Enough Notebooks

My regular writing time is from 7 to 9 a.m. I’m one of those insufferable people who’s wide awake and functional as soon as my eyes are fully open, and I don’t need coffee to do it. (I drink strong black tea with milk, no sugar, but only when I’m awake.) This morning I was a little late getting started because I’m reading an excellent book: Dorothy West’s The Wedding. I knocked off 20 minutes early because my longhand drafts and notes for Wolfie, the novel in progress, no longer fit in their notebook, and my other two notebooks are otherwise occupied.

Clearly a visit to the Staples website was in order.

Now the strict constructionists among you will not allow that the purchase of writing-related supplies constitutes “writing” for the purpose of “writing time,” and you may be right. However, being a writer, I can rationalize anything, and the pages spilling out of my notebook were messing up my head.

Dear readers, I ordered.

The Staples website is not as sensibly organized as it might be, so it took more than 20 minutes to find everything, even though I knew what I was looking for.

Some of the current pen collection

Some of the current pen collection

I do nearly all my first-drafting and most of my note-taking in longhand. On paper. Cut, Copy, and Paste don’t work on paper, but I still need to move things around, insert new pages between old ones, and (ideally) find some dimly remembered bit when it needs to be found. In my world folders do best in file cabinets, not lying around on desks and tables. I wanted notebooks. Three-ring binders might have worked, but I write with fountain pens and real ink-bottle ink and most punched or punchable paper can’t handle it.

Well, it can, but the ink often comes through to the other side, which means I can’t write on both sides of the paper. I am frugal, I am cheap. This wouldn’t do.

So a few years ago I spotted an ingenious notebook system in the Levenger catalogue. The Levenger catalogue is high-class porn for writer types, but it’s on the pricey side. Being frugal and cheap, I wasn’t willing to shell out for a system I didn’t know would work for me.

Open notebook with pocket divider

Open notebook with pocket divider. No, I could not live without Post-it notes.

Then I  encountered something very similar at Staples, the Home Depot of office supplies. The price was reasonable enough to take a chance on. I splurged. The system, which Staples calls “ARC,” quickly became indispensable.

At left you can see what the notebooks look like. The binding comprises 11 plastic rings. The rings don’t open; the paper is punched with 11 holes, each one open so it can fit over the ring. Pages can be moved, singly or in chunks, from one place to another.

A custom 11-hole punch is available, so you can punch holes in any paper you like, but the paper that comes with the system is, wonder of wonders, sturdy enough for my fountain pens to write on both sides. And sturdy enough to be moved here and there several times.

So this morning I ordered three more notebooks — one with a leather cover (like the brown one in the photo) and two with polyvinyl (like the rose one) — and more dividers, some with pockets, some without.

Blank paper,” I wrote last fall, “is faith in the future.” Enough notebooks, perhaps, is faith that what’s been written will be worth retrieving. Either way, I can’t wait for my order to get here.

 

Notes and More Notes

These days the how-to-write gurus like to divide writers into planners and pantsers. Planners, it’s said, outline everything in advance, then stick to the outline. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants. They don’t know how the story is going to end until they get there. They make it up as they go along.

Either/or doesn’t work for me. Meticulous outlines make sense for some, but for me they suck the point out of writing. Writing is a journey of discovery. If I know in advance what I’m going to discover, why make the trip? I’m just a sightseer gazing through the windows of a tour bus.

Nevertheless, a story needs forward motion. To maintain forward motion, some sort of structure is required; otherwise you’ve got waves breaking on the shoreline, getting no higher than the high-water mark before they fall back, momentum spent. Last year I set a project aside because it had a surfeit of subplots, characters galore — and no forward motion whatsoever. I kept waiting for something to happen, but nothing did. What it lacked was structure.

