John Hewitt's Blog

NaNoWriMo Day 4 – Marshall Cooper

nonowrimoI got a bit of a late start tonight, and I was pretty worn out from editing two different manuals at work, but I managed just under 1500 words for the night, which keeps me on track. I’m still parading new characters into the story, but I think it is working out. Benton Noro is back, which makes me happy, even if it was a short appearance.

Good luck to all those working to get a novel out this month. Hang in there!

 

Marshall Cooper

Day Four– 7133/50000 words

Another patron showed up and asked for a beer.

Marshall opened a bottle and handed it to the man, who wiped the mouth of the bottle with his hand and turned to Shelby. “I’m going to cut out of here honey doll. I’ll be out by the pool if you’re lonely.” Shelby stared daggers at him and he looked at Marshall as if just now noticing him. He pulled out a twenty, “Bartenders don’t gossip. They know better.”

“I know better too,” Shelby told him, “Drink your beer and find somebody to drive you home.” She stalked off.

The man, in his thirties and almost as good looking as he thought he was, ran his fingers through his thick blond hair and said, “I’m just teasing her. Don’t get any ideas. She loves that old bastard.”

Marshall looked at him for a moment, and then shrugged. “Bartenders don’t gossip,” he said. Marshall liked that bartenders had a code, even if this one was probably bogus.

The handsome man smiled. “Good man.”

Catrin came by with a plate of food, mostly appetizers. “I thought you could use this,” she said.

Marshall was about to tell her no, but then he realized he’s forgotten to eat today. That happened to him a lot, especially on busy days. “Thank you,” he told her, and set the plate down behind the bar.

A line of customers showed up right then, so it was another twenty minutes before he got a chance to take a bite. When he did finally eat, he started with a cheese cube. It tasted like plastic to him, but most things did. He washed it down with a bottle of water he had been sipping from/ there was a lull in customers, and he had time to relax a little and watch the room. Rainman had launched another song that was vaguely familiar. He could place it as a rock song from the eighties, but it took until the song was almost over to realize it was an Elvis Costello song, Veronica. Marshall forced himself to eat another cube of cheese and followed it with a slice of toasted baguette that has some sort of garlic concoction spread on it. His nose picked up a bit of the garlic scent, which almost made it taste like it had flavor.

Sheriff Dwight returned a few minutes later. He put up his hand upon approach. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m not going to make you sneak me alcohol. I’m not a teenage. Just pour me some water, and add a little lime if you’ve still got some. Marshall obliged. “I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Sheriff Dwight said, “How’s you get that scar on your head?”

“I was riding in a car that ended up on the front of a semi,” Marshall said. Sheriff Dwight was looking intensely at him, and Marshall got the idea that this was an interrogation. “What’s your name by the way?”

Marshall gave his name, and Sheriff Dwight told him his, to which Marshall nodded. The two shook hands. Sheriff Dwight had a very strong grip and Marshall did his best to return it. “You were riding, not driving?” he asked.

“My father was driving,” Marshall said, “My mother was in the car too. It was a Sunday. They liked it when we all went out to eat on Sundays. I’d come by, and my sister and her family. There was this steak house called Montis La Casa Vieja in Phoenix. It was closing down soon, so we were heading there one last time.” Marshall’s voice trailed off.

Sheriff Dwight raised his hands, letting Marshall know he could stop. “Sorry to push. I see scars and I get concerned. I’ve been sheriff here for thirty years, this is a good town, quiet, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get trouble. ”

Marshall sighed and didn’t say anything. The sheriff looked at him for a moment, and then said, “My own father died when I was a young man, just twenty. He went out on a boat and never came back. My family had been here since the 1890s. My grandfather, well, he owned a lot of stuff and my father had enough money to be… irresponsible.  Nobody was too surprised when he died. I had to make up my mind then if I was going to follow in my father’s footsteps. It was kind of up to me to decide what kind of a future I wanted. I decided I wanted to be on the side of the law.” He looked at Marshall as if he was trying to size him up. “You’re a little older than I was, but I’ll bet you’ve got similar things running through your head. Take some time. Sort it out.”

Marshall nodded. “Thank you for the advice Sherriff”

“Any time Marshall,” Sheriff Dwight said.

As the sheriff walked off, Dwight noticed Benton Noro across the room. He wasn’t sure if she had just arrived or if she had always been there. She noticed him looking at her and came over.

“You were not someone I expected to see at this event,” Benton Noro said, “Or behind a bar.”

Marshall nodded. “I am not someone I expected to see at this event either.” He told her, “Or behind a bar.”

Benton Noro smiled a thin smile. “Could you make me a glass of sparkling water,” she said, “I don’t drink, but it doesn’t pay to have people notice that. “They get suspicious of people who don’t drink.”

Marshall obliged. “What kind of investments do you handle,” Marshall asked, “Stocks and bonds? My sister is an investment banker.”

Benton Noro said, “I don’t trade in stocks,” she said, “I’m sure your sister is quite good at that sort of thing, but I find it very tedious. I make very particular investments, mostly in people, mostly short term.”

Marshall tried to puzzle out what she was saying, but was drawing a blank. Benton Noro leaned in close, close enough to kiss him. “I’m a loan shark.” she stage whispered. Then she smiled. “Not really, of course, but essentially that is what I am.”

