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!

U is for… [U]ndercooked #AtoZChallenge

The turkey was undercooked. Ma planned to roast it overnight, have the whole house smelling like a Thanksgiving feast by morning. But we woke up freezing, a surprise dusting of snow on the lawn, enough to slick the roads, but not enough to delay the holiday traffic.

Tony and Kerry arrived at noon, arguing again, though I’ve stopped caring what for. Something about Kerry wanting to move back to Raleigh after Tony just got a promotion. Let her go. She’s not the one for him, but Tony married her anyway. He doesn’t listen—he never listens.

Dinner was scheduled for 1:00, but at 2:30, I sat alone by the window, watching for Gregory’s car to pull to the curb. I hadn’t seen him since his birthday on October 24, a week before Halloween, and it was terrifying to see him then. He looked as if he had grown six inches. His face was fuller, half covered in a thick, coarse beard, but the rest of him was so thin and frail, he almost looked like Tony, a physical characteristic the two brothers never shared. While Tony was the spitting image of his father, both in name and appearance, Gregory favored me—the short, stubby fingers, the flat nose, the extra weight around the stomach and arms. But his arms were toned, muscular, the outline of them seen through the thin, sweat resistant short-sleeve shirt he wore, too cool even for mid-fall.

It was Tammi who texted me they’d be over for dinner. Gregory’s phone was off—he hadn’t paid the bill. Gregory had been missing a lot of bills lately—puzzling because his father and I taught him how to be a good steward over his finances. It was as if all of his upbringing left him the moment he met her. Over and over he asked me for money, a car note here, rent there, Tammi’s parking tickets, which I flat out refused. But I didn’t want to completely abandon him, so I slipped him change when I could. The more I gave, the less I saw of him, and when I realized he only came home for money, I stopped giving all together, and his visits became more infrequent.

Before his birthday, June was the last time I’d seen him. He’d even missed our Fourth of July family cookout in Ma’s backyard. After it got dark, we would climb up Ma’s roof and watch the fireworks shot off from the high school football field while enjoying burnt hotdogs and Carolina burgers with chili and slaw. It had been a family tradition since Antonio was alive. No one ever skipped it, rain or shine.

I could hear Ma scrambling in the kitchen. Not much to cook with a twenty pound bird taking up most of the oven, but we had to eat something—it was Thanksgiving after all. With a shrunken menu, the sweet potato casserole, became plain yams, the mac and cheese stovetop, the dressing stuffed inside the turkey to cook them both at the same time, while on the back burners, the greens boiled.

Ma kicked me out of the kitchen shortly after she realized she never turned the oven on last night. “You know you’ve never been a cook,” she said. “You’ll only slow me down.” I was given the assignment to make Tony and Kerry chicken salad sandwiches—the salad already prepared, all I had to do was spread it over the bread—to hold them over to dinner and hopefully to quell their arguing.

And it worked. We had silence for a while . . . until Tammi and her mother showed up, and without Gregory.

I had never met Jacquelyn. She’d tried to introduce herself several times before, calling to explain why she had allowed my son to live with her and her daughter in their overcrowded trailer, knocking on my door in the middle of the night to tell me she’d kicked them out. The vibrations in her voice told me she was nothing but drama then, and now she was standing right before me expecting a free, and she didn’t even bother to bring Gregory with her. And the striking resemblance between her and Tammi—how old was she when she had her? Any stranger would think they were sisters.

“Where’s my son?” I had no interest in shaking hands, fake smiles, or “how do you do’s.” These people overstayed their welcome the second they stepped foot on Ma’s front porch.

“He at work.” Tammi smacked her lips. Her nonchalant attitude quickly got under my skin.

“I was expecting to spend Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I don’t know you.”

Tammi’s mother reached out her hand. “Hi I’m Jacqui—”

“And I don’t care to!” I snapped.

Ma entered, putting the oven mitts she was wearing under her arm. “We may need another hour. That turkey just won’t cook.” When she noticed the tense atmosphere at her front door, she said, “Who’s this?”

“Tammi, and Jacqui,” I cut my eyes at the mother, “decided to invite themselves without Gregory.”

“Where’s Gregory?” Ma asked.

“He had to work,” Jacqui answered.

“On Thanksgiving?”

Jacqui started to say something, but quickly closed her mouth. By the way they shrugged their shoulders, avoided eye contact, it was obvious they were lying. My worried mind went straight to the marathon episodes of Snapped I often watched to fill my Sunday afternoons when I came home from church. It was the worst thing to watch on a Sunday, a holy day of rest. All it did was disrupt my peace. Women taking vengeance into their own hands, taking a life. When Gregory went weeks without calling, I feared the worst. What had they done to him?

I heard Tony barge down the hall, and I knew things would quickly escalate with him in the room.