Think of structure as the frame of a building or a road through previously untracked wilderness. Either way, your job is to build it. My first novel, The Mud of the Place, started with a character and a problem. I wrote it scene by scene. But though I never made an outline, I scribbled notes here there and everywhere. Years after I finished the final draft, I was still finding yellow pads with notes on them: notes about characters, notes about plot, notes about how I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

I’m doing the same thing with Wolfie, the novel in progress. Ideas and insights and solutions to plot problems often come to me while I’m walking or kneading bread or falling asleep, but to really explore and develop them I have to keep my hand moving across the page. This time I’m keeping the notes in one place, and in chronological order. When I’m stuck or drifting or just need a jump start, I dip back into them. My old ideas keep giving me new ideas.

Here’s a sample of what they look like and what I use them for.

In early November I was trying to corral some emerging themes, subplots, and images. I was auditioning names for one character (Javier? Rafael? Rafe? Ralph?) and social media handles for another (for the moment she’s settled on Quinta Wolf). Note also the ink scribbles at the top and the liquid splotch (probably tea, maybe beer) at right. The red notes were added later.

20141107 notes

Here the author is trying to figure out what the hell happens next. She does this a lot.

20141121 notes 1

Toward the bottom of the same page, the pen offers an answer — and starts speculating about a possible plot development further down the road. I haven’t got there yet, so I don’t know how it’s going to play out. Note the scribbles. Note taking often involves scribbles.

20141121 notes 2

By late February, I had started draft 2, even though I hadn’t finished draft 1. My main plot threads were clear and becoming clearer. I had to build them a trellis to climb on. On March 24, I listed the characters driving each of the threads. “The Wall” is a mural that protagonist Shannon is painting on her living room wall. It has, as these supposedly inanimate objects sometimes do, taken on a life of its own. Amira wandered in from the set-aside novel, where she plays a major role. Her role in Wolfie isn’t settled yet, but it’s definitely important.

At the bottom of the page I’m brainstorming names for my villain. He started off as Bruce McManus, which didn’t feel right. “Bruce” has stuck, but “McManus” is gone. I didn’t want a name with obvious ethnic associations. I did want a name that suggested that what this guy does, though terrible, can be and often is done by ordinary, unexceptional men. His surname is now Smith.

20150324 notes

Here — not even three weeks ago! — I’m looking ahead to what follows a key scene (“selectmen’s meeting”). The scene itself is being lifted wholesale from draft 1, but when I first wrote it I hadn’t thought much about what its repercussions and aftershocks might look like. I’m also working out some character motivation: “Why is Shannon getting uneasy?” She is uneasy, and with good reason, but neither she nor I are quite sure why. The tricky thing is that it can’t be too obvious. One of the questions that’s driving this novel for me is “What do you do when you suspect something is very wrong, but you can’t be sure and the stakes are too high to allow for mistakes?” The jury’s still out on that one.

20150628 notes

And finally, here’s the sketch for a plot break-through scene. Bruce, an outwardly rational lawyer who weighs the consequences of (almost) everything he contemplates doing, has to make a move that isn’t all that well thought out. He has to be, in other words, on the brink of panic. What would do it? Well, if he realized that Shannon, whom his 11-year-old stepdaughter, Glory, idolizes, knows Amira, who counseled Glory four years earlier when she was in trouble at school, that would do it. How to bring that about? I mulled that over on several walks, then a possibility popped into my head. On July 8, I sketched it out and decided, Yeah, that’ll work. Let’s try it.

20150708 notes

On to Draft 2!

This past weekend I took a very deep breath and started draft 2 of Wolfie, my novel in progress.

The time had come.

I like to take a break between drafts. The longer the work, the longer the break, which means that with a novel or a long essay it can be a few weeks. This time I didn’t exactly take the break: the break took me. In late January I suspended work on the novel to focus my attention on a long, challenging editing job with an impending deadline. That deadline met, I turned to a review assignment whose deadine was also impending. I’d read the book and been thinking about it for weeks, but now I had to write the review. (For some thoughts about reviewing see “Reviewing Isn’t Easy.”)

Wolfie was never far from my mind. To push on with the first draft or to start the second? That was the question.

