Once upon a time not so very long ago, I told y’all about this story I was working on, ANNA. And how it was my precious child and I loved it. And how I was rewriting part one before moving on to part two and how I would literally die for half of my characters…and so on…
And anyway, I did so under the aegis of Belle Anne’s fabulous Meet the Books! linkup, which she has done again. And because I am actually working on two projects at once (ANNA in a more editorial vein, this one in the mad bloody chaotic rush of first-drafting), I am going to do it again too. I am going to tell you allll about my current project, Jennifer & Fred. Many thanks to Belle Anne for creating this linkup, and many thanks to anyone who wants to stick around and read my blabbering. If you don’t, no hard feelings. Have some cookies anyway.
What is the title?
Why, didn’t you read the title of this post? “Jennifer & Fred” is the title, and a perfectly scrumptious one if I do say so myself.
I’ve also considered titling it “Jennifer & Fred & Baseball & Potlucks & Simon&Garfunkel.” It has a nice ring, but it’s rather long.
What is the genre? Time period?
Historical fiction. Late 1960’s. I think my parents have objected to this and said that you can’t possibly call something historical fiction if they remember it, but whatever. It’s historical fiction. (Though I am curious when exactly the cutoff would occur. We live in a totally different time than the ’90’s, and yet calling that historical fiction just seems wrong.)
How is it written (POV, main character, etc.)?
First person. (It’s my favorite, what can I say?) It’s told by my main character Jennifer, whose narration is liberally peppered with literary references. Which, you know, is fun to write. If also exhausting when I can’t think what Greek myth she’s trying to draw a simile from here.
What is the setting?
A fictional small town in Arkansas, based on the one my mom lived in as a small child.
Who are the characters?
Jennifer – main character, age nineteen, orphan, amateur artist, avid reader. Does church work but isn’t as into it as her cousins. Has quite a talent for sarcasm but filters. Possesses what Frances calls “an unfortunate regard for the truth.” Likes Bach and Mendelssohn.
Frances – Jennifer’s twenty-year-old cousin, also an orphan, flaming redhead with a flaming temper. Flamboyant. A little self-centered but goodhearted. Hates sewing. Loves painting. Also has a talent for sarcasm and sees no need to filter. Likes Beethoven and Liszt.
Cora – Jennifer’s twenty-two-year-old cousin, also an orphan. Excellent cook. Kind to a degree that is probably not possible in one with a talent for sarcasm. Has asthma. Has a secret passion for Saint Bernards. Likes all music but her favorite is probably Vivaldi.
Aunt Mary Jamesina – The cousins’ great-aunt, in whose rambling old-fashioned house they all live and have grown up. A small, white-haired invalid. Reads Dickens aloud to everybody. Is as kind as Cora, but unlike Cora can also understand the baser passions that sometimes afflict Jennifer (like the desire to push Aaron over a cliff).
Aaron – The ten-year-old cousin, also an orphan, who has recently come to live with the girls permanently, although before he only came once a year to afflict them at Christmastide. Cheerful, destructive, loves people, loves baseball. Has no proper respect for the dignity of a cat. Adores Jennifer. Is mildly resentful of Frances.
Fred – The saturnine nephew of a couple at church, visiting from Little Rock. Meets Jennifer at the after-service potluck and is struck not so much by her beauty as by the curious mingling of vinegar and courtesy in her conversation. Just got back from Vietnam and doesn’t have anything to tie him to Little Rock anyway. Yields to his aunt’s urging to prolong his visit. In pursuing Jennifer’s acquaintance, ends up falling in love with her whole family.
The baseball kids – Some of their personalities are still emerging, but I’ve grown very interested in Max, the quiet fifteen-year-old kid with a rotten home life and real pitching talent; Nick, Aaron’s buddy, eternally cheerful in affliction, and not a bad fielder either; and Vernon, Aaron’s tall-tale-telling best friend with a very dignified name that he does not live up to at all. Which is why he goes by Hank (his middle name is Henry) instead.
What does the plot consist of?
Good question. And I’m sure that somewhere in the middle of Jennifer and Fred coaching Aaron’s ragtag baseball team, Aaron and Frances learning to get along, Fred introducing Jennifer to the wonders of 1960’s folk rock, and Jennifer trying to help Max, a plot is hiding. It’s just hiding rather well.
What gave you the idea?
Fair warning: this is kind of a long story.
It begins in November of 2015, when my father had an Idea. Said Idea was that over the month of December, we should all write a story, and we’d read them aloud to each other on Christmas Eve. The story had to be a Christmas story in one way or another, and, just for an extra touch of unity, it had to include a ten-year-old boy named Aaron. For this occasion, I wrote “Of Colored Pencils and Christmas Lights,” in which Aaron spent December with his cousins, many catastrophes occurred, and Jennifer had an epiphany. It was long for a short story, and apparently it was also boring. By the end, only two listeners were still awake, and they only by a great effort of will and eyelids.
