Fiction, The Rain Catcher

The Rain Catcher, Snippet 6

Hello! I’m just posting another snippet from my middle-grade novel, The Rain Catcher, which I hope to publish sometime this century! It’s about an American teenager, Katie, visiting her estranged mother in Scotland for the summer. The day after she arrives, her mom and aunt whisk her away on a bizarre road trip to the Highlands… If you’d like to catch up on the previous snippets, just click on The Rain Catcher under “Categories” in the right-hand column. Thanks!

Snippet 6

Aunt Claire heaved on her cigarette and held the smoke in for longer than was safe for any human being. Then she hissed it out between a tiny hole in her teeth, as though savoring the burning smoke feeling.

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Glen Coe, Scottish Highlands

 

“Really, Claire!” Mom tutted and coughed. “I don’t know how you can concentrate with all that smoke!”

“Well, who’s driving? Me or you?”

We passed a sign for Dumbarton, and I zonked out. When I woke up, we were driving past a lake, which sparkled bright blue when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.

“Where are we?” I asked. Mom had her eyes closed but wasn’t asleep; she was humming to herself, sort of like she was in a trance.

“Loch Lomond,” Aunt Claire called over her shoulder. She looked more awake now, and was actually smiling, glancing every now and then at the lake. “Gorgeous, isn’t it? You can see why they wrote a song about it.”

“What song?”

Aunt Claire stared at me in the rear view mirror as though I was a complete idiot. “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond, of course! Don’t they teach you anything in those American schools?”

I smirked. “Okay, what’s our national anthem?”

“The Star Spangled Banner. Any dunce knows that!”

Maybe my aunt was right about the education system in North Carolina!

The two-lane highway surrounded by trees reminded me of being on the Blue Ridge Parkway with Dad. He has a friend, Jeb, who lives across the border in Virginia, and every so often we’ll visit him. Jeb lets us feed the cows and fish in his pond. He has a mad cocker spaniel who nips the cows’ ankles and yaps at anything that moves.

Suddenly, a truck zipped around the bend in front of us, making the car shake.

“Bloody hell!” Aunt Claire swerved left, too close to the rocky roadside, and there was a horrible scraping sound.

“What was that?” Mom jerked out of her trance.

“Hopefully nothing,” my aunt replied. But now the road felt lumpy, and it was obvious we had a flat tire. We poked along until Aunt Claire spotted a gravel pull-off and parked in a cloud of dust.

Aunt Claire jumped out and ran to the back of the car to inspect the damage. She gave a wail and kicked the tire with her boot. Then Mom and I got out. The wheel was flatter than an iron skillet, and the hubcab was twisted like a crushed Coke can.

“Wow! I’ve never seen a tire so flat,” I said, shaking my head. “You have a spare?”

“Of course I have a spare! I’m not a complete idiot!” Aunt Claire spat.

“We’ll handle it, Katy. Why don’t you go over there?” Mom pointed across the road at some cows.

“And do what?”

“And look at the beautiful Scottish wildlife!” Aunt Claire yelled. “Now, get out of here so we can fix this tire!”

“But do you know how to change a tire? Dad showed me—”

“Go on, Katy.” Mom waved her hands at me as though I was a wasp buzzing around her head..

I backed up. “Fine. I guess you don’t need my help.” Never mind that Dad had showed me how to change not only tires but also the oil in his truck. I was pretty sure my mom and aunt had never changed a tire in their lives.

I crossed the street and stood in front of the wire fence, watching orange shaggy cows with gigantic horns and pink wet noses. They were kind of cute, I had to admit. I pulled a handful of grass out of the earth and held it up for the cows. A smallish one trotted over and sniffed it before huffing and sauntering away again. I laughed.

“Sorry, I don’t have any treats!”

I turned around to see Mom and Aunt Claire leaning over the trunk of the car with their “bums” sticking up in the air, trying to pull out the spare tire. Did they even know what a jack was? They could figure it out for themselves.

Raindrops began to fall, hitting the back of my neck and making me shiver. Just what I needed. I pulled my jacket collar up and folded my arms for warmth. The cows huddled together. Luckily for them, they had their thick coats!

