What I’ve Been Working On: A Brief Sample

In college I had a teacher, Dr. Pat Meanor at Oneonta, who said something that I’ve always taken to heart. He said if you want to write, then you had better shut your mouth. Don’t talk about it. Otherwise all that creative energy escapes out your mouth instead of your hands (writers, after all, work with their hands).

I’ve been reluctant to talk about works in progress ever since. It feels to me like misplaced focus. So easy to talk about it, much harder to sit down and do it. Besides, as everybody knows, talk is cheap, the purview of phonies. The only thing that matters is what you get down on the page. Yet this blog is intended, in part, to document “the writer’s life.” So here’s a quick update.

This summer, I have two hardcover books coming out. First there’s A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade (Feiwel & Friends), a picture book illustrated by Greg Ruth. I think it’s a lot of fun, with real kid-appeal, and Greg Ruth is a brilliant artist. For more on that, click here.

Justin Fisher Declares War! (Scholastic), a middle grade sequel-of-sorts to Along Came Spider. It’s set in the same school and a few characters from the first book reappear in minor roles. This is my Rebound Book after Bystander, which was a far more ambitious novel. That is: Justin Fisher Declares War! is lighthearted, easy-to-read, funny, fast, almost frivolous. NOTE: In no way do you need to read Spider in order to enjoy Justin. The book stands on its own.

What am I writing now? Well, I’m thrilled to be working on my first YA, involving characters ages 16 years old. It’s been a liberating experience as a writer, and I feel as if I’m working in my natural voice. I’ve been pushed and stretched in new ways, and it’s taken a while to find myself on terra firma. I’ve splashed around a bit. Maybe that’s appropriate, because the book is set on Long Island, with many scenes at Jones Beach (my old haunt); it involves a boy-girl relationship, a car crash, summer friendships, and other stuff. The truth? I don’t want to talk about it; I want to write it. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

Below you’ll find a brief sample from an early chapter. Remember, this is YA and contains some language. I must emphasize, we’re talking Unedited First Draft. I’ll certainly make many changes in subsequent revisions before I send this to my editor, ultra-cool Liz Szabla, who has not read a word of it yet. Absolutely no one has seen this before. Raw output. Maybe it all gets scrapped; too soon to tell.

Jude squeezed his eyes shut, blinking away the sun’s glare, and waited for the eight-fifteen-in-the-freaking-morning bus. On a Saturday, no less. The stop was located beneath the elevated Long Island railroad, with rails that hummed overhead and stretched across the length of the island, connecting the farthest points east all the way to Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan. Ever since his family relocated to the island five years ago, New York City had beckoned to Jude, offering an exotic world of freedom and possibility. The city stood as a skyscrapery refutation of his suburban life, escape only a train ticket and 45 minutes away.

He sat cross-legged on the curb, leaned back on his hands, and scanned the road for coming traffic. Most people around here drove like psychopaths and Jude wasn’t eager to have his legs run over. It might ruin his weekend, the bleeding stumps, all that dragging around. Better, he thought, not to get run over in the first place, so he cast a wary eye down the road. Today was the first day of the rest of Jude’s life and he would spend it at Jones Beach – starting a new summer job at a concession stand. Nobody’d want to miss that kind of excitement. Barely awake, he had dressed in the required dweebware, a uniform of black pants and orange t-shirt. Because, like, naturally you wear black pants to the beach. Jude Fox was on his unmerry way to becoming a minimum-wage flunky, a hot dog grilling, soda spilling concession stand worker. Greatness to follow.

The morning sun shone not high above the horizon, garish and bright, so Jude stepped back into the station’s cool cement shadows. It was going to be a hot one, the first scorcher of summer; not a cloud in sight, just blue June skies. In truth, Jude didn’t hate the idea of working. He’d heard that beach jobs could be okay, even fun. But Jude was a realist; he knew it would basically suck. Had to, right? After all, he’d heard people complain about their jobs all his life, why should his job be any different. So he could not help but wonder if taking this job had been a mistake. Sometimes it felt to Jude that he was just like those trains overhead, traveling along between two steel rails, the course of his teenage life mapped out long ago. No steering wheel, no brakes. Jude followed the path carved out for him, no different from anybody else. In two years, college; after that, marriage, kids, and it’s a wonderful life.

These are the thoughts you have when you wake up too damn early on a Saturday.

6 comments

  1. Liz S says:

    JP, you had me at “skyscrapery.” Can’t wait….LS

  2. Kurtis says:

    Good stuff, Jim. I’d keep reading. “It might ruin his weekend…” is a great sentence.

  3. DK says:

    Jude – now that’s a good character name

  4. jimmy says:

    David, funny, I didn’t make that connection with your manuscript until you just mentioned it. Actually, Maggie came up with the name Jude; I don’t believe she’s read your book!

    But yeah, it is a good name I think. Hope you don’t mind sharing it.

  5. justin says:

    the new book sounds interesting, Jim. I don’t know how you find time to do it all: isn’t a blog a full-time job in itself? I always enjoy reading and catching up.

    justin (from milton and the yellow t-shirt query infamy)

    p.s. i’d love to see what six innings would look like adapted into a screenplay. You ever thought to dabble in that?

  6. Jimmy says:

    Nice of you to stop by, Justin. I never really believed that “Six Innings” was screenplay material, because it would involve so many flashbacks and jumping around. I’d have to look at the movie, “For the Love of the Game” (with Costner, not sure I got that right), that similarly uses one game as the focus for telling a life story.

    The blog, in all seriousness, can be a distraction and a time vampire. It’s also a nice creative outlet, allowing me to write in a comfortable voice and express some things. Some pros and cons, but overall I’m still here, still happy, still doing it.

    I’ve always wasted time in one way or the other. This seems like the most productive time-waster I’ve ever had.

    JP

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