Part 1- A Retrospective and Review
In the beginning, there was no Ely. There was no Rev. Daniels, no Mama, no Elizabeth, no Frank. Andre was a white guy that didn’t die in a car wreck. Dakotah, however, has not changed much since the inspiration hit.
I’ve always had a creative writing streak. If I ever finish this project, I may dig up and finish the sci-fi novel I started when I was 18. From my earliest days at WU, I’ve had opportunities to stretch my creative writing legs, mainly through the EarnestP blog.
From childhood, my heroes have always been losers.(Is that a song title? LOL) Charlie Brown, The Sad Sack, Opus the Penguin, and so on. In fall 2013, a random link on Bogon’s blog led me to the webcomic Megatokyo. The struggles of Piro, one of the main characters, struck a nerve inside of me. It took a couple of nights(most of my writing is done during night shifts) to figure out what I wanted to do. I decided to write a story about a certain loser, and his trials and tribulations. This was in November, 2013.
Beginning Concepts and Names
Piro was the rough sketch from which Dakotah sprang forth, though only the hair is somewhat similar. In retrospect, physically Dakotah is a cross between myself, and my best friend from high school. Dak is actually the heavyweight of us, at 140lbs., and at six feet even, is halfway between me(6’2”) and mi amigo.
Although it has been implied throughout Part 1, an unwritten backstory on Dak(I may use this as filler in a future chapter) is that he grew up alone, and mistrustful of everyone(He sort of stated this to Vanessa, but never went into detail). If anyone is wondering, I myself trusted everyone, and was quite gullible, to my downfall! :’ )
The name of Dakotah was decided on very early in the process; to me, it’s a masculine name “softened” by adding the “h”, as an attempt by Sylvia to give him a “special” name. Lennon came from John Lennon; a Google search reveals that he lived at the Dakota Hotel in NYC until being killed outside of it in 1980. (A Google search of Dakotah Lennon results in Raca Baka being mentioned on page 4) :’ )
The story took to three distinct and separate parts pretty early in the process, as well as the climax(You all will have to wait 5-6 years to find out, at this pace) In the beginning, Dak had issues with his father, who left home while Dak was a senior in high school. The Andre character was not Andre as we know him; I never named him, but he was a white guy. The original concept had Dak having a falling out with his friend when he accidentally found him in bed with another guy.
Originally, there wasn’t a religious aspect to the story. Dak’s evangelical roots appeared after Elizabeth was added. Elizabeth and Mama were partially modeled after my grandmother, but both of them are far more vocal and opinionated than she ever was. I wanted the matriarchs strong in character, and self-sufficient, even Grandma Parker, who ran her own Mary Kay business.
I did not want this to be a religious story, although there’s a lot of religion in it. Religion was used as a way to flesh out the characters, and through New Hope, Ely, Rev. Daniels, and Mama, a way to teach Dak a new way of thinking.
Why Michigan and Kentucky, starting in 2007?
I think the Great Recession is still fresh in everyone’s minds, and Michigan was one of the hardest hit areas. As for Kentucky, well, it’s where I live, though Pig Lick Isn’t anywhere near Lewisport. I wanted to eliminate any chance of Dak holding on to his life in Michigan, and no chance for any decent work was one of the main drivers.
As a matter of fact, I absolutely made sure that Dak had no real ties to his home. With the deaths of Andre and Elizabeth, his rejection by Ely, lack of good job prospects, his eviction by Frank, the estrangement of Grandma Parker, and the burning of Elizabeth’s house, I made sure(Cold hearted, ain’t I? :’ )) Dak had nothing to cling to. Even so, it took the convincing by the Final Boss(Mama) to convince him to go.
Andre is easily the most enigmatic character in Part 1, and it wasn’t intentional. As I said before, he was originally white. I cannot recall why I changed him to an African-American, though. I’m glad I did, because Mama is one of my favorite characters.
However, his homosexuality was a constant. After adding on to his character in later chapters, he became a walking contradiction. Here was a vibrant, outgoing young man, a pillar at New Hope, popular at school, accepted to attend a prestigious seminary, yet he was firmly ensconced in the closet, so much so that it was unknown if anyone outside of Ely(and apparently Tim, for reasons unknown. Perhaps Tim was in the closet, too?) knew of his orientation. Also curious is that he didn’t plug New Hope harder than he did. True, Dak went to a conservative Baptist church, but the least that Andre could’ve done was to tell Dak all the fun he had at New Hope. This brings us to the real reason he was killed off……
After a bit of inspiration, I realized that a true love interest would make for a better story than having Dak finding his best friend in bed with another guy.
