Surviving Nanowrimo # 2

I am back with encouraging news. You can write a novel in the month of November. It not only is possible but it’s do-able. Just sit down in your chair and go to work on November 1st. Before you know it, 50,000 words have appeared on your computer screen. A few cups of coffee and a daily shot of persistence and easy peasy.

Oh, you don’t drink coffee. You’re English. Well, maybe a cup of tea is the ticket. Whatever gets your subby-conscious out of bed is the thing.

So, where to begin on that fine November 1st morning since you didn’t prepare during October? Or you’ve spent the whole month debating over which idea to choose from when you have a bucketful of ideas.

I have an exercise that has worked very well for me. It’s called What-if, and it goes like this. Mosey over to the Monochromia blog and check out the photographs for the day. Pick two.

For example: Maybe I see a photograph of a woman holding a surfboard. In a second photograph, twenty people at a party stand around in small groups of three or four.

WHAT IF the woman was at the party, standing alone in a corner holding a surfboard?
WHY is she standing alone in the corner and with a surfboard? Gotta find out.

I, the author, walk into the room. Several of the folks give me a “hi-ya doing, Uncle Bardie?”

I nod my greetings and walk over to the woman. “What’s a nice girl like you doing with a big surfboard like that in a place this?”

She turns to me. “Waiting  for the Second Coming. You have heard of the Second Coming, haven’t you?”

“I thought it had already occurred at Ulu Watu.” I’ve always wanted to use Ulu Watu in a sentence. Now I’ve had my chance.”

“Oh, that was just a prelude.”

I introduce myself. She says, “Just call me Chad.”

“Chad?”

“Stands for Carolyn Hermione Allyson Deboit.”

THEN WHAT HAPPENED?

Across the room, a man in his early twenties,  looks at me. After a moment, he walks over.

“You okay, Sis?”

“You know I’m not.”

He gives me a challenge, but his sister continues, “You know how I hate these parties.”

WHAT IF he gets angry.

See how the process works. Keep answering those three questions and pretty soon you have a scene. Before you know it your answers have accumulated into two thousand words on the page and you have a character you can follow to who knows where.

Initially you might want to be in the photograph. However soon you’re going to disappear unless you are a character. The important thing is to let your imagination run wild like the mustangs who used to roam free out West. If you trust your imagination, you’re going to be in for a wild ride.

Near 500 words: Prompt City

Are you looking for a new type of prompt for your writing? Here’s a method that can work for both stories and essays:

1.Choose the first sentence (or the closing line) of a story or novel you enjoy.
2.Write that sentence as the first line of your essay or story.
3.Continue writing two or three original paragraphs that originated from that opening sentence.
4.Drop the opening sentence.

EXAMPLES
(The first sentence will be underlined)

1.Opening Sentence from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:
It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times,” the President addressed his the college students.
“You lie,” a woman yelled out, then stomped out of the gathering.
Watching this demonstration on his TV, he turned the remote off and turned to his wife. “I can’t stand this anymore. Insulting the President like that. I’m going to do something about it.

In this example, you might want to change that “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” to another line of dialogue.

2.Opening Sentence from Moby Dick by Herman Melville:
Just call me Ishmael,” Detective Hamilton introduced himself to his new partner.
His partner reached over shook Ishmael’s hand. “Morris. I was in Vice for three years.”
“Hope you’re aware that we do things different around here, Morris. Do I have to call you Morris.”
“My friends call me Mo. Hope we’ll be friends.”
“Friends have not got any thing to do with things around here. And you can call me Ish.”
Ish and Mo headed out to their unmarked car.
“Where we going?” Mo asked.
“To arrest a suspect.”

3.Closing sentence from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Our boat slips easily through the time tunnel until we reach our destination in another time, another century, another long ago. I study my watch as the hands run backwards at super speeds. We pass the dock for 1900, then 1800, then 1700, then 1600. We move the oars ever so slightly till they’ve turned the boat into an alley where we pass 1590, 1580, 1570. We turn into a new alley.
My partner stops at the dock for the year1664. “This is it.” He steps onto the pier. He grabs my hand and pulls me out of the boat.
On the dock are twelve doorways, one for each month. We walk through April, then step on the mat that reads twenty-six.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small locater. Types “Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England.” A flash of light and we find ourselves on a dirty street.

