I’ve been sort of, kind of, attempting to plot out a novel while I’m doing inventory. If I actually do sit down & write it, it will be the first work of fiction I’ve tried to write. Fiction has always been daunting to me, I mean, you have to make the crap up don’t you?
It’s just so much easier writing about things that have actually happened. The several books I have published…self published, are all historical. It is so much easier writing about things that have happened, you know? Research means you don’t have to depend completely on your imagination.
That being said, I’m going to have to do a fair amount of research for this one. There are a lot of details that I don’t know & if I’m going to try to make this into a decent novel, I should probably have some of the details grounded in reality.
The idea came because of a joke about Ted Kaczynski, a song I was singing while counting:
“This is the story of a man named Ted, a poor mountaineer who was Fucked up in the head. Then he mailed some bombs & he made some people die & up through the woods comes the FBI.”
I know a fair amount about Ted Kaczynski, I quoted his manifesto in one of the books I self-published. that book was about domestic terrorism in modern America. This book has nothing to do with a domestic terrorist. My Ted doesn’t kill anyone. My Ted doesn’t bomb anyone. My Ted can’t do either because he has a little girl to look after. Well, sort of. The little girl isn’t his.
The little girl he found in a car accident after he went off to his remote cabin in the woods to hide from the world. The man is faced with a choice. He could leave the baby in the car to die, he can take the baby to the authorities, or he can raise it himself.
To advance the plot, he raises her himself. The baby has to be a little girl. A loving father-daughter relationship is key for the first act. The fact that an old man was keeping a girl in a cabin in the woods & the public reaction to that is key for the second act.
In the second act, he gets hurt, pretty seriously, & to save his life, this girl, now in her early twenties, this girl that knows how to live off the land & survive, has to go to what she was raised to think is a wicked & violent outside world to save the man that she thinks is her father. The second act ends in a court case & Ted gets sent to jail on kidnapping charges, it breaks his daughter’s heart.
The third act focuses on the girl. Here she is in the modern world. She can do things that I can’t do. She can survive & thrive in an environment that would certainly kill me. In short, she can live like man used to live before civilization, only in civilization, all the skills & talent she has doesn’t qualify her to do more than stock shelves at a Wal-Mart.
She’s a smart girl. She can hunt & fish & grow her own food. She can make her own clothes. She knows what wild plants she can eat & what will kill her, but thanks to technology, all she can do after the state “helps her” & locks up her father, is stock shelves for a minimum wage.
She can survive & thrive out in the rugged Mountains of Alaska, but here in civilization, she can hardly make rent.
In the end she’s either going to kill herself or simply throw down her smock, walk out of her crap job & disappear into the woods again. I’m not sure which ending will be more dramatic.
In any case, plotting this thing out is keeping me from rolling over in boredom as I count out 300 plus open tamper proof envelopes for the third time in a row because we have far more of them than was previously thought & Susan seems intent on making me count them over & over again until she gets the number that fits in her head.
I count them out twice & get 300 when there should be 89. The third time I start to count them, I try to talk myself out of having the girl kill a bear with here bare hands. It is too Davy Crockett. Too cartoonish. She’s a normal human being, not a superhero, this novel that I’m plotting has to be believable if it is going to be taught in schools, long after I’m dead, as a great American novel.
“No, I still have 300 Susan.”
“Well that’s over 200 more than I have listed.”
“I don’t know what to tell you?”
I say it as I hold up what is clearly more than 89 envelopes. I think to myself that this wouldn’t happen if she inventoried by location instead of by quantity. I suppose quantity is easier when you order the products new. You don’t have to break it up in the computer when you separate them by location, but then you get these wacky numbers, don’t you.
She has to concede. For starters, she’s not the one counting, she’s sitting at the computer staring off into space & waiting for us to yell out numbers. She didn’t go to school & get her BA in engineering to count crap in storage. When she says things like this, I try not to point out that the epidemiologist & I are doing the counting, we both have master’s degrees. By her educational rational, by her academic class warfare, we both outrank her.
