I’ve been keeping a secret for five years. It started as fragments – scenes flitting through my mind, snippets of conversation coalescing, personalities merging into characters.
When I was five years old, I wrote and illustrated a series called “Jumpy the Frog,” and planted seeds of a lifelong dream. Five years ago, almost forty years later, those seeds started jiggling around in my soul and refusing to be ignored. I started collecting haphazard bits and pieces. I started writing. I took up a challenge I read somewhere – even if you can only write for half hour a day, write! Eventually those half hours add up far faster than if you never write at all.
In those first few years, I achieved mini-goals: 10,000 words, 20,000 words, a semblance of a chronological plot. Does anyone else write a fiction book starting with a scene ¾ of the way through, then backtrack to write chapter 3, jump to chapter 20, and then finally write chapter 1? Then, re-write chapter 3 because spring follows winter and not summer? Around year 4, with the finish line in view, I hunkered down and sprinted.
And now a solid Draft 2 hides in my computer: 48,000 words.
What happens next?
My goal for 2018 is to submit my manuscript to someone with the power to publish. Most assuredly, my goal is not to publish. Maybe I’m just trying to protect myself; but as a battle-weary artist, I know all too well the sting of rejection.
Nevertheless, my characters also journey with me, unseen friends through the past five years, accompanying me on runs and bike rides, sitting next to me in prayer, teaching me in moments of reflection. They embody my deepest desires – to stir soul cravings for all that is good and true.
Perhaps a day will dawn to introduce their full adventures to the world…
Now that my secret is out, you can hold me accountable to figure out the next step in 2018. And of course, if you have any suggestions, I covet them…
My opening scene…
The Fine Silver Line
Nairobi, Kenya, August 2002
As Talia turned the van into the slum labyrinth, her shoulders tightened. Anxiety pressed against her chest. They rolled past ramshackle kiosks, eerily lit by oil lanterns. Open fires crackled. People still rambled about, even at the late hour. An inordinate number of young males clustered in the shadows. She applied steady pressure to the gas pedal. People turned to watch them pass but didn’t seem particularly interested. She pulled up to the Mother Teresa orphanage entrance and honked, three short beeps.
The van huddled outside the gate, clunking as it idled. Talia slunk lower in the driver’s seat, hoping the flicker of oil lamps would avoid highlighting her pale face. People teemed around the vehicle, laughing, talking, hollering. Crowds flocked to shack thresholds, silhouetted against murky interiors. She shuddered to think what transpired in the gloom.
If not for the window, she could reach out and touch people as they picked their way through the mud. She tried not to think about Baba’s warning: Never venture into this slum without a Kenyan. You will find a gun at your head or a knife at your throat. She pushed the horn again. Still the gates blocked their way, imposing and still.
A flashlight beam bounced over them, and Talia caught Justin’s solemn eyes. They asked: how much danger are we truly in? She chewed the strained line of her lip.
The van clunked again, sputtered, and died. In the abrupt silence, night penetrated the vehicle like tentacles. They perched, exposed, hunted ducks without water to swim in, protected by a mere glass pane. Crowds swarmed, peering through the windows. She leaned towards the middle, brushing against Justin. Even in this heightened state of peril, her heart skipped a beat.
A man paused, bent over, and scanned the interior. With a flicker of interest and a smirk, he noted their faces and thumped on the window with both fists. He yelled at a crowd of men crouched nearby. They surged to their feet; and, with horror, Talia spotted the gleam of a machete.
Just then a clatter shattered the street noise hum; the massive gate lumbered open. She jerked the key in the ignition, praying it would start. The engine whined and caught. She stomped on the gas pedal, spraying dirt behind the tires, and scooted into the compound. As she slammed on the brakes, she peeked in the rearview mirror. The man hovered in the narrowing space as the solid metal panel clanged shut: silhouetted, powerful, watching. The guard threw the bolts in place.
She drew a deep breath. Justin exhaled.
The darkness yielded a flutter of white approaching the vehicle. As they climbed out, cacophony pressed just outside the cement block walls, further held at bay by rolls of barbed wire looped along the top. A nun smiled in greeting, but her eyes gleamed with urgency below the white-and-blue-striped veil’s edge.
“They are coming,” the sister said. “They are dressing the children.”
As if on cue, two workers rushed from the inner compound, each clutching a bundle. They placed one in Talia’s arms, and Justin gingerly received the other. Somewhere buried in layers of clothing and blankets, two tiny humans fought for their lives. After Justin settled in the van with Rosalie cradled on his lap, she passed Will to him. He searched her face in the dim light and registered the fear she couldn’t quite hide.
Rosalie’s breath gurgled in her throat. Talia stroked the tiny brown cheek, blistering hot with fever. She turned to Justin; and even through her alarm, she remained incapable of suppressing the flip-flop in her stomach. In this urgent moment, when she should concentrate on the children, why was she distracted by attraction to a man, and especially a man whose heart belonged to someone else?
He stared her straight in the eyes. “Tali, drive. They need our help.”