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  • Melissa Westemeier

how the plot unfolds

Last summer an idea for a story squeaked around the edges of my brain and I articulated it to my writing group. "Possibly my next book project," I told them. I left Quebec City, worked on revisions, sent Through the Channel to my editors and book designer, returned to my classroom, life got busy. That gave time for the idea to slowly take form, move from mist to something a bit more substantial. I jotted a few notes in a notebook and let the process unfold. Sometimes if I try to write before I'm ready the entire idea vaporizes and I end up with a whole lot of nothing.

Other times I try to write my way into a project and wind up with fifteen random tangents that tangle into a big ol' mess.

This time I sat on it, patiently. When school let out for the summer and I got my house back in order, I opened up a new file and started typing. Having taken a year to marinate, the characters are well-developed in my head and the conflicts for them to face are surprisingly abundant. I began typing the story thinking I had a skimpy plot. I parked my butt in my chair every day for three weeks (except weekends) and hit my word count each week. Today I was startled to look at the bottom of my computer screen and discover I had generated 70 pages and I have a fairly decent roadmap to follow in the weeks ahead as I continue writing.

My new project is about baseball and being fourteen and friendship and figuring out where one fits in. I thought I had a good title, but a quick Google search revealed that most of the common baseball terms used in titles are rather, ahem, adult. "Switch Hitter." "Heavy Hitter." "Grand Slam." You get my drift. I'm not going to link because this isn't that kind of blog. A week ago as I was swimming laps--

Before I explain I need to tell you about how I came up with a new system for counting my laps this summer. I used to count the laps in my head, but I'm easily distracted and would lose count and then I'd lose count some more and swimming became more laborious and less relaxing. This year I found a small metal bucket and some of those glass pebbles people use in vases for decorative purposes. I counted out the number of laps I wanted to swim (35) and before I dive in the pool, I empty the bucket into a little pile. After each lap I move a pebble over. When all of the pebbles are moved over, I'm done. Now my mind is free to think about other things--or nothing--while I swim. (And I only once dropped a clear glass pebble into the pool, but I was able to find it and learned I should keep the pile a little further from the edge.)

So while I was swimming last week (and not counting my laps!), a new title occurred to me and I like it much better. "Berken Ferncliff Can't Hit." I have a working title, 70 pages typed, plenty of conflict set up and a cast of fun characters.

When I'm not writing or swimming laps, I was watching my youngest play some baseball. Then he fractured his wrist (again, yes, same one as before, different spot, 4 weeks with a cast, total bummer). That's an old picture of him playing ball from a couple summers ago. Now G rattles around restlessly and helps toss worms to Bernie until he's fully matured. Bernie, that is, not G. Speaking of Bernie, he now lives outside full-time where he perches in trees and hops around the patio with a little chipmunk buddy. He's able to pick his own worms up off the ground and eat them. Rose keeps a close eye on him from the screen door.

And when I'm not writing this new project, I'm writing my representatives. I decided a while back that there's not much harvest gleaned from online activism like signing petitions, liking memes or engaging in fruitless chatter with internet trolls. I determined to correspond weekly with my representatives and tell them what I think. This summer's focus has been on the topic of social justice and black lives matter--I remind my elected representatives every week that I vote, I am aware of their efforts (or lack thereof, Mike Gallagher and Ron Johnson) and I expect better from them. Replacing hours spent scrolling on social media with direct communication is a better use of my time. I'm the weekly in-box advocate for social justice and a re-imagined view of our community resources to better meet the needs of citizens.

So, VOTE, WRITE your REPRESENTATIVES, MARCH, SHOP WISELY--there's plenty each of us can do to empower one another and create a more just and safe society--sure, this takes a bit more effort than clicking "like" or "share," but I've never been down with lazy activism. I want to get shit done.

For a lazy shut-in summer, I realize I've been fairly productive.

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