starting the year off with a bang

So, there was a coastal storm on the night of the Jan. 3. It wasn’t supposed to go very far inland. The inland roads weren’t fully prepared.

I was coasting along, fully expecting to see things transition into snow in about 20 miles. I had already slowed down because there was schmutz on my windshield from a salt/sand truck I had passed way earlier. I was debating hitting the wiper cleaner, pulling over and getting the towel out of my trunk if the little squirt of wiper fluid didn’t help enough.

My windshield effectively turned to mud. I tapped the brakes.

That was snow on Interstate 64 at the Shannon Hill exit, not salt.

Nicole immediately turned 90 degrees. I did the turn with the direction of the car thing, but my car slid into a ditch. We went down and struck the other side of the ditch with the front left corner. Nicole then slid backwards a few feet and banged up the back left corner.

20180104_142811

Seriously, the rest of the car looks perfect.

I didn’t get injured, and the airbags did not go off. There was no damage to the doors or windows or trunk or even the hood. But due to the age, mileage and the angle of impact, Nicole was totaled.

I was near a former coworker’s apartment, and he was on Interstate 64 at the time, so I wasn’t stranded for long. There was only one state trooper working on that stretch of highway, and towing companies were overwhelmed because, as Trooper K.L. Bailey — who did not give me a ticket — put it, “No one expected it here.”

I had a rental Impala for a few days, and was poised to get one from my nephew when something told me to get another Altima.

Today, I got one. She’s grey, and her name is Sydney Kazu Smith. I name all my vehicles (and my plants) after characters in novel universe. In Brown River Blues, Syd is the daughter of Edwin Montclair and Yumiko Makino and the wife of Scott Smith.

20180108_170914

It was close to nightfall, so this is the only photo right now.

Despite it almost being precisely nine years, I weirdly don’t miss Nicole. I guess it’s because I stopped, for lack of better words, I stopped forming a close bond with my cars after Simone sustained terminal mechanical failure in 2006.

The ride and most of the features are virtually the same, despite it being a generation newer than Nicole, so there was no real moment of adjustment. I adjusted the seat and the mirrors, set up my phone and set off on a quick jaunt to Henrico County.

I like having some updated features, like Bluetooth, automatic lights and a USB port.

I hope Syd and I have many years together. As I had said with Nicole, I want to keep my Altima even if my fortunes change and I can afford a second car.

I also hope this is the last time I’m in a wreck.

Greenfront-Council Day

Sunday was a special day that I forgot.

Nineteen years ago, as I sat in Spanish class, I spontaneously started writing the tale of Lorenzo Santiago Williamston, a 10th grader at Greenfront-Council High School in the Southwest Virginia municipality of Imperial City.

Imperial City had existed in some form or fashion since I was a little kid. I was really into Micro Machines (I still have most of them at my mom’s house, because she kept them out of the possibility of them being worth something one day, but they are all but worthless). I augmented a playset with ceramic buildings that people collect for some reason, and structures I created out of paper and VHS tapes, like an elevated highway.

In a way, I didn’t really play with it. I built roads, had suburban tracts on the outskirts, an industrial district, parks, a mall and a school. I eventually got a second playset, so I wound up with two “downtowns.” One of the playsets clearly was a downtown area, complete with civic buildings and a hospital, so at least they weren’t wholly redundant. It gave me the idea of there being two urban areas because it was the merger of two cities.

After several different names and backstories, I settled on naming it Imperial City, Va., not long before I outgrew it and packed it away. The story was this: It was the 14th British Colony. As it was in a small group of people in an isolated area, Richmond Hill Colony was founded in 1737 and flew under the radar. It’s capital was named Empire City. In 1775, it separately declared independence as the Republic of Richmond Hill. Slavery was abolished in the early 1800s. In the 1820s, though Richmond Hill had a civil war, which led to the partitioning and the creation of two city-states, Lightsburg and Sharpsville. In the 1840s, the two sides reconciled and the recombined country was named Imperial City, as a nod to its past and the understanding that, at a few dozen square miles, there was no point in having multiple municipalities. The Lightsburg district held executive offices, and Sharpsville was judicial.

During the American Civil War, Imperial City offered aid to Abraham Lincoln, which finally led to the U.S. and Virginia governments realizing that there was a city that no one had noticed considered itself to be a country. After the war, Imperial City agreed to become a city in Virginia but was allowed to keep some of its rules, as long as they did not violate the U.S. Constitution.

I was a precocious elementary school kid.

