ALGONKIAN WRITER CONFERENCES (Algonkian Novel Workshop 9/13)
Pre-Event AssignmentsScrap Metal
- Assignment 1: Story Statement
A carefree (colored) youth from the boondocks discovers what kind of man he wants to be as his mettle is tested on the homefront and overseas during WWII.Assignment 2: Antagonist
Booker T Taylor doesn't realize that he's his own worst enemy
as he sets out to prove that Mother Kingsworthy
is wrong when she says he'll never amount to anything. The contrasts between BT and Mother K are immediate: She is light-skinned, BT is dark-skinned; hence, intra-racial conflict. She is the middle-aged, middle-class matron of King's Hill; he's the poor all-but-motherless child. She is a product of Miss Rhoads School for Girls. He's the product of his grandmother and the woods. She already lives in her future. He's futureless and couldn't care less. She is a good and noble Christian; he's a heathen (so she says). She is sophisticated, world-wise and responsible; he is countrified, naive and carefree. She is a credit to the race. He's one of those useless good-for-nothings who bring the race down.
One by one the men who become authority figures in his life
trigger this internal conflict as BT forms and reforms his idea of what it means to be a man. Booker T has too many bosses, no single role model, and no one -- aside from his childhood sweetheart -- to please.Assignment 3: Breakout Title - OptionsScrap Metal is
the break-out title. (Maybe Scrap Metal - the novel
is the first in a trilogy including (working titles) Junk Yard Dawg
Other (far lesser) options are A Test of Mettle
and War-MettleAssignment 4: Comparables
In historical fiction, Scrap Metal
is comfortably shelved between Ellen Glasgow's Vein of Iron
(orig. 1935) and Flygirl
by Sherri L. Smith (G.P. Putnam's Sons 2009).
In Vein of Iron
members of the Fincastle family must adjust to changing social conditions during WWI. Vein of Iron
is similar to Scrap Metal
(quest for meaning and purpose); setting
(rural VA during a world war); and style
Both novels are character driven
: in particular, Glasgow's three primary protagonists
are evocative of Scrap Metal
's Booker T Taylor, Bettrena Johnston and Father Kingsworthy. Ralph McBride faces social and personal challenges similar to those that confront and shape Booker T Taylor (though additionally Booker T has major conflicts
arising from his race). Ada Fincastle is similar to Bettrena Johnston in her maturity and responsibility. Father K, like John Fincastle is an idealist whose social and spiritual ideas temper Booker T's transition from a carefree youth to a man of purpose. Changing [b]landscapes
[/b], a later historical era
and racial issues
mark key differences between Scrap Meta
l and Vein of Iron
. Scrap Metal
and Vein of Iron
share the stylistic complexity of third-person narrative
with multiple points of view
, whereas Flygirl
is presented in first person from the single point of view of the main character, Ida Mae Jones. Booker T Taylor is the male protagonist of Scrap Metal
; Bettrena Johnston is a secondary protagonist. The single protagonist of Flygirl
is a female whose life portrays social issues confronting women in the 1940s. In both Vein of Iron
and Scrap Metal
strong sympathetic females interact with other leading characters.
Sherri L. Smith presents the dilemma of a young African-American woman, Ida Mae Jones, whose life ambition is shaped by WWII
. Scrap Metal
compares to Flygirl
(importance of personal character), dramatic content
, and readability
. Scrap Metal
also shares Smith's colorful
presentation of historic facts, particularly concerning African-Americans on the homefront and in the Navy, as well as general facts about life in the 1940s.
The plot of Flygirl
unfolds in a setting
typical of the America home-front; whereas Scrap Metal reaches its climax in the territory of tribal New Guinea
, a thoroughly foreign place. Both Scrap Metal and Flygirl
have cinematic appeal
, and in both books the denouement
evokes the readers' desire for a sequel
. (It's a good thing Scrap Metal
is part of a trilogy
Scraps of Mettle
-- a unique feature of Scrap Metal
Quotes from various published sources from the 1940s and earlier are used as epigraphs
throughout the book. These sources include newspaper stories, magazine ads, WWII posters, war documents from the National Archives, church bulletins, nursery rhymes, period songs, poems from 4H clubs and GI publications, business records... (and the Bible of course). The quotes vary in length and in nature: humorous, surprising, insightful, provocative... Assignment 5: Conflict Line
A carefree young Negro from the backwoods of Maryland goes to war in 1942 to prove he can measure up to the steel yardstick of the silk-stocking matriarch who lords over their "one-home community" from the white house up on Kings Hill. Assignment 6: 1. Hypothetical scenario - Inner conflict
: Mother Kingsworthy thinks of Booker T Taylor as a lowlife, and the succession of men in authority over him present contrasting and conflicting expectations and examples. Who's right? Scenario one: Inner conflict How are men and women supposed to act around each other?
