Journal

NaNoWriMo Day 12 – Dysphoria

It had been a girl once, not yet quite a woman. The little white choir gown it wore was fouled with stains; Winters could not tell if they were from the rusted chains that encircled its body and ran through the pitons driven into the back wall and floor of its cramped little cell, or if they were long-dried blood or filth. The hands and feet were desiccated, the flesh drawn back so far that the nails looked like claws, the individual bones of the hand and foot glared out under the patchwork light the cell let in.

Over its head it wore a shredded canvas bag, but holes in it let out two matted cascades of tawny, malnourished hair.

“Rhonda?” Winters whispered into the cell. “Rhonda Younge?”

It had been looking downward, but as it raised its bagged head, Winters realized the bottom had been clawed at, frayed away enough to expose the chin. It opened a black mouth filled with shattered teeth – but no tongue, Winters would remember later as she tried to sleep in her savage triumph. The scream that came out was the scream of one for whom words have never held meaning, a wretched howl that beat against the walls of its cell.


 

Don’t worry, I’m still writing. I did completely screw off on Day 10 and wrote barely 900 words on Day 9, but it is still all right, since I was more than a day ahead to begin with and the last couple of days have kept me just barely ahead of prescribed word count. That video up there is sort of the cultural “it” thing of the moment, and you’ll notice it is incredibly disturbing after a certain point.

That sort of ties in with what I’m writing about now: A weird place that occupies the ideal of something but is in fact a creepy backdrop for a total psycho killer. In my current storyline, the woman a shady group of people have sent to track down this creepy killer has reached that killer’s hiding place. I’m not sure if it came through or not, but I wanted to invest in her just a little bit of the heroic as she tries to navigate this sinister, dark place and is finally shaken by the terrible things she finds inside. Of course, that wouldn’t make for a good rest of the book, though. What will happen next is a treacherous alliance between the two of them, as he offers her the secrets of the townspeople, who are more important than she’s realized. This is a big turning point in the story, and I’m nearly coming to the end of it, thankfully.

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NaNoWriMo Day 7 – Probably went overboard

I spent too long writing and I fear a great deal of it will get cut. But that’s how it goes. I gave some more time to the weird old detective character who is a part of this book, too. I am trying to look at this as not wasted time for writing too much, but we’ll see how I feel when I edit it later.

Here’s today’s stats:

NaNoWriMo Day 7
START: 151,577
END: 153,652
WORDS TODAY: 2,075
GOAL: 14,144/50,000

I continue to shove myself ahead of goal, something I realize I’m going to need as I’m looking at a few busy days on the road in Springfield later this month. Let’s hope it doesn’t derail anything. Too tired even to post up a picture on this one. Oy.

NaNoWriMo Day 6 – Villainy

That was pertinent, I promise.

Today I got a bit later of a start to my writing than I ought to have, but I did get out another big chunk. I think I’m more than a full day ahead now, amazingly. This is probably entirely a function of me having so much of the story already figured out and the rest of this just now naturally flowing.

“Flowing” is a fitting descriptor here, considering that the bad guy I am employing here resides in a twisted sort of nightmare world where water is an aesthetic bit of creepiness as well as a very real hazard. Today’s scene had him cleaning up a weak link in his organization, because he’s evil you see. Like (my now favorite [fictional…?] depiction of) Shia LeBeouf, this is a devious, dangerous cannibal.

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NaNoWriMo Day 5 – A people’s republic

Pictured: 1 Lt. Governor, 0.75 Chinese people. Chicago's Chinatown near W. Cermak and S. Wentworth, Sept. 30, 2014 | Marilú Yee

Pictured: 1 Lt. Governor, 0.75 Chinese people. Chicago’s Chinatown near W. Cermak and S. Wentworth, 65th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China | Marilú Yee

I have for the past several months been working for Lt. Governor Sheila Simon here in Illinois. Yesterday was the big mid-term election rigmarole. It was strange because of all the elections I have witnessed since becoming a professional, I have functionally had the least involvement in this one despite actually working in government. The tangle of explanation is long, but simply put: Lt. Governor Simon ran for a different position (which she did not get despite a hardfought campaign – she ended up with 45% to her opponent’s 50%), and I had absolutely nothing to do with the campaign. This was out of a personal ethical stance and not at all out of a lack of respect for her as a candidate; I voted for her proudly. I mention the whole thing here only because it’s the culmination of so much stress, worry, and hard work on the part of so many of my friends and colleagues, so I feel if I’m taking a daily note of things as I Wri this NaNo, it has to include a mention of this, for it is surely in my brainspace today. I’m interested how that kind of thing affects a writer’s process.

