The value of research and feedback while writing: don’t be afraid to ask!

I’m at 8,158 words in my Camp NaNoWriMo project, the Snowmobiling Story for young adults / reluctant readers. A bit shy of the count I want to have for today, so I’ll try to keep this post short in order to attempt to squeeze a few more paragraphs in before midnight. (I had to take an Outlander break, Sassenach!)

I found myself stymied a few times this weekend, in this project, because I’m so out of my depth. I’m not into mechanics or engines or anything technical, so I’m dependent on research and interviews to give me the details I need. The problem is that half the time what I’m reading is still completely over my head, thanks to the jargon and colloquialisms in use by the people in the know.

So last night I started bugging individuals in my circle (and in their circles) for answers. I proposed situations and sought their opinions on what would happen next, with fantastic results. And then, when I sent my work (so far) to one of my usual beta readers to get her take on a scene that didn’t have anything to do with mechanical stuff, I ended up getting more feedback on the technicalities — really helpful stuff that I’m going to fix right away.

See, the thing is, when you’re working on a first draft, it’s important to just keep ploughing ahead and never mind the edits, or else the damned thing will never get done. Go back and fix the little things later. But with this — I don’t mind jumping back here and there to make sure my descriptions and plot points are accurate, because that means I’ll be more likely to get them right when I refer to that stuff again later on.

Some writers also don’t like showing their unfinished drafts to others because — well, hey, we’re a sensitive lot, sometimes, and we don’t want to be told that what we’re writing sucks. It’s a leap of faith in all respects to get the words on the page and then to ask someone what he/she thinks. I find it depends on what I’m doing, and how secure I’m feeling with it, and my own emotional connection to the piece. With this one, I know I’m bound to make errors because I’m writing about something pretty foreign to my experience. The more feedback I can get on it, the better I’ll be.

One problem that I can foresee, though, is the subjectivity of the experience. Some snowmobilers up here call the handlebars “risers”, while others call them simply “handlebars”. If I write something that is closely related to this region, I risk others not enjoying it as much because they’re not in the vernacular loop that people up here are. Then again, it’s edifying to read about experiences in other places, so maybe it won’t really matter.

I think, too, that for this one I’ll be seeking a Canadian publisher, just to really drive it home to my students that they’re awesome. Maybe that’s counting my chickens before they’re hatched, though.

Keep writing!

Unknown

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Writing Problem #492 — Is the Challenge Too Challenging?

Okay, fellow writers, here’s a problem for you to contemplate: How do you get into a creative project that you’re not really doing for yourself?

I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this snowmobiling story, you see. I’m going to work on it throughout Camp NaNoWriMo this month, and complete the draft, but I’m having some real difficulties in building enthusiasm. I’m out of my usual genre and theme, learning a new colloquial language and trying to figure out how to mesh the ins and outs of the sport with an actual plot. Watching YouTube videos of snowmobilers isn’t terribly helpful, because those are simply footage shot by enthusiasts without a storyline.

I know I previously posted about my plot ideas, but those feel so weak right now . . .

And how do I spread out a day’s riding through a 50,000 word novel?

I’m contemplating starting off with the protagonist’s typical morning, dealing with family and home life and so on, and then building to the part I already have with my MC splitting away from his buddies. But I like how it starts with action, establishing the setting and the first problem — his friend’s attraction to his girlfriend — so I’m considering flashbacks instead. Maybe splitting the snowmobiling with bits about how his day started off.

He could have a GoPro on his helmet and he sees a crime take place, gets it on camera, before his machine crashes through the ice.

But what crime? Could be a cabin being broken into, or poachers . . . A chase would ensue.

It doesn’t help that I’m feeling exhausted again. It’s hard to think of ideas and put them into action when you’re wiped out. I really ought to go through the writing exercises I gave my students to do from the NaNo YWP handbook, but I also have work priorities of overdue marking, planning, and my other edits to complete for my coming release. If I had a power bar on my forehead, it would be red and in its last 1/8 segment. My gas needle is hovering over “E”. If I attempted to juice up with fresh coffee, I’d get the shakes.

The forecast for tonight and tomorrow is for freezing rain, followed by rain mixed with snow. I’m not sure how I’m feeling about the potential for bus cancellations. On the one hand, it would be good to have the day to be productive and catch up on things. On the other, it’s already a short week and I still have things to do with my students that really need to get done — some are redoing tests that they’d failed a few weeks ago, some need help to catch up on their blogs, and some need encouragement with their independent reading.

It would make me so happy to sleep for two or three days in a row. Just sleep. Wake up feeling refreshed and energized and focused, instead of sensing the hamster wheel under my feet.

