Category Archives: novel

Words mostly elsewhere by

Sitting down right now at the laptop with a boiled egg, coffee, and commitment that might be described as fierce. Got to get through the next chunk of manuscript where very severe cuts will be required. Hurm hurm (Harley sound effect).

Many other words could be called upon to describe this day, this cold and blustery Earth Day, this Day 42 of Containment, but I must conserve. Besides, I don’t want to make you crazy with all my robe-making changes of mind. So here is a story of the morning in pictures.

PS Acey I haven’t forgotten that I promised you a copy of that picture of Prince!

PPS I’ve gained 15 pounds since making my card stock body model in a class of Jude’s some time ago, but that should only impact boob-sizing and with a loose robe, even that isn’t critical.

Gorgeous print of Harriet Tubman painting by South Carolinian artist Natalie Daise aka @gullahmama on Instagram. Her work is gorgeous and her prices really, really reasonable.

Alright, so I lied. I am busy procrastinating in full-throated style! But before I go, some thanks are in order.

First, I want to thank Nancy for so sweetly gathering up her threads and shipping them to me from California. The package is decontaminating in the garage and right now all I really care about is that she gets well!

Also, thank you Joanne. There is something about the steadiness of her day by day reporting that I find so reassuring right now. It doesn’t hurt that she talks about food even more than I do! Tonight, based on something mentioned there, I’ll be making chili. Thank you Joanne.

Lastly, to all who weighed in on the backyard — thank you. To be continued!

Spaciousness

“In the midst of fear, kindness is needed, even just a little, so that the panic, restlessness, and angst don’t completely take over. We can simply ask ourselves if even in the midst of contraction and tension spaciousness is available as well.”

The Magnanimous Heart
Compassion and Love, Loss and Grief, Joy and Liberation, by Narayan Helen Liebensen

I’ve been though so many states of mind since yesterday, it feels like days instead of hours since I last typed here.

Rather than explain, I will barrel forward.

An old photo of D (top), as I think of all the parents home with children. Next, a little shell/insect combo, revealing how much I am missing paper play.

This collage, made in 1980 while I was living in SF, used copies made on one of the first color Xerox machines. How I loved that ‘color shift’ dial! Now my niece is sheltering in place just across the bay from where I once lived.

I lived in that duplex during my senior year in college in Northampton, Mass. Look how themes stay with us!

Meanwhile, plans have formed to use my sister’s cardboard collection after revisiting this book below.

An early decision will be how to attach the house/pages to each other. Artists in the book use various means: ribbons, wire, hemp, rick rack.

500. That’s how many words I deleted this morning. But today it doesn’t satisfy, because my hunch is that the trimmed chapters need to go in their entirety. More decisions.

Where are you finding spaciousness?

One year plus

My sister’s glass collection catches the light. She died roughly this time last year. How grateful I am that she’s not here to panic and worry about the virus. She suffered from COPD, sleep apnea, asthma, CHF, and was on oxygen. Worse, because of her ever increasing need, people were constantly trooping through her apartment — sometimes five a week.

The entire time she lived in her subsidized housing (almost a year), she didn’t manage to trek down the hall to throw out any garbage. So, if she had dismissed everyone out of a rational fear of contagion, the garbage would’ve piled up in a matter of days, waiting for yours truly.

We were both spared.

My brother refused to wear protective garb during the AIDS crisis, a decision both humane and medically supported in retrospect. It did make me worry, though, that maybe he wouldn’t wear protective gear for this crisis, either.

I needn’t have. It’s mandated. And he’s no idiot. There were 8 cases at Stonybrook Hospital during his shift on Saturday. His partner, also an ER doctor, is home with a cold. No fever.

Schools are closed here in the burbs of Boston until at least the end of April. Seventy-five cases in my county. Restaurants can stay open, but must remove enough tables to leave six feet between patrons.

We are aggressively self-quarantining. K’s office got the order to work from home for two weeks. I have three things on Zoom this week.

K did go to the grocery store yesterday because we were out of bread and down to the last three eggs. At Wegman’s, there was almost no bread. Not a single bag of flour. And of course, the usual clear outs: Purell, TP, and paper towels. Thankfully, very few people were out at dinner time.

Woolworth’s has a good idea: setting aside a couple of hours a day for senior shopping.

I probably continue to read too much news, but counter it with restaurant competitions, Project Runway, and British or Aussie crime dramas.

Almost 3,000. That’s how many words I eliminated today. It’s incredibly satisfying to see the fat and cut it out.

