So I guess it starts with… Part 1

Who can wait for the new year? Ahead of schedule, please enjoy the first installment of what could be a horrific mess of a novel. Yay!

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So I guess it starts with a girl…

Is it already cliché? I promise she’s not beautiful. Or a vampire. Or from a tragic background. Still? Fine. Then how about:

So I guess it starts with a murder…

Is that too melodramatic? What if it’s true? Okay, I’ll try again.

So I guess it starts with a broken down truck and a baby and a miscommunication…

 

My father used to drag my high chair into the garage where he would inexpertly tinker with a partly dismantled piece of junk “classic” car while narrating his actions. He’d leave me with a stack of those special baby-formulated dissolving cracker-cookies, most of which would end up on the floor, or in my hair, or on the corner of the work bench that was just within reach of the fingers I had recently discovered were connected by invisible wishing strings to my desires.

I’d study the shiny silvery tools that shot sunbeams into my face and shaky spotlights onto the rest of the garage while he used the wrong words to refer to parts of the car that he was restoring. I had tested a number of those words in my mouth, operating under the theory that if invisible wishing strings could command my fingers, they could also command my noises. Most of them came out as a sort of garbled screech, but motor was a bit easier. The mmm was one of my favourite sounds and possibly the pinnacle of my vocabulary. The terr was fun to practice, like spitting out letters. The oh was the hardest, but after a week or two I had figured it out by making kiss lips and pushing noise from the back of my throat.

When I was ready to put them all together, I waited for a break in my father’s babble. I wanted him to know that I had been listening – that his chatter wasn’t in vain. I wanted to show him that I appreciated the cookie stacks and the fresh air from the open garage door and the silly bouncing refracted light and the intrigue of him creating a mess slowly, piece-by-piece, over hours and then becoming overwhelmed all at once by how much there was to clean up. He reached for a screwdriver – flathead, he told me, not Phillips – and I responded with my hard-earned word.

Motor I told him.

He looked at me. “What did you say?”

Motor I repeated.

He hopped up and ran to the inside door.

“Jane, you’ve got to get in here!” he yelled.

Motor motor motor I said, enjoying the active spectacle I had created.

“Jane! He’s talking!” my father yelled again, and then ran back to me. “Your mom is going to be so excited. Though you couldn’t make it ‘daddy’ huh? Oh well. Maybe the next one.”

I smiled at him. Daddy seemed like a pretty challenging sound to make, but for him, I would do my best.

My mother jogged into the garage. She was wearing the terrifying dish-washing gloves that gave her monster hands. I tried to keep my eyes on my father to distract me from the threat of them.

“Okay buddy, can you say it again?” my father asked. I gargled a little in my throat to regain my composure.

“Come on baby, talk for mommy,” monster-hands said.

Motor I repeated, and she squealed.

“Didn’t I tell you?” my father said, smiling his big bearded smile.

“Amazing!”

She reached for me and pulled me out of the high-chair with her monster hands, and I squirmed as hard as I could to get away. “Can you say it again?” she asked, and I weighed my options. If I talked again, maybe she would put me down, or give me to my father.

Motor I said, and she laughed.

“What a funny little gentleman you are. So formal!”

“I know,” said my father. “Who’s ever heard of a kid’s first word being ‘mother?’ It’s usually mommy or mama or something. That’s one classy baby we’ve made.”

I shook my head. I wasn’t saying ‘mother,’ obviously. How boring would that be? Plus, why would I have needed another word for her? She already came when I made the screechy cry noise.

Motor I said, trying to annunciate, Mmm-o-terr.

It was no use. They threw me about and clapped and petted and hugged and kissed. Their excitement was funny, and after a few minutes I got into the spirit of it as well, especially when my mother remembered to take off her monster-hand gloves.

Sometimes I think I should have tried harder to make myself clear – that giving into the first misunderstanding set the tone for the rest of my life – that I created this destiny for myself by giggling while they twirled me around and doted on my brilliance in that garage – but, then again, maybe I would have become who I was regardless of that mistake.

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obvs:
© 2014 Sarah Lund

Self-indulgent crap: Or, how not to be Dawson Leery.

Netflix has the entire series of Dawson’s Creek available currently, and I’m not ashamed to say that I watched it all. I actually started it during NaNoWriMo on the second day of my flu, when the Dawson-Joey-Pacey love triangle was the most complicated thing my sickly neurons could process.

Aside from reminding me that Joshua Jackson’s Pacey is really the star of the show (sorry James Van Der Beek… Dawson is just incredibly unlikable for the first couple seasons, and by the time he grows up, we viewers can’t ever forget his whiny, wide-eyed childishness), Dawson’s Creek teaches budding creative types that their lives are super interesting – as a primetime soap opera. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, allow me to say *SPOILER ALERT* now, and you can decide to skip ahead a couple of paragraphs if you like.

Dawson Leery, naïve wannabe film director, makes a film in the second season to try to imbue his (first? second?) breakup with Joey with meaning. In the final season, he looks back on this attempt and calls it, if I can paraphrase, a self-indulgent piece of crap and waste of money. Then for some reason (mostly because people keep telling him he used to have “heart”) he does it again, sells it as a T.V. show that is exactly the same as Dawson’s Creek – because meta – and it leads to fame and fortune since teenagers acting out tiresome melodramas and deciding over years whether or not to have sex with one another has the “heart” everyone’s been looking for.

Maybe the average person’s life is interesting enough that others will enjoy experiencing it as second-hand fiction. But personally? If I can’t write an amazing story about my first year of high school, then I won’t be able to write an amazing story about “Jamie”’s first year at my high school either (She’s not me! Really! Look! She’s a red-head!).

I’m not saying that characters, settings, and themes need to be completely original to a writer (as we know, there’s nothing new in storytelling). Of course we’re going to pull from our own experiences, relationships, and personal feelings.

I am saying that if your story is simply your clone acting out the exact situations you went through, but it wouldn’t stand up as literary non-fiction, it’s probably self-indulgent crap. It’s fantasy mixed with nostalgia, and it may very well sell as a primetime soap opera to the CW, but it won’t help you grow as a writer.

A caveat or two to my argument: Maybe your story is interesting enough to stand on its own as literary non-fiction, but you want to frame it as fiction for some reason. That’s cool. More power to you. Maybe your purpose is not to grow as a writer necessarily, but to understand yourself as a person. I’m sure exploring yourself as a fictional character could have some psychological merit.

When I’m tempted to write a protagonist that is a not-too-veiled version of me, instead I write a fringe character who is definitely me. For example, I’m writing a young adult short story right now and I began molding “Aly” into a glorified fourteen year old me. So I introduced her parents. I tried to imagine what I would be like at forty, with a teenage daughter, and in the world of the story. This exercise makes me develop a creative version of myself (instead of a version blurred by wistfulness), and forces me to make my actual protagonist distinct from the “me” in the story. Much more interesting.