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Initial background thoughts to the road to god knows...

I wanted to include some of the initial brainstorming I did when I was first coming up with the road to god knows... a few years ago. This is going to be a bit rambly, of course, as brainstorming often is, but it served as the framework for the eventual script. Here goes!

Thinking ‘bout my story:

In trying to figure out a plot outline for a story with me as the protagonist, I tend to kinda hit a wall. Partially ‘cuz I’m trying to be subtle about the autobiography thing but also because it’s not the easiest thing to get into. The key thing, though, is that I need to feel free enough to fictionalize it – move elements around ‘cuz I’m not trying to tell a pure autobiography. Rather, I want to tell a good story, one with some hope in it, but one that’s also pretty realistic about certain things (i.e.: my Mom won’t get better – I had that awareness for some time before she died and I want my fictional alter ego to have it, too). So, I need to figure out some of my history and especially my emotions at the time, build a realistic character of ‘me’ at that time, and then figure out where I want to play fast and loose with it. Not that easy to do, of course, but I think it would be a really cool thing to do.

The obvious first thing, right off the bat, is I want to change my gender with it. That gives me a bit of remoteness to the work – by making ‘me’ female, I can step away a bit from the whole thing. Almost like on another planet or something. A fictional alter ego. I also know that while I want to show my Mom with warts and all, I also want to be very clear about the lack of abuse (at least physical – though I don’t even know if what I went through could ever be called ‘abuse’ – my Mom certainly wasn’t conscious of it. And when you compare it to how other kids grew up, being raped or whatnot, it’s a pretty small kettle of fish. Big to me, but I don’t want to make it too big). I also need to show the positive side of my Mom – the sorrow that was there for what she had done. The regrets. And the love. Not to overplay it, ‘cuz the rest has to be there, too (the insecurity, the self-doubt, and the general screwed-up nature of the entire thing).

Since I’m a fairly optimistic guy (well, pragmatic, but y’know!), I want to make sure the story doesn’t totally dwell on the absolute negative. Building it around the Civic Center wrestling show is something I’ve long wanted to do ‘cuz it gives the plot an immediate framework to drive the story forward. The story starts with Marie’s awareness that a show is coming (so, on a Saturday afternoon watching Superstars of Wrestling most likely – probably early October 1988). The card actually occurred in November ’88, so that gives the plot the framing device I need. The wrestling show is really incidental, at least in a “real-life” sense, but it does give a beginning and end to a particular segment of time. That’s important, ‘cuz what’s really happening is mixed around that.

So, what’s happening? What do I want to show? The main punch line that drives it is Marie’s relationship with her Mom. ‘Cuz her Mom isn’t really well right now and she’ll get progressively worse as the wrestling show nears. Money is really tight, so Marie is going to have to figure out how to get some cash to go. In real life, my Mom and I went to the show. The show doesn’t solve anything, but it’s a moment of happiness in what’s otherwise been a pretty terrible month or so. The wrestling show ends the story, with Marie having the knowledge that while life can suck, it can also be fun, too. That’s a balance thing that I really want to have in there – I just don’t want to be on a soapbox, all didactic, while I’m telling it.

For the month to be bad, then I know I need to show it – and I want the ‘it’ to be Marie’s Mom and her nervous breakdown. What’s important, then, is for Marie’s Mom to be shown in a pretty good light before that – and just before the wrestling show. That has to happen or the reader won’t feel any sympathy for the Mom at all. And the story won’t work because of it. It’s easier to hate a wife-beater or rapist. My Mom certainly wasn’t anything like that, but if I just show her flipping out without building her up first, the story won’t work ‘cuz the reader will have no empathy. So, developing that empathy is going to be the biggest challenge, I think.

I initially thought of having the story start off kinda happy go lucky, with little dark clouds on the horizon, but I don’t think that will work. What might work better (and it kinda mirrors real life), would be to start the story off bitter sweet. Marie’s Mom coming home after being released from the psych ward, sort of on an upswing. Marie happy to see her Mom with really no frame of reference to what happened. I could keep it really masked – not clearly explaining why her Mom was away, but having it be pretty clear right from the get go that it wasn’t a normal thing (I’m thinking a scene with Marie’s dad dropping her off, and then saying to her if it happens again you know who to call). I could slowly show the unbalance, the haggardness, the instability in Marie’s Mom leading up to her collapsing nude on the hallway floor (‘cuz she was so drugged up). That would lead to a 2nd nervous breakdown shortly thereafter. Marie’s dad winds up picking her up (showing Marie’s terrified phone call to him). That would lead to the psych ward, Marie’s visit there, and then her Mom’s return home for the 2nd time (obviously mirroring how the story began). Things are rough at this point, strained between the two, before reaching a kind of balance. And then some kind of understanding (though again, Marie knows that if her Mom doesn’t change, and it doesn’t look like she will, that “her” story can only end one way).

I really like where this is going, ‘cuz I can interweave moments into the larger narrative. Small, happy moments (be it wrestling or otherwise) that keeps Marie sane through it all. The wrestling show is the big one, but there could be others. So, the two things to figure out then are simple: do I want to make the wrestling show difficult to get to? Originally, I thought yes – Marie would have to scrape and struggle to get money. That might not fly with the greater overall struggle between Marie and her Mom, so it might be easier just to show her saving her pennies, picking up Coke bottles and the like, instead of turning it into a big thing. Possibly her Mom giving her the final amount needed to kick her over the top. Secondly: I had thought of telling a second story to break up the first, with Marie’s friend coming out to her. I like the idea of having a separate plot line so the plot isn’t so focused on Marie – I mean, it obviously is, but I think it’s easy to dwell on her just a little too much. And if I’m going to put a friend in the story, that friend just can’t be decoration – she needs to have her own story, too. I need to figure out how to handle it in such a way that doesn’t over burden Marie’s story at the same time. Whole books and movies have been told about a character coming out. Since this is a period piece, I can’t just have it be a kind of blasé affair – I don’t think it is now and it certainly wasn’t back then. It might be interesting to have the girl (Kelly) actually be a kinda background player, sorta there and not developed. And then have her take center stage for a little while as she comes out. It’s an interesting idea as it builds depth to a secondary character that wasn’t initially there, but I’m a little worried that it might start to overshadow Marie’s own story. Hmmm...we'll see.

About "the road to god knows..."

The road to god knows... is an original graphic novel by Canadian cartoonist Von Allan. It features the story of Marie, a teenage girl coming to grips with her Mom's schizophrenia. As a result, she's struggling to grow up fast; wrestling with poverty, loneliness, and her Mom's illness every step of the way. With her Mom absorbed in her own problems, Marie is essentially alone while she learns to deal with the chaos in her young life.

148 pages, SRP $13.95 US, ISBN: 978-0-9781237-0-3

Stargazer! My new graphic novel!

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