Monday, November 06, 2006


My dear friend, Mystic Wing, recommended that I try to explain the structure I'm envisioning for my NaNoWriMo novel, Layers of the Onion. The stories I've been posting have been from that novel, as most of you know. It's kind of complicated to explain, but I'm pretty sure it will work when I get all the stories together. Here goes with an attempted explanation:

The front story is that the narrator, Meredith (who has much of my own story) and four women (Ruth, Carolina--Ro, Sarah, and Lynne) meet while waiting for airplanes. To Meredith, whose world is in shambles at the moment, they all seem perfect as they exchange very polite conversation and the surface, simple stories of their lives. As the wait drags on, bit-by-bit, each woman reveals more of herself and more of her true, deep stories. Each is struggling with something big, and in the end, although we won't know what anyone decides or how things turn out, we will see that each is strengthened by the sharing they experience, each heads off to her destination with the realization that everyone has challenges and that hers are manageable if she keeps faith with herself.

Each chapter will be anchored by the airport conversation and then spin off into a third person story of one of the women that's somehow sparked by the stories being shared in the airport. The third person stories will rotate from one woman to another until everyone's stories have played out. The ending I have in mind is pretty close to what happened to me in an airport one morning. It makes me cry just thinking about it. Very powerful.

Anyway, with all that in mind, here's today's story. It will fit into the center of Ruth's story from yesterday. After posting that snippet, I realized we needed to see why Ruth loves Fred so much she can't or won't take Phoebe and run for their lives. LIke so many women who stay in relationships with alcoholics, that's what she grew up with, what she knows. That's her backstory.

One last thing--I'm fascinated with the way the story is unfolding itself in my mind, with the process of it all. I've heard so many, many writers talk about how the characters surprised them, how they take over the story at some point. Oddly enough, that's beginning to happen to this non-fiction writer finding herself through fiction. Yesterday Ruth "told" me she's a music teacher. I hadn't known what her profession would be. Just sort of accidently (I know, I know--there are no accidents), I had used the words "You take my breath away," in dialogue between Ruth and Phoebe. When on a walk along a river near my house yesterday, the idea jumped into my head that Ruth and Phoebe would have a kind of game between themselves of using song titles in conversation and then the other one coming back with another . The songs have to be germain to the conversation and the game is to fit them in context. They'll use songs from the 40's and forward, they'll use country, jazz, pop--the whole gamut. Of course, that led to realizing that Ruth is a music teacher. These are not ideas that I had. They're realizations I came to, as though Ruth and Phoebe always were these people and have been waiting patiently for me to figure it out.

As Ro would say, Lawd mi Gawd, what a miracle!

I'm starting here a bit before Ruth's backstory, so you can see how the game works. Sure would appreciate any comments or suggestions about this. Think it works? No? Better way to go at it? Fill up that comment box, friends. I feel like you're the village and LOTO is the child we're raising together. God bless each of you and fill your lives with the same sort of grace you're sharing with me.


“Oh, Sweetheart. ‘You Take My Breath Away,’” Ruth said.

“Good one, Mom.” Humming Queen’s new song under her breath, Phoebe pulled a rickety chair to the center of the room and stepped onto the seat. The chair wobbled, nearly throwing her to the floor. One of the plastic slides was missing, which made one leg shorter than the others. “Dad said he'd fix this!”

“He’s been real busy, Honey. Hold still." Ruth reached into the old fishbowl on the counter and pulled out a matchbook from the Pale Moon to put under the short leg.

“Yeah, real busy. Busy “Throwing It All Away.” Phoebe snorted, then began dancing and singing, channeling Phil Collins.

Just throwing it all away.
Yes, throwing it all away.
There’s nothing I can say.
We’re throwing it all away.

“Not funny.” Phoebe's singing fell off to humming. “Do you want me to do this or not? If you do, stand still.” Ruth had so hoped they could have a peaceful evening. She had a pot of chili on the stove and a plate of cheese and crackers waiting on the counter. Now they’d spent so much time arguing that Phoebe probably wouldn’t have time to do anything more than shimmy into her cheerleading uniform before she left for the bonfire. Ruth planned to hem the dress while Phoebe was at the ballgame and have it pressed and ready by the time Phoebe and her boyfriend, Dell, came home to change for the dance.

Ruth knelt in the floor, pushed the matchbook under the short leg, and stationed the pincushion beneath her right hand. She folded up a sizable hem before she noticed Phoebe’s feet were bare. “Nice toenail polish, Pheebs, but you’ve got to wear shoes or the hem won't be right.”

Phoebe slapped her forehead with the heel of her right hand in a pretty good imitation of Bart Simpson. “Duh!"

Ruth hated The Simpsons, hated the “Duh” thing, but decided to let it slide for once. They were so close to getting through the evening in one piece.

