, Jr. is the eldest son of Antonio, Sr. and Leslie Fields, and the older brother of Gregory Fields. He is also married to his high school sweetheart, Kerry.
  • Tony starting smoking marijuana at age 15, after his father’s death, as a way to cope with the grief. The drug has become a crutch or handicap for him; he often turns to it whenever he struggles to express his emotions, whether, grief, jealousy, or anger, which only amplifies what he is feeling.
  • It hasn’t gone without Tony’s notice that his mother shows more attention and is more affectionate toward Gregory, which has caused him to be extremely jealous of his little brother, to the point that he doesn’t even care when Gregory disappears or that he may be in trouble, until it affects him.
  • Tony holds a lot of animosity toward his mother and brother and often takes his anger out on Kerry. Kerry regrets that she might have settled for Tony because they’ve been together for so long.
  • Tony and Kerry dated all through high school. They stayed together long distance after graduation. Kerry went to college in Raleigh to study journalism, and Tony signed up for Job Corps to become a HVAC technician. When Kerry finished school and returned home, they married.
  • Tony has been working since completing his training at Job Corps, while Kerry was in school for four and half years. Kerry struggles to find a job that can get her through the door to eventually becoming a news anchor, her dream job. She works at the bank to collect a paycheck until she can find a job in her field. However, there aren’t many options for her in the small town of Leiland, and she considers moving back to Raleigh, though she hasn’t told Tony.
  • Because of his recent promotion, Tony makes more money than Kerry, and has become more controlling and domineering over her, even belittling her for her job in Pleasant’s Edge.
  • Tony’s angry outbursts and controlling habits begin to be too much for Kerry, and she finally decides to leave him.

Limitations? Desires? What’s at stake? What does he have to lose/gain?

  • When Leslie reports Gregory missing, Tony becomes angry with her. Jealous of all the attention she gives to Gregory, Tony wants her to just give up on her other son and focus on his problems instead, like his failing marriage with Kerry.
  • Despite his mistreatment of Kerry, Tony loves her, and will do anything for her. With his father dead, and Leslie obsessing over Gregory’s disappearance, other than Grandma Stella, who he does talk to regularly, Kerry is the only family Tony has left, and he fears, with her leaving, he will truly be alone.
  • Leslie still does not give Tony the comforting he needs. She thinks Kerry and Tony married too soon anyway and that Tony can do better. She thinks Kerry has no ambition because despite having a degree in journalism, she’s been working at the same SunTrust Bank in Pleasant’s Edge for the last three years. She brushes him off, believing that Gregory’s disappearance is more urgent.
  • When it is revealed that Gregory may be connected to the bank robbery that occurred at the same bank where Kerry works, Tony assumes the worst in his brother and wife and takes things into his own hands, which could end up tearing their already broken family apart for good.

With mere seconds left before I’m officially late (and because I’ve run out of things to say about Tony), I shall end this character sketch for the night. Thank you for coming back to another novel planning session. Stay tuned for tomorrow, when I plan to bring “U” at least an hour earlier. 😉 If you missed the last “late night” post about epigraphs and scriptures, check it out here!

S is for… [S]cripture #AtoZChallenge

Thank you for tuning in to another planning session for Lost Boy! The novel is quickly coming together, and I’m so excited for November, when I will actually begin writing it for NaNoWriMo.

Throughout this A to Z Challenge, we’ve talked a lot about the contents of the novel—outline, character sketches, backstory, and more. Today I want to dive into the structure of the novel, specifically how I plan to open each new chapter.

I love epigraphs in literature. An epigraph is a short poem, sentence, or quotation from another work that appears at the beginning of a piece of literature. An author may use an epigraph to introduce a reader to the themes on context of his or her work, similar to a preface.

I love epigraphs because they are like quick previews or summaries to the stories or poems I am about to read.

In my very first A to Z Challenge, I began work on a novel/novella (still not sure how long it will be) entitled Love Poetry. As the title suggests, I wanted to incorporate the use of love poetry (written between the characters) throughout the story. After the challenge was over, I decided to put the poems at the beginning of each chapter in the form of an epigraph (although the thought of ending each chapter with a haibun has crossed my mind also), as a way to introduce what will happen in the chapter.

In a similar fashion, I want to introduce each chapter of Lost Boy with an epigraph. Because the novel has very strong Christian themes, I thought it would be a great idea to begin each chapter with a quote from scripture.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

One thing I love about reading the Bible is that no matter what situation you’re in, there is always a bible verse that speaks to that situation and helps you get through it. Even for those bible verses you’ve read a million times. On your one million and first time reading it, a new revelation will come to you that you never even thought of, and you will see the verse in a totally different light. It’s true! I can’t tell you how many times it has happened for me. It’s that power of the Holy Spirit—He convicts the world of sin, and He leads and guides you into all truth.

