NaNo update: cruising
More than a quarter of the way through …
I’ve had a couple of good days of cranking out the words for National Novel Writing Month. Between yesterday and today, I’ve produced nearly 5000 words, and I feel like I’m on a roll. I’m at least getting some interesting characters set up, and some interesting conflicts, one of which will eventually lead to murder (still not at that point in the story yet).
In the last post, I gave a novel excerpt involving a sailboat, presumably of interest to those of you who arrive at my blog via the sailing corner of the blogosphere. This time around, I’m focusing on the scene of the crime-to-be, the sports desk. Hannah has arrived at the newspaper to file her column for the following week – as a newbie in the world of journalism, she wants to come to the paper instead of filing online until she gets the hang of what she’s doing. As she enters the newsroom through the back door, she has to pass by the sports desk, which, the previous week, she had compared to a zoo. This week, it’s even worse.
When Hannah entered the newsroom, she found the state of chaos that she had expected, except this time the feeling was more intense. Somehow, there seemed to be an underlying layer of anger, and all of the people at the desk were cursing at each other and generally fuming. Soon, she realized why – they were short on staff. Most particularly, Agatha was missing, and the hole represented by her empty desk resembled the gap of a missing tooth in a hockey player’s mouth. Then Hannah stopped to wonder, why had the hockey image come up in her mind? The game on the television wasn’t hockey; it was another college basketball game. She quickly dodged around the sports desk and took refuge behind the partition that protected the features desk.
“The weather seems stormier than usual,” Hannah said to Etta as she sat down to upload her column.
“Oh, yeah,” Etta said. “We’re talking near riot conditions here. Watch out; Abernathy has decided Dean can’t handle things, and he’s come to take charge.”
“Abernathy?” Hannah asked.
“Oh, you probably haven’t met him yet,” Etta said. “He’s the real sports editor; Dean’s just the second in command. He doesn’t usually come in on Saturdays, except in times of crisis.”
“So what’s the crisis this time?” Hannah asked.
“Agatha Chin, the agate clerk – she’s the one who puts together all the box scores – well, she called in sick,” Etta said. “Now, normally, we’d have enough others around to answer the phones to cover for her, but two of the stringers also didn’t show up. Dean tried calling everybody on his list, but so far, no good. That’s when he called Abernathy.”
“So there’s a lot to do and nobody to do it?” Hannah asked.
“You might say that,” Etta said. “They’re all busier than a one-armed paper-hanger over there. I’m expecting them to start recruiting people off the street any minute now.”
Hannah plugged her thumb drive into her workstation and uploaded her Grammar Goddess column for next week. “It’s all yours,” she told Etta.
“Thanks, hon,” Etta said. “Let me give it a quick look-see …” She pushed some keys on her keyboard. “Yep, it looks good.”
A sudden roaring noise erupted on the other side of the partition, and somehow Hannah guessed that it probably wasn’t a great play on the game on the television. This sounded more like a barroom brawl, although without the breaking glass. “What was that?” she asked.
“I don’t wanna know, and I don’t think you wanna know either,” Etta said.
Dean Michaels came staggering around the partition. “You gotta help me,” he said, to nobody in particular.
“Help? How?” Etta asked.
“Abernathy’s gonna have my ass if I don’t get a warm body in Agatha’s chair in the next five minutes,” Dean said. “You got any reporters you can spare?”
“It’s Saturday, honey,” Etta said. “Ain’t nobody here but me.”
“Wait,” Dean said. “Hannah’s not nobody. She can help!”
“Who, me?” Hannah said. “I don’t know anything about box scores.”
“You don’t have to,” Dean said. “We have templates for them all. All you have to do is answer the phone and type in the numbers.”
“That’s all?” Hannah asked.
“Oh, well, not quite all,” Dean said. “You also have to monitor the wires for the national boxes and add them to the file, and you also have to add the box scores that other people leave. But it’s really not hard.”
“And I would want to do this … why?” Hannah asked.
“To do us all a really big favor,” Dean said. “And to make a few bucks. OK, very few bucks. But you’d be saving my life.”
