Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Premise of Peep Central: What If?



What if you came home from school one day, and discovered that your mother has disappeared without a trace?

What’s more, what if it’s your 11th birthday, which also happens to be 9/11, the day terrorists have struck America?

Then about four years later, what if your father also disappears, leaving you and your sister a goodbye note and instructions for living on your own?

What would you do?

How would these important events (among other events) inform your life?

Peep Central will attempt to answer these questions.

Working Summary of Peep Central


Before continuing with the planning of this book, I decided I needed to develop a working summary, which will help me to keep this book on track:
Peep Central, a novel spanning about 11 years, chronicles the lives of two young sisters (four years apart) as they raise themselves, without adult guidance, navigating a post-9/11 world in which they must survive day-to-day and mature into young adulthood while also coping with parental abandonment and typical issues facing contemporary young people.
A good summary ought to be
–Short (under 100 words)

–One sentence

–Descriptive of what the novel is all about.

–General (as opposed to being specific)
As I develop the synopsis, I may continue to tweak this summary.

Also, the basic premise of the novel may shift.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Peep Central as the Name of Quinelle’s Forum and the Wayback Machine...


Quinelle's younger sister Qeah is horrified when Quinelle buys PeepCentral.com and sets up her forum using the name.

Possible conversation between Qeah and Quinelle:
“You should have checked the Wayback Machine before buying PeepCentral.com,” Qeah said.

“What’s a Wayback Machine?”

“The Internet Archive. You can check how a pre-owned domain was used before you buy it.”

“But why should I care?”

“Because if a domain name has a checkered history, it might be blacklisted.”

“Blacklisted?”

“Yeah, by Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. The domain name could be dropped from the search engines because of bad behavior.”

“I don’t understand what this has to do with Peep Central.”

“A lot. Peep Central used to be, well, uh, a site with pictures of naked ladies.”

Quinelle slapped her forehead. “Seriously?”

“Yep. But you lucked out. Your shiny new domain name has not been blacklisted.”

“Whew,” Quinelle said.

“But it’s not all good news. You’ll still have to rehab it.”

“Rehab?”

“Yeah. You have to overcome its history, keep the old men away who come to the forum expecting naked lady pictures.”

“But it’s a forum for my peeps, not dirty old men.”

“Unfortunately, a ‘peep’ is also a yukky old man who likes to spy on naked women without their knowledge.”

“No way!”

“Way!”

“My life sucks...”

“Yeah. It’s a jungle out there...But not to worry. The Great Qeah is here to defend your precious forum from the internet crud.”
Although “The Great Qeah” is four years younger than Quinelle, she's a lot more internet savvy and is forever rescuing Quinelle's site from viruses, spam, and other unsavory malware.

Peep Central: New (Permanent?) Title of NaNo Novel


Have you ever experienced an earworm?

You know, those catchy songs that insinuate themselves in your head and refuse to leave, playing over and over.

The only cure: another earworm. Life seems to be full of song earworms, at least for me, ha, ha.

Well, Peep Central is the literary version of an earworm book title.

When I first encountered Peep Central, I knew it was absolutely right for this book; I could not get it out of my head. Unfortunately, I did not own PeepCentral.com, BUT it was for sale on a domain aftermarket auction site, so I bid and eventually acquired the name (this process will become a part of the novel, with Quinelle buying up the name for her forum–more on that later).

An earworm title is vitally important for a young adult novel, but it also has to fit the content of the novel.

So here’s the simple explanation: as high school students, Quinelle and Qeah attend Qahog Central High. Even before Quinelle is old enough to attend high school, she decides to set up a teen forum for her peers at Middle and Central High, which she calls Peep Central. Now in internet speak, peep (n.) is short for “people” or to spy (peep, v.) on someone in a sexual way (Urban Dictionary).

When Quinelle acquired PeepCentral.com, she had no idea about the sexual connotation, and, furthermore, the URL has had a checkered history.

In next post, Qeah will chew out Quinelle for not checking the Wayback Machine (Internet Archive) for domain history.