Marshall nodded. He wasn’t really sure how to respond to that. Finally he said, “And what brings a loan shark to the sheriff’s mansion.”

“What do you think?” Benton Noro asked. Then she put her hand on his. I’ll be getting coffee tomorrow, if you want to talk. I’ve got to circulate now.”

The party officially ended at ten. Marshall started packing up his bar and Rainman came over to help. They went through the liquor. There were only a couple bottles of beer left, and slightly more wine. The vodka was mostly gone, as was the rum, but most of the other hard liquors were barely touched. He had run out of limes, but had plenty of olives and cherries. “You were right,” Marshall said, “There really weren’t many difficult orders.”

Shelby came by while they were loading up the van and gave them both an extra $100 tip. “Thank you for looking out for Dwight,” she said.

“Of course,” Marshall answered.

“We’re going to have a couple more of these things in October, if you’re interested in more work,” she told him.

“Sure,” Marshall told her. “Would you like my number?”

“Do you have a card?” she asked.

“Not yet,” he said. He gave her his phone number and she walked off. Once she was out of earshot, Rainman laughed. “You are making friends fast,” he said.

“She just wants me to bar tend,” Marshall said, answering the question that wasn’t asked.

“Sure,” said Rainman, “And you’re going to get yourself some cards made up.”

Marshall didn’t really know what to say to that. He remembered a time when he was good with banter, or at least when he thought he was. Catrin came up then. “Hey Rainman, can you give me a ride? Marcos is being an ass again.”

“Sure thing,” Rainman said. “I’m going to head over to The Gaslamp and get a couple beers if you want to come.”

Catlin sighed with a bit of disgust. “The Gaslamp is all old men who stare at me while their dentures fall out. I got enough of that here.”

“I like The Gaslamp,” Rainman said, “They’ve got a brass rail. I like brass.”

Catrin rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said, “But we’re getting the back booth if it’s open, and no Springsteen!”

Rainman laughed at that. “No Promises.”

Catlin looked at Marshall. “You coming new guy?”

Marshall was tired, but he liked the idea of being included in something. The Gaslamp was only a quarter mile from the apartment building, so he figured he could walk back if a headache set in.

NaNoWriMo Day 3 – Marshall Cooper

nonowrimoI got into a pretty good grove tonight and added a little over 2000 words to the story. I admit I sat down with very little idea of how to proceed, but once I got past the first sentence, it all started to flow. You get lucky sometimes. I introduced a number of characters today and gave my protagonist something to do rather than just sit and drink coffee. That’s a good think. I managed to introduce several new characters, and build out the world a little more. Not bad for day three.

 

Marshall Cooper

Day Three– 5,667/50000 words

Chapter 2

When he woke up that morning, the last place Marshall expected to be spending the evening at a ten-year-old girl’s birthday party, and yet here he was. The offer had come from his neighbor, who he had only bumped into one or twice before, coming to or heading out of the building. He introduced himself as Raimundo Manolo Dominguez, but told him most people called him Rainman. “You know, after the movie?”

Marshall had barely had time to nod before Rainman asked him, “How much do you know about alcohol?”

“As much as the next guy, I guess,” Marshall had answered.

“I guess what I mean is, can you mix drinks? It’s nothing complicated, but I’m playing harp at this birthday party, and they asked if I knew anyone who could tend bar. I told them I’d find somebody, but I don’t drink, so I don’t really know a lot of people.”

Marshall went through his head a list of drinks he knew how to make. “I mean, I can do the basics. I can make rum and coke, or a margarita, or a daiquiri, if there’s mix. I’ve never tended bar before though, and I’m not really good under pressure. I get headaches.”

“No pressure buddy.” Rainman said. “Seriously, I’m playing the harp. You know how many fights break out while I’m playing the harp? None. Well, there was one, but it won’t happen this time I promise. It’s just a lot of people with money who are using a little girl’s birthday as an excuse to get together. They gave me five-hundred dollars. That has to pay for the liquor too, but I’m sure they’ll tip. These people always tip.”

Rainman was tall and thin, but with strong arms. Marshall wondered if that was from playing the harp, or maybe from carrying it around. He had straight, jet black hair that hung down his back and dark brown eyes. Both of his ears were pierced and there was a tattoo of and angel on his arm.

They spent the next couple of hours assembling a bar kit. First, they went to a liquor store, where they picked up all of the basics: white liquors, brown liquors, mixers, wines, beers, and sodas. They also bought a cooler chest and five bags of ice. Then they went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and picked up a bar kit, and a rolling tray. Then they headed over to the Dollar Tree and picked up napkins, clear plastic cups, and stirrers. Overall, they had spent $400 on equipment. “That’s going to cut onto your money a bit, but now you’ll have that stuff for next time! If you do a good job, they’ll hire you again. I play for these people at least once a month.”

Marshall wasn’t sure that there would be a next time. He felt a headache coming on. “I need to go home,” he said.

Rainman looked at him. “You’re looking pale.”

I told you, Marshall said, “I get headaches. I need to lay down for at least an hour, and then I should be OK.”

“Yeah,” Rainman said, “We got a couple hours. You going to be OK?”

They got back to the apartment building and Marshall headed for his apartment. “I’ll knock on your door at four-thirty,” Rainman called, “I hope you feel better.”