Spring is coming. Think positive. Going to bed before midnight tonight is a plus. Everyone is healthy. Elizabeth is well-fed and shedding nicely. Skittles is fat and affectionate. House is warm. Okay, since I seem to be sinking into random sentence fragments, I should probably just post this and crawl into bed . . .

Good night, everybody. Wednesday is done.

The Snowmobiling Story — this time in first-person and with the vernacular

Bah! I missed my self-imposed deadline — it’s exactly 12:00 am. But technically I DID post on March 17 with my update on Crystal and Wand. So, you know . . . we’re good. 

I’m applying some of my student’s suggestions here, and I’ve changed the narrative to a first-person  so that the vernacular works better with my grammatical sensibilities. What do YOU think, dear readers? Which version do you like better — this one or the first one?

——————-

I glanced down at the gas needle and wished I’d had enough money to put more than half a tank in before hitting the trails. I had a good half of a tank in my snow machine, but my buddies weren’t following the plan we’d all agreed on, turning left at the fork behind Northern College instead of looping around the lake in one quick trip. Danny was up front, leading the rest of us, and he had a habit of making changes on the fly. They might have been going halfway to Rouyn for all I knew.

Danny kind of pissed me off when he did stuff like that, but my heart was pumping and I was grinning from ear to ear, just the same.

If I’d only put more gas in the tank . . . I swore under my breath, adjusting my speed while leaning into a curve on the track. I had shit to do that afternoon, stuff that required money. My next paycheque wouldn’t come for another week, so I was trying to be good and make the cash last. Danny, Steve, and AJ didn’t have to worry about working; their dads all had good jobs and gave them money pretty much whenever they wanted. They didn’t have to think about budgeting. Maybe that explained why they could just change their minds at the last second and do whatever the hell they wanted.

I looked at the needle again and decided that as soon as they stopped for a break, or if I went down to a quarter of a tank, I’d turn back. No sense in being stupid.

My mind made up, I focused on keeping pace with my friends. It was a perfect day for a rip, so no wonder they wanted to do more than a loop and back to town again. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, just an expanse of deep blue overhead that reached from one side of the snow-covered forest to the other. It was damned cold out, but thanks to my mom landing some good deals during Boxing Day sales, my new Skidoo suit and gloves kept me from feeling the worst of the chill. -35 C was too cold for downhill skiing, which is what my girlfriend Penny would have liked to have done that afternoon, but it was perfect for hitting the trails: the Arctic temperatures made the snow sparkle in the sunlight, especially those crisp bits that flew away from the speeding vehicles’ tracks and blades. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Too bad Penny didn’t like hopping on the back and going with me. It was the one thing — well, maybe not the one thing, there were other things we didn’t have in common — but the main thing that we had different between us. I wished she was with me now, riding behind me, but I understood that I couldn’t force her to like it. Maybe, eventually, she’d want to try it out and I could take her for a ride.

Just not with Danny around. That guy was my friend, but also an idiot.

Case in point: Danny never stopped flirting with Penny, even when he knew it pissed me off. Or maybe he did it even more when I got mad. My gut twisted thinking about it, and my hands tightened on my risers. Penny didn’t say that she minded it, but every now and then I’d seen a shady look on her face when she moved away from Danny’s hand on her shoulder, pushing him back when he was begging for a hug, or when she caught him staring at her as he sipped from his drink. I would shove him or give him a semi-playful smack on the shoulder and tell him to stay away from her, but the guy just laughed it off.

“I’m just kidding! Relax, man!”

Sometimes I wondered why we were friends. Or, rather, still friends. We’d known each other since we were two, been to each other’s birthdays every year since then, learned how to fish and shoot together, and Danny had helped me to rebuild my old Skidoo practically from scratch. The hours we’d spent, hunting through the junkyard and picking through yard sales and Auto Trader magazines for the right pieces . . . And even though she was pretty ratchet, the snowmobile ran pretty good. Danny never bugged me about the way she looked, either. It was enough that I could match his speed.

I could see him up ahead, veering his 2016-model Summit X T3 880 up the drifted slopes and taking jumps that left wings of powder hanging in the air. What Danny wanted, he got, and so a lot of kids wanted to be in his circle.

It just sucked that being in this particular group meant you had to show you had balls. Turning around halfway through a run did not show anything but being a pussy. I sighed, anticipating the chirping I was about to get. But there was no help for it; the needle had already moved on the gas gauge, giving him about ten more minutes before I’d have to turn around.