Finally, after what seemed like an hour, Mom shouted, “Okay, you can come back now.”

“Gee, thanks!” My knees were stiff with the cold, and I couldn’t stop shivering.

Back in the car, Mom waved a smoking leaf-thing around.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Sage. That dead cat in the boot is a bit pongy.” Aunt Claire started the engine.

“You still didn’t bury it?” I couldn’t believe we’d been stranded for an hour in the countryside and they hadn’t buried the dead cat.

“When was I supposed to bury it, smarty pants?” My aunt spat. “Before or after we struggled with nuts and bolts and a rusty jack? Before or after I ruined my nails?”

“Not my fault,” I said. “You didn’t want my help.”

“You know how to change a tire?” Mom asked, turning around in her seat to look at me properly.

“Of course. Dad showed me how. I tried to tell you before you shooed me across the road to look at cows for an hour.”

Mom and Aunt Claire looked at each other.

“Let’s just get out of here.” My aunt pushed up her sleeves and slammed on the gas, spinning the tires in the gravel as we hurtled back onto the road.

“Don’t get another flat,” I warned her.

Aunt Claire glared at me, and Mom covered her mouth with her hand to hide the smile.

The Rain Catcher

The Rain Catcher, Snippet Two!

Kind words from my writer friends have inspired me to keep on working on my Young Adult/middle grade novel, The Rain Catcher! I feel really lucky to have such great support! Here is the next snippet…. If you didn’t read the first section, please check it out here.

Snippet Two

We stepped outside the airport, and the wind hit me like a blast of refrigerator air. Aunt Claire dove into her purse and pulled out a packet of cigarettes, which surprised me, since no one in our family back home smokes. Well, Granddad sometimes chews tobacco, but that’s just for show, Dad says. Whenever his “Yankee” neighbors jog past the front porch in their yoga pants, Granddad throws a wad of tobacco into his mouth, gnaws on it for a few seconds, and spits out the juice into an old brass spittoon he got at a yard sale. After the neighbors have passed, he rushes in and brushes his teeth, Dad says.

“Where’s my mom?” When I didn’t see her at Arrivals, I’d thought she must be waiting outside, perhaps circling the airport instead of paying for a parking space, like my Aunt Marsha does up in New York City.

“Em… She has to teach a yoga class.” Aunt Claire tugged my sleeve, leading me toward a yellow sedan with dents in the sides, as though someone had rammed a shopping cart into it many times. She wiggled the key in the lock and banged on the trunk until it creaked open. Then she threw my suitcase in; I was glad the only breakable thing in there was my sunglasses, which I probably wouldn’t need, judging from the blanket of gray clouds above our heads.

“She couldn’t take off a few hours?”

“Well… she’s already missed three!”

“Why did she miss them?”

“Hmmph! She’s a bit of a free spirit, your mum.”

“What does that mean?”

But my aunt didn’t answer, just put both hands on the roof, planted her feet, and began rocking the car back and forth. I stood watching her.

“What on earth are you doing?”

“It helps to get the car started; on the way over here, it conked out. Had to coast into the parking space.”

“But why does rocking it work?”

“No idea. I saw Ewan doing it before, and it seemed to do the trick.”

She got back in, and sure enough, the car started.

“Who’s Ewan?”

Aunt Claire ignored my question.

We drove past fields of brilliant yellow flowers and then cottages with brown roofs and little gravel front yards and tiny cars parked on the street; they looked like Lego houses. Behind them, low green hills lay like piles of cabbage in the distance. One cliff stuck out like a book lying on its side.

“That’s Arthur’s Seat,” Aunt Claire said, seeing me staring.

“Who’s Arthur?”

“No idea.”

Storefronts began popping up as we got closer to the city. A man in a black turban stood in front of a fruit stand, perhaps waiting for someone to buy a bag of oranges or apples. (I think there are maybe three Indian people in the whole of Graham.) Girls in navy school uniforms trotted down the sidewalk. Summer vacation hadn’t started here yet, obviously. My school had finished at the beginning of June, and here it was nearly July. Thank God I didn’t live here!

