Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Book - A First Draft Complete

When I decided I wanted to write, I started reading books on writing. Okay, I actually have only really read one book on writing but it was a profound one. The one that everyone points to first when asked about writing books. It was written by Anne Lamott, whose book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts On Faith, spoke into my heart deeply. The writing book is called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. In it she shares the wisdom she has gleaned about the writing process and I learned a great deal from this book. 

It was her chapter on first drafts that kept me going this year. It begins: 
Now, practically even better news than that of short assign­ments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. 
My first draft doesn't have to be perfect. I would remind myself of this often as I wrote horrible transitions between scenes and struggled to find the right words. It is meant to be a first draft. A place to put all the ideas. And it is meant to get finished, not stifled by editing and perfectionism.

It meant to get finished. And finished my first draft is. All 80,671 words of it. My first draft is complete. It is printed out on 181 pages of paper ready for me to read and begin editing. It is horrible and cheesy and wonderful and authentic all at the same time. There are nuggets here and rubbish. But it the shitty first draft as Anne Lamott encouraging calls it is finished.

And to mark this momentous event, I am posting her the first seven blog post sneak peeks of the book in one location.

This is the beginning of the story, my first full length novel.

The Book - 1: The Beginning
It was one of those surprisingly warm fall days. Students sensing the season’s change were filling the quad with the noises of Frisbee and acoustic guitars. The sunlight drifted down between the old oak trees that lined up in front of the old stone buildings that had watched over students for a hundred years. Mia loved the classic architecture, the stone buildings cold and forbidding to the outsider. Everything about this place felt collegiate, felt like a world unto itself.

Mia sat down and felt the sun on her face. She leaned back, stretching her face toward the warmth, feeling the grass under her hands. She dug her fingers into the dirt reaching the cool soil beneath. She breathed in the quiet moment, her body relaxed. It had been a busy week, a busy month. The first month always was. She should be studying. But the sun felt too good to get up and head back indoors. Her mind too cluttered by the phone call from home that woke her this morning.

“Hey.” The word broke through her thoughts.

Mia looked up and saw someone getting ready to sit down next to her. She recognized him immediately. Everyone knew him by name, a son of privilege that came out west for college. Their paths had not crossed until this year. And then only across a crowded room at one of the many parties that littered the neighborhoods surrounding campus the weekend before classes began. He had been talking to a group of guys standing around the makeshift bar. His arm wrapped around the shoulders of a girl with long blond hair wearing a very short skirt. His hand hung down in her front proprietarily. Both had clearly been enjoying the alcohol that was free flowing.

And now this guy was sitting down next to her, smiling.

“Hey,” he said again. Mia’s body tensed.

“Is that your way of saying hi? Of introducing yourself?” Mia asked, her tone clearly annoyed by the interruption.

His grin faltered for a second and then grew stronger. His eyes were now smiling along with the rest of his face. He was amused by her response. This girl was not going to be charmed as easily as he had hoped. But as he looked over at Mia, he could see that she was definitely worth charming. Her long brown hair fell in waves. She was tall and thin but not skinny. He could not see her eyes behind her sunglasses but she had a few freckles that sprinkled her nose and cheeks so he was guessing they were blue or green.

“Pardon my rudeness. My name is Timothy Ogden Dillard. My friends call me Tods,” he stated formally.

She looked at him dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, the sleeves rolled up an attempt at casual. “Seriously. Tods? You do realize you are no longer at your prep school, right?” she asked not wanting an answer.

Now his smile faded a bit. He was well aware that he was no longer in prep school. His father had said the same words to him before he left home. He had used the same tone, dismissive and disappointed. Each email, each corporate annual report emblazoned with his name reminded him that he was now an adult, now required to learn the family business and to start to contribute to the family’s legacy.

Tim met her scathing tone with his own, “Do you have a name? Or were manners not part of the curriculum at your public school?”

“Timothy,” Mia said her face flush with anger, “I am leaving.”

Mia heard him call after her, “You can call me Tim.” How completely obnoxious she thought as she walked away.

The Book - 2: Another Sneak Peek
The sidewalks were full of students heading to the football game. Mia though walked against the tide and headed to the library. She had never had time for the social norms of high school, for football games and dances. Her days had been filled with working at the local Dairy Queen and her nights with studying. She spent her high school years dreaming, planning and saving so she could attend this college, so she could escape her hometown. Her sole focus as a teenager was the future.