The good news was Danny had already started slowing down, signalling a stop. If I was really lucky, I wouldn’t be getting back on fumes.

I parked my snowmachine in beside the other three and raised my helmet so I could speak clearly. ” ‘Sup, buds?”

“Smoke break,” Danny told him, grinning. “Want a dart?”

“Naw, you know I’m quitting.” Adam waved him off and looked away.

“Yeah, you keep saying that,” Steve said. “But I keep seeing you in the smokers’ pit at school.”

“That’s ’cause that’s where all you losers hang out, dumbass.” I propped one knee on my seat. “Listen, what’s the plan here?”

“We’re heading to Rouyn, gonna pick up some two-fours and head back to AJ’s for a party,” Danny said. He exhaled a long puff of grey-white smoke mixed with the condensation of his breath. 

“Seriously?” I looked away so I wouldn’t have to breathe in the stink of his tobacco, focusing on adjusting the velcro belt on the wrist of my glove. Normally the guys only smoked at the parties, passing around cigars, but Danny had decided for some reason that he needed regular smokes, too. I pulled the velcro back and pressed it down again in an awkward rhythm. “I got plans with Penny tonight.”

“Yeah, your plans include bringing her to AJ’s.” Danny jerked his chin and then glanced at the other guys, grinning.

“Honestly, I don’t think she’ll want to go,” I said. The noise of the velcro on my gloves was hard to hear against the growling of the engines. I slapped the strap down and took off my helmet to mess around with the padding, pretending to fix the way it sat on my head. “Kind of off parties right now, you know?”

Steve laughed, swaggering over to bush half-covered in snow with his gloves held under one arm so he could unzip his suit. “What, you afraid she’s gonna check out the competition, see somebody better, and ditch your ass? Bro, just bring her to the party. Don’t be a pussy.” The thin yellow stream steamed and crackled in the hollow it made under the bush. “Shit, I think I might have gotten piss on my boots again . . .”

Danny neatly tossed his cigarette butt in the snow at his feet. “Listen, bring her or don’t bring her, but you’re coming out. You need to relax, buddy. Way too tense. Am I right, AJ?”

AJ shrugged, his face still obscured by the mirrored visor of his helmet. He revved his engine, turning to the east, then took off suddenly, leaving an impressive spray of white powder in his wake.

“Whoa, nice boondockin’” Steve shouted, waving one arm. He zipped up and strode back to his machine,  looking at Danny as he straddled the seat. “Let’s go, we’re wasting daylight. If he wants to wimp out, let him.”

I felt a hot glow deep in my chest, watching Steve slam his visor down and zoom off without another word. Why can’t I just tell them I haven’t got enough gas?

“So you coming or not, Adam?” Danny asked. He checked to make sure his pocket flap was down over his cigarettes and lighter. “We can carry more booze with four machines.”

“Yeah, I’ll be right behind you,” I said, slowly. “I thought I heard a knock in the engine. Need to check it out first.”

“Hey, want me to stay and give you a hand?”

At least the kid actually sounded concerned. I took my gloves off, flipping them at him. “No, I got this. Like I said, I’ll catch up. See you in Rouyn, okay?”

“Okay. And remember what I said — bring Penny tonight!”

There was that look again, damnit. Danny was gone before I could ask him what the raised eyebrow and crooked grin was all about.

The last echoes of the Skidoos racing eastward faded. I had turned off my ignition, so the quiet was absolute. Even the wind had died down, and it was too cold even for the ravens to squawk. I opened the engine compartment, closing my eyes for a minute to appreciate the odours of gas and oil before I started fiddling with some plugs. I checked over my shoulder a couple of times, listening for any signs of my friends coming back. Not that I really expected them to do that . . . well, maybe Danny would, if only to ride my butt about his old machine and my girlfriend.

The silence didn’t stop a bunch of thoughts from cycling through my head. In fact, it was hard to ignore them. I checked the oil, shoving the wire harder than necessary back into its slot, willing my brain to stop thinking.

I should just catch up and borrow money from AJ for some gas.

I should just go home right now. The hell with this.

Danny has the hots for Penny.

It was in his eyes when he watched her coming to sit down next to me in the caf, the way he looked her up and down, his gaze settling on her chest until someone yelled at him to pay attention. It was in those stupid jokes

Something in that shit-eating grin Danny had on his face just before he’d zoomed off was really bothered me. Maybe it was how he’d sounded when he’d said I should bring Penny to the party.