“That should be enough time,” Marshall answered. He headed to his apartment and began his routine. He got out his ice wrap and mask from the refrigerator, undressed, and managed to collapse onto the bed. He covered his eyes with the mask and laid the ice wrap over the mask. He counted one-two-three-four as he breathed in and one-two-three as he breathed out. He tried to ignore the pressure of having to leave in just an hour and a half. He concentrated on his breath moving in and out of his body as blue steam. Voices of worry tried to creep in his head, but Marshall had been doing this routine for several months now, and he was able to quiet them.

When the knock on his door came, the headache was gone. “I can do this,” he said to himself. “This is my life. I have to live it.”

When he opened the door, Rainman was standing wearing black slacks and a fitted blue dress shirt. “Oh man,” Marshall said, “I didn’t think about the clothes.”

Rainman smiled and handed him a bag, “I figured as much. I bought you something that should match close enough. You’re a 34 waist with 32 leg. I went with a sixteen for the collar.”

“That’s going to be too small,” Marshall replied.

“No it isn’t,” Rainman said, “You think you’re bigger than you are. Trust me. I’m Rainman. I can’t count a box of toothpicks, but I can tell a guy’s size just by looking at him.”

Marshall was dubious, but he went to the bathroom and changed. Sure enough, they fit almost perfectly. Marshall combed his hair and looked in the mirror. He didn’t look too bad. The only visible scar was just at his hairline above his left eye. The others were covered by his curly brown hair. His left eyelid did droop just slightly, but he knew most people never noticed that. His eyes were still little red from the pack, but the blue in them still seemed like his most attractive feature. He looked ordinary. Ordinary was good in his book.

“Hurry up, we need to get moving.” Rainman said, then after a pause, “No pressure.”

They headed out. Nothing in Santa Creda was too far, but the house they were going too wasn’t quite in town. It was one a tarmac road that climbed into the first low, stony mountain to the north of Santa Creda. It was only about ten minutes before they reached the place. It was large, certainly larger than his sister’s house, and was made of several connecting circular segments. The largest room, on the west side of the house, had several floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the ocean. That was their destination.

Marshall and Rainman unloaded Rainman’s van, bringing both the harp and the rolling drink cart into the house. There was, luckily, an existing unstocked wet bar where Marshall set up. Marshall had been willing to work out of the cart, but this was much better. If I keep this up though, I’m going to need a mobile bar. He wiped that thought back out of his head though. Standing here for four hours was dicey proposition. He could get hit with a headache at any time, and the idea of powering through one of those to keep working had an air of impossibility to it.

The party wasn’t officially due to start until six, and he was entirely set up and as ready to go as he knew how to be by five thirty, so he spent the next few minutes perusing the bartending guide he had picked up. A part of him wanted to worry about whether they were well-stocked enough, but he reminded himself that the real problems are the ones you can’t anticipate. You don’t even see the truck that hits you.

In addition to Rainman on harp and himself at the bar, there was a caterer and a server. The server was a cute blond girl who wore her hair in a ponytail. She looked to be in her early twenties. He would think she was a college student, but he wasn’t sure if there was a college in this town. He told himself he should check on that. She moved quickly though, and seemed to stay on task. She eventually came over and introduced herself.

“I’m Catrin” she said, and when she saw the look on his face she spelled it. “It’s Welsh,” she said, “I’m not like that.”

Marshall was unsure what it meant to be “like that” but he introduced himself. “I’m Marshall Cooper,” he said, “and I’m not an old west lawman.”

She gave him a funny look. “Anyway,” she said, “Is it okay if I take drink orders or not? Some bartenders get funny about that. They think I’m costing them tips.”

“No problem,” he said, “Just write down anything complicated.”

She laughed. Marshall wasn’t sure if she was laughing with him or at him. He wanted to think it was with him. “I’ll try not to break you.” She said and moved on.

At six on the dot, Rainman began playing his harp. At first, all marshal noted was that he seemed to be quite good at it, but then he realized that Rainman was playing Metallica’s One. The room was still all but empty. A woman about Marshall’s age walked quickly into the room, looked around as if she was trying to find someone, and then walked out again. She wore a blue strapless dress with small flowers aligned across the top. It looked a little young for her, but fit nicely.

It was at least fifteen minutes later before someone finally came up and ordered a drink. It was an older man, probably in his seventies, with steel gray hair and a thick mustache. He was wearing cowboy boots and a bolo tie with a five-pointed turquoise star as the side-clip. “What brand of vodka are you pouring” he asked.

“Tito’s” Marshall answered.

The man raised an eyebrow. “Better than I expected. I guess I won’t have to sneak back to my office after all. On the rocks son,” He said, “with a squirt of lime.” Marshall obliged. They were small plastic glasses, so he didn’t bother using a jigger. The man smiled when he saw that, and tipped him a five. “I’ll be back,” he said. Slowly but surely guests began to trickle in, although Marshall never saw the birthday girl. He realized at some point that the girl was probably having her real party in another room. It wasn’t until after eight that she got trotted out to this room, to open up a series of gifts that revolved around jewelry. At one point she opened up a tiara. She put it on her head and that seemed to be a cue for the cake to come out. Everybody sang happy birthday then. Within another ten minutes, she was gone again.

