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Elliott Roosevelt's Motorcar

Wrote a thousand words yesterday.

Hated every single one of them.

But that’s kinda par for the course.

Managed to throw out the battered legal pad on which I had scribbled an outline. Couldn’t remember the outline, so it was all blue-skying when I sat down to write.


We find ourselves confronting a kind of paradox: Nell isn’t really being haunted by the ghost of her father; she’s dreaming the ghost of her father into existence. So avaricious ghost, but equally avaricious hauntée.

Scene: Conversation between Alice and Valentine Hall in the dining room. It’s breakfast time: Among the upper classes in the late 19th century, breakfast was not a sit-down meal. Eggs, bacon, sautéed kidneys, were served in silver chafing dishes set upon mahogany sideboards; family members and house-party guests would wander down to partake on their own schedule. So we have that status detail. And Valentine seems to be getting madder and madder, so we have that to contend with as well.

Scene: Alice somehow talks Nell into letting her watch Nell while Nell sleeps. Buh? And then while Nell is sleeping, Alice runs down to the old barn and confirms that it is indeed Nell who is sitting in Elliott Roosevelt’s motorcar. So, it is necessary to write a rapprochement between two characters who don’t like each other very much. And even if they did like each other, “Hey! Can I watch you while you’re sleeping?” is a very odd request.

Scene: Alice discovers the old coachman died five years ago. This necessitates a foreshadowing flash in which Alice has some kind of positive interaction with the old coachman at Sagamore Hill.

There need to be a few more scenes, too. It’s times like this when I miss Ben: He was really great at helping me brainstorm this kind of stuff. And I suppose he might still be great at helping me brainstorm this kind except I don’t feel the psychic connection anymore. I mean, yes, yes, yes, we’re good, good friends, but psychic midwifing is out.

I wish I could find a writers group!

Rewrite: Some of the kludgier exposition can be folded into (short) letters to Auntie Bye. Note to writers everywhere: Nobody reads exposition.

Dilemma: Elliott Roosevelt gives Alice a silver thimble at the beginning of the story and somehow the silver thimble must become a totem object that helps bring him down. See Chekhov's Gun1 . Of course, I can change the gift to something other than a thimble, but I still have the problem of the totem object.

Dilemma: Who will Elliott Roosevelt’s eeee-vil intraject turn out to be? Alice suspects the coachman, but the evidence points to Valentine Hall. If I wanted to pull off the true Agatha Christie plot twist, it would be the mute little boy with the peacock fan who's tasked with killing the flies that swarm the old mouldering house..


I do believe that what one does on the first day of the year becomes the dominant theme for that year. I wasn’t actually thinking of that superstition when I sat down in the morning to write. But I remembered it when I finally shut off my computer in the mid-afternoon.

Good omen!

There are two kinds of writing: the really frustratingly agonizing connect-the-dots process and the writing when you’re in the zone and Shakespeare is dictating to you from the other side of the ectoplasm. The second is more fun! But there is no difference whatsoever in the quality of the output. None!

In other news, I had thought of going into NYC today, but the logistics started getting complicated plus it is really fuckin’ cold.

I may go into NYC tomorrow.

But I suspect there’s just as much of a chance that I may not.


The photo is Elliott Roosevelt’s crypt in Tivoli. Right after I snapped the picture, I laid a little nosegay of chicory in front of it.


1 “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” – Anton Chekhov.

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