The purpose of using a bible verse as an epigraph at the opening of each chapter is to show, especially in Leslie’s case, that there is help in the Bible for every situation. There is help, hope, a lesson to be learned, guidance, conviction, etc. There are 66 books in the Bible, over 1,000 chapters, and thousands more verses—there’s no reason why you can’t open it up and find one that pertains to your particular situation, which is why Leslie reads hers twice a day.

I haven’t decided which ones I’m going to use yet. The verses about the Prodigal Son is an obvious choice since this entire novel alludes to that parable. The above quoted Jeremiah 29:11, is also an option, maybe for one of the earlier chapters.

But I also want to use verses that most people don’t know. We all have those memory verses and scriptures we were taught growing up in church, like John 3:16, Philippians 4:19, and Psalm 23, just to name a few, but what about James 4:3 (“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your own pleasures.”), 1 Samuel 16:7c (“People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”), or Exodus 22:22 (“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.”)

There are so many other bible verses that could help the characters of Lost Boy get through their problems. I guess I need to open up my own Bible so I can get some of those verses in my arsenal!

Until next time…

R is for… [R]esearch #AtoZChallenge

One more week to the finish line… Almost there… Don’t get burnt out. Do not get burnt out…

I’m all caught up, and I’m even early with today’s post—compared to my usual knocking on midnight posting time—so let’s skip right to it, because I have a feeling this post is going to be short—A to Z starting to weigh down on all of us. I think we’re all looking forward to the grace of Sunday . . .

. . . pun not intended . . . but sweetly satisfying.

In this planning session, I want to talk about research. I don’t think people really understand how much research is involved in the writing process. And I’m not just talking about papers for school or academic journals, or articles in the New York Times. Fiction writing requires heavy research as well. Unless you’re into the fantasy genre and you’re creating a whole new world, there’s bound to be something about the subject you’re writing that you are absolutely clueless on.

How can you write a war novel when you’ve never been in the army? How can you write a love story set in Victorian London when you’re an east Texas millennial? How can you write a story about a murder trial when you’ve never stepped foot inside a court room? How can you plan the perfect murder when you’ve never killed anyone? (Ok, poor example. Please don’t go kill somebody. Just . . . I don’t know . . . google the Zodiac Killer and figure out how the hell he got away with it.)

Of course, you could always wing it and hope that your readers will simply accept it as truth, no questions asked. But the tricky part about writing fiction is that you have to make it sound somewhat believable, even though it’s totally made up. Most readers aren’t dumb (most, not all, because I’ve seen a lot of five star reviews on Amazon for books that were complete garbage, but that’s a rant for another day). I can’t speak for all readers, but when I’m reading a book and I start to notice that the author is just making shit up, I completely check out. I either don’t finish it, or I keep reading because it’s so laughable and ridiculous, and because I really want to roast it online.

Believe me, you do not want to get roasted online. There are enough trolls on the internet to begin with, and book reviewers are probably the worst. Save your writing career and do the research.

I know Lost Boy will require a bit of research. Especially on Detective Maye’s side of the story. The only thing I know about police is what I see on TV, and that could be horribly inaccurate. For example, is there really a 24 to 48 waiting period before someone can file a missing persons report? While we’ve accepted it on television, logically it doesn’t make since. The missing person could be dead in 24 hours! Also, what does the inside of a police station look like? Do the officers work at desks? Cubicles? Do detectives really have partners?

Secondly, there’s Leslie’s work in the jail ministry. What are the general rules for jail visitations? Do the evangelists need special paperwork to enter? What does the inside of a jail look like? Where do the visitors meet? In a common area? Behind a screen?

So I have a lot of questions, and as I’ve said before, I can either make shit up and hope that it’s believable, or I can do the research so that I can portray every scene accurately.

While searching online is usually the quickest way to find information, there’s too much fake stuff online, and besides, this type of research really requires some footwork. I have two people I plan to interview in doing my research: one of the members in my church’s Jail/Prison Ministry, and my godmother’s brother (god uncle—is that a thing?), a retired police lieutenant. He could probably even get me inside a station, though I have no interest in going inside a jail—too scary!

Of course, now I have to think of some questions to ask. Funny truth about me: I hate asking questions; I never know what to say, and I always stumble over my words (I write, I don’t talk). Maybe I’ll make that a topic for a future post. What to ask the interviewees. Suggestions welcome!

—Nortina

P is for… [P]lace #AtoZChallenge

I come to you with the letter “P” a day late . . . again, but as I said in the last post, procrastination works!

. . . as long as you eventually write something.

Last night at around 11PM, the clock winding down, I finally gave up on the post I originally had planned for yesterday. The creative river just wasn’t flowing as it was in O is for Outline. I spent more time looking ahead to the harder letters at the end of the alphabet, wondering how on earth I would be able to pull those off when I couldn’t even finish “P”!