From the get go, I wanted someone who was quiet around school, easily overlooked if one wasn’t paying attention, but dynamic and full of life once she got away from school. Someone Dak could fall for. The early chapters had her a bit of a flirt, which I explained later as her testing him, to see if he could be trusted.(Bad call there on her part!) This, of course, backfired when Dak fell hard for her.
As I’ll explain later, anime was an influence in the writing of this. Her look was taken from a show I was watching at the time, Clannad. I simply added deep blue eyes and thick glasses to Nagisa Furukawa.
I even referenced it as a way that Hannah and her first met.
Is she is, or is she ain’t? I myself believe that sexual orientation can come from different paths. One can be born heterosexual or homosexual(or bisexual, for that matter), or a person can enter a relationship with someone of the same sex or different sex because they love that person. It remains to be seen which path Ely comes from. Obviously, her relationship with Dak complicates things!
Sylvia and Frank
As for these two, I think most of us have seen a couple where the lady of the house, for whatever reason, is keeping up a lazy bum. Sylvia, as Elizabeth explained early on, is one that would stick with a bad known, than risk an unknown future. At one level, she does at least contribute to the family, but her lack of resolve into putting Frank in his place cripples the entire household.
Frank is probably the most one dimensional person in the whole story. I actually patterned him after a coworker here, though the Frank here at work is more profane, lol! He did what he did because he could get away with it; Sylvia actually had a say, if she pressed the issue, but she didn’t, since she’s so weak of character.
Louise and Ralph
In stark contrast to Sylvia and Frank, are the Kentuckians. Both Louise and Ralph are strong of character, and they complement each other, though for the most part it’s Louise that wears the pants. I wrote these two as foils to both Frank and Sylvia, and a means for Dak to leave Michigan. They are two type A personalities that won’t take crap from anyone, particularly Frank and Sylvia. One thing is certain, though; their love and concern for Dak is obvious throughout Part 1, unlike the people tasked with raising him.
Dak’s paternal grandmother, and her home, was a needed refuge for Dak throughout the story. Another one of the strong matriarchs, she was compelled to give Dak direction and a stable environment. In a way, she needed Dak as much as he needed her, as he filled a hole in her heart that was vacated by her husband’s passing, and by Darren’s leaving.
One of the curiosities was her decision not to get treated for her condition(probably high blood pressure). You’d think she would want to try to be treated, if nothing more than for Dak’s sake. Whether it was a gross underestimation of the seriousness of her condition, or just fatigue of living, it was an egregious error of judgment on her part. Of course, can any of us say that we’ve done better?
I’m sure very few pastors like RD exist; I simply came up with the concept of “If I had an ideal pastor, what would he be like?”. RD is that guy. I don’t mean perfect, either, I meant ideal, at least to me. Someone that is wise, intelligent, compassionate, worldly, yet won’t compromise his core beliefs, or his faith. An excellent example is his relationship with Ely. He’s laid back enough to give her plenty of space to make her own decisions, but quickly called her out when he found out she hadn’t been straight with him about her relationship with Hannah.
Mama may be my favorite character in Part 1. Tireless, giving boundless love, yet tougher than nails when she has to be, she is the glue that holds New Hope together, and the matriarch of a successful family. Asking everyone if they were hungry was something my grandmother always did, and I guess this part of Mama is a homage to her.
She was loving, but if you didn’t do your best, you would hear it from her too, as evidenced by the chewing out the girls received while preparing Christmas dinner. The fact that all of her living kids became successful is a tribute to her perseverance and holding them to her high standards.
Almost the exact opposite of Mama was Darren. A monster created by his folks’ lack of vision, he was only interested in his own well-being, to the detriment of Sylvia and Dak. I did flesh him out a bit in Ch#14, so that he wasn’t a Frank level jerk, but he wasn’t, for the most part, a good person. The fact that Dak stood up to him was an indicator of Dak’s growth. What will happen to him? Who knows?
Good girl/bad girl: these two weren’t conceptualized until I started writing CH#9. I realized that throwing these two girls into the mix had the potential of turning the story into a harem, so I carefully made sure that the relationships, and their reactions to each other, were legitimate, and real.
Van was the prototypical Good Pretty Girl Next Door; moral, hardworking, ect., who just wanted a relationship with a guy who was the same. Becky was a social climber that liked to use people, who, after meeting Dak, decided that(at least temporarily; I’ve known a lot of people like this) that maybe a real relationship with a good person is not a bad thing. I’m not sure if the brouhaha at the church in CH#11 detracted from the overall story or not, but it was good if for no other reason than to have Ely assess her true feelings toward Dak, and I think it did the same for Dak towards Ely, too.
