“Audrey?” Mimi Claire clapped her hands. A girl wearing a black shift-dress over her straight frame slipped into the room as though she’d been standing right outside the door. Her light auburn hair, parted in the middle, was rolled into buns behind her earlobes. The angles of her heart-shaped face were a mask of opaque and inexpensive color, with waxy black liner above and below her slender eyes, and scarlet lipstick chiseling the lines of her wide mouth. She had short heels on, similar to Claire’s.
“Hi,” The girl’s lashes dropped as her eyes scanned down Lucy’s body. “What are you wearing?”
“It’s just clothes,” Lucy said, now a little defensively.
“You know, I’ve had some requests for Ryan and Audrey, together.” Claire swirled her downturned index finger in a circle. “They’re quite good with one another.” She waited a beat as though Lucy should say something. Lucy couldn’t imagine what that something might be. “The idea doesn’t bother you?”
“I want them taken care of — both of them.” Lucy took a step forward. She knew Audrey shifted too, because she could hear the girl’s unfinished dance soles scratch the wooden floor.
“Well, they take decent care of each other, especially now that they have room to explore without their guiding star.” Claire fanned her open hand over her head. “Later, Audrey.”
“I miss you, Lucy,” Audrey said before pulling the knob on the heavy, metal door and gliding back through. Lucy felt something very painful in her chest.
“I’ve changed my mind.” Lucy looked back to Claire. “I want them with me. I will take care of them. I take full responsibility.”
“They’re night cereus,” Claire stared after the younger girl now with something that looked like genuine affection, “they only thrive in the dark; and how they blossom. Sometimes just for a moment, but what an unfolding. What they lack in longevity, they make up for in spectacle. Bringing them out into the sun is a waste — they’ll crumple. I’ve seen it before.”
Mimi Claire looked absolutely serious. Lucy felt a strange urgency mounting, like she couldn’t keep hold of the organization in her composure anymore. What’s more, this bellicose presence in her own body had been growing more palpable from the moment Claire swaggered into the room and laid her hand on Lucy’s chest. It was work, Lucy realized, so much work to keep everything sorted so that the rotating prism of her awareness changed face uninterrupted, under the pretense of free thinking. Lucy could not see further than the flipping images immediately in front of her mind’s eye, but knew at that instant that every theme in this ideological spectrum had been planned out mile by mile down her mental corridor long before. It was just an affectation of methodology — a show within a show — carried out under wraps where no-one but Lucy could see. Now, everything else she’d believed to be folded and buried in the background came to life as its volatile rolls rippled beneath the footing of her thoughts.
Claire stood before her, dastardly and doubly inviting. Whether seeing this was really seeing it or knowing it was simply reminiscing, Lucy could not peel her focus away from the revelation that Claire was operating inside the promise of release; of a sweet surrender before you turn your palms up and free-fall backward into the schism of dissolution. This unwelcome longing began in the center of Lucy’s chest and spread its pervasive warmth out like pooling syrup that spilled over the length of her torso until it blotted out all reason, filling the cracks in her resolve. It was an illusion made real only by her acknowledgement of it, Lucy was sure, but still it masked those confusions of pressure and the imperfections of sadness. It was louder than reason and louder than feeling, that viscous honey of desire, which usurped all else in its glossy, uniform cocoon and left nothing behind but the exhaling urge to serve itself. And that finality, as the last beads of glaze closed around the remaining bastions of restraint, was perhaps the most seductive thing of all.
“Then — let me stay?” Lucy tried not to hear the supplication in her weakened tone. “Let me stay here.”
The petals that formed Claire’s mouth met and parted like butterfly wings bending in place. “I’m flattered,” she said.
“I meant for them,” Lucy replied. Claire’s smugness allowed Lucy a moment to grapple for some sort of clinging vine that might lead her back to herself.
“Sure you did.” Claire grinned. “But no, you don’t belong here, anymore. Your place is at your new school,” she fluttered her elegant fingers, “doing whatever it is you have to attend to, there. But I’m not so cruel as to send those soft eyes off alone.” Claire moved even closer, looking, again, almost as tender as someone who actually felt humanity. “You can’t have Ryan, or Audrey, but I do have someone for you…
At the Basajaun table at Detroit Fanfare in October.
You’re looking very Shane, today.
Writing exercise: Bring your laptop to bed “just to make a few notes,” then decide it makes more sense to simply write the scene now & see how many words you can get in before the battery runs out. I logged 883.
(This writing exercise is brought to you by, “I didn’t bring the cord with me because I didn’t think I’d need it, but now I don’t want to move because I’m warm & comfortable.”)
