Company drove away this morning. We’re going to be getting the camper ready for the next few days, and I feel the need to get something accomplished. This one is just a choice and a commitment, but I’ve struggled mightily to get here. I decided today is the day, because I can strike something off my task list before vacation starts.
Lisa* pulled the decrepit old Land Rover to the front of the writing cabin. She wore a sleeveless mini-dress in a jaguar print. She put her hair up in the victory rolls she so often wears.
I climbed in beside her and we headed for the beach. We parked by a large outrigger canoe. I crawled in front while she pushed us into the water. The sky was cloudless and the blue tropical water helped ease the tension of my pending decision. I let a hand dangle in the water, until some kind of serpent rolled off to our left.
“How come I’m the only one paddling?” Lisa asked.
“Because you have the strength of ten men. You’re better than an outboard motor.”
The island wasn’t far, and the swaying palm trees were already visible. Lisa headed us toward the sandy beach.
“Better blow that conch shell, so they know to gather,” I said.
“Robot girls don’t have lungs, remember. You’ll just have to blow it yourself.”
I brushed my mustache aside to make a good contact, took a deep breath, and blew. The huge seashell made a mighty blaat. I smacked my lips. “Tastes kind of fishy. Maybe we’d better run it through the dishwasher when we get back.”
Lisa beached our canoe and we left the beach on a rocky trail.
“I told them we’d all meet near the Moai statues,” she said.
“Near that handsome one?”
“Yeah, your favorite one.”
We took our places behind a table, all decked out with a grass skirt and tropical drinks in porcelain coconut shells. The contestants wandered in and took up places.
I slid the microphone in front of me and took a sip of my drink. “All of you have worked very hard this summer. Everyone has points that make a good novel. You all have something that works as my personal challenge. Unfortunately, everyone has weak spots too. Many of these cannot be addressed until I’m in the first draft phase.”
Lisa said, “Wargler and Grinder, please step forward.”
One group, dressed in large hats with rapiers and flintlock pistols stepped forward. They had a small hairy fellow with them, that reminded me of a goat, with a dagger. Another group consisted of an older male cop and his young female partner. They had some gothic looking guy beside them, followed by a white rat and a large muskrat.
I slid the microphone in front of me. “Wargler, you have a lot going for you. I love fantasy, and the slightly different setting appeals to me. Plumed hats and flintlocks seems like it would be fun to write. You have a fun personal challenge in making someone who starts wars for profit into a character people can cheer for.
“This story must have a ton of deception and unreliability to work. This is also going to be fun to write, but it takes a lot of time to come up with. I have some good ideas, but not enough yet. It’s also going to be challenging to write it in such a way as to be fun, and not annoying.”
I turned my attention to the next group. “Grinder. I have so much hope for this story. I’ve been dying to get back to science fiction, and this tale really appeals to me. A detailed theft using surgically altered animals, would be fun to write. The dirty underside of a slightly futuristic city really appeals to me. The message of letting bio-hacking get out of control is also appealing.
“On the down side, you need more plot. Your bad guy is super smart, and the cops are inept. This isn’t bad, but somehow the cops have to deliver the conclusion. I have more cool ideas than plot right now. I can’t write between the cool ideas and call it a novel.”
Lisa leaned toward the microphone. “Grinder and Wargler, I’m sorry, you will not be the next C. S. Boyack novel. Please return to your camps and develop your plots.”
One of the Wargler characters slammed his cavalier hat on the ground. The muskrat from Grinder stood on her hind legs and spread her arms wide in a begging position. Eventually, they all shuffled off toward their camps.
“African Adventure and Yak Guy, please step forward.” Lisa steepled her fingers and sat back.
A beautiful blonde in safari gear and a pith helmet stepped forward with a young man wearing a western vest and brand new safari style hat. They were joined by a young man who appeared to be wearing second hand clothes, accompanied by a large black yak.
I needed another sip of my drink. “African Adventure, your outline is more developed than any other. You have almost everything going for you. There are so many antagonists, or antagonistic forces, that this will be an absolute thrill ride. The young American geologist who comes to Africa under false pretenses.–
The man snapped around to look at the woman, who bit her lip.
“The young woman who is trying to accomplish something in the 1890s. Women are not held in high regard, and she must manipulate the system somehow. There is even a witch doctor who controls some very dangerous animals. The Boer War, the Matabele uprising, man-eating animals, fire, and Africa herself have a lot to offer. The Boer woman’s name is Kimberlite, not Kimberly. That alone ought to tell folks why he’s a geologist, and what her secret plan involves. You are the only character among all the outlines with a name today.
“I like the personal challenge of turning this into a romance. I won’t write it as the primary force, but more as background. While Grinder and Wargler are ‘save the princess’ stories, this one is more along the lines of, ‘you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.’
“There is a downside, and it’s a big one. It involves Internet trolls. The whole hubbub over Cecil the lion has me concerned. There is no way I’m going to write about the African bush in the 1890s and not include hunting. For an author who is lucky to get a dozen reviews, one or two people with an agenda could be a disaster. There is also the fact that this would be my third paranormal story in a row.”
I turned and faced the Yak Guy. “Your story is so strange, I don’t completely know what to do with it. It’s the tale of a young man with ‘failure to launch’ syndrome.”
Yak Guy spread his hands and sneered. The yak said, “I agree. He needs to grow up.”
I paused until they got the idea that I was talking. “I like the idea of using the major arcana of the tarot and telling the fool’s journey. It’s a wonderful personal challenge. I may have to combine some characters, and not go all the way through, but it sounds like fun. Your outline is also quite far along.
“On the downside, what the heck do I categorize it as? I’ve already made that mistake with my book of short stories. It seems like Amazon has a category that is like spiritual fantasy, and maybe that would work. The whole thing has a Purgatory flavor to it.”
I looked down and took a long sip of my drink. Lisa reached over and took my hand for support. I scribbled a note and slid it to her.
Lisa stood, wiggled side to side as she adjusted her dress, and addressed the remaining contestants. “You’ve both worked harder than the other contestants. Your outlines are more complete, and that’s why you’re in the final round. Each of you has the chops to carry a novel, and you probably both will someday. Today there can only be one winner. I’m sorry African Adventure, please return to your camp and work on your plot.”
She turned to Yak Guy. “Congratulations Yak Guy, you will be the next C. S. Boyack novel. Please pack your things and head for the dock. I’ll send a boat, and a, I don’t know, a horse trailer to bring you ashore. You have a couple of months to get to the writing cabin and begin your draft.”
We crossed from the island to where we left the Land Rover in silence. The view had lost all its charm, and I stared at my boots. When Lisa beached the canoe, I looked up and saw Doubt, the Raven perched on the car hood. I nodded towards him, “Of course he would show up.”
Lisa said, “There is no right or wrong answer. You always second guess yourself. You just have to commit and make it work.”
We got in the vehicle. Lisa tugged her dress down and said, “Live with your choice and give it 100%. The other stories will still be on the island for the next time.”
“I suppose so. Doubt just plays with my mind sometimes. After I get the book of shorties published, and The Playground ready for advance readers, I need to dedicate myself to Yak Guy’s outline.”
“And maybe give him a better title?”
“Yeah, that too.”
*Lisa is my robotic assistant. She has a short story of her own coming out in The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack this September. She is the official spokes model for this blog, and you can get a set of Lisa Burton paper dolls by clicking on “Look, Free Stuff” at the top of the page.
Note: This idea grew from a vignette sent to me by my Muse. I posted it here last year. Those of you so inclined can read about it here.