I’ve Won NaNoWriMo So Many Times

I have a confession to make. I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo this year. Not officially, at least.

You see, I was going to, I even spent an entire month planning for it– drafting outlines, creating character sketches, brainstorming backstory and plot points—but when November came around, I got very busy.

Story of my life, right?

If I could sum 2017 in one word, it would be “overcommitted.” I was doing too many things, and it all culminated in one month which, though not the shortest month of the year, definitely feels like it when you have to write 1,667 words a day amid 10,000 other things on your to-do list!

Although the last thing I wanted to do was procrastinate on writing yet another novel, I had to think realistically. How much stress would this add on me—to find time to write, do everything else, and still get to bed at a decent hour? Was it worth it, knowing that I likely wouldn’t finish, or even make it past the 10,000 word mark?

So I said no to NaNoWriMo, at least for this year. But one of my main goals for 2018 is to be less busy and not take on more than I can bear so that I can dedicate more time to my writing. So there’s always the possibility that I may try again . . . if I can take the pressure.

But I won’t wallow in self-pity over another NaNoWriMo project left unfinished (or in this case unstarted), because there have been so many times when I’ve won NaNoWriMo. No I haven’t quite made it to the 50,000 words written in one month feat, but I’ve come pretty darn close!

First, I deserve a pat on the back for completing the A to Z Challenge three years in a row! A lot of bloggers can’t say the same. My first A to Z Challenge in 2015 introduced you to my novella, Love Poetry, which I hope to finally complete in 2018. I have 23,914 words of planning material for Lost Boy, the novel I had hoped to write in November, and that doesn’t even include the flashbacks I wrote as part of Short Story a Day May, a challenge which in total came to 451 words shy of 25,000. And my longest project yet is 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths, my 2016 A to Z Challenge novella, clocking in at over 30,000 words! How’s that for Camp NaNoWriMo!

And while I’m basking in my NaNoWriMo successes, let’s talk about what I did write in November. Countdown to 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans! Yes, I know I said I had completed the story earlier this year . . . I lied. The truth is I spent a few slow days in May writing three more chapters. But the rest came this November, as I wrote one chapter a day, adding to what I had left unfinished back in 2016.

So you see, I didn’t totally abandon NaNoWriMo after all! And don’t you worry; I still plan on finishing Countdown. A recent bout with procrastination, along with Thanksgiving travel (and, you know, being with family), kept me from finishing the story in November as I had originally planned, but that’s all going to work out in the end, because I stopped at Day 24. You know what that means. The story originally meant for Christmas (last year) will finally be concluded this Christmas! Next week, I’m giving you the final seven chapters of Countdown (Monday through Sunday), so if you want to catch up on the story, read it from the beginning here!

By the way, Countdown currently sits at around 27,800 words, which means when I close this year with the final chapter on December 31, it will be my longest completed project to date! Just the boost of confidence I need going into 2018 with the hope of finishing (and possibly publishing) even more projects. Whether they are products of NaNoWriMo, or my own writing victories.

I’m just so happy to say I did it!

—Nortina

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: NaNoWriMo Woes

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day…

I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day and Day One of NaNoWriMo happen to fall on the same day this year. And to further torment me, here’s the IWSG “optional” question for November 1:

Win or not, do you usually finish your NaNo project? Have any of them gone on to be published?

Ugh! I’ve said it a million times—I can never finish any project I start, so what do you think my answer to this question is?

N-O

A big, fat z-e-r-0000000000000000000000000000000000000000

The sad thing is, I thought I was ready this time. I spent an entire month planning my novel. I wrote an outline (which I’ve since lost because of my incessant need to write everything on scrap pieces of paper), I’ve sketched characters, explored backstories, brainstormed on themes, even went to jail for an hour . . .

Ok, so research for my novel wasn’t the original reason for my visit, but while I was there I took advantage of the opportunity (especially since my prison ministry contact never came through for me).