When I created Lorenzo out of boredom, I placed him in that city I had razed and built its world again. I drew a map. Once again, I was laying out roads, schools, parks, the whole nine yards. Throughout college, when I had to write a work of fiction, it was set in Imperial City. Occasionally, Lorenzo would make an appearance.

I destroyed my original novel.

When I set out to write Brown River Blues, I decided to have a fresh start. I created the neighboring Wessex County and said I wouldn’t put Lorenzo in the story. I even toyed with not mentioning Imperial City at all.

Then it all crept in.

I did vow that, despite this possibly being the first novel in which Imperial City appears, it would be the final story featuring Lorenzo. I made a call to slightly change his future, but whatever comes next for him will remain in my head.

I still haven’t completed the “final” spell check. During a change in versions of Word, some extra spaces were inserted, and the new spelling and grammar check didn’t like the speaking patterns of some characters and, like here, I free wrote a lot of it, which led to some words and entire sentences being horribly mangled. After about an hour, I was only 14 pages in, so I’m saving this for a day in which I absolutely have nothing to do.

I still need to write my query letter. I’m excited about how I’m going to write it, and I can’t wait to land an agent so I can share it.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The 20th Greenfront-Council Day is Dec. 17, 2018. I usually observe it on Dec. 10, because the action in the original novel began on that day. I need to at least get through the Big F7 soon so I can have something worth talking about next year, especially since I mentioned most of the behind-the-scenes world-building in this entry.

he called me ‘the lawyer’

21033_567394949129_7450163_n.jpg

The Rev. Curtis West Harris Sr., c. 2010

Former Hopewell City Councilor and Mayor Curtis Harris called me the “The Lawyer” because of my interviewing style. I have this nasty habit of forgetting half of my interview questions, so as thing seemingly wrap up, I come back with a flurry of questions. In a way, I like that because it catches people off guard, like when Colombo did it.

Rev. Harris’ church was mostly behind the newsroom. It was the one that got caught in the crossfire about a week after the current pastor of my mom’s church in Hampton started there. Rev. Harris lived across the street from the church on what is now Rev. C.W. Harris Street, near the corner of a road now named Ruth Harris Way for his wife.

Mrs. Harris was his rock. There were countless times when he told him he couldn’t or should do something, like have another soda, and he would a boyish grin and try for it anyway. In one particular instance, he argued that he should have another one, despite the hour, because he once again was elected to the City Council.

It took a lot of effort for him to get on the council the first time.

Rev. Harris spent most of his life fighting for civil rights. He was discriminated against. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He marched arm-in-arm with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was threatened. There were two unsuccessful attempts to firebomb his home. He marched to Hopewell City Hall past a group of Klansmen. He was arrested 13 times fighting for rights.

After seven unsuccessful runs for the City Council and a lawsuit to cease at-large representation for the entire city, he won in 1986. He became mayor in 1998.

He was also fought for environmental justice in a city often known only for pollution. He fought through his resignation from the council in 2012 due to a stroke. He was a bottomless well of information. He never leaked information to me. He would only give me enough to point me in the right direction. Katy and I got to know the city we were covering better through his wisdom. His office next door to his home was a treasure trove of civil rights and Hopewell history.

The world lost that Sunday when Rev. Harris died at 93, but his legacy will live on.

There is a public viewing scheduled for Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. just outside the doors of the Curtis W. Harris Sr. Library at Carter G. Woodson Middle School in Hopewell. A second view is set for 10 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church, at the corner of Second Avenue and West Randolph Road in Hopewell, and the funeral will begin there an hour later.

Finished

I reached the end of the 12th draft of my novel early Monday. It stands at 103,000 words and 294 pages, if the formatting is correct.

For some odd reason, I didn’t celebrate.

I guess it’s because it doesn’t mean anything.

As soon as I finished, I started a fresh file for Draft 14. (I inadvertently labeled it 14, and I’ll fix that later.) This one will consist of me hitting spell check, to get the easiest/most egregious mistakes, and then reading it as if I didn’t write it. It’s not a mixture of things that have somehow remained intact since the first draft and things I wrote as recent as 24 hours ago. There’s probably a continuity error in there somewhere. I caught one last night when I made a last-minute change to the sheriff’s last name.

And I also added a chunk of dialogue because I had inadvertently written a character out of the book. The ending in which the character played an important role no longer exists, so if not for the addition, there would have been a “went to visit family” situation from which there was no return.

