Excerpt from my WIP Snowmobiling Story / Camp NaNoWriMo Project

*Desperately needs a better title! Even a better working title!

Have a look at a section of this YA fiction I’m working on for reluctant readers, and tell me what you think!

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I heard once that when someone gets hypothermic, they take all their clothes off and dig a hole. No, seriously, that’s — well, it’s something that Penny read in an article online and then told me about. I didn’t get an urge to burrow or anything like that, but I got to a point where I just wanted to lie down and take a nap, and I didn’t much care anymore where I did it. But I knew that’d piss Penny off, ’cause she was waiting for me, and it was a stupid idea to lie down on the railroad tracks no matter what. My dad would kick my ass if I did that.

No, I don’t talk about my dad that much. He’s not home a whole lot. He’s not even really my dad, okay? Just like my sister isn’t really my sister. He works driving transports, so he’s always going across country or down into the States. The money’s good, so you’d think we’d be doing better, but after my mom got divorced she ended up with a whole bunch of debt, and he had some too from before they got married. They had a cheapo wedding, too, although I don’t know why they even bothered to do that. Should have just moved in together and been done with it, in my opinion. No offense, if you don’t think people should just live together, but it’s honestly cheaper than having a big party just to show off.

When my dad does come home, it’s all about showing off. Mom’s got to show that she’s got it all handled, and that means I have to keep my nose clean, not argue or leave messes, shit like that. It sucks. Why should I have to be someone other than myself? I mean, heaven forbid I leave some dishes in the sink when my dad’s home — I do it when he’s not home, too, and the world doesn’t end.

On the other hand, he’s been around since I was a kid, and like I told you before, he’s pretty cool at teaching me some stuff. He was with me when I shot my first buck, showed me how to dress it and got the rack mounted for me for my birthday that year.

That same year, I heard about this thing where you can put a penny on a railroad track and when a train goes by, either the penny gets flattened completely, or it’ll derail the train. Either way, it sounds pretty effing cool, so I took a penny to try it. I hung around for a while, waiting for the action, but it got boring, so I just left the penny there and went back later, after I’d heard the train go by. It didn’t crash, but the penny was squashed.

You know what’s even cooler than getting a penny flattened by a train? Getting a loonie done the same way.

Yeah, I don’t understand why I’d want a train to derail, but when you’re a kid, it’s just something neat and different. I get it now, why it’d be bad. At the time I was all into explosions and loud noises and stunts and shit. So I take a loonie out of my mom’s wallet, not knowing that my dad saw me do it — I thought he was just watching hockey and drinking a beer — and I go out to the train tracks again.

So the first thing I get in trouble for, after I get back, is stealing. And it was just a dollar! Man, can you imagine what he’d do to me if I got caught taking a twenty? Or one of his beers? That’s why I wait until he’s gone on a road trip again, heh. He doesn’t keep count when he’s gone.

Anyway, he kicks my ass for taking money without asking. And then he wants to know what I did with it. I’m just a kid, I’m freaked out, so I tell him. Dad hustles me back to the train tracks, holding me up by the back of the neck so I’m practically on my tiptoes the whole way, and we get the loonie back.

Then we stayed there, waiting for the train to go by. While we’re there, he starts telling me about this one time that he saw a drunk guy walking home on the tracks lay down or pass out, and got his legs cut off by the train. It didn’t even slow down. I didn’t ask whether the guy lived or died.

I did feel like puking, though. My dad’s a good storyteller. I can kill and gut a deer, no problem. I went all that way after getting kicked by a moose and I didn’t whitey even when I wanted to. But you get my dad describing something gory, and I tell you, my stomach just turns over. And you can totally tell how much he’s loving it while I’m turning white and trying not to listen.

“Adam,” he says, looking at me seriously. “There’s a reason why most of the time, houses aren’t built next to the railway tracks.”

Of course, that’s a lie. There’re houses up here that are right close to the tracks. Okay, so there’s a backyard between the house and the rails, but still.

He starts telling me about what a train derailment is really like.

