Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I'm in.

I've got 3,109 words down, and I need to write 50,000 (about the same number of words in Of Mice and Men) by Nov. 30.

The idea is to "Just do it!" Don't worry about writing the perfect novel, or even a good one. Just keep writing until you hit 50,000 words (the computer keeps track in Word.)

Google "National Novel Writing Month" (aka NaNoWriMo) and you will see about 400,000 hits. People all over the globe, of all ages jump into the contest. There is a guide book, entitled "No Plot, No Problem" which I read in June.

What the heck. I hear it is a hoot, an emotional roller coaster, inspirational and self revealing, and free to boot. I'm not even curious what the prize might be. If I get to 50,000 words, that might just be prize enough.

I am writing in the "No plot, no problem" fashion. I sat down at 5 last night, and hammered out the following, taking breaks to watch a little Home and Garden Television, make a salad and popcorn, and wander around a little.

I have no idea where this is going. But so far, I like it.

So without further ado, here's

(working title: A Tulle Fog Christmas)
(I have no idea why the tabs are missing from the beginning of each paragraphy. I've copied this from a Word document, and I guess blogger and Word don't mingle well. Please remember this is a rough copy. The inner editor is "caged" during this process so you don't get bogged down in fixing details. Cleaning the "baby" up via copy editing and proof reading happens after the baby novel is born)

Carrie was lost. The gray fog had descended without any warning, one moment the road ahead was a black ribbon of endless asphalt stitched with white, and the next moment, there was nothing to see at all except mist glowing in the headlights.

Drat. She knew she should have left in the morning. Instead, she had raced about, trying to tie up loose ends, watering plants, mailing bills, clearing out the refrigerator. The early morning departure time had morphed into a high noon pull away. And now this. She would never make it in time now.

Worse, she had known better. The tulle fog of the central California valley was a constant threat to travelers in December. The weather reports always included warnings, and the morning paper too often listed the fatal crashes that had ensued when the warning were ignored.

She would pull off, and wait it out, if she could just see an exit. Any exit. Her hands gripped the steering wheel and she leaned forward, her breath becoming choppy. She struggled with the desire to slow, and to stop; yet knowing that to do so could result in being rammed from behind by other cars also caught suddenly in the mist

Slowing nevertheless, and tapping her brakes in hope that the red tail light flash would penetrate the fog enough to warn other drivers, she racked her brain, trying to recall the last turn off sign that she had seen. She really hadn’t been paying attention. After all, she had settled in for a ten-hour drive, for the most part a long straight shot on the highway. Four hours into it she had barely made a dent in the stack of CDs she had brought along. There was little to listen to on the radio in this part of the state. She had learned that the hard way, the first time she made the drive late last summer.

Cell coverage was iffy too. She wasn’t going to reach for the phone while flying blind, as it were. No one was expecting her until evening anyway. She had called just as she left, and told them she would be coming in late, and would meet them at church, for the midnight Christmas Eve service.

She really didn’t care about going to the service. If anything, she was slightly glad to be missing it. Lately, missing church had become a regular thing. Sleeping in on Sunday had been surprisingly easy habit to acquire after years of dutiful church attendance.

The fog smothered her view. Cautiously creeping along at 20 miles per hour, she could barely see half of each lane marker line. Only a few feet of the road edge line could be made out, wavering along like a lifeline. If she could just keep her car between the lane marker and the edge marker…and if the edge marker had a bend, she would follow it off the freeway and hopeful, on to somewhere where she could stop the car and wait for the fog to lift.

Squinting, she made out four red glows ahead of her. Tail lights. Two up high, two bigger ones below. A truck? The fog made everything appear one dimensional, and she couldn’t tell how far she was from the next vehicle. The lights seemed to hover in the air, unattached to anything, and remained constant in size. That was a good thing. If she paced herself to those lights, at least she could maintain a distance, and avoid a rear ender. At least if that vehicle would be able do the same with any vehicle ahead of it. Twenty, thirty, forty-car pile-ups were not unheard of in tulle fog this time of year. All it would take is one collision, and every car caught in the fog would be in jeopardy.

The Manheim Streamroller CD went silent. Carrie had been unaware of the music, as every sense had been straining to make sense of the situation, and to keep her safe. The silence was eerie now, as if the fog had muffled her ears as well as blinding her eyes. She could hear herself breath.

Fumbling for a tissue from the box on the floor, she wiped the window. Surely some of this grayness was from the inside. The tissue rubbed against the windshield glass, and made a slight difference. Quickly she lowered her window, and clicked on the defroster. The clammy chill slapped the side of her cheek as the defroster’s roar worked to clear a small patch on the windshield.

How much longer? Sometimes these tulle fogs descended in late afternoon, and lasted through much of the night, burning off only with the rising heat of the dawn. How long had it been so far? Surely only a few minutes…or was it an hour? She hadn’t noticed. She glanced at the dash clock, and scanned instrument panel as well.

Fuel. Oh no. If she didn’t find an exit soon, she would be on empty. The gauge showed less than a quarter tank now. To be on empty, in fog, she’d be a sitting duck. Not an accident not waiting to happen, but rather an accident sure to happen.
She shivered. Her sweater was in the back seat, and out of reach. The damp coldness was beginning to make her hands feel stiff, and her jaw was aching. She realized her jaw was clenched as well as her hands.