I thought maybe if I shortened it, I would have a sharper, clearer vision of how I wanted the scene to go (since these posts are technically supposed to be only 300 words and I’ve been hitting 1000 most days—hey, I’ve been dealing with writer’s block for the past year; be happy I’m able to write at all). No such luck. So I tabled it and went to bed with the hope to return to the unfinished post in the morning, my mind refreshed.

Well, I’m back, I’m refreshed, and I have a totally new idea. In my post about location, I mentioned that I would set the events of Lost Boy in a fictional town. While using a real city probably isn’t as hard as I’m obviously making it out to be, I like the creative freedom of a made-up city. Of course, that would mean I’d have to think of a name, and you already know how hard that is for me.

I actually had to come up with two places: The town where Leslie, Stella, Tony, and the majority of the characters reside, and the the outer (or “inner”) city where Gregory lives with Tammi.

So let’s get into naming them.

In school, I read a lot of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Scarlet Letter and “Young Goodman Brown” are the first titles that come to mind. If you’re unfamiliar with Nathaniel Hawthorne and his work, he was a Puritan novelist in the 1800s, and his fiction often featured moral and religious allegory. An allegory is a literary device used to suggest a specific meaning through metaphors, usually in names of places or characters.

Hawthorne’s use of allegory has definitely had an effect on my writing. Rarely do I create a title or name a place or character without first having some kind of symbolism behind that name. It’s why Tanisha’s name was changed to Tammi, why Lost Boy is still a temporary title, and why it has taken me up to letter “P” in the A to Z Challenge to think of a setting for the novel.

So I’ve done a lot of talking and still haven’t told you anything. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

Lost Boy will take place in Leiland, North Carolina.

Originally it was Leiland Brier, but it sounded too much like it belonged in a fairytale (thinking of Briar Rose, the pseudonym or mother of Sleeping Beauty depending on which version you read), so I shortened it to Leiland.

No research or special selection process went into coming up with this name. I spent more time than I wanted to Googling common city names, and nothing jump out at me. Then, like a light bulb going off in my head, the name Leiland came to me, and I ran with it.

Funny thing is, there is a Leland, North Carolina (pronounced the same, but mine is spelled with an “i”). It’s located on the southeastern coast of the state (where I also wanted to put my Leiland, but a little further inland, like around Fayetteville). It’s very close to Wilmington, NC, where my family is from, which is puzzling why I’ve never heard of this town before today. Nevertheless, let us not confuse the two Le(i)lands; mine is completely made up.

Because I’m so obsessed with symbolism in names, I decided to look up the name Leiland to see what it meant and if it would even work as a town name in this novel. Because it’s typically used as a boy’s name, I looked at a lot of baby name and mom.com websites. One website says it means “protective” or “protected land.” Another website says it is derived from a place name meaning “fallow land.” Of course, then I had to look up “fallow,” which means  “left unplowed and unseeded during a growing season,” referring to farmland.

In trying to relate the two definitions, I realized fallow land is protected land. It is protected from the damage that comes with farming. Think about it. It would be unwise to farm the same land year after year. You’d be overworking it, and eventually, the once fertile soil will erode away, and the land will become useless for growing crops, or even grass. A successful farmer knows to give his land a rest every so often. It’s even in the Bible. God instructed the children of Israel to work the land for six years, but in the seventh year, the land was to have a year of Sabbath rest to the Lord (Leviticus 25:1-4). When I hear the word Sabbath, the first thing that comes to mind is holy. (“Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” [Exodus 20:8]). Holy means set apart; dedicated to God. Bringing it back full circle, is fallow land not land that is set apart?

 

So let’s look at my fictional town of Leiland, North Carolina again. By the above definitions, symbolically Leiland is set apart, protected under God. Leslie, a devout Christian and avid church goer, lives in Leiland. In contrast, her son Gregory moves out (from under the authority and protection of God) to live with Tammi and gets into all kinds of trouble.

I think the name of the city where Gregory and Tammi live will be a little more overt in its symbolism: Pleasant’s Edge. A city right outside of Leiland, Pleasant’s Edge is where the bank robbery takes place, it’s where the landfill and crime infested trailer park are located. Nothing good ever happens in Pleasant’s Edge. As the name suggests, symbolically it is just beyond the edge of (God’s) love, (God’s) forgiveness,  (God’s) peace, and (God’s) protection. It’s just beyond the edge of having faith and pleasing God. This is were Gregory goes, similar to an exile, like the children of Israel, who were exiled from the promised land because they turned away from God.

And so the story will be about bringing Gregory back…

—Nortina

O is for… [O]utline #AtoZChallenge

Procrastination has a sneaky way of kick starting the creative process. While frantically typing away to finish a post that should’ve gone up on Monday, I was bulldozed with scene after scene, the outline for my novel unfolding before my very eyes.

I had planned to reserve the outline for the final days of the A to Z Challenge, but I’ve decided to grant you the opportunity to see it now, since at the moment, I have no other ideas for “O” and I still have to write my “P” post before the day’s out.