This, of course, causes some problems as Quinelle fights off smutty threads from former visitors to Peep Central, formerly a site of, uh, ill-repute.

This is why I have added a disclaimer on the right sidebar...

;=)

To be honest, when the earworm title first popped in my head, I also had no idea about the matching domain’s dicey history, but, after much thought and agonizing, I decided to use it anyway and will actually work its history into the narrative.

A risk? Yes.

I suspect that those in search of naked women (and worse) will eventually disappear.

I’m hoping the cute birds in the logo will dispel any thoughts that this is anything other than just a clean site.

Have a good day!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Quinelle and Qeah’s Father: Josup (Netta) Quinella, nickname “Joe”

Of all the characters in this novel, Josup is the most difficult to pin down. Perhaps it’s because I (as the author) like him so much that I have some difficulty understanding why he has left his children by themselves. He’s such a nice guy; in ordinary circumstances, he would probably never abandon his kids.
--Josup, who prefers to go by “Joe,” is a quiet, shy person, a nerdy type in temperament. He is naturally likeable and has no known enemies. But he doesn’t have a lot of friends, either; he tends to keep to himself.

--He is unknowable to most people, although his wife Godwyna has figured him out pretty well (at least on a surface level) and early on in their marriage. But even she does not know everything about him or his deepest thoughts. No one knows this, but, at 10, he was sexually abused by a family friend, a well-respected figure in the community where he grew up. When he told his parents, they refused to believe him, beginning his alienation from them and the eventual shedding of the family name (from Netta to Quinella). He is obsessed with facing his abuser and forcing him to own up to his wrong doing.

--As a young person (pre-teen), he was slightly overweight and wore nerdy clothes and glasses. He tended to fly under the radar and was not bullied as much as one might have expected.

--He is very bright and, as a kid, often bypassed bullying by doing homework for dumb jocks wanting to stay on the football and basketball teams. At first, he did the work for free, but he quickly figured out that they needed his skills more than he needed to be safe. At 15, he created a simple computer game, similar to Pac-Man, which he played on his school’s Apple III and distributed to peers in his computer club. (Later, one of his peers stole the program and sold it to a major computer game company, making millions. Joe never pursued the matter and actually forgave the guy, his attitude being, “I can make more of that where it came from,” and so he did).

--He’s very sensitive and feels tremendous guilt for leaving his girls, but, on some level, he senses that they will be okay. (In addition to his goodbye note, he had left a rather long list of dos and don’ts, most of which struck Quinelle as painfully obvious, such as “Don’t let strangers in the house.”). In another life, he would have settled down with his family, made lots of money, and died a rich old man with doting grown children and grandchildren on his knee.

--As the gaming community grew, so did Joe’s skills in creating computer games, eventually working for one of the major gaming companies. By the time Godwyna left, he had quit his job and was free-lancing, having set up his own internet business. In 1997, after Steve Jobs returned to Apple, Joe invested in a significant number of Apple stock (10,000 shares) at less than $22.00 per share. In 2007, he started working on apps for the then-new iPhone, which he sold to Apple for substantial money (He had abandoned the girls by then, but he would sneak money into their account. Only Quinelle noticed this, given that she controlled the accounts and has never said anything to Qeah). He has also created some other lucrative internet projects. At the time he left his girls, he was free-lancing and making fantastic money, which is why he could leave behind a large bank account and pay off the mortgage in full (which he did in 2005, one year after leaving). Then in late 2007, Joe abruptly stopped depositing money.
So why did he walk away from his children, leaving them to fend for themselves?

Quinelle assumes that he has left to search for Godwyna, but nothing could be further from the truth; he had long ago accepted Godwyna’s absence and no longer feels anything for her.

He has left to search for his abuser. After much soul-searching, he decided he must find his abuser or his abuser’s grave, to confront, in person, his abuser and his (Joe’s) own demons. When he wrote in his note to Quinelle that he was planning to return, he was not lying. However, it took three years to find his abuser. And when Joe finally confronted him (by that time an old man), the man refused to apologize and actually denied having done the act. Joe went out of control and pummeled him with his fists. The man didn’t die, but became incapacitated for a long time, so Joe ended up in prison, which explains why, in 2007, the money stopped.