Relax, relax, it will be OK. Carrie rolled her shoulder, stretched her jaw wide. Suddenly, clack clap clack sounds from the tires filled her ears. Odd she could hear them now.
No…this was a new sound. She could feel a rough jiggle with each sound. She was riding over the lane bumps, had drifted slightly with her motions. She corrected over to the right. Better. Now there was the safe smooth swoosh tire sound again.

Ahead, the red glows seemed smaller. Should she speed up, catch up, and trust for safety in numbers, or keep the space between them wide. Not sure. Why wasn’t there more information about this, about driving in fog? Other than knowing not to turn on high beams, and reducing speed, no other tactic came to mind.

Truck. If the red glow patterns were indeed a truck, then maybe the truck driver, being higher up would see more than she. Maybe know where a turn off would be.
She speed up slightly, and hoped.

Chapter 2

Caleb hated fog. At least he did when he had to drive in it. Which, tonight, was exactly the case. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, he was intimately familiar with fog and all of its moods. Fog rolling in through the Golden Gate Bridge was the dramatic signature of the bay. Reading a mystery in front of a crackling fire in a house encased in fog was superb. Jogging through the morning fog was soul centering. And romance always bloomed while walking through the garden as a fog lifted, leaving behind a glittering of dew on the blossoms.

Caleb knew fog at its loveliness. He also knew fog at its worst. The fogs that shut down airports, the fogs that cause ships to be lost at sea, or worse, the fog that caused ships to crash against rocks. Tonight was another kind of fog at its worst: a fog that could blind the travelers on their way home for the holidays. This was a fog that could turn a season of joy into a season of mourning, and pain, in an instant.

The red tail light glows ahead of him had wavered slightly a moment ago. Caleb’s mind registered rapid explanations:
Drunk driver.
Tired driver.
Distracted driver.
None of those possibilities were good. At the next exit he was getting off the road. He didn’t care if it meant waiting in a parking lot until the fog dissipated. He wouldn’t mind a nap. He could sleep anywhere, anyway. He could get where he was going at his own rate. There was no reason to risk a wreck by hurrying on tonight. No reason at all.

Chapter 3

Opal was fit to be tied. One moment she was sailing along in her 1967 Chrysler Impala, with six different pies in boxes on the back seat, and her cockatoo Henry safely in his bird car seat next to her. The next minute they were slowed to a crawl, heading into a tunnel of light swirling in the tulle fog before them.

They had been whistling Christmas carols together, and making really good time. Opal hated to be late to family gathering. She liked to arrive early, early enough to help out with the final touches that no one else ever thought to take care of. She enjoyed taking care of those little details, like ironing the tablecloth, and arranging the serving table with all the right utensils. Opal had a thing for detail.

Usually the family, her son, daughter-in-law, their three children and two dogs, and her brother and his wife, and whichever of their children were around all came to her house for Christmas. They all worked, except the children, of course, and they appreciated someone else taking the time to do all the fuss that went into making a home at Christmas special.

This year one of the grandchildren, Robbie, had a broken leg, and it was decided that a three-hour car ride was out of the question. It was probably just as well. Since Opal’s husband Rob Senior had passed away earlier in the year, it would have been a tough Christmas at home without him there with them. It was rough without him all the time, in Opal’s opinion. She tried not to burden the family with her loneliness.

Henry bobbed his head, and raised his yellow crest feathers on his head. He seemed to recognize that Opal was tense, as he stopped his cheery whistle and lapsed into an unintelligible mutter.
“Dadgum fog” Opal exclaimed. For her, this was as colorful language as she would allow herself. She was of the old school of thought, the school that maintained that ladies, (and especially Christian ladies) did not ever use four letter words when upset. “Dad gum” was all right to say, because it had six letters all together.

Once Rob Senior had shinned his knee and spilt hot coffee on himself, all at the same time. It was bad enough that in his pain he let slip a four-letter word, but Henry had been in the room at the time. You can’t wash a bird’s beak out with soap and water. Opal lived in fear that one day Henry would use that word again.

Opal hunched over the steering wheel, while automatically switching on the defroster. She tucked her sweater up closer around her shoulder, and settled in to slow and watchful driving.

Chapter 4

The truck driver knew this area like the palm of his hand. Tulle fog was no picnic, but he knew he could pull off to the right in about 15 more miles. He checked his side mirrors, and was glad to see the low beam glow of the car behind him keeping pace.

Jerry whispered a quick prayer for all the drivers caught in the fog, and reached for his CB to call the Highway patrol. Hopefully they would not be needed tonight, but they always appreciated a heads up on these situations from the “regulars”, as the truckers called themselves.

Usually he just kept driving through the fog. It was a straight shot, and it cleared once the road got some elevation. Christmas eve, the traffic outside the cities was different, with inexperienced travelers taking to the highway in an effort to get home for the holidays. Jerry felt a nudge inside to pull off the highway this time.

