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Please Sir May I Have Some More?

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Jan. 22nd, 2016 | 01:24 pm

This is a new section from a YA novel in progress, a black comedy about a school shooter. The Fundraiser table currently holds a Christmas-tree sale put on by the Rojans all-girl student service club. "Eyedropper" is the name Aurora is called--there's a story, but you don't have to know it for this excerpt.
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10:34.

Six minutes.

Trevor finishes his lunch in record time, picking off the burger bun, scarfing the patty in three bites, apple in his hoodie pocket, milk in his hand, garbage in the trash, tray on the conveyer belt and out the door.

He leaves without looking at me. Good. I don’t want any of this—of what’s going to happen—to touch him. Any more than it already has.

The smell of deep-fryer grease mixing with student sweat and garbage cans is starting to make me nauseous. I’m sure that’s what’s making me nauseous. I feel in my shoulder bag—safety’s on. Thankfulness flashes through me, for Grampa and the day he made me take all our guns apart and put them back together again blindfolded, over and over until I could keep track of all the parts, check the magazine and the safety and know the gun was safe and ready. At first I couldn’t remember where I set the magazine and the bullets kept rolling on the picnic table and I jammed a big splinter under my thumbnail from sliding my hands around trying to find them. I got cranky and pulled off the blindfold and asked why I had to do this because it was dumb and I wanted to go do failure drills like we were here for. In case you ever have to do it in the dark, Aurora Dawn. I asked why we didn’t just do it in the dark, then. How’m I supposed to see if you’re doing it right? Made sense. If someone’s floundering in the dark, you need someone else who can see what they’re doing, guide their hand when they’re reaching for something that isn’t there. Someone who won’t let them drown in the dark, still reaching.

Grampa gently pushed my wrist in the right direction until I got better at remembering where I put things and putting them in the same place every time, finding the space between the table slats and using that as a trough to hold the bullets. Eventually I got it. Eventually we went inside and did failure drills, which is when you shoot twice at chest height, fast pause, then once at head height. The pause is to check for failure—that is, you didn’t stop the target, it’s still coming at you.

Even though we’re still using the targets shaped like milk bottles and not like torsos—or, God forbid, the ones shaped like guys in turbans and face covers—failure drills make me feel like a gun nut. Like one of those people driving a truck with a Confederate flag, yelling yee-haw out the window on a Saturday night. Because failure drills are where you have to face it—no matter how much fun it is to line up the sights and operate the weapon correctly and overlap your bullet holes—failure drills are about shooting people. Humans. Twice to the chest, check, once to the head.

I only have six bullets. Five targets. No room for failure.

Then again, I’m not expecting the targets to keep approaching.

Be the bigger person, Aurora. I don't know if it's Trevor or Grampa in my head, but at least one of the two most important men in my life is urging me to give it one more try. Everyone deserves a second chance. Even me.

I re-settle the flap on my bag and stand up. Supplicant, Aurora Dawn, now making her way to the Fundraiser Table. Past AV Club, through the ranks of Not Important But Without Them Who Would We Sell Things To, weaving slightly among the tables of Clubs Who Are Also Friends, ignoring the disbelieving looks of Cheerleaders and Non-Nerd Honor Students, who do I think I am?

In front of the Fundraiser table, the sunlight is on me from the windows, but not high enough to blind me. Sorry, ladies.

Logan coughs, "Eyedropper," and he and Cody punch each other. Hannah rolls her eyes. Jessica says "Guys," in her boys, what-can-I-do voice. Ashley doesn't know whether to follow Jessica or Hannah, so she compromises with an exasperated sigh.

I reach into my purse and pull out a wad of bills. Forty-five dollars, from the last time Grampa unloaded some Precious Moments at the VFW Trash-N-Treasure Sale. "I would like to buy a Christmas Tree please."

Hannah looks at Ashley, who startles and then starts scanning the list in front of her. Hannah looks at me and makes me wait. Then, "Douglas Fir or Blue Spruce?"

In my plan, they don't even talk. "Um, Douglas Fir?"

Ashley is on board. "Ohhhh, sorry--we just sold the last one."

"OK, Blue Spruce."

Hannah twists out half a smile and shakes her head. "I don't think we have that in your size, Aurora."

"You have a lot full of trees." I gesture out the window, at the lot full of trees.

