I held off joining Twitter for a long time. It wasn’t a type of interaction that appealed to me at first, and I had nothing I really needed to promote or announce. But as I started to delve into the world of professional writing and publishing, it became a truly valuable resource.* It has connected me with other writers, helped me learn more about crafting the dreaded query letter in order to get an agent, and taught me several useful abbreviations and bits of internet shorthand. Case in point: WIP.
In case you are unfamiliar (as I was), writers use this as shorthand when talking about their “Work In Progress.” So today I’m going to share a snippet of my current WIP.
While I wait to hear back from the publishers who are considering my young adult book (I got another no last week, boo!) I’ve been working on something new. This time it’s an adult book, set during the era my grandmothers grew up in, and using them as an inspiration for my main character, Betty. (She's entirely fictional however, and any real-life tidbits are purely kernels that I let my imagination run away with.)
It’s still fairly rough at the moment, so forgive any messiness or mistakes. I'm not quite ready to spill the beans on the broader scope of the book (mostly because it's still in flux) but here is a little glimpse at one hour of Betty’s life:
Usually a sink full of dishes is a burden, but at the moment this chore is my solace from the uproar in the living room.
I sit with my hands in the dishwater-filled sink, staring out the window, stretching the time until I have to go back out there. My view is a solid swath of black velvet, not a twinkle of light to be seen. This side of the house overlooks the neighboring farm’s grain corn fields, and on molasses-thick moonless nights such as this one, it might as well be the far reaches of outer space.
A motorcycle charges along the highway that borders the corn, breaking through the black, and I imagine that I am the earth and its winking light is John Glenn’s Mercury space pod, rocketing past me into the night.
“Betty, get your ass back here, we’re starting another hand,” Bill calls, bringing me back to myself. I am not the earth, and John Glenn has been home for months now.
I pull my hands out of the water and shake them off, realizing I have no idea how long I've been lost in space. My pruned fingers cling to my slacks as I wipe them. Before I return to the living room, I arrange my face into a pleasant expression and pick up the tray I’ve loaded with cocktails and small dishes of snacking food. When I enter the room, Margie is perched on Bill’s lap, grasping at the deck of cards he is holding just out of her reach. Her better half, Jocko, has his back to the scene, plunking idly on the keys of our small upright piano in the corner.
“Drinks!” I announce, forcing a bright levity into my voice, and everyone rearranges themselves around the card table in the center of the room. We resume our round of euchre, and with it, the awkward game of flirt and flatter that has been spinning around the table all evening.
Margie flirting sloppily with Bill, a hand on his arm, a teasing quality in her voice:
“A card laid is a card played, Billy boy,” she coos as Bill tries to exchange the Jack he has mislaid on the table for a ten. Her fingers lay languidly atop his, stopping him from picking up the card.
Bill flattering Jocko, who is the owner of a booming Minnesota shoe brand he is desperate to carry in the store:
“Dammit, Jock, you make one hell of a fine shoe. Give me an exclusive here in Wisconsin, and we could make a lot of money together. I got big plans for my store. I aim to expand with another branch next year. Sky’s the limit after that. You get in with me now, we could be all over the state in ten years—hell, the country!—and I don’t want to do it without your product. No one makes ‘em better. You know it, and I know it.”
Jocko is nodding his head slowly, staring down at his hand, shuffling the cards around. Silent. But under the table his foot lays alongside mine, and every few seconds, it lifts and slides up the side of my leg before moving slowly back down again. I steel myself against the impulse to recoil, to kick out, to scream. Bill needs these shoes for the store, I tell myself. And the store needs to succeed. It’s for the good of the family.
Little mouths to feed. A bank loan to pay back. House payments due to the farmer who lopped off a corner of his cropland to build our little rental.
So I let it happen. Not so much for Bill, but for the kids.
The card game soon loses momentum. Jocko’s attention is waning, Bill and I can both see it. Margie is too far into her cup to see much more than Bill.
“How ‘bout a song, Jock? I’ve heard you play, you’re a pro. Let’s liven up the place,” Bill says. His eyes slide over to mine, pleading for help.
“Please, Jocko. Give us a song. Choose your favorite,” I urge weakly.
Jocko lumbers over to the piano, and in his absence my stomach unclenches. As he begins to bang out the opening bars of “Roll Out the Barrel,” Bill shouts above the notes.
“Get on up there, Betty.” He takes my elbow, his grasp roughened by drink, and tries to physically lift me off the chair. Still seated, he doesn’t have much leverage, and he digs his fingers into the soft flesh of my inner arm to compensate.
Bill knows the song is one of my favorites too, that I can be counted on entertain his potential business partner like an obedient show dog trotted out in front of an eager crowd. This assumption that I will always be at his beck and call, ready with a song or a drink or dinner or clean laundry or sex or a needle and thread… It’s a constant ball of lead in my belly. We work side by side in the store, but it his his store. He makes no secret of this. I work as an unpaid secretary, and when he needs my help we are “in this together” and “working on building something” and “on track to make the big bucks.” But when we succeed he is the face of it, in his own mind and in others’. He is given the credit, and takes it without a single thought.
But I get up anyway, an image of my kids held tightly in my mind like a life preserver in the ocean of shame and self-pity I’m feeling, and I sing. I gather all my emotions together and mix them into a Molotov cocktail and set it alight. I blaze with feeling, dancing around in a manic, clownish polka. I act out each verse with comic energy, looking Bill in the eyes with all the rot I’ve been hiding under a shiny exterior. The resentment, anger, pain, frustration, exhaustion, and disappointment that have slowly been congealing into hatred, like bile-green Jello setting into a jiggly defiance.
But he sees nothing other than his reliable wife once again jumping at his call.
I’m throwing everything I have at him until I’m breathless, and his blindness to what burns inside me is shocking. Or it was once, at least. Now it’s just another Friday night. And what once felt like shock is reduced to a foul, sour burn at the back of my throat.
As the song ends—Jocko running his finger across the keys with a flourish—I collapse back into my chair, panting. The barrel has been rolled out, Jocko has been suitably flattered, my wifely duty fulfilled.
As Bill pushes past me to congratulate Jocko on his playing, he pats my head absentmindedly, like the good dog I pretend to be.
~ ~ ~
*Side note: if you’re a writer who hasn’t dipped your toe into the Twitterverse, it can be an extremely supportive community. I suggest you give it a try. Some hashtags that might be interesting to start with are the weekly themed writing games like #2bitTues, #1lineWed, and #FictFri, or the more general #amwriting or #WIP. There are also several pitch contests where you use the 140 characters to pitch your book idea to agents. Check them out!