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[Commentary] Should've Been Home Yesterday

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Nolan wakes up every ten minutes from a different nightmare--the barn burning down, getting lost in the woods behind the field, a fucking plague melting all the little potatoes and strawberries Kevin planted--and then, when the sky outside his window goes from black to grey, he gets out of bed.

What an atmospheric opening! All credit to Leah for this one -- it’s gorgeous.
There used to be an additional nightmare in here that was sillier: tiny dinosaurs stomping the crops. We both loved it, but tonally, it didn’t fit.

 

Nolan rakes a hand through his hair and shakes out a breath. He wants to be asleep. He wants to wake Kevin up so Kevin can look at him and know he’s feeling fucked up and cook him bacon and talk about stupid shit until Nolan’s barely feeling the tension in his shoulders and the headache he has from clenching his teeth all night. 

Right before we hit post on this first chapter, I had a bit of a panic. I’d never published fic before, especially not something I’m as invested in as this. I called a friend and read them the chapter, and it was around this point that my voice tried to break and I could hear the anxiety coming through. Fortunately for me, it was kind of perfectly timed to Nolan’s anxiety.

 

He considers the options he does have. The floorboards a few feet over at the top of the stairs might creak loud enough to wake Kevin up, but only if Nolan tries, like, kinda hard. 

Nolan Patrick, Brat Extraordinaire! I liked the idea of playing this line in a way that you’d usually expect the character to be avoiding this, but he actually really wants to do it. I don’t think he’d manage to wake Kev, but if he did, Kev would absolutely know Nolan did it on purpose.

 

Beyond Kevin’s grandfather’s garden--Kevin’s now, Nolan corrects himself--the big field is surrounded by an aging wooden fence. It doesn’t really keep anything out or in: Nolan had stepped through at least three separate rotted out gaps when he hiked out to dig through the little sheds dotting the back of the field, maybe as old as the house and definitely less cared for. He can see the crooked, dark shapes of the sheds from here, against a sky that’s still mostly grey with just a little glow of orange right by the horizon. 

"Definitely less cared for." Are we talking about the sheds or the fence? Yes.

 

It’s excruciating. Like, it takes for ever-- just slowly lightening, the orange spreading out and getting watered down to yellow, the sky above it still purpley grey. 

I am in LOVE with this scene! The absolute mental anguish necessary to be THIS miserable in such a beautiful moment? I literally could never. And yet, it’s so shockingly relatable just how badly he wants time to be ticking forward and how horrifically slowly it seems to be moving. Leah did an outstanding job with this moment, and it’s, so far, one of my favorites.

 

He forces his eyes to skip over the field that’s, like, exclusively weeds, and glares instead at the faint edge of the mountains. Watches as the sky lightens all over and the strip of color at the horizon gets brighter, yellow and pink, and fades again. Then, finally, the little white ball of the sun starts to slip up over the mountaintops in the distance.

“and fades again.” I don’t know what’s so awe-inspiring about that phrase for me, but I fell in love with it immediately. I actually started my playlist for this fic after reading that line, because I just felt like it was meant to be a title.

Also, during edits, we considered changing the word "ball" here in "the little white ball of the sun," but honestly I really love how unusual it is in this context. I think having these weird word choices builds the voice that Leah and I are going for with this story.

 

Just like last time, there’s no way it’s gonna work out how Nolan wants it to. 

There’s no way he’s gonna get to keep this--land stretched out in front of him, sun slowly rising, feeling like he’s the only one in the world who’s watching this moment unfold. A town that’s sleepy and slow and quiet and calm.

He’s supposed to have moved on from wanting this kind of thing. 

I think the last three paragraphs came up multiple times when we were workshopping summaries, and then when we went back to change the summary a few chapters in. I think this section is stunning and would make a killer summary, but it was really important to me that we didn’t spoil the landing of this emotional moment.

Nolan spends the first 957 words of this story miserable. Sad, anxious, so frightened of his own decisions that he can’t even enjoy a foggy sunrise with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. At the very end of that, he begins to think of this place and what, specifically, he dislikes about it.