Physical Characteristics:
--He’s the kind of man who grows more handsome as he grows older. In fact, he’s a dark complected man with black hair and olive eyes, and now tall and slim. He dresses much better than he did as a youngster, but still casual. Now that he has grown into his body, he wears just about anything well.

--However, while women gravitate toward him, he’s not a ladies’ man and while married to Godwyna was totally faithful to her. In fact, he was totally devastated when he discovered she was cheating on him.
(NOTE: Qeah takes after him in just about every way, including his swarthy complexion and olive eyes. Like him, she will grow into her body, becoming a tall and graceful girl, whereas Quinelle is light-complected, with red hair and blue eyes. She has been pretty from day one and exudes the confidence of one who has always enjoyed good looks).

Again, I want to stress that these are notes, and much of this may not end up in the actual novel. In fact, the girls are probably not going to find out why their father beat someone up.

They will find out that Joe is in prison, but he will clam up, and the girls will be dumbfounded.

I think it's important that authors have a good back story in mind from which to draw character motivations.

Monday, August 13, 2012

G.I. Dog Will be a St. Bernard


I looked up the characteristics of the St. Bernard breed and have come to the conclusion that G.I. Dog would be best as this breed.
See Saint Bernard Information
This website seems to best describe the characteristics of G.I. Dog.

Also, I believe that the girls' father would most likely give them a purebred puppy (a "guilt" offering, although, ironically, it would not have mattered to them).

St. Bernards seem come in all colors, with the camouflage-type markings the most common.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Goodbye Letter to Quinelle From Her Father



About four years after her mother leaves, Quinelle’s father also runs off, leaving behind a goodbye letter and some guilt offerings.

She is 14, Qeah 10.

In my character analysis of her father (still to be named), I will try to explain why he, a seemingly gentle man, abandons his family (whether or not this info is revealed to Quinelle or Qeah remains to be seen).
10/31/05

Baby girl,

I don’t know how to sugarcoat what I’m about to say, so I’ll just blurt it out.

I must leave you girls for a while.

You’re an amazing kid, with a solid head on your shoulders; I know you’re capable of overcoming great obstacles, even at your age, and now I must ask you to take on responsibilities way beyond your years.

Please don’t tell anyone that you and Qeah are temporarily alone. I can’t tell you why right now, but it’s very important that you two keep this to yourselves.

I sincerely hope you can do this for me–and without telling Qeah why.

I have enclosed information about a savings and checking accounts (Qahog National Bank, downtown branch); I have also left a full checkbook of pre-signed checks and an ATM card in your name. You will find these items in the safe, combination with account info.

Please be careful and keep them, at all times, locked up.

You can use the checks for school fees and other occasions that won’t raise suspicions with Social Services, the card for withdrawing cash from an ATM.

I wish I could leave you with relatives, but you know that’s not possible.

I’m not sure when I’m coming back, probably long before your money runs out.

But remember this: I love you both.

Love,

Daddy

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Qanimal: Quinelle’s Letter To Her Mother Which May Explain Qanimal as a Possible Title

I am considering Qanimal as a title for this novel.

I have another title in mind, but I'm not yet prepared to reveal that one yet.

The following letter (which may be broken up into two letters) may explain the Qanimal reference (and possible title):
Dear Momma,

It’s been 1,475 days since you went away.

Dad’s been gone three years now.

We’re keeping that busybody from Social Services away. I think Mrs. Nello knows you’re gone but she can’t prove it. I’m pretty good at pretending to be you over the phone, lol.

Last year, I set up a bill pay account so I don’t have to forge your name on checks anymore. And the teachers at Qahog are none the wiser when I write excuse notes and permission slips for us.

We have to pay everything on time, like house payments, utilities, and taxes to keep nosey adults away. When all is paid up for the month, then we buy groceries and other stuff.

