Welcome to IAA #2!
Now we’re going to get into the meat of the podcast… critiquing my unpublished first novel The Problematic Virtue, one chapter at a time.
Tip of the Week
Scrivener: an essential tool for writers that makes writing and taking notes waaay easier than Word or Pages.
On this blog, I’ll post the text I’ll be editing each week in the blog post at www.IndieAuthorAnswers.com so you can read along with it as you listen to me ramble about story structure.
THE PROBLEMATIC VIRTUE (part 1 of 71)
The desire, it caused the pain. In the passenger seat of his friend Derek Wiles’ Jeep, Brian Connelly held the cigarette over a cupped palm, rolling the cylinder between his fingers. He liked the way the little snippets of unpacked tobacco slipped from the end as it twisted, and he liked the soft feel of the paper tube pinched in-between his thumb and forefinger. Brian visualized crushing the cigarette into oblivion, but decided against it.
He paused to throw the dead tobacco drippings from his cupped palm out the open window of the Jeep, into the street next to the apartment complex. Wiles probably would not appreciate a mess in his car. Brian accidentally touched his naked wrist to the bare metal of the doorframe, and recoiled when the heat from the sunbaked surface shocked him. Brian wished that Wiles had left him the keys so he could run the air conditioner. Or at least the fan.
Brian checked his watch. Wiles had been gone for fifteen minutes, and left no timetable for a return from his task inside the apartment. Wiles had not event told him the purpose of the visit, or why Brian had to come along.
Brian imagined the line at the bookstore growing exponentially longer with each passing minute. He wished he had not delayed purchasing his books until the day before classes started. Now he had an even tighter schedule, with orientation on his dorm floor in a few hours.
Approaching footsteps. Wiles appeared at the Jeep, with a backpack slung over his shoulder.
“Did you get what you needed?” Brian said.
“No, I got what you need,” Wiles said. He opened the car door and tossed the backpack to Brian. Brian turned it over in his hands. Old, and likely it was once black, but now faded to ashy grey. Cheap canvas. Heavy. Rough to the touch.
Wiles drew a crowbar from his belt loop and tossed it into the back seat. The metal bar clanged and then came to rest, catching a glint of sun in the open air of the Jeep.
“You know what bugs the fuck outta me?” Wiles said as he climbed into the car. “People who apologize for no reason. I was at Tokyo Joe’s yesterday, and I went to go refill my soda, but there was a guy already standing there at the thing, filling his cup with water. He looked at me, and he mumbled ‘sorry’ and then he finished. What the hell do you have to be sorry about?”
Brian considered himself a connoisseur and collector of accents, the way some people might collect fine wines or star wars figures. Wiles, being from Baltimore, said wudder instead of water. This especially pleased Brian since he knew no one else from Baltimore.
“I’m sure the guy was just trying to be polite. Did you say anything to him?” Brian said.
Wiles shifted a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “No, but I should have. Why do people apologize for everything? Like he did something wrong because he was filling his drink and I had to wait on him. Don’t say you’re sorry; just be a motherfucking man about it.”
Brian kept his eyes on the backpack, nodding to let Wiles know he had listened.
“I need you to take that and go meet Ray and those North Side guys,” Wiles said, tilting his head towards the bag in Brian’s hands. “The ones from before, at the bridge on Wednesday night. Can you do that for me?”
“It’s the first week of class, might be kinda tricky to–”
“Nothing happens in the first week of school. You aren’t gonna have any homework.”
Although Wiles had probably never set foot inside a college class, he was correct, and Brian could not immediately think of another excuse. Brian had no love for the guys in the crew that Wiles had asked him to meet. Plus, he had hoped to pare down his errand-running for Wiles this semester. Brian did not enjoy the anticipation of having the exit strategy discussion with Derek Wiles.
“I need this to go smoothly,” Wiles said. “It’s important. You’re my guy.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Depends on who you ask, but for us, it’s about family,” Wiles said.
Brian knew better than to hunt for sense in Wiles’ musings once he stepped on his soapbox. “Okay, I can do this,” Brian said.
“That’s what I like to hear. How are you doing on the other stuff?”
“I’m working on it, but it’s slow going, with all the new students and everyone getting settled. It’s no problem; I just need a little more time.”
Wiles grunted acknowledgement then dug around in his back pocket and retrieved a brown paper bag. “I know I missed your birthday,” he said. “But I still got you a present. Happy twenty-first.”
“My birthday’s not until next month.”