I could already predict what that party was going to be like. It would be the same as always: loud music that would get louder as people got drunker, a bonfire in a home-made fire pit that some fool would try jumping over and end up wiping out next to on the ice that formed from the melting snow (next to the fire, if he was lucky — more likely to wipe out on the fire pit), Danny hitting on every girl until he got one who was drunk or stupid enough to think he was actually funny. And if Danny scored with a girl who actually had a boyfriend, there would be a fight.

Come to think of it, Danny would probably focused on girls with boyfriends just so that he could get into a fight.

Me and Danny had never been in a real fight. We’d goofed around, just being idiots and re-enacting MMA bouts and hockey fights, tossing each other off of docks in the summer and into snowbanks in the winter. Hell, we’d thrown each other off of any surface we could climb onto: the roof of the bottom-story addition of my house (winter), the railing of Danny’s back deck (winter), the flat top of AJ’s boat house (summer), the flat top of AJ’s grandparents’ garage (winter) . . .

Of course, we didn’t need a bit of high ground to throw each other down. Back in grade five, Danny’d taught me how to sweep a leg out from under my opponent, passing on whatever he’d learned in the karate classes that my parents couldn’t afford. And then I’d shown Danny how to pile-drive, what it took to do a decent sleeper hold that could really knock somebody out, and the pressure points I’d learned from my dad. Danny loved finding out about those, just little sensitive spots between thumbs and forefingers that could keep a kid on the ground for as long as you wanted, if enough you pressed hard enough.

Good times.

But we’d never yet taken a swing at each other. Hadn’t had a reason to. Especially not over a girl.

And I honestly didn’t want to do that. Not that I’d ever tell anyone, out loud.

It wasn’t that I was scared. I could take Danny

It was just . . .

I slammed the cover back down on my snowmobile. The bang startled a distant raven into cawing loudly as it flew away.

Guys fought, didn’t they? They fought and then they got over it. Fighting cleared the air. Girls, they snuck around and bitched at each other and sent nasty texts until they were ripping at each other’s hair and rolling around school hallways. Girl fights lasted for weeks, or even months.

When Danny went after some other guy’s chick, the guy would call him out either at the party where the thing happened, or at school the next day. I kind of thought it was stupid to do it at school, but there had to be an audience. My mom once said, after she’d heard about one of these fights, that it had to do with something called ‘saving face’. Whether Danny and whoever went at it right away depended on the other guy’s temper — or fear.

I sat on my snowmobile and stared at the remains of Danny’s cigarette in the snow, my nostrils crinkling in the cold air. The grey ashes looked like dead snowflakes. Zombie snowflakes.

Sometimes, after Danny had a fight with a guy, and there was snow on the ground, there would be blood spattered on it. He only ever needed to fight a kid once and then the problem would be over. Nobody ever challenged him twice.

If Danny was going after Penny now, I would have to fight him. Guaranteed.

Damnit, why couldn’t all of this be as simple as gliding over drifts and along the edges of embankments? It wasn’t Penny’s fault that she was pretty and smart; I was lucky to have her as my girlfriend, and I knew it. How long would it be before someone better than me came along and we broke up?

It might as well be Danny as anyone else. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with wondering who she was with. Then again, I might have to stop being friends with the jerk.

The ticking of the engine as it cooled off brought me back to reality. It was too confusing to just sit there and think; easier to ride. Pivoting on my heel, I threw my other leg over the seat, rammed on my helmet and started the motor. It was satisfying to lean into the curve as I turned my Skidoo around and headed back down the trail — better than thinking and thinking and not having any good answers.

It felt better, too, once I’d picked up speed. The dark trees whizzing past me on either side, but the sky didn’t seem to move at all. I relaxed my body into the seat, enjoying the way my shoulders and arms were feeling the strain of the drive and how my legs were working to mould him against the machine. The heavy vibration blended into my muscles until I felt like me and the Skidoo were almost connected, working together to virtually fly over the contours of the trail. All at once, like the driving was blowing cobwebs out of my brain, I saw clearly what I needed to do: warn Penny that Danny was going to hit on her, and then tell Danny to back off. It was as simple as that. I could even run our conversation through my head — mine and Danny’s, not the one with Penny — and predict how it was going to go.

I never had trouble talking to Penny. With her, I just felt comfortable. But Danny had a way of twisting other people’s words that was fun to watch, when it was happening to other people.

I gunned the engine as I approached a hill, catching air over the crest and bracing myself right before the impact seconds later.

“Dan,” I’d say, keeping my voice serious and low to keep from attracting attention. “Lay off of Penny, okay? She doesn’t like you like that.”

“Lay her? Sure, I’ll lay her for you!” Danny would probably laugh, and he’d do it loudly too, making sure everyone could hear. “I know you’re still saving yourself for marriage.”