I think what derailed my plans was Camp NaNoWriMo this past July. My goal for camp was to finish my novella, Love Poetry (ironically my first attempt to write Love Poetry came in November, 2014, for NaNoWriMo). Nothing too arduous, 30,000 words in 31 days, manageable. My hope was that finally finishing Love Poetry would give me the boast of confidence I needed going into November.

I didn’t finish. July got too busy. I had too much on my plate. I fell behind.

I’m still not finished.

And the perfectionist writer in me doesn’t want to start a new project when I haven’t finished the first. Especially since the new year is right around the corner and I really want to enter 2018 burden free.

Maybe I’ll just wait until next NaNoWriMo, or next Camp.

But then, I recently joined Simply Marquessa’s #TribeTuesdayWPChallenge: 12 new life habits to enhance your life in 12 months. And I kinda made November all about beating procrastination.

And here I am . . . again . . . about to procrastinate . . . on yet another novel.

Well, enough is enough. At this rate, my first novel will be published posthumously, and the publisher would still need to find a ghost writer who is familiar with my writing style to finish it!

So I am making a conscious effort, scary as it may be, to continue on with my original plan to write Lost Boy (renamed Wanderer—still a work-in-progress, you know I’m no good with titles) this November for NaNoWriMo. I won’t officially register for the challenge, though. I don’t want that added pressure to meet my daily word count, especially on those less than productive days that are sure to come.

Going into NaNoWriMo, I want to take a relaxed approach, which is hard for me because I overthink everything. But in her “How to Tackle NaNoWriMo” series, Candice Coates said something that really resonated with me: There’s no such thing as writer’s block. We always have something to say, we just have to allow ourselves to say it.

Well said, Candice. I’ve been silencing myself for far too long, using the excuse of writer’s block, or busyness, when truly, I’ve just been scared. Of failure? Of success? I’m not sure, but if I ever want to get that book published one day, I have to write it.

I have to write it.

So I will write it.

Right now.

—Nortina

Oreo Cookies | Chapter 1 | Part 3

Natasha – Black on the Outside concluded

Mama was waiting for me at the bus stop that afternoon. She waved her hands over her head, prompting the bus driver to ask her what was the matter when he pulled over and opened the double doors so I could get off. I lowered my head, dodged her open arms as if I didn’t know her. She was usually still at work after school let out. She didn’t come home until after five, and no one was allowed to bother her until she had taken off her pumps, changed into her housecoat and slippers, and watched the end of Family Feud. It was her post-work routine to shed eight hours of dealing with “stupid people who somehow get paid more than me.” If not done in that order without interruptions, she was rude and nasty for the rest of the night, which usually meant Daddy had to run through the drive-thru at McDonald’s or Bojangles’ or we’d go to bed hungry.

The bus drove off, screeched to a halt at the stop sign in our front yard, and then disappeared down the hill.

“You get fired?” I asked, pulling at the straps of my backpack.

“Is that how you greet your mother?” She held out her arms again and, no longer under the penetrative gazes of my giggling classmates, I wrapped my arms around her waist and stood on my toes to kiss her cheek.

“There is absolutely no food in the house. I think your father wakes up in the middle of the night to clean out the refrigerator.” She straightened up and wiped her hands on her gray pinstriped pants. “Want to ride to the store with me?”

“I have math homework.”

“The best way to learn math is shopping. You write down the price of all the food we load in the cart then tell me what the total should be.” I nodded and followed her to the car parked in our dirt driveway.

There was a Food Lion two blocks from our house that we never went to. It was in a strip between a barbershop and a clothing store that only sold oversized jeans and throwback jerseys. Mama called it the “hood store” because only poor black people shopped in it, and the food was always old. The meat section had more pig feet, chitterlings, and chicken than anything else. Most of the packaged meat had already been seasoned because it was approaching the “sell by” date. Daddy once bought some hamburger patties that had begun to turn brown, and when Mama brought it back the next day, the customer service girl was popping her chewing gum so loudly, Mama wanted to slap it right out of her mouth.

Instead, we shopped at the Lowe’s Foods twenty minutes across town, on the other side of the train tracks, where the only black people you saw were women in dresses and heels. Not one of them still wore the bonnet she slept in. The men didn’t step out of their cars in flip-flops and socks.