TyRuben Ellingson Interview - Part One, Early Influences and Hollywood
Fantastic interview with film concept artist and effects art director TyRuben Ellingson on work ethic, del Toro, Cameron, ILM, & more! Ty is teaching now at VCU if you’re lucky enough to attend there!
Lucy could hear the girl’s penny loafers clicking the scratched terrazzo flooring behind her. She didn’t look back. The footsteps sounded matter-of-fact and innocent, and they matched the girl’s expression when Lucy turned around.
They were alone. Lucy had walked them to the remotest hallway she could think of and took a final look down the corridor on either side before moving closer to her classmate’s face.
“Okay, who sent you?” Lucy whispered.
“What?” The girl looked baffled.
“Who sent you?” Lucy said again, and put her hand on the lockers behind the girl, leaning in. “I know someone did. Was it a man? With a beard?” Lucy instinctively gave his description rather than his name, both because she imagined the girl might not know it and because Lucy herself suspected his name was something altogether different.
“I’m a new student.” The girl tucked her chin a little. “I don’t remember who gave me the test. Is that important? I barely talked to him — he just waited in the classroom until I’d finished. It was last semester, at my old school in Edgewood.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Lucy almost wanted to be angry, but it was difficult in the face of this teenage girl who seemed eager to be liked and very regular — or as regular as any of the students at this school could be. In fact, she seemed quite nice. Lucy scowled.
“Did you go to a medical facility, before you came here?”
“No.” The girl shook her head. “Well, when I had a cold, a couple months ago, but they said I didn’t need an antibiotic. And then it went away.” The girl smiled.
Lucy’s mind raced. She lowered her voice even more and her heart beat fast. “Do you know Elizabeth?”
“Elizabeth Randall? From Edgewood?” The girl said.
Lucy sighed. “It doesn’t matter. What’s your name? Your real name?”
“Your name is Natalie?” Lucy looked deep into the girl’s eyes.
“Yes,” Natalie said.
Lucy eyed the girl some more. “I thought you were someone else.”
“Is this your locker?” Natalie looked over her shoulder at the metal door where Lucy had put her hand in her attempt to intimidate the girl.
“A couple halls down,” Lucy said, unmoving, her lips in a straight line. The girl glanced at Lucy’s hand above her head and Lucy moved it away sheepishly. Natalie smiled again.
“It’s this way,” Lucy mumbled and walked away. She could hear the guileless penny loafers following behind her. The “click” of each blithe step made Lucy feel more guilty and even more confused.
Writing is slow tonight. Apropos tunes:
(Stray Cats - Crawl Up And Die)
The high ceiling, exposed pipework, and busyness of the loosely-maintained remittence center made Lucy feel invisible and safe. Preoccupied businessmen and downtrodden passers-by paid her no mind, each wrapped in their personal reality for their own range of reasons. It was apothegmatic that in a building devoted to singular possession, people kept to themselves more than anywhere else Lucy had ever been. When one individual opened his or her clandestine metal box, anyone nearby averted their eyes pointedly but not too noticeably, lest the strength of their aversion serve as a marker for some sort of hyper-awareness of others’ privacy or of the etiquette. Like men at urinals, each person down the row pulled open their designated numbered door while displaying the learned veneer of naturally-appearing disinterest, for they believed that filling the communal jar of comfort for others would afford them the same treatment cumulatively as they came back to their lockbox again and again, until that dreamy day when they had the space and means to give the box’s contents a real home, whatever that might look like.
I write pretty quickly. I am, sometimes regrettably, a faster writer than I am a reader. In fact, I am much faster at writing than I am at cleaning, showering, dishes, and most all other day-to-day chores, at which I am painfully slow.
Instead of writing 500 - 1,000 words over the period of a day, every day, like a normal, working writer, I push projects to the background for days at a time until the unfolding of upcoming plot-point events and character development have reached maximum churning speed in my mind and I can no longer avoid getting them out. Then I sit down and manically type 2,000 words in two hours without stopping.
I am not necessarily recommending this method, by the way.
It’s effective for me as it’s sort of the way I’m wired, but it is not the most pleasant or balanced way to produce. I am mystified by writers who systematically plug away at their narratives in proportional concentration and then push away from the desk at the end of the evening, sighing and satisfied. I, on the other hand, spend a large portion of my writing lead-up time knee-deep in mental hand-wringing until I explode all over the document file of whatever project I’m working on, and suddenly all this content is completed and I barely remember how it got there, like The Shoe-Maker and the Elves. Then, after the come-down, I’m exhausted and hungry and blinking like a newborn baby bird. Most of time.
