Revising Leah

December 29, 2008

(A Mobipocket Interlude)

Over the weekend, I made The Spring available as an ebook download at the Mobipocket website. It was a bit of a technical labyrinth, but I got everything figured out, and I think the ebook itself turned out quite nice.

Two things I don’t like about Mobipocket, though. First, I wasn’t allowed to offer the novel as a free download. When I tried to assign a price of $0.00 to the novel, I was told that was “not a valid price”. I ended up charging $0.50 for the book, which may not sound like much, especially compared to 99% of the other books on the site, but there is still a big psychological divide between “free” and any amount of money. “Free” would have gotten me more readers. Fifty cents will mean far fewer readers.

The other thing I didn’t like was that Mobipocket requires the ebook files to be encrypted with DRM. Again, I tried to build an ebook without the DRM and submit that, but the website wouldn’t accept it. DRM is already a discredited technology (the music industry has abandoned it, and just ask the makers of Spore how well their DRM has worked out for them), and assigning DRM to a book strikes me as absurd. There’s no DRM if I check out a book from a library. When I purchase a book at my local bookstore, I don’t have to run the book through some DRM-removing machine before I can walk out of the store with it. Why does there need to be DRM attached to a book that I purchase online? This obsession with “piracy” is so ridiculous, and it runs antithetical to how our civilization has thought about books and knowledge for the last few centuries. I want to encourage people to read my book; I don’t want to tell people that they’re not allowed to read because some middleman hasn’t gotten paid yet.


December 28, 2008

Publishing Through Lulu: Preparations, Part 2

When publishing a book through, you need to come prepared with three documents. In my last post, I discussed one of these: the manuscript of your novel. In this post, I’ll discuss the other two documents: the title/copyright page and the book cover.


The title/copyright document can be made with the same programs you used for the manuscript itself. I’m not sure why Lulu wants this document and the manuscript uploaded separately since they’ll both be joined together anyway. Perhaps it prevents problems with the page numbering, although it is certainly possible, using page breaks, to prevent page numbers from appearing before the first page of text.

Anyway, in this document, you’ll have — at least — a title page and a copyright page. There are other things you can include here, too, such as a table of contents, acknowledgments and dedications, an inner title page — whatever you want. All of these pages will count towards the total page count that you’ll use to determine the size of the book cover and the price of the book.

On the copyright page, you have the usual stuff that you find in any book: title and author, date and place of publication, ISBN number, etc. I have flirted with the idea of applying the Creative Commons license to my work. Since I don’t mind offering my novels for free, perhaps this would be the best way to go. I haven’t had the guts to take the plunge, though. For now, I continue to use a standard copyright.

Book Cover

Like most POD websites, Lulu offers a selection of generic book covers from which to choose, but if you want your book to stand out, you’ll probably want to try designing your own. I’m certainly not an expert graphic designer, but even with my basic skills, I’ve been able to design nice, simple book covers. As with everything else with self-publishing, I find it creatively satisfying do design my own cover. And at least I know I’m going to get a cover I like, as opposed to a cover I don’t like.

Where do you find the imagery? If you’re a talented photographer or artist, perhaps you could use your own work. If you are artistically challenged, like me, the Internet has a wealth of options. There are plenty of stock photo websites where you can purchase images for reasonable prices. Sites like Flickr are options too if you want something really unique, but of course you’ll have to contact and obtain permission from the photographer before you use those images, since most are copyrighted.

If you don’t have the skills to put together something really fantastic, or if your design idea exceeds your ability, you could also hire a professional graphic designer. My book covers are somewhat minimalist, in part because that’s all I’m capable of creating, but also because I don’t want the covers to be too busy. Since I designed the cover for The Spring over a year ago, I’ve paid a lot more attention to book cover designs. Obviously, there are a lot of professionally designed covers that put mine to shame, but I dare say that even my basic design looks better than some covers out there. Again, it’s all a subjective thing. I think my designs are simple and clean, and that’s the look I’m going for.