"Father K sure is funny," BT said, tracing his finger along one of the wooden slats between them. The porch swing protested even their slightest movement. Its chains needed oiling. Mother K probably kept it that way on purpose.
"Funny how?" Bettrena was concentrating on her crocheting. She was learning a popcorn stitch, dedicated to mastering it, even with the awkward handmade needles, a gift Berdie gave her one random day to remind her he was still her loving father though the Kingsworthy's were the ones raising her.
"Why're you always doing that stuff? You're always working on something. You don't hardly ever come out to play anymore."
"What's so funny about Father K?" Funny is the last word she would use to describe him.
"I dunno. Sometimes it seems like he's Mother K's slave. Well, not her slave exactly but it's like she's the one in charge all the time. But then all of a sudden he speaks his mind and everybody, even Mother K, sit still and listen. You know what I mean?"
Bettrena didn't answer.
"My mama and Mr. Mann, when he come round they always quarreling at first but then they get to playing and laughing like as if they was children or something."
"Hmph. Oh, phooey!"
"Whyn't you just take it out and start all over?
"Well look who's teaching who how to crochet."
"Aw, I'm not trying to tell you what to do." He stood up, draped his long arm around the white post and leaned back out over the front steps.
"Well it's a good thing you're not.
"Just trying to help, that's all. You seem so flustrated. You don't even hardly ever laugh anymore these days."
She gathered her flowery basket of yarns, threads and needles.
"Guess I better get." BT swung like a pendulum, made no move toward the sidewalk.
"I'm going in myself. Mother K will show me how to fix this mess I made."
2. Hypothetical scenario - Secondary Conflict: social environment
: Low expectations? Great expectations? Who's right about him? Does he really have any chance to better himself? Does he even care? Should he?
BT tugged at the rough straw rope, careful not to touch Bettrena as he pushed her in the tire swing under the watchful eyes of the adults -- under Mother Kingsworthy's steely eyes.
Wish they would gone on in the house so him and Bettrena can go sit the porch and talk about books. At least that was allowed. She could bring her latest Nancy Drew and sneak him out a pint-sized jar of fresh-squeezed lemonade. They could take turns reading and he could pretend he didn't know Mother K couldn't hardly wait for him to go live out in the boondocks with his ol' junky father. Pretend like he couldn't hear what she said about him. What she always said.
"That boy is never going to amount to anything." She shelled her peas without taking her eyes off of him.
"Good for nothing." Sister Smearl's wrinkly voice chimed in. As usual, her opinion echoed Mother K's words.
Father K disagreed. "Now, Alfreda, I believe you are wrong about that. The boy has the makings of a mighty fine man. Mighty fine. He has a good head on his shoulders. Good manners. Respects his elders, minds his p's and q's. Our Bettrena is a level-headed girl. She would never keep company with a simpleton or a fool. She's a good influence on him. I find no fault in two young people reading together."
"Simpleton or no, who else she gonna spend time with?" Ms. Love loved to instigate. She was young once herself, she often boasted, "once and forever."
Mother K squared her shoulders. "Why, you know she still corresponds with those good girls in Bel Air, the doctor's daughters." She sighed. "It's lovely here and quiet, but it's still a shame we couldn't find a way to keep her in the public school."
"How come you couldn't?
"Why, she could never walk all the way into town and back. By herself? On these dusty old roads?"
"Couldn't that boy go with her?"
"Oh, my. Perish the thought. I would never send him with her. Why, we can't afford to have his kind spoiling our good school. Our people must distinguish ourselves, and we cannot do that by catering to the, shall I say, undistinguished. The colored school might be public but it isn't free. Why waste good books and good teaching on a boy like him? He'll never amount to anything."
"No, Alfreda, you're wrong." Father K held his pipe long enough to repeat his assessment. "All that boy needs is a good education. A good man to teach him to manage."
"A good man to teach him - ha. Surely you do not mean Mr. Mann? Ha. Mr. Mann. Indeed. What kind of name is that for someone's father? I don't believe he will teach the boy much about manhood, but at least he can show him how to pick up people's junk." The last word sprang hard from her mouth.
"No, Alfreda, we cannot afford to count anyone out. Not even a poor half-motherless child like young Booker T. Who knows? He may yet become a credit to the race. Men have made it from lesser backgrounds, you know. Just look at his namesake. And George Washington Carver."
Mother K pressed her lips tight. She arose. "Here, King. Let me refill your glass."
Most difficult Assignment 7: Setting
Doing justice to the number and variety of settings in Scrap Metal
presents one of my greatest challenges. Each setting is essential and serves as a catalyst to the next. More than that, several of the general settings include two or more sub-settings.
I'm working on creating better descriptions for each setting. Time-wise the story setting is WWII era (1939 - 1945 depending on next draft). Bulleted in sequential order the locations in Scrap Metal
(*=revisited later ?=maybe + = real place ! = key location)
• King's Hill [b](*!)[/b]
• The Kingsworthy's big white house(*!)