So, without further ado, I present to you Lost Boy,  a rough plot that’s almost complete, the official resolution still in the works.


Prologue – a young man enters a SunTrust Bank at around lunchtime and demands money. He leaves with two thousand dollars just before the police arrive.

Beginning – Introduction of Characters and Main Conflict

  • Leslie Fields goes to the police station to report her son Gregory missing.
  • Detective Frank Maye begins his investigation. Starts by questioning the last person to see him—his fiancé Tammi White
  • Tony Fields confides in his mother that his wife has left him. He wants her to convince Kerry to come back. Leslie tells him about his brother, sending him over the rails—more upset that she reported Gregory missing than he is about Gregory’s actual disappearance.
  • While conducting his investigation, Maye is informed of a recent robbery in a nearby town, and believes there may be a connection to his case.

Rising Action – The Events Leading up to the Climax

  • Maye informs Leslie that a suspect fitting Gregory’s description recently robbed a bank. He goes to the bank to interview the employees.
  • Leslie Googles the bank robbery and finds a short news article. At the top of the article is a grainy security cam photo of the suspect. She studies the photo—it’s the first time she’s seen her son in almost a year.
  • Tony barges in the house, still dressed in his uniform. Kerry has taken all her things out of the house while he was at work. Leslie tells him about the robbery, shows him the article. He realizes it’s the same bank where Kerry works. He leaves upset.
  • Tony goes off to find Gregory himself. He verbally assaults Kerry at her sister’s house. Her sister threatens to call the police. He leaves, stops by Roscoe’s, then questions Lamar. Finally he sees Tammi and learns about the twins.
  • Leslie tries to distract herself in church work. She visits the county jail with her prison ministry. While ministering to one of the inmates, the conversation turns to Gregory.
  • Tony blows up Leslie’s phone. Tells her about Tammi and the twins.
  • Maye interviews Kerry and asks if she had any connection with Gregory and the bank robbery.
  • Tony and Leslie go to Grandma Stella’s, who confesses she already knew about the babies and had been sending them money.
  • When they return to Leslie’s house, they find Gregory sitting on the front step.

Climax – The Turning Point of the Novel

  • Tony immediately pounces on Gregory, beating him pretty badly before Leslie can pull him off. He accuses Gregory of having an affair with Kerry and interrogates him about the grandchildren Leslie didn’t know about.
  • Leslie tells Tony to go home and sends Gregory inside to clean himself up. She calls Maye and tells him the good news. He wants to come over to talk to Gregory, but she hangs up.
  • The uniforms at the precinct tell Gregory they received an anonymous tip on the bank robbery. They’re going to make an arrest. He follows them to the Fields house.
  • Tony sits in his car parked by the curb, phone in hand, and watches and police escort Gregory in handcuffs.

Falling Action – Events Leading Down to the Resolution

  • Leslie visits the bank where the robbery took place. Kerry is working, so is the teller who gave Gregory the money. She talks to both of them.
  • Leslie realizes Jacquelyn’s (Tammi’s mother) trailer is in the neighborhood. She goes to confront her about Gregory, Tammi. and the children.
  • Maye bails Gregory out of jail.

 

And that’s all I have! Like I said, the floodgates really opened up on this one. On top of that, additional scenes came to me as I was writing this post! I went from having no idea what this novel would be about—working only on the idea of a bank robbery and a mother reporting her son missing and trying to connect the two—to having almost a completed outline! Looking over this outline, I realize Tony may get a few dedicated chapters. I guess my dislike for multiple POV novels will have to take a back seat.

I’m still struggling to resolve this novel. My theory is that the conclusion will come in the very next scene after Maye bails out Gregory, or the scene after that. I have to bring this all together somehow, but I have a whole week and a half to figure that out. For now, it looks like NaNoWriMo is going to be a breeze come November!

—Nortina

M is for… [M]oynihan Report #AtoZChallenge

In this short brainstorming session, I want to introduce an idea…

In our last post, we began to establish a setting for Lost Boy. Where, when, and under what circumstances will the novel take place? First, it will take place in a city in North Carolina (most likely a fictional city . . . as soon as I think of a name). Second, the time period is present day, and that is where the “circumstances” come in. What is happening in present day (insert city name here*), North Carolina that could affect the characters or the plot of the story? We looked at the black poverty of the area (the trailer park, the crime infested Shell station and the neighborhood around it), the corrupt justice system that creates career criminals, and the lack of fathers because of the corrupt justice system that creates career criminals (among other causes), which brings us to today’s topic.

The Moynihan Report, also known as The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, written in 1965 by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an American sociologist, introduces the “pathology” of the black single mother household. Drawing back on the detrimental effects of slavery, he blames the broken familial structure of the black community for its non-advancement and continued poverty and increased criminal behavior. It goes on to say that the rise of black single mothers has contributed to the weakening of black men.

