Grieving the Loss of a Car

Stacey Kite

Yesterday, I was sitting down to finish up my February WBM blog post when my husband, who had just left the house to take the hound on her walk, came back in.

With a look of irritated bewilderment on his face he asked, “Where’s my car?”

Like an idiot, I said, “What?”

“My car’s gone. It’s not in the driveway.”

I had to go out and look which just shows that I was already in the grips of the first and perhaps nuttiest stage of grief—denial. I mean, it may be easy to misplace a set of car keys, but to lose track of an entire Honda? That’s not something that happens all that often. But Fred was right. There was no shiny, silver Accord next to my ancient, orange car, just a big, empty stretch of concrete and a sad, little wad of Kleenex by my car’s passenger door. Of course, we had to look in the garage even though we knew we hadn’t parked it in there. Then we looked up and down street, as if the car could have gotten restless in the middle of the night and gone walkabout on its own.

It wasn’t until I really looked at my car—Kleenex on the ground, passenger door ajar, glove-box hanging open with the bulk of its contents strewn on the passenger seat—that it donned on me that someone had rifled my car and stolen Fred’s! (It’s amazing what it takes to burst the little denial bubble.)

While I, ping-ponging between stunned disbelief and anger (note the second stage of grief kicking in here), took the hound for a perfunctory walk, in the rain—the girl still needed to potty, after all—Fred called the police.

Officer Martin arrived just as the Piebald Princess and I were coming back to the house. So, after toweling her off, I sat down at the dining table with Fred. Baffled and stunned, we answered the policeman’s questions.

After we’d gone through all of them—yes, the car was in the driveway when we went to bed; yes, the car was locked, but no, mine hadn’t been; no, the keys weren’t in it; yes, the car was paid off, etc.—I asked, “Can you give us an idea of how many stolen cars are ever recovered? Is it like twenty percent, thirty?” (Is this the bargaining stage?)

“Most of them. About ninety percent, actually.”

At my enthusiastic, “Really? That’s fantastic!” Officer Martin gave me a look that spoke volumes, and it said, Oh, you poor, pathetic, naïve, little bunny rabbit. You have no idea how trashed your car is going to be when we find it.

Until that moment, I had had hope. (Rounding third base and heading for home plate—depression. I mean really, we’d just finished paying the car off last year.)

But evidently, Officer Martin mistakenly thought I was heading back to stage two, because he cautioned us not to act on our own should we spot the car anywhere. If we saw it, we were to call the police right away and not confront anyone or attempt to recover the car ourselves. Of course, doing something like that never would have occurred to me—until Officer Martin mentioned it. The little seed was planted.

The seed germinated while I spent an hour and a half on the phone with the insurance company, and started to crack open as I set about alerting the neighbors. Since it was raining, I just sent emails instead of going door-to-door. Another couple of hours went by while Fred and I belatedly researched home security cameras (I’m not sure what stage this falls into), but by 4:00 p.m. the seed had sprouted, and I asked Fred if he wanted to go drive around with me and casually look for his car.

After disabling the garage door opener, because of course, one of the remotes had been in Fred’s car, and thoroughly locking up the house, we set out. Obviously, we didn’t find the car and soon realized the futility of even looking. (Acceptance setting in.)

Now, perhaps you’re wondering what all this has to do with the February Write by Midnight challenge, and the answer is absolutely nothing! Someone stole Fred’s car! (Uh-oh, a little backsliding into stage two there. Sorry about that.)

But now that I think about it, this post actually does have something to do with WBM. The whole point of WBM is to write every day, after all, and I did write today. I got down 795 words—just not on my manuscript. Instead, I wrote a mini-short story about the stages of grief and the loss of a beloved car—that was completely paid for!

Complete acceptance may take a while.

Loving on Libraries

February is National Library Lover’s Month. While you may not be able to step inside your local library yet, there are still ways to love on these great community resources. Check out your library’s online resources, such as downloadable e-books or audio books and research databases. Take part in social media and online reading challenges or streamed lectures hosted by libraries. Some even allow members to peruse the catalog remotely and reserve books for safe pick-up at a later date. Share with us how your local library continues to support your community during #NationalLibraryLoversMonth.

Sometimes Listeners Are Better Than Readers

Megan Norris Jones

At a certain point in working on a manuscript, it becomes impossible to tell if dramatic moments actually feel tense, if magical moments are saturated with wonder, if comedic moments are funny. All the words are on the page that should evoke those qualities, but do they? Do my characters have distinct voices and clearly differentiated characteristics? Or are they interchangeable? Is my world building clear and comprehensible, or is it confusing and filled with contradictions? I know what I want to accomplish, but I’ve spent so much time elbows-deep in the story that I’ve lost the perspective a fresh reader can bring.