The old man was true to his word. Every half hour or so he came back and ordered the same thing. Marshall was a little worried now that he would run out, but when he came to order his fourth, the woman in the blue dress came over to intercept. “Love,” she said, “Can we slow down a little? The mayor is watching.” She looked over at a small man in a gray suit. He was balding, and wore circular glasses that made him look like a cross between a mousy accountant and a Bond villain.

“I’ve already talked to Jimmy three times. I don’t have anything else to say to him. He’s already got my money. He’ll get re-elected. I’ll get re-elected. I don’t need to hover over the man.” Nonetheless, the older man complied with her request and turned away from the bar. The woman turned and looked at Marshall. “What’s your name?” She asked curtly.

“Marshall Cooper.” He said lightly, “And what is yours?”

The question seemed to throw her off her game a little. Marshall wasn’t sure if she was surprised he would ask, or shocked that he didn’t know her. Whatever the case, she seemed took a moment, and then she smiled.

“I’m sorry. I get ahead of myself sometimes. I’m Selby Weatherly, nice to meet you. She extended a hand and he shook it lightly. “That is my husband, Sheriff Dwight Weatherly. I’m afraid he’s been to one too many parties lately. We have an election coming up.”

“Is the park named after him?” Marshall asked.

“No,” she said, “The park is named after his grandfather, but I can understand the confusion.

“Sorry” Marshall said, “I’m new to town.”

“If he comes back again, please try to stall him. I’ll run interference. Deal?”

“Deal.” Marshall answered.

NaNoWriMo Day 2 – Marshall Cooper

nonowrimoIt is the end of day two of NaNoWriMo and so far so good. We are definitely still in the world-building phase of the book, but that is to be expected. In a draft, the first chapter is usually more for the writer than the audience. Most of it is exposition, which can often be done away with, but that is for the editing portion of the book. as an interesting note. my first attempt to tell this story was written in the first person. I decided, this time, to switch to third person. There were a couple of points today where that meant I had to jump through hoops because he doesn’t have a ton of people to talk to yet, but Benton Noro should return soon, and I’m working on the introduction of a third character, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I wrote a short article about Narrative Voice a while back. I should probably expand it, but take a look if you like.

Marshall Cooper

Day Two – 3643/50000 words

Marshall sat for another few minutes, finishing his coffee. He watched the seagulls gliding in to land on the pier, occasionally getting too close to a fisherman who would shoo them away. On the beach, there were a number of families with little kids wading into the water. There were a few teenagers too, now that school was out. some of them were playing an uneven, disorganized volleyball game. Eventually a headache started to come on, and Marshall forced himself to stand up. it was still a bit of a painful process getting started, especially along his left side, where the scars tended to make his skin tight and his muscles would sometimes knot. Once he was in motion though, he moved normally enough. It had taken a long time to get back to this point, so he valued the ability.

it was a ten minute walk back to his apartment. he hurried as much as he could, knowing that once the headache got a firm grip he would be out of commission for an hour or more. The headaches were his biggest problem. muscle aches were an annoyance, but the headaches were what kept him from going back into programming. if he tried to concentrate too long, especially staring at a screen, the headaches would come. They were painful, of course, but they also made it hard to think. he would get confused sometimes, and he hated being confused. The same thing happened if he exercised too vigorously. He walked a lot. he liked to walk. But running was out of the question. Nothing brought a headache on faster than that.

The walk back to his apartment was a gentle climb, but his feet felt especially heavy that day and his progress seemed slow. By the time he got to his apartment, his head was throbbing and he felt clumsy. He fumbled with his keys, dropping them once before getting the door open. Once in the apartment, he was tempted to make a beeline for his bed, but experience told him no. Instead, he went to his refrigerator and took out an ice wrap and a mask for his eyes. The mask didn’t need to be chilled, but he found it was best to keep both in the freezer so he didn’t have to think about where the mask was once the headache took hold. He sat on the side of his bed, took off his shoes and his pants, then reclined on the bed and put on the mask, adding the ice wrap on top.

Once he was lying down, he started doing the breathing exercises he had learned in physical therapy. They were simple enough to follow. He slowly counted to four while he inhaled and counted to three as he exhaled. He pictured the breath going in and out of his body as blue energy. He repeated this for as long as he could. Eventually, the headache would ebb, or else he would fall asleep. The headaches had been very scary a first, but they had been going on long enough that he no longer expected them to kill him. he wasn’t lucky enough to fall asleep during this one.  It took over an hour for the headache to mostly subside. he kept the breathing exercise up for another twenty minutes though, until all trace of the headache was gone. He found that was best.

Marshall got out of the bed again and did his stretches. Marshall had added this to his routine a few months back at his physical therapist’s suggestion. Marshall was having at least three headaches a day back then, and stretching after each one had really increased his progress. After the stretches Marshall worked on his balance. he stood on his right leg for thirty seconds, then on his left for the same, before repeating the process. For the third round, he tried to do it with his eyes closed. For that, he was able to do twelve seconds on his left foot, and twenty on his right. “One of these days,” he said to himself.

Marshall looked at the time. It was almost five now, and Marshall put on a pair of shorts. It would be sunset soon, and he felt like he should walk down to the beach. Walking on the beach at sunset was exactly the life he pictured when he moved here, so he hated to miss it, even on a day when he wasn’t at his best. The headache was unlikely to return, at least for a couple of hours, but it was still hard to make himself go out right after one. “This is it,” he made himself say aloud, “This is my life. I have to live it.” As mantras go, it wasn’t particularly creative or inspiring, but it got him moving.

