The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Journal of a Novelist Wannabe

I think this is the opening to my book. It was during my last round of edits, the squeezing and the stretching, and I still feel comfortable with it, comfortable enough to want to work it even more. I had the boy’s age noted, but decided to leave it out in this version. I see him, the shape and size of him in relation to his parents, but any specific age I affix to him as the story rolls out of the gate feels almost arbitrary. Does that make sense? That extra bit of info, 7, 8, 9 years old, in this case, had my first readers questioning my version of how a boy that age should be. Later on, he’s sixteen, and having had that earlier age noted, I felt compelled to fill in what I thought were blanks in his timeline, to normalize his life, the last thing I want to do with Karl:

He was still at an age where he relished the warmth and feel of his mother’s hips and thighs during his nap time, her soap opera hour. “My show’s on,” she’d say, and he’d become her cozy blanket for the duration, only pretending to sleep as he covered her legs with his body, his little arms trying to make it all the way around her thighs, each breath wanting to explode out of his chest, the other-room voices coming from the TV, the steady whine of their lives helping him to focus and not suffocate.

Karl wiggled and rocked the bottom end of one rotted board loose of the backyard fence, careful not to get scratched by the rusted nails as he swung the board aside. He slipped through the opening head first, falling into the underbrush of the woods behind their house.

His mother hated the fence. She called it an eye-sore, as old as the house and a real danger – the proof was in the way it would tremble when the wind was gusting. But as long as it still marked the property line and kept the woods out of the yard, Karl’s father refused to spend good money building a new one. This suited Karl just fine. He didn’t think it was up to his parents to decide the fate of the old fence. The hidden side, encrusted with living things, covered bluish-green and humid dark, belonged to the wilderness, and to Karl, as well, now that he’d seen the woods.

He ran his hand along the backside of the plank, we’re friends coming through in the gentleness of his touch, careful not to remove any of the growth, and then closed his eyes, a deep love welling up for this quiet place so close to home, the fence that had always been there trembling when the wind was gusting, calling out to him as if to say there was shelter from the storm behind these weathered planks, his lips sticking to his mother’s belly as she watched her world turn in serial. With his eyes still closed, he allowed his hand to lead him through the greenery of the underbrush and away from the comfort of the fence, his fingers like the legs of a giant insect from the Early Permian, the thick blue ink lines of the illustrations he’d memorized from his schoolbook coming alive in his mind.

He crawled forward through the tangle, aware of the exposed roots and ground hugging stems of the plants that would shoot straight up to become a part of the canopy if only given a chance. For now, he understood, they were sleeping giants, as mindful of him as he was of them. Unafraid, he let his insect hand guide him, at peace with the notion that this wild place would eventually open up onto a back road. He’d never seen it, but he knew it was there. He’d listened late at night as the odd vehicle tore down what sounded like a gravel surface, a distant thundering, the low growl of a monstrous beast, wishing he could know for sure who the travelers were and if they were scared in the dark, heavy woods on either side.


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Yeah, I think leaving his numeric age out gives the reader the opportunity to sense his psychological age, which is much more important and evocative here. Great start, Tony!

Tue Nov 11, 10:05:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Is it novelist wannabe, or wannabe novelist? I forget.

Tue Nov 11, 03:59:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Absolutely beautiful writing, Tony. Sensous, sensitive and suspenseful. Karl is an appealing character and one I'd like to read more about.

Wed Nov 12, 06:37:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger t said...

I agree, Tony. Great stuff!

Fri Nov 14, 03:18:00 am GMT-5  

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