Dad’s money is running out, but Qeah’s little biz (something to do with the internet) is holding us together and my computer art sales on ebay are improving (I do a little drop shipping, too, look it up if you don’t know what it means).

We make do. It’s getting easier everyday.

;=)

Wish you and Dad were here, tho.

If you and Dad would just come home, we promise to keep our jobs.

Qeah called me a name today: Qanimal.

I wanted to smack her but the more she called me that, the more I liked it. So I think I’ll tell my peeps on the forum to forget about Quinelle and use Qanimal.

Maybe it’s because G.I. Dog had something to say about it. (He’s getting big, btw, shaggy as all get out, too bad you’ve never met him).

So I was mad at Qeah because she’s SUCH a hog (Qahog, get it?), throws her clothes all around and leaves dirty dishes in the sink without even rinsing. She whines when we have to do housework and doesn’t understand we have to keep everything neat and clean in case Mrs. Nello comes nosing around.

A messy house isn’t an option.

So, anyways, when I went into Qeah’s messy room, I yelled, “You’re pathetic, you live like an animal!”

G.I. Dog shot up from a deep sleep and growled and bared his teeth at me, he’s never threatened anyone before, so we were surprised.

“Sorry, Gidog,” I said.

He shook himself out, plopped back down beside Qeah’s bed, went “harumph,” and farted.

And then went back to sleep.

Me and Qeah just busted up laughing.

Gidog lives like an animal but he isn’t so very sloppy. Maybe shaggy and a little farty, but he never poops or pees inside.

“Okay, then. You live like a HOG,” I said.

“I’m a Qahog.” Qeah giggled. “But you’re a Qanimal.”

I was about to slug her but G.I. Dog wouldn’t have liked it.

“Qanimal, Qanimal, Qanimal...”

“Qanimal,” I said. “I like it.”

At first, I said it just to shut her up but then I really started liking it.

“You can call me Qanimal anytime.”

“Really?”

“Really. I love you, anyway,” I said. And then I gave her a BIG hug.

Sometimes I forget she’s only 10.

We sat down and had a very important talk about our situation, about how we have to be careful not to be found out.

We have to work twice as hard as adults.

Personally, I don’t care a whit about a clean house and you used to get on my case about my messy room (Sorry, Momma) but things are different now.

For now, Qeah understands.

Please some home soon.

Loveya,

Qanimal (Quinelle)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Quinelle and Qeah’s Mother: Character Sketch of Godwyna Quinella

Quinelle and Qeah’s Mother: Character Sketch of Godwyna Quinella

I offer a lot of the following background on Godwyna (although most of it will not appear in the actual book) because it will inform much of the girls’ lives, even if they don’t have direct knowledge of this background material:
Godwyna (nickname “Wyna”) is the type of person who is never happy with what she has; she is always looking for more and reaching for a life that is better than she already has. The point is, she will always yearn for something else and never be satisfied, no matter how much she achieves professionally or who she falls in love with. She is always glancing over her shoulder, both metaphorically and literally. While she’s capable of physical passion, she seems to be incapable of unselfish love.

So, then, she feels guilt in leaving her children only to the extent that society might disapprove of her actions; to her, being labeled as a bad mother is worse than the actual act of being a bad mother. Obviously, her desire to leave has outweighed any societal disapproval.

She cannot sustain a romantic relationship for very long; in fact, she has already cheated on her husband (no name yet) several times and does not feel guilty over it, in fact, feeling entirely entitled to her affairs. In her mind, her extramarital activities mean nothing to her except as adding spice and excitement to her perceived dull life. (“If it feels good, then it’s all right.”)

(How much Quinelle and Qeah find out about their mother’s extramarital life is still unknown; maybe they find out via snooping on their mother’s computer [left behind], where they find her profile on a dating site called Peepskin.com, with somewhat lewd comments by various men. Obviously, I, as author, will know more than the girls do).

According to what the girl’s father have told them, Wyna had fled the family home in a 2000 Lexis, all her expensive jewelry, and $50,000 of the family’s cash.

