An Unaccepted Submission (#1)

“Sorry. Stinky, get down. He’s got this chemical stuff all over him, you know, the flea stuff. Sorry.”
The paws receded, and the little dog with the wet, searching muzzle was pulled off my lap. His owner was a skinny woman with black hair and a bright metal ball dotting the skin above her lip. She was slurring and her voice filtered through a throat plugged by permanent cigarette smoke and a thick layer of mucus.
“Mummy’s trying to get you money. Oh, he’s so hungry. Stinky – no. You stink.”
The dog was under my legs, eating a sandwich that someone had abandoned at the bus stop. The woman saw me glance down at him, assumed that I wanted him away, and she pulled him back hard. He looked up at me with sad eyes, licking his chops.
“What’s his name?” I asked, reaching down to him. I didn’t meet the woman’s eyes. If the dog’s name was Stinky, I wanted her to admit it to me.
“Simo.”
“Simone?”
“Simo. Es-eye-em-oh. Si-mo.”
“He’s cute. Is he eating enough?”
“I’m trying, I’m trying, but he’s…” She stopped in the middle of her sentence. “Sorry, I’m just waiting for someone.” This was something she’d been repeating for a while. I’d stopped believing it. But this time she added, immediately, “There you are.”
The man I assumed she’d been waiting for seemed to step out of the shadows behind her, clutching a bottle of amber liquid to his chest. He looked as surprisingly clean, young and healthy as she did. He reeked of alcohol too, even worse than her. It was ironic that she thought the chemical smell coming off her dog was bad.
The woman picked up her heavy-looking black duffle bag from where she’d set it between other people waiting for the bus, scaring them away. She pulled Simo’s leash again. I continued not looking at her, kept my eyes on the dog. Animals are easier than people. Even when they’re fierce.
“Are you feeding him enough?” This was a different question than my previous one. I felt justified in asking it. The woman was shorter than me and she managed to stare at my face. I could tell, out of my peripheral vision. She had a pale face. I looked at the man behind her who was tugging at her puffy jacket now, trying to get her to move faster.
“Are you feeding him enough?” I asked him.
“Ask her, he’s hers.” He giggled, and hugged, actually hugged, his bottle. I stared. He ignored me.
“Come with us, you’ll see,” the woman said, jutting her chin up challengingly, pulling the dog’s head closer to her every time he tried to move. She was hurting him. “He eats better’n I do.” She didn’t emphasize any words; just spoke in a flat, dead tone. I met her eyes and thought about Nora, my last alcoholic.
“Okay. Show me,” I said.

A Pleasant Surprise – A Writer’s Tale

I tell people that I write. Because I do. But I have a hard time calling myself a writer. I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone I was an author, either, even though I’m working on my third novel right now.

However, I just had one of the coolest writing experiences I’ve ever had, and one which I’m eager to remember in years to come. Which is why I’m writing a second blog post today, something I rarely, if ever, do. Ready? My tale might not be exciting to anyone who isn’t me, but here goes.

My current work in progress includes some six main characters. I wrote the first ten pages of it about a year ago, in this blog in fact [if you’re interested, search for “Mr. and Mrs. Adams,” “Amanda,” and “Heather.”] During my semester at Sarah Lawrence this year, I took a writing class, and began to write this novel in earnest.

About five months ago, I wrote a scene in which Amanda, one of my characters, is drunk and having a breakdown of sorts. She has never been drunk before, is introverted, is scared of her own passions and hides behind her instincts as a caregiver much of the time. As the listener, she can remain safe and closed off while still maintaining meaningful relationships with people she cares about.

Now, this scene I wrote so many months ago was, I knew, going to fit in only towards the very end of the novel. I haven’t looked at the scene in months, waiting for the right time to go back to it and insert it where I wanted it to go. The day before yesterday, I was writing the scene that I knew would directly precede it, in which Amanda’s friend makes her a drink, and Amanda, for the first time ever, decides to be reckless and takes it.

In the scene I wrote the other day, I had her friend making her a White Russian. The next scene I wrote was about other characters. Today, I wanted to put in the scene I’d written all those months ago, and so I scrolled to the very bottom of my file to reread it and see what I was going to have to change. And here’s the kicker. I’d written there that Amanda was drunk on “milky White Russians.”

!!!

I had NO IDEA that I’d specified in that scene what she’d been drinking! I didn’t remember AT ALL that I’d already had the idea of what I wanted her to be drunk on! When I’d written the scene a couple days ago, I’d decided to go for White Russians because I thought it was the kind of yummy alcoholic drink that her friend would mix in order to lure Amanda into drinking!

But it seems that Amanda told me ages ago that she wanted her first experience with alcohol to be with this particular drink. It seems that even her friend, a relatively minor side-character, knew in February already that she was going to make Amanda a White Russian for her first alcoholic beverage. It seems that I know my characters even better than I thought, or else that they’ve been driving me to write what they feel is the truth for them.

So. Maybe not the most exciting tale for anyone who hasn’t had the experience of their writing taking on a life of its own. But let me tell you, I’m going to be grinning about this revelation all day long.