“The cars knock together and push each other to the sides,” he says. “So it’s not just turning over to one side, there’s cars to the left and cars to the right. And as soon as the first ones stop moving, the ones behind them jump on top, ’cause they don’t have any other place to go. If those are passenger cars, you got people inside getting flung all over the place, getting cut by broken glass and squashed under iron wheels and trapped between the seats. They can’t hear themselves screaming ’cause the sound of metal screeching is too loud, but when it’s over, then they’ll hear each other. And if they’re really lucky, someone nearby will hear them and call 911.

“But if there’s a house or a car that’s too close to the tracks,” he goes on, pointing at the spots. “The train pulverizes it.”

That’s the exact word he used. Pulverize.

“It’s going so fast, and it’s made of steel so it’s heavy, that it knocks into whatever’s in its way and smashes right through. If there’re chemicals or gas or oil, and there’s a leak, the steel makes sparks and that causes an explosion. So whoever might have survived in the house or the car, if he lived through getting hit, gets burned alive by the fire.”

Yeah, at this point I’m just about puking.

“This is why you don’t put shit on the tracks to derail the train, understand?” He’s shaking me now, just enough to get me to look him dead in the eyes. “This is why you don’t play on the tracks, or lie on the tracks, or mess around anywhere near the tracks. You get me?”

Then he points behind me, and holy shit, there’s a fucking train coming. I nearly crapped myself. You’d think you’d hear it coming, but you don’t, not until it’s almost on top of you. We weren’t even standing on the gravel, but I could feel the wind coming off of it. You know how you can imagine grabbing one of the handles as it’s going by slowly, through an intersection? Well, outside of an intersection, it goes just a little bit faster. Scary faster.

So I’m walking down the tracks now, years later, knowing my dad will kick my ass again if he catches me, and kill me himself if I even just sit down for a minute, and I’m starting to wish I’d just taken the goddamned trail, when it happens.

Unfuceffing believable.

Coming toward me, way down the track, there’s a freaking train.

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The premise of this novel is that a young man is out snowmobiling and ends up in trouble, first by encountering a moose, then by bogging down his machine. His experience only gets worse from there, with a events pushing him further from home and safety, and into more and more dangerous circumstances. I’m aiming for 50,000 words, currently at 35,389 at the time of this post, with 7 days to go.

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WIP update: the snowmobiling story gets complicated and dark

The truth behind the skeleton is emerging. It’s not a pretty story. Also not what I expected — the tale is complicated, and perhaps open to debate. But it’s interesting.

I’ve decided to omit the use of a certain curse word from this YA WIP, switching it to “eff” instead. I’ve been playing with the style, as well, using text that’s been struck out here and there, to represent the idea that the young man telling the story changes his mind about what he wants to say or how he wants to say it now and again. I might do that with the swear words, in the manner that the kids do — starting to say the bad word, and if it all pops out, apologizing for it, or if they catch it in time, replacing it with a tamer version of the slang. But that will come after the whole draft is done.

I realized tonight, to my horror (slight exaggeration, although I was very dismayed) that I’d gotten four thousand words behind schedule. I’m closer to being back on track, having written 2,600 words this evening, and I’m tempted to keep going, but at the same time I will suffer in the morning if I push it too late.

Still need a title for this, too. If anyone has any ideas, or would like to read another excerpt to possibly offer suggestions, that would be amazing!

Ravings and rantings on blockages and teenagers (really just another Tuesday night)

I have broken my rule on writing breaks, and lost some momentum in the snowmobiling story. I didn’t make my word count yesterday, and I’m out of ideas and steam for tonight. The best I’ve got so far is another animal threat — a lynx, this time — and I might work on a conversation between Adam and the old man. Try to find some answers.

One of my students (I’ll call him Benny) wanted to know whether I blog about their antics in my writer’s craft class — I’ve shared with them this 365 Days of Blogging project I’ve given myself — and my response was no, not usually. See, by the time I get home and transition back into mom and partner, and then into writer mode, much of what has happened in the day is tucked into a file in my head, unless it’s something upsetting or troubling (in which case my anxiety is heightened and I have a hard time letting go). However, since I said I would talk about shenanigans, here are a few for your enjoyment:

