Last Christmas, I began a new writing project.
I kept thinking about some of the students in my classroom who are extremely undersized because of malnutrition or their mother's drug use while they were pregnant. These kids go through their days with their heads down, trying to stay out of trouble, trying not to attract attention. That is when I thought of the opening line of the book and wrote the first chapter in one sitting.
Since then, my pace has slowed down, but I am still excited about the premise. I have written 6 chapters, and the book should turn out to be about 12 chapters. I feel solid about exposition, but when it comes to plot development...I hit this horrible wall.
Anyway, here is the first half of the first chapter of Marilyn Marlin.
Marilyn Marlin was unusually small for her age. She had spent the past eight years of her life trying to blend into the background, and it seemed as if she had succeeded. If she had had her way, no one would ever have taken a notice of her. With dull brown eyes, lanky brown hair, pale mottled skin and a slight frame, she sometimes felt like a chameleon. If she stood next to a wall long enough and quietly enough, no one seemed to notice her. Especially not her mother.
Mrs. Marlin was everything that Marilyn was not. Where Marilyn was unusually small, her mother was unusually large. Mrs. Marlin was very tall and round, and had to shop at the city’s only store for big women. She preferred to wear vivid floral prints and dyed her naturally brown hair a bright pink-tinted blonde. Once a week, she would tromp down to the beauty parlor and have long, claw-like nails applied in glittery shades that matched whatever holiday was coming up. She spoke in a loud voice out of the pancake of makeup applied to her face and addressed everyone around her as, “Sweetie-Pie.”
Marilyn had never met her father, and wondered sometimes if he, too, had just faded into the background and never returned. All she knew about him was that he had left behind a few books, which her mother had never had the determination to throw out.
When Marilyn was born, her mother had taken one look at her vague features and drab natural coloring and said to the nurse, “Well, that’s a pathetic little thing, isn’t it, Sweetie-Pie? You’d better take her to the nursery.” Then she mainly forgot about her.
Marilyn might never had survived if it hadn’t have been for the housekeeper, Miss Fanny, and Fanny’s two black cats, Romulus and Rema.
When Mrs. Marlin brought Marilyn back from the hospital, she promptly deposited her in a crib, left the room, and sat down to watch television. She was very put out because she had missed some of her favorite shows while she had been giving birth to Marilyn.
The housekeeper, Miss Fanny, noticed the situation and said, “Mrs. Marlin, that baby needs to be fed, clothed, and played with. You can’t just leave her in her crib.”
Mrs. Marlin sighed impatiently, smiled unpleasantly, and asked (in a question that was really a command) “Sweetie Pie, why don’t you just take care of all that, and write me a bill?”
Miss Fanny pursed her lips, nodded, and walked away. As she did so, she muttered something under her breath.
Miss Fanny was middle-aged and plain, with a stooped back. She wore black to commemorate her long-dead husband, and always wore her hair in a bun. She had ashy grayish skin and a rather off-putting nose.
She had signed on as a housekeeper, not as a babysitter, and she only worked four hours a day. She had no idea how she could take care of Marilyn during her shift. She considered telling Mrs. Marlin this and finding a better job, but then she looked at Marilyn’s tiny face. When Miss Fanny saw the baby’s face, she did not think of her as vague or drab, but rather sweet and delicate. She realized that if she did not care for the baby, no one would, especially not Mrs. Marlin.