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…

 

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!

D is for… [D]etective Franklin Maye #AtoZChallenge

Today we take a look at another character in Prodigal Son*, Franklin Maye, the detective assigned to the missing persons case filed by Leslie Fields for her son Gregory.

Since his character is not as solid as Leslie’s (truthfully, I’m not totally in love with the name Franklin Maye), I want to take this opportunity to brainstorm a rough sketch of Franklin. Since he will play a significant role in this story (tracking down Gregory), it’s time I take a look at his character and start building.

When creating his character, I want to make sure Franklin doesn’t fall into the category I like to call the “literary cop cliché.” If you’re a reader of crime fiction, mystery, or suspense, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

What is the “literary cop cliché”?

  • The “literary cop cliché” is, as you can guess, a police officer, usually a homicide detective (male or female).
  • This detective works closely with a partner who is the Frick to his/her Frack.
  • This detective’s life is totally consumed by the job. Day and night he/she works, coming in early and staying in late.
  • This detective is a heavy drinker, using alcohol as a means to cope with the gruesome horrors he/she has seen throughout his/her career. In fact, the whole police department has a main bar they all congregate to afterhours before going home.
  • Speaking of home, this detective is estranged from his/her family. He/She is never home and is always absent from important events in his/her children’s lives. He/She doesn’t talk about work, not wanting to burden the wife/husband with the ugliness and cruelty of humanity he/she has had to experience. Because they don’t talk, their marriage is on the brink of divorce, and he/she has moved out and gotten an apartment in the city, close to the police station. On top of all that, the kids hate him/her.

After reading this list, give me one literary cop who doesn’t fit at least one of these descriptions. If you’ve read one “cop story,” you’ve read them all. Hopefully this story doesn’t become one of those.

So, first thing’s first…

Who is Franklin Maye?

Franklin is SINGLE. Can’t be estranged from resentful children and a nagging wife if he doesn’t have them. However, I won’t make him a bachelor, which can quickly become another cliché. Besides, he has too dorky of a name to be a hard-edged cop by day, ladies man by night. In fact, I think I’ll shorten his name to Frank. Yes, from now on, he’s just Frank Maye.

Frank lives in a one-story house (because apartments are reserved for bachelors) with his Aunt Bethel, the closest thing he has to his mother, who died earlier this year. While not at work, Frank helps take care of his mother’s kid sister Bethel, who is suffering from early onset Dementia, the same disease his father had when he left his home early one Saturday morning and never returned. The disappearance of Frank’s father still haunts him to this day. It’s the reason he became a missing persons detective, and why he’s so overprotective of Bethel, who is in denial of her age and her illness and still wants to be independent.

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

When Leslie first reports her son missing, Frank feels for her. He wants to help her. Throughout the investigation, they become close (though not romantically, because that would be another “literary cop cliché”). He wants to restore for Leslie and her sons the close, loving relationship that he had with his parents, and he just might jeopardize his job to do it.

A possible subplot to the main conflict of this novel could be Frank’s coming to grips with his father’s disappearance, which may have indirectly caused his mother’s death (of a broken heart?). It’s been two years, and the case has since gone cold, but maybe he does his own investigating off the record as a way to find closure. Maybe he confides in Leslie about it. Maybe, in a way, they can both bring each other peace.

If I decide to go through with this subplot, I may make this story a 2-person POV, meaning I’ll alternate between telling the story from Leslie’s POV and Frank’s POV. While I’m not the biggest fan of multiple POVs in a novel (I like the suspense of being in only one character’s head—sometimes the reader doesn’t need to know everything), it’s a route I may explore as Frank’s character comes to life.

Not taking away from Leslie’s desperate search for Gregory, of course!

I’m open to any suggestions! Like I said, Frank’s character isn’t as concrete as Leslie’s, so I may change some things as the challenge goes on. You’ll just have to stick around to find out.

That’s it for now! See you tomorrow for Letter “E,” when we’ll look at another backstory.

