More time in the saddle

I’ve been working more on the piece I started a couple of days ago. I have the themes, the major plot arc, and most of the characters mapped out. I assure you that it’s not “chick lit” as would typically earn the title, that said I’d not object to that title by any stretch of the imagination. It’s also not a romance novel, though someone made that logical assumption as well. It does have two main protagonists, and they do fall in love (or at least whatever reasonable interpretation of that state they’re able to craft individually and collectively), but “romantic” is probably not the principle description one would use for the themes tackled and the resolutions found.

Someone else asked if it has a happy ending, and the answer is no, but it doesn’t have an unhappy ending either. As it’s a story about life, and life is a story that won’t end until the last of us succumbs to the Zombie Apocalypse (or comet impact or religious tribulation or what have you), it doesn’t end cleanly with anyone riding off into a sunset. Happily-ever-after is the province of fairy tales and fantasy novels. I love both of those things and aspire to write them, but this is not either of those kinds of stories.

Growing up, I spent years believing that if we loved enough bad things wouldn’t happen to us. I grew up and discovered that bad things happen no matter how much you love someone. This story is about bad things that happen and the fact that people can love each other in spite of (or even because of) the string of tragedies that make up a human life. If you live a life without ever experiencing a tragedy, then you never bothered to live at all. The people in this story live a lot of life and earn whatever love that comes on the other side.

In this post I’ll put up the rest of the raw and unedited first chapter, and in my next post I’ll post the same for chapter two. After that, I’ll post my editing process and you can all see how I trim sentences and change words and generally whack back the unruly beast that is a draft into something a little bit more tame and readable.

     The old truck rumbled to life and the radio crackled alive a moment later.
     “...more attention to the troubles of the White House just a week after Bernstein and Woodward’s book hit shelves, and less than two weeks before arguments over the secret tapes are made before the Supreme Court...”
     She cranked the dial over and tried to find anything that wasn’t about the nation’s obsession with Watergate. A few crackling bursts later and she found the station out of Birmingham that played rock and roll when it switched to the overnight pattern. Lynyrd Skynyrd jumped out of the speaker, singing a love song to everything she was ready to drive away from.
     “...Now Watergate does not bother me, does your conscience bother you?..”
     She left it as it was better than nothing and pulled out onto the dirt road heading into town. It took less than two minutes to get to the gas station on the corner of 4th and 4th, directly across from the post office and next door to the diner where she worked. The station closed up the same time the diner closed down, almost three hours earlier, but Bailey knew where the switch was for the pump, and she stuck a ten through the mail slot to cover the tank of gas that would get her at least two-hundred miles down the road.
     “Why Dixie girl, what on the good Lord’s fine earth has you out at this time of night?” Mrs. Little’s voice rang out from her front porch across the street and directly behind her as she was faced her pick-up. Bailey was barely able to contain the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard shudder that ran through her at the sound of it. Town busybody, terrible gossip, and Sherriff’s Wife, Eugenia Little took her self-assigned job of mother hen to everyone in a ten mile radius seriously. Her home on the corner between the town hall and the county jail just happened to give her a wonderful view over everything that might be happening that was worth repeating in hushed tones to the women at the rotary or the beauty parlor.
     “Evening Mrs. Little,” Bailey defaulted to her waitress manners and gave the older woman her best welcome-to-the-diner smile, “just getting some errands done before the heat of the day tomorrow.”
     “Why would you be pumping gas at this time of the night dear? One of the boys will be around tomorrow to help you, doesn’t matter if they sweat in the sun a little.”
     “I’m running over to Gadsden tomorrow morning, early. I figured I’d fill up now and leave Earl a note in case I’m late for my shift. You know how those doctors can be.”
     Given how many times she’d been over to the hospital when her Grandma was sick, trips to Gadsden had become a staple of Bailey’s life. She figured it would take Mrs. Little a few hours of working it over to realize that Bailey hadn’t had a good reason to go to Gadsden in the last two years.
     “Well...” the busybody’s face clouded over for a moment with an intuition that she wasn’t getting the whole story, “you just be sure you don’t leave poor Earl hanging. You know how busy it is on Friday mornings.”
     If by ‘busy’ she meant ‘two farmers and a deputy who drank his thermos dry before midnight’ then sure, anything else would be a serious stretch of the imagination.
     “I will Mrs. Little, you have a good night now.”
     Bailey hung up the nozzle and flipped the pump off, then crossed the street and unlocked the diner with the key under the flower pot next to the door. She opened the cash register and took out a twenty and three tens, then wrote a quick note on an order pad:
     “Earl, I took fifty out of the register to cover my final pay paycheck. If there’s more than that, please give it to Randy and tell him to pay the utility man before he spends it on beer. If it comes to less than that, we’ll just call it even or I’ll tell Jane how you run your hands under the girl’s skirts when we’re getting stuff out of the back. – Dixie”
     Below that she wrote in big block letters “I QUIT” just for clarity and then posted the order note on the line where the diner owner and full-time cook would be sure to see it first thing in the morning. Her grandma once told her that “some bridges you cross in life, some bridges you burn.” For all the times she’s been pinched on the ass to earn a dime tip, this was one bridge she wanted to burn on the way out of town.
     She grabbed two packs of Camels off the stack next to the register and a lighter from under the counter. She pulled one out and lit it up while she looked out the door of the place she’d worked for the last eight years. With one last glance down the counter she walked through the door and climbed into her truck, not even bothering to lock up behind her.
     When the truck roared back to life the radio was playing a driving guitar rhythm and a deep voice was singing about the girls in La Grange. Bailey looked northeast towards Chattanooga, and southwest towards Birmingham. Beyond Birmingham was Mississippi and Texas and at the end of the road was Hollywood.
     “Prettiest face since Hollywood...”
     She put it in gear to the beat of the music and dropped the clutch. The truck launched southwest, headlights illuminating all the something in front of her, taillights shining on all the nothing she was leaving behind.

