Writing is Occasionally Like Torture

I officially edited or wrote 51,691 words on A Thousand Years, “winning” NaNoWriMo (as of today). The only problem is, I spent my second NaNoWriMo (that’s National Novel Writing Month) working on a novel that I may abandon, soon. I don’t know what to do anymore. The novel has lost its way. And I guess that means I have.

When you write fiction that is primarily character driven (vs. plot driven) and you run into a character problem, you’ve got an entire novel problem. And . . . A Thousand Years has a character problem. The problem is, I love the heart of this novel. Which means that this little fear churning inside – that I should dump it, when I don’t really want to (but also don’t know how to fix it), is a little like torture. Like, you know, as if I’m water boarding myself. Who willingly tortures themselves?

Writers. Writers willingly torture themselves. So here I am, it’s the day before Thanksgiving, I’ve technically hit a 50,000 word count goal and I’m absolutely nowhere. I don’t know if it’s salvageable – though I long for it to be. Torture, I tell you.

I have loved him for a thousand years…

mendocino county, mendocino, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos, mario mesaglio, a thousand years, wild things elaina avalos, wild things
Mendocino, California – Photo by: Mario Mesaglio

I have loved him for a thousand years and it seems as if I will love him for a thousand more. We are destined to remain apart. But it seems as though I was made out of a part of his soul and he mine. Our love burned bright and kept us warm. And then my world went up and flames. But loving him remains.

It is untamed. Wild and unplanned. I wake these days, deep in thought, recalling the mornings in the Redwoods – the air cold and damp. There was nothing around us, but the untouched forest. Standing there, facing the west, where the Pacific rests between the hills – the brush all around us, wild and untamed. So perfectly beautiful and lonely. This is what it’s like to love him. On a day I least expected him, there he was. We are perfect partners. We think alike. But not. In that place in between, where we differ, he shined.

