I thought I would share Chapter One of my young adult novel Burn Baby Burn Baby with you today. This novel won a couple awards…I wrote it at the Muskoka Novel Marathon over a 72 hour weekend retreat in Huntsville, Ontario. If you search this site, you will find everything you need to know about the MNM here. I’ve written about it often.
Here’s the first chapter of BURN BABY BURN BABY…
“My drops of tears I’ll turn to sparks of fire.” ~ William Shakespeare, Henry VIII
The movie of my life would probably begin with a close-up of our kitchen window. And inside the kitchen, Mom would be screaming. She’s pretty much angry about everything. All the time. The camera would then pan out to take in the destruction of our yard. I swear it’s a redneck delight out there. Broken-down cars, an above-ground pool with the sides smashed in, and just enough water at the bottom of it to house a colony of diseased mosquitoes. We have it all.
The camera would then pan away from our house, but Mom’s big mouth would still be heard loud and clear. It doesn’t matter what she’s saying. Nobody listens to her anyway. The theater audience would then get to see perfectly coiffed yards as far as the eye can see. Our house is the only rundown disaster area on our block, you see. All the other houses are orderly, cookie-cutter replicas of one another. We’re the neighborhood pariahs.
Welcome to my life. That’s the way it goes, though, right? You don’t get to pick your family. Hell, you don’t even get to leave them if you don’t like the one you’re stuck with. A lot of bad has to happen before you can grab up all your crap and sign up for another family. And even then, you’re not guaranteed what you’ll end up with. Take your chances and keep what you have, dude. There are some messed up sickos out there. Best to stick with the devil you know.
You probably have no idea why I’d start my life movie with a close-up of my kitchen window. There’s a good reason why I wouldn’t be in the opening sequence. I’d want to keep people in the seats for as long as possible. Starting right in on me might scare a few of them away before the credits wrap. And I wouldn’t be a very good filmmaker if that happened, now would I? See, I’m not like other people. I mean, I’m not a hell of a lot unlike other people. But I do have certain traits that are unusual and—how can I put this delicately?—unpretty.
No matter how much people cringe when they look at me, though, they always come back for that second gawk. You know the car wreck you don’t want to look at, but can’t help yourself from staring at? Well, I’m kind of like that car wreck in human form. You won’t want to look at me. But once you do, your eyes will be compelled to stay on me. You may even walk into light posts or people or stuff, too, as you keep moving forward but turn your head back to stare. I’ve seen it happen. Rubberneckers love me.
That’s me, in a nutshell. So I’d save you from seeing me for at least the first few minutes of the movie of my life. I’d want the credits to roll first, before people began to flee from their seats, looking back at the freak show on the screen and tripping over each other on the way out of the theater. Ugly don’t sell popcorn.
I know what you’re thinking. It can’t be that bad. It’s not, really. I’m used to it. But you know how people are. People are mean, small-minded, petty, you name it. People will do the wrong thing every time. I’ve learned to count on it.
I can tell you stories.
To bring you back into focus, you know, on the story of my life. The opening credits have rolled and you already have a pretty good idea the story is about the poorest, least proud family in a pretty nice-looking neighborhood. I got that much in. That tells a lot, really. Think about it. You know the story isn’t going to be about my neighbors in their perfect little houses. It’s gonna be about that odd house out. That rundown shack in the middle of the beautiful suburban sprawl. Something has happened to the people in that house, something probably bad. They lost their zest for life, right? I mean, the least they can do is remove some of the garbage collecting against their back fence. They have no pride. They no longer give a crap.
Maybe the story is about why they no longer care.
Now that you have an image of the house in your mind, I think the next best place to introduce in the movie would be the halls of Helltown Secondary. It’s actually Shelton Secondary, but all the cool kids call it Helltown. They have for generations. I’m not one of the cool kids, but I call it Helltown too. Mostly because it’s the one place in the world that feels the most like what hell would feel like if it existed.
So, the camera pans on the school. Full frontal. It takes in the flag, the school name on the building’s façade, the whole deal. Then we’re slowly taken in through the front doors. Very prestigious. Very upper-class. Marble stairs leading to great oak doors you really have to grab onto to swing open.