Chapter 5

Carrie wasn’t exactly sure what kind of mileage her car would get. When she purchased it last year it had a “city” and “freeway” mileage sticker, something like 23 and 33, but since her job as a ------- took her on both city and freeway routes, she never bothered to figure out what her actual mileage was. She remembered that the most gallons she had ever pumped into the car had been fourteen.

She tried to figure out how many miles she could go before she was on empty. Would she get more or less miles per gallon going 20 miles an hour? Was less than a quarter tank like three, or four gallons? She punched the trip odometer, and at the same moment realized it really didn’t matter. She would run out of gas whenever she did, and knowing when it was going to happen would do nothing to solve the problem.

It was getting colder, and darker. It was after five now. She had been on the road for over five hours, with only one pit stop. Now she was cold, and hungry, and needing another pit stop. How much longer until an exit? Would it be an exit with gas, and food, and, oh please, a rest room?
Another thought slid into her mind. How safe would she be parked in the fog off the main highway?

She shuddered at the idea of parking beside the road in the middle of nowhere. She’d try to get a motel room if she could, but there weren’t always motels available at every stop.
Her mind began a litany: Please don’t let anyone slam into me. Please don’t let me slam into anyone else. Don’t let me run out of gas. Please let this fog life. Please let there be an exit. Please let me SEE the exit. Please let there be a rest room. Please, just let me be safe. Please, let me get home.
She wasn’t aware that she was praying again.

Chapter 6

Caleb reached into the sack on the seat next to him and grabbed a few cold hard French fries left over from his lunch. Munching them down, he didn’t bother to reach for the rest. The car in front of him was holding steady for now. He figured they had about fifteen more miles until the next exit. It would take a little under an hour more to get there, at this rate.

The fog was mesmerizing. The whirls of mist that swam past the windows, the steady hum of the defroster and the soft whoosh of the car melded together to form a surrealistic effect, of a lost soul alone in a lost world. Caleb shook himself and focused again on the red glow ahead. It was easy to mentally visualize the car ahead of him. It was more intriguing to imagine the person in that car, creeping along in the fog.

Caleb had photographed fog, always capturing its artistic aspect, and enhancing it with filters, exposure, angles and lighting. Faces in the fog he captured in melancholy monotones, or altered later with mystical colors created via a program he himself had created. His mind now played over how he would photo capture this experience if he were free from the driving, and how he would create a collage that would deliver the feelings of being enveloped by fog on Christmas Eve.

Chapter 7

Opal believed in guardian angels, and in angels in general too. She knew there was an angel on each corner of her car, and that absolutely nothing bad could happen to her with God in control, those angels on the job, and her Rob watching out for her from above. She didn’t like the fog, because she liked to drive just a little fast. No so fast as to be dangerous, or catch the attention of the highway patrolmen. Just fast enough that she always arrived a few minutes before she thought she would. Driving in fog meant going slower than slow. And even though she wasn’t worried, her shoulders were getting a little tense.

The Christmas pies had come out beautifully this year. The pumpkin pie had a ring of piecrust leaves and slivers of walnuts on top. The cherry pie had a lattice crust, glazed with egg yolk, resulting in a shiny golden brown gleam . Her grandmother’s recipe for Chess pie was a tradition that was handed down through the generations. That pie looked like a sunny face with tiny freckles, with a forked crust edge going out like rays from the center. Rob’s favorite apple pie was deep dish, with buttery crumb topping. The mince was a treat for her own self. The children didn’t like it, but she enjoyed the tangy taste, although she hadn’t liked it as a child either. Her son and brother doted on her pecan pie with a fingertip-ruffled edging.

Dinner was to be a six. Opal sighed. She should call and let them know to start without her. She reached for her phone, neatly all charged up for the trip, and punched in her son’s number.
Her daughter-in-law Rayanne picked up on the third ring. Opal could hear the homey commotion of family in the kitchen and dogs barking in the background. She explained about the fog and told them not to worry, she would be there soon. Just put aside a plate for her, and to be sure to save room for dessert.
Rob Jr. got on the line.
“Mom, get off the freeway as soon as you can. Just wait the fog out. I’ll check the weather maps on line and tell you when the fog has cleared up ahead. Just be careful, OK? And don’t let Henry have any of my pecan pie, you hear? Love you Mom.”

Opal snapped her phone shut and dropped it on the seat. Henry made a reach with his beak for the shiny disk, but Opal was quicker by second nature. Flapping his wings in disapproval, Henry let out an irritable squawk, and whistled a few bars of “Dixie”.

Chapter 8

Jerry planned to be home for Christmas this year. Home being his apartment and church family. He had never married. Being a soldier and then a trucker, he always figured he was better off without a wife or family. He had left home as soon as he was old enough to enlist, had served overseas and retired as a staff sergeant after thirty years of service. He had loved seeing the world, being a soldier, and a little bit wild, and wasn’t too keen on sending down roots just because he was retired. Heck, he was only 48 when he retired, far too young for a rocking chair anyway. He took to long haul driving just fine for the next ten years. After that he did short hauls, just enough to keep life interesting and extra cash coming in. Just enough to keep him busy, and out of trouble.

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