I have to give her credit, Hannah doesn't let her face slide into a smirk. She looks genuinely concerned. "Sales have been brisk--I'm afraid we're pretty much sold out."

"You have a lot full of trees. I can see them."

"Well, most of those are reserved." Hannah looks at Jessica, waiting for her contribution.

Jessica doesn't look at me. "We're just waiting for people to come pick them up after school."

Ashley butts in with her sheaf of paper. "There's not anything left in your price range."

I reach into my bag again. I pull out a hundred-dollar bill. Grampa's last birthday gift, you could get some clothes, Aurora, but I'd keep it in case of an emergency. As long as I don't spend it, I know nothing is really an emergency.

Hannah's smile slides for a moment. She lifts the cashbox lid, then looks at me with pity. "I'm sorry, we're out of change. I can't break a hundred. Maybe try the lunch line."

Even Dickensian orphans get Christmas trees, brought to the workhouse by rich benefactors soothing their own consciences. Please sir, I want some more. Some more popularity. Some more friends. Some more compassion as a fellow human being. I know your life can't be as perfect as it looks, do you have to stay on top by stepping on the people underneath? I know you're afraid too, can't you just admit for once that we all are?

Definitely asking for too much there.

I put the money back in my bag--emergency over--and shrug. "Thanks anyway. Guess it'll be a tough Christmas at the Crenshaws."

Jessica is staring hard at her half-eaten salad. Ashley doesn't know what expression she's supposed to make next, so she's stuck in accountant mode. Hannah, of course, always has an answer. Even sweeter, even nicer.

"Well, Rojans adopts a family every year from among the less-fortunate, but I think that might be a little embarrassing for you. Maybe get in touch with the Salvation Army?"

I tried.




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Whipchick is currently at the Writers In Paradise conference. Check it out - great place to workshop pages!




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Comments {27}

dmousey

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from: dmousey
date: Jan. 22nd, 2016 07:00 pm (UTC)
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Reminds me of my HS days, ugh. Well, now I want to know what happens next!

Peace~~~D

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 12:44 am (UTC)
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Thanks :) Strongly based on my high school days!

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blink

(no subject)

from: yachiru
date: Jan. 22nd, 2016 11:54 pm (UTC)
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You had me at "a black comedy about a school shooter". I'd read that book any day.

Hope you're having fun at the conference! I'm debating whether to submit to Clarion or Tin Roof or something else but the cost + fear of rejection are stymieing me.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 12:51 am (UTC)
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Thanks - I'm totally hitting you up for a read when it's done!

It was a good conference - I prefer conferences where we write every day rather than workshopping previously sent-in material, but it was good overall and reasonably priced.

I've heard very good things about Tin House, Sewannee and Breadloaf. I've been to Kenyon Writers Workshop. Yes, some of them are $%#& expensive, but a lot of them offer financial aid or fellowships. Don't worry about rejection, you write well enough to get in. If you don't get picked up, it's due to a glut of applicants, not your work.

I don't know how much time you can take off work, but I LOVE Atlantic Center for the Arts. It's three-week residencies, and you apply to work with a specific "Master Artist." So I'm going in February/March to work with a nonfiction guy, David Shields, and there will also be a visual artist group with their master artist and a music group with their master artist. It's $900 for three weeks, which covers lodging and food, and they give financial aid to just about anyone who asks. I've found the structure is perfect for me - daily two-hour workshops with the master artist, lots of free time to work on short assignments from class and my other writing.

Writers in Paradise, that I just went to, wasn't hugely priced, but the lodging is the expensive part because it's Florida in January. That said, I can probably hook you up with a friend with a guest room.

It's great to get feedback, but it's also awesome just to network and hear great writers read and be in the discussions about everyone else's work.

And here's a post I wrote awhile ago about types of residencies:
https://brevity.wordpress.com/2015/06/03/writer-camp/

Edited at 2016-01-24 12:52 am (UTC)

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blink

(no subject)

from: yachiru
date: Jan. 28th, 2016 10:19 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! I liked your article. I shall have to look into some writing bootcamps for the future.

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Rowan

(no subject)

from: mzrowan
date: Jan. 23rd, 2016 01:12 am (UTC)
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So happy to read another installment of this!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 12:53 am (UTC)
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Thanks, that warms my heart! I'm about 2/3 of the way through and I'd like to finish it in the next five months - I'm at a stage in my career where I can't do the things I want to do without a published book.

