Thursday, May 28, 2009

Head Slap Moment!

I was overdue for one. My noggin gets a whack at least three times a week. It helps release the pent-up steam from my frying brain cells when I get them working on overdrive.

The head slap moment in question occurred on Sunday. I was editing my finished ms, The Stone Man, when I suddenly stopped.

Something wasn’t right.

I knew it wasn’t right from the moment I wrote the first paragraph. A problem eluded me for all 25 chapters. It kept me awake at night while I chewed on my fingernails. The flow, the overall tone of the story, was missing something. It didn’t feel . . .

. . . rural enough.

Rural. Country. Hick. My characters (except three of them) lived on the outskirts of the town. They lived in an area where the whiff of fresh cow manure signaled the sowing season. They lived in a place where if the sound of a gunshot went off, they would pass gas and salute the air with their beer cans while saying, “Tag, you’re it!” They were pure country.

In the story, they talked pure country only in the dialogue. The rest of the descriptive paragraphs were basic Eastside Manhattan. And that’s bad, especially since I don’t even know what Eastside Manhattan people talk like.

Pop! Yes, I lifted my palm and dinged the old noggin. Then I sat back, wondering, “How am I going to fix this?”

I thought about it until 2:00 in the afternoon. My face screwed up into, well, faces trying to get my hick down. Heck, my last name is HICKman. This should be easy for me.

Why wasn’t it easy for me?

I realized why. For my entire life, I strove NOT to be country - a hard endeavor when a person grows up there. I had 18 years of wallowing with the pigs, playing hide-n-seek between the corn stalks, and just sitting in the grassy field chewing on a brown straw stalk, to get rid of in my efforts for people to not look down upon my intelligence just because I grew up “redneck.”

I shoved that person way down deep into my subconsciousness. Then I buried the key in the cornfield.

I knew I had to get my inner “hick” down. Only then could I give my story the right voice. I closed my eyes, prepared my mind with the classic meditation chant, “Ooooommmm . . . Yee-haw” and began body-slamming the locked door inside my mind. In moments, the wood splintered and the memories returned.

- the oinks of pigs -

- the rustle of corn leaves brushing against my bare arms and the hidden giggles rising among the shadowed rows -

- the feel of soft moss under my rump, as I leaned back enjoying the sweet taste in my mouth as I watched the straw’s seedpod bounce with every gnashing of my teeth -

Yep, I’d felt all them memories blowing inside. They’d filled me up right, making me enjoy those times - those simple times of running barefoot up on those plowed fields, dark mounds rolled over like giant long Tootsie rolls that my lips smacked on when hopping from one dirt pile to another.

How’d I forget such a thing like that? Or those other times when I’d swung in the hanging tire in the barn, hearing them squeak-squawks of the beam making a fuss at my play. “Quiet beam!”

Mighty fine times with this and when I’d chase those chickens, round and round, my bare feet doing those pitter-patters on the ground so dry that ants hid in the cracks sensing the earthquakes as my pounding toes neared.

Why, I sure as felt everything coming on back, knowing I’d got myself some work to do on editing that manuscript. How long this mood of mine gonna last, well, we play it by ear. Give fair warning though. If you as go seeing my comment not looking like what I’d normally write, you sure do know the reasons why now!

23 comments:

  1. Open that floodgate of memories and I'm sure your the words you've sown will grow and bear fruit.

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  2. Great post. I wish I had the experiences you have to bring out the "hick" in a story, but alas that is one are I am sorely lacking. What you have here though is really good stuff.

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  3. HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!

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  4. Travis: They sure as can be are open. Why, I'm just 'fraid I won't be able to dam the blasted thang up.

    Eric: Believe me, the only thing you need to do is go out to a farm and volunteer to help out for the a day. You'll gain enormous amounts of knowledge.

    Hmm... I suppose this would work with any profession you're basing the characters on. Even if you just interview a person, it would go a long way in helping.

    Ello: See'in as I made someone laugh, I've must be a-doin a good job!

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  5. I can appreciate your problems with this and one would think that since I too grew up -still live -in a semi-rural setting too, that I would be able to apply that easily then in writing. However, in my case, I never really paid that much attention to details like this so it seems my memory bank then is at a loss with respect to dialogue stuff. Dialogue is one thing in writing I don't deal well with at all!!! But, you sure do have a grasp of the "feelings" of rural life as evidenced by the things you wrote of your remembrances and feelings in this post.
    Peace.

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  6. hey michelle, that's good ye gots yer groove back :)

    next time ye need help, track down some old 'l'il abner' toons and look up 'moonbeam mcswine', the other babe what rolls around with piglets ;) lol

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  7. Ain't nothin' gonna stop you now! :)

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  8. Spend a weekend visiting country western bars. That will hickify you in no time.