When I posted a picture of this orchid on Instagram and said I had no idea what made it bloom (I know NOtHinG about these plants and it hadn’t bloomed for years), one follower said. “Probably because you needed it to.”

I love that, don’t you?

I wish for all of you to be well and maybe find a small miracle in your day.

Rejected scenes from a novel

 

img_7066Sometimes constructing a story is like collage, where you add layer after layer, hoping that the whole picture somehow works.

img_1798Sometimes constructing a story is akin to piecing fabric — moving around existing components until a pleasing design emerges, then adhering them.

Right now, editing resembles lipo-suction. Sucking out the fat in service of a tighter sequencing of events is harder than I thought it would be.

In part, this is because I have ADD. Having my kind of focus means I can endlessly and with rapt attention go line by line and make significant improving edits. But to take in the whole? To understand how big chunks work or don’t work? This is challenging. It took me two weeks of hand-wringing to convince myself I could even do it!

Here’s the upshot: my manuscript is way too long. Industry standard for unpublished authors is 90,000 words (in the neighborhood of 200 pages). Mine clocks in at 310,000 and worse, sags throughout the entire middle. I wish it were as simple as excising the middle, but that won’t get me to my goal of a readable, compelling 200 page novel.

Things to consider:

  • they say to write the book you want to read. I like page turners (i.e. plot driven novels). Mine is character driven. Plot decidedly secondary (or absent?)
  • I have let the actual events of Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s life inform her narrative and it’s been suggested that to do so is to handicap myself (a small example: her two closest friends were named Mary. I let that stand, even though as a reader it would drive me nuts).
  • each scene demands that I ask, does this drive the story forward? Does this?

But! What if our standard idea of narrative progressing in an arc is not only limited, but based on an a masculine sensibility (and specifically, male sexuality) in ways that are limiting?

From Paris Review article discovered last night — Here’s critic Robert Scholes: “The archetype of all fiction is the sexual act … the fundamental orgastic rhythm of tumescence and detumescence, of tension and resolution, of intensification to the point of climax and consummation.”think ‘arousal phase’ ”climax’.

Says author of Paris Review article, Jane Alison: “Well. This is not how I experience sex. Critic Susan Winnett says, “Meanings generated through dynamic relations of beginnings, middles, and ends in traditional narrative and traditional narratology never seem to accrue directly to the account of the woman.” And anyway, why should sex—this kind of sex!—be the archetype of fiction? Why should an art form as innovative as fiction have a single archetype at all?”

Food for thought. Having said that, without any explanation of setting or character, here are two deleted scenes. Make of them what you will. Both fall in the category of ‘too much back story for secondary characters.’

 

JAMES WHITTAKER

And so, it was on a windy morning in early December 1737, that a Barbadian Christian with something to hide parted with a half-Yoruban, half-Dutch temptress and pocketed the proceeds. As the buyer led his newly-acquired slave and her child down the tamarind-lined path, neither he nor the seller knew that Sally was with child — the cane grower’s child. But Sally knew, as women sometimes do.

Before the Barbadian cane grower even crossed the threshold back into his gracious abode, he was halfway to forgetting the whole unpleasant business. What relief! What shrewd calculation! Without even having made the decision to do so, his mind began to blur the outlines of his ugly (though thoroughly socially acceptable) transgression and its brief, tortured aftermath. Smudge. Smudge. How swift the gracious erasures performed by amnesia — how convenient the mechanism of blame!

He returned to the so-called seat of his empire and exhaled in relief. He patted the arms of his chair as if to say he was back, a man of society wholly in charge of his destiny, and perhaps also a man made generous by recent events.  Even though the well-timed disposal of Sally might’ve allowed him to forgo the lavish fete, he would not renege. Wasn’t he a man of his word? He was planning a menu when his wife entered the room.

“Is that vile thing gone at last?” But her husband had moved on.

“I’ll say 200’s the upper limit,” he answered, forgetting that he had yet to mention the gala out loud. “And let’s make it memorable, my pumpkin. How about a masked ball?”

The cane grower’s wife sat down, befuddled for a moment but not a jot longer. She was onto it! They would roast four pigs! There would be dancing! She leaned toward his desk and said in conspiratorial joy, “The date must correspond to a full moon — think of the light on the terrace! Oh and Mrs. Thorp just this week made mention of an orchestra worth the hire!”

He concurred. She glowed. When had they last been this united in thought? He said, “A full moon – indeed! Always the one with the grand idea, you! Imagine it shining on the bay… won’t our guests swoon with envy, my dear, and high time?”