Here, you didn’t have to worry about someone approaching you to sell Nike tennis shoes, mix CDs, or bootleg movies out of his trunk. You didn’t have to worry about people knocking on your window begging for gas money when you just saw them get off the bus at the corner. You didn’t have to worry about drunk old men leaning against the brick wall outside of the automatic doors and making obscene hand gestures towards their crotches when you walked by. You didn’t have to worry about club promotional clutter on your windshield when you returned to your car.

At the Lowe’s Foods, no one harassed you in the parking lot about feeding their families or investing in their business. They lowered their heads when you walked by. The blonde women in tracksuits clutched the purses a little bit tighter, but forced themselves to smile while you stood next to them squeezing tomatoes and picking green bananas. The cashiers barely glanced at you. They swiped your food, accepted your coupons, and didn’t roll their eyes when you asked if a certain food item was on sale. They didn’t mumble to your back as you walked out of the store. They smiled as they handed you the receipt, enunciated variations of “have a nice day”—“good afternoon,” “come back soon,” “have a great rest of the evening.”

The food was much more expensive, but it was of a better quality. The fish never reeked from the trunk on the way home, and we never opened stale cereal. If she didn’t see the cut of beef she wanted, Mama would ring the bell for the butcher, and he would hand her a freshly packaged flank she would roast in the crockpot for Sunday dinner.

I scribbled down the prices as we walked through the produce section first. Mama dropped grapes, bananas, apples, green beans, and cabbage all into the basket. In the meat section, Mama shuffled through various cuts, examining the fat trim before tossing the meat back into the pile while I stared up at the Lunchables kits hanging over the packaged slices of ham and turkey. I pulled down a pepperoni pizza Lunchable. Inside was a stack of three miniature tortilla shells I assumed to be the pizza dough. Underneath the stack lay a packet of tomato sauce. In the two smaller sections were shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, and nickel-sized, bright red pepperoni slices. I held the package up to her face. “Mama, can I have this?”

“What is it?” She snatched it from my hand, flipped it over to read the nutritional facts. “This isn’t real food.” She hung it back on the racket. “Don’t you buy school lunch?”

“But Breanna’s mom said that school lunch isn’t real food?”

“Well, tell Breanna that her mama needs to worry about feeding her own kid.” She pushed the cart further down the lane towards the dairy products then paused as if to change her mind. I stayed put, reaching my hand back to nab the pizza again. “Tell ya what.” She pointed to aisle five, ahead and to her left. “Go pick yourself out a snack to take to school with you. Chips, crackers, popcorn, cookies, whatever you like.” She held up her finger. “One thing only.”

I sprinted down the aisle, ignoring Mama’s cries for me to walk. There was so much to choose from. The Lay’s potato chips. Was I to select barbeque, my favorite, or sour cream and onion, which came in a close second. The Pringles stood tall next to the air-filled bags of chips. They might have been a better choice, but I could never retrieve a chip from the long cylinder without snapping it in half. I kept walking. I paused in front of the cookies. The ginger snaps my mom always ate with cheese cubs and hot tea. The Chips Ahoy! I could never finish without smearing melted chocolate all over my face and dropping crumbs down my shirt. The Chicken in a Biskit crackers that we strangely only ate at Christmastime. Then I saw it. The blue and white package. The blown-up picture of two chocolate cookies with a white cream filling sandwiched between them.

I’d never eaten an Oreo before. The commercials suggested you dip them in milk first. Some people broke them in half, licked off the filling and tossed the rest. Why not scrape off the cream, discard the white on the inside and only eat the chocolate? Why not fill them with chocolate syrup instead, or press the cookies together, sans filling, and dip them into chocolate milk? Why was the white always better?

An older woman with a curled back tapped me on the shoulder. She wore a pink hat with a flower the same color as her alabaster hair. “Are you thinking about buying those?” she asked with a shaky voice, her loose neck skin jiggling as she spoke.

“My mom said I could have just one.”

“Well that’s a good selection, dear,” she said. She took the Oreos off the shelf and placed them in my hands. “Sweet on the inside, just like you.” She winked, poking my chest.

