The Prompt – Have you ever let a story write you into a surprise corner? Do you backtrack or shift gears?
All the time. And I wait it out. Or I sit down and say Okay, y’all, now what? Sometimes it works, sometimes they get way off in the weeds and I whack it back, save it as another file and wait.
Most recent – “Fuck me, Paro.” Tave gave me an iron man squeeze. “You did have a plan.” He lifted his head skyward at the sound of an approaching helicopter. “What you got in mind for that?” This, from an exercise. I had this whole final scene in my head. Boom. The story had a different idea. In fact that entire WIP has been one surprise after another.
In the weeds – I had a nice little two-parter coming of age happy ending I wanna be a women’s rights activist when I grow up. The heroine had other ideas. “I need to…” She paused, caught her breath, let it out in a rush. “I’m leaving for Cambridge, the one in England, on Friday. I can finish my degree and maybe get a double Masters, they call them MPhils, in three years, maybe less…” Great. Thanks, Deanna. So 250,000 words later we’re off in neverland, I’m trying to keep up. They told me how it ended. I gave up. Who has that kind of editing time?
And it wasn’t just her – Her soulmate Jackson, half a world away, shows up to sub for a rockstar buddy winds up inheriting a softball team full of A level Hollywood females …Randi Navarro gave him a lady handshake, waited a little long to let go, followed it with her big, expensive Number One in the AM TV anchor smile. “Jacksass, Jackson, Jax, whoever you are…as of now, you are the new manager of whatever the hell we are. I like you. And I don’t. So.” She handed Jackson a brown manila envelope she’d been sitting on. “I kept it warm with my best asset, just for you. I’m done with the captain, manager, phone girl BS. I dealt with this ship of fools last year.” She found everyone else with her eyes. “This is my last roundup as trail boss, everybody, then our new middle–finger–forward cowboy is up. We play Country Safe Insurance in twenty minutes, right here.”
I have book two of a serial character in the can – I went back to the undone book one and said okay, whatcha got. The sixty-foot-long string of fire along the back wall of SwampVue’s old galvanized odds and ends warehouse didn’t go up with the special effects wooomph Bobby thought it should have. Okay. How the hell did we get here?
The list goes on. I’m curious what others do in this situation because as I said earlier I have about 250k (three books) worth of following Jackson and Deanna and supporting cast around, beyond the two that started it. And I’m not sure WTF to do with it. I’ve gotten some good shorts out of pulling chunks. But jeez, you know? I was thinking instead of linearity just dropping alternate bits until she comes back and at last exposes her motivation. Bobby B? That crew is Louisiana chilled so they’ll wait for me to come back from the “exercise.”
What I do when they write me into a corner is wait for what’s better than I had in mind to surface. I can write and write and write and get nowhere or I can listen and answer the doorbell when they call.
I tried to explain it once in a short. Reading further, as always, is optional.
Albuquerque, New Mexico / Thursday February 15, 1979
The Taco Bell sat up on a hillside not far from the University of New Mexico. Jackson gauged the steepness of the hill and landed on indecision. Six weeks ago he would have popped the clutch, hit the hill hard and hoped all of his wheels came off the ground Smokey and the Bandit style when he cleared the top, landed, drifted and stopped before he hit the retaining wall. All he could see now was his car on its top, sliding back down the hill. He wasn’t alone. The lot was empty except for two Jeeps. The Taco Bell was in overflow, the street so jammed he had to park a block away.
He picked up his order, tried to shake off five weeks in the desert where he’d babbled to the wind before he’d moved up to horses and a big, solemn Navajo. Last night in the Motel 6 was the first time he’d seen televison in six weeks, understood why he hadn’t missed it. He stared at his enchirito, knew something needed to gel besides enchilada sauce and cheese. Quick. The hundred bucks Tony had given him wasn’t going to last long. He took a deep breath, let it go in a low, slow whoosh. He’d managed to re-acclimate to reality but his social skills were in tatters and there was no place else for him to sit. He could pace around rubbing shoulders and kicking feet saying “sorry…” while the plastic cover on his enchirito got steamier or drop into the one vacant chair in front of him, beside her. Long, straight brown hair. A lot of thin abalone, silver and turquoise bracelets and a big leather purse. And an enchirito. He dropped.
“No place else. Sorry.”