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  9. Just don't go overboard and add too many cow tipping scenes! Good luck.

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  10. YeeeeHawwww! Embrace dat inner Redneck, gurlllll! :)

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  11. We were country when country wasn't cool. Still are. Would not have it any other way. Angie can verify.
    Coach O

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  12. Hi,

    I'm a city girl from Atlantic City, NJ, but I migrated to Virginia about 15 years ago.

    Just wanted to let you know I admire your ability to pursue writing too. As yourself, I am a writer and have been writing since (and even before), my parents gave me my first journal at eight years old.

    Whenever you get a chance, come visit my blog!

    Have a great day and a wonderful weekend.

    Tiffany, The Resource Writer

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  13. This was awesome, Michelle... I have been battling the same problem... I'm well-read, and my writing voice often mimics what I've read rather than where I come from... for most of the same reasons - When you say 'tree' and you're talking about a number, and your 'th' sound is more like a 'd'... people generally think you're unedjumacated.

    I'm working on one that's more my natural voice... then again, not sure anyone will want to read it when I'm done :-)

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  14. I love country...I remember rolling down a hill a really big one, and I got a big ol tic on my head...it took my older sister an hour to get the bugger off, and damn did I cry and scream when she lit the match to burn the little effer away from my head. Oh, but that is country. Poarch sittin and Sunday fish-frys with hush-puppies....That's good country!

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  15. Jeni: Memories can lead us to places we never expected in our writing. I can do it in dialogue, yet everywhere else is a tad lacking. But I'm working on it. It just takes time for the memories to resurface. Let me know what dialogue problems you're still having.

    laughingwolf: "Chell'a" can get her groove back. Haha! And I will check out l'il abner

    Brenda: Nope. I won't let anything or anybody get in my way. MOVE OVER WORLD! HERE I COME!

    Chris: That seems self-defeating. I'll probably get too drunk to even remember what happened, and wonder what the mysterious snoring lump is in my bed.

    Endangered coffee: Funny thing - we raised cows and never once tipped them over.

    Angie: Why's, I sure as gonna 'til I can stands myself no more!

    Coach O: I wouldn't have it any other way either!

    Tiffany: Thanks for the blog kudos! And thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'll come by for a visit soon.

    Merry: Oh my. I had that same problem with "th." People gave me that funny look where they stare for a second then roll their eyes.

    I think people will read it "because" it is more of your natural voice. At least it gives them something new to read.

    Funny girl: AWK! Tics! Nasty buggers. We didn't roll down hills for fun. We dared each other to touch the electric fence. Quite entertaining!

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  16. Nice metamorphosis. Ya dun changed right afore muh eyes!

    Interesting thing is, I saw an ad today about a casting call for extras in a movie being shot around here, and they wanted people who could do a real Boston accent. I thought about it, but then realized that I worked so hard to get rid of my accent, for my work as a voice-over person, that I wasn't at all sure I could just bring it back for such a thing, so I decided not to go!

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  17. Suldog: What? Ya shoulda gone done go! Ya'll never know what might've happened! They coulda used you in somthin' else! You'd make a great acter!

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  18. It's not bad to get back to your roots. No matter where your roots are planted. But I'd have say that even your hickness is written beautifully.

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  19. Theresa: Well, gosh darnit. Y'all go and made me blush somethin' awful!

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  20. lol. well. ya sure 'bout that? re: not enough hick in the hickman masterpiece?

    my father grew up in atlanta and tennessee. someone that knows southern could probably place his speech, but it isn't obvious. The only thing is, he talks very slow, and will take extended breaks in the middle of a sentence, like, to get a beer out of the 'frig open it sit down and look out the window. Which wouldn't be so bad if he were saying something worth waiting for! lol.

    And suldog. that's odd. when young, i had a boston accent. i don't have one anymore. can't even fake it.

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  21. I spent the first 39 years of my life a city boy.

    I do not miss those days one bit. I enjoy the country life so much more. I'm at peace with myself and the world.

    Embrace those memories.

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  22. How I wish all the comments could turn into aural examples for me to hear!

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  23. Chris S.: Nope. My "hick" is lacking in this wo"man".

    I'm trying to figure out what a Boston accent would even sound like? I thought once you passed the Pennsylvania border, everyone sounds New York up the coast until reaching Canada.

    Buckskins: I will embrace all the memories (at least the good ones).

    jinksy: Oh, that would be so great! Putting a voice to a face would bring so many people closer together.

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