“You know they’re getting married, right?”

“Who?”

Tony pointed to Tammi.

“Yea, we engaged.” Tammi shrugged her shoulders, flashed the small diamond on her left hand.

A ring. He’d bought her a ring. With what money? I remembered those times he called, whining that his lights were about to get turned off, that he would be evicted if he didn’t pay rent by the end of the week, that he couldn’t afford to have his car repossessed because then he’d have no way to get to work. Were they all lies? The money I’d been giving him—a little here, a little there—had he been collecting it until he had enough to buy a ring and propose? No, no. Heaven forbid I inherit another lethargic, unappreciative daughter-in-law like Kerry, who had secluded herself away in the dining room to pretend she was crying.

Instinctively, I clawed at Tammi’s hand, snatching of the ring I paid for and a thin layer of skin along with it. She yanked my arm back with one hand— with much more force than her petite frame would lead anyone to believe— and with the other hand, slapped me clear across the face. There was shouting and screaming, and at some point Kerry finally appeared in the kitchen doorway behind Ma. I could feel Tony’s arms around my waist. He and Jacqui pulled Tammi and I apart, and backing up, I tripped over Tony’s size 13 shoe and hit the side of my back on the back of the couch, re-agitating a muscle I pulled a few weeks ago when moving around the furniture in Gregory’s room.

“I ain’t gon stay where I’m not wanted!” Tammi was screaming.

“Then why the fuck are you still here?” Tony yelled.

Suddenly the smoke detector in the kitchen went off, setting off all the others in the house, including the one in the living room right above the space of floor that separated me from the intruders. The piercing peal silenced us for several seconds.

Ma rushed back into the kitchen, brushing past Kerry. “Jesus, Kerry, you don’t smell my greens burning?” She stirred the pot, added water and flicked off the eye. She grabbed a towel and begin flapping it under the detector to clear the smoke.

When the noise finally ceased, I looked directly at Tammi. “You need to leave.”

“Gladly.” She turned around and kicked open the screen door, making a sound like ripped metal and leaving behind a dent in the bottom left corner. Jacqui stayed behind for a brief moment, as if considering an apology, but quickly spun around and followed her daughter to the car. I shut the door behind them and noticed the engagement ring on the floor; it must have fallen out of my hand during the scuffle. I quickly kicked it away. The sight of it disgusted me.

“She’ll be back when she realizes it’s gone,” Kerry mumbled.

“Oh, now you got something to say? Where were you when that bitch was hittin’ my mama?” Tony shouted.

Kerry rolled her eyes and turned away. “I’m not arguing with you, Tony.”

“But you gon listen!” He stormed past me, my throbbing face obviously not too much of a concern, to finish his tirade with Kerry from earlier.

Ma returned from the kitchen, her shoulders hunched. She looked just as defeated as I felt. “Why not Chinese? They’re always open on Thanksgiving. I don’t think I can save this dinner.”

“There’s still the turkey and stuffing.”

“That won’t be for another hour. You know my old stomach has to eat early. I’m feeling lightheaded already.”

I tried to force a smile, but my face was so tight, I probably looked constipated. “Why don’t you sit, and I’ll make us some chicken salad sandwiches.”

“Can we eat them outside? I’m sick of those two yelling, and I need to cool off.”

I nodded and looked back to the window. Eating outside would only make me more anxious about Gregory, wondering if every car that drove by was him. I shook my head. No, there was no sense in waiting for him anymore. He wasn’t coming. And Tammi would surely tell him what happened here. Then, after that, I don’t think he will ever come home.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches, structure planning, or in the case of this post, more backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

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

Q is for… [Q]uarrel #AtoZChallenge

“Hello?”

This was a mistake, but I ask for Gregory anyway.

“Who this?”

Hang up, I tell myself, I must have the wrong number. But his last text came from this phone. A single word: Sorry. Sorry for what, I wonder. It came three days after I sent him the message Proverbs 6:20

My son, keep your father’s command
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

Where did I mess up? After Antonio’s passing, Mama said I needed to be strong for the boys, and Lord knows I’ve tried not to let this be a loss for all of us, but it’s so hard, God, it’s so hard, to open my eyes each morning and not see my soulmate smiling back at me. Not to have him here to beat the stiff-necked stubbornness out of Tony, to show Gregory the way he should go, not this path he’s veered off to, choosing a girl who can’t even think to remember me, over his own family.

“Is this not Tammi?”

She smacks her lips. I hate that sound. Smacking lips, like popping gum. I imagine her leaning up against something—a door jamb, a wall, a counter top—all her weight shifted to one side, one hand on hip, holding her phone to her ear with her shoulder, examining the chipped fingernails on her other hand, not bothering to care who I am or why I’ve called.

