Back in the saddle again

In keeping with my new goal of writing more, I’m actively trying to invest time in writing fiction again. Yes, this will eat into my blogging, but to make up for it I’ll be posting as much of the fiction I do write on serial storyteller as is possible/reasonable/etc. As an example I started this tonight at 8:23 and three hours later this is my completely unpolished draft of the first two pages of something I have no idea if I’ll finish. I have the whole thing plotted out in my head, but the story arc is heavy on the bitter and light on the sweet.

Anyway, I’ll be posting the rest of the pieces on my fiction oriented site once I refresh that one and give it a face-lift and reboot. As I continue to post over there I’ll drop posts with links here just so no one has to follow both to keep up with the writing if they want to.

     The train-whistle called out through the heavy air of an Alabama summer night, and she looked out over the long moonlit field between her front porch and the tracks on the other side of old man Gilbert’s farm.
     It was the ten-thirty running north and east from Birmingham to Chattanooga, and like everything else in her eye-blink little town it was running slow. Slow like the words on the lips of the customers at the diner she called a job. Slow like the ambition of her brother sleeping off an afternoon of beers and girly magazines on the couch in the living room. Slow like the minutes of her life that were bleeding out of her with every breath she took, choking on the stink of stale cigarettes and rotting garbage piled up under the sink; the smell of a little life drowning in boredom and suffocating under the weight of being less than the nothing she ever thought she’d be.
     She looked back at the picture of Ben Franklin on the hundred dollar bill she’d been holding as reverently as her grandmother’s Bible for the last hour. She couldn’t decide if he’d been drunk when he tipped her more money than she took home in a week, but he said she “had the prettiest face he’d seen since Hollywood” and then drove away in his fancy silver sports car. She’d spent her entire shift assuming it was a dollar bill, or maybe even a five like she might get from the men who thought they were high rollers after too much whiskey on a Saturday night. When she pulled it out at the end of her shift it shocked her so much she dropped it on the bathroom floor like it had burned her finger tips.
     The train called out again in the night, telling the world it was going somewhere, anywhere, just not here. Attalla Alabama was nothing and nowhere. She’d been born here on a summer night in nineteen fifty and not a damn thing had happened in the twenty-four years since. She listened to the power of the train pushing itself away from her nowhere, wheels grinding in a deep roar of purpose eating up the black distance between where she was and the brighter lights of anywhere else on earth.
     The sudden sound of an empty beer bottle falling from her brother’s sleeping hand snapped her out of her reverie, and jolted Bailey Dixon – the girl everyone called Dixie - into making the first something decision of her nothing life.
     Truthfully, she’d been thinking about this since the day two years ago when she inherited the house and responsibility for the drunk and snoring pervert face-down and drooling between the spread thighs of his latest Hustler darling in the next room. Her grandmother left her both of them, as well as a stack of hospital bills and the rough running ’56 Chevy pick-up parked next to the pecan tree out front. The doctors said it was cancer from the cigarettes that killed her, but Bailey figured being a miserable old bitch might have had something to do with it.
     She walked down the hallway back to the bedroom with the crooked door hanging from one hinge and took the oversized white Bible down off the top shelf. The morning after her grandmother’s funeral she’d opened it up to write down the date in the record of births and deaths recorded in the front, and that’s when she found them. Placed neatly and pressed smooth, fives and tens and twenties squirreled away in the one place no one would ever look by accident. Her grandmother had spent years using that old white monstrosity to threaten and torture her, never once letting slip that almost five hundred dollars were hiding between Ruth and Samuel.
     She took out the old tweed-covered suitcase with the leather trimmed edges for the first time since she brought hit home with her grandmother’s effects from the funeral home. Unceremoniously she emptied the old woman’s shirts and polyester pants into a heap on the floor and then packed it with the three dresses she owned, four shirts, two pairs of jeans, the grey mock-heels she’d bought on a lark last spring, her Sunday bra and slip, and all the panties in her top drawer. Just before closing the lid she had a pang of sympathy for the old woman who’d raised her since her mother disappeared on a summer night hardly any different from this one, the same year they bought the pickup new off the lot in Birmingham; so she grabbed up the old woman’s Bible and placed it in the suitcase before snapping the latches tight and carrying the only pieces of her nothing life she could be bothered to keep out to the old Chevy.

