Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In which I achieve my fifty-thousand-word goal for NaNoWriMo

Thank you to all my friends and blog-readers for your encouragement, support, and fabulous ideas to incorporate into my NaNoWriMo novel, Skookum. I hit the 50,000-word mark yesterday morning--hooray!

This novel was a new experience for me, in that I actually got more fond of my characters as the month progressed. Yesterday, having achieved my word-goal, I was surprised that I spent my drive to work in the afternoon actually thinking up another chapter. Clearly, I am not done with Skookum, and it is not done with me.

For those who may be joining the story late, a few words of introduction about Skookum, the town, and Skookum, the book.

The town is a moderately-fictional place located somewhere in Western Washington State, probably between Seattle and the Canadian border. I say that it is "moderately fictional" because past experience has taught me that well-told elements of a story tend to become real. Therefore, Skookum, the town, is made up of parts of many real and mostly-real places, like my hometown of Bellingham, my current town of Arlington, and several small towns where I have lived in between. Skookum also incorporates some of the places and feelings and ideas that you might find in other moderately-fictional towns like Lake Wobegon, Newford, or Pico Mundo.

The name "Skookum" comes from a word in the Chinook Jargon trade language used in the late 18th and early 19th century between Europeans and native tribal groups in the Pacific Northwest. Although the jargon utilizes many vocabulary words from the language of the Chinook tribal people, there are also many loan words from English, French, and the languages of Pacific Rim peoples. Chinook is not an actively-used language anymore, but many of the vocabulary words remain in our regional dialect and in our regional toponymy. The word "skookum" itself is generally translated by outsiders as "great, terrific, topnotch," whereas it actually connotes something acceptable, generally-trustworthy, and mostly non-toxic. "Skookumchuck," for example, is the name of a local river which is considered relatively safe if you stay out of the deep bits during the winter and don't drink too much of it.

Skookum, the book, is a series of short stories and articles written for the weekly Skookum Tribune by a wet-behind-the-ears reporter, Annabeth Spencer. I don't know much about Annabeth, because she never held my interest. All I know about her, really, is that she likes to write about the same kind of people that I like to write about. The fact that Annabeth Spencer and I have the same initials is probably entirely coincidental.

Here's the latest story. Tell me what you think!

Lulu Rubidoux's Chinchilla-fur Coat

Did you ever hear about the time that Lulu Rubidoux decided to raise chinchillas?

It happened like this.

The PETA (“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”) have never heard of Skookum. Members of PETA prefer to hang out in Los Angeles, or Paris, or New York, where they can complain about obscenely rich people wearing obscenely beautiful and obscenely expensive fur garments, which the complainers do their best to wreck by pitching buckets of petroleum-based solvents onto the people and the garments, hopefully in front of lots of cameras.

Nobody in Skookum understands the PETA. Skookum is a dairy farming town, and the people who live there believe in treating cows like cows. You’ve got to be nice to a cow, or else she won’t give any milk. If you aren't nice to her then you’ve got nothing except grouchy hamburger, and if you turn all your dairy cows into grouchy hamburgers then you’d be out of the milk-producing business in a hurry.

Now, being nice to a cow isn’t like being nice to your future wife. It’s more like being nice to your future mother-in-law. You don’t take a cow to a movie. You might offer to tell her the story of a film you saw recently while you’re hooking her up to the rather intimate machinery that extracts the milk, because if the cow hears you talking, then she’s less likely to kick you in the knees when you attach those cold machine parts to her warm womanly parts. That’s just a suggestion, of course. Also, most people don’t suggest attaching anything to the womanly bits of a future mother-in-law. That is just a metaphor. If you don’t understand about metaphors, call Jack Jackson, the English teacher over at Skookum High. He’s got a whole book of metaphors.

Anyhow, nobody in Skookum is afraid to wear fur or leather clothing, because the PETA doesn’t bother with towns like Skookum. When the weather gets cold and wet on winter Sunday mornings, the men pull out their warm leather boots with the fur linings and the gortex parkas with the fur trim so that they can feel warm and comfortable while sitting in the church pews at the early service, so they don’t have to waste time getting warmed up again before changing into their chest-waders and heading out to the river to fish the winter steelhead run.

