This is the 5th assignment in the course INTRODUCTION TO NOVEL WRITING offered by The Writer’s Workshop • The class is taught by Jana Harris • The text used for this class is The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray
• JANUARY 18, 2021 Assignment 5
This was the response by the teacher to the dramatic scene:
Wow. This is excellent work. I enjoyed reading it. Your writing really cuts to the chase, the heart of the action. You don’t mince words. Excellent pace and suspense. Good Work incorporating the adult world with the adolescent world. Audra has a very authentic voice. Sandy is very well portrayed. Not extra words here.
— Jana Harris
I struggled with this assignment. I kept getting mucked up by the details. Dave – who is fast becoming my Zelda Fitzgerald – told me what I needed to do. Without prompt, my mom said the same. I don’t know how people do this without readers and editors. I also had friends from Facebook who helped me with the research around rotary phones: Dan Woodruff (whose mom owned my most beloved bookstore in Ashland); and a relative of mine Pat Russell told me how someone in Lackawanna NY in 1974 called the fire department. I will continue to lean into my friends on social media to help me write this novel especially as the novel moves to California.
Here is the revision with her edits:
Dramatic Scene from Chapter 1
udra cried, “Blame it all on me then.” She marched away from her friends. The billowing smoke seemed to follow her around the corner of the house.
Audra saw that Sandy was still leashed to her phone line. The cord, stretched to its max, impeded Sandy from nosing in. Her toes rubbed anxiously against the plug on her flip-flop and her cigarette rolled loosely along her oily lips, shiny from her bubblegum lip gloss. The cigarette smoke wafted atop the baby’s reddening bald head. Sandy’s head tilted opposite of it to cradle the handset. She had her thumb pressed down on the switch hook. When Audra approached, Sandy released it. The dial tone droned against Sandy’s sweaty face. The base rested on her hip. She thrusted it toward Audra to make the call.
Audra jammed her finger into the 0 hole of the rotary phone and spun it until it hit the stopper. She held her finger there. If she released her finger from the dial, the phone would connect to the operator and then to the fire hall. She could just as easily depress the switch hook to end the call. Up to her. It suddenly occurred to her this shouldn’t be up to her.
She did not want to make this call. Only in Kit’s version was there anything burning except a pan of spaghetti sauce. If Audra depressed the switch hook, she could tell Sandy that there was no fire. Her dad was just making dinner … for the Reeds … after no one had seen him for a year. Weird as that was, she could just go home. Her father would never have to know she had even seen him at the Reeds’ house. Audra thought, “Let him be on the hook.”
What if she plucked her finger from the 0 hole, let the wheel spin, connect to the operator, and the fire department did show? What if they arrived to do nothing more than douse a burnt pan and catch her father and Mrs. Reed making-out or by that time something more? What if Mr. Reed was on the truck? She knew he was at work. With sirens blaring and a parade of fire trucks, the whole neighborhood would know about this affair, eventually her mother would have to find out. What if Audra was on the hook not for reporting a fire but for tattling?
She remembered what Dani had said, “He’s been gone for a year and he didn’t even come back to see you.” She could feel the anger spread to tip of her index finger. She thought of how angry Dani already was. If Audra ended this call, Dani would have no choice but to go into her house again to either a fire or their parents’ affair. That was so much worse than dialing the operator.
Audra looked up at Sandy. With her halter-top, cut-offs, fair skin, and the Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker, not even a cigarette and baby could make Sandy look much older than Audra.
Sandy said, “You can let go, I won’t make you talk. Your parents won’t know it was you.”
Audra pulled her finger from the wheel and heard it tick back. As she turned away to rejoin her friends, she heard Sandy say, “My neighbor’s house is on fire …”
This class is funded by a generous endowment to my writing by my mom.