The boss stopped counting a while ago, but that’s cool with me. She pulled the “I’m an old woman with MS” card & you really can’t argue that point can you? That’s totally fair. But then, maybe, kicking back at the computer & knocking Susan off her high horse & into the dust might be good for the epidemiologist & I. It would be better to listen to Susan complain about doing “Mexican work” than to recount everything that doesn’t match her inventory count.
It might also let you revamp the system & start inventorying by location & not just by quantity. It might be beneficial for you too, to take the whip out of Susan’s hands.
I start counting magnets, get a number that doesn’t match the list she printed out for everyone, & then I start counting them all over again, to make sure that I didn’t make a mistake.
I give Susan the number. She has me count them again.
I start thinking: should Ted find her in the back of a car or the back or a caravan? Should I even try to explain why her parents were in a situation to get in a car accident, with a baby, in the middle of nowhere Alaska or should I leave it as a plot hole. She is a rug-rat, she wouldn’t know where they were going. Would that little detail put the reader off?
I give Susan the number again. It still doesn’t match. She has me count it again.
I flip through the magnets & wonder: First person, Third Person? It can’t be a First Person narrative, there is no way I can write a believable female perspective, plus Ted finds the protagonist when she is young, how do you write a first person narrative for a toddler?
Jokes don’t go over well in this environment. They don’t go over well at this job at all. You can’t take a moment, pick up a sign with a blue arrow pointing to the sky & ask:
“Is it OK if they don’t match? This one is pointing up & that one is pointing down?”
For starters, if the boss is there, she’s going to think it is a real question. She is honestly going to assume that I am that stupid. That is the first conclusion she will jump to. And then, Susan doesn’t think work jokes are appropriate in the least. Even clean jokes. Even elephant jokes–well remembered avid reader.
The volunteer coordinator would laugh at that, but she has knee problems & has been banned from inventory. Seriously, they ran her out the first day she showed up. No kneeling on concrete for her & certainly no heavy lifting.
Doing inventory of something the size of achieves, counting boxes of little magnets & enormous bags of assorted lapel pins takes forever with only two active counters & it takes even longer when you are told to recount things several times if the numbers are off by hundreds.
Should the girl have to testify in court? It would be pretty dramatic to have her give a tear-filled testimony on how much she loved her “father,” & how she didn’t understand what he had done wrong. Could I write something like that & get away with it? Could I do that & make the reader cry along with her as the judge sends the man that raised her as his own away for the rest of his life on kidnapping charges?
Could I get away with writing a narrative that close to the female perspective & make it believable? It has to be female. The Amanda Berry thing is still mildly fresh in people’s mind & I fully intend to write in fake News reports that are sensationalizing the story & jumping to horrible conclusions. It might be sadistic, but I’m going to make both the protagonist & her father watch the news after the arrest.
Fiction makes you feel like a god, even while you are plotting out a story while counting emergency vests. You have created characters, well not yet, but they are there & they are forced to do what you want them to. It leads to some horrible questions that make you question your sanity.
You start counting pump flashlights & wonder what happens if you don’t finish writing your story? Are these characters you have created living in their own world & have you just doomed them to an eternity in limbo?
What if you change the second draft significantly from the first draft? Is that where things like past-life-experiences come from? People that experience them, are they just pawns that are on their second draft?
When you are not writing, or thinking about the story, do your characters hang out? Do they take cigarette breaks? Is Ted really a good friend of the judge that convicts him, but, do they have to pretend to disgust one another while you are reading or writing them & then, the moment you put it down do they run off for a game of squash together?
Trying to plot a fiction story while doing inventory raises some profound theological questions. It might be better to just focus on the MRC Red polo t-shirts from Port Authority & let your mind fall asleep with the count. One…Two…Drei…Cuatro…Cúig.