And it’s Sam for the win!
I did drink whiskey last night, two shots of it. (Jameson’s, if you like fine detail.) I also had a heart-to-heart with Sam, discussing his motivation and the problematic lack of plot he was giving me. I do this with something that is basically auto-writing, which is pretty woo, but gets the job done. Anyway, we sussed out that the biggest block is that his internal struggles are the same as one I’m currently wrestling pretty consciously, which was part of the problem. Once I was aware of that resistance, I was able to face it more directly and use some of those handy soothe-yourself tips from talk therapy, and away we were. Now all that was left was to find some plot.
This story started out as a lark: one day at our local co-op, I heard the openly gay stocker say to a checker, "That delivery guy was hot." For some reason it banged around in my brain, and at the time I was trying to think of something I could write for , whom I’d just started talking to about writing a short for his magazine. But while the story started out nicely, it quickly became too long, and it seriously lacked some conflict. It was during that attempt where I realized how hard it is for me to write short, and I set the story aside as a failed experiment. But I kept wandering back to it, because I liked it, and I thought it could work. The conflict never showed up, however, and I quickly ran myself into a wall.
It’s sat mouldering for a year, and I picked it up because I needed something shorter to work on in July and August, and because it’s always been a favorite of Dan’s. Last week it did so well, and I thought, maybe, I had it. But no matter how I shoehorned in antagonists, nothing would stick for conflict. Sam was as shiny as ever, and he and Mitch could still light the sheets like nobody’s business, but I could NOT get the thing to take shape. And so this is what I fought with in my weird little autowriting session. I knew I wanted Sam to run away. That had come up in the most recent draft, and I really liked it. And even though I am now in a real rut with sending characters to California from the Midwest, I did it anyway, because I realized I could send Sam on my vacation, except in a big rig instead of a Mazda.
(If you know anyone who drives or has driven or simply knows a lot about driving heavy loads across country and won’t pitch a hissy when they find out this is research for an m/m novel, please holler.)
Sam needed a reason to go, though, and Mitch needed a reason to take him. A real fly in the ointment was Sam’s mother. He loves his mother, and she’s not particularly healthy and immobile, so he would not be eager to leave her, even though I have her in assisted living. He would not run away with his mother close by. We tried moving her to California or some point west, but then we couldn’t figure out why Sam wouldn’t be there already, with her. In the end, we had to get rough: we killed her. So far I’m pretty sure she had MS, which was bad enough, but then contracted cancer. She’d been expected to live, then didn’t make it. I’d say cancer is cliche, but from the people I know who have watched love ones suffer and die from it, the cliche is far from over. Plus, it fits what I need: something she could fight but not win. Something she could fight a long time, then still die from, something Sam couldn’t help, and most importantly of all, something that could take her from him in horrible pieces.
Now Sam is living with his aunt, which he has been for some time, but since he was eighteen, he’s been doing so without his mother there as well. He has the "basement apartment," which is to say he is simply living in the basement with the spiders and an outside entrance. His aunt dislikes him, and he dislikes her right back, but until he’s through with college, they’re stuck with each other. He’s at the local community college getting his nursing degree, but as his aunt is making him work off his tuition part time at his uncle’s pharmacy, it’s taking longer than he’d like. Aunt Sharon has never liked that Sam is gay, but now that he’s "flaunting it" by bringing guys over, she’s actively telling him that this isn’t going to happen under her roof. It’s this in part that drives him to return the unexpected flirtations of the new delivery man who drops off an order while he’s in the stock room, but it’s the surveillance footage of his alley altercation that sends his aunt over the edge. She fires him from the pharmacy and tells him he’s moving out. She’s threatened this before, but Sam knows this time she means it. To have his housing and his schooling paid for, he’s going to have to conform to his aunt’s idea of who he should be, and he’s not having any part of it. He packs up a few necessities and walks out of the house, coming back only to dump his mother’s ashes out of the urn and into a plastic tub to take along. He’s going to take his mother on the trip west they always said they were going to take. He’ll dump her ashes in the Pacific once he gets there, and once he’s done that, he’ll decide what he’s going to do next. He sets off towards the interstate, and when he decides to hitchhike, it’s the same delivery guy who pulls over to give him a ride.
I’ve got some issues of convenience there in the last, but I’m ignoring the flaw because I finally have a working plot. Sam has a goal, at least, and stuff can happen along the way that is conflict-y. If I’m able to make it less deus ex machina later, I will. Or I’ll let it be. At any rate, I’m in the game.
The plot stuff helped, but as always it was the music that really brought me home. In fact, it was the music that finally gave me the tone I was looking for. I just cannot do light and fluffy. Not on any level. I don’t like emo angst, but I can’t do quirky funny, either. So wherever that is, that’s what I am. But the music is always what saves me, and it took some hunting to find it. I scoured my hard drive–I mean, I really, really searched it–and while I found a few more songs, I needed a movie or TV soundtrack, or some album without words. Something consistent that would give me a background tone. So even though I knew I could not buy anything, I went to iTunes, because I had nothing else to do until I was able to write. I scored the store, feeling frustrated but relieved, too, when nothing worked there, either. And then, all of a sudden, I found this.
