Wednesday, August 23, 2006
The WIP's Inciting Incident
In most properly-structured novels, at about 1/4 of the way in, the "inciting incident" occurs. Here's mine, from the WIP, FAIRLAWN.
Friday morning brings a touch of rain—enough to snarl the interstates with fender benders and keep the heat at bay. For once, I’m grateful that I don’t have to drive into the District. I make sure the boys are bathed and fed, then pull on a pair of shorts and an old tee shirt.
Today I will do something to help Mother. I need to show my appreciation in some tangible way.
I’m outside weeding the flower bed when Mom opens the front door and extends the cordless phone. “Some lawyer is looking for Jennifer Graham. That’d be you.”
I wipe my muddy hands on my shorts before taking the phone. “Did he give his name?”
Mom, still in her housecoat, retreats behind the screen door. “I didn’t catch his name. And don’t forget to deadhead the geraniums.”
I breathe deeply and hold the phone at my waist. In the last six months I’ve had more dealings with lawyers than I’ve had in ten years of political work. I thought I was finished with lawyers . . . so what is Thomas up to now?
I blow out a breath and bring the phone to my ear. “Jennifer Graham.”
“Mrs. Graham, this is Daniel Silva, of Lawson, Bridges, and Silva in Mt. Dora. How are you this fine day?”
The question catches me off guard because I’ve never heard of Lawson, Bridges, Silva, or Mt. Dora. If Thomas has thought of some other asset he wants to divide, tough. He can’t have the silver in my teeth.
“I’m represented by Rob Pettigrew in Fairfax,” I tell Mr. Silva. “I suggest you take this matter up with him.”
“Um . . . I thought it might be nice if we talked first. We usually speak to the heirs before we involve their lawyers.”
An unexpected word strikes my ear like a jolt of electricity. “Did you say heirs?”
“Yes, ma’am. Ned Norris passed away last month, and we’ve been working hard to settle his estate. Tracking you down has proven to be a challenge.”
“Ned Norris?” I look at Mother, still lingering behind the screen door. “I’m sorry, but I don’t recognize the name. You must have the wrong person.”
“I believe he was your mother’s uncle . . . so he’d be your great-uncle. Mr. Norris had no children and his wife predeceased him by several years. So he’s left his entire estate to you.”
Mother steps out from behind the screen, her forehead knitting in a frown. “Ned Norris? Uncle Ned?”
The lines on her forehead deepen. “I thought he died. One of the cousins called me a few weeks ago.”
I lift a hand to silence Mother because I can’t follow two conversations at once. Beneath my sweaty tee shirt, a kernel of happiness has sprouted and sent tendrils of hope through my being . . .
An estate. That usually means dozens of boxes for the nearest thrift shop, but it could also mean money, even a house or property . . .
“Mr. Silva,” I turn slightly, escaping Mother’s curious gaze, “I never really knew my great-uncle. When you say estate, you mean . . .”
“His business, naturally,” the lawyer answers, “comprised of the house, the land, and all necessary equipment. The place has been closed ever since Ned had his stroke, but a caretaker has lived on the premises to keep the equipment in order. People have been taking their business to Eustis or Traveres, but it shouldn’t take much if you want to get the place running again.”
Dozens of images flash through my mind, pictures of cozy restaurants, quirky retail shops, perhaps a real estate office. I’m a natural organizer, so I could probably handle any of those things.
I’d like to crawl through the telephone line and kiss this lawyer.
“Wow.” I bite my lower lip and look at Mother. “What sort of business is it?”
The lawyer releases a short, embarrassed laugh. “I thought you knew.”
“Then it’s about time you became acquainted with your uncle’s legacy. Ned Norris served the Mt. Dora community for over fifty years; there’s scarcely a family in town he hasn’t helped at one time or another. Our mayor spoke at Ned’s funeral; said Ned was the kind of man you want by your side in your hour of need.”
For some reason, I suddenly envision a saintly-looking man at a desk with an adding machine. Could Uncle Ned have been a tax preparer?
“Please,” I say, realizing that something about my uncle’s career has made the lawyer uncomfortable, “if you could tell me the name of my uncle’s business--”
“Fairlawn,” Mr. Silva replies. “Your uncle has left you the Fairlawn Funeral Home.”