The trail forked just up ahead, with the main branch — the official path — leading off to the right and back to town by following the uneven shore of the lake. I bent my left elbow and knee to direct the snowmobile over the rough pile of snow toward the southeast, relishing the thrill of the machine diving into deeper powder. The shortcut over the lake would save me five, maybe ten minutes if I really pushed it. Just had to watch out for patrols, but I could just explain that I was running out of gas and needed to get home fast.

“Dan, I need to talk to you,” I’d say instead, so that my long-time friend would know I was serious. “It’s important. Penny wants you to leave her alone.”

“I’m sorry if I freaked her out,” Danny would shrug, his eyes all innocent. “I was just joking around. Maybe you shouldn’t be with her if she can’t take a joke.”

I shook my head, gritting my teeth. The snowmobile shuddered over a patch of rough ice as I zoomed onto the lake. I had to come up with something to say that Danny couldn’t turn around on me, something that the asshole would respect.

What if I told him that if he kept harassing my girlfriend, we couldn’t be buddies anymore?

Did guys even do that sort of thing?

————

So, keep going with the first-person?  Or back to the third-person narrative?  Comment below!

Also, good news: I have my edits!

The edits for Crystal and Wand: Book Three of the Talbot Trilogy are now in my hot little hands (metaphorically speaking; I have rather mannishly-large hands, and the edits are in my iPad since I can’t use my computer, but that’s neither here nor there — I have them!), so hooray! Work on that can also continue apace. I did not accomplish any school marking today, but I did empty my voicemail and do some shopping. Also got Bridget a new type of hairbrush to help her with detangling (it works), and helped her to make progress on her doll’s dress (please let her take more interest in it tomorrow). Hoping to be more productive tomorrow. I’ve thought about staying up late to clean, but I think it’s better if I try to get back into a regular, less Bohemian sleep pattern. Plus, I’m still wrestling with this stupid cold bug and the cough that won’t quit. So there’s that.

Unexpected Challenges of Writing for Today’s Teenagers

I showed one of my Writer’s Craft students what I have so far of the snowmobiling story, and she gave me some excellent feedback, including some information on current slang being used by teenage boys in our area:

  • “He had stuff to do that afternoon . . .” — my source said the boys she hangs out with would say “shit” instead.
  • “Maybe that explained why they could just change their minds at the last second and do whatever suited them.” — kids up here would say, “whatever the hell (f@#$) they wanted . . .”
  • “It was a perfect day for snowmobiling, so no wonder they wanted to do more than a loop and back to town again.” — “. . . day for a rip, so no wonder . . .”
  • “. . . his hands tightened on the handlebars of his Skidoo.” — apparently they’re called “bars” or “risers” . . . the more you know!
  • “I’m just kidding! Relax, man!” — should be “I’m just kidding! Relax, bud!”
  • “Turning around halfway through a run did not show anything but being a wuss. Adam sighed, anticipating the bad-mouthing he was about to get.” — my first instinct to use “pussy” instead of “wuss” was correct, but I missed the fact that they refer to bad-mouthing as “chirping” or “chirps“, so it should be more like:

    “Turning around halfway through a run did not show anything but being a pussy. Adam sighed, anticipating the chirps he was about to get.”

  • “Smoke break,” Danny told him, grinning. “Want a dart?”

    “Naw, you know I’m quitting.” Adam waved him off and looked away.

    “Yeah, you keep saying that,” Steve said. “But I keep seeing you in the smokers’ pit at school.” — my source says that a lot of the kids she knows who are into snowmobiling only smoke cigars, and then, only when by the fire pit and/or at a party. Again, something I didn’t know, and it’s rather interesting, a reality I didn’t expect.

  • “He exhaled a long puff of grey-white smoke mixed with the condensation of his breath.” — I have been advised to describe the cigar smoke as white and sweet-smelling. Confession: I actually do enjoy the scent of a good cigar, although I’ve never smoked one myself.
  •  “It was in his eyes when he watched her coming to sit down next to Adam in the cafeteria . . .” — I didn’t use the popular vernacular, “caf” instead of “cafeteria”
  •  “They’d goofed around, just being idiots and re-enacting MMA bouts . . .” — her suggestion here was to refer to hockey fighting.
  •  “Girls, they snuck around and snarked at each other and sent nasty texts . . .” — I should use “bitch” instead
  •  I have to remember, also, not to use the terms “snowmobile”, “snow machine”, and “Skidoo” interchangeably, since the latter is a brand and not a generic reference to the thing
  • I’m sorry if I made her uncomfortable,” Danny would shrug, his eyes all innocent. — the suggestion here is to be more meh: “Sorry if I freaked her out . . .