Draft 1 wasn’t complete. The Word file stood at 227 pages, almost 55,000 words, with a dozen or so handwritten pages yet to be transcribed. I had a pretty good idea of where things were headed. I probably could have forged on through climax to conclusion and then started the second draft . . .

The trouble was, a couple of significant plot threads have only come clear during the writing. One is hinted at in draft 1 but only sketchily developed. The other comes as a backstory dump in the handwritten pages I haven’t transcribed yet. It needs to start much earlier and be woven into the story.

Over the last year I’ve been taking Wolfie installments to my Sunday night writers’ group. This is a first for me. Usually I don’t let anything out in public until it’s in second or third draft — when I’ve gone as far as I can on my own and need some outside eyes. With Wolfie, though, the weekly deadline and my group’s encouragement have kept me going.

So — should I push on and bring the final chapters one by one to the group, explaining that the backstory to this or that wasn’t set up yet and they’d have to wait for the second draft to understand what was going on? I didn’t like that idea at all. I want the writing to stand on its own.

Maybe more important, I don’t really know how those last chapters are going to unfold. It’s going to depend in part on what my characters do and say in the parts I haven’t written yet, and I won’t know that until I’ve written them.

So I opened draft1.doc and saved it as draft2.doc.

old chap 1

Then I deleted Chapter One. It was an experiment that didn’t work out. The tall man is still in the story, but he doesn’t live in that house anymore. He’s no longer a viewpoint character either.

So far, so good. For me revision is usually about 80 percent cutting and rearranging what’s already there. Chapter Two from draft 1 is now Chapter One in draft 2.

new chap 1

My recollection was that this chapter didn’t need much work. It does a pretty good job of introducing one of the two viewpoint characters: Glory, a sixth-grade girl. What I’d forgotten was that somewhere along the way I’d shifted Glory’s sections from past tense to present, but her introduction is still in past tense.

And I’m still not 100 percent sure that present tense is the way to go. Rather than rewrite it now, I made a note in the margin. The muses haven’t given me a clear answer on that one yet.

For the new Chapter Two, I’ve gone back to writing in longhand. The story itself isn’t going to change much, but I need a new way into it — a way that hints at some of the things I didn’t know when I wrote it the first time. What this means is that with Wolfie second-drafting is going to look more like first-drafting than it usually does. It’s going to involve plenty of exploring, digging, and otherwise adding new stuff — writing, in other words.

Travvy

Travvy, on whom Wolfie’s title character is based, takes a break from digging in the snow.

For me, editing is relatively easy. The writing tells me what has to be done, and I do it.

Writing is more like breaking trail through two feet of snow. My dog and I have done a lot of that lately. It’s exhausting, and it takes longer to get anywhere than it does when we’re walking on good old dirt.

But second-drafting already seems less daunting than starting from scratch. This time around my characters are helping — some of them more than others, of course — and so is the story. If I listen carefully, I can hear what’s not being said. I can visualize the scenes that need to be there that aren’t there yet.

My writing will teach me what I need to know if only I keep writing.

My New Pens

So earlier this month one of my most favorite fountain pens died. I think I killed it: twisted the piston fill too hard. It jammed. When I tried to unjam it, something broke.

pens & blotter All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again, and I couldn’t fix my pen either.

Hope didn’t spring eternal, but it did froth and bubble for a while. I Googled “Pelikan pen repair” — the broken pen was a Pelikan 200 — and corresponded with an authorized Pelikan pen repair outfit.

My injured pen, it seemed, could not be easily or cheaply fixed.

I faced the music, or bit the bullet, and consigned my dear trusty amber Pelikan 200 demonstrator model to the wastebasket.

Sniff.

Now, as I’ve written several times before, I have more fountain pens than any girl — even one who does all her first-drafting in longhand — needs. This was still true. I had eight pens filled with various colors of ink and ready to go. I only have two hands, and of the two only one can write legibly. The goddess Durga might make use of eight pens simultaneously, but not me.

