This weekend I have spent a not insignificant amount of my time researching the following engrossing topics:
- relief maps and rivers of the Ozark mountains
- construction of single story log cabins with a chimney and attic
- zip line harnesses and the weight limits of various carebiners
- the physiological effects of breathing nitrous oxide, and if it appears spontaneously in nature
- diagrams for simply tree houses
I also spent fifteen minutes standing at sink, lighting matches and throwing them in at a set of house keys, counting how long they would burn and checking to see if the keys got hot.
Am I going on an adventure vacation in the mountains of middle America?
No, I am writing a book. Again.
When I was in ninth or tenth grade one of our reading assignments was Lord of the Flies. I hated a lot of the other things we were forced to read, but this was a book I could get behind. I consumed it in a single weekend.
Our final project was to create some sort of derivative work, with the book as our source material – like an interview with one of the survivors.
I loathed this sort of teacher-approvef fanfic assignment. At age thirteen I was already writing fanfic for things I actually cared about and novellas of my own. I was fine with a research paper, but the assignment (and its brethren) felt like the equivalent of assigning us to a chain gang in an attempt to spark creative brilliance. I considered the whole bunch of them to be a waste of my time.
In my orneriness, I decided to protest the assignment via dutiful completion of the best assignment in the class. I would write the correct ending to the book, because (SPOILERS!) most of the little hooligans living through the end was far too precious of an ending. I felt that it spoiled the morally gray original to allow these murderers to be returned to children in the eyes of their rescuers.
(Next on Coffee Talk: The Hunger Games has supplanted Lord of the Flies despite lacking the measured allegory of the latter not only due to its similarly unsentimental look at moral/ethical behavior in young adults, but because it follows the realistic outcome of their actions much wider in society and much farther in conclusion. Discuss.)
I set about creating my groundbreaking and teacher-baiting work of subversive genius. I was a scrawny pre-teen, so I had that angle well-researched. I spent a lot of time tracking the various spears through the book to see where they were and who held them, considered how quickly a forest woud catch fire, and gave some thought to how you could behead a boy with the rudimentary tools the tribe had fashioned.
(In other news, I’m happy I went to high school in a pre-Columbine, pre-9/11 world, because afterward I would clearly be labeled as a dangerous potential murderer and/or terrorist.)
It was a glorious day when I turned in my assignment. It branched perfectly from the existing novel, written in the same style. It ended with the idnelible image of the marines disembarking onto the beach to discover nothing but an idyllic island beach, barren but for a wooden pike bearing Ralph’s head – set against the backdrop of the raging inferno of the forest, from which the screams of Jack’s tribe could be heard all too clearly.
To emphasize this bleak ending, I carefully collaged said image out of a series of clip art as an illustration for my final page.
I got an A, but they might have decided to keep an eye on me for a little while.
I know I’ve mentioned this before in more memorable fashion, but for me the hardest thing about writing a novel continues to be writing what I don’t understand.
I understand talking, so there is plenty of dialog. Once I got my learning permit last winter the driving scenes became much more plentiful.
I managed to keep the characters out of the car for three thousand words this weekend, but when your characters are crashing around the Ozarks in a pitched battle for life and death, every page is a new research project.
As a plus, I am now ready to book a zip-line adventure through America’s deciduous forests!