Wiles’ toothpick clicked against his teeth. “Whatever,” he said and took from the bag a clamshell cellphone, which he flipped into Brian’s lap. “I’ve been waiting forever for you to get one of these, and I got sick of it. Phone’s all paid for and activated and shit, but you have to do the monthly payments. It’s all in your name, so you’re good to go, and I put some numbers in there for you already. ”
Brian ran his fingers over the tiny device’s plastic features. Seemed the whole world had cellphones now, but he had so far abstained. Now, holding one, he changed his mind. Or– more accurately– Wiles had changed it for him. “Derek, thank you. This is great.”
“Now you don’t have an excuse not to return my voicemails, son.” A gift with a price tag. Wiles had a smile on his face, but his dry tone suggested to Brian that no kidding lived behind the upturned corners of those lips. “You gonna smoke that cigarette or what?”
Brian looked down at the lone cigarette in his hand. He sighed, put the smoke between his lips and lit it. The desire causes the pain. He would leave the quitting to a better day.
Wiles drove Brian back to the University of Colorado campus and dropped him at the parking lot of Cheyenne Arapaho Hall, then made sure Brian did not forget the backpack nor his instructions. As Brian walked up the steps, his pocket started to buzz and jingle. Since the sound was so foreign to him, several seconds passed before he realized his cellphone was ringing. He looked at the phone, which displayed a familiar number on the Caller ID.
“Hey, sexy. Am I your first?”
“Hey, Heather. Yes, you are,” Brian said. “But I have used cells before, you know. How did you know this number?”
Heather giggled. “Wiles called me from your phone already. I just finished at the bookstore. It’s beyond ridiculous, like, you should bring a snack with you, or whatever. The line is all the way out the door.”
“I better get it over with,” he said.
Heather’s mischievous grin travelled from her mouth, to the satellite, down to Brian’s phone, and smacked him in the ear. “Wanna take a study break first? The bookstore isn’t going anywhere. You haven’t seen the apartment since I got my room all set up.”
Tempting, because Brian knew what she actually meant. He made a lackluster effort at resistance. “I don’t know, babe, I’ve got so much to do.”
“Do still have some of that good stuff from the other day?”
“Well, I do, but–” he said.
She squealed. “Ooh, yes. Me like. You have to come over. Right now.”
Brian wanted to open his mouth and explain his packed schedule, but “okay, okay, I’ll be there in about twenty,” came out instead. Brian ended the call without saying goodbye, thrusting the phone back into his jeans pocket.
On his floor, he passed a room where a few backwards-baseball-cap jocks played Mario Kart and talked smack at each other. He passed a room where a few nerdy-types on laptops were engrossed in some communal computing experience, a tangled mass of wires and cables connecting them all to the same device in the middle of the room. In one room, a student tended to a gigantic aquarium, and in another, a blond kid with a perfectly symmetrical face and his blond parents with perfectly symmetrical faces argued about bed sheets. A guitar case rested next to the window in the blond kid’s room, and Brian made a mental note to return and greet him. Good conversation-starter.
Brian pressed on towards the door at the end of the hallway marked Resident Advisor. He slid his key into the lock and entered the solitary comfort of his RA-sized private dorm room. One bed, one desk, one dressers, one window. Cinderblock walls painted soft blue. After tossing the bag Wiles had given him onto the floor, he plopped onto his bed and relished in the unobtrusive silence of his room. He pulled the hair tie from his shoulder-length hair and ran his fingers through it to straighten a few tangles.
He decided to meditate. He sat upright on the edge of the bed, placing his hands in his lap, palms up. He straightened his back, closed his eyes, and breathed in his nose and out his mouth, striving closer to uniformity with each repetition. As usual when he tried to empty his brain of all thoughts, a million of them came rushing in at once. He worried about Jimmy, who had left home and been gone for a week. He worried about his grades, as his GPA had dipped low enough after last semester to jeopardize his financial aid status. He needed more time to study, but judging from the conversation with Wiles in the Jeep, his friend (employer) did not intend to ease up on the extracurricular workload. Brian resolved to confront Wiles about it this week.
Brian promptly gave up on meditation, as he found it impossible to become empty. Instead, he opened the drawer at the bottom of his desk. Inside sat large bag filled with brownish marijuana… the schwag weed: the dirty, cheap stuff full of worthless seeds and stems. Brian lifted that bag and retrieved a much smaller bag of dense green pot underneath. He held it under his nose and took in the sweet aroma before stuffing the baggie in his pocket.
I seriously need to sell the rest of that crap weed. If I haven’t gotten rid of that by next week, Wiles will have my ass.