And just like you, I thought as she walked away, holding her basket in the crook of her elbow, her own pack of Oreos lying on the bottom. Sweat and white. Just like the people in this store across the train tracks, miles away from the hood grocer, who let us shop in peace. Just like Breanna who didn’t call me names because I didn’t act or talk like a normal black kid. Just like the Jesus figurine, the Savior of the world before we fleshed him out with brown ink. Sweet and white.

I trotted back to Mama’s cart and placed the Oreos in the top basket on top of the eggs.

“How much?” she asked.

“$1.99.”

“You think we’re at a hundred dollars yet?”

I counted the list of numbers. We were up to twenty variations of one, two, and three dollars, and the subsequent change amounts. “I need a calculator,” I said.

Mama chuckled in her throat, cooing like a pigeon. “Let’s get some milk and get out of here.”

As we pushed the heavy shopping cart together, I imagined how the Oreos would taste after soaking in milk at the bottom of a cool glass.

© Nortina Simmons

Oreo Cookies | Chapter 2 | Part 1

Oreo Cookies | Chapter 1 | Part 2

Natasha – Black on the Outside continued…

I ate lunch alone. At the very back of the cafeteria closest to the door. I stared at my wrist, pinching the skin. It turned white under the pressure of my fingers, and I wondered if I were something like the Jesus figurines that populated our house. Underneath my brown exterior, was there a whiter, purer version of me? When God carved us in the dust, were we not already the color of clay? Did he birth us from the shores of the earth? Our bodies rising from white sandy beaches, colorless fingers and toes wiggling the grains from between the crevices, reaching back down to pull up ivory faces, bleach blond hair slicked back, long lashes sweeping the salt from our eyes.

What was wrong with me that I received color while others like my teacher, Mrs. Whitehurst, remained white? What blemish was He trying to cover? Was there a chip on my shoulder? Did the tide come in right as I was emerging from the sand, washing away pieces of flesh, creating craters in my arms and legs? White sand turns brown when touched by water, so did God fill in the blank spaces, dipping the fringe tail fin of a fish into a mortar mixture of sand, and clay, blessing me with a sandy, brown complexion?

I looked around at the other students in the cafeteria. We were all His little mistakes. Various shades of imperfections. Some like Susie inherited darker coats, their whiteness underneath drowned in the heavy black pigment. Ricky was less flawed. His smooth, buttery skin a thin layer of film covering shallow dips in his otherwise perfectly white interior.

Then there was Breanna. She was closer to our sandy origins than the rest of us. As if God had scooped the sand, glistening under the sun like glass, in His hands and sprinkled sediments of light brown, creamy white and rusty red onto the bridge of her nose and sunken cheekbones, dusted it across her sharp shoulders, down the back of her thin arms.

Susie and her friends had turned their taunts to Breanna and the train of toilet paper she trailed behind her from the bathroom. They called her Skinny Becky because “all white girls should be named Becky, and stop trying to be black with that fake black name.” Breanna hunched her shoulders over her lunch. She turned her head to the side, laid it in her palm and ate her sandwich and chips with her left hand to avoid their teasing glances and pointing fingers.

Our tables were next to each other. She sat on the side facing the back wall while I sat diagonal from her, looking back at the cafeteria line. She raised her eyes, and they became level with mine. We stared at each other, scoping out the potential danger in association. I followed the shape of her nose, how it sloped down and curved up into a point like a ski jump ramp. I squeezed the nostrils of my flat, wide nose to create the same shape. How could she even breathe through those tiny triangle slits? I let go, inhaled the damp, tomatoey air around me, filling my chest. She laughed when she saw my struggle to look like her then quickly covered her mouth and returned to her lunch. She wasn’t black like me, but our sandy under skin—hers more prevalent than mine—our exclusion from Susie and her dark skin club made us sisters, so I rose from my seat and joined her at her table.

“You here to pick on me too?” she asked as I sat down.

“No, I thought we could be friends.”

“Why?”