These are all fantastic suggestions, and it was interesting to ask one of my seniors to read it through because we have just done an assignment on appropriation of voice, which is pretty much what I’ve been attempting to do with this story. That being said, when my target demographic read the first page or so, they didn’t pick out any of my errors at all — not even the bit about the gas tank. Did you know that snowmobiles aren’t supposed to have full tanks, like, ever? Never underestimate the value of research, fellow writers!

But as I read through her remarks, I started to wonder whether I should be writing this in first-person instead of the third, to really get into the use of the slang. Should the vernacular stay in dialogue only? Doesn’t it isolate out-group readers who may not understand chirp or dart? I’ll admit, that’s why I made reference to cigarettes and smoke deliberately in the narrative, to help provide the context for the reader. It feels awkward and strange to try mixing slang with regular prose. However, if I move into telling as the character — if I try to become Adam while I’m working on this — maybe it won’t seem so unnatural.

If I do that, I might take some risks with the spelling and grammar. For example, many of these kids forget to capitalize their proper nouns, or drop the ends of their words. (The Grammar Nazi within is cringing, pleading with me to stop it already.) But then . . . if I abandon the rules of grammar and spelling, leave aside my cherished language conventions to adopt the relaxed style of an average 16 year old Northeastern Ontario boy, is that a good thing because it gets them to read? Or a bad thing, because at that point it’s no longer modelling effective language?

Not only that, if I move into Adam’s voice, it makes this story even tougher to write. I will have to ignore my instincts. Adopt local youth culture as my own, for a little time each day. Do more research on snowmobiling and local terminology, because it seems as though each region has its own set of slang vocabulary for the sport (although some overlap). Honestly, it’s really like learning a second language. And the old stand-by words like cool and bro — they’re not going to cut it.

So, I guess I’ll sleep on it for now. I might make a copy of the draft as it is so far, revising the narrative into the first person, and maybe even toy with making it present-tense. I’m also going to have to continue interviewing my story subjects, to really make sure I’m getting the vernacular and conversational tones right. It’s almost like a sub-culture’s time capsule. Like Professor Higgins tracking the particular vocal habits of unfamiliar communities. Like, some of their terms I get because I hear them a lot in class — chromeburntbuzz, etc. — but they’re very much background noise. If I’m going to get this right, I need to pay closer attention. Make notes. And ask lots of questions.

Back to the Snowmobile Story, WITH sensory details this time!

The last echoes of the skidoos racing eastward faded. Adam had turned off his ignition, so the quiet was absolute. Even the wind had died down, and it was too cold even for the ravens to squawk. He opened the engine compartment, closing his eyes for a minute to appreciate the odours of gas and oil, and fiddled with some plugs. He kept checking over his shoulder as he listened for any signs of his friends coming back. Not that he really expected them to do that . . . well, maybe Danny would, if only to ride Adam’s butt about his old machine and his girlfriend.

The silence didn’t stop a bunch of thoughts from cycling through his head. In fact, it was hard to ignore them. He checked the oil, shoving the wire harder than necessary back into its slot, willing his brain to stop thinking.

His buddy never said it directly, but Adam knew Danny had the hots for his girlfriend. It was in his eyes when he watched her coming to sit down next to Adam in the cafeteria, the way he looked her up and down, his gaze settling on her chest until someone yelled at him to pay attention. It was in those stupid jokes

———-

Okay, so I know I’m breaking a cardinal rule here by going back through the draft before it’s done, and adding stuff. I’m wondering now, though, whether I should have more conversation earlier in the exposition, showing Danny’s attitude toward Penny. Hmmm . . . (glances back at the complete draft) — How about this? 

———–

Something in that shit-eating grin Danny had on his face just now really bothered him, when he’d said Adam should bring Penny to the party.

He could already predict what that party was going to be like. It would be the same as always: loud music that would get louder as people got drunker, a bonfire in a home-made fire pit that some fool would try jumping over and end up wiping out next to on the ice that formed from the melting snow (next to the fire, if he was lucky — more likely to wipe out on the fire pit), Danny hitting on every girl until he got one who was drunk or stupid enough to think he was actually funny. And if Danny scored with a girl who actually had a boyfriend, there would be a fight.

Come to think of it, Danny would probably focused on a girls with a boyfriends just so that he could get into a fight.