Marshall put on his shoes and was getting ready to leave when there was a knock at his door.  It took Marshall a moment to process the information. There hadn’t been a knock on his door for three weeks. it flashed in his brain that perhaps Benton Noro had tracked him down. That seemed absurd though, and sure enough, when Marshall opened the door, it was just a delivery person waiting for him to sign for a package. Marshall signed the electronic pad, then took possession of a three foot by two foot box. Closing the door, he went to the kitchen and took his only knife, a razor-share all-purpose kitchen knife, and sliced open the tape along the top of the box. Then he sat at the table and began to unpack the box.

On top of the other items was an envelope. he opened it to find a card from his sister. The outside of the card had a picture of Dory from Finding Nemo. On the inside it said, “Keep on Swimming.” It was signed by his sister Anne, her husband Charlie, and their three kids Cassandra, Caleb, and Corrine.  His sister had written, “Here are a few housewarming gifts to get you started in your new adventure. Please remember to eat. Things will get better!” The card also contained fifty dollar gift certificates to each of the chain restaurants in town.

Marshall set the card and its contents to the side and looked through the contents of the box. At the top was a framed picture of her and her family. They were standing outside of her home in Scottsdale. Anne was an associate vice president at an investment bank, and Charlie owned a chain of yogurt shops throughout the Phoenix area. The house was a 3900 square foot split plan stucco home the construction company named the “Kingsgate”. They lived in a gated community. Even with three kids, there was so much space that they had offered to let Marshall move in there. Marshall liked his sister. She had always been the driven one in their family. In high school she had been the best player on both the volleyball team and the chess team. She had graduated college a year early, and had since acquired an MBA. She seemed to have boundless energy and enthusiasm. It was a little intimidating.

Marshall was older by two years, but she had crossed most milestones before him. She dated long before he did. She graduated college before he did. She got promoted three times before he ever moved past junior programmer. She got married at 26, an achievement Marshall had never managed and no longer really expected to accomplish. Her children were even good kids, for the most part. Her son Caleb seemed destined to follow in her footsteps, managing straight A’s and excelling at track and field. The other two kids seemed normal to Marshall. He identified more with them.

Marshall had done relatively well in school too. He had always been smart, but not particularly driven. In college he had first majored in English Literature, then Sociology. Eventually he had settled into the business school, and got a BA the same year as his sister. he then went back to a community college, where he got a certificate in computer programming, because he had finally figured out that it was the best spot for him. Programming has given him a solid living over the next fifteen years or so. He worked for one company for five years, then the credit card processing company for ten. He was a senior programmer before the accident, and they had dangled the possibility of making him a lead. After the accident though, he just couldn’t concentrate long enough to code. Staring at a screen for more than a few minutes at a time would bring on the headaches. That was when he gave it up and decided to concentrate on his recovery.

There were three books in the box: The Year of Magical Thinking, The World According to Garp, and Stress Management for Wellness. Marshall looked them over. Below that was a pair of Keen water shoes in his size. Marshall wondered how she knew his size, but realized that was just the sort of thing Anne would know about him, and exactly the sort of thing he would not know about her. Below the shoes was a Stanley home toolkit. It had all the basic tools a person would need, if that person were the sort who needed tools. It seemed like a handy thing. The other big item was a hand-cranked flashlight/radio. Marshall took a liking to that. He spent a minute cranking it, and then started looking for stations. It turned out there was only one radio station he could get. It was the local radio station, coming in at 87.5. It appeared to play classic rock. Marshall thought he might be able to get more stations out by the beach, rather than in a basement, but at least there was one. Marshall, when he listened to music, tended to use Pandora on his iPhone. Still, there was something nice about being able to power your own radio.

At the bottom of the box was another envelope. It was plain white, and heavy. Marshall opened it to find a stack of $100 bills with no note. He didn’t bother to count them, but he estimated that there were at least fifty of them in the envelope. Marshall shook his head. “I’m not broke” he said, but no one was listening. He took the envelope with the money and put it on the top shelf in the cabinet above the sink. He put the tool kit under the sink, along with the hand-crank radio and flashlight. He didn’t have a shelf for the books, so he left them in the box, and put the box next to his bed to serve as a makeshift end-table. He put the picture of his sister and her family on top of the box.

By the time he finished putting things away it was almost sunset. Marshall put his keys and wallet in his pocket and walked down to the beach to watch the sun sink into the water.

NaNoWriMo Novel Day 1 – Marshall Cooper

nonowrimoI made up my mind, quite at the last minute, to work on a story for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  Starting at the last minute, with no real plan, is probably not the best way to approach NaNoWriMo, but I really am doing this just for fun so, in the spirit of that, I am going to post what I write as I go. The goal is to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month. The story I chose to work on is one that I started once before, but to make sure I stayed true to the challenge, I changed the setting significantly and started fresh. Please understand that this is a DRAFT. I am doing some minimal cleanup to make it a little less excruciating for readers, but the idea is to write, not to obsess over editing. Also, because I am posting it here, I plan to keep the story PG rated. Sorry for those looking for more intense content. The working title is Marshall Cooper, the name of my main character.