Obviously a lot of people had a problem with this report, but even today you still hear these kinds of stereotypes about black families and black women, and most of them are spoken by black people themselves! Black men who don’t date black women because they’re always “angry and bitter.” Black women who call black men “ain’t shit niggas.” Where does all this anger and malice come from?

The blame game is a slippery slope when trying to explain someone’s actions. Exploring these concepts in Lost Boy, let’s look at the black women characters and the ways they could contribute to the detrimental behavior of Gregory.

Leslie –  Leslie is left to raise her two boys by herself after the tragic and sudden death of her husband. While Antonio, Sr.’s absence isn’t due to stereotypical reasons (avoiding responsibilities, death due to violence, prison, etc.), the broken Fields family still becomes a statistic. Antonio, Sr. dies at the most critical part in the boys lives. They are teenagers on the verge of manhood, and all of a sudden they don’t have a man to teach them anymore. All that’s left is Leslie and Grandma Stella.

Leslie has a tendency to coddle her sons, especially her youngest, Gregory. They’re her babies. It’s not on purpose, she just loves and cherishes her boys so much, she doesn’t want them to grow up. Where it starts to get detrimental is when she appeases, enables, or ignores poor behavior because she doesn’t know how to properly correct them, and any instruction or correction she may bring on the boys Stella will surely undermine because, well, she’s Grandma. Even if they try to bring in father figures, most boys reject men, who aren’t their fathers, coming into their lives and trying to tell them what to do.

Does this all add up to result Tony and Gregory’s problems in adulthood?

Or may Tammi and Jacquelyn are to blame.

Tammi and Jacqueline “Jacqui” White – This mother-daughter duo is probably the most stereotypical characters in the novel and the most damaging. They’re both selfish. They both use Gregory for everything he has (or everything he doesn’t have). Tammi cheats on him and gets pregnant with twins, which has got to be a stab at his ego. Jacqui’s husband doesn’t do shit, so now Gregory is playing husband to both Tammi and Jacqui, and he isn’t married to either of them.

So why does he stay? Does he feel like he deserves this kind of treatment, and if so, why? Because of his upbringing? Does he think he has to be responsible for them? Is he confused about what he should do because he didn’t have his father to teach him? The sad part is I don’t thing this question is ever truly answered in the novel. It’s human nature to want an explanation for everything, to have something to blame. But it’s hard to blame someone else for a decision YOU make.

And I, as the author, am not going to tell you anything. I’ll show you what the characters do, and you’ll have to figure out for yourself what the heck is up with them.

We’ll start with Tony in our next post.

L is for… [L]ocation #AtoZChallenge

Location, location, location…

Location, usually referred to as setting in literature, is the time and place of the events in a story. Basically, it helps to establish when, where, and (if it’s a good story) under what circumstances a story takes place. So let’s take a look at Lost Boy in relation to setting.

The Where

Where will Lost Boy take place? While revisiting previous posts, I realized that without thinking about it, I established the setting as North Carolina.  Tammi (previously Tanisha; read K is for Kindred for the explanation on the name change) is suspected of having a side dude “down in Charlotte,” which would lead the sharp reader to assume that the events of the novel occur in a city north of Charlotte. And, as if to further confirm North Carolina as the state, Frank remembers it being ice cold on the day his father disappeared because of North Carolina’s bipolar weather patterns.

Well, I live in North Carolina. Who better to write and establish North Carolina as the setting for a story than an actual citizen?

So if North Carolina is the state, where’s the city? This is probably the harder question. We already know it has to be north of Charlotte, and relatively close to the Virginia boarder (because Frank drives to Virginia, following a lead on his missing five-year-old case). That would put it in counties like Guilford, Alamance, or Forsyth. Rockingham County, while along the Virginia border, might be a little too redneck for this type of story (we’ll look deeper into that later in this post). I also want to stay away from any city that would cause certain people I know to think the story is about them. I’ve considered the city of Durham. Durham has a very high black population, which would be relevant in this story. A high black population usually means (unfortunately) high poverty and high crime. The trailer park where Tammi’s parents live could easily be located in Durham.

Of course, if I do decide to use an actual city in North Carolina, my biggest concern would be how accurate my portrayal is. For example, a few months ago, I read a novel about a black zombie apocalypse (crazy novel! I’ll have to do a book review on it very soon). The first half of the novel took place in North Carolina, so of course I was reading through those pages with a fine-tooth comb. One part that really made me cringe was that the author put NC Central University in Raleigh. Noooo! NC Central is in Durham! I know Raleigh and Durham are close, but they are not the same! What made it so cringe-worthy was that NC Central, a historically black college, was the epicenter of this black zombie apocalypse. If the black population in Durham isn’t the majority yet, it’s pretty damn close. These three parts weigh huge significance in this type of story, and it’s essential that the author gets them right. Raleigh is too white for this kind of story. On top of that, it’s the state capital! It wouldn’t work. Needless to say, while I liked the book, it was very hard for me to get past that enormous blunder.