I hadn’t yet reached this full-throttle with my first (technically second, but that’s another story) novel, Basajaun. Back then, I was writing at a clip that felt prolific, speedy and reasonably efficient — a good portion of that manuscript came out almost fully-chiseled, close to how it would appear in the finished book. But now that I have a more solid grasp of my personal rhythm, the speed I am compelled to work at has escalated. I now write faster than I can write in that my brain composes faster than I am physically able transfer with my hands. When I am writing once sentence, I am also still going over the one I typed before it and currently-writing the next two that I haven’t gotten to yet.
What this essentially means is a lot of “Hurry hurry hurry / Do not pass ‘Go,’ do not collect two-hundred dollars / Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” If I want to get down everything that’s in my head before I forget it, as has happened before, I require a method that allows me to write multiple ideas at once or at least shuttle very quickly through the sentences that are forming when I’m Shoe-Maker and the Elves-ing it. On the new book I’ve had an increasing need for this writing shorthand that I developed while writing Basajaun, and have now honed into something I think I can explain in case anyone else finds it useful:
I can’t say whether my shorthand is similar to or differs from any established form or schooled writing method, because I don’t know any. I am a self-taught novelist.
Here is a sample paragraph from the new manuscript that shows, in-action, the three kinds of typing shorthand I use most often. Story-wise in this snippet, we learn through protagonist Lucy’s assessment of her wrist watch that she views herself as disparate from other girls her age, and we get a flavor of her resentment:
“Back on the bus, Lucy sat slumped in a cracked vinyl seat, bouncing her legs up and down like they were made of rubber bands. No-one around her showed much notice or concern. She stared at the lockbox address in her unsteady hands as street names flew past the window at her side. This address was clear across town. Lucy looked at her watch — a too-feminine, silver scrolled, bracelet-style ??? that had been amongst the clothes she was given / in the room at ???’s apartment. Lucy found herself distracted by how much she disliked the watch. So fragile and delicate, it shifted constantly so the watch face hung from its own weight at the underside of Lucy’s arm, meaning that she had to physically pick it up in her other hand and rotate it to the top of her wrist whenever she needed to look at the time. The silver links made crinkling sounds whenever Lucy moved (— which she hated —) snagged easily on her sleeve, and looked and felt as though they’d break with any significant impact. Wearing it required constant awareness and maintenance, Lucy realized. It was the type of watch worn by girls who had the opportunity and interest to devote effort to such things — girls who could afford to worry about keeping their jewelry safe, because they (did not have more pressing concerns. They). themselves, had someone else to watch over them, or were already safe.”
??? - Three questions marks
Three question marks signify that one word should go here when I revise. There’s no need to note what type of word, because it’ll be clear when I re-read the segment whether what’s missing is a noun, verb, etc. The three questions marks appear twice in this sentence:
"Lucy looked at her watch — a too-feminine, silver scrolled, bracelet-style ??? that had been amongst the clothes she was given / in the room at ???’s apartment."
In the first instance, I have momentarily forgotten the alternate word for “watch” that I want to use, so I just skip over it and figure I’ll remember it later. I did — the word is “timepiece.” Derp ;p
In the second instance, the ??? refers to a character who has not been named yet, with the possessive apostrophe s at the end of it.
My “???” is sort of like doing a ______ or (blank), but easier for me to remember and type quickly. Autocorrect doesn’t touch it, and the three question marks together always stand out visually when I’m editing so I don’t miss correcting them.
/ Slash - The static either / or
A slash means either “this” or “that,” based on what’s in front of and behind it. Sometimes it’s one word, sometimes more. But it means one of these things or the other — not both.
That same sentence cited above reads, “amongst the clothes she was given / in the room at ???’s apartment,” because I cannot decide yet where Lucy got her unfamiliar new clothes from: Were they just pre-arranged in the closet of the strange apartment she was shuttled to, or did her new guardian hand them to her? Do I want to imply the guardian chose them, or someone else, yet to be determined for the reader? Because I believe little details like this can be important for story atmosphere, I want to end up with the right words for my purposes. I’ll decide later!
( ) Parentheses - The flexible either / or, addition, and / or reminder
Putting something in parentheses is sort of my fix-it-later catch-all. If I’m going to add more and flesh out the sentence later, I put something in parentheses that is either a fragment of the wording I want to add, or more of a note to myself, reminding me the general tone of what additional prose should go there. Or, it’s a piece of a sentence that I could either use as an alternate for the wording before it, or keep in addition to that wording.