Marshall Cooper

Day One – 1783 words

Marshall Cooper sat on the second a story terrace of the coffee house, overlooking the ocean. He was drinking an iced coffee with cream and eating a scone. It was about three in the afternoon, and the wind had just shifted to come in off the ocean, quickly dissipating the heat of the day. Marshall had lived in Santa Creda for just a few weeks, and he had already made it his habit to come here every day in the afternoon to read.

Santa Creda was a beach town and somewhat remote. Due to the surrounding chain of mountains, there were no nearby cities and it was less of a tourist community than most beach towns. It was also a compact town, with only about five square miles of populated land before the mountains made commercial building almost impossible. There were a few remote houses up there, but the city was really a strip about four miles long and a little over a mile deep. The population hovered at around ten thousand people. There were a few motels for the tourist trade. More than one web site had called it an “untapped wonder” or an “unpolished gem”, but the town could only be approached by a winding “state route” or by boat, so there was little casual traffic. People who came here, intended to be here.

Marshall had always wanted to live by the ocean, and when all of the financial aspects of the accident were settled, it seemed like a now or never moment. His family had come here on a vacation once when he was young, and coming here felt like a good way to honor his parents.

The coffee house was on the north side of the road, overlooking the fishing pier a bit to the west and the beach to the right. It was late September, and still reaching the mid-eighties during the afternoon, but along about three every day, it started to cool down. Most nights were in the mid-sixties.

Marhsall was renting a small apartment four blocks north of the beach. He had gotten rid of almost all his belongings before coming here, wanting a fresh start. He’s sold his car too, mainly because he no longer trusted himself to drive. He’d had taken the bus to get here, packing only his computer, phone and tablet, along with a couple changes of clothes. He’d stayed at the Wayfarer hotel the first two nights, but by the third he had settled into his apartment. It was a basement apartment, so it had no view, but it was cheap and the temperature rarely varied more than a couple degrees. The owner of the building had sold him a basic set of furniture (bed, couch, table and chairs) for a couple hundred dollars. There was a single mall in town, with a Bed, Bath and Beyond where Marshall picked up fresh sheets and some basic kitchen and bathroom supplies. He waited a few days before buying clothes, so that he could get a good gauge of what the weather was like. In the end he picked up a couple of t-shirts with the name of the town on them at a beach-side store. He bought pants, shorts, a sweat shirt, and a light jacket at a thrift store.

Slowly but surely he began to explore the town. Seaside Avenue was the beachfront street. Most of the bars and restaurants were along Seaside Avenue. There were also a few shops and galleries. Toward the west side of town, the road were the town docks. One was mainly for fishing vessels and the other for sailboats and other recreational boats. North of Seaside, The next few streets were mostly residential, ranging from basic bungalows to fancy three-story houses. Because of the compact nature of the town there weren’t many large yards. Most people who longed for the outdoors went down to the beach, up to the mountains, or they hung out at the one city park, Weatherly Park had two baseball fields, a soccer field, and pool, two picnic areas, and an extensive playground. The park was on the north side of the town, and gave way to three different trail heads up into the surrounding mountains. It was attached to Weatherly High School, home of the Rockfish. The high school added a football field with an eighth-mile track to the available facilities. The high school was small, with about 200 students at any one time.

Marshall liked the town so far. There were people with money here, but plenty of working-class people as well. Marshall fit in more with the second crowd. The settlements had left him with a decent amount of money, but he had no idea if he would ever work again, so it was best if he lived cheaply. At 42, Marshall had never married or had kids. Until just over a year ago, he had worked as a programmer for a credit card processing company out of Chandler, Arizona. He couldn’t really do that now though. He had owned a two-bedroom condominium that he had bought fifteen years earlier, and between the boom and the bust since 2000, he had sold it for a few thousand more than he had paid. Most of his friends had thought of the condo as small, but it had really been far more than he needed. It had allowed him to clutter, with books, movies and CDs, all of which seemed unnecessary now that his computer and his iPad could deliver all of those things. Coming here, he hadn’t even seen the need to get a television. He could watch on his iPad if something came up.

The town itself had a small two-screen theater. It was still showing summer holdovers Jurassic World and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. The theater was at the mall on Barton Street, which the road where most of business were located on. Besides the mall, there was a Target, several insurance agents, investment firms, doctors’ offices and dentists. The street also contained the town’s grocery stores, There were two independents, as well as a Trader Joe’s. There were also two gas stations, both with convenience stores attached, as well as a Walgreens and a CVC.

The third major road on the north side of town had most of the government facilities. besides the park and the high school, Weatherly street had the city hall, the library, the combination elementary/middle school, the police station and the fire station.

The coffee house was called Seaside Espress. Marshall had picked up a copy of The Razor’s Edge off the shelf in the unofficial library shelf on the first floor of the coffee house, and was rereading it. He’s first read the book in college, and had remembered liking it then. In those days he had identified with Larry, and most college students do, but now the other characters made more sense to him, and he could understand how frustrating it must have been to have this one guy decide he was going to live a life of interior reflection while all of his friends went about trying to lead real lives. As he was reading, a woman sat down next to him. She was Japanese, pretty with soft features. slim but not thin, with black hair cut into a bob. Younger than he was, but by how much he could not be sure. You could tell him she was twenty three or thirty five, and he would have believed either.

“Do you mind if I sit?” she asked. “I get bored sitting alone.”

Marshall smiled. “I’m Benton Noro,” she said.