National Novel Writing Month, I should note, invariably falls on an election, because despite people’s stubborn insistence on only noticing elections every fourth year, they do actually happen each year. I told a friend earlier today that I’m “disappointed” in today’s results, but I realize now that disappointment requires expectations, and I had very low ones to begin with. I am chiefly saddened by the almost complete lack of good choices. If you want a perfect example of that, well may I invite you to get a load of this, courtesy of the Daily Herald.

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Taking advantage of the grind

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Second readings. Chicago Orange Line | Kenneth Lowe


Heading into the Loop each morning and leaving it each evening can get pretty tedious, but it does afford somebody the opportunity to do something you can’t do while driving; read a book.

The Talisman is my latest recreational read. I selected it because it is a big influence on Long September, and I am doing my best to get back in that mindset. Funny, though, I like it much less this time around.

Is it just because I read it a decade ago? Hard to say. Perhaps a question to answer later.

Well, here’s my stop (not even kidding).

NaNoWriMo Day 4 – Don’t Be Stanley

Stanley is sleeping in on Election Day. Stanley doesn't vote in mid-term elections. Don't be Stanley.

Stanley is sleeping in on Election Day. Stanley doesn’t vote in mid-term elections. Don’t be Stanley.

He had needed to fall asleep, he had had to fall asleep, not even grief or rage or any of it could stretch the endurance of a six-year-old beyond the point of endurance and when he fell asleep it was like a kind of unconsciousness, not like nodding off but actually falling beaten and broken from the church spire to crash through the glass dome below, and landing there in his misery he found himself falling still, plummeting through the sky alight with stars and moons of colors he had never seen before, and they sang with her voice. He knew then, even in the dream, that it was not her, that she was never coming back, and that this was some message left behind for him in the full knowledge that he would find it and take something from it. And when he reached the ground he realized that he had been falling like a feather, cradled by a warm wind like the breath of the woman whose bossom he had clung to in his first moments in the wide, cold, senseless nightmare place that was outside, the place with its unfair rules and its twisted, mean people. His feet touched the carpet of grass as if he’d taken no more than a step. Abe looked up with a smile, and he wasn’t green but true, immortal brass, and along the base of the statue was a winding vine from which sprouted white flowers. As he watched, it snaked downward and the ground sprouted more, the plants forming for him a pathway that lead down the hill, faster and faster, faster than he could run on his legs, and as he feared he would lose this messenger it stopped and from the ground ahead of him burst the trees and bushes and underbrush that parted as he sprinted into it and came to a scraping stop. There in the center was a statue—


I promise, I was writing yesterday. Tonight, as I wait for the election results to roll in, I am staring at a whole day of writing that amounted only to 1,679 words. I continue to mash my way through a long, complicated scene that is actually two parallel scenes intercut, and which will end in alarm on both ends. Unfortunately, my plotting was such a mess leading up to it that I have also been going back and adding some stuff to build up to this scene.

The source of the problem here is that I have for the past two freaking years or so been writing this very intermittently. Now that I’m diving into it, there is so much stuff that I wrote aimlessly or with no clear plan. This is the tangly, hard-to-pin-down part of the book, where many threads are going at once and a lot of the main characters are not yet truly confidants. That will resolve itself soon as I approach a unification of a lot of these threads, but it is such a tangled thicket in the meantime that I feel as if I am bludgeoning my way through it out of sheer meanness.

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NaNoWriMo Day 2 – Writing > laundry

Longer shadows. Chicago River, South Branch, 2014. | Kenneth Lowe

Longer shadows. Chicago River, South Branch, 2014. | Kenneth Lowe

He was talking, but it wasn’t words. Broadcasting, whatever. It was just … meanness. Just bad things. He had eyes like a wolf. Tattoos all over him, his neck, his fingers. And he just looked straight at me and put a finger to his lips, and he got in his car and left.

And my dad was inside with his head in his hands at the table, just bawling. My mom and Tommy weren’t anywhere. And he just looked up at me and told me we had to go.

“I did a bad thing, Daddy did a bad thing, sweetie,” he said. “If we don’t go now she might find us. We have to go before she finds us.”