I don’t want that to happen with my novel. I don’t want citizens of Durham to stop and think, “Is there a SunTrust bank across the street from a Shell gas station?” “Is there a trailer park next to a shut down landfill?” “Is that street really one way?” etc. Which is why I am not totally against a made up city. Hey, if a fictional town is described well enough in a novel, people will swear out that it’s really. I’ve googled a few cities after reading a good book because I thought they actually existed.

Of course, then I would have to think of a name, and as you’ve seen with my title struggle (and also with Tanisha/Tammi’s name change), names aren’t always my forte. Which is why so often I would write a story where the main characters are simply referred to as I, him, or her (the Buried series is one example).

Maybe in a later post, I’ll have a fictional city/town sketched out for you. It would have to begin with the letters M through Z, the second half of the alphabet, so I’d better start brainstorming!

The When

Not much to say here—Lost Boy takes place in present day. We will often be looking back on things that happened in the past (Antonio, Sr.’s death, Gio Maye’s disappearance), and how those events have affected the various characters in their present.

There’s also Aunt Bethel, who’s probably going to be a third or fourth tier character. Her character is not important to the plot of the story; she and her early onset dementia will probably serve only as comedic relief. But she could also be a reminder to Frank of his parents, Gio and Clara, which could create a lot of tension, again, because Gio’s disappearance was never closed. Bethel being there, her mind sometimes getting trapped in the past because of her dementia, wandering around, like Gio might have wandered, could help with necessary character development for Frank.

The Circumstances

Setting doesn’t always have to mean time and place. It could also refer to the atmosphere or circumstances by which a story takes place. That could mean current events or things that have happened that would make characters think and act a certain way. Let’s look back at that zombie apocalypse novel I mentioned earlier. The time and place would be present day and North Carolina. Since the story is about surviving a zombie outbreak of black people, the areas to avoid would obviously be where there is a heavy concentration of black people—the projects, historically black universities like NC Central, which is in Durham! Also, because North Carolina is in the southern United States, racism will be a definite issue. A white person wouldn’t think twice about shooting a nigga in the head in this story. Is it because he’s black or because he could be a zombie? That fine line between killing for survival and killing because of race and prejudice is what I really liked about the novel.

Looking at Lost Boy, one of the circumstances would be poverty, in Gregory’s case. He’s a black man with no degree, he can’t keep a good paying job, he works off the record for his buddy’s landscaping and roofing company, he struggles to provide for his selfish fiancé, her two kids, and her needy family, they live in a poor neighborhood where there is high crime. All of this will play a part in Gregory’s downward spiral.

Then there’s the question of justice for the black man. Gregory robs a bank. And the bank teller, who is assumed to be black also, has pity on him. She fears that if he is caught, he could be shot and killed by police. Will Gregory even make it to trial if he is caught, and if so, how long will the sentence be? He didn’t kill anybody. He didn’t threaten anyone with a gun. He’s just a broke man desperate for money. Unfortunately, broke men desperate for money can often get years in prison. College boys serve less time for rape! It’s ridiculous how fucked up our justice system is.

So is it smart for Leslie to report him missing? Obviously, she doesn’t know that he robbed a bank, neither does Detective Maye, but if or when they find out, then what?

Another circumstance would be fatherhood/manhood, which I talked about in detail in F is for Fathers. Because of Gregory’s situation, it’s hard for him to be that father and that man that Antonio, Sr. had trained him up to be. This inability to pull himself up from the abyss could inadvertently lead to the continuation of the generational curse that has plagued black families since slavery.

We’ll look at another potential circumstance in the next post, which is closely related to fatherhood/manhood. Can you guess it?

—Nortina


Side note: I’m a day behind because I’ve been traveling for the holiday. I can’t guarantee “M” will go up tonight, but I will try my hardest to have it posted by Sunday so I can be back on schedule with “N.” Happy A to Z-ing!

K is for… [K]indred #AtoZChallenge

Apparently there aren’t many words in the English language that begin with “K”—that or I need to pick up a dictionary and expand my vocabulary, because this is the second time I’ve used kin (or a variation of the word) as my “K” post for the A to Z Challenge. However, be not alarmed; this isn’t a copout post. I’m still reeling on the flood of inspiration I received while writing my late “J” post this morning, so let’s hop into it!

In this novel planning session, we’re going to take a look at our secondary characters—this basically being a family story, let’s call them the kinfolk of our main characters, Leslie, Detective Maye, and Gregory.

Who are they?