As you can see, this can be quite a lot of fun. And who knows? Your characters might end up kidnapping Shakespeare and bringing him to the twenty-first century.

What I did on my summer vacation. Not.

Since it’s back-to-school days, I’m thinking back to the Day. My English teachers, and I’m sure yours, issued the ultimate in essay assignments, “What did I do on my summer vacation.”

Unfortunately the essay gods were not kind to me. I had no answer to that question. You see, my summer days were boring as heck. So boring, I won’t even try to extrapolate on the boredom. Take my word for it. They were boring, and I didn’t want my teachers to get a case of the boredoms. Can you contemplate how many thousands of these exercises in torture the average teacher must have to endure?

Which left me no alternative but to be creative. And creative I became.

There are many forms an essay may take. The first year, following my new strategy, I gave my teacher a list. And not just any list. I gave her a list that would have made Alexander the Great proud.

Why would Alex be proud? I became him with a list of my conquests, beginning with El Gordo, the Gordian Knot. The pyramids, the Parthenon, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I gave her the names of places she’d never heard of, like Akkad, Phrygia, Persepolis, Lagash and Memphis. And I don’t mean, Memphis, Tennessee.

The next year I went descriptive. I was Cleopatra floating down the Nile, watching the crocodiles crocodile and ibises ibis-ing. Then I saw Marc Antony on the shore. His nose would give any nose a run for its money. And man, he had one heck of a sword.

One year I tried out a Tom Sawyer and a Huckleberry Finn. After all, they’d put down their summer vacations as “The Adventures of–.” Any adventures of is a summer vacation in my book. I let the teacher know I had been such a good entrepreneur. I sold places to the paint-my-picket fence celebration. When it was finished, I had enough money to hire a raft and sail down to New Orleans on the Mississippi.

Another year I took on a Just-call-me-Ishmael and gave her my best Moby Dick impression. Then I related how I had done a Sherlock Holmes and solved the case of who ate Grandma’s apple pie. I cannot tell a lie. It was me.

Then one year I decided autobiography was the thing. I wrote about how I found my Uncle Ralph’s treasure trove of Playboy Magazines. I had never seen anything like it. All she had to say, “That sure puts the phrase ‘carpe diem’ in a whole new perspective.”

Near 500 words: TW and the Missing Postcard

Episode 10 of The Writer

TW (aka The Writer) looked through the postcards again. The first one was postmarked April 2, 1990. He laid the second one down on the table. Postmarked 1991. Again a third postcard and a fourth. Year by year they came, all laid down in chronological order until he came to 2018, then there were no more.

He went through the cards to see if any were stuck together. They weren’t. Then he counted them. Twenty-nine.

Here it was the beginning of May and no yearly postcard had arrived. Had something happened to Sylvia? If it had, how would he know?

He picked up the 2018 postcard. He studied the picture. Before him was a small village with Mount Everest rising above the village. The several people in the photograph were dressed in colorful clothes. Their features reminded TW of American Indians.

As he studied the card, he imagined Sylvia, dressed in the colorful clothes, her green eyes looking out at him with a smile on her face. Her face was peaceful. He missed her. He really missed her. For the first time, he regretted not going with her.

He then turned the card over. It was postmarked Nepal. He read the few words of text on the card in Sylvia’s delicate handwriting.

“Have landed here at the end of the world. After all these years, Maybe this is the end of the rainbow I’ve been searching for. Finally.” The card was signed Sylvia and there was that calligraphy below her signature. What did the words mean?

He reread her message several times, then stood up and went to the kitchen and heated up water for coffee. He looked outside. The sun was setting.

He headed through the kitchen door and out onto the porch. The sky before him was colored reads and oranges and yellows with streaks of blues from the sky. Thoughts in his head ranged over the last thirty years. What had he done with all that time? It was a mystery to him.

The novels he had meant to write. The stories too. Only ten published stories and a few people. Then it hit him square in the face. All his poems and stories had been about Sylvia. Maybe that had been why he had not been able to start a novel. Sylvia wasn’t in the writing of it.

