GPS and the Scourge of Outlining Novels by Phil Fragasso
I recently had an epiphany – actually two epiphanies that complement and affirm each other. In addition to writing, teaching, and consulting, I’m a part-time chauffeur for a local car service company. That’s when the first epiphany occurred.
I was driving a client from Logan Airport to a downtown Boston hotel. I knew exactly where the hotel was and how to get there. Nonetheless, we are required to have GPS running on all jobs. I was literally two blocks away from the hotel when the GPS suggested I take a right turn. It was a confusing intersection with three possible right turns. I took the middle one and was forced to get onto the Mass Turnpike heading out of town. I was able to remedy my mistake but only after wasting about ten minutes of my client’s time and my own. I can state unequivocally that I would not have made a wrong turn if I’d been navigating solely on my own. No way.
Epiphany Number Two occurred yesterday. I’m working on a new novel with a much larger array of characters than I normally handle. One of those characters suddenly took over a scene – in a way I had never envisioned but in a way that was totally in sync with his values and personality. That scene prompted a significant swerve in the storyline and is now leading me down a path full of additional creative opportunities. I love when that happens because it tells me the story is working. The characters are taking charge instead of me. So what was the core of the second epiphany? I don’t think the character revelation would have happened if I had been following a detailed outline (ordering me to turn right when I knew I should go left).
There are two types of novelists – outliners and “seat-of-the-pantsers.” I am decidedly a member of the latter camp. It’s not that I have anything against outlines. I can see how they might serve a purpose, but from my perspective they are a time-waster. When I get an idea for a book I want to dive right in, get to know the characters, and let the plot develop over time. My new novel, Going Both Ways, was close to half-written when the lead character made a mistake which turned into a decision which turned the whole book in a new direction.
I guess the bottom line to me as a writer – and a driver – is that I’m okay getting lost occasionally. But I want to get lost and rediscover where I am on my terms – not due to some lame GPS app or exhaustive outline. But that’s just me.
About the Author
Phil Fragasso sold his first article at the age of 16. Since then he has written and published a wide variety of books and articles, including the recent bittersweet love story, Still Counting. After many years as a corporate marketer, he left to pursue endeavors that were more fulfilling personally and more contributory on a societal level. Today he focuses his time on writing and teaching.
His latest book is Going Both Ways.
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Title: GOING BOTH WAYS
Author: Phil Fragasso
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Paranormal Romance/Satire/Humor/Mainstream Fiction
After a prolonged rant about how easy women have it, Patrick awakens as a woman (Trish). But rather than staying a woman, he's male one day and female the next. The male and female characters share a single mindset – so Patrick is always in Trish's head and vice versa.
As much as Patrick tries to keep his situation private, he eventually becomes a worldwide sensation sought after by luminaries as diverse as the Pope and Hugh Hefner. While attending a party, Patrick meets a rap superstar named Gi-Slam. Their connection is immediate and powerful.
Gi-Slam's onstage biker-bitch character contrasts with her genuine girl-next-door persona (Gigi). Gigi is bi-sexual and she has a relationship with both Trish and Patrick. As the relationship with Gigi deepens, Trish takes her leave and Patrick experiences true love for the first time.
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I had to pee. Now needing to pee when you first wake up is pretty normal for most people and I was no exception. But I was surprised by the urgency of the need and jumped out of bed.
I shuffled to the bathroom, lifted the toilet seat and began to pee. “What the hell?”
Instead of hearing the splash of urine hitting water, a warm stream ran down my legs. I had a momentary thought that my penis must have somehow gotten tucked behind my scrotum during the night. I reached down to reposition myself.
That’s when I screamed. A high-pitched girly sound.
In place of my cherished man gland was a soft void.
That’s when I fell backward into the bathtub, bringing down the shower curtain and rod with me. My head hit the tile wall and bounced forward so I was looking down onto a chest that was unmistakably female. I instinctively raised my hands and saw ten newly polished, French-manicured fingers. My butt was sitting on the base of the bathtub and my legs were draped over the edge. I say “my legs” but they really weren’t mine. Unlike the gnarled and hairy limbs that had served me reasonably well for twenty-seven years, these legs were unblemished and clean-shaven. I bent my knees upward and was greeted by painted toenails that nicely complemented their northern counterparts. As the final test, I slid my right hand down my torso and felt what could only be described in mixed company as lady parts. My lady parts.
That’s when I fainted.
I don’t know if I was out for a second or an hour, but when I came to I realized with unprecedented clarity that I had gone to sleep as a man and awakened as a woman. I had a flashback to reading Kafka’s story about the man who woke up to discover he’d been transformed overnight into a giant bug. At first he believed he was dreaming but gradually came to the conclusion that the situation was real and his life would never be the same. I’m certainly not comparing womanhood to the insect realm, but my metamorphosis was just as shocking and my life would be changed just as dramatically.