[Word Count: 980]

The rest of Chapter 1 in this post.

4 thoughts on “Back in the saddle again

  1. *looks at you askance*

    You wrote Southern Chick Lit! What the heck!?! Who are you again? And are you secretly reading the books I bought before we moved to GA and shortly afterwards? This sounds like you, yet doesn’t sound like you. It feels To Kill A Mockingbird, yet more Chick Lit…

    Heh, the other primary perspective is decidedly not a chick. I doubt the overall story would be chick lit (although I don’t really draw much of a line between chick lit and lit, and there’s nothing wrong with writing general lit), what throws me is that it’s not really what I aspire to write, it’s just what’s seeping out right now.

    This type of storytelling seems to fit my voice better, so if I have to write through it for a while, nothing wrong with that. I’ve been plotting it all out in my head for the last few days, and I pretty much know the general arc and major characters. That’s probably enough to write a serviceable manuscript and get words on paper which is the current goal.

  2. I believe it would be “girlie” magazine, not “girly” magazine. The y indicates to me that it’s, like, Cosmo.

    Here’s where I expose myself, I had no idea. I went online and discovered that both spellings receive regular usage for the meaning I intended and the three major online dictionaries use the spellings interchangeably. Personally, I think I agree with your spelling. Remember, this was an entirely unedited draft (hence the terrible run-on sentences and two cases where the same verb is reused in proximal phrases).

    Why am I interested in this person with a nothing life? You spend an awful lot of time convincing us that she’s nothing special. If I’m inclined to agree, why do I read on instead of giving up after the 4th paragraph? Give me a hook earlier on, please.

    The hook which does arrive makes me want to know where she’s going and whether rotten things are going to happen to her on the way, so, keep us posted with how this one goes.

    I’ve gotten this same feed-back three times now. This distresses me. I used four paragraphs to set the tone and then threw the hook, I’m not sure exactly what to do, but obviously consistent advice indicates a significant flaw. In a “real world” situation I’d like to think that whatever compelled someone to pick up the book would compel them to give it a full page; but you don’t get that luxury from an agent or an editor, so a slow hook is fatal. Obviously the hook here just isn’t timely, and I need to address that somehow.

  3. Well, maybe the problem isn’t failure to hook so much as it is over-reinforcement of the “this character has a boring and pointless life”. Repeat that enough times and the reader will answer you with “why should I care?”. Step away from that insistence and just tell the facts, and we’ll come to our own conclusions.

    I get the critique, I just have to figure out what that means in my voice.

  4. Favorite line: “The doctors said it was cancer from the cigarettes that killed her, but Bailey figured being a miserable old bitch might have had something to do with it.”

    In reviewing the draft to get ready for my post on my editing process I discovered that gem. That line is what happens when I just sit back and channel the characters and don’t force it. The whole draft is pretty much an unfiltered stream-of-consciousness exercise and I’m glad that line worked for more people than just me.

    Also, I like the train references, though I’m admittedly partial to trains. My junior lit teacher in high school taught us a poem to say every time we heard a train whistle. He said we would always say it when we heard a train whistle…and he was right (and I have confirmed this with many former classmates…one of them even created a Facebook page devoted to his poem).

    The long drawn out whistle of the train
    Makes me lonely
    Not by day
    But nighttime only
    Heartache, separation, a yearning cry
    Deep within my heart
    I wonder why

    We lived near train tracks in Palmetto, and I loved to listen to them roll through. I didn’t love trains as a kid, I always just associated them with being stuck waiting for one to cross a road I was waiting to go down. Now, there’s a sense of mystery and consistency that blends together in trains that I find fascinating.

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