But late one night, when desire was strong and inhibition weak, I wandered toward eBay, whence most of my pens have come. A “Christmas model” Pelikan 200 was up for bids, the price was reasonable, and the auction closed within the hour. “Christmas model” did not mean garish. The cap was translucent red, the body translucent green, but you have to hold them up to the light to see the color clearly.

I have given myself away. The eBay screen did not tell me this. I learned it later.

To make a long story short, I bid, and bid again, and bid yet again. The closing price wasn’t quite as reasonable as it had been when I logged on, but it was still pretty good. The pen was mine. (It’s the top one in the photo. See what I mean? It’s not garish at all. It’s currently filled with green ink.)

Well, there’s something about eBay that’s just a little bit compelling. Once upon a time a friend gave me a scratch ticket as a birthday present. I got totally hooked. I lost less than ten bucks before I realized I was in over my head and got out of the pool. I checked out other Pelikan 200 auctions that were closing in the next day or so. I put a couple of them on my watch list.

An email reminded me the next day that one of the auctions had only an hour to go. A-OK. I was working away on my laptop. I opened my browser, went to eBay, and found the auction.

Another long story short: I snagged it, at an even better price. It’s the bottom one in the photo. It’s filled with the plum-colored ink that you can see on the blotter. I’d never used this particular plum-colored ink before. It seems to have been waiting for this particular pen.

Now, of course, I’m haunting the Fahrney’s website for new ink colors.

And so it goes.

Frugal is good. I’m frugal to a fault. But self-denial gets old if you’ve living on a shoestring, and it has its way of bursting into extravagance when least expected. Deny yourself ice cream and pretty soon you’ll be able to think of nothing else.

My theory is that the occasional self-indulgence makes living on a shoestring not only bearable but fun. Every once in a while it’s OK to act as if price is no object, even if it is.

Whatever Works

Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser”? For many writers this is a far hotter topic than liberals versus conservatives, dogs versus cats, or Macs versus PCs. Plotters work it all out in advance. Pantsers — you’re way ahead of me here — fly by the seat of their pants.

The other day I learned about “swoopers” and “bashers.” Swoopers dive in and write write write till they run out of steam. Bashers knock each sentence into shape before they move on to the next. Their first drafts are polished and almost ready to go.

Some how-to guides emphasize planning. If you fly by the seat of your pants, they warn, it’ll take a lot longer. You may never finish at all.

If you’re writing to a deadline, whether imposed from without — say there’s a contract involved — or within — say you’re participating in NaNoWriMo and trying to write a novel this month, time is of the essence and “longer” is a liability.

I’m not writing to a deadline, beyond producing a few new pages for each week’s meeting of my writers’ group, but there’s no question in my mind: planning has its uses. Last spring my novel-in-progress (working title: The Squatters’ Speakeasy) ran out of steam. It was all sprawl and no trail. I pushed it to one side and went to work on Wolfie, the current project. Eventually I diagnosed the Squatters problem as a “surfeit of subplots.” There wasn’t a main plot in sight.

Some planning is clearly called for.

At the same time — Wolfie started as one of those multitudinous subplots. It appeared when I was flying by the seat of my pants. It’s taken on a life of its own.

Planning has its uses. So does flying by the seat of your pants. So do swooping and bashing. Whatever works — and when it stops working, try something else.

steering coverAs usual, Ursula K. Le Guin got there long before me. Her Steering the Craft (Portland, OR: Eighth Mountain Press, 1998) is my favorite how-to book. Sometimes I open to a page at random, as if I were casting the I Ching or laying out tarot cards. The other day I was flipping through looking for advice on plot. This is what I found:

“Somebody asked Willie Nelson where he got his songs, and he said, ‘The air’s full of melodies, you just reach
out. . . .’ The world’s full of stories, you just reach out.