  • Antonio Fields, Sr. – Late husband of Leslie Fields and father of Tony and Gregory Fields
  • Antonio “Tony” Fields, Jr. – Older brother of Gregory and eldest son to Leslie and Antonio, Sr.
  • Stella Johnson – Mother of Leslie and grandmother of Tony and Gregory
  • Tammi White – Gregory’s Fiancé
  • Jacquelyn White – Mother of Tammi and future mother-in-law of Gregory
  • Giovanni “Gio” Maye –  Missing (presumed deceased) father of Detective Frank Maye
  • Clara Maye – Deceased mother of Frank, wife of Gio, and older sister of Bethel
  • Bethel Simms – Younger sister of Clara and aunt to Frank

 

What I love about planning a novel is that things so often change as the story comes together. Looking over this character list, I’m sure you’ve noticed some changes. So let’s look at the first significant change:

1. Tanisha becomes Tammi.

I wasn’t totally in love with the name Tanisha when she first appeared in Broken Vow, but for the sake of finishing the flashback and not getting stuck on something as small as a name, I just threw one in there, with the prevision to change it later. My thinking behind the name Tammi was that I wanted her to have a pretty, feminine name that would be in direct contrast with her succubus nature. Tanisha just wasn’t doing that for me—my mind kept going back to Bad Girls Club.

So Tanisha is now Tammi.

Also added is her mother, Jacquelyn. Jacquelyn won’t play a major part in the novel; we probably won’t even see her, apart from her antics being recounted by other characters. All you need to know about Jacquelyn is that the apple (aka Tammi) doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Both Tammi and Jacquelyn use Gregory for the little money that he does have. When it comes to anything that may cost them their time and energy, their only thought process is, “What can I get out of it?” To them, Gregory, who was taught at an early age the importance of giving, is a walking ATM. While it is said that the man is supposed to be the provider of the home, Gregory is more of a slave or servant to Tammi and Jacquelyn. What’s worse is that Jacquelyn is married, yet she takes from Gregory what her husband should be giving. I won’t even bother to give him a name, because that’s how insignificant and worthless of a man her husband is.

2. Frank is already a missing persons detective when his father disappears.

In Frank’s character sketch earlier in the challenge, I mentioned that the disappearance of his father—now named Gio—was the reason Frank became a missing persons detective—he desperately wanted to find his father.

Well, that all changed with Ice Cold. In this flashback, Frank is remembering the circumstances surrounding his father’s disappearance. He was deep in a troublesome (possible sex-trafficking) case of a missing five-year-old. That day was also his parents’ anniversary. He last spoke to Gio that morning. Gio was on his way to the florist to buy a last minute anniversary gift for Clara. Later that day, when Frank arrived at his parents’ house, he learned from his mother that Gio had never returned. That was nine years ago (previously two).

I think this change strengthens Frank’s story, because 1.) He’s a missing persons detective who for nine years can not find his missing father. 2.) His mother, Clara, dies earlier this year without ever knowing what happened to her husband, which would definitely eat away at Frank’s psyche. 3.) When he’s assigned to Gregory’s case, he meets another grieving widow, who lost her husband around the same time Gio disappeared. Now her son is missing, and Frank wants more than anything to bring her that closure he could never give his own mother.

Also gone is Gio’s dementia. Someone that far gone, probably wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house by himself. It’s possible his dementia was still in the early stages—like his sister-in-law, Bethel—and he was able to hide it from his family. This could explain why Frank is overprotective of Bethel, studying her closely for the signs he failed to see in Gio.

3. Tony’s character is growing more in importance.

Who is Tony? We still don’t know. You’ll get a in depth character sketch soon enough, but stay tuned for some flashback scenes featuring an adult Tony. Is he still the jackass he was as a teenager at Antonio Sr.’s funeral? To say it plainly—yes. But he’s not a jackass just for the sake of being a jackass. In truth, I think he’s jealous of Gregory. Being the younger son, Gregory receives more attention from Leslie. It is apparent in Eulogy, in how quickly a distraught Leslie dismisses Tony (her excuse being his attitude) yet coddles Gregory to the point of suffocation. Is it because Tony’s the problem child, as is explained in that flashback? Is there favoritism between the brothers? How does this translate into Tony’s adulthood—his relationship with Leslie, with Gregory? What is his response to Gregory’s disappearance? I won’t go so far as to say he doesn’t care, but it’s definitely not the same as Leslie’s. We’ll see that in the climax of the novel.

4. Prodigal Son* has a new name!

Switching gears, let’s talk about titles. I’m horrible with them. Rarely do I have a title before I finish a work. And even after I finish, it sometimes would take me days to come up with a title. But my temporary title, Prodigal Son* was so cliché and cringe-worthy, I thought long and hard on a new title. It’s still a work in progress, but may I present to you… Lost Boy!

I’ll probably change it again, but we’ll stick with it for now. Tell what you think? Do you have any suggestions for a title?

Well, that’s it for this post. I hope you’re just as excited about Lost Boy as I am! I’ll be travelling for the Easter Holiday this weekend, so tomorrow and Saturday’s posts may be delayed, but I promise you I haven’t disappeared again! Writer’s block will not win!

J is for… [J]ail #AtoZChallenge

Where’s the justice?