The Partition is some movie which I have never heard of and don’t even know anything about, except that its soundtrack is by Brian Tyler, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I can see using this for some Etsey stuff, too, because of the middle-eastern flavor, but the sound is overall transcendent. "Tears of Joy" was the song that broke open the story for me, and I saw all the important bits, with both plot and tone this time. And I will tell you, I cried my idiot head off. This story definitely has some knives in it for me, but I think I’m going to heal a bit along with Sam. So that’s okay. And once again, I’ve tried to write a funny, sexy story, and I’m going to end up writing a serious, bittersweet story that is just going to happen to be sexy. Well, okay then.
I also ended up buying the whole album. I tried not to. I bought another album, too, something about a hole in the paper sky. No idea what that one’s about, either, but it’s good supplement. Short, but good. And it worked, because I was able to write almost 3000 words. Which is more than I’ve written collectively all week.
So, sorry, . Sam’s going to get his moment after all. But don’t worry, TB is next.
I missed Tuesday, but here’s a teaser anyway, because I’m just so damn glad I got something to work at last. This is the first half of the scene. It’s not the start of the story, and it’s just a first draft, but it was the way in, and I’ll take it.
Sam didn’t slam the door to the basement, but only because he knew his aunt expected it, and he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. Instead he stormed around his room, picking things up randomly and thrusting them back down with great force and without even seeing what he held. It wasn’t until he heard a crack and shatter that he stopped and looked at what he held, and then he was heartsick as he saw that he’d broken the wing off the angel figure his mother had given him the Christmas before she died.
He fumbled with it, trying to wedge it back in place until he could get some glue, but he’d slammed it too hard; the porcelain crumbled at the contact, and the more he tried to put it back in place, the more he ground away. He pressed it hard for another minute, as if his rage alone could put it back in place, but it was as impotent here as everywhere else. With a soft, ragged sigh, he let the wing clatter back to the top of his dresser. He stood there for a long time, staring at it, hating it, aching for it, alternately wanting to throw the whole thing against the wall or clutch it desperately to his chest and sob.
Then, without consciously deciding to do so, he was moving.
He made a slow but steady circuit of the room, pausing only occasionally to touch something, and even more rarely, pick it up. By the time he came to the bed, he was holding a scrapbook album, a leather necklace strung with beads, his cell phone, and his iPod. He laid them down on the coverlet, then went back for his chargers, and then, after some hesitation, his laptop. He backtracked to the bookshelf, hesitating very hard over his comics. In the end he left them all, but it made him feel sick, knowing there was a good chance she’d sell them, or worse still, throw them away. He’d have to have Emma come over and take them. His chest hurt a little at the thought of Emma, but he didn’t let himself dwell on her. Emma couldn’t help him. She’d just tell him to stay, and he couldn’t. Not anymore.
Clothes were easy. He was wearing one pair of jeans, so he took one more, and then two pairs of shorts. Selecting t-shirts could have been as hard as the comics, but pulling out his favorites took him up to eight, and he decided that was a decent number to take along. Then it was just socks and underwear, and a pair of sandals. He ended up leaving the laptop because it wouldn’t fit, and because it was too heavy. But he stuffed it under the bed, so she’d think he took it. He’d have Emma grab that, too.
He went back up the stairs instead of out through his door, because they’d see him walk past the den—he had to use the front door, if he wanted to get out without a confrontation. His heart was beating fast as he slipped into the hall, but though he could hear his aunt and uncle in the den, no one said anything when the front door opened, and no one chased him down. Either they didn’t hear, or they didn’t care. He couldn’t decide if he was upset or relieved.
Sam hadn’t even gone through the gate, though, before he was back again, moving very quietly now as he went into the living room. He considered the mantle for a moment, then dropped his backpack in a chair and hurried into the kitchen. When he came back, he had an empty plastic food container in his hand, which he opened as he approached the small, lavish urn on the narrow shelf. With great care, he set them both down on the brick before the fireplace, opened the urn, and dumped the contents into the plastic tub.
His hands shook while he poured, but once he sealed the container shut, he felt calm again, and he recapped the urn quickly, then placed it back in place above. To get the container into his pack, he had to lose two t-shirts, and these he stuffed into the bottom of a decorative, open-mouthed vase in a corner. Then he put his pack back on and left. He left his car in the drive and just kept walking, down the street, around the corner, moving as quickly as he could from the house.