“I say this in an attempt to unhook people from the idea that they have to make an elaborate plan of a tight plot before they’re allowed to write a story. If that’s the way you like to write, write that way, of course. But if it isn’t, if you aren’t a planner or a plotter, don’t worry. The world’s full of stories. . . . All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you’ll find the story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you’re going, but the rest works itself out in the telling.”

About her “steering the craft” image, which organizes the book (and which I love), she adds: “The story boat is a magic one. It knows its course. The job of the person at the helm is to help it find its own way to wherever it’s going.”

In Wolfie the other day, my main character, Shannon, was sailing along on course. She knew where she was heading. Then two things happen, boom, boom, one right after the other. The first shakes her certainty; the second tells her she’s heading in the wrong direction. She’s got to do something, but she doesn’t know what.

I generally depend on my characters to tell me what’s what. I was no help — but I’m at the helm and lingering in irons in the middle of the bay is not an option.

So I picked out a pen that hadn’t seen much use lately and filled it with red ink. (For days I’d been cruising in more somber colors — gray, brown, black cherry. Red woke me up.) With a sheaf of my new blank paper in my lap, I slipped into Shannon’s head and we wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Now she knows what she’s going to do, and I’ve got a pretty good idea. We’re back on course.

Red ink collage

Red ink collage

Blank Paper

I do most of my first-drafting in longhand. In pen and ink. It works for me. I’ve even blogged about it.

My fleet of fountain pens

My fleet of fountain pens

It does present certain challenges, however. The near-illegibility of my handwriting I’ve managed to turn into an asset: what the internal editor can’t read, she can’t second-guess and mess with.

Most commercially available paper, I discovered, can’t stand up to fountain pen-and-ink. Yellow pads, notebook paper, the bond paper I feed to my laser printer and my inkjet: they’re all so thin that what I wrote on one side made an impression on the other.

This might not be a deal-breaker for some people, but I’m cheap. I want to write on both sides.

I was also looking for a way to organize my handwritten pages. Browsing at a office-supply chain store, I found these cool notebooks. They were looseleaf, sort of, but instead of two or three big metal rings, they had eleven little plastic ones. You could add pages, remove pages, or move pages around.

I bought one notebook and the filler paper to go with it. Wonder of wonders, I could write in fountain pen on both sides of the paper, and the words all stayed on their own side.

I was hooked. Now I’ve got three notebooks: a blue one for Wolfie, the novel in progress; a red one for Squatters’ Speakeasy, the novel on the back burner; and a brown one for everything else.

Wolfie has been eating up paper like nobody’s business. I scavenged paper from the red and the brown notebooks to put in the blue one. Then there was no more to scavenge. I was almost out of paper.

paperI hesitated. Blank paper is a challenge. Am I going to keep writing? Yeah, I thought. I am.

How much paper should I order? This was harder. Like I said, I’m cheap. I hate to spend money on stuff I don’t use. Sooner or later any blank paper left untouched on the shelf would be making faces at me and going “Nyah nyah, nyah nyah.”

I ordered five packets, 50 sheets to a packet — 500 sides of fountain-pen-friendly paper. And some section dividers to go with them.

Blank paper is faith in the future.

Ready to write

Notebooks with section dividers and sticky notes

Blottings

I have more fountain pens than any girl needs. More bottles of ink too. But hey, since I do nearly all my first-drafting in longhand, the pens and the ink get a good workout when I’m working.

Which I am, huzzah, huzzah.

To write with fountain pen and ink, you can’t mind ink stains on your fingers. You also need a blotter, to wipe the excess ink off the point after you’ve filled the pen. I use paper towels, folded into a more-or-less square. Then I use the folded squares as coasters for my tea mug (morning) and beer stein (evening).

Sometimes the towels have patterns. Sometimes they’re plain white.

After a few days, the coasters get grungy and have to be replaced, but in the meantime they’re awfully pretty. Here are a few recent ones.