“A moment ago you said you needed to save your ass,” Etta observed. “Now it’s your whole life?”
“Whatever,” Dean said. “Hannah, could you please help? Pretty please?”
“I suppose I can try,” Hannah said, wondering what she was getting herself into.
“You serious?” Etta asked. “I think you’ve flipped your lid.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you,” Dean said. “Lunch is on me tonight.” He led Hannah around the partition and escorted her to Agatha’s chair. Settling into it, Hannah felt a bit like Gulliver in Lilliput – the chair was jacked up high, the keyboard was set low, and there was a footrest under the desk. There was probably at least a foot difference in height between her and Agatha. She set the chair lower, raised the keyboard tray, and kicked the footrest aside, then adjusted the angle of the monitor so it pointed at her face rather than her chest.
“OK, here’s how it works,” Dean said, pulling his own chair over next to Hannah’s. “You’re already familiar with the basics of the system. Here’s the templates folder; when a call comes in, you pick the template you need – high school basketball, college basketball, hockey, you’re not going to need football or baseball – open it, save a copy to your working folder, then just enter the stats in the right spots in the template. The folks who give you the numbers already know the routine – it’s usually an assistant coach or a parent volunteer – so they’ll be giving you the numbers in the order you need them. Got that?”
“So far, so good,” Hannah said. “Then what?”
“So then, when you’re not answering the phone, you’ll be scanning the incoming wire,” Dean said. “When a score comes in, it’s usually already formatted correctly; you’ll just copy it to the working directory. You aren’t going to need all of them, just the NBA, NHL, top twenty college teams, Pac-10 college teams, and Pacific Hockey League.”
“OK, I think I get that,” Hannah said. “You said something about adding something to a file?”
“That’s when you work on the finished product,” Dean said. “First, you’ll collect all of the box scores for each sport into a file for that sport. Again, we have templates for the headers for them all. Then you’ll put all of that together into one big file that you send over to the copy desk right before deadline for each edition.”
“Sounds like a lot,” Hannah said.
“Once you get into the swing of things, it goes pretty easy,” Dean said. “You can even tailor the content for each edition – put the high school basketball scores for the little places out in the sticks into the regional edition, city scores in the metro edition. Those small-town coaches love it to see their itty bitty team’s score in the big high-powered newspaper.”
The phone rang. Hannah took a deep breath, put on Agatha’s headset, and answered the phone, “Capitan sports.” Over the next 30 seconds, a fast-talking assistant coach from a small town somewhere inland read off a bunch of numbers that Hannah put into a basketball score template. It was a good thing she was a fast typist, she realized, so she could keep up with the chatter on the other end. When the call ended, Hannah saved the box score in her working directory.
“There, you’re getting the hang of it,” Dean said, as he returned to his own desk.
For the next twenty minutes, Hannah alternated between answering the phone and scanning the wires. Sometimes more than one phone call would come in at once; if Hannah was already on the line when a new call came in, it would ring, seemingly randomly, some other phone on the sports desk, and whoever got the call would take the box score and add it to Hannah’s working directory.
Denny Damon came in, slightly less animated than usual. “Seagulls got skunked,” he said. “At home. Again.” He looked at Hannah, sitting at Agatha’s desk. “Oh, I see we got a new agate clerk.”
“Just temporary duty,” Hannah said. “I’ve already got a day job.”
“Give me a couple minutes,” Denny said. “I’ll have that box score for you.”
Two minutes later, the hockey box score appeared in the working directory, and Hannah took a look to see just how bad the carnage was: Sierra Gold Miners 7, Siete Mares Seagulls 0. The other statistics were not so bad; both teams had had about the same number of power plays, and … “Wait, Denny, is this for real?” Hannah asked. “The Seagulls had three times as many shots on goal as the Gold Miners?”
“Afraid so,” Denny said.
“Did we even have a goalie in the net?” Hannah asked.
“I think he was made of ectoplasm,” Denny said. “The puck went right through him every time.”