In both of its uses in this paragraph, the parentheses highlight not alternate phrasing, but words that can be tacked-on to what’s already in the sentence. In the first parentheses appearance, I am still deciding whether I want to include, “— which she hated —.” When you’re writing new work sometimes it’s hard to know whether you’re using personifying thoughts advantageously to shape the character’s personality, or emoting too much in places where you should instead pull back to leave room for the reader to relate to the character through their own lens. Oftentimes it won’t be clear until you’ve written much more — or let the MS sit for a few months — where these emotive touches should appear. I think of this emotional placement like peppering a story — you want the right amount. Enough that the reader will feel invested in the character, but not so much that you’re taking away the reader’s own narrative control and ability to experience the heart of the character through their own perception, which is ultimately formed from information you’ve already given anyway.
This quest for the right amount of information is also evident in the second parentheses usage in the paragraph. In later revisions, I’ll decide whether that sentence should read something like this:
“It was the type of watch worn by girls who had the opportunity and interest to devote effort to such things — girls who could afford to worry about keeping their jewelry safe, because they did not have more pressing concerns. They, themselves, had someone else to watch over them, or were already safe.”
Or more similar to this:
“It was the type of watch worn by girls who had the opportunity and interest to devote effort to such things — girls who could afford to worry about keeping their jewelry safe, because they, themselves, had someone else to watch over them, or were already safe.”
I will probably go with the second, shorter one, which is more succinct and unbiased in timbre.
I employ parentheses for lots of general note-making. During my time on Basajaun and writing for idlermag.com, I used to apply my three question marks more fluidly, for multiple-word phrasing to be added later, assuming I’d remember the gist of what I was going for. No dice. Unless you’re revising the work within the next few days, or aren’t working on multiple projects, you will not remember; at least I won’t. There were so many times I’d come across half a sentence that just trailed off and ended with ???, and I would go, “Damn you, Past Rosemary!” Now I try to throw something in, in parentheses, even if the wording is clumsy and not close to what I’ll use in the finished manuscript, just to remind myself of the meaning I was grasping at in the moment.
Whatever shorthand you create, it has to be distinctly dissimilar to anything in the body of the actual writing. For instance, I would not use hyphens in my shorthand, because they’re too close to an em dash, which you can see I am borderline affectionate for. Em dashes for everyone!
Similarly, I had to develop other correction codes for when I’m revising a manuscript draft printed out on paper — indicators that represented revisional action rather than compositional words. My hard-copy, hand-written, top-secret handshakes are:
OW - “OW,” written in caps, means “other word.” This means I want to use another word in place of whatever word is next to OW, usually indicated by being circled. Also, OW? means “Other word?” when I am not sure if I want a new and different word to replace the current one or not. A plain OW means I know I want another word for sure.
tako - Means “take out.” When you’re revising on paper you can’t immediately erase like on the computer, and crossed-out words and sentences often appear so because I’m re-writing them in pen in the blank like above, or on the back of the previous manuscript page, or on a utility-bill envelope, or along the margins of a print magazine submission card that’s laying on my couch. If a sentence is crossed out with tako sprawled next to it, I know when I type in the revisions that it’s received the ax.
convo. - Means “coversation.” Once in a while, when I’m focusing on non-dialogue sequences, I skip over conversations and write them later, though not usually. Occasionally, I write first-draft conversations as dialogue-only, with no attribution or speaker action, so I have to go back and add that in later. When I was revising Basajaun, there would be notes on the dry-erase board in my kitchen like, “Redo Wayne & Fred convo.”
OU - Means “over-used.” Like most writers I have default words or ones that I tend toward for whatever proclivic reason. Or, when I’m revising days or months apart, I might forget that I already used a stand-out word — one that can’t be used twice, often, because it’s singular enough to stand out or be jarring to a narrative and its reader. Words get the Dunce Cap of OU when I see them pop up multiple times on a hard copy. When I have tight turnaround times for shorter web pieces and my revising period is scant-to-nonexistent, word repetitions sometimes fly under my radar until the piece is turned in and I see it live online.
NM - Literally means “never mind.” Sometimes I correct something on-paper and change my mind almost immediately after, or during a notation re-read, deciding that I’d rather leave it as it was. Alternately, I also have NM? for when I am so indecisive that I think I want to change it, then think I don’t, then am unprepared to commit one way or the other. That’s Future Rosemary’s problem! Apparently I do this often enough that it needed its own 2-step shorthand. Oh well, whatever, nevermind.