And then. And then, we get to see that what hurts him the most is that he doesn’t know how to want it. He doesn’t know how to navigate loving a place that didn’t love him back when he needed it. This is a very personal moment for me, and it took a fair bit of finagling to make sure it hit right.

There was also a line that I believe initially was written in a comment as we figured this section out that we’re still trying to find the right place for in the story.

 

They’ll pack up, and move back to another high rise in downtown Philadelphia, and Nolan will beg for his job back, and they’ll probably fucking give it to him. Kevin’s cousin will sell this place, and someone who actually knows how to turn it back into a farm will buy it.

“Kevin’s cousin” was a throwaway line, but now that the Tkachuks are part of this universe, it’s Keith. In my head, their farm is on the other side of town. Keith didn’t want to take over farmland across town that’s primarily set up for livestock. None of the kids really wanted it either, so they all said no. Eventually it passed to Kevin. I imagine the whole family was pretty shocked when he said he wanted it.

 

Kevin stretches his legs out in front of him and tilts his head toward the sky. Nolan turns back to it, tries to soak it in as much as he can. When his phone sings the last soft notes of the playlist he'd put on earlier, Nolan lets the silence stretch around them. He and Kevin listen to the quiet sounds of the morning until it's all the way light out. 

We talked about whether this was nicer with the music or without. Personally, I’d probably have music playing. Compromise, though: Nolan doesn’t have the playlist on repeat, so when it stops, he doesn’t bother to turn more music on.

 

They moved to the farm the second week of February.

It was maybe five degrees warmer than it had been in Philly, but it still felt way too cold to be getting ready to start growing anything; still felt freezing when they had to be outside all fucking day. 

Picture me, googling average early February temperatures in Philly and in the areas of Virginia we’d vaguely decided to set this in. I think Roanoke is my usual google location. I spent a lot of time in the planning phase trawling google maps, and kind of falling in love with the area between Roanoke and Danville. There’s a town near there called Horse Pasture. I want to visit.

 

Nolan spent a week shivering inside his denim jacket and refusing to wear the huge, ugly brown Carhartt, but all he got for that was a runny nose and Kevin laughing at him. 

Carhartt brown is ugly. You cannot convince me otherwise.

 

The back of the property was lined with forest, and then, in the distance, a low line of mountains--not like the four whole mountains he’d grown up knowing were in Manitoba, but an actual range. The land the farm was on sloped and rolled in little hills and shallow valleys, too, and in one of the dips up by the house there was a pond that looked maybe big enough to have a few fish, but was icy around the edges, so Nolan hadn’t bothered to check it out yet. All the way in the back, where their big pasture bled into the woods, a tiny creek cut across a corner of the property.

I spent literally so much of my time from probably 8 to 15 wandering around the back of the 30 acres I grew up on. There is nothing more perfect to me than a copse of untended pine trees and a creek. Literally nothing.

People who know me will be entirely unsurprised to find out how long I spent plotting out how much land they have, how it’s divided up, what’s on it. I felt a little ridiculous at times, but I think there are a lot of little details that didn’t necessarily need to be right, but would have an effect on the story if they were:
How much livestock could they reasonably keep? How much space does Kevin have for a garden? Is there unused land at the back? Could they grow hay for feeding supplementation in a spare field? What is the perimeter of a 20 acre plot of land anyway?

I want this story to feel real to people who have never experienced anything like this AND to people who have.

 

He was a bitch to Kevin at dinner, but Kevin just rolled with it, always too nice and easy. 

I think if we could go back, I’d expand on this a bit. Show, not tell. I like how matter-of-fact Nolan is about being bitchy, but it feels more like a bullet point than a moment.

 

It was, like, embarrassing, even if Kevin was the only one around for miles and he was probably neck deep in his fucking dirt he was so in love with and didn’t even notice Nolan being useless. 

This is probably one of the first blatant moments of unreliable narration from Nolan. He’s usually pretty self-aware, even and especially when he’s being shitty, but he just doesn’t know how to step outside of his anxiety sometimes.