There are more questions than answers. In the beauty of this wild thing, I long for him. What is and will not be follows me around like a coastal fog. Through the haze I see him. I don’t hold it against him – you can’t tame wild things. I live here in this tension, with what will not be, settling into the cold, wild – alone.

~~~

There’s a small roadside – hole in the wall – diner on the far end of the town I call home. It’s called the Hot’n Tot. Yes, really. It’s the kind of place that has stayed open for eons. It’s not fancy in the least. Some of the old booths are a little worse for the wear. But it doesn’t matter to locals, because we’ve been climbing into the booths our entire lives. The food isn’t fussy and the cook doesn’t take kindly to diners who want something different than what’s on the menu. It’s a “you get what you get,” kind of place. There’s an old, but entirely charming, mid-century diner sign that welcomes tourists, on their way to San Francisco, wine country, or along their winding path, up or down Highway One. They see the quaint sign and the full parking lot and they know they’ve stumbled on a rare gem – in a state known for its pretentious ways. Of course, most of those people don’t know the real California. The California that’s the real deal, is nothing at all like you think. Up and down the San Joaquin Valley and in small, one-horse towns and down country roads – that’s where the real Californians live. The Hot’n Tot is a real slice of Americana.

     Years ago, I asked Manny – the owner, if I could work here on my summer breaks. And though I’ve long since graduated, I still work a shift or two when they’re really busy. My Grandma finds this unbecoming. That’s what you get when your mother’s parents are wealthy, old-world Mexicans. I’m not sure why working at the diner is unbecoming, but mucking stalls with Granddad on the ranch, isn’t. But whatever, I don’t make the rules. My Mexican Grandma does. But when I’m at the diner, it reminds me of the best parts of my childhood. My grandparents and my parents are wealthier than should be allowed. I never knew what it was like to go without. But my Granddad worked hard at ensuring me and my sister didn’t take our privileges for granted – in spite of the snobby ways of my mother, father, and Grandma. Granddad used to take me and my sister to the diner in his old beater ranch truck, on our school breaks or during the summer. My mom has never been known to like kids. The second school wrapped up, she shipped us up the coast or across the country.

     Those days on the ranch were the best days of our lives. My sister and I learned every inch of the land. We were taught about the plants and the vines my Granddad raised with care, for wineries all over northern and central California. We played in the dirt, mucked stalls, and followed my Granddad’s every step, when he was moving cattle from one valley to another. It was idyllic in many ways. When we were at the tail end of primary school, my dad moved overseas for a tour. He was a Marine. Mom refused – RE-FUSED – to move us to Japan. We packed up our lives and moved home to California, from North Carolina. It was then that I grew to appreciate the Hot’n Tot and the back corners of rural, real California.

     Now that the cold wet of our central coast winter has given way to the warmth of the sun and a wild breeze blowing off of the Pacific, the diner fills with our neighbors and the first tourists of the season. I always work the first full weekend of the start of the tourist season. Grandma still hates that I do. But the clank of the pots and pans from behind the swinging doors, that lead to the kitchen, and Paul’s gravelly voice announcing service, is as comforting to me as the scent of my granddad’s tobacco pipe. I cannot help myself. At the end of our day, after one of the busiest starts to the season, in my recent memory, the servers and line cooks take a seat at the bar stools in front of the lunch counter. Manny and Paul cook for us – usually a weird mix of Mexican and American food. It’s the only day they cook for the staff like this. And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

     I settle in next to Mary, a server that has been working for Manny since I was a girl. As we stuff our faces, quiet falls on the diner. Even Manny and Paul are quiet now – and they’re rarely quiet. The door to the diner opens suddenly, the bells jangling as the door swings open. None of us stop and look up – not a one of us. We are all consumed by the food. As she has in years past, Manny’s wife, Lola, has brought us homemade tortillas – flour and corn. And as I’ve grown up doing, we sop up our food with the flour tortillas and scoop the shredded beef up into the corn tortillas. I dip my corn tortilla into some beans and shove an unladylike bite in my mouth. The guest clears his throat. “Excuse me?” he asks.

     He’s broken the spell. “Oh gawd. Not another one,” Mary says under her breath. We all turn to see who has interrupted the spell…

A Thousand Years

a thousand years, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

Last summer, bits and pieces of a novel started floating around in my head. That’s often how it starts. A song, a flash of an image, a smell, a memory of the ocean, or camping in the Redwoods – whatever. Sometimes it’s a phrase that comes to me and then before I know it, a story forms.

It can (and often has) taken years for some of these to form. I have a file folder on my laptop with several different novels. I’ve mentioned this before. Because I can’t write them all at once, I write as much as I can – when an idea comes to me. I store it up, so to speak – for a time when I can finish writing the thing.

I’m a “seat of the pants” writer and don’t care much for outlining every little bit of a book. It’s in my head. But as a writer who writes character-driven novels, the plot is secondary to the development of the characters themselves. And so I find that the overall outline in my head is enough.

But I digress. In October I started writing A Thousand Years. And then in November, I wrote the bulk of the 50,000 word novel. It was complete – but not. As I began to edit it, I found some pretty serious issues. But far more importantly, the book just wasn’t coming together in the way that I expected it to. Something was missing.

I’ve had a really hard time letting go of it, however. Though I did consider throwing the baby out with the bath water. I started working on another novel to see if it would catch fire and I could set this novel aside. It just did not. A Thousand Years was still it. This novel is one that’s truly on my heart to write. I’ve prayed some quick, but desperate prayers to God – show me how to make this work – I asked over and over. Well, I think He has. And I am grateful.

I’ve yet to write a summary about this novel – but I’ve shared bits and pieces here, including some of the poetry or short fiction that’s found here. Any post with a tag of “A Thousand Years” fits somewhere into this novel on my heart. While many of the scenes I’ve shared here in the past, are now being altered to fit my re-write – the heart of the novel is the same.

And what’s the heart of the novel? It’s about the messy and complicated way our lives don’t follow a linear trajectory. In the midst of the mess – finding love, family, and healing is possible. One of my favorite gemstones is an opal. Opals are beautiful because of the cracks and fissures in their surface. The messy & complicated in life could certainly mar our lives if we allow it to. Or it could actually be what makes us the best version of ourselves.

I am excited to finish this draft and see what comes next for A Thousand Years.