Where exactly are you going? The little voice in the back of his mind sounded a bit like his mother. He ignored it, because he didn’t know. Out of there, that’s where he was going. And out of Middleton. It felt good just to declare that, and he marched with some purpose into a gas station. He went to the ATM, took out as much as it would let him from his account, and bought as many non-perishable snacks as he could stuff into his pack. Then, with a liter bottle of water sloshing in his hands, he headed out towards the highway.
Out. He was getting out.
The thought carried him all the way out of town and several miles down the road. Several cars honked at him, and he was afraid a few recognized him and would stop, but no one did. It occurred to him, then, that one of them might call his aunt and uncle and tell them which, as he’d turned off his cell phone, would bring them out after him. But no one came, not then, and not for the next hour as he walked on and on and on. When the highway met the interstate, he paused at the top of the overpass, he stopped. Staring down at the road below, the doubts he’d tried to leave behind in Middleton caught up with him.
Where was he going, with a handful of possessions, two hundred dollars, and his wounded pride? Des Moines? He glanced east, then felt the no resonate like a sonic boom inside him. No, damn it, he wasn’t running away to Des Moines. But where, then? Omaha? How was that better than Des Moines? Kansas City? Who the hell ran away to Kansas City? New York? He dismissed that as quickly as he had Des Moines. No, New York would eat him alive. Chicago? Minneapolis? Both those were logical, possibly even smart, especially Minneapolis. But they felt as wrong as everything else.
West, the voice whispered. Go west.
Sam stood at the rail and looked out over the interstate, lifting his hand to shield his eyes against the setting sun. West. He shifted his pack on his shoulder, suddenly conscious of the plastic container full of ashes he carried inside. The old dream. When I’m better, we’ll take you out of school and take a nice, long trip west. We’ll see the Grand Canyon and the mountains, and the desert, and the ocean. We’ll go together, Sam, when I’m better. But she hadn’t gotten better, of course, so they’d never gone.
You could go now.
The sun was so bright Sam could barely look at it. It cast the road in a pallor, making the shadows of the cars and trucks that drove upon it so long they seemed to go on forever. It glared over the rim of the world, over the last hill that Sam could see as the interstate wound its way to Omaha and beyond. Could he really go? Just like this? He’d have to hitchhike, obviously, at least to Omaha, where he could probably catch a bus. He wondered how much a bus to Denver would be. Denver. That sounded okay. He could get to Denver, then get a job, and save up to get . . . somewhere else. He should have brought the car, though. He’d need one. Well, he’d make do without, and save up, and buy a clunker, and then continue on, until he’d gotten all the way to California. His heart began to warm a little. And he’d scatter his mom’s ashes on the way, so that she got to take the trip, too. Then he’d set her free into the Pacific. And then . . . then he’d decide what came after that, once he’d gone that far.
It was a plan, and it felt like a good one. A little danger. A little adventure. A little romance. He smiled to himself, and he hitched the straps of his backpack higher as he headed back towards the onramp, heart pounding now in excitement more than apprehension. He’d seen people hitch before: you stood on the ramp, near the top, but not too far down, and you stuck out your thumb. This way they could still pull over and not cause trouble on the interstate itself, but you knew for sure they were planning on using it. And he didn’t have to stick out his thumb for everyone. If they looked shady, he’d just act like he was walking on purpose. Head back up the ramp, he amended, in what he thought was a brilliant stroke. If they asked what he was doing, he could gage them even better, and if he didn’t like them, he could brush them off, saying he was walking back to a friend’s house. It would work. It would be great.
An hour later he wasn’t so sure. Eight cars had passed, and he’d stuck his thumb out for all of them, but nobody had stopped. He was muddy now, too, and covered with burrs, because at one point a state trooper came by on the interstate itself, and he’d leapt into the ditch so he wouldn’t be seen. This plan was not working, and it was starting to get dark. What was he supposed to do? He couldn’t walk the interstate. Then he would get arrested. He would not go home.
He could, though, he acknowledged, call Emma. Emma would come and get him. Of course, Emma wouldn’t let him go.
Another half hour later, though, as he night began to press on him in earnest and still no one had stopped, he was starting to wonder if maybe Emma wasn’t right.
Sam actually had his cell phone in his hand when the unmistakeable sound of a big truck breaking and shifting gears made him pause. He looked up and saw a great hulk of a semi coming down onto the ramp, lights blazing. It was a huge semi, one with a great big sleeping compartment on the back of it, and it was full of lights, from the running boards to the trailer itself. As avenging angels went, it was a bit nonstandard, but Sam was desperate enough to try. Besides, he thought, his blood heating in memory, his last encounter with a trucker had been pretty good. And to his great relief, once the rig has passed him, it slowed and pulled off to the side.
Too bad Aunt Sharon didn’t kick me out when this could have been Mitch, he thought, regretfully, as he hurried towards the truck. But when the driver stepped out and the lights of the rig revealed his face, Sam stopped short.
It was Mitch.