  • One day, a few months ago, Benny found my stash of Hallowe’en decorations and props from the haunted house in October. Included was a broomstick / mop handle without bristles or mop head, which we’d thought about using for the Snow Queen performance. He rather enterprisingly found a way to poke a hole in a prop severed hand and pushed it onto one end of the broomstick. It has stayed that way ever since. Very interesting, too, as the mop handle has white and black polkadots on it. I now call it my Handy Stick and it gets used for various means, such as pointing, in the classroom. Benny also likes to twirl it around his shoulders until I see that he’s doing it and I make him stop. I have to remember to bring in a light sabre for him to fiddle with instead . . .
  • My seniors noticed, at the start of the semester, that I keep a kettle in my classroom. They started a hot chocolate fund and brought in their own mugs. They don’t have hot chocolate every day, but some of my juniors have begun following suit, dropping twenty-five cents in the jar marked “Help the Writer’s Craft Ballers” or whatever they’ve put on the jar . . . I should take a picture of it and update this post tomorrow.
  • You remember, of course, that I wrote a song about cellphone rudeness in the classroom and posted it. Now I get frequent requests to sing the song, and not just in my classes — I had to cover a colleague’s period 3 the other day, and some of the kids who were in it are also in my period 2, and they’d told their friends about the song. I didn’t have my lyrics with me, sadly, so I didn’t regale them with my glorious musical skills. I did enjoy moving around the art class, though. And taking a few phones away from those who were misusing them . . .

I will try to jot down other interesting anecdotes as they come up. Some of my grade 9 boys tend to try play-fighting or tickling or other rough-housing activities on occasion, stopping when they’re told. Some of my grade 9 girls try to make trick shots with balled up paper thrown over their shoulders. I’ve picked up on something interesting with that group: they do tend to be more productive as a whole when the class divides off, with a small group of girls in an empty classroom next door, a small group of boys (/wrestlers) on the couches in my classroom, and maybe a very small group of three or four in the hallway or stairwell. When the genders are separated, they become competitive with each other, in fact, each accusing the other of slacking off, when they’re actually doing about the same amount of work.

And to help motivate them, heaven help me, but I’ve been playing them off each other a little bit. “Girls, the boys next door think you’re not doing any work in here. Prove them wrong!” “Boys, the girls think you’re slacking right now. Show them you’re doing better than they are!” It’s sneaky and underhanded, but it’s working. And despite the wrestling (mainly boys) and high-pitched-giggle-shrieking (mainly girls), I think I’m seeing a lot less showing off and open flirting with the groups separated. If I were to do a debate with them, I’d ask them how they’d feel about gender-segregated schooling, but they’re not ready for an activity like that.

After days like today, wrangling hormones and sugar rushes into corrals of knowledge and skill, writing fiction gets a little harder. I’m feeling worn out. I spent time with my kids, but only after I had a nap to recharge. There are some days where I come home and I don’t want to talk to anyone or have any demands on me for a week. The good news is that we’re halfway through the semester. The bad news is that this week the weather is going to be crummy, and that’s not going to help anyone.

Meanwhile, my daughter has come down for the third time since I put her to bed — has to pee, is thirsty, wants crackers (crackers!!!) — so I have to summon up the flickering remnants of my patience and make sure she stays in her room this time. I also want to get further in the damned WIP but uuuuunnnngggghhh.

At least I know I’ve been at this point in Camp NaNoWriMo before. This is the wall. I can get through it. I’ve done it before. If only I could type in my sleep — that would be nice. Why can’t I be a sleep-writer? Or a sleep-cleaner? Imagine that: waking up having cleaned the house while dreaming! Come on, scientists, let’s get to this!

The elusive truth in the developing fiction

WIP update: Adam and the old man are fighting, now, although I’m not certain that it’s the best way to go. I might leave it open and rewrite that scene tomorrow. Maybe have Adam imagine a fight taking place and wondering whether he could take the old man, or falling asleep and dreaming it. I had it in mind that they’d have a conversation over roast partridge and there would be some revelations, but maybe the fight has to take place first to relieve some tension and work out nervous energy before communication can happen.

I have two thoughts on what’s going to happen next:

a) The skeleton under the floor is (predictably) Adam’s missing grandfather, who’d disappeared about thirty years earlier. The old man is his murderer. And Adam is able to bring a killer to justice, closure to his mother, and maybe gets back property that had been stolen from his granddad around the time of his death.

b) The crazy old man is Adam’s missing grandfather, and he’s really the killer. Maybe the original murder was caused by jealousy over a woman or rage over a gambling debt, or was committed in self-defence. Would he have gone crazy because he knew going back to civilization would mean going to jail for his crime?