When designing the size of the cover, you have to be very precise, keeping in mind such things as the bleed around the edges and the width of the spine. Lulu even has a handy spine width calculator to help you out. One important item that you might not be able to add to the cover until later in the process is the ISBN bar code. I’ll discuss that tricky thing in a separate blog post next month.

Like the formatting of the manuscript, designing the book cover will take some time. Be patient, be careful, and be precise. Remember, you want your book to be the best it can be.

Preparations Complete

It’s best to have these three documents complete and ready to go as PDF files before logging in to Lulu to start the publication process. If you have these files ready, then the uploading process should go very smoothly.

My own files for Leah are ready to go. I’m just waiting for the new year to log in to Lulu and get the process rolling. My next post in this topic, then, will be on January 1.

December 13, 2008

The Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:45 pm
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ev0002Another one of the books that Leah Nells reads over the course of the novel arrived on my doorstep the other day. It’s The Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, and here’s how I described it in the novel:

Sitting on top of the notebook was one of the books Mrs. Nells had bought for her daughter at the garage sale the week before. It was titled The Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, and it was just that — a little book, not even 200 pages, that would be easy for her to carry on her first day of school, but it was still long enough that it would provide several days’ worth of reading. Leah didn’t know whether she would find time to read her book today since she didn’t know how busy her classes would be, but knowing that the book would be with her was a comfort. It represented a link to her home: a reminder of the security of her bedroom — something familiar in an unfamiliar place. For now, though, the book sat idle on top of her notebook.

The book is even shorter than I expected — barely 150 pages (Amazon’s website claims that it is 192 pages long, but I don’t know where that number is coming from. The last page of the book is page 156.). It’s just as small as I suggested in the novel, and it is also exactly the kind of book that Leah would read.

This book illustrates something about how I sometimes use Leah’s choice of reading of material to symbolize the mental/emotional states that she is in at different points in the novel. The earthquakes book is perfect for her to read on the first day of school because the first day of school is always a cataclysmic event and because Leah spends much of the day rocked by her own bodily earthquakes: the nervous trembling that grips her from time to time. Indeed, the first sentence of the book could be a metaphor for Leah herself:

However still the Earth’s surface may seem at times, it is actually seething with activity, much of it driven by the intense heat of the inner layers of the Earth.

Leah Nells may seem quiet and dull and uninteresting on the outside, but beneath the surface she’s just as complex and deep as anyone.

Of course, it’s dangerous to interpret too much into my choice of books for Leah to read. Some of them offer more commentary on her character than others, but they’re one of those little details that are easy to miss but which, I think, add a lot to the story.

September 13, 2008

Good Work, Brain!

It’s certainly true that one thinks more clearly after a good night’s rest. When I woke up this morning, the first thought in my head was that I might have made a mistake in how I’ve set up the scene in which Leah and her group present their reports to the class. I was browsing that chapter last night, shortly before I turned in, and I guess my subconscious mind discovered something that my conscious mind had missed.

The problem that my brain discovered is that the order in which the five students present their topics might not be the best or most logical order. Leah’s topic, of course, is the pharaohs. Heather offers a two-and-a-half minute summary of Egyptian history. Melanie has researched the process of mummification, and Alex has drawn some posters illustrating the interiors of the pyramids. I don’t know what topic David’s report covers; it’s never mentioned in the text.

The order in which the five students present is this: David, Heather, Melanie, Leah, Alex. But this morning, when I awoke, I realized that it would make a lot more sense if Melanie’s report followed Leah’s. It makes sense that a team would want to discuss the lives of the pharaohs and then discuss what happened to them after they died.

It’s a minor problem in the text, but it’s a problem which has never occurred to me before. The question that is before me now is whether I’m going to fix it. It would be relatively easy to fix in the sense that I wouldn’t have to rework the plot or anything, but I would have to move several passages and paragraphs around and rewrite a few sentences. The more I think about it, though, the more likely I am to just leave it be. It might be a continuity error It’s not even a continuity error; it’s just a minor oversight on my part. It doesn’t harm the story or the plot. In fact, in the text, the progression of David, then Heather, then Melanie, then Leah provides for a little bit of suspense and tension since Leah has to listen and wait for her partners to read their reports before she can read hers.

