In the End Part 2: How Their Story Became My Story

Writing this blog post is not on my To Do list today, but there are lots of other things that are. I want to make this post, though, so I apologize if it ends up being a little rushed.

I’m continuing my series showing the evolution of the novel I’m working on now across various drafts.

For the second draft the biggest thing that changed was my theme. I was no longer trying to focus on the contradictions in the main guy’s behavior. Instead, I wanted to highlight the fact that in a situation like that where a guy lies to girls, and strings them along, and dates lots of people, etc…the girls are just as much at fault as the guy. I’ve observed a lot of situations like this and in the end the girls blow up at the guy, but that’s giving him all the power. I want girls to realize that what they allow is what will continue, and that the signs that the situation isn’t what it’s being made out to be were in front of their face all along.

I also switched to past tense rather than present. With the way I’m organizing the story that makes it easier for the narrator to speak to what has already happened and what will happen in future.

In this draft I no longer speak To the main guy, and he has a name, (an unusual name) Dade. One of the biggest things that I’ve gotten flak about from beta readers is that the main girl, the narrator/viewpoint character doesn’t have a name. And that’s one of the few things that I haven’t yet changed even in the 4th draft which I’m working on now. There are two reasons for that…1) I like books/stories that do that and 2) I wanted to make the point that the main character could have been any girl. She Does have a name, and it is revealed, but not until very late in the story. Until the relationship between the main characters evolves that sentiment that anyone could fill her shoes is relevant.

The second draft doesn’t make me cringe as much as the first but now that I’ve studied/practiced more there are lots of things about it that scream amateur and that over complicate the story. Aaaand here it is, the second draft of my first chapter. (WARNING: There is a small amount of adult content in this chapter. If that would offend you or gross you out please don’t read it.)

Meeting Laura February 2009

“I know you think I’m just a stranger, someone he’d wave to on his way to meet you, but I know him, too. Better than a ‘How you been?’ oh, better than I wish I did, I know you think you know him better, wait a little longer, I know him too. I guess no one told you nobody can hold him, I guess his whispers still sound true, and his secrets they’re still the same as the ones I knew. Tonight no one can tell you, the way your eyes shine, soon they’ll be like mine, ‘cause I know him, too.” –Tift Merritt, “I Know Him Too”

Concentrating on my mindless job was hard enough without my love wandering in with another woman in his wake. It should have been a standard day of work there in the grocery store deli I had been employed with for nearly all of my college days. My nightly closing routine was about to be interrupted in the most dismal way possible. I was stream-lining the hot food case, tossing out the most dried out foods and removing the pans to be washed. That meant I had a clear line of sight through the glass of the sushi prep station all the way to the salad bar, which I now saw Dade approaching. I was thrilled to see him, until I saw her trailing along behind him.

When Dade and his mystery woman were both standing on the other side of my salad bar, he noticed me. The roof of the salad bar was nearly at his eye level. He waved to me enthusiastically over the top of it, and announced “She’s here” in a sing song voice, and then said something inaudible to her. She continued fixing her salad while he rushed over to see me. As he made his way across the forty or so feet between the salad bar and the hot food case, I shoved some dishes into my co-workers hands to get rid of him so there wouldn’t be an audience while Dade and I were talking. He saw that exchange as he ambled over and used it to open the conversation without any preliminaries. Considering that he and I met a year before while he was also briefly employed in the deli, I didn’t take that as rude.

“That time of day already?” Dade asked as he cleared the last few feet to stand across the counter in front of me.

“The deli closes at eight now,” I reminded him since until shortly before that it was open until ten.

“Oh, right,” he nodded, then “Let me see it!” he exclaimed suddenly, it being the tattoo I got the night before. I groaned inwardly, and then slowly rolled up my sleeve so he could see my entire armband, trying to avoid rubbing ointment and still flaking ink onto my hunter green polo, or worse, hitting the still tender skin.

His face wrinkled in disgust. “It’s all grody,” he informed me, as if maybe it somehow escaped my notice that my arm was still a healing flesh wound. I thought of all the ink stains on my pillow when I woke up that morning. Then I thought of all of his ink, from top to bottom. Chinese symbol for loyalty on the back of his neck, half sleeve of demented zombies on his right upper arm, last name arched across his stomach, and last but most esteemed, an intricate dream-catcher on the back of each calf. His words were a reproach, but he should have understood. I responded with one of my own.

