The Evolution of a NaNo Idea

So Jam says she’s going to do NaNoWriMo this year. Me? I hadn’t really thought about it. We talk about writing, about just doing it. She shows me a publisher that’s looking for YA novels, specifically ones targeted at boys. Length? 30-40K. Hmm. That’s short. A 50K NaNo, edited, would be the perfect length. Too bad I don’t have a boy-oriented story in mind.

I think, if I did NaNo, I’d want it to be something completely fresh. At the same time, I think, why would I want to start another new story when I already have so many started, so many in need of finishing. Then, in Friday’s newspaper, I read about Joel Libin. He was 17 when he was randomly attacked by 3 people four years ago. He was critically injured, in a coma. When he came out of it, he had to relearn everything. Physically, he’s almost back to where he was before the accident, but he suffered permanent brain damage. Still, he managed to complete high school, has taken up running marathons, and is back playing golf.

So I’m thinking about writing a NaNo after all. I’m letting stuff bubble around in my brain. Newton’s Law pops into my consciousness. I’ve always wanted to title a story “Newton’s Law”. You know, as in Newton’s first law of motion: An object at rest will remain at rest and an object in uniform motion in a straight line will maintain that motion unless an external resultant force acts on it. (I knew I kept my physics textbook for a reason.) We watch Adaptation on Saturday night. (Aside: Loved it! erm, how many times have I said there are two kinds of writers? I about died when I realized what the movie was about. The ending was hysterical. Anyhoo.) So John tells Susan about the car accident, that his wife almost died, and when she got well, she left him. And she says that she thinks if she almost died, she’d leave her husband too. It’s like a free pass, she says. No one can say anything, because you almost died.

I’m on the B-Line, on my way to school. I picture a boy, doing the same. I see the bus as my framework, the structure for the story. The boy’s mother has been his primary caregiver since he was critically injured in a random attack 3 years ago. His physical injuries healed in about a year, but he’s suffered permanent brain damage. He had to relearn everything from walking to talking. She’s finally allowing him to do some things on his own. He’s finally *ready* to do things on his own. But she’s scared. She makes it a rule that he has to check in every two hours; if he doesn’t, she calls him. He’s not allowed to turn his phone off, so he has it on vibrate. He doesn’t think about breaking his mother’s rules; he needs the structure.

Each day he’ll go out to the university and back home. He’s going to use the gym or the pool. His physiotherapist has given him exercises to do. He likes the university gym/pool where there are people his own age around. When he goes to the public pools during the day, it’s all old people and moms with little kids. He feels like they’re staring at him. Maybe they are. He wears his hair stubbly short, so his scars show. They would mostly be hidden if he grew it out, but he doesn’t.

In order to graduate from high school, he’s been taking one class at a time by correspondence with the help of tutors. He has one class to go before he has enough credits to get his high school diploma. He needs a science credit if he wants to leave the option to go to university open. His parents encourage this. He chooses physics, because it seems the simplest science to learn without a classroom.

Before the incident, he was an all-round good student, but somewhat stronger in left-brained, analytical stuff. After, it’s all switched around. When he was at the rehab center, his OT wrote his name on a piece of paper, then set the pen down on the table and asked him to copy it. He picked the pen up and tried. His mom and the OT stared at him. Reason: he used his left hand. Before, he was right-handed. Now, not so much. He also starts to draw, something he never did before. He sees things differently. The lines and shapes of people on the bus. He notices things he wouldn’t have before. (Note: jot down one thing from the bus each day to use in story.)

It’s fall. He’s arranged to meet his tutor at the library. Koerner. But the first day, he’s early, so he has some time to kill. He’ll pluck a book off the shelf. He’ll read some every day while he waits, then replace the book on the shelf. It’ll take him a long time. Reading is hard now. (What’s the book? Something mid-20th C, with compelling boy-characters, but not a YA book. I’m thinking East of Eden.) One day he goes to pull down his book and it’s gone. He freaks out, starts tearing books off the shelf, causes a scene. Librarians try to kick him out, call security. His tutor arrives to rescue him, explain to the librarians. Later, she buys him a copy of the book from the bookstore so he can finish it.

His mother is patient and caring, but she clearly has expectations. She constantly reminds him of how he used to be with her “almost” and “so close” comments; she means to be encouraging, indicate how well he’s doing, but to him it only rubs in how different he is now. And there’s something else.

He’s recovered most of his memory, but several weeks prior to incident are gone and several months prior to that are a jumble. As he rides the bus, stuff triggers the jumbled bits. He’s still piecing together who he was before. He’s realizing he wasn’t exactly the person his parents/teachers/etc. have led him to believe: the golden boy, destined to follow in his dad’s footsteps. That there was another side of him, a darker side that he didn’t let them see.