I can ask beta readers those questions and let them think through their answers. They can make notes on my manuscript and discuss possibilities with me, and all of that is incredibly helpful. But the thing they can’t do is provide in-the-moment gut reactions to the story the way a listener can. So, while my primary Write by Midnight goal is to complete an outline for my next manuscript, I am also reading my current manuscript aloud to my very own beta listener.

I read every night to my kids before bedtime, so one night, without fanfare, I began reading my own manuscript—a middle grade novel—aloud. Kids are fantastic and expressive listeners, and I was delighted to see them squeal with worry in the tense moments and laugh out loud in the funny ones. They also asked specific questions that brought up problems with the story—and showed clearly how to address those same problems. 

It has been fun to share this project that has consumed so much of my time with my own family. Now they know what I’m talking about when I say I need to write. But it has also been incredibly helpful for my writing process. I’ve gained that fresh perspective that shows me what works and what needs work. And when I’ve finished my Write by Midnight outlining, I’ll know just what to do to get my manuscript in tip-top shape.

Love a Book, Give a Book

Happy International Book Giving Day! Today is a day to share everything you love about books with children who don’t have regular access to them. Consider donating new and used books to your local library, schools or nonprofits that work with children. There are also great organizations that focus on getting books into the hands of readers that you can support. One of our favorites is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, but there are others all around the globe. Which ones are your favorites? #BookGivingDay

Revising at a Sloth’s Pace to Discover Joy in the Details

Laura Ayo

I’m no stranger to revision. During my years as a daily newspaper reporter, I edited and revised on deadline. Every day. Often, for multiple articles, each written in a matter of minutes, not hours, and certainly not days. Even as a freelance journalist, I regularly revise and edit articles, press releases, web content, blogs, social media posts and whatever else a client might send my way. But revising a middle grade historical fiction novel is nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. This past week, I’ve been really taking the words of poet and novelist Vikram Seth to heart:

“Revision has its own peculiar pleasures and its own peculiar frustrations. The ground rules are already established; the characters already exist. You don’t have to bring the characters to life, but you do have to make them more convincing.”

In the spirit of Seth’s words and to mark the start of the second week of Write by Midnight, I thought I would share some of the pleasures and frustrations I felt while striving to make my characters more convincing.

First, the frustrations.

Revision. Takes. For. Ever.

My Write by Midnight goal was to revise two chapters a week. And even though I wrote more than my planned 90 minutes on five days and met my time limit on the other two days, I only revised one chapter and barely made a dent in the second. Last night, as I prepared to write this progress report, I reflected on why, even with more dedicated writing time, I struggled to reach my goal. There are many answers, but I can sum them up by saying I want to write with historical accuracy and emotional authenticity in a way that middle grade readers want to keep turning the pages.

This. Takes. Time.

When I wrote the first draft, I didn’t worry about researching how people in the 18th century would have treated pneumonia. I made notes to go back during revision to discover what the hold of an 18th century sloop would look like and how the crew would repair storm damage to the ship at sea. I just wrote past those – and many other – period-specific details during the drafting stage.

But now I’m revising and I need those details. They’re vital for my readers to feel the fear, worry and helplessness that my protagonist experiences as she’s trying to care for her sick mother during a storm in the hold of an 18th century ship that is carrying them away from their homeland to an unknown destination. Finding those details takes time. Paring them down to the ones that evoke the emotions I want the reader to experience takes time. Making sure they’re the sights, sounds and smells an 8-year-old girl would notice takes time. Discovering the words she would use to describe her thoughts and feelings takes time. Making sure all of these details are age appropriate, readable and interesting takes time.

Revision is the stage of writing where writers need to invest the time.

Doing so leads to the pleasures Seth referenced. My research unearthed the details I needed to not only add layered depth to my characters, but also illustrate the themes I want to get across in my writing. The discovery process is thrilling, especially when it leads to writing you never thought yourself capable of. So, I’m not beating myself up for not writing two chapters by the end of the first week of Write by Midnight. The words I did get on the page are good ones. They say what I want them to say. My story is better because of the time I invested.

As I move onto the second week of our write-a-thon, I’ll keep letting the peculiar pleasures outweigh the peculiar frustrations. I’ll move forward with my revision process, slow and detailed as it may be, and wish you all the best in discovering what works best for you and the stories you strive to tell.