NaNoWriMo Warm-Up: Coming Home

Writing a novel is a great feat of strength for your brain muscle, and it shouldn’t be done without stretching. Here’s the short story I wrote as my NaNo “brain stretch” this morning before getting started with my actual project.

The Background: one of my best friends is in a book club. That book club has been around for 20 years, so they’ve read a LOT of books. They encouraged the members to each write a short, one-page story, weaving in the titles of the books they’ve read, and then they shared them with one another. I took on the challenge myself. The titles of the books I used are in bold, and the full list of titles I had to choose from are at the end of this entry; the story comes first.

Coming Home
“You just disappeared into thin air!” She yelled in a huff, though I could tell she was more hurt than truly angry. I glanced at the clock. Ninteen minutes. Not bad; I thought she would’ve started yelling much sooner than that. It was a small wonder no one else had wandered into the kitchen yet. Then again, it was off season and most of the summer people had gone back to their normal lives, normal jobs, normal existence. I looked across the table and smiled. Despite my years away, she was still Alice. The same Alice I’d left standing next to the bus under the Tuscan sun five years ago. To be fair, I hadn’t disappeared without giving her a little bit of warning. I’d spent the week prior to my… disappearance… lying awake in the various inn and hotel rooms we shared, always in a bed by the window, thinking about the design of everyday things and how I just wasn’t. I was going crazy in Alabama, and I couldn’t see myself ever returning. Not then, anyway. So, I wrote her a letter and gave it to the safekeeping of one of our traveling companions, and after breakfast, pretending like I’d left something in our room, I snuck out the back of the inn and hid in the shack in the garden, waiting until I heard the bus roar to life and begin to drive away. “So,” she continued, voice still tense, “what do you have to say for yourself?”
“It wasn’t about a boy.” I started, which wasn’t entirely fair. It was somewhat, but I knew this conversation wouldn’t go well if I spent the entire time defending Jacob. My beloved Jacob, whom I had followed into the wild. Well, not wild, exactly. We spent a year in Provence, had weathered more than one Russian winter watching the snow falling on cedars, experience a year of wonders in the East, and finally settled in London for about six months before I began the long road home.  It began with a summons to Memphis; a chance to speak at the University about the book I’d written during my time away. It wasn’t an Eat, Pray, Love sort of book, though I know many people saw it that way. When I accepted their offer, I knew it was the first of many small steps back to this Bed & Breakfast where I now sat. The last time we met, Jacob and I, was for a walk in the woods in the English countryside. He had always been the giver in our relationship, and he knew then that what he needed to give me, more than anything, was freedom. Amid the falling leaves, it took all that I had to not succumb then and there, crumbling into a million little pieces. I was stoic; he was kind. It was just like us. “I’ll never forget my red scarf girl,” he’d whispered as he kissed my cheek and walked out of my life forever. I can’t bring myself to wear that scarf anymore, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of it either.
I wasn’t sure how much of that I’d said aloud to Alice, as I suddenly became aware I’d already gone through three cups of tea and was reaching for the pot to fill a fourth. Alice’s gaze was unbroken as I began to examine the kitchen to see what had changed while I was gone. The plates decorated with white oleander blossoms still hung on the wall, as did the framed “House Rules” that Alice and I never quite seemed to follow. Our mother’s favorite stone angel statue sat watching us from a shelf, and the nine nesting dolls I’d shipped home during one of the Russian winters were in a line beside it. I noticed the embers in the fireplace had finally stopped glowing, and in that moment I realized there were no other guests staying here this weekend. I sighed. “I was a woman on the edge of time,” I said, “and there was nothing like it in the world.

“You always were the daughter of fortune. The girl who played with fire,” Alice said, reaching across the table to take my hands. She smiled, “And so, thus ends the evolution of Jane. Welcome home, sis.”


