Nanowrimo Day Eleven

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 18,337 words

Words written today – 3,064

Words written so far – 14,729 words
Words to goal – -3,608

But it seems to me that once you begin a gesture it’s fatal not to go through with it.

—-John Updike, A&P

Kids love the reflecting pool. The water is less than a quarter inch deep.

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

I have fallen behind, missed a couple days (too tired when I came home from work – fell dead asleep) and wrote too little on a couple days. But I had a good day today (a little over 3,000 words) and more importantly, have worked out a nice way to work.

I’ll do a blog entry on my writing machine and explain it in detal – but in essence is is a Raspberry Pi microcomputer mounted on the back of an old monitor, hooked up with a wireless keyboard and mouse. I run a program called Focuswriter set up to look like the old Wordperfect 5.1 – you know, that sharp white text on a blue background. It’s a distraction free full-screen experience, but I do have a bar on the bottom of the screen that gives me my constant word count and the percentage of the way to 1.667. This makes it surprisingly easy to crank out the words and get to the daily goal. We’ll see how it works combating the exhaustion of the workday (and I do have to work late several days this week).

Today I hammered out some bits of backstory and filler for a few hundred words. Then, looking for something that I could string out for at least a couple thousand, I looked in one of my books of writing prompts, The 3 A.M. Epiphany Almost immediately I came across a hint that suggested borrowing from a trusted source. The one in particular suggested taking a favorite story and rewriting it, giving it your own voice and changing what you want. I immediately thought of what might be my favorite of all time, A&P by John Updike (read the story here).

I hammered out my version – changing it from three girls to two (characters already in my story), from an A&P to an IGA, and told it from the girl’s point of view. It’s odd… I didn’t re-read the story (to try and make it my own) and haven’t looked at it in years, have forgotten many details, but made the bag-boy named Sam – in the story it’s Sammy. The name must have been stuck in my memory.

So, did I cheat by stealing from Updike? I don’t think so – it’s more of an homage.

 

Snippet of what I wrote:

Teresa knelt beside Beth’s chair and squirted the oil on to her back. She spread it out and rubbed it in until it disappeared into Beth’s skin.

“I’m thirsty,” Beth said in a luxurious voice, enjoying the afternoon, the sun, and, though she would never admit it, the feel of Teresa’s smooth hands sliding oily across her skin. She closed her eyes and thought of Sam and how his long, tight, sinewy body felt against hers, even her back, while they were in the pool at night. She was seized with a sudden desire to see him, in the daylight, and for him to see her, like this.

“I’ll go get some iced water, refill the pitcher.”

“No don’t,” said Beth.

“I don’t mind.”

“I don’t want water, not only water. I want some more of that drink we had earlier.”

“I made that, it was orange juice cooler, just orange juice and champagne.”

“My mom still has at least five bottles of champagne in the cupboard, leftover from my sister’s wedding,” said Beth.

“But…” said Teresa, before Beth cut her off.

“She doesn’t mind, she told me we could drink some, as long as we didn’t get hammered, as long as we left some for her.”

“No, it’s not that. We’re out of orange juice.”

“Oh?” said Beth. She sounded like she already knew they were out of orange juice.

“We could just drink the champagne.”

“No, I want some orange juice,” said Beth, “It wouldn’t be the same, it’s so hot today, champagne alone wouldn’t be refreshing enough.”

“Oh, where could we? I guess I could run down to the IGA and get some orange juice,” said Teresa.

“Yeah… I mean no, I’ll go.”

“Why don’t we both go?”

“Sure,” Beth said, “Let’s both.”

A&P

One of my favorite short stories of all time is John Updike’s A&P. If I could do anything – I wish I could write like this:

Text of A&P

Go ahead – read it now. It’s not very long – it won’t take up much time.

I read this story in college. For a chemist, I took a lot of literature classes. Most of them were honors level courses – and looking back, I didn’t get much out of them. They were very intellectual and were interested in ferreting out symbolism and deconstructing the text… and now, decades later, I realize they completely missed the point of what we were reading. My fiction writing classes were worse than useless; they set my writing ability back so far I’m only now, in my fifties, beginning to unlearn the false dreck violently stuffed into my young head.

After having exhausted my allotted supply of honors courses, I tacked on an ordinary English class – The Art of the Short Story. Basically, we cranked through a textbook that contained one hundred classic stories and wrote three papers or so a week. Our instructor was intimidated by the classroom setting so we met in a bar, talking about literature while we drank cheap yellow 3.2 beer from schooners, listening to each other’s conversation, and watching rivulets of condensation run down the thick glass.

This was a revelation. There was none of the vicious oneupmanship of the honors classes or the viscous boredom of the scholarship. It was true, lively banter where everyone was able to bring a different point of view along with some fresh ideas.

I’m sure I wrote an essay on A&P, but don’t remember what my angle was. I was working at a gas station over break back then and I remember really liking the paragraph where Updike writes about the sounds an old-fashioned cash register makes. He had it exactly right.

I go through the punches, 4, 9, GROC, TOT — it’s more complicated than you think, and after you do it often enough, it begins to make a lttle song, that you hear words to, in my case “Hello (bing) there, you (gung) hap-py pee-pul (splat)”-the splat being the drawer flying out.

The other day, after all these years, I discovered a short film version of the story. You should be able to watch it at this link – courtesy of SPIKE TV of all things:

A & P

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I stumbled across  this short looking up information on the new Three Stooges Movie. The guy in the short will play Larry in the Stooges movie, and, of course, you remember the actress that plays the girl, Queenie, from Road Trip.

I’m glad that they made this short. I am very glad I saw it. However, like any time a visual representation is made about a piece of literature that was important to you, I’m disappointed at some of the changes they made in the presentation.

The video doesn’t really fit my impression of the story… I think it’s the cutsie music. Or maybe the Ipswich accents.

The short story is edgier than the video suggests.

I didn’t like the scene where he imagines meeting Queenie at the party (though I suppose they had to pad it out somehow). It makes the story more of a romance fantasy, or a poor boy/rich girl story… which it is not. It is a much more fundamental conflict at work here – an elemental question of values.

And worst of all, all though the short has no qualms about presenting the protagonist’s internal dialog in voice over, it leaves out the last, most powerful bit. I’m talking about the last half of the last sentence of the story. The internal dialog that contains the horror of the story. The voice over says his stomach fell, but it doesn’t say why.

The story does.

I look around for my girls, but they’re gone, of course. There wasn’t anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn’t get by the door of a powder-blue Falcon station wagon. Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he’djust had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.” I still remember reading these words in college and the fear that they struck in me.