The sun had gone down, and now it was dark. Night had creeped in with only a few stars and no moon. Just like night had creeped inside of his brain. A darkness he couldn’t understand. He was frightened.

Back inside the house, he poured himself a cup of coffee, flipped on the light switch and sat back down with the postcards before him. He picked up the first one. Timbuktu. In the background, a large brown structure like a castle wall and three towers. In front of the clay building, several women carried large blue jugs on their heads. A Bedouin rode a camel across the frame.

And something else too. Something he had not noticed before. Sylvia in a long yellow dress and brown sandals, walking down the steps leaving the brown building. Then she smiled at him.

My Old Man, Santa Claus

My old man was a hoot. Everybody in the neighborhood said, “Tom Pickering does have one heck of an imagination.” The thing was that his inventions seldom worked. His imagination seemed to be larger than his abilities.

There was the bicycle he believed would fly. He believed it so much that he rode it off the roof of our two story house. All the neighborhood saw it and there were those who shouted, “It’s a bird. It’s a plane.” When my Dad and the bike crashed through our neighbor’s first floor window, they were sure it wasn’t Superman.  Dad landed on Mr. Adams as he was trying to get some shut eye after a long night’s work. Needless to say Mr. Adams was not pleased and neither was the bicycle.

But Dad was no quitter. He had just the right thing he thought would get him into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame. An underwater car. It was a Saturday afternoon when he drove the Chevy off the pier. Little did Dad know that the water was deep. Very deep. So deep in fact it could have made the Challenger Deep look like a sinkhole. Down, down, down the car went as its engine stalled, then stopped. It had putted its last putt.

It was then that Dad realized he had forgotten one essential piece of equipment if you want to travel underwater. He forgot oxygen tanks. Fortunately there were three scuba divers who followed Dad into the water. It took several minutes for them to make the jailbreak out of the car. It’s a good thing that Dad was a deep breather.

Then there was the time Dad went about saving Christmas. At least for my kid brother, Jimmy. It was the year I told him there was definitely no Santa Claus. The whole thing was made up.

At first, Jimmy didn’t take my word for it. Then several of the the kids in his school  confirmed my testimony. They too told him there was no Santa. Jimmy did the math. He added and subtracted, multiplied and divided. He was nowhere near having an answer how Santa and his reindeer made it to every house in every country in the world on Christmas Eve.

When Dad saw Jimmy with qualms of disappointment on his face, he knew he had to come up with a solution to the Santa Claus issue. He remembered way back when he was young. A similar thing had happened to him. Only it wasn’t a kid. It was Old Mr. Creepers next door. He wanted to make Halloween the biggest holiday of the year. There was only one way that was possible. He had to take down Santa Claus.

That year Santa missed Dad’s house. All because he doubted Santa. Now Dad was determined that was not to happen to his kid. His solution: he would appear on our roof as Santa, then slide down the chimney with a bag of goodies.

Now Dad had the heft of a Santa and he carried it with grace. Six weeks before Christmas Eve, he began the preparations for what he called “the Santa’s Caper.” He went down to the local Santa store and bought his fake beard and his fake hair and his suit, which was not fake. And he did not cut corners. Only the best for his little Jimmy.

When Mom got a clue to what Dad was up to, she asked, “You fool, how are you going to get down that chimney?”

“Oh, it will be a tight squeeze. But I have the perfect solution. Grease.”

Mom shook her head, knowing there was no changing his mind. “Just be careful and please don’t break the chimney.” But she gave him that worried look. With Dad, what would go wrong would go wrong. So much so that she had taken to calling him Murphy behind his back

Christmas Eve came. Jimmy and I were sent to bed early with a “Santa won’t come if you’re awake.”

Though we absolutely knew there was no Santa, still we were taking no chances. By ten p.m. we were in our beds, pretending we were zzz-ing off to Never Never Land. Despite our best efforts, we nodded off. Then we heard a noise on the roof.

It wasn’t a clatter we heard. It was more like a bomp. One thing was sure. Santa was making his rendezvous. It was a definite that he was on our roof. Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! went Santa’s boots.

We jumped out of bed and hurried to the window. No sleigh on the lawn. Rudolph must be on the roof. Along with Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. We just knew it.