The cane grower dunked his quill into the bottle of ink rather too hard. Dunk after hard dunk. No wonder the point had been dull on that awful morning – but no — he would not think on it. He would take down his wife’s every idea. Nothing like a little scare to humble a person into conciliatory attentiveness!

Surely Mrs. Whittaker wondered at his softened tone, his posture of consideration?  She said nothing more about Sally, which could have meant any number of things. Maybe the distraction worked. Four pigs!  Mrs. Thorp’s orchestra!  Then again, she might have thoroughly skunked him out, but in the interests of marital peace generally and a magnificent ball specifically, let the matter rest. If so, she was not quite as dim as her husband believed. Furthermore, she might be possessed of a larger spirit than he knew as well. Think on it: if his wife so freely abandoned what turned out to be a well-grounded suspicion in order to graciously leap into their shared future, without for a second demanding the consolation prize of being right, maybe she deserved his ministrations of care, not as decoy against his sin but as her rightful due. Had she always been more worthy of his esteem than he’d allowed? He committed to granting her a bit more warmth, a more frequent nodding alliance of opinion. Maybe a dance or two on the moonlit terrace come time?  For once, she impressed him.

You could say, therefore, that in addition to preparing and serving meals, bundling alfafa, sweeping the veranda and house entire, watering bromeliads, and increasing the inventory with a son, Sally granted the couple the gift of a much-needed renewal. The fact that it was one the couple could not have engineered on their own made it all the more remarkable. It was the mulatto’s disruptive guile (for he at last concluded it was not diminished capacity but guile, guile, guile) that had generated a significant new conjugal arrangement. One spouse rose up, the other slipped down, causing the two to arrive somewhere in the middle where approach one to the other was possible. Like everything else Sally gave, it was bestowed (taken) without their having to fork out a single letter of credit or clattering coin.

In two months time, when the orchestra tuned up on the terrace and the bay shimmered with moonlight, our sugar exporter on Barbados would hardly be able to recall the mulatto’s voice. In fact, he wouldn’t even really remember that the wench’s voice had been singularly arresting. And, because amnesia does not carefully discriminate in its sweep of erasure, he would also forget that he had given the slave his small Bible. He’d forget how, when he held out his precious Bible – the one given to him by his sister all those years ago — the impudent slattern had had the gall to refuse it. You’d think such an exchange would stick in a man’s mind, but it did not. Smudge. Smudge. The cane grower’s amnesia so thoroughly swiped at that morning in the pantry, in fact, that he would later wonder where the Bible had gotten off to, even going so far as to question another house slave about its disappearance.

GEORGE LUCAS

In conversation it never came out that Whittaker had placed an advert for the mulatto one week prior. And, just as the cane grower hoped, the Captain purchased the mulatto’s two year old son too, with nary a moment’s hesitation. All traces of the wench would be gone!

Perhaps the purchase of the boy could be supported by South Carolina’s ‘head system’– whereby land apportionments were meted out based on the number of persons in a household, even colored ones, and even two year olds, albeit at reduced count. Surely, the low cost of a toddling boy as compared with the land his head would facilitate surveying made it a shrewd transaction?

A shadowy notion of quid pro quo inserted itself just below the level of the Captain’s attention — not quite conscious enough to make him calculating, but present enough to render him a fool. By purchasing the Negress’s boy, he hoped to purchase the slave’s goodwill, for what exactly remained notional and to the extent any thought arose at all, it surely wasn’t about sexual congress. It did, however, occur to the Captain what a nice presentation the mulatto would make in one of Millie’s well-made frocks and wouldn’t it be pleasant to have the girl sing in the parlor after tea?  A refined use. An acceptable intercourse.

And so, on a gray morning in December of 1737, with the purchase of Sally and her two year old son, Noah, Captain George Lucas became for the first time in all his years a man governed by more than mere duty. He renamed his acquisition ‘Melody’ and anticipated with a certain glow the pleasure of hearing her voice again. He was doubly satisfied, for he’d come into possession of valuable military information at the inn the evening prior. Spain was preparing to invade Georgia. Antigua’s Governor would be grateful for the news.

Had the Captain stepped outside of himself for a moment, he would have traveled back to Antigua empty-handed and discussed moving to South Carolina with his wife. A pro forma exchange, but not without value. He might have recognized that it was foolish to risk conjugal peace based on a ditty about peas and rice.

Furthermore, he might’ve recognized the folly of trying to recapture a momentary rapture with a purchase. His nebulous desires were unworthy of his character for a host of reasons, but there was one more flaw in all of this, one which stained his person with the darkest blotch of all and it was this:  How on God’s green earth could a man expect rapture to flow from transactions in human flesh?