Z is for… [Z]ealous Interviewer #AtoZChallenge

I’m feeling quite zealous today. Why? Because it’s April 30, and I’ve made it to the end of the A to Z Challenge without burning out. That deserves an applause!

I’m also excited to be starting on my novel, Lost Boy very soon. While I’m reserving the actual writing of the novel for NaNoWriMo in November, these next six months will consist of more planning, outlining, character sketching, and possibly a few more changes to the plot as things come together, and also a change in title (because I’m still not settled on “Lost Boy”).

I also hope to do more research so that the novel sounds as realistic as possible, because if there is one thing I cannot stand about the Christian fiction genre of today, it’s that the plots are so unbelievable, and the characters are more like caricatures.

One phase of my research will be interviews. Right now, my focus is on interviewing one of my fellow church members who’s in the prison ministry From Leslie’s character sketch, we know that she is very active in the church, including going out to the county jail to minister with the prison ministry. Unfortunately, I know nothing about prison ministries, so it’s time for a little investigation.

I’ve already contacted the church member about interviewing her. Now it’s time to put together some interview questions. Here are a few that I may ask in my interview.

  • How long have you been in the jail/prison ministry?
  • How often do you visit the jail?
  • When you visit the jail, do you go as a group? Do you need specific paperwork or documentation to enter?
  • Is there certain dress requirements you must meet before entering? Types of clothing, shoes, hats, purses? Will they let you bring your Bible? Are you searched/patted down? Do you go through a metal detector?
  • Where do you go to witness to the inmates? The cells? a chapel? Is there a common meeting area with many tables similar to a cafeteria? Are you separated from regular jail visitation?
  • Are you restricted in the types inmates you visit. For example, do you see people who have been convicted of violent crimes like rape or murder?
  • Do you talk to the inmates individually or do you stand before a group and minister?
  • What do you say to the inmates? Do you talk about them, how they ended up behind bars? How do you transition into talking about Jesus?
  • What major points in the Gospel do you like to hit on when talking with the inmates? Does the message change depending on the crime?
  • Are the inmates generally welcoming?
  • Do people get saved?

These are all the questions I have so far. Do you have any suggestions? What questions do you think I should ask?

I’m hoping that some of the answers I get to these questions will help me write an inspiring revival at the end of the novel, but if not, I’ll have great material to work with for one of my subplots.

And . . . that’s it for the A to Z Challenge! I’m glad I decided to participate after all. It has truly helped me get over my writer’s block. Not only do I have a new novel in the works, but I feel my mojo coming back. I’m eager to dive back into writing more poetry and short stories, and I’m even more zealous to return to the many flash fiction challenges I loved so much. So stay tuned! More to come soon!

—Nortina

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Y is for… [Y]oke #AtoZChallenge

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
(Matthew 11:28-30)

 

I remember when the boys were little, their father built them a treehouse. Nothing fancy, just a few wood boards nailed together on the lower branches of one of the sycamores in the backyard.

Tony and Gregory could barely hide there excitement, planning to camp out under the stars that very night. I watched the three of them outside from the kitchen window. Tony stood at the foot of the ladder as Antonio worked, handing a new plank board up to him as he finished hammering the first.

Gregory, on the other hand, was in the tree, sitting on the branch by his father’s shoulders. The leaves nearly covered his whole body, but for his legs swinging in the air. I was surprised to see him up there at all, since he had always been afraid of heights. During our annual Fourth of July cookout at Mama’s house, when it was time to view the fireworks from the roof, Gregory would catch a sudden spell of vertigo, and someone would always have to stay on ground with him to watch the show.

But there was no fear in him that day. Maybe it was the reassurance that his father was right there to reach out his arm and catch him in one scoop if he were to slip.

After the treehouse was finished, the three of them took my grandmother’s patch quilt, torn and ragged from years of use, and a couple pillows for a makeshift bed on the boards. They spent the night outside in their boys only clubhouse. Occasionally, I crept out to the tree to check on them. Antonio lay in the middle, arms draped over the shoulders of both boys, pulling them into him and away from the edge of the treehouse floor, protecting them from falling in their sleep.

I always regretted not taking a picture of that moment. But I stood in the backyard for several minutes that night, watching them sleep, overwhelmed by the peace of night, the chirping symphony of crickets, the breeze ruffling through the leaves like a curtain of timbrels. I was so in love with my family in that moment. If there were room, I would’ve climbed that tree and joined them, laying across the planks at their feet.