“Marshall Cooper,” He said with a small smile. He stuck out his hand to shake hers, but instead she took it lightly in her own hands and turned it over, palm up. She studied it intently for a moment, then just as gently released it.

“See anything interesting?” Marshall asked.

“Everyone is interesting, Benton answered. She took a sip of her drink, a hot chai tea with soy milk, and said, “My Aunt Azami never married, never got a job, never moved out of my grandfather’s house. She rarely left her room. If you wrote a number on a piece of paper though, any number between 37 and 73, she would write down the same number. Every time. Never missed.”

“Why did it have to be between 37 and 73.”

“They are powerful numbers. Google them sometime.” Benton Noro said. “It is a rabbit hole that you may not emerge from for days.”

“I’ll keep that in mind if I ever decide to go down a rabbit hole.” Marshall said. He took a sip of his coffee.

Benton Noro nodded. “How much weight have you lost?” she said. I’m guessing about 120 pounds.

Marshall looked at her, then calculated in his head. “I haven’t weighed myself in a while, but that should be about right. 120 pounds in the last year and a half.”

You’ve stopped eating?” she asked.

“I eat from time to time,” I said, “I’m just never hungry, and food doesn’t really taste like food to me.

“You see,” she said, “That is interesting.”

“I still weigh plenty,” Marshall said, “Over two hundred pounds.”

“Not for long though I’ll bet.” Benton Noro said.

“Probably not,” Marshall agreed. he mainly drank protein drinks and juices. Sometimes he ate nuts. Coffee still tasted like coffee though. He wasn’t sure why that was, but he was thankful for it. “I lost a couple of pieces of my brain,” he said to Benton Noro. “Nothing that was absolutely vital. I was lucky. Food though. Food lost it’s appeal. Some would say I’m better off. I was dangerously overweight. Now I’m just your average fat American.”

Benton Noro nodded. “Aunt Azami ate a hardboiled egg, a piece of toast and a half an orange every day. That was all she ate. It was all she needed. Humans can survive on very little. Still, in another year people will think of you as thin. You are new here though. People will accept this here without question.”

Marshall nodded. “That was my hope.”

“You will be accepted here,” Noro said, “You should mourn what you have lost, but do not despair. You will be ok here. I can help.” Benton Noro took out a card and handed it to him. it was not what he expected. It said simply:

Benton Noro

Investment Adviser

Then it had her address and number. Marshall thanked her.

“I enjoyed having coffee with you. I am often here after three, if you would like to talk again.”

Benton Noro stood up and walked away. Marshall watched her go.

 

My Current Technical Writing Toolset

Ten years ago, most of these tools would not have been on my list. Only Microsoft Office, WordPress, Acrobat, and Notepad have remained in my toolset over the past ten years. Some bigger names that have fallen off my list over the past few years include RoboHelp, DreamWeaver, FrameMaker, and PaintShop Pro. That is partially due to personal preferences, and largely due to the company I work for and the job I do for them. I haven’t included browsers here, but the short answer is that I use all the major ones for one thing or another but Chrome is my primary.

Content Tools

Confluence

Confluence is the wiki on which we write and publish most of our documentation at my job. I was part of the team that chose it and launched it at our company. I am also one of the administrators. I have my own cloud version that I use for all of my non-work writing. For the most part, it has replaced word processors as my default when writing. Having it in the cloud means that all of my work, and the interface to develop it with, are available wherever I go and whatever machine I am on.

Microsoft SharePoint

Our company’s intranet sites are developed using SharePoint. I am the SharePoint administrator for the development and support arm of my company. I spend a lot of time curating content and fixing/redesigning pages.

Snagit Editor

I not only use Snagit for screenshots, I do most of my image editing using its editor. It isn’t full-featured like Gimp (my other image editing program) but because it has a simple interface, and some nice out-of the box annotation graphics. I use it for most work-related image creation and editing.

Microsoft PowerPoint

I frequently create presentations, usually just a few slides. I also use it for text-heavy image work because it is easy to move elements around on the page.

ER Studio Data Architect

This is not a common technical writer tool. I support our data dictionaries, which led to me becoming one of two administrators for this tool. I don’t develop data dictionaries from scratch, but I often come in and clean them up for publication. I am the main support person for the tool, so if anyone has trouble publishing their data dictionaries, I come in and troubleshoot the problem.

Adobe Captivate

Every once in a while I need to make a video and this is the program I use. Captivate is actually a little high-end for my purposes, so I end up tripping over some features, but in the end I come out with some nice videos.

Gimp

If Snagit Editor can’t do the job with an image, Gimp is my fallback. It is much more powerful, but far more complex, which slows me down.

Microsoft Word

I rarely write from scratch in Microsoft Word, because I have Confluence, but I still get Word documents from other people that I need to edit. I also use it whenever I need to change the capitalization for a large block of words, or if I want to convert text to a table or a table to text.

Microsoft Excel

We report a lot of information in spreadsheets, and Excel is still the best tool for that.

Notepad

I mainly use this for notes and when I want to remove formatting from a block of text in another program.

WordPress

This isn’t used for my job often, but I still maintain my personal web sites in WordPress. Occasionally, I also use it to do some quick and dirty HTML editing.

TinyLetter

I use this to publish my newsletter. It has a nice, straightforward interface that is almost like sending an email.

Adobe Acrobat Standard

Every once in a while, I need to publish or edit a PDF.