So I think I’ll leave this little discrepancy in the text, but kudos to you, My Brain, for calling my attention to it. Keep up the good work!

September 12, 2008

You’re Invited to Dinner With the Nells Family (Things I Like #4)

One scene in the novel that has improved quite a lot compared to the 1996 edition is the scene in which Leah and her family have dinner together the night of the Homecoming football game. Naturally, Leah hasn’t told her parents anything about Homecoming weekend, so they have to find out about it from a TV newscast while they eat. The scene shows how Leah’s parents have adapted to their daughter’s anti-social behavior. They’re able to have a conversation with her without actually having a conversation. It also gives an indication of just how desperate they are that Leah lead a normal life:

As the newscast went to a commercial, the sports anchor appeared on the screen and teased the audience: “. . . and after the break, tonight’s a big night for high school football!” he exclaimed. “A number of teams are playing their homecoming games tonight, including . . .” and he proceeded to list the names of a few schools, including Leah’s.

When she heard the name of her high school, Leah accidentally bit her tongue instead of the food that was in her mouth, and the sharp pain made her wince. Her parents, though, had known nothing about why this weekend was so important until now. Mr. Nells asked his daughter, “Is this your school’s Homecoming weekend?”

Leah nodded and continued to chew. She stared down at her plate and didn’t look at her parents. She didn’t want to answer the flood of questions that she could sense was coming.

“Why didn’t you go to the game tonight?” her father asked. “I could take you if you wanted to go. Jeez, I haven’t been to a high school football game since I was a senior in high school. I’d love to go to one again.” Mr. Nells’ memories of high school, romanticized after almost twenty years, came rushing back to him. “I can still remember my high school’s Homecoming games. Those were always the best, even when our team lost—which happened most of the time!” Leah didn’t look up, but she knew he was smiling. “I know you’re not a fan of football,” Mr. Nells continued, “but that doesn’t matter. I’m sure there will be a whole lot of girls at the game, girls who don’t like football any more than you do”—Leah thought about Heather. She wondered if Heather and David were going to be at the game tonight—“but that’s not why you go to something like that. It’s fun just to attend the event, to be part of a big crowd, to hear them cheer when a touchdown is scored, to hear them chant the school song, or to listen to the marching band play. I’ll bet you’re the only one who’s going to stay home tonight.” The visions his words conjured excited Leah’s imagination. In her mind, she could see the boys in their red and white uniforms running up and down the field; she could hear the excitement of the crowd as a team scored a touchdown; and she could feel the suffocating press of several hundred other spectators all around her; and she imagined David and Heather, standing together in the stands, cheering for the team and celebrating when they scored. “You really don’t want to go?” her father asked again.

Leah shook her head no.

“Well, I personally never cared much for football games,” Mrs. Nells said, trying to take Leah’s side. “But I hated to miss a dance. I think I only missed two dances during all my years in high school.”

“I’ll bet you were quite the socialite back then,” Mr. Nells teased.

His wife laughed, “That’s right, I was!” There was a pause, and Leah kept her eyes shut, fearing her mother would start reminiscing too. Instead, Mrs. Nells asked, “So when is the dance? Saturday night?”

Leah opened her eyes and nodded. Her fork played with the food in front of her. She gently coaxed the food towards the edge of her plate, as if she were encouraging it to get up and run away.

“How come you aren’t going then?” Mrs. Nells asked, ignoring the true reason why Leah would be home alone tomorrow night and on every future dance night. “Aren’t freshmen allowed to go?”

“We’re allowed,” Leah replied.

“Well, you never know,” Mrs. Nells said to her husband. “When I was in high school, freshmen weren’t allowed to attend the Homecoming dance, but I think that was because they held the dance in the school gym and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to attend.”

“I don’t think most schools do that anymore,” Mr. Nells said. “I think most of them hold dances at convention centers or public auditoriums instead of the school gym.”

“Really? That would have been so great if my school had done that. A gym is no place for a dance. Where is your school going to have its dance, Leah?”

Leah honestly didn’t know. She shrugged her shoulders.