“You’re fine.” She said without looking up, checked, just to be sure. He smelled like soap, had on goofy moccasins and put out a spacey vibe, didn’t really look at her. She offered him a friendly on the cool side smile. “As long as you watch your elbows, Geronimo.”
“I do a better Tonto. Less pressure, you know?” He thumbed the lid off the enchirito and slid it under the bottom. “‘Yes, Kemosabe. Me go get horses, put out campfire’. No hero stuff required.”
She laughed. “Careful. This is Tonto Central. You must not be from —” She stopped, watched him dip his spork slowly into the enchirito, turn it in measured half-circles, each lower than the turn before until it was loaded to perfection, last turn in the cheesy sauce picking up an olive slice. She continued to watch, transfixed, as the spork traveled in slow motion to his mouth, none of it getting on the beard he needed to shape or get rid of.
“Had one of those.” His eyes and enigmatic smile were momentarily a thousand miles away, the spork suspended in midair. “Been living in a hogan, doing some work for a Navajo guy. Coffee, fry bread and tamales. Eggs and beans once in a while. This is manna.”
“You seriously think God gave Moses enchiritos?”
His second perfectly loaded spork blew into his tray. She immediately reached out with a handful of paper napkins and wiped it down, caught the question in his eyebrows.
“Habit. Student teaching. Primary. They stuck me in kindergarten. None of them can eat without it ending in disaster.” She reached out for round two of the cleanup. “You’re not the usual muttering vision quest vagabond type we get around here. You flunk out, lose your compass and your razor at the same time?”
“I flunked advanced girlfriend. She went to England, I took a drive.” He rubbed the beard he’d forgotten about. “I was supposed to be in school a month ago.” He lifted the reloaded spork around her stewardship of his mess.
“Took a drive?”
“Looking for Los Angeles. I turned right at Albuquerque and got lost for a month, my survival cash got hijacked. Now I need to hang for a while. Find a job, make some traveling money.”
“Where’re you staying?”
“I just got back a couple of days ago. I can keep doing the cheap motel till I get a job or run out of money. Then I’ll —”
She dropped a roll of papers on the table, slipped the green rubber band off and flattened them into a short stack of Xeroxed ads.
Private Patio Home – Near Campus
Rent Only – Bills Paid
Personal Hygiene a MUST
He tapped the address at the bottom like it meant something. “Nice idea, but I’m more U of nowhere headed for USC.”
“Yeah. But you’re clean and not too weird and we eat the same. People call me crazy but I accept things like you landing next to me as minor epiphanies.”
The spork stalled mid-flight. “I get that.”
“Good. One other girl and a guy and no weirdness ‘cause nobody’s screwing anybody. There’s two guys, actually, but one of them owns the house and he’s never there.” She turned his way, her elbow on the table. “He works construction. Sometimes.” She made the universal for crazy finger rotating by her head move. “He wants to write acid head mysteries. Like Castaneda meets Miss Marple? We pay for his house, he eats ‘shrooms and disappears for a couple of weeks. There are mountains of notebooks in the garage.”
The spork stalled again, his head turned so he could see her. “You read any of it?”
“I tried. It reads like what I think happened to you when you turned right in Quirky the first time and missed USC.”
“Maybe it’s contagious. I’d feel better if it was.”
“Don’t get high on that feeling. It’s more like stupid. The best time to say ‘no’ isn’t the next time.” She stood. “If you’re following me I…We can go to the house and I don’t have to hang these posters.”
“Sure you don’t want to audition more weirdos?”
“Seen one, seen ‘em all, right?” She held out her hand. “Carmel. Or Mel. Or Lita. Don’t ever call me Karma. Education and Philosophy.”
“You have a handful, I have one.” He took her offered hand, light squeeze. “Jackson. Front or back, either way. Story if you want it.”
“Later.” She smiled, shook her hair and picked up a key ring that had at least fifteen keys and a long, fringe-y leather thing with turquoise and silver beads hanging from it. “Lucky for me today was one and done. Génene, the other girl? She has a test tomorrow. What do you know about transportation economics?”
“You’ll be an expert by this time tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Look at me. I student teach five-year-olds. Last week I helped her study and learned all about container metrics and Inland Marine insurance and more other kinds of useless information than I thought existed. I can’t believe people get into doing shit like that for a living. What about you?”
“I’m a musician.”
“Oh yeah?” She raised an eyebrow, shrugged her purse up. “I really can’t believe people try to do that shit for a living.”
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