The next morning, I got up early to cook breakfast for them. Country ham steak with hash browns and eggs—fried over easy for Antonio, scrambled for the boys. They cleaned their plates. “The best breakfast I ever had!” Gregory exclaimed. He was such an overenthusiastic child. Between bites, they talked of their night in the treehouse, identifying the constellations, storytelling by moonlight, how they wanted to do it all again. And they did. The next weekend, and the weekend after that. It became ritual. Antonio and the boys would sleep in the treehouse, and I would cook Gregory’s favorite breakfast for them in the morning. We did this until the boys eventually grew too old for treehouse sleepovers with their dad.

And after a while, the wood planks wore away, became part of the tree, abandoned.

When Antonio died, Gregory went back to that treehouse. He rose early in the morning, just before the sun. I heard the chime of the back door when it opened and sat up to watch his legs dangle from the lower branch of the tree. He stayed out there for only an hour, said nothing when he came back inside, and I never brought it up. But the second morning he left for the treehouse, I rushed to the kitchen, had warm ham steak, hash browns and scrambled eggs waiting for him in the kitchen table when he returned.

Only a simple gesture, and I did it just once, for he never went to the old treehouse again. Sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t enough to keep him. I look out the kitchen window now, the leaves out back overgrown, weighing the limbs down, concealing the splintered treehouse floor, but I imagine I’ll see a shoe drop from the heights, a skinny child’s leg the color of bark, swinging back and forth.

—Nortina


I struggled with a topic for today. I’ve written so much about Lost Boy, it seems, that I have run out of things to say! Finally, I settled on another kind of character sketch for Leslie (and Gregory). Also, read this post for an explanation for the opening scripture. Only one more day left of the A to Z Challenge. I think I have one last post left in me…

 

X is for… [Χ]ριστός #AtoZChallenge

I got nothing. A big fat ZERO. There just aren’t enough “X” letters in the English alphabet. The dictionary agrees with me too.

My writer’s thesaurus skipped the letter “X” entirely, jumping from “W” straight to “Y,” and when I attempted to look up some words in a dated Webster’s Dictionary I found at work (labeled, “Best Reference Source 1989” by the American Library Association), it had one word, one word, for “X”: Xmas. That’s not even a freaking word! All it does is cross Christ out of Christmas. Of course, the dictionary had an elaborate definition for why the “X” is not meant to offend but to educate, apparently derived from the Greek letter chi (X), which is the first letter in Χριστός, which translated means Christos. So in fact, the “X” stands for Christ, not against Him.

Yea, yea, so you expect me to believe that everyone who says, “Merry Xmas!” is an expert on Greek language? Nah, I don’t think Leslie’s buying that excuse either.

But, since we’re here, let’s talk about Leslie, and her Christian foundation, and how on earth she’s going to bring her wayward sons back to her, and more importantly, back to Christ.

We’re down to the last three (and arguably the hardest) letters in the A to Z Challenge, and I’m getting a little anxious because I still don’t have a definitive ending to Lost Boy. I took a brief moment to revisit my outline, hoping to spark some inspiration—and laughing at how much has changed already since posting it (for example, Detective Maye has been reduced to a secondary character, and Gio, Clara, and Bethel are all out).

For today’s purposes, I want to focus on the Falling Action and how it can lead to a resolution. So what’s happening…

  • Leslie visits the scene of the crime
  • Leslie confronts Jacqui
  • Maye bails out Gregory

Already the last scene has to change, since Maye is no longer a main character, but there’s opportunity for me to add layers to the other two scenes. Eventually, I want to bring all the characters back together for a final intervention, or showdown, if you will. I think it will start with Leslie retracing Gregory’s steps, going to the gas station, talking with the bank teller who gave him the money. When she stops by Jacqui’s trailer, another character, whom she doesn’t expect, will already be there, waiting for her.

Being a member of the jail ministry, Leslie witnesses to complete strangers often. She’s gotten complacent in her message, telling people about the Gospel of Christ with the hope that she’ll probably never see them again.

You have nothing to lose when you’re talking with a stranger. If they reject you, or respond in an offensive matter, you just move on to the next person; you don’t let it affect you, because the goal is not to seek the approval of man, but to save as many souls for Christ as possible. But evangelism starts at home, does it not? What about your own family and friends who are unsaved? Will you pray that the Lord sends forth laborers (Matthew 9:35-38)? Will you be that laborer to reap God’s harvest?