Believe it or not, Hannah is loosely based on my wife’s ex! Controlling, distrustful, also a bully to others, she made an indelible impression on Ely, nonetheless. Ely considers her at the very least a bridge to the world she wants to reside in, and at most a partner to experience all the cool stuff. As Ely said before, Hannah’s there for fun.
Jean Reynolds: Probably happy that Trump won.
Jeff and Rick: Homage to Jeff Masters and Ricky Rood; I wanted a couple of met students for Dak to meet at the Halloween party for inspiration, so why not them? :’ )
Tulio and friends: wanted to introduce people that was far outside Dak’s social circle(He didn’t actually have one at that time, but I digress), and have them be buds with Dak to show him that everyone wasn’t out to get him.
Grandma Parker: used to show that Sylvia(and Dak, by proxy) aren’t close. Mary Kay Commando.
Russell, Zeke, and Hector: Dak needed someone to look up to him outside of his inner circle, and who could be more honest than a bunch of kids?
Tim: probably a mistake to write him in during the funeral. I can see him bullying Dak at school, but protesting at Andre’s funeral is too over the top, IMO.
Dylan: just a preview for Part 2, where he’ll have a prominent role.
Officer Douglas: I needed a police officer to handle official stuff, and having a member of Dak’s old church as that guy was a plus.
Other Concepts and Themes
Teachers: sorta pandering to the WU readership, lol! Elizabeth, of course, was a retired teacher, and Mr. Williams represented what I thought was a good teacher. Mrs. Johnson, the guidance counselor, was a rip-off from the guidance counselor in my school. She wasn’t very good, either.
Anime and Japanese Culture as an Influence
This is one of the main themes running in both the background and in the forefront of the story. Here are some examples.
Chapter 3: Dragonball Z DVDs that Dak got for Christmas.
Ely: Virtually everything about her has some anime or Japanese influence, from her room decorations, to the circumstances under where she and Hannah met, to her career choice. A weeb’s weeb, if ever was one!
Here’s a self-assessment, taken from dialogue in Clannad:
“I’m also shy, withdrawn, and bad at making friends.”
There is also the Halloween party, where they all dressed up as characters from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
Ely also compared the mess at the church Christmas party as “Bad Shoujo Manga.” I could go on and on…….
Changes and Omissions
There are bits to the story that I changed, and kept them to show here. The first was at the beginning of CH#2. It was actually part of CH#1 originally, but I cut it off early and posted it because I thought the chapter was getting too long! Little did I know…. :’ ) I also changed the style from Elizabeth reminiscing about the past, to her showing Dak the events through an old photo album. Here’s the original:
After what seemed an eternity, her doctor felt that it was time to the baby to be born, as he felt any further delay could harm both the baby and the mother. A C-section was scheduled, and three weeks before full term, Darren Keith Lennon was born. It was then her doctor decided another pregnancy would put her life at risk, and the original surgery was expanded to a complete hysterectomy. Only four pounds at birth, Darren was given twenty-four hour care while his mother recuperated from surgery.
Fortunately, a low birth weight was the only issue Darren had at birth, and after a couple of months, he had become a bouncing baby boy. Elizabeth had planned on going back to teaching in the fall, but she and Harold decided to delay her return until Darren started school. Their only child was to get only the best that they could give.
And their best was what Darren received from his parents. Some folks, their parents included, felt that they were spoiling their son, as he was lavished with presents, not only on his birthday and Christmas, but also for getting a good grade on a test, or cleaning his room. They wanted to make sure their boy had a happy life!
Another major rewrite occurred after CH#10:
“That’s okay, I don’t want Unk to risk getting into trouble. Ely said it was their loss, anyway.”
“Ellie, huh? Is she that girl you’re crazy about? I heard she’s seeing someone else.”
“Well, yeah, that’s true.” Dakotah said, uneasily.
“What’s wrong with you, anyway?” Louise said angrily, becoming much louder. “Has this girl completely sucked the brains right out of your head?”
Dakotah was shocked by her words and her attitude. ”W-why w-would you say that? Ely’s a good person!”
“Really? Looks like to me she stringing you along, for some reason. Maybe to make her girlfriend jealous?”
“She’s not stringing me along.” Dakotah said, his feelings shifting from confusion to anger. “Ely cares about me a great deal! What did grandma tell you, anyway?”
“It doesn’t matter what she told me! Are you calling her a liar?”
“No, but she might’ve misunderstood what I said, and you might’ve misunderstood what she said!”