Productivity Tools

Jira

My group at work tracks its projects using Jira. We’ve only been at it for a few months, and I am still getting used to the interface, but it does a good job of making my deliverables clear and letting my boss know when I do and do not have time for additional work.

HP Agile Manager

Another group at work is using HP Agile Manager for tracking a single project that I work on. It does the same thing as Jira, and I like the basic interface a little better, but either tool will do the job.

Trello

Trello is a much simpler project tracking tool that I use for my own projects. It is quick, easy, and surprisingly powerful if you want to dig a little deeper. I can break out project steps very quickly in Trello, which is something I cannot do quickly in Jira or HP Agile manager.

Microsoft Outlook

I could just as easily put this in as a meetings and communication tools, but I put it here because the calendar in Outlook is the first place I go to see what kind of day I am going to have. I use Outlook for email, of course, but the calendar is what keeps me afloat.

Meeting and Communication Tools

GoToMeeting

I run several meetings and attend far more. GoToMeeting allows me to use both audio and screen sharing.

Microsoft Lync

Lync can do many of the same things as GoToMeeting, but is dependent on other people having the program. I use it more for instant messaging with co-workers and occasionally sharing a screen. Some coworkers run meetings using it.

Web Help Tools

I can export HTML from Confluence and use it to build web-help files. These are the tools that help me do it.

Advanced Renamer

I use this to rename large blocks of files. This allows me to get rid of special characters in the names that could be problematic for some browsers.

TextCrawler

I use this to make edits to large blocks of files. Once I change the names of a block of files using Advanced Renamer, I need to change all the links. TextCrawler also allows me to change headers and footers quickly.

Zoom Search Engine Indexer

I can create a search engine for a set of HTML files using this program.

NotePad ++

If I need to edit HTML for a file, I use Notepad++.

Xenu

If I need to check for broken links on a web site, I use Xenu.

The Skills You Need to be a Freelance Writer

Writing skills aren’t all you need

If you’re just realizing that your excellent writing skills could be put to good use on the Internet, and earn you some attractive cash, welcome! You’re about to have the time of your life as you explore being a freelance writer.

But hold on – writing skills aren’t all you need. In fact, a lack of secondary skills is what sets many freelance writers on the road to failure instead of success.

Before you launch yourself into writing your way into a fulfilling, satisfying career, take a good look at what else you’ll need for a successful venture:

Customer service skills

Interestingly enough, writers are horrible at customer service.

Wrapped in their comforting words, they can pen beautiful content that converts and resonates – but they often come off as arrogant, overly laid back or just plain blunt in communication with clients.

Convey a positive, professional attitude at all times – and especially in email communication. Emails are no place to let your guard down and show your worst. In fact, emails are the single-most important area in which you should excel at writing.

It may mean the difference between landing a gig and being passed on.

Bookkeeping skills

If you can’t do the math, then you can’t run a business.

Freelance writers are self-employed workers. They must effectively manage their books, track their income, monitor expenses and examine their profit and loss statements. (And you thought there was no math involved in writing.)

Buy a book on accounting 101. Take a course at a community college. You can even learn basic bookkeeping online.

Otherwise, you may sit down one day and wonder why you’re not making ends meet, even when you’re making good money.

Marketing skills

The Internet is saturated with competition for writers.

The good news is, many of those competing writers aren’t very good ones. You may feel like there’s a writer around every corner, but when you take a good, close look, you’ll notice that many are just fly-by-night hacks. Sad, but true.

Learn how to tell people about your services and why you’re the best choice for them. It isn’t because you’re a crack writer, though that certainly helps. The extra qualities that make you stand out are what sells people these days.

It’s also a good idea to take a marketing course or learn more about it. Web writing often involves a healthy dose of marketing and having good knowledge helps you get an edge.

Organizational skills

If you can’t plan and your memory is shot, you’re going to have a tough time online.

The Internet world moves very quickly. You might find yourself needing a calendar to manage your schedule and a way to organize your daily workload. Freelancing isn’t a huge life of abandoned freedom – in fact, quite the contrary.

A freelance writer needs to be able to organize a day efficiently and work in all the possible interruptions that might occur. Writers need to plan, schedule and maintain a production routine – just like any business in operation.

Know realistically how much time you have available and how much you can manage before saying yes to each gig that comes your way.

Plan B

If you’re about to step into freelance writing, you need a Plan B.

Earning enough income to support yourself isn’t going to happen for a while. What’s your backup plan in the meantime while you gain clients and increase your income? Do you have three months of income set aside to support yourself?

What happens if you have a really bad month and no one needs you?

Have a Plan B at hand for the worst case scenario – always and forever, no matter how established you become. You never know what tomorrow might bring, and taking a leap of faith without a good parachute to catch your fall is a huge mistake.

Sound grim?

If you find yourself feeling discouraged about your idea of becoming a freelance writer, don’t be. Freelance writing is an exciting, fulfilling career and you’ll have a great time easing into your new job.

You also have a better idea of exactly what you’re getting into. You’re more informed, can research the additional areas involved in freelancing and learn the skills that you may need.

By taking the time to learn everything you can about freelance writing, you’re giving yourself a solid fighting chance at making it as a writer. You’ll be able to think on your game plan, prepare yourself and take secure steps to ensure your success.

Because success is what you want, isn’t it?

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