Once we’re inside, the camera does one of those speedy-up things where it races through the hallways taking in the occasional hot girl—again full frontal—the odd jock hunk, maybe with football gear slung over his shoulder, or a hot girl dripping off his deltoids. You get the picture. Everybody who is hot is gettin’ some action, and the camera convinces you of this in the few quick-glimpse shots of the school beauties petting and pawing and preening over one another. There. Look. We see a girl putting on lipstick. She’s stretching upwards, with one foot slightly lifted out behind her, while she stares into her locker mirror. The pose just oozes sex. She’s putting some hot, wet-looking lipstick on her teen girl lips, perfect pouty lips that most of the guys will never ever touch.
Okay. Enough of that. I kind of went all self-indulgent there. Okay, so the camera turns a corner and focuses on the back of a head. The head is shoved fully into its owner’s locker. There’s a hand repeatedly pushing the head, and the front of the head is ringing soundly off the back of the locker.
Okay. See that hand? You with me so far? That hand is on the back of my head. I would make my first appearance in the movie of my life by appearing as the back of my head. I’d want to save the audience the agony for just a split second longer. I’d want their sympathy first. That poor boy? What did he ever do to deserve that? In other words, I would milk it. I’d want to slowly introduce them to the lead character, get them ready for what they’re about to see. It helps to build momentum, too.
I tend to visualize everything as a movie. The truth is, I’m a future Oscar-winning director. The screen will never have me, but I’m gonna kick movie ass behind the camera one day. I’m already brilliant at capturing stuff on film, just ask me. But, right now, the movie stuff is too tiresome. It’s not allowing me to drop down into the story properly. So, let’s say we just go full screen on the scene.
Boy One is inside his locker, being pressed against the back of it by Boy Two. Boy Two is one of those boys who has probably already kissed those drop-dead lips the camera spent way too much time on earlier.
Yeah. Boy Two is pretty much perfect in every way. Boy Two is so drop-dead gorgeous, he could work for Abercrombie and Fitch. On the side. He’s a man, right? Or at least he could pass as one if he wanted to.
And Boy One? Well, he’s me. Scrawny, awkward, and weak-kneed.
Boy One kicks and screams and finally flails enough that he’s out of the locker, but only because the jock got bored. He’s ready to move on. He, the jock—Brandon Hayley—laughs with his friends and heads off down the hall.
If this was a movie I was making, I’d probably go all Quentin Tarantino at this point and there’d be a Brandon Hayley bloodbath. And… roll credits. End of story.
I’m left at my locker, trying really hard to look like it was no big deal. But it hurt, dammit. He just pounded my forehead into the back of my locker. That’s metal, folks, probably backed by concrete. He was slamming my head, too, not just softly tapping it. I hold my forehead, trying to keep the pain to a minimum. I pretend like I don’t want to burst into tears. I pick up my books and turn away from the locker, closing it as I turn.
And there it is; the head-on shot of the story’s hero. You can see that his right ear is melted away to a nub and that his cheek appears to be sliding off his face. Nothing major. Burns. People have seen them before. But let’s just stare at them openly anyway. It’s not rude. No. Go on. Go ahead. It’s all for your eyes. I live to be viewed. Really, I do.
Now, before I walk on down the hall in the direction of my chem lab—already late due to some recent head-slamming activity I was not previously aware would be a part of my day’s schedule—the camera pans just slightly. This gives the audience a glimpse of my right arm and hand. These too look like neat little science projects made out of candle wax. They too are dripping away from my body in a masticated mess of burnt flesh. They don’t hurt, of course. Now they are just scars. Just little showboating wounds I get to parade around all the live long day. What Grade 11 student wouldn’t be thrilled to have such burned limbs, such twisted flesh on the side of his face?
That’s me. Again, I said I was going to stop with the movie of my life thing. I think I need to have confidence that you have just enough to go on for now. You know about my home and about my disfigurement. Maybe I can just jump into things now and be done with it.
There you have it. That was Chapter One. If you’d like to continue reading, you can pick up a copy on Amazon! Just click on the cover below:
Here’s the full synopsis:
Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley-the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby. The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.