 

Him and Kevin had just barely dug into one shed right up by the house when they first got here, just enough to pull out shovels and a wheelbarrow and shit, but there were three more unopened ones tucked in the back of the field, right up under the trees that filled up the last third of the land. 

As we’ve figured out Nolan and TK’s voices in this story, we’ve settled, both consciously and unconsciously, on some stylistic choices. I think I’d change “Him and Kevin” here to “He and Kevin.” TK gets to keep a few more technically-incorrect phrases than Nolan does, and this is one of them. They both get to interject “like” but Nolan gets to do it more.

 

Nolan heaved a sigh, kicked at a barely inflated tire of the trailer, and started to dig through the, like, sixty years of farm junk piled up all over in the shed--rusty tools, weird old glass plates, a stack of wood that seemed like maybe the same type the fence was made of, and a fucking scythe.

I want a scythe so bad.

 

But it was rusty and dangerous looking and heavy, and by the time Nolan finished sorting all the shit inside the shed into totally useless piles--stuff he didn’t know what to do with, stuff he didn’t even know the name of, stuff that didn’t seem like it belonged in a farm shed but what did he know--it was already getting dark out, and the iron smell of all the old tools was giving him a headache, so Nolan left it for another day and trudged back up to the house, feeling like he’d wasted more than just the last several hours. 

I don’t remember who wrote the categories of items here, but I laugh every time I read them. What a way to sort, Nolan.

 

Nolan thought he was pretty decent at getting up and slogging through the same bullshit day after day. He had to be, with all the practice he’d gotten in his three years at his last job in Philly, writing press release after boring press release about all the shit he’d rather be doing himself. 

There’s a decent little backstory here. I dunno if we’ll ever get into it in the actual story.

 

Nolan lapped past the shed again, and thought about the scythe instead. Right as he swung back up toward the house, his watch buzzed an alert at him, marking the end of his three miles.

He lapped the shed again; lapped it again.

When we went into this project, neither of us were sure if I’d do any actual writing or how much. I think this was the first scene I started on my own. It’s not the one I loved best, even then, but this moment of being unable to get the scythe out of his mind was one of the first where I felt like I’d really gotten into Nolan’s head as I wrote.

 

The scythe’s blade was kinda rusty and maybe a little dull, but when Nolan pressed it into a broken bit of fence, it still left a mark in the wood. There were two little handles on the big, weirdly curved post the blade was attached to, and when he tried to hold it kind of like he would a hockey stick, Nolan realized with a sinking feeling that he may have known less about scythes than he did about fences.

Two things:

  1. Pressing the blade into the fence always makes me think of pressing a finger into sunburn and then watching the skin go pink again after (except of course, the wood doesn’t spring back like that).
  2. There are different styles of scythes and the one here is an American style scythe.

 

Nolan had been following Kevin’s lead with the whole “move to the country” thing the same way he’d been doing ever since he answered Kevin’s fucking "need a roommate - im a good cook" craigslist ad two years ago. 

But when Kevin’s grandma died and then his parents and every one of his aunts and uncles gradually said no to taking over the farm until finally it fell to him, Nolan should’ve known better than to get caught up in looking over Kevin’s shoulder as he pulled up the place on Google Streetview--classic white farmhouse, unpainted picket fence by the road and along the gravel driveway, tiny pond off to one side. 

He shouldn’t have let himself start thinking, looks like home but not. 

Ahh, here we are: the original summary. Not a bad one and perfect for the first chapter.
We were never 100% sold on it though (too much Kevin, not enough TK), so the plan was always to re-evaluate a few chapters in for a new summary.

 

But by the end of March, with Kevin all creepily focused on the tiny little sprouts of his plants, Nolan was feeling just as lost out here in the country. Almost feeling like he’d rather be in the city, buildings towered up around him, trapped and claustrophobic, than out here in the middle of nowhere; unmoored and with no idea how to do anything.  

The first scene of the next chapter was mostly written when this got posted. It almost got included in this chapter, actually. But what’s more fun than leaving your characters emotionally vulnerable?