 

ink blot

ink blot 2

20140408 blotter

20140718 blotter

A Surfeit of Subplots

While procrastinating thinking about doing research on plot the other day, I came upon the Writers’ Workshop website. They’re in Oxford, England. They offer a variety of editorial services for pay. There’s also a lot of great free stuff on their website. I landed on this particular page.

Under the heading “What Does a Perfect Plot Look Like?” it outlines the plot and subplots of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (They spelled Lizzie Bennet’s surname with two t‘s — Jane Austen didn’t — but let this be a lesson to you: solid work can survive one copyeditorial goof, or even two or three.)

Squatters’ Speakeasy, the novel I set aside, is all sprawl and no momentum. It’s the ocean with no trace of a Gulf Stream. I took out my Squatters notebook, grabbed a pen, and tried to outline its plot.

Subplots

Subplots

What I discovered was that Squatters’ Speakeasy has no fewer than seven subplots but no sign of a main plot anywhere. It’s drowning in subplots. Maybe one of the subplots is really the main plot, but at the moment none of them is jumping up and down and yelling “Me, me, me!”

Wolfie, in marked contrast, has three plot threads going, and I’m engrossed in all of them:

  • Shannon tries to find a new home for a dog in trouble, assisted by Glory, an 11-year-old neighbor.
  • Glory is being sexually abused by her stepfather.
  • Glory’s biological father is using social media to make contact with her.

If you ask me what this book is about, I’ll rattle off something like “Shannon gets pulled into rescuing first a dog and then a girl, and the dog and the girl help rescue each other.” Ask me what Squatters’ Speakeasy is about and I’ll grab hold of one subplot and mumble for 10 minutes. What Squatters does have is plenty of raw material. It’s waiting for me to plot it into some kind of coherent structure.

Travvy looks for a plot

Travvy looks for a plot

Flashbacks Happen

A flashback is a trip back in time. The story leaves the main narrative line to tell a tale that happened before the narrative began. Flashbacks come in handy in both fiction and nonfiction, but they can be confusing to the reader. An excess of them may mean that the author couldn’t figure out more graceful ways to incorporate bits of backstory into the narrative.

This is an area where editors and guinea pigs (also known as second readers) can be helpful, but I digress: This post isn’t about flashbacks in a finished work. This is about the kind of flashback that happens when you’re in the throes of first-drafting.

The fictional Wolfie is based on the very real Travvy. He wooed at the deer, but the deer wouldn't move.

The fictional Wolfie is based on the very real Travvy. He wooed at the deer, but the deer wouldn’t move.

The other day I was cruising along in Wolfie, the novel in progress, when my mind started to wander. The scene up ahead looked boring. I didn’t want to write it. In it my protagonist, Shannon, and her sixth-grade protégée, Glory, run a temperament test on Wolfie, the Alaskan malamute they’ve rescued from getting shot. One option was to describe the test step by step. I yawned just thinking about it. I’m writing a novel, not a dog-training manual.

Much as I love to write scenes in order, I’ve learned that it’s OK to skip over or skirt the scenes that just aren’t happening. So I sent Glory home to look after her little brother, Matt, while their parents are otherwise occupied.

So the next morning my trusty Pelikan was laying down line after line of brown ink on the page. It wasn’t terribly interesting — sibling interactions that probably won’t survive the first draft — but I had this idea that Glory might try to temperament-test her brother and that sounded like fun. They were out in the driveway. Glory had set up some plastic cones. Matt was pedaling his racing car  around them. Then Matt decides he wants to play on the swing set. He leaves his pedal car in the middle of the driveway. Glory reminds him — with more than a dash of big-sister exasperation — that it has to be put away. Matt scowls —

— and Glory is thrown back a couple of hours, to Shannon’s living room, where she and Shannon are temperament-testing Wolfie.

Oh my. The brown ink flowing out of my Pelikan created A Scene. It did everything I want a scene to do: show my characters in (inter)action, move the plot forward, and turn the heat up — raise the stakes, if you will, for the characters, for future readers, and of course for me. It didn’t sound a bit like a dog-training manual.