The first option is, as I’ve noted, predictable, but comforting. The second is darker and more conflicted. I may have to write the old man’s back story somewhere and find a way to fit it in. This is where their conversation may come into play.

I don’t feel ready to hit the climax just yet, though. I mean, this fight could work as a turning point, except that the falling action needs to provide some answers and work out problems, and Adam’s not close to having those things. Or maybe he is! (tears at hair) But I want 50,000 words, dammit, and therefore the climax needs to start around 35,000 — I’m at 31,501. Can’t stretch a fight scene out for four thousand words . . .

Or can I?

I mean, what if Adam breaks free and takes off into the woods? If he steals the old man’s flashlight and follows his tracks back to the crazy guy’s shack. Maybe he’d find evidence there that reveals all. Letters, pictures, maps, tools . . . I can visualize something important happening there.

But the problem is that Adam is still injured, and he’s been hurt a little worse in his wrestling match with the old man.

Going to sleep on it. Hopefully after all of this percolates, I can focus on a plan of attack. I like the idea of the kid getting to a new location and making some discoveries. Hmm . . .

Also, still no title.

If anyone out there is a fan of Crabbe, Hatchet, or other outdoor-adventure themed books, and you’d like to beta-read for me, let me know in the comments. Maybe I’ll post another excerpt tomorrow.

And the Winner of the Cover Reveal for Crystal and Wand is . . .

ShaMona Hagan! Congratulations! I’ll be in touch to get your details for sending your prize: a signed set of the print copies of the Talbot Trilogy.

I’m in the midst of report card comments this evening, so this post will be short. Short-short. Daisy-Duke short. And I had such plans for writing you a poem about picking up the poop in my backyard . . . There’s still time for that later this week, though!

Still don’t have a clue who the skeleton is, or the old man. Waiting for inspiration on that. Something occurred to me while I was picking up poop, but do you think I was smart enough to write it down at the time? Nooo . . .

Writer Problem No. 153: Not Knowing How the Story Will End

My snowmobile story has turned into a bit of a mystery! I certainly didn’t see that coming. One of these days, I would like to write an honest-to-God, structured mystery novel. I’ve had that element in some of my short stories, and it crops up in the Talbot Trilogy, but not on purpose. Just — things that have to be discovered, or uncovered, in the course of the main conflict being pursued and resolved.

As a fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries (read my brother’s copy of Adventures of Sherlock Holmes when I was 12), and the Harry Potter books, Nancy Drew when I was a kid, and Castle today, I keep feeling like that’s a genre I could really sink my teeth into. But I keep stumbling into the element by accident. I think, to properly write a mystery, you have to have that intention from the beginning, don’t you?

So that means doing research. Teaching myself with trial and error. Interviewing those in the know, like my dad, for instance, who also loves mysteries, and whose father was an insurance investigator. Taking copious amounts of notes and keeping them organized.

When I was working on the trilogy, I often wished that I had a bulletin board on which I could post bits and pieces of detail, a visual timeline that I could see all at once rather than having to flip through pages on my screen or in my notebook, and printed out plot details that I’d already written. I thought I was a little bit nuts, but then I saw the fictional character Castle doing it on his eponymous show, and I know that the writers of that program based his activities off of those of an actual mystery writer, SOOO . . . I’m not that crazy after all! There really could be a method to my madness! If only my house was a little bit bigger, and had slightly more wall space. Like a nice downtown loft apartment in New York City . . .

Anyway, now that I’ve got this great bit of inspiration going, suddenly the skeleton under the floor, the silver lighter that my protagonist has, and some of the troubles in his family are starting to make sense. I am tempted to go back into the exposition and rising action to clarify some of these things in the backstory, using flashbacks and reminisces as devices. But first I have to find an answer to the biggest burning question of all: just who is the skeleton under the floor, and who is the old man with the gun?!?

Oh, my brain . . . Why can’t you just give me answers? It’s so funny when I mention that I don’t know what’s going to happen next, or that I can’t explain whether a location is really haunted in one of my stories, or how a mystery is going to be solved — the students I talk to about these things kind of tilt their eyes and look at me like I’ve completely lost it. “How can you not know?” they ask me. “You’re the writer!”

