Here's the thing you may not realize about writing a novel: it takes a long time. And I don't just mean it takes a lot of hours. For me, it's taking years. YEARS. Granted, I only really work on this novel that's filled my Google Drive during the summer months when my teaching demands are on hiatus, and even then, it's only when I squeeze time to focus on it around motherhood. But creating a full-length novel worthy of sending out for mountains of rejection and possibly, so slightly possibly, capable of landing an agent's attention takes major dedication and time.
But I'm starting to feel bad for Noelle, the main character of my manuscript, and after spending half a decade with just me, I want to see if the world finds her interesting. So below, you'll find an excerpt from the beginning of the novel. Noelle keeps a Death Diary, in which she writes entries to the inhabitants of whichever graves she decides to visit. I don't want to give too much more away, so that's as much context as I'll give for now. I would love any type of feedback from someone other than the voices in my head, so please feel free to leave your comments below.
Without further ado, meet Noelle, through one of her own diary entries:
Gracie Ann Brown
September 23, 1991 – June 8, 1998
San Pedro, TX
Death Diary Entry #74
Hello, Gracie. I know you don’t know me, but I hope you don’t mind if I sit here on your little carved bench and write awhile. Your graveyard is beautiful, by the way. Cemeteries are as different as the people buried in their soil, you know. I’ve been in some that had only ten stones, others thousands. Some have lighted walkways and signs about grass restrictions and others border playgrounds. My favorite ones are those that feel like autumn all year long, full of trees with heavy branches bowing, like their heads are constantly lowering in respect. There are no trees reaching for me or blanketing the grass here above your stone, though; just straight sky, undiluted light, warmth I wish could reach your face, your crossed little arms, your heart. I like it even though it’s different. I’ve become very used to different.
It’s why I chose you to write to this time. You jumped out at me, with your innocent little name and your tiny little life. Seven years old. That breaks my heart. Did you ever get to build a fort made of blankets? It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of seven. One week at that age, my mother and I were staying in one of those motels we often frequented in those first few years, one where you get a key with a large plastic diamond attached, the room number stamped on it in bright red ink that has just begun to rub away on the edges from where people jam it into their back pocket. The décor inside was typical: itchy polyester comforters, a picture that was probably torn out of a calendar framed and hanging on the wall outside of the cramped bathroom. I was in a bad mood, tired of cramming into the car, tired of living out of a ratty duffel bag, tired of the blisters on my feet from where my toes rubbed the tops of my shoes, the ones a size too small that cost my mother more than she'd really had.
I used to bug her about going home, used to whine and cry for my dad, until one day she slapped me hard across the face. She never slapped me, never touched me unless it was to wrap me in a bear hug or kiss my cheek so hard I could feel her lips pushing against my teeth. I'd been stunned, and expected her to apologize, but she just stared at me hard and through gritted teeth said, "You never ask about or for that man again. Understand?" And so I don’t.
Anyway, that night in that motel, like so many others before and since, my mother tried to make it special. And I guess she did, because I remember it. I'd gone into the bathroom to shower and wash away the sting behind my eyes and on my cheek, and when I came back out, I almost knocked over this massive structure. My mother had stripped the bed and flung the sheets over the TV, tucked corners into dresser drawers, tied ends to spindly wire hangers. When I pulled back a dangling sheet to see inside, there was a deep warm glow from the covered lamps, and the pillows were laid out like fluffy carpet. I saw the blanket we kept in our car, a favorite of mine, patched and fringing at the ends, curled around my mother's feet and turned back beside her, like it was waiting for me. My mother had smiled and patted beside her. "Hey, doodlebug. Thought we'd have a little camp-in tonight."
It was glorious and fairy-tale like, even if it was in a cheap generic motel that had one of those roadside signs constantly stuck on "Vacancy." Mama used the rest of her change to raid the soda machine, and we'd cuddled together in the fort, sipping lukewarm Pepsis and watching a Lifetime movie, one where a woman's husband seems so sweet and loving until he tries to kill her one day.
My mom wrapped me in one of her bear hugs in the middle of that movie, right after the scene where the woman ran away from her house, tears streaking her face, the husband silhouetted in the doorway with a gun. "Remember people aren't always what they seem, Noelle," she'd whispered into my hair.
Did you have parents that loved you, Gracie? I mean really loved you? Not just the, "Oh, well, she's my daughter so of course I love her because I'm supposed to and I have to;" no, not that kind of love. I mean that real, deep-gut, world-ending kind of devotion. Were you sick when you died? Or was it an accident? Was no one watching you? Did you choke, fall off of a bike, succumb to cancer? It's the not knowing part I hate most. They put these gravestones up, slap these dates on here, and sometimes people will put something about someone being a loving father, mother, daughter, friend, whatever. But it never says how a person died, what took them away from everyone else.
So I don't know what took you away from your family. And I don't know what took my dad away from me. Well, besides saying it was my mother. But there was that night of the blanket fort, when the light shifted beneath the threads and the television blinked in and out of an alternate reality and my mom whispered words that sank right through my skull.
I know we're going to leave Texas soon, probably head as far north as possible, now that Mom saved enough gas and convenience store money to get us through a week or so on the road. The endless dashes of my life, laid out on asphalt, one after the other as we pass them, on and on, year after year. You've got one little dash on this gravestone meant to stand for all the days you lived, but if that means you had one place where you belonged, well, I might say I'm jealous. I'd trade all of my road-dashed lines for your one single hyphen.
Those blanket memories are nice. But I'm gathering them so tight, looking for something to fall out, that they're becoming suffocating.
Lynne Reeder is a mother, teacher, and lifelong reader. She's been penning poems and stories since she first learned to spell words. Her works appear in many online journals and other publications, and she received the title of Poet Laureate for hometown in 2016. She spends her time squeezing in writing drafts of her works around wrangling her two daughters and impulsive pitbull. She's been lucky enough to find love early, marrying her high school sweetheart Brandon, with whom she has been for over half of her life. She loves all kinds of tea, witnessing the moment a student discovers a new talent, and recognizing the infinite in the everyday. She hopes you enjoy her words as much as she thrives on creating them.