“It’s less than twenty-four hours old.”

She chose that moment to wander over holding her salad, so I have no idea how he might have responded. Since she was looking only at him, I allowed myself a lingering once over of Laura. I had never seen her before in my life, but I knew exactly who she was. She appeared in his MySpace friends list the summer before, shortly after my little sister taught me a trick to let me view his friends and comments, even though Dade had the html hidden on his profile. Laura disappeared as quickly as she appeared, only there for a few weeks. That was long enough for me to see the pictures she had up of the two of them, with captions about how much she liked him. It also gave me time to see that he was in the number one spot in her friends list, and a comment he posted noting the KY Jelly in the background of one of her pictures as if he were very familiar with its placement in real life. Her display name, Laura, matched one that he volunteered to me in conversation a month or so before I ‘net stalked the shit out of her.

“Are you asking these relationship questions because I’m going to the beach with Laura? ‘Cause we are just friends, honestly.” Her profile called his assertion into question, but all it could tell me for certain was that she was infatuated with him, that they were fucking, and that she was taking it more seriously than him, just like the rest of us. All of that was a cakewalk compared to what I learned from his comments the week I finally saw them. I felt nothing but sardonic amusement when I saw her profile nine months before. I wish that was all I felt gazing at her unexplained presence mere inches away from me. That day she was wearing a baggy sweatshirt which hid her curvy figure, but her dimpled face, dark brown hair swept into a low maintenance pony-tail, and gray eyes were clearly visible. Even though she was not dressed to impress, my mind was drawn to a conversation I had with one of my roommates back when I first found Laura online. My roommate was usually a lesbian, though she would renounce this status briefly each time a relationship with a girlfriend ended badly.

“I’m not gonna lie, she’s pretty hot,” Marie admitted to me.

I thought of my own appearance, my own curves draped in an apron, my long brown hair thrown into a messy bun under my khaki store logo cap, my hazel eyes regarding the two of them warily from beneath my plastic square-framed glasses which I wore out of necessity not vanity. This would not be how I would have chosen to look when meeting one of the Hers, who was surely measuring me and finding me wanting.

“Hotter than me?” I asked Marie, so many months before.

“No one is hotter than you,” she assured me. I disagreed with her assessment, though the fact that she believed that was comforting, and considering how hard she tried upon first meeting me to get into my pants, I did believe that was her honest opinion.

No, I had never seen Laura before in person. That did not stop me from being emotionally aloof and completely unsurprised when he uttered her name aloud. “…Laura…” He caressed it, his breath slithering up and down it, softening the blow, apologizing to her in advance for what was to come and belatedly for what already had. She reacted to the warning in his tone by visibly flinching; the light was gone from her eyes when he finally added “This is her.” There it was. I had become that dirty word, “Her”, which to him was simply a handy pronoun saving several syllables which were unnecessary thanks to the name tag on my chest. To she and I the word represented a threat to something we each held dear, a threat which seemed more dangerous now that we were facing off with it. I found her reaction more than unfair. There she was on my turf, with his endorsement, without my permission, without even a warning, and she was the one feeling slighted? Add annoyance to my protective aloof stance, and I became borderline confrontational. When in doubt, lash out.

My mind was spinning. Since he dropped her name into that conversation so long ago, he had said nothing of her. I did not even know that they were seeing each other again, which made me pretty sure that what she knew of me had details missing. Take the Wednesday before that one, for example. Did she know he and I went shopping for snacks together? Doubtful. That we watched a movie together? Possibly, but not definitely. That we cuddled during it? Highly unlikely. That he later fucked me silly, tit fucked me until he came on my chest, then fell asleep holding me? Not a chance. I could not bring myself to feel threatened by that mousy girl to whom he had to make amends for knowing me. I offered her a grim smile in response to his semi-introduction. She said and did nothing.

“She was just showing me her tattoo,” He explained to Laura, since her displeasure was not hard to pick up on. Then he added “It’s in Spanish. What does it mean again? It’s something like…oh, I don’t remember.” He looked to me for help. Somehow I didn’t feel much like helping him at that moment.

