Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Playing in a New Sandbox

Every time I start a new novel, it's a different experience.  While many things about the process are the same, for me, there's no cruising on autopilot.  Part of that is deliberately working on different characters and keeping the stories fresh with new voices and structures.  Part of it is that every blank page is new and terrifying in unique ways.

I did think, in my more naive days, that writing the first book was the hardest and that after that you had the roadmap all set.

I wish I could say that were true.  In reality, I still struggle with every story, trying to stay on that bleeding edge where I keep pushing myself to be a better writer.

This new story is interesting.  It's not the first time I've done alternating points of view, nor is it the first time I've done 1st person, but it is the first time I've worked with alternating first person points of view.  The challenge is differentiating the voices so that the reader never has any doubt who is speaking in any given scene or chapter.

First person is hard for me.  It usually takes me some time to find the character's authentic voice and not find my own voice intruding.  But I tried to work on this in 3rd person.  The story decidedly didn't cooperate.

Here's a brief snippet of my protagonist, Tess.  She's a 17 yo HS senior, mourning the death of her twin brother who killed himself and his girlfriend driving drunk a few months before.  She's also an insulin dependent diabetic who just experienced a severe blood sugar crisis.  The story largely takes place in an abandoned amusement park. (And this is first draft material--you have been warned!  LOL)

Photo by Timm Seuss, used under a creative commons license

We hobbled over to the bench, Nicole doing most of the work and I sat down more like a sack of potatoes than a person. But at least I didn't slither back onto the floor. The world was more or less staying put. Nicole's face was a set of round circles, from her dark eyes to the worried shape of her lips. "Wow, I think I'm going to live."

Nicole loomed over me, a red flush spreading over her dark skin. "Next time call a freaking ambulance."
"I'm sorry--"
"You stopped speaking to me. Not one word from you since Thomas' service." She pronounced it the Spanish way. Tomas. Her accent always got twice as strong when she was pissed. "And then you drag me out here to save your ass? You could have died." She crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself. "If you get yourself killed, I'm not going to be the one to tell your folks."
She glared at me until I looked away and sucked down the last of the goo. I shook my head. It wasn't personal. Looking down at the wrapper in my hands was easier than figuring out what to say. I smoothed it out against my leg, listening to the plastic crinkle in the strained silence. Raspberry Flavored Energy Gel Blast. It was what marathoners used when they were running. "Where the hell did you get this crap?"
"It's mine. I started running. After." She shrugged. "Quit smoking, too. Cold turkey."
"You? Run?" Nicole hated anything remotely related to exercise. She stayed skinny on a steady diet of caffeine, cigarettes, and not sleeping. I laughed, but it ended in a wheeze and my head started throbbing.
"You think you're the only one who hurt because he died?" Nicole turned her back to me, but not before I saw her eyes fill with tears.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
"It was like I lost both of you."
A gust of wind kicked up the trash at my feet, sending crumpled cigarette packs and condom wrappers skittering along the arena. The air sliced through my thin jacket. My body started to shiver so violently I almost tumbled from the bench. "Nic--I need to get home." It was hard to force the words out through my chattering teeth. I would have to figure out a way to make things right between us, but first I had to get warm and dry and check my blood sugar.
Nicole turned back to me. "Shit, girl, your lips are blue. Here." She slipped off her hoodie and tossed it to me.
I couldn't bring my hands up fast enough to catch it. It pooled at my feet. "I'm sorry." I wondered how many times I had said that this morning.
"Crap. You're in bad shape." She took off my raincoat and bundled me into her sweatshirt. The first thing I noticed was that it didn't smell like stale cigarette smoke. The second thing was how warm it was. "Come on. Let's get you home." Nicole bent down to shove everything I had emptied back into my backpack. "My car's just outside the fence. Can you make it?
I gritted my teeth and nodded. "What about my bike?"
"You'll have to come back for it."
I shivered again. The last thing I wanted to do was to come back to this place.


  1. I've been having an ongoing discussion with a good friend of mine who is also a writer about how different the process is with each book we write. Great post, very timely for me. I love the excerpt. Thanks for sharing. It was very absorbing.

  2. Thanks, Lisa! I'm always a little protective of new writing. My 15 yo has been pestering me to read what I have so far, but I'm superstitious--I don't want to get derailed, so I'm just doling out little bits at a time. :)