Yeah. This is part of the reason why I honestly believe that some stories are simply out there, floating in the ether, waiting for a conduit in the form of the teller. They reveal themselves when the time is right. So, Ether, I’m waiting. I’m listening. Fingers are typing. WHO IS THE SKELETON? WHAT’S WITH THE OLD MAN?!?

I bet Jack London never had problems like this.

My Top 10 NaNoWriMo Survival Tactics

Over the hump now . . . April 30 is growing closer, and my snowmobile story WIP is steadily approaching its (as yet, undetermined) climax. Some nights are harder to keep it going than others. So I thought I’d review for you (and me) the things I do when the going gets tough!

1) Build a word count buffer. Whenever you can, write over / beyond your minimum number for the day, so that if there’s ever a time where you’re not able to get to the project, your overall movement won’t be affected as much.

2) Take a break! Sometimes, you have to have a night off. See 1) above. The tricky part, though, is not letting that break go longer than 24 hours. At that point, it’s like going back to the gym after you’ve just started a membership and promised yourself you’d go every day and then stopped after a week. The effort of starting again feels incredibly daunting. Keep the breaks short so you don’t lose momentum on the work.

3) Accept inspiration from the strangest of places. Seriously — I get ideas from the weirdest things. Sometimes it’s from taking a walk and seeing someone outside of my regular routine. Sometimes it’s from listening to music, or talking out plot problems with a fellow writer. Just go with it!

4) Scenic Route over Efficiency. There’s nothing wrong with going off-roading with the plot. I start with a plan, but when I see a detour and a possibly better / more interesting plot point, I totally go for it, enjoying the element of mystery and surprise. Of course, that means I don’t really know what the climax will be, but I still have the end goal in mind. Buy the ticket for the long way ’round, because as the song says, it’s got the prettiest of views!

5) Fill your family and friends in. I honestly wouldn’t be able to do this without my kids’ understanding, my hubby’s back rubs (even though they’re not nearly as long as I’d like them to be), and the acceptance that my attention for this month is very much on the story. Once your near and dear ones know what you’re up to, they can also offer suggestions and act as beta-readers. BTW, it’s a heck of a lot easier doing NaNoWriMo now that my kids are old enough to feed themselves!

6) Treat yourself. Those back rubs, and cups of tea, and bits of leftover Easter chocolate — soul food. Nourishment for the creative soul. Whatever it takes to keep your spirits up in the depths of plot problems and character disagreements, do it.

7) You can sleep when you’re dead. Sleep. Especially if you have a full-time paid job. I mean, if I was working from home, or doing the unpaid work of parenthood, it would be easier to slip in those naps than it currently is — I’m limited at the moment to catching a few z’s after school, and occasionally when I’m desperate and the coffee’s either worn off or hasn’t kicked in yet, I’ll lie on the couch that’s conveniently found a home in my classroom for twenty minutes of shut-eye. But you have to sleep. It’s right when you’re trying to fall asleep that your stupid brain will come up with the greatest plot twist or snappy dialogue.

8) Write in a group of writers. For me, that means involving my students! We have had increasingly productive writing days this week, comfortably sitting together in a computer lab. It’s been my privilege to hear them to comparing their word counts, discussing their characters and plot problems, sharing mind-blowing moments and reading out bits they particularly enjoyed putting together, and to share my own writerly discoveries and problems as well. Writers helping writers. Fantastic!

9) Find your space / time relativity. For me, it has to be after the kids have gone to bed, so I’m not distracted by commentary or questions. I do frequently start shortly before bedtime, in an effort to avoid being awake until midnight (hah!), and that’s when I get the loving kisses and hugs and tea and things. I do miss having my laptop to work from so I can be comfy on the couch, but sitting at the desk is helpful, too — I can’t look directly at the TV, for example, so I’m less tempted to have it on. Now, if only I could get the right proportion of desk height to chair . . .

10) Eyes on the prize! It can and does become daunting at times, and exhausting, to keep going on a writing project when you don’t know what is going to happen next, and especially when it’s on a topic that is out of your normal range of experience. But I think that doing 50,000 words in 30 days is getting a little easier, now and then. The main thing is to remember that what is being written doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be completed. A little bit at a time accomplishes so much!

Feel free to add your own writing survival tactics in the comments below!