“Did you want me to tell her what it means?” I asked him, not sure if he wanted me to prompt him until he did remember, or just spit out the answer for him. At that point, despite my discomfort, I didn’t know enough about their relationship for the word her in my statement to sound like an unmentionable.

“Well, yeah,” he replied, his eyes and tone asking for my participation, and handing me all the power. Since I’m not prone to abusing power, I did as he asked. I looked around to make sure no customers were in hearing distance, and then leaned closer to the counter since I didn’t want anyone to overhear. She mimicked my gesture automatically, and soon our faces were separated by just half a foot of marble counter top. I spoke in a low, conspiratorial tone, as if letting her in on a secret.

“It means, ‘I am fucked and radiant, maybe more the first than the second, and also vice versa.” I shrugged my shoulders after my recitation, and her eyes flashed shock and judgment as she leaned away from me again.

“It looks all girly until you find out what it means,” he told her, repeating an idea I mentioned to him earlier. I was flattered that he remembered my comment nearly verbatim. He seemingly wanted her to be ok with me, though I still was not sure why. Maybe he also saw the judgment in her eyes because he added “It’s pretty badass, and it’s her first ink.” The entire interaction had now taken on a showing me off quality. Electing to not answer, she wandered away to look at sushi instead.

He leaned in toward me, both of us warming our hands on opposite sides of the glass case. “She’s the one that I have been helping move. We were finishing up today.” I eyed him critically, taking in his appearance, from gelled brown faux hawk, pleading blue eyes, and stubble free chin, further down to his black button down shirt with tattoo inspired designs over fashionably faded Lucky brand jeans. He told me he was hanging out with his family all weekend. Clearly not. That was not the appearance of a man who just spent the day moving things, either. How many weekends worth of furniture could one college sophomore have, anyway? I didn’t buy his story. I boiled my doubts down to one observation.

“That’s my favorite one of your shirts, by the way,” an accusation, in the guise of a compliment, which I truly did mean in both a positive and negative way. Dade looked down at his clothes, probably realizing he chose the wrong cover story. Small matter, since he was saved from answering when Laura got bored with sushi and came back.

“I’m out like a fat kid at dodge ball,” he announced, before they walked toward the front of the store together. I watched their retreating backs, blissfully unaware of what was still to come from this new Her situation. It would not have mattered, even if I had known. I would drive my friends crazy analyzing this five minute scenario for weeks. There was no easy answer, so I took to not mentioning it aloud. Overall, I really did feel that the whole thing showed more positive regard for me than for her, an idea that would soon seem laughable, even to me.

In the Middle (again, but closer to the End): How Their Story Became My Story

I started writing my novel in 2009, and nearly completed the first draft that year (oh, to have that much free time again). After I decided to write my second draft, the writing process moved much more slowly. By the end of 2012 I still had not completed it. So, at the beginning or 2013 I vowed that I would have my novel completed by the end of the year.

And I wrote, I wrote more than I had in 2012 for sure, but less than I wrote in 2011 or 2010. Life got in the way, summertime found me so busy that I’m not sure I touched the draft at all for three months. As fall began, I was discouraged. It seemed like another year would go by without a complete second draft.

On November 1 the English teacher who has been kind enough to edit my second draft sent me a message. She wanted to know if I had heard of this thing called NaNoWriMo. I had not. I checked it out and it sounded perfect, but also, you know, impossible. November is National Novel Writing Month (that’s what NaNoWriMo is short for) and the idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. That’s an average of 1,667 words per day. I started writing with renewed vigor. I wrote a few hundred words that very night and updated my word count. A graph showed me my progress, and though I was starting out a little behind, the graph motivated me. Is it possible that a graph tracking my progress was all that I needed all along? I wrote vigorously the next day, and learned that my usual amount of words per day was about 1,000 shy of the average I’d need to hit to complete 50,000 words by the end of the month. (By the way, you’re supposed to write a totally new novel during NaNoWriMo, by working on an old manuscript I was being what they called a NaNo Rebel, which is acceptable as long as you write 50,000 brand spankin’ new words by the end of the month.) I wrote a little bit more each day, until eventually I was hitting the 1,667 word average, and sometimes exceeding it. On Thanksgiving, I completed the 50,000 words and became a NaNoWriMo 2013 Winner.