She was born in 1968, and for the first 10 years of her life, she lived in a Vermont commune and was home schooled at a time when home schooling was considered counter-culture. Part of her difficult social skill set may have been exacerbated by the isolated and agrarian nature of the commune.

Her parents never married, splitting up when her mother fled the commune.

After the commune, her mother married someone else, and the family moved to a suburban neighborhood, where attended a ritzy public school. She had difficulty fitting in with the non-commune lifestyle and making new friends. She fell in with a disenfranchised Goth-like crowd and experienced several scrapes with school officials and the local police.

After her stepfather made sexual advances toward her and her mother refused to believe her, Wyna, at 15 (1983), ran away from home and knocked about for a while (in shelters and on the street, where she engaged in sexual activity for room and board, which may explain her cavalier attitude toward sex) until, at 17 (1985), she met a wealthy older man (about 40), who she married at 18 (1986). During this marriage, she earned her G.E.D. They divorced a year later (1987) after he caught her in bed with a high school boy, a kid who had been doing yard work for them. Wyna used the divorce settlement to finance her college education and to set up an off-campus apartment.

Wyna met the girls’ father during her second year of college (1989), he moved in with her immediately, and they married a year later (March 1990), after she discovered she was pregnant with Quinelle.

Just before Quinelle’s birth (July or August 1990), the young couple, on a casual tip from a track groomer, bet a sizable amount of money on two bets at the dog track: a quinella and a superfecta. Their dogs come in in exact order, and they win a boatload of money, which finances the rest of their college life.

Unlike other gamblers who have won a lot of money, they never gamble again. Wyna has always contended, “We shot our wad of cash and won big time, but lightning will not strike twice.”

In honor of their big win and given that they had no contact with either side of their families, they decided to legally assume a new last name: from Netta to Quinella. In addition, they decided to name their first born Quinn (boy) or Quinelle (girl). They entertained the possibility of naming the girl Quinella, but her husband put his foot down and said, absolutely not). (Wisely, they decided against naming their kid Superfecta, although most of their win came from that bet.)

They were unpleasantly surprised when Wyna gave birth to twins: a boy and a girl. Wyna panicked and insisted that they couldn’t afford to support twins and wanted to put one of them up for adoption. Her husband was adamantly opposed to giving up one of their kids, but she threatened divorce if he didn’t agree.

She chooses to keep the girl because the boy (who Quinelle later dubs as “Shmug”) is “homely” with big ears. “I think he’s retarded” (He isn’t), she said. So reluctantly, he agreed to giving the boy up for adoption, an act that will cause a permanent rift in their relationship. Oddly, Wyna harbors no regrets and doesn’t even think about her boy child. On the other hand, the husband mourns for his missing child. (More about him in his character sketch).

Wyna has had no contact with her parents (Mother, father, and stepfather) since she left home at 15.

Not surprisingly, Wyna is an indifferent mother, leaving most of the child rearing to her husband. Only when her children grow a bit older (and, therefore, more interesting) does she “play” with her girls. But she never really nurtures them (the girls are always seeking her approval, but she never really gives it).

On 9/11, Wyna does NOT disappear because of another man. I have an idea what happens, but I’m still mulling it over. According to her husband, she had fled the family home in a 2000 Lexis, all her expensive jewelry, and $50,000 of the family’s cash.
Godwyna’s general characteristics:
--She is poised, gracious (at least outwardly), and reserved.

--She is capable and clever, a potential a high-powered SEO of a large company (Before abandoning her husband and children, she works as an accountant (who is moving upward) for a bank and, on the side, writes an advice column for a local newspaper and doing well at it). The advice column gig has been a way to be social and still

--She is a private person and difficult to know; everyone in her family has been blind-sided by her disappearance.

--She is reticent and often lonely and misunderstood–does she feel that her husband and children cannot possibly understand her pain (which, in this case, is boredom with her life)? Her family will never know, I’m afraid.

--She wants to be a social butterfly, flitting easily from one acquaintance to another, but she must work hard at it. Ironically, she makes it look easy, but every time she returns from a social engagement, she wants to vomit.