“Oh, okay, we’re stupid now? What part of you being gaga over some girl that has a relationship with another girl, but lets you spend hours and hours each week with her at her place, and on the phone, do I not understand? Not to mention the fact that you left a perfectly good Baptist church for some watered down so-called Christian church, where anything is just fine and dandy, as long as you say you love Jesus, and Jesus loves you?”
Dakotah slammed the cordless phone on the receiver, stormed out of the house, and sat down on the porch step, sobbing.
Elizabeth came out a few seconds later, angry. “Dakotah Lennon, what the hell has come over you? That was your aunt you hung up on!” she scolded.
“What did you tell her?” Dakotah bellowed. “All I got from her was an earful about Ely and New Hope!”
“You will address me with respect in my own house!” Elizabeth said, furious, poking her finger in Dakotah’s chest.
Dakotah stepped back, away from his grandmother. “Respect? I don’t know anything about respect, I guess.” he said sarcastically. “I respected my mother and stepfather, and they throw me out of the house! I tried to respect the girl I love, and she pushes me off on another girl! Before I even have a chance to talk to my aunt, a woman I respected, she bites my head off, and basically says the church I go to is crap! When are people going to start respecting me?”
“Do you think you’re going to going to get respect from your aunt by hanging up on her?”
“Aunt Lou jumped my case for staying involved with Ely, and leaving 3rd Baptist for New Hope.” Dakotah said, toning his voice just a little. “Obviously, you told her stuff, or she wouldn’t have said what she said.”
“Don’t you think your aunt has a right to know what happened?”
“Don’t you think I should have been the one to tell her details of my personal life, as much as it sucks?”
The color evaporated from Elizabeth’s face. “He’s right.” she thought to herself. She looked down, took a deep breath, and exhaled. “I apologize, Dakotah.” she said in a low tone, raising her head to look at him in the eyes. “It was not my place to discuss your personal business to others, even if it was family. I will say I do not approve of your choice to leave 3rd Baptist to go to New Hope.”
“First of all, I want to say I’m sorry for yelling at you earlier.” Dakotah said.
“That’s okay, I deserved it.” Elizabeth said, showing a slight smile. “Just don’t make a habit of it, okay?”
“I’ll do my best.” Dakotah replied, softening his stance by a hair. “With all due respect, I felt that I was wasting away at 3rd. There’s no one there my age. I learned a lot there, but I always felt out of place. At New Hope, I like to feel I’m starting to make a difference. They make me feel like I’m part of a church family. I never felt that way at 3rd.”
“Dakotah, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t condone the gay lifestyle, and I never will. It’s not supported biblically, anywhere. However, I like Ely a lot, and she’s welcome here, anytime. If anything, maybe someday she’ll wake up, and snatch you.”
Dakotah smiled. “You know I want that more than anything, grandma.”
“However, that little cutie in the blue car would be a nice catch, too. From what you said, she seems to have her head on her shoulders. She likes you, correct?”
“Yeah, I guess so. She’s really nice, but you know where my heart’s at.”
“Tread carefully; you don’t want to spend too much of your life chasing Ely, and hurting this other girl in the process.”
“The last thing I want to do is hurt Vanessa. It’s bad enough she has to haul me around like Ely did. I wish I could drive!”
“Hold that thought, Dak.” Elizabeth said in an upbeat tone as she walked out of the room. A moment later, she appeared with an envelope. “Here.”
“What is this?” Dakotah said, with a trace of nervousness. He opened the envelope to find fifteen one hundred dollar bills. “Grandma!” he shouted, confused. “Where the heck did this come from?”
“Your Aunt Louise has been sending them to me since Christmas.” Elizabeth said, simply. “The original plan was to buy you a car with it, but we decided that perhaps we can use some of it to buy extra insurance for my car so you can drive it, instead.”
Dakotah was stunned. “I-I guess I have a phone call to make. I was, anyway, you know.”
“I know.” Elizabeth said, smiling. “Here, let me dial it. I know the number.”
Elizabeth dialed the number and hander the handset to Dakotah. He wasn’t exactly sure what to say; the money that Louise sent him was beyond his comprehension, but what she said was uncalled for, too.
The phone rang twice, then a third time. Dakotah began to think no one was going to answer when the heard the line click.
“H-hello?” Dakotah said, hesitantly.
“Hey.” Said a male voice, in a drab monotone.
“Uh, is this the Jones’ residence?” Dakotah said, thinking it was a wrong number.
“Yep.” said the voice.
“Ah, is my Aunt Louise there? This is Dakotah, her nephew?”
“Yeah, just a sec.” said the voice, never changing pitch.
“Wonder who the heck that was?” Dakotah though, exhaling. He steeled himself to what he knew was an unpleasant conversation.