Adam and Danny had never been in a real fight. They’d goofed around, just being idiots and re-enacting MMA bouts, tossing each other off of docks in the summer and into snowbanks in the winter. Hell, they’d thrown each other off of any surface they could climb onto: the roof of the bottom story addition of his house (winter), the railing of Danny’s back deck (winter), the flat top of AJ’s boat house (summer), the flat top of AJ’s grandparents’ garage (winter) . . .

Of course, they didn’t need a bit of high ground to throw each other down. Back in grade five, Danny’d taught Adam how to sweep a leg out from under his opponent, passing on whatever he’d learned in the karate classes that Adam couldn’t afford. And then Adam had shown Danny how to pile-drive, what it took to do a decent sleeper hold that could really knock somebody out, and the pressure points that Adam’s dad had showed him. Danny loved finding out about those, just little sensitive spots between thumbs and forefingers that could keep a kid on the ground for as long as you wanted, if enough you pressed hard enough.

Good times.

But they’d never yet taken a swing at each other. Hadn’t had a reason to. Especially not over a girl.

And Adam honestly didn’t want to do that. Not that he’d ever tell anyone, out loud.

It wasn’t that he was scared. He could take Danny.

It was just . . .

Adam slammed the cover back down on his snowmobile. The bang startled a distant raven into cawing loudly as it flew away.

Guys fought, didn’t they? They fought and then they got over it. Fighting cleared the air. Girls, they snuck around and snarked at each other and sent nasty texts until they were ripping at each other’s hair and rolling around school hallways. Girl fights lasted for weeks, or even months.

When Danny went after some other guy’s chick, the guy would call him out either at the party where the thing happened, or at school the next day. Adam privately thought it was stupid to do it at school, but there had to be an audience. His mom once said, after she’d heard about one of these fights, that it had to do with something called ‘saving face’. Whether Danny and whoever went at it right away depended on the other guy’s temper — or fear.

Adam sat on the snowmobile and stared at the remains of Danny’s cigarette in the snow, his nostrils crinkling in the cold air. The grey ashes looked like dead snowflakes. Zombie snowflakes.

Sometimes, after Danny had a fight with a guy, and there was snow on the ground, there would be blood spattered on it. He only ever needed to fight a kid once and then the problem would be over. Nobody ever challenged him twice.

If Danny was going after Penny now, Adam would have to fight him. Guaranteed.

Damnit, why couldn’t all of this be as simple as gliding over drifts and along the edges of embankments? It wasn’t Penny’s fault that she was pretty and smart; he was lucky to have her as his girlfriend, and he knew it. How long would it be before someone better than him came along and they broke up?

It might as well be Danny as anyone else. Then he wouldn’t have to deal with wondering who she was with. Then again, he might have to stop being friends with the jerk.

The ticking of the engine as it cooled off brought Adam back to reality. It was too confusing to just sit there and think; easier to ride. Pivoting on his heel, he threw his other leg over the seat, rammed on his helmet and started the motor, leaning into the curve as he turned his snow machine around and headed back down the trail.

It felt better once he’d picked up speed, the dark trees whizzing past him on either side. He relaxed his body into the seat while tensing his shoulders and arms, his legs working to mould him against the machine. The heavy vibration blended into his muscles until he felt like he and the skidoo were almost connected, working together to virtually fly over the contours of the trail. All at once, like the driving was blowing cobwebs out of his brain, he saw clearly what he needed to do: warn Penny that Danny was going to hit on her, and then tell Danny to back off. It was as simple as that. He could even run their conversation through his head — his and Danny’s, not the one with Penny — and predict how it was going to go.

He never had trouble talking to Penny. With her, he just felt comfortable. But Danny had a way of twisting other people’s words that was fun to watch, when it was happening to other people.

Adam gunned the engine as he approached a hill, catching air over the crest and bracing himself right before the impact seconds later.

“Dan,” he’d say, keeping his voice serious and low to keep from attracting attention. “Lay off of Penny, okay? She doesn’t like you like that.”

“Lay her? Sure, I’ll lay her for you!” Danny would probably laugh, and he’d do it loudly too, making sure everyone could hear. “I know you’re still saving yourself for marriage.”

The trail forked just up ahead, with the main branch — the official path — leading off to the right and back to town by following the uneven shore of the lake. Adam bent his left elbow and knee to direct the snowmobile over the rough pile of snow toward the southeast, relishing the thrill of the machine diving into deeper powder. The shortcut over the lake would save him five, maybe ten minutes if he really pushed it. Just had to watch out for patrols, but he could just explain that he was running out of gas and needed to get home fast.