“You should have gone,” Mrs. Nells said wistfully. “Didn’t anyone ask you to go to the dance?”

That was what Leah had been dreading. It was the most humiliating question they could possibly ask her. Leah didn’t reply. Instead, she stuffed a forkful of food into her mouth and chewed vigorously. She just wanted to finish her meal so she could excuse herself from the table.

Her silence gave her father a chance to lie to himself. “I’ll bet somebody did. What boy would pass up an opportunity to date a pretty girl like this?”

“He’d have to be blind,” Mrs. Nells agreed, “or maybe just stupid. I’ll bet she had several offers to go to the dance.”

Leah didn’t try to persuade them that the reason why she wasn’t going to the dance was because no boy had asked, especially not the boy she wished would have asked her; she let them believe what they wanted to believe. If they wanted to think their shy daughter had been asked to go to the dance, then she’d let them. If, on Saturday night, they wanted to wait by the windows watching for some Romeo to show up and carry Leah off to a fairy tale land where she wouldn’t be afraid to talk and where she would be surrounded by friends, then that was their choice. Leah, however, had no such illusions. She knew that tomorrow night, while David and Heather and the rest of her class were dancing and laughing and living, she would spend it the same way she spent every Saturday night—alone in her bedroom with a book. While she sat in her room, staring at the blank walls as the minutes passed, David and Heather would be staring into each others’ eyes, hoping that their evening would last forever. They would dance, they would hold each other, and they would kiss. The distance between herself and David would grow wider and more hopeless. Leah looked at her parents, lost in their own fantasies, and decided that the three of them were a pretty pathetic family—but she wasn’t sure who was more pathetic: the dateless girl spending the night of the big dance by herself in her bedroom, or the parents who foolishly believed a boy would arrive on their doorstep with flowers, a limo, and a promise to rescue their daughter from her solitude.

The chapter ends here. I like this ending because it demonstrates that while Leah is inexperienced in a lot of ways regarding social behavior and customs, she is very much aware that the isolated life she leads is not at all normal, and that she’s missing out on a lot of things that her parents and her peers consider important.

August 26, 2008

Leah’s Class Schedule

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 6:16 pm
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Because time is such an important part of the novel, I thought it would be a good idea, for my own purposes, if I spelled out exactly what Leah’s schedule is and identify precisely when she is in each of her classes. A lot of the details about Leah’s high school are generic: the day starts at 8:00 and ends at 3:00, for example.

The novel Leah is set in the same fictional universe as The Spring, so the time schedule below applies to both of my novels. It amazes me that I never needed to create such a schedule when I was preparing The Spring for publication last year. I did have to keep track of what courses my characters in The Spring were taking, but I didn’t need to know when they were in class.

So here it is — it wasn’t easy putting this together:

Leah M. Nells – 9th Grade – Everyman High School*

800-910 1st period (Biology)**
915-1010 2nd period (Algebra)
1015-1110 3rd period (Phys. Ed.)
1115-1200 Lunch
1205-100 4th period (Consumer Econ.)
105-200 5th period (English)
205-300 6th period (World History)

* – Not the real name, although I do like the sound of it. I never do say, in either novel, what the name of the high school really is.

** – The first period is fifteen minutes longer than the other classes because it is also the period assigned for morning announcements.

*** – Five minute passing periods. Hurry!

The 6-class schedule is something I borrowed from my own high school experience. I know that nowadays it isn’t uncommon for high school schedules to have 7 or 8 classes in a day, or sometimes they only have 4 classes in a day if they are on a block schedule.

This post has been edited for precision.

August 25, 2008

The First Day of School

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:04 pm
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I’ve been working on chapter three which, along with chapter four, describes Leah’s first day of high school. I kind of dread the chapter because every time I read it, I feel a nervous tingle, as if I am living vicariously another person’s first day of school. It’s a really weird feeling, and it isn’t what I was trying to do when I first wrote it. I did want to show how nervous Leah is on this day, but I wasn’t trying to necessarily evoke a sense of anxiety from the reader.