He wouldn’t say who “she” was. But we were packed that night, just him and me, and then we were gone.


I did a bad thing. I brought another character into the narrative, one who hasn’t even existed before. I would say I hope this doesn’t complicate anything, but I know it does. I am not very disciplined at this, am I?

Still, for sheer word-count as well as successful-completion-of-scene, I had a pretty decent writing day. It took me a while to ignore digital distractions and hunker down and really write, but once I did, it flowed out. And man am I ahead of word count. Let’s take a look at the stats:

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Let the NaNoWriMo-ing begin!

Halloween is over. Archer Avenue, McKinley Park, Chicago, ca. October 2014 | Kenneth Lowe

Halloween is over. Archer Avenue, McKinley Park, Chicago, ca. October 2014 | Kenneth Lowe

I have resolved to finish this novel I have been writing for years now. I don’t think another 50,000 words will quite get it there, but it will definitely get it closer. I’ve already posted an example or two or three here, but I notice that it really doesn’t give you very much in the way of what the novel’s true, sinister tone will be like.

For those just beginning, Long September is a story about a group of young friends who live in rural Illinois, in a small town where the sudden and unexplained death of another girl shocks the community and then drives the entire town into a cycle of recrimination and suspicion based on it’s deepest secrets.

More would give too much away, but it’s also about how children are used as a football by their elders – how the young are forced into the genuinely shitty systems that grown-ups insist are the way the world must work. This reinforces awful behavior, encourages people to be snitches, discourages individuality, and may allow evil to flourish because “it’s always been that way.”

The only reason this damn thing has taken so long is because I haven’t buckled down, and the real reason I haven’t is because I’ve been intimidated by the scope of the novel. It necessarily requires a LOT of characters because it is in part about a town and what a town goes through. So there would be no way to get it done in 50,000 words, but that’s fine. I will crank the 50K this month, and that will get us to a place where the rest will seem easy. Right?

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A little wisdom from the ex-reporter world

Stubbornly analog. Chicago, October 2014 | Kenneth Lowe

Stubbornly analog. Chicago, October 2014 | Kenneth Lowe

I finished reading All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren and at some point soon will have a review of it up. I’ll say now that it is one of the most affecting books I’ve read in many a year because its narrator seems to understand me perfectly.

It definitely inspired me to get out of this funk I’ve been in lately and spruce up the apartment a bit, including a bit of decoration I haven’t busted out in a while. I gave All The King’s Men pride of place and even banged out my favorite quote. Maybe it’ll be a conversation piece if I ever have anybody over to this damn place.

"Well son," I said. "

“Well son,” I said. “If you live long enough you’ll find out there some kinds of a son-of-a-bitch you don’t have to be even to be a newspaperman.”

On finding the objectivity in subjectivity

I began my personal essays because, as I’ve said, I worried a little bit about actually being able to remember some of the insane shit that has befallen me over the past year or two. What ended up happening as I did so, though, was that I needed to draw in more of the crap that’s happened to me before, and that’s where we get to the true difficulty of any autobiographer: Where do you start this whole thing?

Today I had a friend over who had a look at one of my essays about leaving the newspaper business. It’s something I had written while lounging about in Colombia before the bitterness had worn off. In the superb All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, the narrator describes “The Big Sleep,” some lethargy that came over him when he left the newspaper business. I was still deep into that very phenomenon when I wrote it. Of course, after my friend had a look at it, it was clear that it needed a lot of work.

A long to-do list. | Patrick Andrews

A long to-do list. | Patrick Andrews


The other essay I’ve been tackling – and probably the one into which I’ve put the most work – is one on bullfights, though it is really about Colombia. Similarly, I wrote the earliest draft of that in the grip of emotion. I pounded it out almost obsessively. I was a guest in the apartment of my gay Colombian uncle Pacho plus my father and his husband at the time, and I worked so singlemindedly on it over the course of about a week that they remarked upon it.

And, like this essay about leaving the noble profession of journalism, I found that while that first head of steam got the general idea out, hunkering down and really editing, organizing, and elaborating on that original draft is how you actually make the god damn thing readable.

My eventual plan is to see if I can get a book of essays published, and I may even do it as a self-published work. As I figure out just where the hell this will all begin and end, it’s useful to remember that even inherently subjective stuff like personal essays have a craft to them.