—Nortina

C is for… [C]haracter Sketch: Leslie Fields #AtoZChallenge

Today we take a break from the prologues and backstories to give you a quick character sketch. I’m sure you’re all wondering what in God’s name this novel is about, since I never bothered to reveal that to you. The truth is I (that is, writer me, who sometimes disappears for months at a time) never revealed it to myself. I have a beginning and main conflict in mind. As for which direction the novel is headed and how it will get there—that part’s still a little fuzzy.

One thing that is clear and concrete—our protagonist, Mrs. Leslie Fields.

Who is Leslie Fields?

  • Leslie Fields is a devout Christian woman and avid church goer. She reads her Bible twice a day—in the morning when she wakes up and at night before she goes to bed—and even more during trials, like the sudden death of her husband, Antonio, or the disappearance of her youngest son, Gregory. Leslie is at church three times a week—on Sundays for early morning Sunday school and regular 11 AM service; on Tuesday evenings for choir practice; and on Wednesday evenings for Bible Study. She is a member of the Prison Ministry, an evangelical team that goes out to the county jail weekly to minister to the inmates.
  • Leslie is a mother of two grown sons, born 23 months apart, Tony Fields (as in Antonio, Jr.) and Gregory Fields (our bank robber).
  • Leslie is a widow. Her late husband, Antonio Fields, Sr., died of a massive heart attack on Easter Sunday ten years ago, when her sons were 13 and 15. Although she knows that God is always in control and that every test and trial has a purpose, she sometimes resents Antonio for leaving the boys at such a tender age. Young black men growing up without a father— although he didn’t abandon them, get thrown in prison, or murdered in gang violence, the stigma still resonates. She fears Antonio’s death may have affected the boys negatively, especially Gregory, who has made poor decision after poor decision—the latest of them, moving in with his wayward fiancé who has a history of getting around.

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

  • Since the death of her husband, Leslie has noticed changes in her son Gregory. He had always been sweet spirited and trusting. She believed that as a child, he was sensitive to the spiritual realm, often pausing from playing with his toys to reach up toward the air for someone who wasn’t there, speaking prophetic words at the dinner table, and having full conversations in his sleep. Leslie believed he had the call of ministry on his life, but after losing his father, it all changed, and his humble exterior had slowly been etched away until one day she opened the door to a hard, bulky, scruffy bearded man she didn’t recognize.
  • Leslie hasn’t seen Gregory in over a year. Every now and then, she receives text messages from him, usually asking for money, but she hasn’t seen his face or heard his voice since his birthday of last year, when he came to the house needing money to pay rent. She tries not to let it bother her, she tries to put it all in God’s hands, but Gregory is her baby, and she can’t understand why he’s abandoned his mother like this.
  • Leslie doesn’t trust Tanisha, Gregory’s fiancé. She believes Tanisha and her family are just using him. They work him like a horse while they do nothing but take. Tanisha herself has said that she doesn’t love him, that she could find someone else in a heartbeat. Leslie wonders if she hasn’t already.
  • In the opening chapter of this novel, Leslie goes to the police to report Gregory missing. He was never answering her calls anyway, but now he has stopped responding to her text messages. She’s tried to get in touch with Tanisha with no luck. The last time they spoke, the crazy girl cursed her out, saying she wasn’t Gregory’s babysitter. Leslie had to hang up before she lost her religion.
  • Leslie is worried something may have happened to Gregory. She’s not sure what, but a sinking feeling tells her it’s not good. Now she’s more determined than ever to find her son and bring him back home.

This is what I have so far for Leslie’s character profile. As the novel starts to come together, I may update it, possibly for my “L” post (but I’m not making any promises). Hopefully this answers any questions you may have about the subject of the novel, which I realize I still haven’t titled. For now, let’s call it Prodigal Son. It’s horribly cliché, I know, but it’s shorter than “my novel for NaNoWriMo,” and it’ll have to do for now. Until tomorrow then… Happy A to Z-ing!

—Nortina