Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Clowns, page one

At one of Bill Martell's seminars at The Expo this year he said something about writing about the interesting things you encounter in your life, the things that separate you from other people. Actually, I think at the time he was talking about how to separate your query letter from all the others, but whatever the point was it gave me an idea.

I started thinking about all the things that are quirky about me. The teacher thing is done to death and the world has plenty of Southern movie stars and we don't need another movie about aspiring writers and I could do a great kickboxing girl story if Girl Fight and Million Dollar Baby and Against the Ropes hadn't already mined what was left of the boxing genre.

"What else have I got?" I thought.

Well, I'm afraid of clowns. A girl who's afraid of clowns. Surely there's something in that.

So I got a title: Fear of Clowns.

And I got a character: a girl.

So as you can see, I was well on my way.

I kept trying to force clown stories into this title, but it soon became clear that I had to let the story come to me. It sounds like a drama, doesn't it? About a girl trying to conquer her fear of fake people? Or something.

Every night as I fall asleep I write my latest story. For a long time it was the zombie story, which I had put on pause while I do a little research, but make no mistake I plan to finish that by Christmas. But I often come up with stories as I teeter on the edge of sleep. I am a fortunate soul in that I almost always remember what I create. I don't even keep a note pad by my bed because I never forget my good ideas.

I know. Don't you just hate me?

Then one morning I had a dream about Batman pissing a bunch of people off. I woke up and realized what an interesting angle I'd just thought up - a way of looking at Batman that I've never seen explored. I realized that if I changed Batman to my own girl it would be freaking awesome. And I could call it Fear of Clowns.

I mulled over the story for a while as I continued work on the zombies, then a couple of nights ago as I was pondering possible events I wrote the opening. And it was different from anything I'd written before. I'm writing about life in a small town in North Carolina - Coats, to be exact, a town I used to drive through on my way to work each morning - so I started to write it in my Southern girl voice.

And if you don't know what that is, read some Clyde Edgerton or T.R. Pearson's A Short History of a Small Place.

Now, without further ado, the current opening scene to Fear of Clowns:


It's a green town in a green state where little kids still run around barefoot in the woods. There is one major two-lane road running through town, and the only stop light anybody pays attention to is the one that intersects the other major two-lane road running through town. Anything directly outside of Coats, North Carolina is asparagus farms and the gourd museum.

In the middle of a sea of little backyards, a blazing inferno envelops a house in trees.


Fire. Flames engulf the entirety of what used to be a finely crafted treehouse, with slats nailed together with the precision of Bob Villa. Rock posters and pinup girls melt off the wall. Playing cards burn on the floor next to a digital camera, pillows and other assorted odds and ends little boys like to keep around their secret clubs. In one corner, the blackened remains of a space heater.

Outside a boy cries and men yell.

In another corner, a kitten named SAM - terrified, adorable and unable to plan an effective escape.

A hand claps itself around Sam and lifts him to a shoulder. Sam scratches the white face next to his paw and scrambles unsuccessfully to get away.

That face belongs to ERIN COLE, 23, a girl who's been doing her best to hide the fact that she's nice to look at. A thin bloody line appears on her cheek where Sam scratched her.

Dammit, cat!

She lifts the cat and looks at it.

I'm trying to save your life here!

She looks down the hole in the middle of the treehouse, where the rope ladder has burned away.

Below, the ground.

Sam looks down.

They look at each other.

Erin doesn't realize that her sweater is on fire.



She leaps into the hole.


  1. "For a long time it was the zombie story, which I had put on pause while I do a little research"

    Never before have those words been strung together in that manner.

  2. Well I've been keeping a zombie chained up in my back yard to see how long it takes for him to starve to death.

    I assure you it's a perfectly safe experiment.

  3. Emily, I was thinking about you at work and I came up with a killer script idea which would have you as its star. Its called, "Battle for Brad" and it pits you against Angelina Jolie in a struggle to, well... battle for Brad Pitt's affection.

    You kick boxing it out with Angelina IS the main draw. What do ya think?

    - E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

  4. Well I appreciate the thought, but a)I don't actually think Brad's that great and b)She's had all that Tomb Raider training and can probably take me.

    I would gladly fight any bitch for Jensen Ackles, however.

  5. monkeywhale4:37 PM


    I have nothing to add ... other than thanks for being so old-school BBC ... as in entertaining, informative and educational. Been reading your blog for a while now, and it's compulsive stuff. You are a natural storyteller.

    Well, OK, you probably work damned hard on your posts but it seems natural.


    Yeah. And stuff.



  6. Wow! Thanks.

    And it's all completely natural. I never edit anything ever. Like Faulkner.

  7. Monkeywhale4:39 AM

    Pleasure! Just don't let it go to your head and get all Hollywood on us :-)

    I have a tangential lit recommendation for you too ... if you like Faulkner - and dash off your work as quickly as him - then I reckon you would like Strandloper by Alan Garner.


    I have no connection with the author!


  8. And you even got the cat in there...


  9. Oh no, that was a joke!

    I would never really compare myself to Faulkner. But he allowed everyone to believe he wrote The Sound and the Fury in one sitting with no edits. And when he died the people who went through his estate found draft after draft of the thing.

    I like Faulkner, but I prefer Salinger. But I will certainly check out that author.

  10. Monkeywhale3:13 PM

    Heh - I knew you were, I am English ... but get my irony from the school of Matt Groening. So I hope I got the joke.

    Anyway ... er ... yes! Garner took twelve years to write the book, which according to him meant that he produced ... about 4.5 words a day.

    And on that bombshell ... I'm ducking out now, thanks again for top blogging!

    Matt (not the Simpsons one)

  11. Oh noes!

    I have been bested by sarcasms on top of sarcasms.


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