Werewolves in the library

We have new projectors at school that allow us to show movies on a pull-down screen. Yeah, like what we had when I was in elementary school, but I’m not talking about film strips made in the 1950s shown through a big and heavy blue projector. These let us show DVDs. The downside is that our school didn’t have the foresight to hook up the DVD player to the projector, so we have to use the computer. You can’t do anything else with the computer while the movie’s playing. And you have to move the mouse every once in a while to keep the screen saver from coming on. But I digress. My three English IV classes finally finished Beowulf and took the test, so I’m showing them the movie and we’re griping about things that were changed and talking about why. But, with the room dark, the kids engaged, and the computer occupied, I have nothing to do. So I took my laptop on Thursday and Friday. The battery was dead on Thursday. On Friday, though, I finally had a breakthrough.

Yes, I finally began writing again. I didn’t get much done, but it was enough. It was kind of like hitting the Hoover Dam until finally a crack appears in the cement and a trickle of the Colorado River leaks through. I figured out a format for what I needed to do on the chapter of Nadia’s Children that’s been holding me up. It isn’t brilliant, and it may not be the final format, but it was enough to pull me back into the story.

So today, to get some quiet time without discussion of past-due bills or breaking up squabbles between children, me and the trusty laptop went to the library. It was damn near orgasmic. The words flowed and flowed. I got there at about 3:30 and wrote pretty much non-stop until the library closed at 5 p.m. There was a brief break for some added research on an 18th century war between Sweden and Russia, but I knocked off seven pages. Now, that’s not a lot compared to what I’m typically capable of, but considering how long it’s been since I did anything, it was pretty damn good. Is it quality work? I dunno, but right now that doesn’t really matter.

Here’s one of those word meter things to show where I stand:

12658 / 100000 words. 13% done!

There were a few things that went into breaking the dam. One is reading John Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, and following his lead. Yes, I’m keeping a “werewolf journal.” I did it with Ulrik, too, but then it was mostly just chapter outlines to plan ahead. This time there are outlines (or will be), but also notes about things that are giving me problems, possible ways to fix or get around them, things I want to include, reminders of things that have gone before, etc. Writing in it before starting my actual writing kind of gets me ready to write and focused on what’s ahead.

The problem I was having was figuring out who Fenris really is, and why he’s against the Pack uniting. This ate at me for weeks! And, of course, the answer was there all along. It was assigning and reading the first draft of my AP essays on the barbarism vs civilization debate that made me understand what Fenris is all about. Okay, but why does he believe what he does?

That’s where the history comes in. What did we know about Fenris’s history from what was in Ulrik? Not very much. He almost killed Ulrik in the forest surrounding Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair retreat and he looks like Jim Steinman (okay, that’s not explicitly in the book, but that’s who I based his physical appearance on). Now his history is coming into focus. And, I think, readers may be able to have some sympathy for him. When I teach creative writing, I always emphasize the fact that nobody sets out to be the bad guy; everyone is the hero of his own story. I wasn’t doing that with Fenris in the last book. He was just a cardboard villain to oppose Ulrik. Now he’s somebody unique. He’s kind of reminding me of Captain Wolf Larsen from Jack London’s The Sea Wolf.

When the library closed, I considered going to the park to keep writing until my battery died, but came home instead to help fix dinner. (There’s a cop in the library who makes sure you’re preparing to leave once they start announcing that closing is pending and he was giving me the stink eye the last 10 minutes or so.)

*If you care, the AP essay assignment is to read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild (yes, I am a big fan of London), Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs, Stephen Crane’s story “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, and one other source of the student’s choosing, then write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with Robert E. Howard’s statement from “Beyond the Black River” that “Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.” First draft essays were mostly bad to mediocre, almost like they’d never seen a persuasive essay before.

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