As you may know, this year’s A to Z Challenge is all about planning my novel for NaNoWriMo… because for once I’d like to start and finish a project this year.

In this brief brainstorming session, we’re going to look at our (America’s) crooked justice system and how large (or small) a role it will play in Prodigal Son* (yes, title is still a work in progress).

This post is a day late, unfortunately (I will not fall behind. I will not fall behind). The lid to my well of inspiration was temporarily shut, and I spent most of yesterday in a tug-of-war match with my writer’s block, trying to get it open. Finally, at a little after midnight, when I was dead-dog tired and barely able to keep my eyes open, the idea came to me.

If you’re a writer, you understand how absolutely frustrating it is to have nothing for most of the day, and then the second you are lying in your bed, wrapped up comfortably in your warm, freshly washed sheets, on the brink of sleep… ding! the light bulb comes on.

J is for jail . . . or justice system. (Looky there, they both start with “J”— basic, easy, obvious for this particular novel, yet for some reason, I couldn’t think of it before midnight last night.)

These days, the justice system has been under a lot of scrutiny. (Black Lives Matter ring any bells?) Of course, if you’re black, or at least “woke” (adjective. definition – aware of or updated on current events, especially if they pertain to race), you know this is nothing new. Our prisons are overcrowded, and yes, we’d like to think that everyone behind bars is there because they committed a heinous crime, but that’s not always the case. And thanks to easy accessibility to news (and fake news) through social media and 24/hour news networks like CNN, we’ve seen how money, connections, race, and begging and pleading parents can get a despicable criminal off scot-free, and how it can also get a suspect (who may not always be guilty) tossed in jail (if not killed by police or crackpot vigilantes first) with an excessively long sentence for a victim-less crime.

Will Gregory go to jail for his crime? We don’t want him to. We’ve seen how desperate he’s become in previous backstories—finding out his girlfriend is pregnant, losing his source of income, dealing with Tanisha’s leech-like family—but he still broke the law, and by law, he has to pay for it (pun not intended but surprisingly satisfying). Where’s the sympathy?

This is where Tony, Gregory’s brother, comes in. We still don’t know much about him, but as a teenager, he was sort of a dick, to say it plainly. Is he still that way as an adult. How will he respond to his brother’s disappearance, to his transgressions? Keep in mind, this novel (as seen in my interim title) will allude back to the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son (also called the Lost Son) in Luke 15:11-32. If you get a chance to read it, I want you to look particularly at verses 28 through 30. Notice how the older brother reacts to the return of the lost son. This should give you a clue to Tony’s possible motives/actions toward the climax of this novel.

I’ll leave you to guess on it for now. Then when I post my official outline later in the challenge, we’ll see how many of you guessed right.

How else will we see jail and the justice system used in this novel? Well, besides the obvious—Frank Maye, missing persons detective—I want to take a closer look at Leslie’s work in the Prison Ministry.

For Tuesday’s “I” post, I almost wrote a scene titled “Inmate.” In that scene, Leslie visits the county jail downtown with the other members of the ministry. For most church prison ministries, when the small team of evangelists go to minister with the inmates, the men usually meet with the male inmates, and the women with the female inmates. I won’t deviate from that in this novel, so if you thought that Leslie would discover her son in jail while doing the work of ministry, sorry to disappoint you, but that would be way too easy.

However, she will meet with a female inmate (and as I’m writing this, the idea suddenly popped into my head that maybe she develops a friendship with this woman, oftentimes visiting her outside of ministry work), and the conversations they have—though I haven’t figured out the how yet—will help her to figure some things out about Gregory and his situation (bring her peace, bring her understanding?).

The more I thought about this scene (or scenes) and watched it (them) unfold in my head, the more I realized that I wanted to put it (them) in the novel itself (and the plot thickens), and since the actual “novel writing” won’t begin until November, Tuesday’s post was changed to a backstory on Frank—looking at the circumstances surrounding his father’s disappearance and giving you a little more on his character—since we still don’t know much about him yet.

There may be other areas where I’ll use jail and/or the justice system, but I don’t want to go too deep into it because this isn’t a crime novel (actually, I haven’t figured out what the genre is—Christian fiction? Adult literary fiction?). The focus will still be on our main characters, Leslie, Frank, and to an extent, Gregory. This story is about them, their shared experience through the storm on the road to healing, reconciliation, and maybe forgiveness…

Pausing to look over this post, I realize I did a lot of rambling. Sometimes you just gotta talk things out to urge that brilliant idea forward. I’m definitely at a better place a day late than I was last night. There’s a method to my stream of consciousness madness, I promise!

So, I conclude this post with a potential (rough) outline/plot to my novel in progress.

↗ Climax – Tony’s jealousy/malice

↗  Rising action – Prison Ministry 

Beginning – Missing Gregory

It’s slowly coming together! See you later tonight, when I hope to post “K” and get back on schedule!

—Nortina