“This is Gregory’s mother.” It’s humiliating that I even have to introduce myself. Who else would be calling? Who else would be asking for Gregory? How many other Gregorys does she know? It wouldn’t surprise me that she’s sleeping with any of them. Lord, help my son not to be weak like Ahab. Help him to recognize this Jezebel he’s let take over his life.

She smacks her lips again. I want so badly to snatch that tongue right out of her mouth. She doesn’t understand the two-edged sword she wields. It can’t be controlled, a restless evil, pronouncing both blessings and curses.

“With all due respect, Ms. Fields,” she begins, and I know disrespect will only follow. Honor your father and mother so you will have long life. With that mouth she kisses her own mother, she kisses my Gregory, and my stomach goes uneasy, as if suspended in midair, at the thought.

“I’m getting real tired of you calling my phone. Greg ain’t here. I don’t know where he’s at, and I don’t care. But you not gone be blowing up my phone all times of day looking for him. He got a phone. It ain’t my fault he don’t pick up. I got two babies to feed. I ain’t got time to be raising no grown ass man. That’s your job!”

My hand is shaking, skin pulling at the knuckles. I feel I can break this phone in half. “You’re living with him aren’t you? He’s paying your bills, isn’t he?” I snap. “You’re sucking his dick—” Bridle your tongue! the Holy Spirit convicts me. I immediately bite down, but I’m too late.

“Wow. How Christian of you. Don’t call my fucking phone again. I’m blocking your number.”

I hurl the phone toward the wall before I can hear her hang up, though my arm is not as strong as it used to be, and the pinch in my shoulder prevents further force behind my throw. It skids across the floor, barely making a sound because of the carpet. I wish I had hardwood. At least then, I’d have the satisfaction of seeing a cracked screen.

I rise from the bed to retrieve the phone and consider calling her again, if only to apologize. But it’s so easy for her to curse another made in God’s image. No respect for her elders, no respect for her boyfriend’s mother. And can I be sure I’ll respond to her graciously, my words seasoned with salt?

Why must they make it so hard for a mother to talk to her son? I am berated with insults from Tammi, even worse when Jacquelyn calls and tries to teach me about my own child. What news do I need to learn? I raised him! And Tony says I should just let him go. He doesn’t care, so why should we? But can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?

So why has he forsaken me? And what of these two babies Tammi mentioned? By whom? Surely they’re not Gregory’s. I won’t accept that. He hasn’t been gone long enough to start a family with her—a separate family, away from me—has he? The months are meshing together, this season extending longer than I prayed it would go. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen his face. Lord, provide me with your guidance, your strength. I need a way out. I have no other options but one, and it scares me to death.

I’ve never called the police on my son.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches, outlines, backstories. Today’s backstory is kind of like a prologue. It happens right before Leslie reports Gregory missing. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

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

N is for… [N]ag #AtoZChallenge

All week he’s demanded I make a decision on a birthday present, impatience in his voice. He makes it feel like an obligation, not out of love but necessity. I try not to complain about his attitude, try to accept that he wants to give me anything at all—he doesn’t have to—since I’m so unappreciative, so ungrateful.

I must think of something reasonable, not like the Birkin bag I asked for last year. I never wanted it to begin with; it was a test he failed. With the amount of money he spends on name brand tennis shoes, Rolex watches, designer shades, gold chains, and other expensive jewelry for himself, surely he could spare a couple thousand for his wife. I was wrong. Instead, he bought me a knockoff Michael Kors, and he took it back when I was too slow in saying thank you, made a big show of getting his refund—all twenty-six fifty of it.

I think long and hard about what I truly want. What he can give me to show for our five years of marriage. Besides his grandma’s rental home we’re living in, besides my wages being garnished because he defaulted on his student loans, besides his lavish spending on himself while we’re to our eye sockets in debt, credit too low even for a mortgage from shady online loan companies that approve you next day.

But I shouldn’t complain. I’m such a nag, he tells me. I can’t just be happy. I can’t just love him. The reality is I do love him, since high school I’ve loved him, but being in love and being homeless is not a life I want to live.

So I want a divorce.

There’s no easy way to ask him. His temper runs so hot and cold. I’ve made it worse for myself since loaning his brother money. It was only for gas—twenty dollars tops. He’d spent $260 on shoes just that day, I didn’t think he would miss it. On the contrary, he noticed right away, even more so when he found out who it went to. Tony curses anyone who gives Greg money. He doesn’t deserve it. In Tony’s world, nobody deserves nothing.

He’s stretched out on the couch now, half asleep. A re-air of the game from last night plays on the television. I reach over his shoulder for the remote, held loosely in his hand that hangs over the arm of the couch. As I try to pry it away, his grip tightens, and his eyes shoot open to glare at me.

“The hell are you doing?”