The ladies of the town, even those who enjoy winter steelhead fishing, invariably choose to wear tasteful black, blue, brown or grey closed-toe pumps with a moderate heel, but in cold months they, too, reach for fur to keep them warm in the sometimes-chilly chapels of the town.

Lulu Rubidoux had been wearing the same rabbit-fur lined jacket to church every winter Sunday for nearly twenty years. She loved that jacket. It had been a gift from an admirer when she first came to the town of Skookum, and she had very fond memories of the admirer, especially of the admirer and that fur…but that is a story that she will not tell, and so I won’t tell it either.

However, twenty years will eventually exert a certain amount of influence upon a person, and in Lulu’s case, twenty years plus a fondness for chocolate-covered cherries had finally exerted enough influence upon Lulu that, even if she loosened all the threads on all the buttons of that jacket, it still wouldn’t close around her anymore. She was going to need to lose weight, or get a new fur jacket.

She called her boyfriend Reg, the owner of the Skookum Book Nook and Fill Dirt Emporium, for advice.

Reg was one of the few people in town who had known Lulu when they were both boys in high school back in northern Idaho. When Lulu made the change to womanhood, Reg was the only one of their childhood friends who not only supported the change, but also thought it a vast improvement. In his capacity of oldest friend and most ardent admirer, Reg kept a perfectly straight face over the phone when he advised Lulu to get another box of chocolates, and to go shopping for a new fur jacket.

Lulu followed Reg’s directions in regards to the chocolate, and then booted up her computer to do a little online fur coat shopping. The sort of jacket she required, after all, would not be sold at the Out and About Sporting Goods store in downtown Skookum. She wanted something elegant. Something tasteful. Something…slenderizing.

Lulu had once read a romance book about a woman who was tall and elegant and possessed a waist that a strong man could span with his two hands. The woman in the book had owned a chinchilla-fur coat, which she wore to meet her secret tryst in the snow before the man was nearly framed for murder and only found innocent when his jealous twin brother confessed to the crime in an email sent from a public computer that somehow went awry and ended up, not in the inbox of the accomplice, but in the heroine’s own hotmail account, and revealed that the brother was really an internationally-most-wanted criminal who had plans to take his ill-gotten gains to Hong Kong in order to invest in more criminal activity.

Lulu thought that a chinchilla fur coat must be the most romantic, luxurious thing in the world, and now, she thought, it was time for her to have a chinchilla fur coat of her very own. Luxuriously silver grey and velvety, Lulu imagined that a chinchilla fur coat would provide the ultimate backdrop for her still-curly, still-(mostly)-red hair which she knew was the envy of every other woman in Skookum.

She googled “chinchilla fur” and found a link to an online store in Paris. Paris sounded so romantic! She clicked the link, and gasped. The coats were beautiful beyond her imagining…but oh, the prices. Four thousand dollars? If she had four thousand dollars to spend on a coat, she wouldn’t be driving a twelve-year-old Honda to work at her job as a high school secretary, that much was for sure.

Now, Lulu has never been a whiner. When the world didn’t provide her with what she wanted and needed from it, she made do, and has always done so. What could she do, she wondered, to get herself a chinchilla fur coat without paying four thousand dollars for it?

She pondered the question for several days. She talked to Reg, who suggested that they contact a friend of his who made periodic visits to Hong Kong, and might be persuaded to…but Lulu wanted nothing to do with shady international dealings in Hong Kong. She talked to the ladies at the Food4Less grocery, who suggested that maybe one of their grandmothers might have a nice big rabbit fur jacket that they could part with, and then Lulu could wear that when the weather got cold. But Lulu wanted no grandmother jacket. She wanted elegant. She wanted tasteful. She wanted chinchilla.

It was Edsel Rabin, naturally enough, who suggested that Lulu could raise chinchillas to make herself a coat. “Chinchillas aren’t more complicated to keep than a pet rabbit,” he told Lulu, “and there’s plenty of hunters here could dress ‘em out for you.”