“Hang on,I’ll grab ‘em.” Phoebe leaped gracefully from the chair and dashed down the hall toward her room, still holding the dress in both hands.

While she was gone, Ruth traced the lines in the old, faded linoleum with a straight pin, thinking back to her senior year and the way Fred had been. Things were so different back then.


Eleanor Petrovski was better than a telegraph, better than a party line. Once she got hold of a story or a piece of information, she wore it like a fancy new hat designed to draw attention to herself. Well, I never! Walter Campbell stumbling out of the Pale Moon. Thought he was on the wagon. Fell off, I reckon. Suppose Nellie Peterson knows? Better stop by on my way home.

Eleanor turned the car toward Nellie’s house, where she was sure to get a warm welcome and maybe a piece of peach pie, if she was lucky.

Nellie had hardly gotten the tea on before Eleanor broke the news. “You’ll never believe what I seen, not half an hour ago,” she began.

“Try me.” Nellie was hungry for gossip, anxious for something juicy to break up the long dreary days of cooking and cleaning up after her husband and three boys.

“Well. . .”

The slam of the front door interrupted Eleanor. Glancing up, she recognized Fred, Nellie’s oldest boy, coming in from the hay field. It’s just Fred. Eleanor went right back to her story. “Walter Campbell just left the Pale Moon. Practically fell down the steps on his way out, and screeched out of the parking lot like a cat with his tail on fire.”

“Can’t be! Walter’s on the wagon. Ain’t he?” Nellie exclaimed.

“Not anymore, he ain’t. Smelled like a brewery when he stumbled past my car.”

The front door slammed again, and when Eleanor glanced up, she saw Fred’s back disappearing down the porch steps.

“What got into him?” she asked.

Nellie watched the dust cloud recede down the dirt road "He's sweet on the Peterson girl. No one in that family gets on very good when Walter’s in his cups. You sure he was drunk? “

“Sure's I can be. . . .”

Fred accelerated into the curves, holding the Olds on as straight a line as possible with its wonky steering. Ruth’s gonna need me.

When he reached the Peterson house, Walter’s car was parked out front, and Fred knew better than to go in. Instead, he drove straight to the old schoolhouse and plopped himself on the old merry-go-round to wait. There were two wooden merry-go-rounds in the schoolyard, and Fred liked the red one better than the white. It was smaller, turned faster, and didn’t have the safety rails of the white one. Made it easier to ease Ruth onto her back, where he could lie beside her. He knew she’d be here as soon as she could get out of the house. If she didn’t show up soon, he’d sneak into her yard as soon as it got dark. He felt better when he stayed where he could hear what was going on and could help if her father started hitting on her. He often imagined breaking down the door and carrying her out of that place, away from the drinking and the screaming and the pain, but so far Ruth had convinced him it would only make things worse in the long run.

Fred was thinking about all this when Ruth slipped onto the merry-go-round and settled herself under his right arm.

“Thought you’d be here. How’d you know?” she asked.

“Two guesses and the first three don’t count.”

“Eleanor Petrovski,” they whispered in unison.

Fred wrapped his arms around Ruth and drew her head onto his chest. “How bad was it?” He hated hearing about her father’s meanness but understood Ruth’s need to talk.

“He's gonna kill us someday. I just know it,” Ruth whispered.

“I’ll never let that happen. You turn 18 in few weeks. After we're married, no one will ever lay a hand on you again." Fred leaned back and back and back until he was lying flat on the dirty red boards with Ruth on top of him. She curled into him and rested her chin on the top of his shoulder.



“This" Ruth said, patting Fred's chest. "is the safest place in the world."


Anonymous said...

Great overview of the story——could make the seeds of a submission letter someday.

It's great that your characters have begun to surprise you. Keep looking for this stuff, and look especially for the things they wouldn't want anyone to know about themselves.

And it's okay to "violate" your characters gently by going into their heads. They'll trust you to handle their thoughts with respect.

Prema said...

Wow. Amazing how the flood gates open. Through the weave of the stories I really get your passion. It's great to see you allowing it all to come forth.

~NanCourt~ said...

So, so good....but check the names. I think you have her called a Peterson while Ruth was still a Campbell. (where momma says he is sweet on her) Not nit-picking....just used to proofing Daughter's English papers from becomes pathological.
You know I love it and can't wait for more!!

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Thanks for this background, very helpful! I'm so glad you've found that magical point where the story starts writing itself! That means you're in perfect alignment with the Universe! Yea!

BTW, ever get those prayer flags?

Ziji Wangmo said...

Great story - I'm so impressed of your efforts to write a novel in a month -way cool.

Suzy said...

Although I knew the story, the background was even much more of an eye opener. Don't you just love when the words DON'T stop flowing?
Keep up the amazing work,....