I write my first drafts in longhand because my handwriting is barely legible and my zealous Internal Editor can’t fuss at what she can’t read. My writers’ group meets every Sunday night, and since my fellow writers can’t read my handwriting either, I’m typing this first draft into Word as I go along. I edit lightly while I type, but I don’t second-guess myself about the big stuff; I do make notes about things to consider when I launch into serious rewrite. This typescript isn’t really a second draft. I think of it as version 1.5.

In Wolfie 1.5, however, that serendipitous scene will appear in Shannon’s living room, not in Glory’s driveway. Wolfie will be there. Little brother won’t.

Why didn’t that scene show up in its chronological order? Damned if I know. Writing is full of mysteries, and like the songwriter Iris DeMent, I’m content to “let the mystery be.” (Great song, by the way. Take a break and Google it.) Some scenes don’t show up in order. They show up when they’re ready. All you have to do is keep your hand moving across the page, or your fingers on the keyboard.

 

Monologue

Writing stalls for myriad reasons. Sometimes the glass is empty, and when you peer down into the well there’s nothing there either. Maybe the secret of avoiding writer’s block is to catch yourself in a stall before it gets worse?

Last week I stalled. The well wasn’t dry — the words were flowing, but they were breaking around the scene I wanted to write. The scene I wanted to write sat on a little island in the middle of a stream. I kept floating on by, over and over. It was opaque. I couldn’t see inside. The outside told me nothing.

In the scene, an 11-year-old girl bikes home after helping a neighbor save a loose dog from being shot. Her long hair is flying, the helmet she’s supposed to be wearing is swinging from her handlebars. I’m getting to know this kid pretty well. She calls herself Glory. Her mother calls her Gloria. Already I don’t like her mother.

But the scene froze as soon as she turned in to her driveway. I could see her house. I couldn’t see inside it.

Time to do some research. Sometimes, in fiction as well as nonfiction, this means looking things up, or going somewhere in person, or interviewing someone who’s got the information you need. In this case the information was in my imagination. Freewriting is my most reliable tool for tapping into my imagination.

Too reliable. That‘s why I was stalling. I’ve glimpsed enough of where my story is going to not want to know what’s going on in that house.

Time to start getting acquainted with Glory’s mother.

I sat down in my chair with lined paper, an old-fashioned notebook, and a fountain pen loaded with the Tropical Blue ink I hadn’t used for a while.

I met Bruce at a fundraiser for a conservation group — they were raising money for rainforests in Brazil or mustangs in the Wild West, I can’t remember. I’m not into all that — life is overwhelming enough in the here and now, don’t you think?

Pen, blotter, and the first page of Glory's mother's monologue

Pen, blotter, and the first page of Glory’s mother’s monologue

Hot damn. I hadn’t even known her husband’s name. Then Glory’s mother confirmed what I’d begun to suspect: that this Bruce fellow is her second husband, and not Glory’s biological father. Glory looks so unlike her parents that her best friend asked if she was adopted. I’d been wondering the same thing.

Javier and I were talking about separating, so it’s OK that I went out for a nightcap with Bruce afterward, don’t you think?

Glory’s mother kept talking. We were at a party — or maybe I was her new therapist? She didn’t tell me her name. I didn’t ask, because I thought I was supposed to know it already. Bruce may not be Bruce either, or or Javier, Javier. That doesn’t matter. Some characters come with names firmly attached — Glory did, that’s for sure — but other names take time to settle in.

What matters is that now I knew enough about Glory’s family to see inside the house. The film started rolling again. Glory walked her bike into the garage and leaned it against the wall, noting that her mom’s car was there but her dad’s car wasn’t. She wasn’t surprised: her dad works off-island (my novel is set where I live, on Martha’s Vineyard) and often isn’t home during the week.

None of Glory’s mother’s monologue is likely to end up in the novel. If I were counting words, would these six handwritten pages count toward my quota? No idea. What counts is that I had to write them before I could write Glory’s next scene.