I sleep in the nude. I like having easy access to scratch, reposition, or otherwise handle my most cherished of possessions. So when I pushed myself up from the tub, I was able to see the upper half of my new naked self in the bathroom mirror. My mop of mousey brown hair had been replaced with shoulder-length tresses of strawberry blonde. My eyes were blue, but that was the only part of my face that remained unchanged. My scruffy beard, twice-broken nose, and bushy eyebrows were now represented by the kind of wholesomely plain, girl-next-door features that are the mainstay of stock photographers. My aforementioned breasts were pleasantly perky though, to my practiced eyes, a bit undersized. I moved my gaze downward and saw that my figure was more pear-shaped than hourglass. That disappointment, however, was offset by a respectably taut stomach and a perfectly formed innie navel that stood in for my incipient beer belly and a lint-collecting outie that looked like the result of a knot-tying contest between toeless sloths.
That was as much as I could see in the mirror even on tiptoes, but I needed to see more. I ran to the kitchen to retrieve a chair and carried it back to the bathroom. I stood on the chair and studied my newly acquired lower half in the mirror.
I placed my hands on hips that seemed wider than necessary to support a rather meager bosom and slight torso. From this perspective, looking down into the medicine cabinet mirror, it was clear that my pear-shaped figure was really more akin to a bowling pin. I was slim on top but decidedly “big-boned” on the bottom. I smiled to keep from crying. I hoped I at least had a good personality.
I continued my visual inspection of my feminine physique and, like any red-blooded American male (albeit one suddenly trapped in a woman’s body), I focused my attention on the nether regions. I was truly delighted to see that my female counterpart eschewed the indignity of landing strips or Brazilian waxes gone wild. Instead, my privates were graced with the simplicity of a traditional au naturel trim. From my point of view there’s enough weird shit going on down there that there’s no need for women to further complicate our search for that Holy Grail of sexual congress, the G-spot. I mean if the damn thing even exists—and it sure seems to change its hiding place from one woman to another—then I’d suggest women spend less time grooming their pubic hair and maybe invest in a groin-area tattoo with specific instructions and detailed directions. Just saying.
My legs, though unblemished and smooth, struck me as too short and a little chubby. Now, as a guy, I would have looked on the positive side and rationalized that this babe sported a powerful pair of legs that could tightly wrap themselves around my waist giving the missionary position some extra sizzle. As a woman, however, it felt like a flaw. Not a fatal flaw, but a flaw nonetheless.
That’s when I felt like my head was going to explode.
Despite possessing a woman’s body, I was still thinking like a guy. But not completely. I’m reluctant to say I was hearing voices in my head because that’s usually the first sign of severe psychosis; but there was something weird going on with my mind. I was actually assessing my new physical form from two disparate perspectives—as both male and female. And I wasn’t at all sure which perspective was winning.
I twisted myself to the right and looked over my shoulder at a rather bodacious ass. This was a booty that could go cheek-to-cheek with the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. The first thing that popped into my head was that I now possessed a body designed for stiletto heels that would lengthen my legs, divert attention from my rather pedestrian chest, and tilt my butt for optimal viewing pleasure. I wondered how hard it would be to learn to walk in heels without wobbling.
All in all, if I’d been me, I would have tapped this girl right on the spot.
That’s when I got creeped out.
Self-gratification via masturbation is one thing, but thinking about screwing yourself, with your own penis in your own vagina, is a whole other level of depravity. I was actually giving myself a serious once-over and grading my new attributes. I’ve always had an unapologetically frat boy attitude toward women. Like video games, beer, and Doritos, women were put on Earth for my enjoyment. Sure it was great if they could hold a conversation and maybe pick up the occasional tab, but it was the superficial stuff that mattered most in my book. I remember someone suggesting that “they all look the same in the dark,” but I never bought into that line of reasoning. Sure, I’ve been known to chase the occasional ass attached to a just slightly better than coyote-ugly face, but that was only in the most dire of circumstances. I was convinced that allowing myself to routinely settle for anything less than a solid B would start me on that slippery slope from Sotheby’s to “Pawn Stars”—and eventually I’d get stuck with a piece of merchandise no one else wanted.
I stepped down from the chair and stared into the mirror, trying to determine if my insides had also changed overnight. I searched my memory and tried to recall specific moments from my childhood and recent past. It was all there. I might have been a babe on the outside, but my brain and thought processes still belonged to me, Patrick Morelli, the quintessential guy’s guy.
A guy’s guy with undersized boobs and chubby thighs.
That’s when I remembered last night’s conversation with