--She is an avid reader with amazing powers on concentration; she may suffer from a case of A.D.D., the non-hyper kind.

--She is a better writer than a conversationalist, which is ironic, given that she fails to write her children a goodbye note. She may have written a note to her husband, but whether or not Quinelle finds out about it is still unclear.

--She yearns for the mysteries of life and an understanding of the greater picture of life, suggesting that she leaves because her family life has become mundane, and the outside world has called to her. Still, she sees herself as being extremely spiritual and humanistic. On the other hand, she is very materialistic, and covets the finer things of life.
Physical characteristics (which, of course, the girls would notice):
--Drop dead gorgeous, looks like an angel. Tall, willowy, natural blonde, blue-green eyes, and perfect skin.

--She dresses to the nines, even when she’s at home. She never leaves the house without being impeccably decked out

Monday, August 6, 2012

G.I. Dog: The Family Dog and More About Qeah



G.I. Dog is the family pet, a mixed-breed puppy given to Quinelle and Qeah by their father (as yet, unnamed) shortly after 9/11, as sort of consolation prize for their missing mother (Godwyna).

Quinelle names him G.I. Dog because he looks a bit like camouflage (I've tried to show this with the above image). In reality, he is large and shaggy, unkempt looking, simply because the girls, once on their own, do not have the resources or the wherewithal to have him professionally groomed.

Don't get me wrong; they comb and bathe him regularly--and sheer him somewhat irregularly, giving him a really shaggy look, except those times when they sheer him rather haphazardly, either too much or too little.

As Quinelle and Qeah grow older and their financial situation improves dramatically, G.I. Dog is taken to the groomer regularly, so as an old dog, he looks better than ever.

I'm getting the sense that G.I. Dog will act as a metaphor for their family life as kids alone. (For those who stumble upon this blog, please note that these are notes and not part of the novel. In other words, I won't be saying in the actual novel that G.I. Dog acts as a metaphor, LOL).

Throughout the novel, G.I. Dog grows up with the girls.

But as G.I. Dog grows old and creaky, the girls are just coming of age and into their young adulthood (Quinelle) and late teen hood (Qeah).

His death will coincide with a new chapter in the girls' live.

G.I. Dog is definitely at odds with his name. Any similarity to a military dog ends with his camouflage coat.

He is a big dog, a lovable curly-haired mutt who would not hurt a fly. He adores his owners, preferring Qeah over Quinelle, obsessively following the younger girl around; however, he would give his life for either of them, which he will prove somewhere in the novel (haven't decided when and where yet).

He's a laid-back animal (a bit slobbery, his tongue hanging out a lot) who sleeps a lot (when he isn't following Qeah around). Especially when he's younger, the girls are always trying to get him to exercise more, which he resists as much as possible. As he grows older, the girls don't bug him as much, apparently recognizing him as the elder statesman of the family deserving respect and an easy old age.

His fears: thunder and lightning, vacuum cleaners, the mail carrier, and sirens. As a puppy, he fears the girls' father, often cowering in his presence.

But he loves swimming, eating, playing games with the girls, and sleeping at the foot of Qeah's bed.

NOTES: I'm still working on Godwyna's characteristics; humans are more complicated than animals.

Also, while Qeah is not the main character, she will be more like me when I was a child. As a youngster, I didn't have access to computers and the internet, but I suspect I would have embraced technology, just like Qeah does, given that I have as a woman of a certain age.

Qeah has even set up a website for G.I. Dog (GIdog.com, which, for now redirects to this blog). She buys the domain name on the aftermarket and, to Quinelle's horror, pays quite a large sum for it. (Quinelle slowly discovers that Qeah has built up a mini internet empire and a healthy bank account.) Of course, since I own the domain, she'll have to buy it from me, ha!)

Qeah has a slight weight problem, her name is unusual (therefore, she gets teased about it and her weight; when I was growing up, my first name was considered unusual), and she goes her own way in school. In other words, she's a reluctant student (although she is far from being a reluctant learner).

Friday, August 3, 2012

Quinelle's Mother Now Has a Name...