Anyway, despite the dismal failure of “Of Colored Pencils and Christmas Lights,” the idea overall was a success. We’ve done it every year since, excepting 2016. And despite the dismal failure of “Of Colored Pencils and Christmas Lights,” I remained rather fond of it.
One day, quite out of the blue – I think I was thinking what an unromantic name Fred would be for the hero of a romance – a character named Fred appeared in my head. Now, I’d always thought I’d like to expand on “Of Colored Pencils and Christmas Lights,” maybe have Aaron come to live with them year-round, but that wasn’t a novel plot on its own. But with a romantic lead named Fred – well!
Well, that wasn’t a novel plot on its own either, it turned out, though it was getting there.
One day when my family was in Arkansas, my mom showed us the town where she’d lived when she was a little girl. Barely changed, she said. She recognized her old house, her friends’ houses, the house of that horrid boy who liked to chase her. The Baptist church, the post office, the great field behind the house where they played – there seemed to be blackberries growing along it, and behind it rose…well, I know they call them mountains in the Ozarks, but my idea of a mountain has a bit more height to it; but to call it a hill doesn’t have enough height. Anyway, it rose behind the field, tree-covered, thoroughly shielding it.
Anyway, very picturesque scene, very pleasant sleepy little town. Jennifer’s story had always been set somewhere in the South, but if I was going to turn it into a novel I needed an actual setting, and this was perfect. It was perfect that it was Arkansas too. Arkansas is Southern, but not quite the same as the rest of the South; maybe it’s too far west for that. Anyway that’s how I wanted the story to be too: Southern but not just absolutely drenched in Southernness.
So I had a setting, but still no story. Somehow I had to get the kids of the town into it. Aaron’s friends? Jennifer volunteers somewhere? Fred…?
This summer, however, thanks to Megan I had an epiphany. Baseball. It would be a baseball story. I’ve always meant to write a baseball story. And so now I am.
Who are the favorite characters so far?
Max and Nick, I think. My poor boys. They don’t have the best time of it, but they’re so good about it all and I love them very much.
(Fred is also fun, of course, all sarcastic and cynical and secretly a starry-eyed idealist who could ask no more of life than to turn some eager uncoordinated kids into a real baseball team.)
What is the favorite scene so far?
I haven’t written many actually good scenes yet, but I do like the one at the church potluck where Jennifer and Fred strike up a friendship over being uncomfortable in crowds, she takes offense to his assumptions about her, and they proceed to have a heated conversation about Great Expectations.
If Jennifer and Frances were real, there’d be an abundance of them. They are not real, so there is a sad dearth of them.
Any themes of music for the work?
Oh, yes, indeed! Every Simon & Garfunkel song ever, really, although I guess to make it easy the most appropriate ones are Mrs. Robinson (because Joe DiMaggio=baseball, plus disillusionment with the older generation is Fred all over), Why Don’t You Write Me? (I don’t know why particularly, it just fits), and Bridge Over Troubled Water (mostly for Jennifer’s relationship with Aaron and subsequently Max). Technically only Mrs. Robinson would’ve been released at the time the story takes place – in fact, I think it might’ve been released right in the middle of the story? But whatever. I said every Simon & Garfunkel song ever. Go look up, I don’t know, The Sound of Silence and I Am a Rock and April Come She Will if you want to be historically accurate. I mean, they’re good songs too.
Oh, and the Kinks’ The Village Green Preservation Society. Mustn’t forget that one. It’s practically the theme song of Jennifer’s family – or at the very least it’s what Fred thinks their theme song is. And he himself is more in sympathy with it than he supposes.
Fine, I will share one (1):
“I hope you brought fruit salad,” said Mr. Busse anxiously.
“I’m afraid not this time,” I replied. “But Cora’s potato salad will be making an appearance, so do not despair.”
Strong point in story?
Uh…hopefully it’s funny? I’m not sure that it is, but oh well. What are revisions for, I guess. And if it was funny, that’d be the strong point.
Weak point in story?
That aforementioned absence of plot? Yes. That.
What are your plans for it?
To work on it at my own leisure and hopefully have a working first draft by the time I’m done rewriting ANNA. Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen.
Any particular writing habits for it?
Lately, that would be not writing it.
If it were made into a movie, what would be your ideal cast for it?
I feel like this would be fun to come up with, but also I don’t know very many actors and don’t have the energy. So…I have no idea. My ideal cast would have subtle charisma across the board, but none, except Frances’s actress, would be too terribly beautiful.
And that’s the project I’m working on. Or at least ought to be working on. Who should I cast for the movie version? What have y’all been writing? Where do you think something ceases to be contemporary and becomes historical? What one band would you introduce your true love to?