We are in heavy smoke on the South Coast, the sun left us before noon to disappear behind a great blanket of ruddy gray from the Thomas Fire. White falls like snowflakes, except we’re breathing the ashes of other people’s dreams. We aren’t in danger but I can do nothing without turning on the lights and the occasional sky light is rosy orange. Surreal. Weirdly cold. I should be writing an apocalyptic novel but it’s hard to concentrate, so I am doing massive Christmas cookie baking for my neighbors.
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I’m a little slow posting this, but while Nanowrimo (national novel writing month) is officially over, the greater part of the work on a novel begins. The biggest job isn’t the first complete draft, though you can’t go anywhere without one!
I totaled 67,565 words on mine, working title Living with the Enemy, then over the first days in December I created a chapter log– giving the page number on which each new chapter begins and what the main action or actions may be in each. This allows me to look over the action and pacing, as well as keep a sense of character development– the progression of change in each person of interest. I also note what themes are recurring, so I can figure out what events might better serve in a different order.
Many of you who write, and it doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction, make an outline. Sometimes I do, but this November I didn’t. Writing in the first person makes an organized plot harder for me– I feel as though I’m letting another voice speak through me when I write in first person, thus it’s much harder to guide. I feel there’s an organic power rising through first person narrative. Maybe I will cut and shape later, but while the story is first erupting, I hate to dictate what I want to hear about. (No, don’t tell me about the murder right now– I want to hear about the dog…)
I want to invite in the voice out of the darkness that comes and tells me something, sometimes troubling or even terrible. Such a voice gives me a feeling of personhood, and the burden that soul bears. Who is it? How did he or she get there? Sometimes I’ve thought it was a woman or a girl, and then I found out as the reveal progressed that I was wrong, and I have another strange man in my head telling me what happened to him. After all most voices sound alike in a whisper.
So I will confess it right now. More times than not, I write the end of a novel before the beginning. How many of you do likewise?
It’s November and I’m working away on my nanowrimo novel, but of course other matters abound and distract. I’ve been involved with political and local issues, digging up and manuring the rows I want to plant lima beans and peas in, starting the cauliflower and broccoli seedlings, transplanting baby leeks… and what turns up? A tiny wonderful bird. I’ve never seen a ruby-crowned kinglet so unmistakably clear before, the brilliant tiny splotch of red like an extravagant punctuation on the back of his elegant head. A fast sketch later and now I need to go out and soak those lima beans for planting.
Nanowrimo is here!
‘What?‘ you say– ‘how is that pronounced and is it something really really small… and give me a definition, please.‘
No, this nano doesn’t mean something tiny. Quite the opposite. It’s national novel writing month, during which people who sign on, aspire to produce anything over 50,000 words of a narrative between a minute after midnight on November 1 and midnight of November 30th. That comes out to approximately 1,667 words a day.
Now you notice I wrote “a narrative”. That can be complicated. I started on the novel I thought I’d write on the first day and made about 980 words. Guess what? Wrong novel. That wasn’t the one I was ready to write. So on day two, I erased my word count and began again, hitting something over 3,000 words on that second day. It’s a good sign I could start running like that, but as all nanowrimo folk know, it’s no guarantee. Yesterday I had other things to do, but still managed over 3,000 words in the roughly four hours I had for writing. Today it’s 10:50AM and I’ve only created 228 words. Aaargh!
Wish me luck, please. My working title is Living with the Enemy and here’s the synopsis and my patch cover.
What does a twelve year old girl in So Cal want? To belong to the right group, have a safe home, feel accepted. Wynn has one of these taken from her when her parents split, and the other two threatened when she’s farmed out part-time to the wrong people. Staying week-nights at Juniper’s house isn’t on her list of reasonable choices. That family eats weird food, reads too many books, plus, they don’t have cable.
You have to avoid differences in sixth grade, you need to have the right sandwich bread in your lunch, the correct brand of sneakers, watch the popular shows. Wynn knows that, even if Juniper’s parents don’t. Then the TV screen at school on a Tuesday morning shows smoke pluming from two towers in New York on September eleventh. The United States of America has been invaded, our tolerance for differences will never be the same.
Behind the warm cookies and fat black cat at Juniper’s house lie secrets. Hidden visitors move in the hallway, doors and windows open and close to conceal something… or someone? Why does Juniper’s mother work late on a computer whose screen displays elaborate non-American words– and why does she change that screen every time Wynn happens to come in? Is Wynn living with terrorists planning the next attack? For the kids at school there are sides to choose and dramas to feed, with consequences they cannot even imagine. For the girl who can’t go home, there’s no way out of this dark puzzle, except through. One step at a time.
The fire is at 83% containment. We can all breathe more deeply, the sky has returned to blue, and we think with grateful affection of the fire responders of all kinds who stepped up to fight for, and help our communities.
Those of us who recall other fires that seemed almost certainly vanquished still look every day and evening to check that there has been no break-out. But the weather has been reasonably kind, without the sundowners that were to blame on previous such occasions.
A photo from the street above ours and a map showing the Whittier Fire’s gains due to the sundowners. (Last night’s gains shown in appropriate fire red.)
Whittier Fire has sent friends with their two dogs and cat, to house with us — great company, but we look at the weather predictions and cannot be happy about the sundowners and the proximity of the western flames to populated areas. We are not immediately affected but even as I type that, I say, how can I make such a statement when we have people taking refuge from the fire under our own roof?
I take note that our guests know their animals, and put them together in the bathroom with their things. Thus a sense of a small controllable space for the animals with the company of fellows they know, and so they spent the majority of the time. We had prepared an outside run for the dogs, but I could see it was too much, too challenging to have so many changes, and too much strange space, however good our intentions. Happy pets to have people who understand what they really need. I’ll try to remember this if I ever have to evacuate my own pets to some refuge.
We could stand in the roadway last night and see distant flames over a ridge about two thousand feet up and to the West. Deep orange red leaping against the black, with a smudge of warm in the sky overhead. Overnight the fire expanded, fed by the winds, and containment dropped to 35%. Now, on this Saturday, we wait and wonder what the weather will send us next. There’s a suggestion that we will see more sundowner or Santa Ana winds– a bad prospect.
Here’s the latest from KEYT. Some remarkably beautiful photos here.
No dramatic changes, but I know the drama is all on the ground, in that tedious and dangerous slog towards containment. The Whittier Fire has slowed way down, but some burning occurred on the south side, our side, you might say, of the fire in the past twelve hours. There’s some good in that, because it reduces future fire risk by decreasing available fuel, but it makes us all nervous.
There’s a sundowner in the forecast for tomorrow that has us concerned, because that might bring winds rushing down from the ridge into the populated coastal area.