#ThrowbackThursday Fiction: Undercooked #NaNoWriMo

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’d stopped caring what for. Something about Kerry wanting to move back to Raleigh after Tony just got a promotion. Let her go. She wasn’t 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 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 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, Sr. 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 stovetop yams, the mac and cheese from a box, 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.

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 meal, 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. But if he wasn’t at work, where was he?

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 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 off 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 felt Tony’s arms around my waist. He and Jacqui pulled Tammi and I apart, and backing up, I tripped over Tony’s size thirteen shoe and hit the side of my back on the back of the couch, re-agitating a muscle I’d 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 our heads. 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?” I could hear her in the kitchen stirring the pot, adding water and flicking off the heat to the burner. She grabbed a hand 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


Happy Throwback Turkey Day! Since we are approaching the homestretch of NaNoWriMo, I thought today’s Thanksgiving Throwback should be a scene from my A to Z planning session earlier this year, featuring characters from my NaNoWriMo novel, Lost Boy.
Originally published April 25, 2017.

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!

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.

L is for… [L]ocation #AtoZChallenge

Location, location, location…

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

The Where

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The When

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

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

The Circumstances

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Nortina


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

K is for… [K]indred #AtoZChallenge

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

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

Who are they?

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

 

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

1. Tanisha becomes Tammi.

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

So Tanisha is now Tammi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Prodigal Son* has a new name!

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

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

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

J is for… [J]ail #AtoZChallenge

Where’s the justice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

↗ Climax – Tony’s jealousy/malice

↗  Rising action – Prison Ministry 

Beginning – Missing Gregory

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

—Nortina