Naomi couldn’t remember how she had been kidnapped. She didn’t know why two men were keeping her in a motel room, untied, free to move around, but threatened with her life if she tried to escape. She didn’t know why the man named Eric was tall and handsome, angrier than a roiled hornet’s nest, or why the younger man, Jesse, spent most of his time lying on the opposite bed from hers reading novels and collections of poetry.
She wanted to get her mother’s attention. A desperate need, something she had been feeling the entire sixteen years of her life, throbbed beneath her skin. She pushed the gas harder and glanced at her mother in the passenger seat.
Naomi vanished during one of these foggy mornings. Nobody saw her except two men. They were breathing heavily, standing in the moist darkness of an empty parking lot, the heat from their mouths drifting through the air in thin, filmy wisps before it dissipated into the surrounding fog. They stared down at the young teenage girl clothed in jeans and a faded brown jacket. She was blond and delicate, like a pale flower thrown onto the pavement, her legs and arms bent at awkward angles, her face almost translucent in the soft red glow from the taillights of an idling car a few feet away.
Naomi gripped the tan leather-wrapped steering wheel of her mother’s Mercedes and pressed on the gas as hard as she could. It was the first time she had ever felt any sort of rebellion flow through her, and she liked it as the pearl-white sedan zipped along the gentle curves of the California coastline. The sky was a clean azure blue, like thick paint or the underbelly of some exotic sea creature. It made the ocean outside her window look sullen and gray.
There was an unusual amount of fog the spring Naomi disappeared. Each evening near the end of February, it rolled heavily from the ocean to the coastline, gradually spreading itself over the city until the warmer hours of morning chased it away. It was unsettling how everything appeared and dissolved within seconds, like some elaborate magic act.
Naomi knew the man could kill her.
“My name’s Jesse,” he stated softly. Kindly.
She held still, immobilized from the pain in her head. She had been awake for several hours, but everything was blurry and dark, until now.
“Where am I?” she asked with a voice drier than cotton. “Who are you?” A sudden urge to cry washed over her. Throbs of pain spread like wildfire through her body, and she gasped. Pain everywhere! As if she’d been beaten with a baseball bat.
A book of poetry. Naomi didn’t know why the man looking down at her was pressing a thin volume of poetry to his chest, but it was the first thing that fueled her hope of staying alive.
“My name’s Jesse,” he said in a hushed voice. He pulled the book from his chest and bent his knees, reaching down to touch her arm. “How are you feeling?”
That was embarrassing.
I have a trainer novel. It's the first novel I ever wrote, and it's a complete and utter mess. I've had it for 14 years now. It comes back to me whenever I take on a new project and wonder if I should be working on the trainer novel instead. This novel has bad prose and a structure that looks like a labyrinth. I thought I was being clever. As you can see from above, I've rewritten this book a bazillion times. Nothing seems to work for the dang thing.
I thought I was being clever every time I wrote this book. I finally participated in NanoWrimo to get this trainer novel out of my head. Now I have another book that I've been working on for 2 years and I can't seem to get anything to work for it, either. I thought I was being clever when I wrote it, too.
We all think we're pretty clever, don't we? Then many of us hand our clever little stories to a reader who is honest and thumps us over the head with reality. "Your prose needs work. Your characters are flat. Your themes are mixed. Your structure is a nightmare. Your dialogue sucks." And what hurts is when more than one person says these things. Or an agent says them. Or someone we admire.
I have a feeling my NaNoWrimo book, which has evolved greatly, is still only a trainer novel. It seems to have the same deep flaws as the other one. So I wrote another novel, a novella, that I'm currently in love with. I think it's clever.
See the pattern here?
My point today is that as writers, we follow patterns we unconsciously set for ourselves. We tend to keep the same deep flaws in our writing, and you know what? I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing over the long run. I'm beta reading a novel right now for a good friend of mine, and I'm impressed with many things and unimpressed by others, just as I am with any piece of writing I pick up. Many people enjoyed my first novel. Nobody has read my 2nd novel. Many people have enjoyed my third novel. Many people will enjoy my fourth one. Perfection isn't attainable and we all have to pick and choose the things we improve upon in our writing. We can only perfect what makes sense to us as the writer.
I'll repeat that.
We can only perfect what makes sense to us as the writer.
All those beginnings you see up there are the result of too many opinions and my feeble attempts at trying to please everyone. Imagine the time - the years(!) I've spent with those attempts. See, I'll bet that most of you like some of those beginnings and dislike others. I'll bet some of you don't like any of them - probably because I never got around to writing the book just for you.
Davin wanted me to put a note here today that lets you all know he won't be around this week. He's at a conference on the East Coast and although he thought he would have internet access there, it turns out he doesn't. He'll be back next Monday. Scott and I will attempt to hold down this fort in his absence...