One of the things that makes writing or revising a work of creative writing difficult for me is the fact that I work in relative isolation. Just because my writing has an emotional impact on me doesn’t mean that it will have that same or a similar impact on anyone else. I’m curious, then, to know whether the effect it has on me is experienced by anyone else.

To that end, I’ve posted the latest draft of chapter three


If you, Dear Reader (who have perhaps come upon this blog by accident), would care to read through it and let me know in the comments if it inspired any sort of sense of nervousness in you (or not), I’d be very interested to hear about it.

August 16, 2008

Forever Fourteen (Time, Part 2)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:29 pm
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In the second chapter of Leah, I introduce the theme of time. Leah Nells is obsessed with the passage of time, and her obsession is manifested in the form of the books she reads and the bookcase in which she stores them:

. . . Against the fourth wall of the room was a bookcase that Mr. Nells bought for her a year and a half ago to store Leah’s ever-growing collection of books. It was made out of wood and had four shelves. Two of the shelves were filled completely, and a third was only partially filled.

The bookcase was Leah’s favorite part of her room. Sometimes, instead of reading, she would just sit on the floor and stare at the books. It might not have had much significance for anyone else who saw it, but for Leah the bookcase served as a kind of record of her life with each book representing a particular span of time. Leah kept the books arranged in the order in which she had read them so that they served as a sort of calendar, marking the passage of time for the last two or three years. Leah measured her life in pages instead of hours, in chapters instead of days, and in volumes instead of months. The empty space on the third and fourth shelves of her bookcase represented the future, the unknown, the unread books that were to come. The clock on Leah’s desk kept one form of time, and Leah’s books kept a different one.

For Leah, the future is something to be dreaded, something to fear and worry about. In the present, she’s safe: she can still hide from the world in her bedroom and indulge her introverted personality. But the beginning of high school also marks the beginning of the final stage of the long, slow climb towards adulthood, and the older she gets, the closer she will come to the moment when she will have to confront and overcome her shyness. It’s something she doesn’t want to face. For her, the idea of making friends, getting a part-time job, or going away to college seems like an impossible task. She just doesn’t know how to do it.

In the story, Leah’s dread for the future manifests itself in a very significant way when she joins David Parks’ group for the history project. Here, the future that she fears has been assigned a specific date: November 24 (by the novel’s calendar). On that day, two terrible things will happen: she’ll have to stand in front of her class and present her report on the Egyptian pharaohs, and the day will mark the end of her time with David, for whom she has a crush. She tries to embrace the present and savor every fleeting minute that she spends in David’s presence, but there is the constant pressure of the future racing towards her. She’s always aware that time is running out.

For Leah’s parents, the future represents everything that it represents for Leah: adulthood, responsibilities, an end to her shyness. But for them, it is the present which is miserable and the future contains all their hopes for their daughter. Tomorrow she’ll make a friend. Next month she’ll get over her shyness. A year from now she’ll finally be a normal teenager. They can’t wait for the future to arrive, and this difference in what the future means is a point of conflict between the girl and her parents.

In the 1996 draft of Leah, I constantly made note in the narrative of what time it was. I would write that it was 8:15 or noon or 2:57 or whatever. The reason for inserting these details really had almost nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with calling the reader’s attention to this theme of time. As I started revising, I decided to cut most of those little mentions of the time out of the text because most of them just seemed superfluous to me. I felt like I was bludgeoning the reader with the theme instead of trusting that the reader will be able to figure out what I’m doing. I was showing a lack of respect for the reader — never a good idea. Despite these deletions, there are still a few occasions in the text when I do focus on the clock. One example is in chapter 3, before Leah’s first day of high school. She’s nervous about the big day, and in her anxiety she has decided that she needs to leave her house at a specific time, so she’s constantly watching the clock and worrying about the passage of each minute. In a scene like that, I need to call attention to the minutes as they pass, but elsewhere, if it isn’t necessary for me to do that to help the story, then I don’t.