There’s already a section I don’t like. I’m going to give it a chance by reading straight through. If it sounds bad to me still, I’ll work on it.

I’m expecting this “draft” to go a lot faster than the others.

Once I hit the final sentence again, I’m making an open call to my closest friends for their feedback. I already have five people in mind, and I want no more than seven. While they’re tearing it apart, I’ll finally write the query letter I’ve been wanting to write. I’ll share it if and when I get a deal.

But, deep down, I’m really excited that this draft is over. When I started it, it was 2013. I had a computer I didn’t expect to die on me. Then, when I had a functional computer, I came down with a pretty bad case of writer’s block. And then I had to figure out how to balance things like taking care of a dog in the morning when I like to write well into the night.

It’s close to being real. Once my friends get the correctly labeled Draft 14, I’ll take some of their criticism and apply it to Draft 15 and that’s the draft that goes with the query letter. After so many fits and starts, it could be on its way by this time next year.

Unless it’s garbage.

I still have 50 pages to go

I have finished the penultimate fresh section and went back to augment the introduction of Nicole Cobb with a 1,000-word character sketch a friend challenged me to do. It will remain in the Seven Ninety-Two short story collection, as the version in it has parts I excised due to the overlap with what happens with Lorenzo during this moment.

This goalpost move has made us reach 104,000 words and nearly 300 pages, if my formatting is the correct analogue to a standard hardcover. The original was 15,000 words.

But the next chapter is — I wouldn’t say filler, but tees up the next chapter. The one after that signals the end and will have the final expanded passage. After that is the final proper chapter. The second half of Chapter 24 becomes Chapter 25, and the original Chapter 25 becomes one of the “and the” sections that, along with a few newspaper articles, are outside the numbering system. Part of the reason these pseudochapters exist is because the original version of Brown River Blues had 25 parts and now I’m cheating. The other reason is that some of them include vital information that doesn’t quite fit in the chapters they’re between and are things I expect my editors will tell me to excise.

As you may recall, I’m writing more than what I think is necessary because I think it will be easier to cut things when I declare it finished than to have to add more when an editor gives me feedback.

It feels good to finally be in the home stretch. It’s been six years and more than the length of the original draft since I deemed this thing finished. It was back when the ending was different and was, in my opinion, pure garbage. The next chapter is the last bit of the original ending. It was Chapter 23, and it’s now Chapter 22.

It’s a little funny looking at the original now. I’ve also mentioned before that, despite being 15,000 words and throwing out at least the final two chapters, a lot of that original is in there. Original Chapter 22 is an article Lorenzo wrote. Twenty pages now separate the two. I wrote that article in August 2007 when a was a year into being a professional journalist. In my years of being an editor, I’ve rewritten and revised it as I’ve learned more and kicked it back to Lorenzo to fix. The current iteration still is a little painful to read, because I wanted to convey that he still was a novice writer, but the original reminds me of how much I needed to learn in 2007.

I still can’t believe I started this as a silly writing exercise in December 2006 that I expected would be over and done by January 2007. Instead I didn’t start writing in earnest until that June.

On Dec. 4, 2006, I said

From time to time, I get an idea for a short story or novel or something. Most of the time, they don’t pan out. …

A new one just popped in my head, and I think this one may go somewhere.

I was on LSW4 then. It was new. “Widescreen, 2 gig processor, 80 GB hard drive, 512 MB RAM,” I bragged.

I think my phone is more powerful than that.

I’m looking forward to getting through these 50-odd pages and writing the killer query letter that’s been in my head for a few years. And passing this out to my friends who have volunteered to do free peer edits.

After enduring the loss of a computer and a terrible case of writer’s block, we’re almost there.

Almost.

I mean, still have to read it at least one last time since I’ve banged out like 20-page sections this go round and I think the Rosewood section fell flat, but Draft 14 shall be a mere formality and not a yearslong affair.  A dozen years is enough.

i wish i knew how to quit you

Lies. All of it.

THERE SHALL BE NO HIATUS.

I mean, I sometimes go a month with only making one entry, but there won’t be a self-imposed break

I’m just going to review at some point the currently visible posts and take any necessary action. There shouldn’t be anything I need to (heavily) redact. I think the worst thing I’ve said was mentioning that I drank during my vacation in Vegas. But I’m 34 years old, so I’m allowed to not only purchase bourbon but not be ashamed to do so.

By the way, if you ever are in a situation where you don’t know what to get me, the answer always is bourbon.