“I was going to change the channel. I didn’t think you were watching.” There was something on the news I wanted to catch. Something about a robbery at the bank where I used to work.

“That’s because you don’t think. Ever.” He sits up, pulls his in legs from across the opposite arm of the couch, knees popping. He’s tall enough to be playing in the NBA instead of half-watching games that don’t matter—neither team made the playoffs. Despite his height, he was never good in basketball—couldn’t handle the ball, worse than Shaq at the free throw line, swatting air, and sometimes faces, when going up for the block. In high school he rode the bench one season before finally quitting and becoming the team’s equipment manager, a job usually reserved for the fast-ass girls in our class—future groupies, ex-basketball wives, and baby mamas—who couldn’t make the cheerleading squad.

I prep what I’m going to say in my head, choosing the most gentle of words to dissuade him from exploding—I’m not happy; I can’t deal with the mood swings anymore; I think we need some time apart, maybe counseling; I’ll stay at my sister’s, she’s already expecting me. I try to avoid using the word “you.” I read somewhere that “you” can be connoted as argumentative, like I’m placing the blame, nagging, that female shit like we always do, according to Tony.

Before I’m able to speak, he turns the volume up to an ear splitting level, the buzzer marking the end of the third quarter ringing in my head, so loud it’s like we’re in the arena. I look at the screen and the volume level is at 85—the highest it goes is 100. “Do you mind turning that down?” I shout.

“Do you mind shutting the fuck up?” He turns it up even higher.

Sometimes I want to hit him for the way he speaks to me, but I fear his reaction, his anger like an unattended to tea kettle about to blow its top off. Last night while preparing dinner I snapped at him for picking food out of the pot after just coming in from work. I don’t want to eat asbestos, I said, lead-laced paint chips in my food.

“Shows how much you pay attention,” he said. “You’re so selfish. You only think about yourself. Do you even think about me during the day? Do I ever cross your mind?” Before I could say anything, he answered for me. “No. I got promoted six months ago, dumbass.”

That was right. He was the new facilities coordinator, the boss of the men  inhaling asbestos and lead-laced paint. How could I forget, as much as he talks about his job, how much money he makes—$40,000 would seem like a lot when grandma’s still flipping the rent—assuming it’s more than my weekly check from the bank because each payday means another impulse purchase for him, while I haven’t bought a new pair of pumps in three years—the faux suede on my old ones ripping at the heel—trying to cover all the bills he hasn’t paid.

But I couldn’t say all that. So I stirred the stroganoff in silence, but to no avail because once he’s started, he can’t let things go. A simple request not to touch the food until it’s ready set him off, and before long I feared the neighbors would hear the insults he screamed at me, his tongue like a double-edged dagger piercing into flesh.

I’m tired of being called stupid, of being told to act like an adult when he’s the one screaming like a teenager. I took the lid from the pot and put it in his face. Not to hurt him, just to silence him, melt his lips like wax so that they sealed shut and the reverberating sound of his voice would finally cease. Instead he knocked it clear across the room, split it in two, then grabbed me by the neck and threw me against the wall, knocking the back of my head into the plaster and leaving a hole and an excruciating migraine. I’ve been taking aspirin pills all day.

It was the first time he ever put his hands on me, and the last straw.

I press the power button on the TV, relieved to have silence in the calm before his storm rages.

“We need to talk.”

“About what?” He slams his hands down on his knees, leans over, cocks his head to the side, twists his lips, charred black from smoking, a nasty habit I wish he’d quit. I don’t like the smell. It’s in his clothes, his skin, on his breath. I’ve asked him numerous times to be considerate of my feelings, that I don’t smoke, that I’d prefer him not to in the house, or at least not around me, but he only shrugs it off, tells me to get over it or stop breathing.

I’m reminded of an article I read online about weed. How it freezes your mind at the age you begin smoking. I don’t know how credible it is, if there was a scientific study to back it, but looking into his eyes, yellow like parchment paper, I realize he hasn’t changed since he was fifteen, when we first started dating. Both he and his brother, teenagers trying to be men. They’d see it if they’d only talk to each other.

I can’t think of what to say next, my practiced speech useless. It’s impossible to have a rational conversation with Tony, they too quickly turn to arguments.

With a sigh I ask, “I’m going to the store, you want something?”

“Really? That’s all you had to say?” He waves me off, aims the remote around my body in front of the TV and presses the power button. “Bye! Get out! All that shit for nothing. Nothing!”

He’s still yelling when I shut the door behind me, the sound spilling from the siding of the house. Now I know the neighbors have heard every argument we’ve ever had. The house just as fragile as our marriage. I don’t want to provoke him any more. I’ll come back for my thing tomorrow, when I know he’ll be at work.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches, outlines, backstories. Today’s backstory gives you a glimpse into the character Tony, Gregory’s older brother. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

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.