There’s a scene in my other novel, The Spring, in which one of the characters wishes that he could take the moment that he is experiencing and freeze it — in other words, make the moment last forever. In a sense, that is what happens when one tells a story. A story can be retold again and again (and when it is written down, the story can be retold exactly the same way) and so the characters relive their moments of existence every time someone reads them on the page. Sometimes this can seem like something terrible, as when Leah must relive an instant of public speaking again and again, but she also experiences the last page of the novel over and over too. The physical form of the book in which she exists is both her hell and her heaven.

I wonder if it is this ability to manipulate time that attracts me to writing. Like Leah, I’ve always been somewhat obsessed about time, and I’m haunted by the knowledge of my own mortality. Some of my earliest acts of creative writing involved retelling (and fictionalizing) stories from my own personal experience. I’ve always been eager to capture and hold the moments of my life in writing. I guess that urge isn’t uncommon: lots of people take photographs of themselves and loved ones, for instance. I’ve always been uncomfortable with photographs, but I don’t feel uncomfortable with recording my experiences in words. The difference between a photograph and a story, however, is that (despite the advantages of digital photography) a picture is grounded in reality, in what really happened, while a story can be rewritten — it can be revised. Events can be altered and changed at will; happy endings are always possible; heartbreak can be turned into love; dark can be made light; mistakes can be corrected.

And while I am not Leah Nells, and the story of her life is not the story of my own, there is enough of myself (my ideas, my interests, my fears, my misanthropism) in this novel and in The Spring that when my physical self perishes, I’ll leave something behind that was the essence of me. As I live my life and pass through time, the stories are capable of achieving something approaching permanence — something that would be otherwise unattainable to me. I’ll grow old and die, but Leah Nells will be forever fourteen. She’ll escape that future that she fears.

August 9, 2008

Things I Like #1

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 8:26 pm
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Because most of the narrative of Leah occurs from the main character’s point of view, whenever another character crashes into Leah’s sometimes insular world, the effect — at least for me — can be a bit jarring. Leah’s isolation from her classmates doesn’t just make her interactions with her classmates awkward and uncomfortable, but a lot of her fellow students think she’s weird, and this leaves her exposed as a potential target for bullies. As I’m rewriting Leah, I’m also sketching out some rough drafts for my next novel, and as I’ve hinted in a previous post, I’m going to let Leah make a very, very brief “cameo” appearance in the new story. The next novel is set about a year and a half after the events of Leah, and the glimpse that we get of her in that new context is perhaps a little disturbing. It suggests that the teasing and bullying that Leah experiences from time to time in this novel might actually get worse for her.

In this book, though, the most explicit scene of bullying occurs after Leah has already suffered a significant disappointment in her English class. After English, she goes on to world history where she tries to cheer herself up by reading a page or two out of her latest book before class starts, but she’s interrupted:

She had a few minutes of free time available to her so she opened her backpack and removed her new book, 5087 Trivia Questions & Answers. She opened the book to page 49 and began reading where she left off at the end of lunch. She didn’t expect to read very far, maybe only one or two pages, but that didn’t matter. At times like this, reading offered the kind of escape which she needed. She read her book and ignored her the other students as they filed into class. Shortly before the bell rang, she sensed a shadow looming over her, and she heard a husky voice ask, “What are you reading?”

Startled, Leah looked up and found a boy named Kyle standing over her. He was a tall, slightly overweight, aggressive guy who was destined to become a varsity football player in his later years of high school. Leah didn’t like him. He was loud, rude, and intimidating, but what she didn’t understand was why he was standing here beside her when his desk was on the other side of the room.

Leah, still shocked by Kyle’s intrusion, hadn’t answered the boy’s question, and her silence was starting to annoy him.  Kyle pried the book out of the girl’s hands and read the title himself. “5087 Trivia Questions & Answers,” he declared, loudly, so that anyone in the classroom who might be watching could hear him. “What’s this for? Are you trying out for a game show or something?” He laughed and added, “If you do, you’ll have to talk, you know. You can’t just stand there and not say anything.” Still holding the book, he turned around. “Hey Jake!” he shouted across the room to another boy. “Jake! Look at this!” Kyle wanted to show the book to his friend, but the boy named Jake was engaged in a serious conversation with a couple of giggling girls and so Kyle was the last thing on his mind. Meanwhile, Leah was beginning to feel embarrassed as Kyle was determined to make her the center of attention, even though he wasn’t having much success. She wanted to stop him and get her book back, but she didn’t know what to do. Kyle was a lot bigger than she was, and if he was determined to keep the book away from her, he could. She looked in vain for Mr. Simmons, but he was nowhere to be found. She felt helpless.