Well, there’s also a quote about a package getting returned to sender after looking like someone enjoyed the company of a lady of the night on it, but it was a quote, I’m a journalist and it most certainly did, so there.

I’ve been doing this for more than a decade, and I’ve been cautious (although I sometimes swear here, and the musical accompaniments to some entries sometimes have swears). The only time I got in any sort of contretemps because of this blog was when someone was out to get me in Hopewell and took a quote WAAAAY out of context. My publisher at the time all but recited “Smiling Faces Sometimes.”

Context

There are entirely too many sentences and paragraphs floating around in my head at all times to not put them somewhere. Most of them aren’t about my personal life to the extent that it is detrimental to the company for which I work.

So I will write.

I must write.

Also, I’m quite pleased with getting “contretemps” in and spelling it unaided.

24) ‘the sirens of jupiter’ by the olympians

If you haven’t noticed, I like almost every song that has trumpets and/or trombones in it.

And, here we are: The theme of right now. I know how to make an entrance.

Well, this one is kinda an exit, too. This most likely is the last entry for a bit.

I am content, though. While I’m back in Charlottesville, there is something I want to do, hence the vagueness and planned hiatus. This cunning plan has nothing to do with leaving that newsroom or the company, though. As you have seen over the course of 24 songs, I took a lot to get here. Twice.

Hopefully, this project quickly come to fruition and I’ll back sooner rather than later. And then this old new beginning will continue.

23) ‘after the legions’ by the calm blue sea

Although I was (and still am) excited about Charlottesville, I paused for a moment to think about how much Richmond and the Tri-Cities shaped my life. I was really the first time I did that. Every other departure was rushed in some way.

I’m leaving RVA, perhaps for good this time. Like this is as final as leaving Hampton.

Although I was 21-going-on-22 when I got here, I feel like I actually grew up here. I mean that as in truly maturing. I learned so much from Stony Creek to Tappahannock, from Burrowsville to Blackstone. That’s 5,280 square miles of Virginia in which I’ve had a byline. An area more than twice the size of Delaware. An area nearly as large as Connecticut. For roughly seven of the past 11 years, that has been my Central Virginia, my stomping grounds, my home.

I’ll eternally be grateful for the 804. I’ll always miss the Tri-Cities and the backwoods of Dinwiddie and River Road in Prince George and Murphy’s Law in Chester and everything the Fan has to offer and living in and around Church Hill and the Varina-Enon Bridge and Henrico’s Varina Managerial District and Ashland Coffee & Tea and so much more, but it’s time to finish what I started in Charlottesville.

And, perhaps, start something else.

And, perhaps, start something else.

Next: Beginning again

22) ‘sea of dreams’ by oberhofer

BoJack sent me here.

It’s a little weird to be talking about things that just happened. Well, for the past 13 years, this blog has been talking about things that just happened. I mean, I’m not recapping things that I mentioned not too long ago.

Toward the end of the summer, after having a BoJack Horseman binge and having it haunt me (but not as deeply as “One Hundred Years of Solitude” — that book hit me harder than “Colony of Unrequited Dreams”), I had heard of a departure in Charlottesville.

This was after all of the unrest that occurred.

I was at work in Richmond the day of the event that now pops into everyone’s head when one says “Charlottesville.” I mentioned several times that it most likely would have been a day I would have been working. I wouldn’t have been downtown, but I would have been receiving all of the dispatches and getting them online through all channels.

It also bothered me because I lived not too far from the Downtown Mall (Renée and I often walked there), and from my years of living there, it wasn’t the Charlottesville I knew and loved.

Also, it made me realize it would make people think twice about going there. That couldn’t be me. It made me realize that it was all the more reason to go back.

For reasons I won’t go into because it goes into internal workings of the company I love and have worked for over the past five years, I figured going back was a long shot. Additionally, I was committed to live in Richmond despite not being exactly where I wanted to be in my career.

I sent a text to a former coworker joking about coming back.

Then I got asked if I’d seriously consider it, because it was potentially doable.

Emphatic yes. After talking to my wife, of course.

But I had to do it.

In an exchange almost as swift as the first time I was hired there, I was on my way back.

That was a little more than a month ago. The next entry is the penultimate song, and perhaps the penultimate post here for a while. As I said before, there’s something I have to do, and I can’t do it with certain distractions. I went as far as changing my license plates a few moments ago, which is something I never thought I would do.

When I’m serious, I’m serious.

Even if this doesn’t work out, the actions I’m taking were overdue anyway.