I shrugged my shoulders and took a bite of my pizza, lapping up the dangling strings of cheese from my chin. Susie’s high-pitched laugher could still be heard from across the room.

“I wish they’d stop already,” Breanna said.

“They’re laughing at the toilet tissue on your shoe.”

She looked under the table at the back of her foot, rolled her eyes. She yanked the toilet tissue off her heel, balled it in her fist, threw it toward the large trashcan at the center of the aisle between tables. She missed by at least a yard, the lightweight ball suspended in the air before landing at the janitor’s feet. He pressed his lips together in a thin line, bent over to pick up the wad of toilet paper, holding his lower back, his eyes glued on Breanna, the folds in his forehead deepening as he frowned at her all the way down and back up.

Breanna slammed her elbows onto the table. “I hate this school!”

“It’s not too bad.”

“Easy for you to say. You ain’t all alone.”

“You’re not either. Not anymore.” I peeled off a corner of my pizza that I didn’t bite into and offered it to her. She shook her head.

“My mom said school lunches are bad for you. She said the cheese on the pizza ain’t real.”

I drew back my hand, dropped the corner slice into my mouth and chewed, swirling the dough, tomato sauce, and cheese around my tongue. I pressed my tongue into my cheek, trying to spread the cheese apart. It was thick like a fresh stick of gum and didn’t pull easily. When my chewing and swishing turned the food into mash, I settled on swallowing it. Some of the cheese strings lingered at the back of my throat. I hacked them up into my napkin.

“See.”

I didn’t say anything. I tossed the napkin on the tray, took my bag of apple slices and pushed the tray across the table.

“You can have some of my chips,” Breanna said, sliding to me a pink napkin thin as tissue paper piled with bright yellow crinkle potato chips.

“Is that chocolate milk?” I asked, pointing at the glass jar she held to her lips.

“Yep.” She took a sip then extended her tongue up to the curved arrow of her nose to lick away the mustache. “White milk supposed to give you strong bones and teeth, but it taste like that nasty cream they put in soup, so I mix some Hershey’s syrup in it to make it taste better.”

“I thought only black people drank chocolate milk.”

“Why you say that?”

All the brown and yellow and purple-black hands of children in the cafeteria were holding the triangle cartons with the signature brown splotches, slurping the milk brown liquid through a straw. As if there were a brown and white cow on the dairy farms that only squirted chocolate milk from its utters. We always latched onto things that reminded us of our own reflections. The brown drinks, the brown crayons we used to color in the faces of our stick-figure self-portraits. Chocolate milk was as much a part of us as our own skin yet this white girl was drinking it like it was just another sugary beverage.

“It don’t make you black or nothin’. Just tastes better.”

Mrs. Whitehurst waved her arm for us to start packing our things. Breanna guzzled down the last of her milk, nibbled on the corners of her sandwich before zipping it back into a plastic bag.

“That’s all you’re eating?” My stomach lowly rumbled in my ear, vibrating under my rib cage. Apples and chips would not hold me to dinner.

“It’s just ham and cheese. You want it?”

I snatched the bag from her outstretched hand and slid it into the back pocket of my jeans. I would eat it behind the book I would read that afternoon—it was between Bud, Not Buddy, and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, two novels I found on my parents bookshelf behind the dictionary and immediately stuffed into my backpack when I saw the kids, brown like me, on the cover.

We were about to get in line when Susie approached our table.

“Aw, the two white girls in the whole school ate lunch together.” Her smile wide as the Cheshire cat’s from Alice in Wonderland.

“I’m not white. I look just like you,” I said, folding my arms across my chest.

“Don’t matter. You still a Oreo.” She held her head so high and so far back as she stomped away, I hoped the dust from the ceiling fans floated into her flared nostrils and choked her.

“Don’t worry ‘bout her,” Breanna said, poking me in the side with her sharp elbow. “We friends now, and I know you ain’t white.” She smiled, put her arm around my shoulder as we walked to the line forming under the exit sign behind the tables.

“Maybe not on the outside,” I said under my breath.