“Hello?” Louise said, very irritated.
“First of all , I want to say how very sorry I am for hanging up on you! It was very rude of me!” Dakotah said loudly.
“Oh, I guess Elizabeth told you about the money, and now you’re here to beg for forgiveness.” Louise said, snarkily.
“That’s true, she did tell me about the money.” Dakotah said, keeping his temper in check. “However, another reason I called is to ask for your home address.”
“Why do you want that?” Louise replied, slightly confused.
“Because I need to send your money back to you.” Dakotah said plainly.
“WHAT?” Louise shouted, trying to grasp what Dakotah was saying. “Have you lost your mind?”
“No.” Dakotah replied, trying to keep an even keel. ”Aunt Lou, I love you very much. What you and Unk did is awesome, and I am not worthy of it.”
“We love you too, Dak! But you are worthy of it! We want you to have a chance to get ahead in life!
“Oh, really? The way you was talking earlier, heck, I thought I was going to Hell.”
“Louise began to consider his words, and thought for a moment. “I’m sorry that I yelled at you like that, Dak. You’re a good, moral kid, but I’m not sure you’re following the right path now. The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is an abomination, and if your friend says she’s gay, and her preacher father is okay with that, then I have issues with how that church is run.”
Dakotah paused. “I’ve thought, studied, and prayed on this for several months, and this is what I believe the Holy Spirit led me to. Why was Jesus brought here? Because God loves us. God’s love is absolute, and Holy. Any form of love that is genuine, and in God’s image, must also be Holy, even if it is between two people of the same sex. If a relationship is not built of this love, but rather of lust, then it’s adultery, and a sin, no matter if it is of a man and a woman, or the same sex. Besides, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’” It’s not my place to be pointing fingers at folks for whatever reason, and telling them they’re going to Hell, or that they are an abomination. God’s wisdom is infinite; let Him figure out who goes where. Jesus tells us only to love our neighbor.”
“I’m not asking you to change your mind on the subject, but I want you to understand how I feel.” Dakotah continued. ”If you cannot accept the church I go to, then I cannot accept your money.”
Dakotah could hear nothing over the phone receiver. For a moment, he thought perhaps they had been disconnected. “Aunt Lou?” he said, hesitantly.
“You ain’t the green little geek I met last Christmas.” Louise said, thoughtfully. “That kid would’ve never stood up to me like that.”
“I guess after all I’ve been through this year, I wasn’t going to allow anyone to force their views on me anymore.” Dakotah said, matter-of-factly. I’ve lost my best friend, fell in love, got dumped, and got thrown out of the house I grew up in for no good reason. I’ve had many people say I was worthless, lazy, and stupid, but I’ve also had people pick me up, and say that I’m special, too. I used to go to a church that ignored me. Now, I go to a church that embraces me, and trusts me enough to help them reach out to the neighborhood.”
“You can put me down on the list of people that say you’re special.” Louise said. “I’ll probably never be comfortable with the beliefs your church has, but I can’t deny your personal and spiritual growth. Will you forgive me for what I said earlier?”
“I already have.” Dakotah said, smiling broadly.
“Will you keep the money?”
“Sure! This is like the most awesome thing anyone has done for me! Thank you!”
Louise laughed. ”Well, don’t spend it all, okay?”
“Oh, no! Strictly business!” Dakotah laughed, but he was serious in his intention to do so.
“Well, you have my blessing to spend some on yourself, as long as you don’t do anything foolish.”
I could take Vanessa to a movie now, like she wanted.”
“Vanessa? I haven’t heard of her.”
“She’s from church. She’s very nice.”
“Is she cute? She doesn’t have a girlfriend, does she?”
“No!” Dakotah laughed. “She only has eyes for me, for some reason. And as for her looks, I think Unk would approve.”
“That ain’t saying a lot. When Ralph was in his single years, he didn’t cull much.”
Dakotah laughed. “Well, I guess I’d better go, and tell Grandma the good news!”
“Dak, you take care, and if you ever need a place to live, our door is always open. Not too many jobs here, but that’s better than none, like it is up there.”
“Thanks, Lou, but I’m pretty good up here. Love you, and thanks.”
“Love you too, sweetie. Take care of yourself.”
As you can see, Dak came on way too strong for my taste, at least at this time. Had to make him more meek! :’ )
Not going to give much on what’s coming up on Part 2, but I will say Dak won’t have it easy in Kentucky, either! I will assure everyone that no one will die, lol!
Hope you liked Part 1; I’ll keep trying to improve my craft as I go on, and hope this will become a story you will all enjoy! Thank you all for reading it!