And "Godwyna Quinella" is it (nickname: Wynnie).

I'm currently working on her character sketch, which I will post soon.

It feels odd to be so concerned with a character who is NOT going to appear in the book (except as a specter), but I feel that, as the author, I need to know Godwyna's background fairly well.

On some level, Quinelle will know about her mother's past, but only to the extent that a child might know a parent.

Later!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

“Shmug”: Letters to a Missing Brother (Quinelle’s Twin)

More about Quinelle’s twin brother.

On June 24, 2012, I mentioned that Quinelle had a still-born twin brother.

However, it turns out that her parents have lied to her and Qeah; the brother was actually given up for adoption and is still out there.

Quinelle finds out about him via her father’s good-bye note; her obsession, then, is to find her brother and get in touch with him.

Meanwhile, she writes letters to him, who she has nicknamed “Shmug.” (Obviously, Quinelle has an obsession with writing letters to the missing people in her life)

Here’s her first letter to Shmug:
September 11, 2002

Dear Shmug,

Hi. My name is Quinelle Quinella and I’m your twin sister.

I’m sorry I haven’t written to you before.

Today’s our 12th birthday and one month ago today, I found out about you for the first time.

Well, I knew about you but I thought you were dead, still-born at our birth.

I’m sorry I couldn’t sense your existence. I thought twins were supposed to read each other’s minds but maybe it’s because we’re not identical twins.

Otherwise, I would’ve written to you before.

All my life, I’ve thought about you, about how you might’ve turned out, and now I can still wonder, but I might be wrong. As along as you were dead, you could have been anything in my mind. Now I have to think about a real you.

I will tell you someday how I picture you but I’m too shocked at the news of you being alive. Besides, I don’t know you good enough yet.

I have so many questions, like, who are your adoptive parents and where do you live? Are your adoptive parents nice? I hope so. I hope your life is better than mine and Qeah’s, our baby sister. She’s 8 now and a pest. She says I’m too bossy and I guess I am but it’s for her own good.

Even when she’s yelling at me for being mean, I love her anyway.

Don’t tell her that, she might get a big head, LOL.

(BTW, I’m not mean, just strict.)

Maybe someday I’ll tell you all about your other family and how I found out about you but you might not want to know.

I hope you don’t mind when I call you “Shmug.” I know it’s silly but I like what it means: “A big hug for someone in the dumps” (from me). Better meaning (IMHO): “A smile and a hug” (to you).

;=)

I hope you have a cool real name but if you don’t, it won’t matter to me anyway.

I like my name, even though it’s weird and all my friends tell me it sounds African-American. I’m not but you’d know that already, wouldn’t you?

My dad says they almost named me “Quinella” but decided “Quinella Quinella” was just too strange.

I’m glad they changed that “a” to “e” at the last minute.

I’m having a sad birthday, we’ll always have a sad birthday, won’t we?

Nothing on TV but 9/11 stuff, falling bodies and buildings, ashy people running from rolling clouds, over and over.

Ugh.

I wish we could forget about that awful day...

I might change my birthday. If we ever meet, we could discuss that possibility, though it might not be legal.

Do you know about me?

I hope so.

I must go for now.

Yours Very Truly,

Quinelle Quinella
In the letters Quinelle writes to Shmug, she’s creating some subtext about her life.

As the novel fills out, I will tweak these letters some more.

I’m beginning to get a real sense about Quinelle.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dear Momma: Quinelle's Private Letters to Her Mother

As a counterpart to her very public advice column, Quinelle regularly writes private letters to her missing mother.

Earlier, I had mentioned that Quinelle's birthday is on September 11, 1991, which I'm now changing to 1990; this means that Quinelle was 11 during 9/11.

I had also mentioned that something important (other than 9/11) has happened to Quinelle on September 11, 2001, but I didn't know what. Now I'm thinking that this is also the day that her mother disappears, without any note or indication as to why she has left.

So Quinelle is dealing with two traumas stemming from 9/11: the national tragedy and her mother's mysterious disappearance, which doesn't seem permanent until months later when she slowly realizes that her mother isn't returning (a sort of private parallel to those unfortunate victims who were lost--and never found--in the rubble of the World Trade Center).