Mia had hoped that she would have time for all that fun when she finally got to college. She had dreamed of football games with roommates, parties at off campus houses, and late night food runs. But here she was heading to the library, not because she didn’t have time to go to the game but because she felt out of place there. She did not know how to joke easily and was not comfortable in the unknown flow of a group. The library though was her refuge.

She found her usual desk at the back of the 4th floor, the desk where the power supplies all worked and the stacks near her were rarely visited. It was usually quiet up here. Today she had the area to herself She plugged in her laptop, put in her ear buds and got to work.

This semester was going to be tough. She had started college with enough credits to be a sophomore; thankful for the Advanced Placement classes her small rural school was able to offer her. Mia now in her third year was in the heart of her core classes, the classes the professors used to weed out the accountants from the students. There were certainly easier business degrees but Mia wanted that CPA title. She wanted those initials after her name on her business cards. She pictured herself in smart business suits carrying a leather case. She dreamed of flying off on business trips and meeting colleagues for drinks after work. She wanted to belong to that club. The club that offered job security and known rules to follow.

Mia worked in the library until the room began to darken with the sunset. The overhead lights becoming brighter in contrast. The football game was sure to be over now. She hoped for a win. She enjoyed the euphoria on campus after the football team won. She liked feeling part of something bigger than herself and her studies, even though she did not watch any of the game. Not to mention the fact that she earned bigger tips when the team won. The restaurant filled with alumni after a win. After a loss she was left with a bunch of frat boys yelling about horrible officiating and incapable of figuring out how to tip.

Packing her bag she looked out the window. Students were milling away from the quad, slowly heading off toward their dorm rooms and off campus housing. No big celebration seemed to be happening. With the warm air hanging on into the night and the loss of the game, it was going to be a long night.

The Book - 3: Just a Smidgen 
The restaurant was half empty, even though it was a Saturday night. Not surprising considering the place was out of date, worn and faded. There were newer chains along the outside of the mall about a mile from campus but Mia loved this place. She liked the flexible hours Matt her manager allowed her. She liked the few friendly regulars. And she liked that she could wear her regular college garb to work. No funny hats or ties at this place. It was just a good, classic college pub.

It had been a slow night. Mia’s tables had been cleared, her condiments filled. She was almost ready to head out when a group of guys entered. She glanced over at the other waitress working tonight, hoping the guys would see the blond hair and midriff flashing t-shirt and head over to her area. Mia had more studying to do and she really did not want to waste another hour on this group.

The group paused for a moment, looking the tables over, checking out which had the best view of Sports Center. They walked right past Sally’s section and headed to a table next to where Mia was standing. Taking a deep breath, Mia walked over and started handing out menus to the guys. As she got to the end of the group, she saw him, the guy from the lawn this morning. Based on the way he was looking at her, he had obviously recognized her too.

Without missing a beat, Mia started taking drink orders. As she suspected this was a beer and wings crowd, though the beers were various microbrews. She waited to take lawn guys order until the end. She might be his waitress but she still held some power in the situation. After she had written down everyone’s order she looked at lawn guy. He looked back but did not say anything. He just smiled. He seemed to be waiting for something. Mia was annoyed. She was tired from the long day and was not in the mood to deal with this jerk.

“What would you like?” Mia asked looking him square in the eyes this time.

“What do you have on tap?” he challenged.

Mia shifted her weight and pointed to the list in the middle of the table. “The list is there.”

Lawn guy grabbed the list, glancing at it quickly, and then asked, “What do you recommend?”

Mia’s agitation grew. He obviously knew what he wanted to drink. Any college guy can order a beer within 3 seconds of getting into a bar. “I would recommend a glass of the white chardonnay. Or maybe you are a Pinot Grigio man?” she replied.

The guys around him perked up and began to pay attention to this exchange. Mia noticed the looks; she felt the heat rising in her. She hated that feeling, feeling like her actions were merely a reaction to provocation. She knew better than to play the game. She had years of practice not taking the bait, not engaging, and yet here she was bickering with some guy she hardly knew. There was no reason for it.

“How about a Newcastle?” Mia asked, her polite veneer back in place.

The other guys at the table lost interest now that the tension was gone. They turned back to the highlights of the day’s games. Tim also felt the air around Mia relax or more accurately smooth.
“Thanks. That sounds good.” He conceded. He enjoyed verbal sparing, so different from his usual cadre of women, but he did not want to push his luck.

The Book - 4: Will She Say Yes
The group hung around for an hour, ordering a second round and debating the best plays of the day. The conversation floated between the BCS standings and who threw away their Heisman hopes with the three picks in one game. They ate their nachos and wings and then impressed Mia by leaving the table relatively neat.

