Saturday, November 22, 2014

There should probably be a commemorative coin

Welcome to the 200th Island of Misfit Toys post! Who knew that the Island would make it this far? Who knew people other than my mother would read it and enjoy themselves? I'm glad that so many of you have stuck with me for the last few years and enjoyed visiting my little corner of the world. It means a lot to me that there are so many loyal readers and so many people who stumble upon this little world when searching for things like "Andrew McCarthy bobbleheads" or "hobo symbols." The Internet is a strange and wonderful place.

Many of you know that I'm currently participating in National Novel Writing Month. It's almost over (which is crazy) and I'm about 5K words away from hitting the goal and about 6K words away from being done with the novel. In the novel my protagonist, Harper, gets assigned a pen pal in the fourth grade. This is the most important thing to happen in her young life and it's "ruined" by the fact that the pen pal ends up being a boy. She does not want to write to a boy and tries to get her teacher to change her assignment. Her teacher refuses and presents this as a challenge to the young girl. She encourages Harper to be herself and not worry so much about the boy/girl aspect of her potential new friendship. Harper stubbornly agrees with her teacher and writes the boy, Ben, her first letter. Of course, they become friends. They talk to each other about all manner of things from music to movies to books to how to ask someone to a dance. They grow up together. However, adolescence happens and eventually, Ben stops writing to Harper. The second half of the novel is about reconnection and how we figure out which people in our lives are supposed to be the people in our lives.

The fictional universe that I've created shares some similarities to the real universe where I reside. It's hard as a beginning writer to not rely on what I know and my experiences when I create a character or a place. There is that old adage to "write what you know" and I think there is truth in that statement. I can still challenge myself even in that familiarness to try new things and to think about events and relationships differently than I do in real life. I can also thank the technology gods that Google street view exists. When I was writing about a trip to see CBGB's and Max's Kansas City, I could look at the street view image and describe the sadness of seeing iconic landmarks disappear (at least in name and clientele). It wasn't as good as being there in person but it worked for what I need to accomplish.

The inspiration for the novel came from two places: a reconnection with an elementary school friend on Facebook and the Jack White concert I went to back in September. Facebook is a lot of things but at the end of the day it is supposed to be about connection to people. I've kept in touch with former students, friends around the world, and my very awesome colleagues. I've enjoyed reconnecting with friends from elementary school; it's cool to be able to see the people they've become and their families. After this friend sent me a friend request I started to think back to all the fun we had at slumber parties and in school. It was so easy to make friends back then; I don't know why that stops when you get older. I was thinking about this while brushing my teeth one morning and the idea of Harper and her pen pal popped into my head. I had the first chapter mapped out by the time my hair was dry and I was dressed. I couldn't write it yet but the idea was there. Who are the people who are supposed to be in our lives? Do they only come back to us when we need them? I don't really have the answers to these questions but I thought maybe my characters would. It's a good thought.

A Jack White concert is not where I expected to get the second idea for the novel but it's where it happened. I was sitting at Merriweather listening to him plow through a killer set and the novel came back to me. What if her pen pal was famous but she didn't know that it was him and they meet again? What would happen to them? How does fame change the way we think about our friends? Would we want that person back in our lives especially if we felt they had wronged us? Shouldn't people always use their rock star powers for good?

I know that I'm a lucky person. I have some really amazing people in my life. They come in and out at odd times and appropriate times and unexpected times. They connect me to places and times in my life that are both wonderful to recall and painful to remember. Harper will have to decide if the errant rock star is worthy of being in her life or if their time together has passed. I don't actually know yet which option she will choose. I have five thousand words and nine days left to figure it out.

Coming soon to the Island: The conclusion of NaNoWriMo, a return to Lazy Movie Weekends, and we discuss how I'm doing everything wrong when it comes to holiday shopping. 

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