“Dan, I need to talk to you,” he’d say instead, so that his long-time friend would know he was serious. “It’s important. Penny wants you to leave her alone.”

“I’m sorry if I made her uncomfortable,” Danny would shrug, his eyes all innocent. “I was just joking around. Maybe you shouldn’t be with her if she can’t take a joke.”

Adam shook his head, gritting his teeth. The snowmobile shuddered over a patch of rough ice as he zoomed onto the lake. He had to come up with something to say that Danny couldn’t turn around on him, something that his friend would respect.

What if he told him that if he kept harassing his girlfriend, they couldn’t be buddies anymore?

Did guys even do that sort of thing?

Snowmobile Story continued: trying to stay in a 16 year old boy’s head

The last echoes of the skidoos racing eastward faded. Adam had turned off his ignition, so the quiet was absolute. Even the wind had died down, and it was too cold even for the ravens to squawk. He opened the engine compartment and fiddled with some plugs, checking over his shoulder as he listened for any signs of his friends coming back. Not that he really expected them to do that . . . well, maybe Danny would, if only to ride Adam’s butt about his old machine and his girlfriend.

The silence didn’t stop a bunch of thoughts from cycling through his head. In fact, it was hard to ignore them. He checked the oil, shoving the wire harder than necessary back into its slot, willing his brain to stop thinking.

He could already predict what that party was going to be like. It would be the same as always: loud music that would get louder as people got drunker, a bonfire in a home-made fire pit that some fool would try jumping over and end up wiping out next to on the ice that formed from the melting snow (next to the fire, if he was lucky — more likely to wipe out on the fire pit), Danny hitting on every girl until he got one who was drunk or stupid enough to think he was actually funny. And if Danny scored with a girl who actually had a boyfriend, there would be a fight.

Come to think of it, Danny would probably focus on a girl with a boyfriend just so that he could get into a fight.

Adam and Danny had never been in a real fight. They’d goofed around, just being idiots and re-enacting MMA bouts, tossing each other off of docks in the summer and into snowbanks in the winter. Hell, they’d thrown each other off of any surface they could climb onto: the roof of the bottom story addition of his house (winter), the railing of Danny’s back deck (winter), the flat top of AJ’s boat house (summer), the flat top of AJ’s grandparents’ garage (winter) . . .

Of course, they didn’t need a bit of high ground to throw each other down. Back in grade five, Danny’d taught Adam how to sweep a leg out from under his opponent, passing on whatever he’d learned in the karate classes that Adam couldn’t afford. And then Adam had shown Danny how to pile-drive, what it took to do a decent sleeper hold that could really knock somebody out, and the pressure points that Adam’s dad had showed him. Danny loved finding out about those, just little sensitive spots between thumbs and forefingers that could keep a kid on the ground for as long as you wanted, if enough you pressed hard enough.

Good times.

But they’d never yet taken a swing at each other. Hadn’t had a reason to.

And Adam honestly didn’t want to do that. Not that he’d ever tell anyone, out loud.

It wasn’t that he was scared. He could take Danny.

It was just . . .

Adam slammed the cover back down on his snowmobile.

Guys fought, didn’t they? They fought and then they got over it. Fighting cleared the air. Girls, they snuck around and snarked at each other and sent nasty texts until they were ripping at each other’s hair and rolling around school hallways. Girl fights lasted for weeks, or even months.

When Danny went after some other guy’s chick, the guy would call him out either at the party where the thing happened, or at school the next day. Adam privately thought it was stupid to do it at school, but there had to be an audience. His mom once said, after she’d heard about one of these fights, that it had to do with something called ‘saving face’. Whether Danny and whoever went at it right away depended on the other guy’s temper — or fear.

Adam sat on the snowmobile and stared at the remains of Danny’s cigarette in the snow. The grey ashes looked like dead snowflakes. Zombie snowflakes.

Sometimes, after Danny had a fight with a guy, and there was snow on the ground, there would be blood spattered on it. He only ever needed to fight a kid once and then the problem would be over. Nobody ever challenged him twice.

——————————-

Okay, faithful readers — yes or no? Is this sounding like a 16 year old’s thought processes? 

Once again, night is defeating me, and it’s a bad one because we’re losing an hour of sleep with the stupid time change. I wish I could write through until I can’t form words anymore. I wish I could pound this story out in a whirlwind of writing, because tonight, at this moment, I’m convinced I could get it done in a week. Sadly, that’s not reality. 

But guess what? Tomorrow I’m testing my limits in a downhill ski race! So I’d better get some sleep. 

But do tell me what you think of this part of the story, please? I’d love the feedback.