EDIT: Another thing – in this same scene, written months ago, I’d mentioned homesickness for her mother. In a scene I wrote about a week ago, Amanda was missing her father and feeling homesick. So yeah, I think Amanda is really quite alive in my mind. Which is exciting.

X-Men: First Class [Review]

I watched the first two X-Men films on a television screen in preparation for seeing the third in the theater. I remember choice moments from the series, although if you asked me to organize them, I wouldn’t be able to figure out which bit belonged in which film. I remember, for instance, the talented Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto; I remember lovely Anna Paquin playing some character with a white streak in her hair and not being able to kiss anyone; I remember the fascinating Mystique, her character a silent, blank, dimension-less shadow; I remember Xavier’s infuriating calm and how angry I was that he pronounced his name Exavier instead of Zavier.

The newest addition to the X-Men saga is a prequel that follows the origins of the mutant movement. The film was fun, gripping and action-packed but managed to move through a coherent and interesting plot as well. No small feat for a film based on a comic series that includes so much information that it could never hope to all be transferred to the screen. I enjoyed seeing Xavier’s arrogance as a young man, his high-and-mighty nobility that really stems from a need to be accepted and adored. I found the friendship between him and Magneto to be a beautiful thing, but very much like that of Sebastian and Charles in Brideshead Revisited or else Dumbledore and Grindlewald in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – that is, beautiful, but with a clear lack of balance and sticking-power. It was, I suppose, to good to be true, and so of course they must part. This isn’t a spoiler, mind you, because anyone who’s seen the X-Men series so far will remember that Xavier and Magneto are sworn enemies who speak very nicely to each other and allude to a former friendship.

And yet, sadly, there was much to complain of. Mystique’s character was annoyingly vague – fine, she appeared in Xavier’s kitchen one day, they became staunch friends… and? Where did she come from? What makes her trust him? Why does it take her so many years to realize that she has feelings for him? And those feelings, once displayed, disappear so quickly that I wonder if they were even there at all! She’s very confusing, which isn’t helped by the fact that the actress seemed, to me, to be having a tough time stringing more than a couple of words together at a time. The script, too, failed me towards the end, when I began to predict every line the characters uttered because they were a string of clichés that explained, very quickly, several facts that are supposed to make the audience go “ooooh!”

Finally, I remained unconvinced that the film was taking place in the early sixties. Everyone’s clothes seemed exactly like those we wear now. Maybe the X-Men all have another mutation that allows them to predict the fashion sense of the future? Maybe I’ll find the scene explaining that one in the deleted scenes on the DVD.

Move [Part VII]

Miss Flanders was standing at the window into the room where Marianne was currently strapped into the chair. She looked thoughtfully at the girl, and saw that Marianne had succeeded in this next part of training as well – there were two wooden blocks floating now, one on each side of her.

Miss Flanders returned to the monitors and sat down in front of them, tracking the little lines with her calculating eyes and trying to decipher what the girl was thinking of that was giving her such extraordinary power so as that she managed to move two things simultaneously as she was doing now.

A door opened, and Miss Flanders spoke without turning around to see who it was.

“I think she’s thinking about her family again.” She pondered aloud. The man who had entered made an indistinct noise in his throat and put down the tray he was carrying beside the monitors. He handed one of the mugs on the tray to Miss Flanders and sat down beside her, staring intently at the monitors with her.

“There’s something new there, though. Look, right there, see it? Just once in a while. What could that be?” He said quietly as Miss Flanders took a sip of the drink he had given her. She made a face at it.

“God, that tastes nasty,” She said. “Anyway, yes, I see it. We’ll need to start analyzing that tonight. You want to do it, George? I want to spend some time with her tonight, see what I can get.”

“Sure,” He said, smiling as he saw Miss Flanders pupils widening slightly and taking a sip of his own mug. “It does taste nasty, you’re right.”

Move [Part VI]


Marianne was in a chair that resembled the kind found in dentists’ offices, except that there were no trays full of sticks for fiddling in mouths beside her. Instead, she was loosely strapped into this chair at her wrists and ankles, and she was alone. Opposite her she could see a wall that was one long mirror. She knew that this wall must be a one way mirror and that the people who gave her instructions were, in fact, on the other side and watching her every move. As if it’s not bad enough that they get to see my thoughts, she thought bitterly.It had been three days now since Marianne had been taken from her cold, steel room. Miss Flanders, the woman who had collected her from there, had taken her to a spacious room, steel like the first, but warm and full of comforts. She had a comfortable bed with a thick mattress, a desk with some writing paper and pens on it, and, best of all, a bookcase crammed full of books. There was also a spare bed in the room, but Marianne was quite alone and there didn’t seem to be any other occupant at any time.

Marianne felt that she was now pampered, as if to placate her after the bad treatment she had received. Miss Flanders and the others greatly wanted her cooperation, and she was ashamed that she had given it to them, mostly because she was too weary and too scared to defy them.

But not for much longer… No, mustn’t think about that, or they’ll know. She quickly began to think about her mother again and about her sadness and aching heart and the way she missed her home. But in the back of her mind, which she had learned to hide away, a plan was forming…