(various rooms, outbuildings(?)
, land, cellar
• Deer Creek (+!)
and surrounding woods
• The Rocks at Deer Creek (*+!)
• Ma Ha'ts place (*!)
(BT's grandmother's shack, with his mother's one-room hut behind it.)
• (?) Berdie's brooder coop (part dovecote, part home for Bettrena's Jamaican father)
• Mr. Mann's home
way out in the boondocks(!)
• (Referenced: places in surrounding counties where he collects junk)
• Surrounding land where BT works with and for Mr. Mann (!)
• Civilian Conservation Corps [b](+!)
[/b]- outfit at Gettysburg, PA
• BT's shared English basement room
• The back alley stoops where men gather to talk
• Department store where BT works / * and Bettrena shops
• *Nunnery where Bettrena spends the night;
• "The Avenue"(+?), movie theater(+?) waterfront(+?) as seen from trolley(+?)
• Camp David Randall(+)
(colored facility of Great Lakes Naval Training Center)
• Train(?) cross country from Chicago to Port Chicago, CA
• Port Chicago - Naval Base(+!)
• Bay Point Heights (colored town)
• Interview rooms (courts martial)(?)
• Officer's quarters(?)
• Loading dock(+!)
(especially hard to write; critical to story
from Port Chicago to Papua, New Guinea
• Papua, New Guinea(+!)
• Barracks / outdoor (meeting room), recreation area, construction area
• Beach / ad hoc cemetery (!)
• surrounding jungle (!)
• highlands, home of Ganiga tribe[b]
• Officers' quarters (?)
• Sick bay(?)
• Private home (?)
(of slain seaman BT accompanies stateside)
• Country roads
near Mason Dixon Line (+!)
• Peach orchard / private home
• Leading to and from King's Hill
• Home of Angel, BT's -- well, "angel"
• Basement speakeasy where BT takes Bettrena on catastrophic date
• Defense Factory (+!)
in [[[Ohio? Pennsylvania? DETROIT]; changeover to post-war economy during early govt ordered integration (Detroit and maybe Pittsburgh (steel) have tie-in to Junk Yard Dawg
• Exterior of foundry[b](!)
[/b] where BT finally takes responsibility for his future
-------------------------These scenes may be added as link Junk Yard Dawg
(first sequel in trilogy)
• - prologue? Exterior of foundry[b](!)
[/b] where BT is severely injured in industrial accident
• - prologue? Hospital burn unit
• - epilogue? Scrap metal yard where BT is caretaker and Smartist.
The opening and background setting* is King's Hill: The big white house on the hill that embraces the "one-home community" -- too small and isolated even to be considered a "colored town" -- in the backwoods of Bel Air, seat of Harford County, Maryland (town has only cameo appearance or reference) in the 1940s. King's Hill is not only the pretentious name of the Kingsworthy's highfaluting home but includes the grassless clearing where BT lives in a shack with his grandmother'. the homes of the two other neighbors, as well as Deer Creek and surrounding woods. Hypothetical Scenario: Setting 1
: The Rocks at Deer Creek, Harford County, Maryland
[In his youth, Booker T's only friends are the imaginary Indians and settlers in the woods around Deer Creek.] Ahh.
BT turned on his back and watched the big cloud shoo the little ones across the great blue skyway, just out of his reach, but never safe from the -- was there wind all the way up there? Regular wind? Same as down on earth and tall enough to touch heaven?
The clouds were huddled together now, turning into a monster or maybe a bear. That's clouds for you. One minute they were one thing, next minute another.
He turned back over. His tough belly felt good against the warm craggy rock. This was his favorite place in the whole wide world; probably God's favorite too. Up here he could see clear to this side of forever. Past all the green fields of corn, [tobacco and green beans]. Past Farmer Brown's apple orchards. Even past the steeple on the white Methodist church in Bel Air. In his mind's eye Booker T could see the Chesapeake Bay, could see all the way out to the Atlantic.
He could cover the whole ocean with the palm of his hand on Father K's globe. Hard to believe the world was really that round. A big tan ball cradled on a wooden stand with bumpy rows of welts pretending to be mountains. Huh-uh. Father K said so and he should know, but it didn't make sense. Mountains with snow, and men trying to scale them. Higher, Father K said, much higher than the Queen's and King's chairs.
He sat up, back pressed against the secure boulder that served as throne-back. It was scary dangling his feet out over the edge. It felt good.
Chocorea and Princess Razuka, were they really so in love? Crazy. Taking a leap to their death. Crazy. But that was the red man for you. No wonder there wasn't any of them left. Massawomikes, Ojibway, Iroquois, Susquehanna, all of them. To think: they used to come up here all the time, used to live all around the Rocks. Hunting in the woods, fishing in Deer Creek. Deer Creek; was that what the Indians called it?