As she went to close out the tab for the group, she noticed another pleasant surprise. That guy Tim, lawn guy, had picked up the check. That was not the surprise. Everyone knew he had a trust fund footing the bill for all his college expenses. What did surprise her was his tip, a healthy 20%, respectful but not over the top. He wasn’t flaunting his wealth nor was he stingy after she had called him out in front of his friends. It was a simple gesture, something he probably did every day, but it felt like a truce to her. But then maybe she was reading too much into it. Maybe it was just a tip.

Mia went to clean up the table the guys had vacated. The pub was empty now except a few regulars who sat at the bar until Matt called them a cab at closing time. It had been a decent night and she was going to get out early enough to still get another hour or two of studying in before going to bed for the night.


She turned at the sound of her name spoken behind her. Tim was standing there, smiling as always. Had he forgotten something she wondered. She looked down at the empty plates seeing nothing and then back at him. She could feel her pulse quicken.

“Mia,” he said again pointing to her nametag. “I wanted to introduce myself, again. My name is Tim.”  He reached out his hand.

She shook his hand. It was warm and firm. Her hand fit so nicely inside his until she pulled away. “My name is Mia,” she offered back, blushing when she realized that he had just said her name.

“I would love to get a drink with you some time.” His eyes twinkled full of confidence.

Mia had only been asked out a few times in her life. She didn’t know why. She had not been allowed to date in high school. Her mom’s attempt to make sure Mia did not get distracted and lose sight of their goal of her going to a good school. College had not changed her single status. She just didn’t seem to have that thing that made boys want to ask her out. She had only been on one date in college and that had not gone well. She had no idea how to act when guys became men, when feelings and hormones started to act up.

She felt caught off guard again by this guy. Mia did not like to feel off balance.  “No thank you,” she answered.

“Coffee at least? I know you like coffee.”

“No thank you.” She replied again. “Wait, how do you know that?”

“You always have a kiosk coffee cup in hand as you walk across campus in the morning.”

Mia didn’t know if she should be flattered that he had noticed her. She had certainly noticed him over the years with more girls than she could count attached to him. This was not the kind of guy Mia wanted. This was exactly the kind of guy her mother had warned her about. Lawn guy liked the chase, but she had seen him discard his prizes just as quickly as he won them.

“No thank you,” she said again.

Tim looked down at his feet his facade shaken. He was not used to being rejected. And now twice in one day this woman had turned him down. No one is worth this much work he thought, not when there were so many other girls out there ready to go home with him.

“Ok. Well I guess I will see you around campus then,” he said before hurrying to catch up with his buddies before they left him behind. Mia stood there dumbfounded. Had Tim just asked her out? Had she said no. She knew it was the right decision but why then were her palms all clammy.

The Book - 5: Home
Matt saw her looking off in the distance, awkward. “You okay?” he asked.

“Fine,” she replied automatically.

“You sure?” he asked again.

This time his question brought Mia back. “Yeah, I’m good. Just tired.”

“Well it looks like your section is done, why don’t you go home. Get some rest. You work too hard.”

“I’ll try,” she replied before heading to the back. She dropped her apron in the dirty laundry bin and pulled her book bag out of her cubby. She exited the back kitchen door toward home. She then walked the two blocks home to the house she shared with a group of girls she had met in her freshman dorm. It was an eclectic core group of four with another couple changing each semester. They were all studying something different. The front room might be full of fabric for a fashion assignment or a cat cadaver for a science lab. Competing music was often coming from different rooms. Phone conversations were crossing paths in the hallway.

They were all very busy but they tried to meet up for dinner on Sundays, sometimes heading to the restaurant if Mia had to work. Sarah, the ring leader, would call a family meeting if it had been too long since they all sat in the same room together. Most of their conversations though took place as someone was washing their face at the end of the day or trying to find a highlighter that worked.

She liked living with these girls. They were all bright and enthusiastic about their futures. They gave Mia a picture of what life was like for the normal kids, the kids with parents who knew what it meant to be a real parent. These girls taught her about relationships and family. They opened up to her about their hopes, their fears. They talked about boyfriends and future career aspirations. They left a quick note on the bathroom mirror in lipstick or sent a good luck text before a big test. They connected Mia to something, even when she did not know how to reciprocate. She was learning though, she was figuring out how to be a friend from these girls.

The house was dark when she walked in the door. Mia was never quite sure who would be home on any given night. Tonight the house was quiet. Everyone was still out enjoying the warm, Saturday night. She walked through the dark kitchen grabbing a glass of water before heading up the two sets of stairs to her room.