© Nortina Simmons

Oreo Cookies | Chapter 1 | Part 3

Oreo Cookies | Chapter 1 | Part 1

Natasha – Black on the Outside

When I was seven, Mama told me I was too young to know what love meant. Permitting little knuckleheads like Ricky Reynolds to look under my dress during recess didn’t equal a relationship. Hanging from the monkey bars, his head between my dangling legs, nose sniffing through the cotton that separated my virginity from his prying eyes. We got married behind the swing set. Roxanne from the fifth grade performed the ceremony — her mom was a wedding planner. She ripped dandelions from the ground for my bouquet, told us we had to kiss for five seconds before it was official. She counted on her fingers while we pressed our lips together, dry and crusted from the late August heat. When she screamed five, Ricky jerked his head, biting my bottom lip, my first hickie. She snatched one of the kindergarteners from the sliding board ladder to be our baby, and I blew dandelion seeds into the wind. Whosever head they landed on first was next to be wed.

Unfortunately, our marriage didn’t last. I caught Ricky holding hands with Fast Lane Susie on the way to the buses that afternoon. They were a better match, though. They both lived in the Hamps while I had a mom and a dad and a house on Britter’s Street.

We only had one dictionary in our home, thicker than the King James Bible. Each section was tabbed, but instead of books from the Old and New Testaments, each tab was engraved with a letter— A, B, C, and on. The dictionary was too tall for the three-foot bookcase next to my parents’ bed, so they laid it flat, bending the shelf downward, curving the paperback spines of the Toni Morrison and Terry McMillan novels underneath. I dropped the dictionary in front of my feet, shaking the ground. It fell open to the M’s and I flipped backward, reading from bottom right to upper left — macaroni, mass, luciferin, lowboy — until I settled on love.

“Love,” I read, “a deep and tender feeling of affection for or attachment or devotion to a person or thing.” I curled the thin sheets of paper around my index finger, sat back on my heels. What did affection mean? Attachment as in Velcro? Didn’t devotion have something to do with Praise and Worship at church?

Mama always said love came from God. He traced our bodies into the soil, blew breath into our lungs, painted our skin with strong brushstrokes of ebony, mahogany, cinnamon. Love was creating someone in your own image, granting them the power to walk as kings and queens upon the earth. “We were building empires while Europe was still in darkness,” she’d said. “Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are. God is in you.”

God was in our house too. Images of the Savoir with brown skin, silky chestnut hair, the sun’s rays extending from his bowed head, adorned our walls, framed in glossed wood. He watched over us as we slept, blessed the food we ate at the kitchen table, clapped with the shouting parishioners mounted above the piano on the wall across from him. The figures in the painting danced whenever Mama played “This Little Light of Mine.” They waved their hymnals in the air, skipped around the pews, fainted down the aisles.

Each room had a Jesus figurine. It sat on dressers, coffee tables, cabinets, counter tops, clothed in white robes, arms outstretched, hair cascading down his back. Except for Cheyenne, whose mother was white, I had never met a black person with long, smooth hair. Our hair grew up toward the sky, spread out like fireworks. The stores didn’t sell a Jesus like that. He was too revolutionary, threatened the status quo. They needed something demure, a God who didn’t challenge the privilege of the majority, one who approved of the manmade pedestals on which they stood above the darker-skinned others. His glacial blue eyes, skin white as the wool cloth that tickled his ankles as he walked.

We colored the white Jesus’s in defiance. Brown permanent markers, henna paste, oak wood stains. We drew the lines on the blank canvas of his skin, filled him in with the flick of our wrists. We made him in our likeness, imitating the effort he put into molding our bodies from the clay of the earth.

I wanted to show all dark things love the way Jesus had when he made me. I stopped crushing on Ricky. His skin was too light. High yallah, Mama called him. He was the color of lemon cookies. Our wrists side by side looked like peanut butter and chocolate. Instead, I sought a friendship with Susie, hoping she was as sweet as her blackberry skin.