Here’s the list of book titles the group has read over the last 20 years (in case you want to give the challenge a try yourself!):

10 Little Indians
32 Third Graders & One Class Bunny
A Bed By The Window
A Fine Balance
A Fire Upon the Deep
A Million Little Pieces
A Rumor of War 1961-1970
A Summons To Memphis
A Thousand Acres
A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
A Walk in the Woods
A Year In Provence
About a Boy
All Creatures Great And Small
All Over But The Shoutin’
Angela’s Ashes
Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons
Autobiography of a Face
Behind the Scenes At The Museum
Bel Canto
Bringing Down the House
Call of the Wild 1900-1910
Can’t Buy Me Love
Circle of Friends – Summer Read
Cold Comfort Farm
Cold Mountain
Cold Sassy Tree
Crazy In Alabama
Crossing to Safety
Cry the Beloved Country
Cupid And Diana
Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man
Daughter Of Fortune
Death By Black Hole
Defending Jacob
Eat, Pray, Love
Ellen Foster
Enders Game
Falling Leaves
Flags Of Our Fathers
Fortunate Son
Founding Brothers
Galileo’s Daughter
Gap Creek
Geek Love
Gifts from the Sea 1951-1960
Girl With A Pearl Earring
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Gone Girl
Good In Bed
Goodbye mr. Chips 1930’s
Grace & Grit
Great Expectations
Guests Of The Sheik
Harry Potter
Homeless Bird
House Rules
How Stella Got Her Groove Back
How to make an American Quilt
I Feel Bad About My Neck
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
In The Beauty Of The Lilies
Into the Wild
Into Thin Air
Isaac’s Storm
Julie & Julia
Jurassic Park 1981-1990
Just Like Us
Kite Runner
Last Child in the Woods
Let the Great World Spin
Life of Pi
Little Bee
Love in the Time of Cholera
Lying Awake
Memoirs Of A Geisha
My Name is Mary Sutter
My Sister’s Keeper
My Stroke of Insight
Neither Here Nor There Travels in Europe
Nest Of Vipers
Never Cry Wolf
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed
Nineteen Minutes
Nothing Like It in the World
O Pioneers!
Off Season
On The Occasion Of My Last Afternoon
One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich
Parnassuss on Wheels 1911-1920
Peace Like a River
Personal History
Pride & Prejudice
Red Scarf Girl
Riding the Bus With My Sister
River Season
Russian Winter
She’s Come Undone
Sisterhood Of Spies
Small Steps
Small Wonder
Smilla’s Sense Of Snow
Snow Falling on Cedars
Snowflower & the Secret Fan
Songs In Ordinary Times
Sounds Like Crazy
Still Alice
Stirring It Up with Molly Ivins
Stone Angel
Stones from the River
Summer People
The Age of Innocence 1921-1930
The American Plague
The Art of Racing in the Rain
The Bell Jar
The Bonesetters Daughter
The Book Of Ruth
The Braindead Megaphone
The Brothers Lionheart
The Christmas Box
The Christmas Tree
The Colony
The Color Of Water
The Cuckoo’s Egg
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The Design of Everyday Things
The Divine Secrets Of  The Ya Ya Sisterhood
The Emigrants
The Evolution Of Jane
The Eyre Affair
The Five People You Meet in Heaven
The French Lieutenant’s Woman 1971-1980
The Girl Who Played With Fire
The Giver
The Glass Castle
The Good Earth 1931-1940
The Great Gatsby
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Happiness Project
The Help
The Horse Whisperer
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hunger Games
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The Johnstown Flood
The Kitchen House
The Known World
The Last Letter Home
The Last Time We Met
The List
The Little Stranger
The Long Road Home
The Lost Continent
The Lost Symbol
The Lovely Bones
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
The Nice And The Good
The Nine
The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
The Outliers
The Pact
The Paris Wife
The Perfect Storm
The Poisonwood Bible
The Princess Bride
The Pursuit of Happyness
The Rapture Of Canan
The Red Badge of Courage
The Red Tent
The Richest Woman in America
The Right Stuff
The Secret Life of Bees
The Settlers
The Shack
The Shining
The Sparrow
The Stone Diaries
The Sun Also Rises
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Undomestic Goddess
The Unthinkable
The Warloard’s Son
The Worst Hard Time
This Is My Daughter
Those Who Save Us 1941-1950
Three Cups of Tea
Through Our Enemies Eyes
Traveling Mercies
Tried by War
Truth and Beauty
Twelve Mighty Orphans
Under a Cruel Star
Under the Banner of Heaven
Under The Tuscan Sun
Unto a Good Land
Vivaldi’s Virgins
Voyage Of The Narwhal
War Horse
Water For Elephants
West With the Night
What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day
While I Was Gone
White Oleander
Woman On The Edge Of Time
Wonder Girl
Year of Wonders