My novel still was not quite finished, but suddenly it didn’t seem so crazy to attempt to finish it by the end of the year, and I was back on track to complete my second draft.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover

In the Middle: How Their Story Became My Story

I started writing my second draft with high hopes of finishing it quickly. I wasn’t quite sure what to call the new version of the story at first, it went without a title for a long time. Eventually I was inspired by the form in which I was putting the book together. Since each chapter tells the story of a different girl the main guy was involved with from the main girls point of view I decided to name it “How Their Story Became My Story”. And so I created a title, and it was good. Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to create much else. The form, my motivation (from proving a point to a guy, to making a story girls could relate to and learn from), everything changed and I felt a little out of my depth.

I was so out of my depth that months would go by without me writing anything at all. I would get bogged down in research, or “not feel inspired” and so much of the time my manuscript sat untouched. Then there would be good periods, months where I’d make steady progress, and still I was nowhere near the end.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I read so much, for once more, the introduction to a book I was reading saved me from giving up. I began re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and when I read at the beginning how it took J.R.R. Tolkien thirteen years to finish since life, work, and other obligations kept getting in the way, I felt a sudden invigoration. Yes, of course life gets in the way! Everyone has a life outside of writing novels, why shouldn’t I? And yet, it didn’t have to stop me from finishing in the end. So, three years after I started my second draft (four years after I started writing the story) I made a pact with myself, I would finish the novel by the end of the year.

No, I wasn’t writing an epic fantasy like Tolkien, and I don’t dare compare myself to him, but I did feel a kinship with him, we were both writers in the trenches who kept going no matter what. My story may not be epic, or fantastical, but I do have tentative plans to make it into a trilogy. Each book in the trilogy would tell the story of a different man the main character loved during her life, and the men would each have bit roles in the novels where they weren’t the primary love interest.

If Tolkien could do it, I could do it, and if it were a race I planned to win, it wasn’t going to take me more than a decade to write my stories!

In the Beginning: How Their Story Became My Story

I started writing How Their Story Became My Story in 2009. Back then it was called Miss Cleo: A History of Our Future. My first draft was written in second person, as if I were writing to the main character, who remained unnamed. The main character was a charming philanderer who captured the narrator’s affections before she realized he had no intention of following through on all of his promises. The chapters were quite short, no more than one scene each, and sometimes only part of a scene that was spread over several chapters. It was about the time I finished the draft of Miss Cleo that I realized I couldn’t go anywhere with the story, at least not in the form that I wrote it in back then. I intended to write the whole thing off, give the draft to the guy in my life who inspired me to write the story in the first place, and never think of it again.

But as I looked around I saw more and more people whose lives were affected by guys like my muse. I knew the story needed to be told, but I still wasn’t quite sure how to change it. Luckily for me I was reading The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the time, and also lucky that I am huge nerd who always reads the introduction, and prologue, and forward, and so on. Before the story began I read about how the book came to be. Apparently Robert Louis Stevenson originally wrote the story as a simple thriller, with the intention of selling it to magazines as a serial tale for some quick cash. His wife proof-read it for him before he submitted it to be published and told him it was a very entertaining read but that she believed it would be better if it were an allegory. Well, he agreed with her. He burned his original manuscript and rewrote the entire story from scratch in three days. When I read that I knew that I needed to start from scratch and re-write my story, too. If Robert Louis Stevenson could do it, so could I!

I didn’t do it in three days, not even close, but that’s another blog post for another day. I now know that there is an industry term for the first draft of my book. It’s called an updraft, basically it’s a draft where you throw all your thoughts out there on paper, then once you’ve done that you go back and re-organize them. Some elements of my first draft made it into my second, the story is still told out of chronological order, it’s still partially epistolary (including letters and other documents as a way to advance the plot), the narrator is still unnamed. But I set out, starting in 2010 to completely re-work my first draft.

That updraft has been an incredibly useful tool, reminding me of some of the details I wanted to include, and it has also shown me many times what needed to change to help readers connect with my story.

Tune in next time to hear about the long process that was the second draft of my novel!