Everyone in Leslie’s circle needs redemption: Will Gregory’s poor choices prevent him from reconciling with his family? Will Tony be able to quench the resonating anger he feels toward his mother and brother? Will Jacqui and Tammi turn from their selfish greed and seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness? Will Kerry learn to forgive? Will Leslie continue to put her hope, faith, and trust in the Lord?

Leslie’s going to need all of her prayer warriors plus the empowering presence of God to fix her family, and it will start in the most unlikeliest of places. A revival is coming to Pleasant’s Edge, a city in exile, but as scripture says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but there is hope, for we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Amen! Let’s hope Leslie can do it!

—Nortina

W is for… [W]eed Witness #AtoZChallenge

Pop is dead, but I won’t cry. Crying is for sissys and wimps. I ain’t no wimp, and I damn sure ain’t no sissy. Greg can’t even think ’bout Pop without tearing up. I smack him around a bit, tell him to toughen up, we the men of the house now—men don’t cry. But Ma always coming to his rescue, “Stop being so hard on him,” she says, then let him lay in her bed and watch cartoons. “You know he’s sensitive.”

Shit, where was that motherly protection when Pop was taking off his belt, beating me like I just bust the windows with a baseball? Even though I did, and after that, I started hitting toward the neighbor’s brick house across the street.

Me and Pop had an understanding bout discipline. I mess up, I get whipped up. Simple. But when it came time for Greg to get his, Ma always got in the way. Not her baby, she’d say. That’s why the nigga’s such a softy now. I’m just trying to do for him why Ma never let Pop do. Spare the rod, spoil the child, right? Or does that only apply to me?

“Everyone grieves differently,” Grandma says, but Ma out here acting like nothing’s changed. Done gone and join the Jail Witnessing Team at church. Her first trip to the county, she practiced her tactics on me. Guess she figured I’d end up there eventually.

“How long have you been in here?” Holy Spirit filled Ma said to convict me. Start with the general stuff first, ease them into talking ’bout religion.

“Five years.”

“What for?”

“Weed.”

Real Ma came back quick. “You better not be smoking weed, boy.”

“I ain’t.” But she patted me down anyway, another preparation tactic for what we’d both experience in the jail, eventually.

I didn’t bother to tell her they sell weed at the bus stop outside the school—dropouts and repeat seniors who ain’t graduating again. The principal’s called the cops on them twice, but they strategic. They only come out during class changes and dismissal, after the lights on the school zone sign stop flashing.

Sometimes, when I’m walking home from practice, I stop and ask them how much. They tell me I gotta get a grinder to break it up first, and cigars to roll it in. It might be easier for me to get my hands on joint paper, but if I really want to get good and high, I gotta find somebody to buy me cigars—they hold more and better. One kid, nineteen, offered me a gram for a discount and he’d buy me all the stuff I needed. I told him I’d think about it.

After Ma left, I snuck into her room and found her cash stash underneath the jewelry box on her dresser. I took a ten dollar bill, licked the edges and rolled it up into a skinny cylinder. Then I pinched it with my index finger and thumb, brought it to my lips, and breathed in.

“What are you doing?”

I shoved the money in my mouth so fast I nearly choked. Greg’s always creeping up on people. He’s too quiet, like a damn ghost.

“Mind ya business,” I mumbled.

“What’s in your mouth?”

I slid the bill under my tongue. “Get outta here.”

“This is Mama’s room, and I’m telling.”

“No you ain’t.” I mushed the side of his face and pushed him into the wall. The tears were welling up in his eyes before he even hit the floor.

“Stop all that crying, boy!”

“Why you always so mean?”

“Somebody’s gotta be.”

Ma came back sooner than I expected. They wouldn’t let her in ’cause of her shoes. Jails are strict, you can’t just come to visit looking any ol’ kinda way. If she watched Lockup on MSNBC she’d know that.

“Why do you even watch that?” she asked.

I just shrugged. I really don’t know. Something to do, I guess. Figure out how much time I’ll have to do if I ever got caught.

She ain’t notice the money missing. I’m in the clear for now. Monday, I’ll skip Mr. Wilson’s Language Arts class, cut across the lawn of the main building to the stop during class change. I gotta make sure I have a extra dollar fifty for the bus. Then we’ll ride to the nearest gas station to buy the rest of the stuff, and by lunch, I’ll be in the trees.

—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, plot twists, 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!

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!