But it was not Santa. It was Dad. And he had spotted his target. The chimney.

All dressed up in his Santa suit, he lugged his bag over to the chimney. He sat down on the chimney’s side. With the bag lifted over his head, he gave himself a push. As he shoved off, he heard a giant ripping sound. His red pants had caught on a nail. The nail tore not only his pants but his bright red Santa underpants with white Rudolphs on the bottom as well.

That night gravity did its mighty work. Down the chimney went Dad and his bag. Until he didn’t. Like a balloon blowing up, Dad filled up the chimney, then stopped half way down.

Mom took out her flashlight and pointed it up the chimney. What she saw made her throw herself onto the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

In all the history of Santas, this must have been the first time Santa found himself unable to reach the cookies and milk. The grease had not worked.

Jimmy and I rushed into the living room. “Where’s Santa,” we screamed in unison.

“Boys, go back to bed,” Mom said. “Otherwise Santa won’t come out of that chimney. And there’ll be no presents. Right, Santa?”

From the chimney came a muffled voice that was half Santa and half Dad.”Ho, ho, ho. Listen to your mother. Moms are always right.”

“Okay, Mom,” we said, disappointment in our voices.

We left the room and closed the door, but we were not about to go back to bed. We’d be kicked out of the All American Kid Society if we did. We took turns peeping through the door.

Somehow Dad squeezed himself almost to the floor of the chimney. His black boots were about three feet in the air. If you’ve never heard a man cry, you would have heard a man cry that night. “What was I thinking.”

“You weren’t, as usual,” Mom gave him one of her what-fers.

“Well, can you give me a hand?”

Mom grabbed onto Dad’s boots and gave them a tug. “Ouch,” the chimney said. The boots dropped onto Mom’s foot and her ouch joined the chimney’s.

“Do you still have those rockets you bought for the Fourth of July?” Mom asked.

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to stick them up your rear end and send you into the Great Beyond. Otherwise it will be the waste of a perfectly decent chimney. Why do you ask?”

“No.” The chimney was emphatic. “Absolutely not.”

“Do you have a better suggestion?”

For years afterward, my family called this horns of a dilemma The Horns of a Dilemma.

Behind the slightly open door, my brother turned to me. “Where’s Dad? He could get Santa free. He’s smart like that.”

I just didn’t have the heart to tell Jimmy where Dad was.

Then a thud. And not just any thud. It was The Thud.

Mom’s eyes and Jimmy’s eyes and my eyes shot to the ceiling and the footsteps. Could it be?

Of course, it was.

From above, we heard a deep bass voice. “Fool, get out of my way.”

Dad dropped to the chimney floor and crawled out, his suit all in tatters. Behind him were a pair of boots. They stepped over Dad and into the center of the living room. There was a glow about The Man. He wore a suit of the brightest red I’d ever seen. I swear the white beard shined.

Mom rushed over and grabbed the glass of milk and the plate of Oreos. She timidly handed them to The Man.

He looked at Mom and smiled and took the refreshments. He gulped them down, then headed for the work of the night. The Christmas tree.

Frozen in our places, the four of us watched. He set his bag on the floor, reached up and adjusted the star and several of the ornaments. Then he opened his bag. He looked over at Jimmy and nodded. “This one is for you.” He placed the large gift under the tree. “For believing.” Next came my gift, then Mom’s.

Finally he looked over at Dad. Tears were in The Man’s eyes. “Thanks for the help.” Out of the bag came a very small package. He placed it under the tree, giving it a bit of extra care as he did.

In a flash, he was back at the chimney and up on the roof. But he wasn’t done. Back down the chimney he came. Standing before us in all his glory, he said in that deep deep voice of his, “I forgot.” Then he sent us a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

From our toes to the tippy tip top of our heads, our bodies filled with joy and love and peace and hope.

“And one final thing. Merry Christmas and a very good night.”

On the roof, we heard, “Peace on  earth and goodwill toward men.” Then he disappeared into the night, heading onward to fulfill the mission he has been on for centuries.

And now, from Uncle Bardie, Merry Christmas to one and all. May you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday this year. And one final thing. As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us everyone.”