Johnson, Williams— we didn’t sit close to each other in class. I was toward the back, near the coat rack. Twenty-two students, seven desks per row, I was on a row by myself. Easily forgotten. I hid behind the other students’ heads, read chapter books I checked out from the library under my desk—Experanza Rising, The Birchbark House, Among the Hidden and the Shadow Children books. Susie sat in the middle row, next to the window where she stared out into the playground, beating on the desk in tune with the ticking clock, counting down to recess, uninterested in the lessons Mrs. Jenkins wrote on the blackboard.

At lunch, I stood three spots behind Susie in the line to the cafeteria. I listened to the rattling of beads in her braided hair as we walked. The pink, blue, and green cylinders clashed together at the ends of her hair, grazing over her shoulders. I mimicked her lunch choices. One square slice of cheese pizza, the cheese sliding off the undercooked dough. One bag of apple slices, the corners beginning to brown. A carton of chocolate milk from the cooler. Ranch packets from the condiments bowl.

Susie got free lunch, most of the kids from the projects did. They lived with their grandmas whose only income was social security, or their moms who worked late nights at McDonald’s and brought home chewy chicken nuggets and soft fries that would last them until the food stamps arrived.

I fished out two crumpled bills from my back pocket. The night before, I told Mama my lunch account was 57 cents in the red again. She’d promise to put twenty on it soon, but looking over the cafeteria lady’s shoulder, my two dollars had barely brought my account back to green.

“Have a good day, Natash.” She slid her glasses up the bridge of her nose, squinting at the monitor. I often wondered if she could read my name or if the last A had actually been cut off on the screen. I settled on the former. You didn’t graduate college to work in an elementary school cafeteria.

I found Susie sitting with two other girls at a table on the far right side of the cafeteria, against the wall.

“May I join you guys?”

“Why you talk like that?” The cheese stretched inside Susie’s mouth as she spoke.

“Like what?”

“You sound like a white girl.”

Her friends snickered behind their napkins.

“How do I sound like a white girl?” I clutched my tray against my stomach, digging my nails into the plastic, the whites in my knuckles shown through skin.

“You got a really soft voice, like you used to live in the mountains and breathe in all the air. And you use big words in class.”

“I like reading the dictionary.”

The girls burst into laughter, cackling like hyenas, their partially chewed food jiggling inside their cheeks. They slammed their fist, squirted ranch dressing in the air, and it landed in droplets, sprinkled on the table.

“You’re weird, Oreo. You can’t sit with us.” Susie said.

I didn’t move. I picked at my cheese, twirling the strings around my finger. It wasn’t even warm. “Why do you call me Oreo?” I asked, not looking up from my plate.

In unison, white teeth glaring, they answered. “Black on the outside, white on the inside.”

©Nortina Simmons

 Oreo Cookies | Chapter 1 | Part 2

Writing a Novel in a Year

Writing a 50,000 word novel in a month has proven to be quite a difficult task for me. I applaud all who’ve successful completely their novels during NaNoWriMo, from the next great American novels, to those rough, rough drafts that you’re just glad you’ve finally transferred from your head onto paper. I envy you because you have been able to do something that I’ve failed at three Novembers in a row. My punishment for being a perfectionist and procrastinator, I presume.

So, I’ve decided to try a far less difficult feat. Write a novel in a year. Sounds easy enough, right? 1,000 words a week for 52 weeks equals 52,000 words. Boom! There’s my novel. And because I’m writing approximately 150 words a day instead of almost 2,000 words a day, I have room to release my inner perfectionist and edit, edit, edit, over the course of the week.

I have three novels floating in my head. One, I shared with you in April during the A to Z Challenge and am in the midst of editing and expanding (I added up the word count on those posts . . . 16,632 words. That’s barely a novella. Grrr!), and I gave you a snippet of another in one of my Friday Fictioneers posts, so I want to give you something completely new. This idea was inspired by Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls. The novel follows the lives of five ‘black’ women from adolescence into adulthood, and explores some of the obstacles they face on that journey.

Every week for the next year, I will write/edit/delete/write a 1,000 word excerpt from this novel and post it here on Fridays (since that seems to be my lightest posting day), starting next week. The title of this novel is Oreo Cookies. You’ll see why when I post my first installment next week. Hope to see you then!