One day he freaks out at his mom wanting him to be like he was. He has a short attention span, flashes of uncontrollable anger, short term memory loss. Biglaw is out of the question. Drives him crazy the way she uses his name, because he can tell she equates the name with the person he was, not the person he is. And now he’s realizing that the person his mom wants him to be again never even existed except in her mind. He lashes out at her. He says maybe he needs a new name so she realizes. Tells her he won’t answer unless she calls him… Takes new name from the book he’s reading. If it’s EoE, then probably Cal. (That’s good, isn’t it?)

He bumps into one of his old friends on campus. The “friend” realizes that he remembers more than he had in the beginning. All of a sudden he starts to “bump into” more people from his past than he’s seen in the entire 3 years since the incident. Vaguely threatening confrontations. Warnings. This leads to him finding out that while to his parents and teachers he was prepster of the year, to his friends and classmates he was their dealer. He had a thriving business going. Maybe the attack wasn’t so random after all (hey, it’s a story, random is boring). His former customers are anxious because they don’t know how much he knows, whether his parents know, etc. Everyone figures that his parents *must* know, and they’ve kept quiet to protect their son. They can see he’s a loose cannon now, and they’re not sure what he’ll do.

The thing is, his parents clearly *don’t* know. They didn’t find his stash, any record of the transactions or money. He was just that good at covering his tracks. But once he realizes the gist of his past, he starts looking, and eventually finds what he’s looking for. He’s not capable of doing the dual-personality thing anymore (he’s pretty much brutally honest, no white lies, kind of childlike in that way), so eventually it comes out in an argument with his parents—throws it in their faces that they had no idea who he was—leads to a climactic confrontation. They react… badly. They don’t understand at. all. Take it to mean that he was doing drugs (he wasn’t… first rule of business: don’t consume your own product). Keep saying stuff like that’s all behind us, will get him help if he needs it, etc.

Stuff starts converging. Newton’s Law. Joel Libin. The B-Line. EoE. Bump. I remember a character of mine: a young, brain-injured male. Can I even call him a character? I never actually wrote anything down about him except for his name. The story he was going to be in never got much past the idea phase. I had the characters, but I didn’t really have a plot. I wrote fewer than 1500 words back in the era when I never finished anything. It’s weird to read it now, my voice before I started interacting with other writers… Anyhow, he was actually meant to be a secondary character; Calle, whom I wrote a short story about once, was to be the main character. I realize that if I flip the characters, I’d have a story.

Calle? Cal? Well, that’s a coincidence. Or is it?

Anyhow, Calle is clearly the tutor. That makes so much sense. In the one little snippet that I actually wrote, I wrote about how Calle was at loose ends after her graduation, how all her friends had moved on and she didn’t know what she’d do next. It makes sense that she’d move to the “big city” just for the experience of it.

The thing about Calle and Jonah is that they’re related. Jonah is Calle’s mother’s cousin. (Originally, this was integral to what little plot I had; it was the reason they meet… I don’t think it is so much any more, but I’m going to leave it, because it just seems to be so.) They don’t know each other, though. The family isn’t close and they’ve never met. They don’t realize the connection until Calle learns Jonah’s little sister’s name (her mom’s family name).

He’ll have to find the money at some point. That’ll come in handy when he’s cut off. Oh, and graduate. I imagine his old school will throw some sort of hoopla-ish ceremony for him. Something cheesy/sappy. Definitely after things start to break down between him & his parents. That’ll be interesting. Should be messy. The friends who aren’t really friends anymore will be invited of course. The media will show up.

The end I think will be him choosing to enroll p/t in a visual arts program, rather than the liberal arts-followed-by-law path his parents had envisioned for him. He’ll also move out of the family home in an upscale neighborhood to live with Calle and some roommates in a rather more downscale neighborhood. This causes a huge rift between him and his parents, but you know, it’s time. However, he has enough sense to know he’s not ready to live alone, and that he needs someone stable to be with him and he’ll bond with Calle. Maybe the fact that Calle is a relative will give his mom some peace.


Jonah Elliott is 19. His parents are Laura & Joe. Joe is a senior partner at Big Bigger Biggest. Laura graduated from law school the same year as Joe, but never practiced. She’s a SAHM. They have 2 other children, daughters Laurelyn (16) & Mahone (13). The Elliotts live in the Shaughnessy neighborhood of Vancouver.

Jonah means “dove” (Hebrew) … sometimes interpreted to mean ”peace” (dove = symbol of peace). Jonah was a prophet who was swallowed by a whale/fish—moral of story = realizing the futility of resisting God’s will. Hmm.

Calle Campbell (23) graduated from UVic in the spring. After spending the summer pondering what next, she moved to Vancouver. She supplements her temping income by tutoring. Calle grew up in Kelowna; her parents Jane & Ryan still live there. Jane’s father Gray Mahone is Laura Elliott’s older brother. He lives in Calgary.

Callie means “beautiful” (Greek :: kallos). Kali (Sanskrit) = goddess of destruction & creation. Calle = street in Spanish.