[Word Count: 1345]

5 thoughts on “More time in the saddle

  1. I like it! I like the southern setting. I like the feel (and I definitely don’t sense chick lit, not that there’s anything wrong with that [unless it's Meg Cabot]). And I super-like her resignation letter.

    I’m glad! I don’t object to chick lit at all, it just isn’t what this is (at least, not as I understand chick lit anyway). Her resignation is part of an unseen chain of events that will be important later.

    I’m looking forward to reading about your revision process!

    It’s been a fun post to work on, but it’s been a real challenge to “think on paper” too. I think the end result will be interesting.

  2. I like this a bit better than the last, but you still need to follow Principle #17: Omit needless words. Dear Uncle Strunk and Uncle White. I know this is a raw draft, but you know I don’t mind helping.

    “She cranked the dial over and tried to find anything that wasn’t about the nation’s obsession with Watergate.”

    or

    “She cranked the dial over, trying to find anything else.” [I was born in 1981 and I caught the reference a mile away]

    As you point out, it’s a draft, and I’m terribly guilty of adjective abuse in my drafts. The next post is my revision process, and you’ll see that your instincts were the same as mine in my edit. It’s obviously about Watergate and calling it out was unnecessary.

    “Her home on the corner between the town hall and the county jail just happened to give her a wonderful view over everything that might be happening that was worth repeating in hushed tones to the women at the rotary or the beauty parlor.”

    or

    “Her house happened to sit between Town Hall and the county jail, and her porch had an excellent view of anything worth repeating in hushed tones at the beauty parlor.”

    LOL, this is an example of a sentence doomed to die. There’s actually no county jail in Attalla, so I’ll be removing that reference anyway. Also, there’s a tragic error of motion in the next line that has to be fixed anyway, so the whole chunk is up for re-write.

    Just a quick & dirty job, but it gets you down to basics. I find that if I don’t edit for needless words all along while I’m writing, I get really bound up and can’t remember what my intention was.

    I like to dump a lot of adjectives into the draft so that when I edit (which is a code-word for trimming) I have enough fruit left on the tree.

    So she’s going to Hollywood, is she? I hope she meets up with Kermit & the gang. Despite what you’ve said, I can’t help hoping it’s that kind of story instead.

    Aww…I could totally do up a Muppets fan-fic with singing and dancing…

    But sadly (pun intended) no, this one has some heavier themes. Hollywood may be her target, but I will simply give a hint and tell you it is not her destination. This is not a “make it big in the movies” story, though I could write the hell out of that with a smile.

  3. I’m an avid reader, but a horrible writer (ask OS, I actually told her I don’t normally comment on your blog because of my writing/grammar lol).

    First off, we’re a friendly bunch and no-one judges the comments. I’ve written many a comment on a blog that I was horrified with after re-reading for basic spelling/grammar/english fails. No one here will hold that against you. It’s an online coffee-shop attitude, just chat, we’ll love you for you and not for your sparkling command of adjectives/adverbs/obscure uses of punctuation. We’ll certainly love you for those things too, so be whatever, we’re welcoming.

    Anyhow, what I wanted to say is that yes there is editing needed but there are some gems here. I particularly like the bits about the Bible, the “I quit” note and the comment on her grandmother’s cause of death. I also like that you don’t hit us in the face with the song’s but give just a hint to them (“the radio was playing a driving guitar rhythm and a deep voice was singing about the girls in La Grange”).

    Thanks. Music is a big thing to me and always seeps into my writing, but I try very hard not to make my writing ABOUT the music. If that makes any sense. Sort of. Anyway, I always love the feedback about specific lines that work, it helps me know what connects with people.

    There was a previous comment asking why we would want to keep reading about this nothing person with a nothing life, asking you to hook us sooner. I kinda think the hook is that she’s nothing. I personally didn’t feel the need to be hooked sooner.

    Thanks, I got that feedback a couple of times since commenting. The feedback is about perfectly split between “it’s fine” and “hook sooner” so I’ll take that into consideration when I rewrite this chapter.

    And as far as it being more bitter than sweet… that’s not always a bad thing. Its like dark chocolate ;)

    This is definitely going for a more “dark chocolate” position. There are sweet moments, but life seems to be defined by the hills we climb after going down the valleys, and these characters are going to discover some deep places before they climb to brighter vistas.

    That said, I could still write the hell out of some Muppet Fiction…

  4. Husband, you are falling down on the job and being boring. Turn yourself around and write! You promised to show us your editing process. So do it!

    I wrote about my writing long enough that my brain hurt. I’ll finish up the editing post this coming weekend if not sooner. I just want to get some more chapters actually written first.

  5. Ahem. Your blog edited out my whip snap. So, consider it still there at the end of the last comment, followed by another HERE for good measure!

    I honestly have no idea how that happened…*whistles and looks away*

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