Hitting Stride

I’ve just posted the scripts for the first three episodes of Wayward Sister on here, and will begin episode four this morning. It’ll be a short writing day; I have a lot of housecleaning to do, and this evening I have to go up to Seattle for a volunteer orientation at 826 Seattle, the nonprofit drop-in tutoring center and Space Travel Supply Company started by Dave Eggers and his crew. If they like me, I may be going up there a couple times a week to help tutor reading and writing to kids. I think it’ll be a good experience, will help get me out of the house more, might teach me something about writing, reading, kids, and teaching, AND may well introduce me to some nifty folks with similar interests. So: busy day.

That said, it’s always a hard decision not to write, as much as it can be difficult to actually sit down and write. I feel I’m finally hitting my stride, a few weeks into this writing madness, with something resembling a daily routine and—as far as my big project goes (that would be Wayward Sister)—falling into a groove with the process of writing this longer work. I’m no longer belaboring every single page, nor trying to stuff too much into them. I’ve pared down the average panel count to about four or five (let the artist breathe, I say! Let the action flow!), and am beginning to answer some questions about the characters that have been lingering.

To wit: Coyote Don, aka Marion Slye, is indeed a homeless man who thinks he is a cowboy. He was the star of a bad TV Western in the early seventies, long after such things had gone out of style, but had suffered a mental breakdown and was imprisoned for the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Whether or not he actually committed the murder is iffy. He claims to have been framed.

Sally Clemens, aka Sally “Cummings”, aka Clementine, is the story’s Dulcinea. She’s a college student in her early twenties who dances at a strip club in Van Nuys—at the other end of the great galaxy that is the Los Angeles Basin—to pay for her education. While she’s in school she lives with her father, whom we gather so far from the story has some issues of his own. Sally just learned that he hasn’t shown up to work in a couple days. She thought he was home last night; he might well still be in bed, depressed. Sally is the story’s main realist, the most grounded character of them all. But that won’t keep her from indulging some of Coyote’s more harmless delusions—or from trying to correct some of Jeremy’s more harmful misconceptions. She doesn’t need adventure, but she needs friends who are as messed up as she is, or at least who understand complexity. Coyote sees her at the club and falls in love, imagining her his “Clementine.”

Jeremy Lerner. Oh Jeremy. He’s simultaneously the flattest and deepest character in the story, and the one who’s given me the most trouble. He’s a teenager, and as such still trying to discover himself—part of what makes him so hard for me to pin down—but he’s also torn with angst and anger. I’ve played with the idea that he may actually be the more crazy one, and in this current draft I leave it open as to whether he is beginning to exhibit early bipoloar or schizophrenic symptoms. But I don’t want to go there just yet, and I think the story would suffer if I put too much focus on that just yet. He’s troubled, he’s confused, he’s got raging hormones and an over-fed intellect. He lives with his mother and stepfather; he scorns the former and mocks the latter. His mother is well-intentioned but a bit neurotic herself, which makes our sympathies harder to place. The stepfather is a bland fellow and the judgmental Jeremy rides him hard for this. Jeremy is in fact a modern day Jeremiah, ultimately. Not an anti-hero but a non-hero with a rigid worldview, whose vituperations get their own name: jeremiads. We don’t see it just yet, but Jeremy becomes the real villain of the story, Coyote’s Van Kleeven. His Anakin.

So in episode four, Coyote Don is in search of a sidekick, his Sancho Panza (or Pancho Sanchez). On one level, he’s a homeless ex-con in unfamiliar territory, a parolee who was released in the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles who has found his way to the southern end, the fabled Orange County, land of sunshine, planned communities, and conservative values. He’s off his meds—if he was ever on the right medication to begin with, in prison—and is suffering from severe delusions that are harmless for now. He inhabits a world of the Wild West, the world of his canceled TV show. He needs a sidekick and a love interest for this worldview to make sense to him. And he needs an adventure to excuse or explain this need. So he translates the “unnaturalness” of his surroundings (the commerce-and-retail-driven suburbs of El Empresa) as a plot hatched by his archnemesis, Peet Van Kleeven, and presided over by the omnipresent Officer Callahan. Whatever Van Kleeven’s up to, it involves sprouting a fake community and hiring his minions to act as townsfolk, perhaps as a trap for Coyote, perhaps as a cover for a more sinister plot.

He’s already met Jeremy (when he followed “Clementine” home and had a run-in with her surly young neighbor), and now goes looking for him. For Jeremy, an adventure might be just what he needs—and he recognizes this, quite self-consciously. So when he meets up with this crazy old guy dressed like a thrift-store cowboy, he agrees to tag along. Coyote Don sees in Jeremy an echo of Sanchez, his TV sidekick: noble, a skilled fighter, maybe a bit slow on the uptake, but ultimately loyal. Once Coyote has an audience, his plan starts unfolding quickly. He needs his steed back—he had stolen a vintage Mustang and it has now been found and impounded, and he wants it back. He wants to find Clementine. And he wants to get to the root of Van Kleeven’s insidious plan, whatever it may be.

Coyote tries several tactics to convince Jeremy to come along, including the suggestion that there’s gold still on Saddleback Mountain (an echo of Sierra Madre). But it’s only when Coyote promises to make a man out of Jeremy that Jeremy’s switch is flipped, whether consciously or not, and he commits to helping this geezer out. And off they go.

That should take me through episode four, I think. But then, things have a way of developing on their own. I don’t want to leave too much to chance, but I don;t want to outline too much either. I’m starting to err on the side of having too much detail in the outline, and then discarding or altering scenes and benchmarks as I go, rather than leaving something too loose and then hitting that gap and not knowing how to proceed.

Either way, I’m sticking in episode four to the four-to-six panel page, and will continue focusing on driving that plot forward.

It’ll probably take me a couple weeks to finish. Meantime, I’ll keep posting my daily posts on here—be they writing exercises, fictional sketches I need to get out of my head, personal narratives, or midrashic discourses like this one. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

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