Later, her father will disappear as well (but he will leave a letter and access to a bank account), resulting in Quinelle and Qeah having to survive on their own.

The following may be a draft of Quinelle's first letter to her mother, the day after her birthday:
September 12, 2001

Dear Momma,

How are you? I am fine, I guess.

So where are you? I have never spent my birthday without you before.

:=(

I got Peanut, the Beanie Baby elephant (light blue version, natch!), and the $20.00 from Daddy, but I seriously missed you when Daddy and Qeah (what a Putzy-Pooh) sang "Happy Birthday" and cut my elephant cake (Looked just like Royal Blue Peanut!!!).

It's kinda hard to understand why you had to miss my birthday, but it must've been important.

Are you sad about what happened to all those people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania?

I am.

It's too terrible. My birthday will never be the same, will it? No one will ever be happy again on September 11, will they?

And you left so suddenly, in the middle of the day, was it because of the terrorists?

Or because of me? I didn't mean that awful name I called you. I was mad because you forgot my birthday.

Please come home soon.

You don't even have to buy me a birthday present.

Loveya!

Quinelle
(Your Lonely Peep)

Dear Ma'am: "I Don't Want to Go to College..."

Quinelle's column (usurped after her mother and father abandon Quinelle and Qeah) is now called "Dear Ma'am."

Keep in mind that Quinelle and Qeah, as de facto emancipated minors, are supporting themselves with freelance work. (Quinelle with her mother's column and Qeah selling domain names and setting up websites).

Quinelle offers a piece of advice that disagrees with a recent "Dear Abby" column:
Dear Ma'am,

Next year, I will graduate from high school. I'm a good student who works hard, but I'm not about to set the academic world on fire. More than anything, I want to be an artist.

My problem: I don't want to go to college, at least not yet, but go to work and paint on the side.

My parents insist that I MUST go to college or leave home, but maybe they're just trying to scare me into applying to colleges.

My mom recently showed me a "Dear Abby" column which says that young people ought to listen to their parents because they know best, but my heart isn't in it.

I know all the arguments: I need college to get a good job, and if I don't go now, I never will.

I'm not ruling college out entirely, just postponing it.

I'm so confused.

What should I do?
--A Reluctant Scholar
Dear Reluctant Scholar,

I know for a fact that parents aren't always right.

In this case, you should do what you want, which, if I'm hearing you correctly, includes working at a menial job for a while, while painting on the side, maybe college later (or not).

With all due respect, Abby is full of baloney and ought to be lashed with a wet noodle: at this point, your going to college could be a financial disaster for your parents because of your apathetic attitude toward higher education. College is difficult enough when you are enthusiastic about it, but your tepid feelings should be a warning to your parents.

College isn't for everyone, even for the very brilliant. For example, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates never graduated from college, and they haven't done too shabbily, right?

If your parents kick you out, you CAN make it on your own.

I know a story about a girl whose parents just up and left one day. She and her baby sister are doing just fine, thank you, paying all the bills and making a good living freelancing and going to high school at the same time (I can't be more specific because the girls are still minors).

I suspect that your parents will NOT kick you out, but if you suspect the opposite, now is the time to start looking for a job (and painting, I'm afraid, will not pay the bills, unless you are incredibly lucky). Start part time, after school and weekends; perhaps after high school you'll get a full time spot there or somewhere else. Employers like their potential employees to present a solid work record, so do your best.

And here's where I would take the parental side: under no circumstances should you live off your parents like a leech. After graduation, if you can't find a job, I would suggest a course or two at the community college, just as a good faith effort, and to find out where your interests lie. Also, you should do everything possible to help your parents around the house, such as boring old house and yard work. You need to learn early on that every action (or non-action) has consequences.

Your parents seem to love you very much, and you should be grateful to them for that.

You are SO lucky.
Every column will reveal something important about the Quinella family.

I may change the title to "Dear Ma'am," but I haven't made up my mind yet.