Frustrated by his failure to attract Jake’s attention, Kyle turned to Leah again. He saw the alarm and desperation on the girl’s face and teased, “What? Do you really want this book back?”

“Give it back to her, Kyle,” said the voice of a boy sitting in a desk somewhere behind Leah.

Kyle, thinking he had finally found an audience, turned in the direction of the voice and said, “Hey, David, check out this book! This girl thinks she’s gonna be on a game show or something.” He opened the book to a random page and asked, “Hey, can you answer this? ‘What did the philosopher Soccerts drink when he committed suicide?'”

“You’re an idiot,” the voice laughed. “It’s pronounced ‘Socrates,’ not ‘Soccerts’. Simmons talked about him just last week. Weren’t you paying attention?”

Kyle stared at the book in his hands. “Oh,” he said flatly. A few of Leah’s classmates, who were now-at last-paying attention to Kyle, started laughing.

“Now give her back her book,” the voice commanded.

Kyle hesitated for a moment, but then he handed the book to Leah without saying another word. He left her desk and returned to the other side of the room just as the bell rang and Mr. Simmons, who had missed the scene, entered the class, and, unaware of what had just occurred, asked everyone to take a seat so he could call roll. Leah turned around to face the voice who freed her book from Kyle’s grasp. In the row to her right, sitting two seats back, was the boy named David . . .

This, of course, also marks the first appearance of David in the novel. Leah’s moment of humiliation turns into the start of something more exciting. But for me, what I like most in this scene is Kyle’s bullying of Leah and what that suggests about her character’s life at school outside the narrative bounds of the story.

August 5, 2008

I’m a Poet

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:08 pm
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Reading the story out loud makes me aware of little quirks in the text, such as unintentional rhyming:

She could smell the exhaust of the school buses lined up in the bus depot just a few yards away. She could feel a light breeze on her skin and the warm morning sun, rising in the east, ready to begin this late August day.

But so far, the biggest surprise has been chapter 2. I start the novel, in chapter 1, by jumping right into the action, following Leah and her mother as they shop at garage sales. In chapter 2, though, I violate one of the cardinal rules of storytelling by slowing the story down with narrative exposition that fleshes out Leah’s character a bit more. It isn’t all narrative in chapter 2, though. The last few pages of the chapter find Leah eavesdropping on a conversation between her parents. Their conversation offers a little more exposition, but it’s not so bad because exposition through characters’ dialogue is almost always a better option than exposition through narration. Leah is a difficult character to write about, though, because although the narrative follows her throughout every chapter of the book (possible exception: chapter 17 at David’s house) she rarely speaks, so I can’t use her dialogue with other characters as the vehicle to deliver exposition, especially in the beginning, because the character doesn’t even speak at all until chapter 3 (page 20, to be precise) — and even then she only utters six words.

With Leah, I’m forced to construct her character and her story through narrative exposition and description. Dialogue just isn’t an option most of the time. So as I started re-reading chapter 2, I was worried that it wasn’t going to be very good — that there would be too much exposition, but I was very surprised by how well it sounded as I read the chapter out loud. I’ve done a lot of revising work with that chapter in the first two cycles, and that work seems to have paid off. I even thought that some of the narrative sounded vaguely poetic in places (in a good way). Here’s an example:

Her books were like her friends. She always had a book with her when at home or at school. Whenever she had a free moment, she would read. When she was finished with her homework, or didn’t have any chores to complete, she would read. During lunch at school, while her classmates talked and socialized, Leah would sit by herself and read. Like a young child clutching a favorite doll, Leah always made sure to have a book with her.

Overall, I’m happy with how the chapter has turned out. When I read through it, I made hardly any changes to the text, which means that it’s a little further along than even chapter 1 which I’ve been working on quite a lot lately.

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