We drove for what was probably only a couple of miles but got stuck behind the red “double decker” buses, and so we didn’t get to Aunt Claire’s place for another 40 minutes. By that time, I had dozed off and didn’t wake up until Aunt Claire jerked up the handbrake, nearly sending me into the windshield.

“Here we are!” She jumped out of the car and began assaulting the trunk again until it finally opened. Then she pulled out my suitcase and began marching up the street.

“Wait!” I called, struggling to unfasten the seatbelt which suddenly did not want to let me go. I pulled on the strap until I had enough to slide under it, then pushed open the door and dashed after my aunt. We passed a Scot Bets and a bar called The Malevolent Crow (weird name for a bar, surely?) and another fruit stand. The green apples looked kind of bruised, and the oranges looked more green than orange.

“Wait here.” Aunt Claire disappeared into the shop, leaving me standing beside my suitcase, the wind whipping my hair above my head. I stared at my shoes, hoping nobody would notice the strange teenager standing by herself. I wondered if people could tell I was American; I just had on jeans and a green sweatshirt (my usual outfit), but suddenly my sneakers seemed unusually bright in the grimy street.

“Back again!” My aunt stuffed two unopened packs of cigarettes into her purse, and we were off again. Three more blocks (why had we parked so far away?), and we reached a grungy-looking black door. Brown scuff marks spotted the lower half, making me wonder if someone wearing big work boots had tried to kick it open more than once.

We stepped into a stairway as damp and dark as a dungeon, the only light trickling from a skylight high above.

“I’m on the top floor,” Aunt Claire said, lugging my suitcase behind her. Why wasn’t I surprised?

Once inside Aunt Claire’s “flat,” I followed her down a shadowy hallway, the walls lined with hooks of scarves and coats and umbrellas. A holey rug covered the floorboards, which creaked horribly as we walked over them. I felt a breeze from somewhere and shivered. The T.V. or radio chattered from down the hall, and I wondered who was there, waiting for us.

Suddenly, I had a thought. Maybe it was Mom! Maybe she wanted to surprise me; it had been so long, the only contact we’d had was through letters and a yearly phone call (maybe not even that often). I held my breath, a smile creeping across my face, not wanting to give the game away. I’d act surprised, so as not to spoil their game. My heart sped up, like the wheels on the old-fashioned steam trains Granddad had taken me to see at the Transportation Museum in Spencer. It had been Easter — I was six — and we’d ridden a train with the Easter Bunny. Had I remembered to bring the photograph album to show Mom?

Aunt Claire pushed open the door at the end of the hall, and I poked my head in, unable to wait any longer. My eyes stung with anticipation and then, dread, as on the couch sat not my mother but the creepiest man I’d ever seen.

Writing Tips

Sketch it ’till you get it…

Sometimes when I’m knee-deep in a story, I’ll get stuck. Maybe I’ve re-thought the point of view WAY too many times, or I’ve realized that the scene I thought was pivotal to the plot is REALLY boring! When this happens, it helps to take a step back and try something different. One thing I like to do is switch formats.

For The Rain Catcher, I tried writing the first few chapters as a screenplay, which helped me see that the beginning of my book was dragging. So, I chopped it shorter. A friend recommended Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, the screenwriter’s “Bible.” Snyder breaks familiar movie plots into sections — opening image, turning point, point of no return, etc… — which shows clear as day how screenwriters build tension and later create a feeling of resolution. By experimenting with writing my novel as a screenplay, I also had to break my story into sections, showing where I needed more conflict, action, or resolution.

When I’m having trouble figuring out who my characters are, how they tick, I’ll sometimes draw them. I’m no artist, but I love drawing (messy) comic strips, and this is a great way to imagine what your narrator looks like and how your characters interact with each other. Here’s a terrible one I did for The Rain Catcher that went along with my “screenplay” version.

Drawing scenes from The Rain Catcher helped clear my writer's block.

I had always thought of the mom character (Liz) as a kind of “hippie,” but sketching her helped me to draw her out (no pun intended!). Also, cartooning lends itself to humor, and my novel is supposed to be darkly humorous, or tongue-in-cheek. Drawing a couple of scenes reaffirmed that I was maintaining the right tone.