Lulu was intrigued by the prospect of raising her own chinchilla coat. She checked with the Feed ‘N Seed downtown next to the hardware store, and Zeke over there told Lulu that he could order in some litters of chinchilla kits for her. He sent her home with some big hutches to set up in her garage, and gave her a little pamphlet about the care and feeding of chinchillas.

Lulu read the pamphlet carefully. She set up the hutches according to Zeke’s directions, filled each of the little water bottles with fresh water, and bought a special dust bowl for her chinchillas to use for their special dust baths. She put hay in each of the cages. And then she waited for her future coat to arrive.

While she waited, she tried to think of names for her chinchillas. At first she thought that they should be named for glamorous movie stars, like Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Rita Hayworth. Then she thought that they should be named for the romantic heroines in the paperback novels that she liked to read on her lunch breaks at her job as the high school secretary.

But when Zeke over at the Feed ‘N Seed opened that box to show her those twenty little baby chinchillas, all she could think of was little round silver-grey teddy bears with round liquid brown eyes.

She loved them all, instantly, deeply and completely, and since she couldn’t tell them apart anyway, she named all twenty of them “Teddy.”

Every morning, Lulu carried her morning coffee and doughnuts out to the garage so she could watch her baby chinchillas play while she read the newspaper. Every evening, she turned on the radio and sang to her baby chinchillas while she cleaned the cages and refilled the water bottles. She petted their elegant, velvety fur. She looked into their round liquid brown eyes. She watched them climb and jump and tumble together like the players in those video games that the boys at the high school liked so much. She watched them chew on the little pieces of wood she provided, and she marveled at their cleverness, their funniness, and their beauty.

She couldn’t imagine how she had ever lived with just a grumpy old tomcat and no chinchillas. Every morning her chinchillas would squeak excitedly when she turned on the garage light and brought their fresh hay. Every evening they woke up when she came home from work, and began playing and tumbling together as if they knew how much their antics entertained her. She began keeping framed photos of the chinchillas on her desk at work, right beside the framed picture of Reg.

Spring passed, and Reg helped Lulu install a swamp cooler in the garage so that her chinchillas would not get overheated during the summer. She came home during her lunch breaks to put ice cubes into the chinchillas’ water bottles. She told the chinchillas stories about her morning as she ate her lunch, and then she would lower the shades in the garage windows to keep the hot sun out while she was gone during the afternoons.

Fall arrived, and some of the chinchillas were getting fatter now. Lulu told them that they needed to stop eating chocolate-covered cherries before they got too fat for their fur coats, but this was only a joke. Lulu would never feed her chinchillas anything but the best quality hay, a smidgeon of alfalfa, and the handful of organically-grown seeds that Reg brought for them as a special treat on Saturday nights.

By the time winter arrived again, Lulu had long-since abandoned her idea of making her darling little Teddy Bears into a coat, and she looked with horror upon Edsel Rabin when he suggested that it was getting time to “harvest” her pets. Did he not know that her chinchillas were just about to become parents? She was soon to become a chinchilla-grandmother!

She had never been so delighted.

As for staying warm at church on those chilly winter Sundays, Lulu and Reg made a new plan: They would continue to eat chocolate-covered cherries, but only on Saturday nights. The other evenings, they would take a walk around the town together in hopes of becoming slimmer so that Lulu could fit into her old rabbit-fur jacket.

Then they would return home to visit with the chinchillas for an hour or so before bedtime.

It was an arrangement that made everybody happy.

6 comments:

  1. This story made me squeal with delight. Adorable. It makes me miss my chinchilla in the worst way. They are the sweetest animals, truly. VERY well written <3

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  2. Fantastic! The stories have gotten better and better all month, Aarene. Great job finishing!

    ... I know how she feels about not being able to tell her pets apart. One of The Dollies is a rooster for sure, and two more are maybies, but mostly they're identical.

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  3. I am in awe. YOU DID IT! Congratulations!!
    And whew, I'm glad Skookum is not leaving us. Your characters are so original and believable. More, more!

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  4. Totally enjoyable story! Wonderful flow. And now I want a chinchilla.

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