Mia loved her little attic room. She had it all to herself, no one touching her stuff, reading her emails or poking through her clothes. Not that any of her roommates were probably interested in her jeans and plaid shirts or her secrets. She was just so used to her new shoes disappearing at home, only to find them scuffed up after her mom borrowed them. Her mom had adopted a “what’s yours is mine” approach to life. This applied not only to clothes and lip gloss but to Mia’s whole existence. Her mother was always looking over her shoulder as she wrote a paper or read a book. She scrolled through Mia’s text messages and asked about every detail of her day. There had been no privacy at home. No secrets. No moment alone with her thoughts.

Mia knew her mom was doing the best she could. Maggie had gotten pregnant when she was 17. The boy’s family moved away the summer before Mia was born, never knowing there was a baby on its way. She never knew her father. Her birth certificate had no name listed where the father’s name belonged and her mother refused to tell Mia his name. Maggie made sure Mia knew she was father less, that she was utterly dependent on her mother.

Mia often felt like her mother’s doll, someone to dress and move around the scenes of life. Her mother was recreating the life she had dreamed of for herself. Only, now Mia was living it for her. At least that was Maggie’s plan and until recently, Mia had played along.

The Book - 6: Her Mom

But somewhere in the last few years, Mia began to find herself. She was slowly finding her own voice, her own place in this world, apart from her mother. She discovered she loved numbers and math, balance sheets with red and black numbers. She liked living on her own; she liked making her own decisions without having to consider her mother. She found a world that did not spin on the emotions of one person, but that was controlled by handbooks, social norms, history, and cause and effect. This world was predictable and that brought a sense of freedom to Mia. She could breathe her own air until her mom intruded.

Mia set the water glass on the nightstand. She had found it, along with the dresser, at an estate sale last year. Before that her room was adorned with old crates from the restaurant. She sat on her bed needing to study a little longer before getting ready for bed. She pulled a textbook from her bag along with her laptop. Her phone started vibrating in her back pocket. She pulled it out and saw her mom’s name light up on the screen. She froze waiting for the ringing vibrations to stop. She desperately wanted to hit the ignore button but knew her mother would correctly guess that the push to voicemail was because Mia was ignoring her.

When the ringing finally stopped, Mia saw that she had ten missed calls, ten voicemails all from her mother. She let out a sigh as her body fought its fight or flight instinct at seeing her mother’s face and name on her phone. Her heart always sped up when her mom called. Adrenaline coursed through her veins. She could ignore the calls now but at some point, and soon, she would have to listen to those voice mails. She would have to call her mom back and enter into that world again. Mia had learned the hard way not to ignore her mom for too long.

She remembered back to her freshman year when she first left home for college. Mia had answered every call, worried the electricity had been turned off due to unpaid bills or that her mom needed help. But the phone calls were hard on Mia. Sometimes her mom missed her so much and would call begging her to come home for a visit. When Mia explained she couldn’t, that she had work and classes, Maggie would cry. Other times, her mom would ask question after question about school, the classes, her roommates, the food, the boys. Her questioning was frenzied and erratic. Mia would try to share her life but the questions became more piercing, more intrusive. Even so many miles from home, she was expected to include her mom in everything. When the phone rang, Mia never knew what to expect, she just knew it would be hard. 

Mia had thought the distance would help but the constant contact was stifling. She needed some space and so she stopped answering the phone every time it rang. The voice mails were full of tears and raging that Mia needed to call her mother, “NOW!” But she waited. Mia would call her mom back when she had time or felt like dealing with the mood swings. She decided she would control the interactions by limiting the contact. 

In the spring of her freshman year, after a difficult Christmas at home, Mia stopped answering her phone altogether. She did not call her mom back either. She wanted the space to think. She wanted a chance to breathe a bit and figure out her thoughts about the yelling and name calling that had happened around the Christmas tree. She had heard enough stories of happy Christmas vacations from her suite mates to know that her Christmas, her relationship with her mom was seriously messed up. 

She had planned to wait a week. She had planned to call her mom on Sunday. Mia had not planned on hearing her mom call her name across the quad when she was walking to her first class. She did not plan on her mother having a map of the campus and Mia’s class schedule in hand, stopping students asking for help in finding her daughter, her daughter who would not call home. 

Mia learned very quickly that she did not ever want her mother visiting her campus again. She did not want her two very different lives crossing paths. She did not want her past visiting her future. And so she would return her mother’s calls. Just another way her mom kept control on her even though she lived a five-hour bus ride away. Even though Mia was now a grown woman with a life of her own. 

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