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adoptedwriter

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from: adoptedwriter
date: Jan. 23rd, 2016 03:48 am (UTC)
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"...Like one of those people driving a truck with a Confederate flag, yelling yee-haw out the window on a Saturday night." Love it! AW

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 12:53 am (UTC)
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Haha thanks!

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Teo Says

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from: eternal_ot
date: Jan. 23rd, 2016 01:09 pm (UTC)
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Interesting glimpse..wouldn't mind reading more of this world..Nice! Have Fun!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 12:53 am (UTC)
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Thanks - part of a novel I'm about 2/3 of the way through. Very American :)

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lawchicky

(no subject)

from: lawchicky
date: Jan. 23rd, 2016 05:09 pm (UTC)
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I got uncomfortable reading this just because it hit home so much. Good job.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 12:53 am (UTC)
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Thank you - that's a really solid compliment. Honored :)

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rayaso

(no subject)

from: rayaso
date: Jan. 23rd, 2016 05:23 pm (UTC)
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"Black comedy" and "school shooter" are not phrases normally heard together, but you're making it work. The humiliating treatment over the Christmas tree was very well down, as was the introductory description as the cafeteria. Good luck with this!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 12:54 am (UTC)
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Thanks! Must...finish...novel...

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kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatre

(no subject)

from: bleodswean
date: Jan. 23rd, 2016 05:27 pm (UTC)
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Tightly written! There's two things I think of when I think of "eyedropper" - someone watching in on an ASL conversation, and someone who Visines folks for giggles. Now I'm intrigued...as to this nick.

I simply wasn't this cynical or self-aware as a teen. It's an unique perspective!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 12:54 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I don't know how many teens are this sharp :) I'm working in high schools a bit in April, will have to listen for conversations!

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fodschwazzle

(no subject)

from: fodschwazzle
date: Jan. 23rd, 2016 05:38 pm (UTC)
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It's painful to watch this. Maybe more painful than the notion that this could develop into a shooter situation? <--that's a question because my empathy with Aurora is great enough to wonder how I'll feel if it's her.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 12:55 am (UTC)
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You know, I'm really glad to hear you say that, because that's the biggest challenge with this book, is writing a school shooter as a sympathetic character. It's not the only horrible thing that happens, either, nor the worst by a long shot :) So thanks!

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Raised by Wolves

(no subject)

from: sinnamongirl
date: Jan. 24th, 2016 06:28 pm (UTC)
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Oh, yeah, high school /sigh.... very well written, and I'm definitely intrigued to read more!

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Jan. 25th, 2016 03:20 am (UTC)
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I remember this character and her grandfather from earlier, though I don't remember her being on her way to shooting up a school. Which kind of worries me.

The kids at the fundraiser table, though... I'm baffled by the dedication some people show to being jerks, and yet they do.

Don't do it, Aurora! You can be better than this!

The dialogue and setup ring very true. This is always a solid area for you, regardless of the age/culture of the people whose voices you're capturing.

Edited at 2016-01-25 03:21 am (UTC)

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millysdaughter

(no subject)

from: millysdaughter
date: Jan. 25th, 2016 04:43 pm (UTC)
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I need to read more!

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her brain is crowded and tastes like sex!

(no subject)

from: thistle_verse
date: Jan. 25th, 2016 05:16 pm (UTC)
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This is such an amazing tightrope of a story... fun and funny, sad, really vital and all with a low-lying, tense dread the whole way through. So well done.

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Ellison

(no subject)

from: ellison
date: Jan. 25th, 2016 09:16 pm (UTC)
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Wow, this is so good! I want to read more!!

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drwex

(no subject)

from: drwex
date: Jan. 25th, 2016 09:27 pm (UTC)
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What I think works about this is that I didn't need the intro to know what was going on.

I do not, however, understand the only six bullets thing. It's my impression that all the recent school shooters (heck, even going back to the UT-Austin tower shooter) and other mass killers have had LOTS of ammo. That one detail threw me, but otherwise a great excerpt.

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tonithegreat

(no subject)

from: tonithegreat
date: Jan. 26th, 2016 12:35 am (UTC)
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I want to read the rest, too! You must point your idol fans in the right direction when it gets picked up.

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Murielle

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from: murielle
date: Jan. 26th, 2016 03:20 am (UTC)
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Mean is just plain mean!

Fantastic read!

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