Tag Archives: historic fiction

Editing as whittling

PCC collage

We are getting rain. The painters stayed home today, but yesterday as I sat upstairs in my writing chair, a man worked on a ladder directly out the window. He chatted on his phone, Spanish providing him privacy since I don’t know a word. But how I worried about him, scaling the ladder with one hand, or gripping the phone with his neck and shoulder while balancing two stories up!

In today’s blessed quiet, I’ve been editing, determined to get my word count below 140,000. Deb would scoff and maybe my paid editor would too. But a lower word count would be more appealing to the average agent. Or so I’ve heard.

Couple years back — before Covid so it feels like another lifetime — Deb visited and invited me as a guest to a writer’s conference where she was the keynote speaker. Talk at the table turned to word count.

“For a debut author, anything over 90,000 is a no-no,” one writer said. Others agreed. (Deb’s speech was amazing BTW — part humor, part wise advice).

Well, I’m not gonna even get down to 120,000, but you have to admit that our minds respond differently to 141,800 than to 139,800.

And I did it! Gonna keep going because I have a new appreciation for where I can carve. Mostly I’ll go to the Eliza chapters because she thinks too much and can be flowery in her speech. Snip. Snip.

Canine company

Look who has settled into his big blue bed on this rainy day! Finn usually spends the morning downstairs while I write, only traipsing up here when my husband delivers a second cup of coffee. My zoom-mates know to expect them.

I didn’t manage to bustle out the door for a walk this morning. It feels like a day to cocoon.

Cocooning is a luxury, a laziness, and a way to preserve health. I don’t know how to think about it anymore. All this isolation, even partnered and filled with canine company, might be getting to me.

It might also be a good day to whittle down the pile of papers next to the computer. Already a clipboard of novel-related notes surfaced.

A clipboard! Gawd.

On the top page clipped to that clipboard, I found a quote that feels relevant to today, to our time: Grief … is a form of moral intelligence and even wisdom.” Terry Patten, A New Republic of the Heart.

Phrases from the novel Pamela

Scene Post Rebellion — 1739

Angel Oak, SC : My photo run thru Prisma filter

 

From the drafts file. July 2020. A deleted chapter followed by two paragraphs about the news.

Place: west of Wappoo Plantation, South Carolina where Eliza Lucas lived before she married Charles Pinckney in 1744.

Time: October 1739. Roughly a month after the rebellion later known as the Stono Slave Rebellion, named for the river running through the landscape of fervent hope and violent loss.

Character: Mo. An enslaved man from Wappoo.

This chapter is duplicative of others so won’t be included in my novel, whose working title has gone from Blood and Indigo to The Weight of Cloth. I often write a scene six different ways before landing on a keeper and even then, might make major changes. I don’t think this is unusual.

He stood at the crossroads ashy with fatigue. Was he even still alive? Time had gone sideways. Nights sleeping in the scrub, days making a meandering path first away, and now back. Back to what? The rebellion wasn’t just a fever dream of freedom, was it? Mo remembered the weight of Commissioner Gibbs’s head in his hands. He looked down at his tunic, saw the confirming blood. What happened to those who didn’t melt away into the shadows like he had? He did not know but had a hunch. He had a hunch that most of those brave rebels were dead and not just because hounds are ruthless and native trackers precise, but because sometimes at dawn or as the sunset and the clouds bruised purple, he could feel their spirits like butterfly wings on his cheek or shoulder. They wandered still, in other words, still seeking a way out of bondage but without a body to hold them back anymore.

Mo was rail thin. This time of year there were hickory nuts, bracken ferns, and sour plums but not much else. He’d gone from a wild and ferocious hunger that left no room for other thoughts, not even of Binah’s sly smile, to having no hunger at all, the thought of hominy nearly enough to make him wretch.

That dawn, something about the way the wind spoke to him through the chestnut trees told him that it was at last time to return home, if he could call it that.

*. *. *.

July 2020. I know I promised a rant, but one that wrestles with how to speak up as a white person, and when, and what that might sound like just cannot be published the day after George Floyd’s memorial.

I watched much of the eulogy by Reverend Al Sharpton yesterday — did you? Powerfully moving, as was Kamala Harris’s seven minute statement to the Senate about Rand Paul’s idiotic attempt to limit her and Cory Gardner and Tim Scott’s bill to make lynching a federal crime.

SoulCollage card c. Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012

Writing about writing

This post is a prompt response from yesterday. Of five provided images, the one I responded to was of a piebald horse (not unlike the one above). I quote two poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Joyce Kilmer and for your enjoyment include the entirety of the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Pied Beauty, at the end.

It helps to know that I am ten years plus into writing a novel in which one of the central characters is Eliza Lucas Pinckney (b. 1722) and that the other three main characters are enslaved Black women.

 

Rhombuses of Light

The morning light is sectioned
mintons and mullions
through the glass, hitting floor and
wall, bending at baseboard.
She often referred to light
as “lozenges.”

It’s the glow we like
especially when April
breezes seep past sills
and chill. But what about the
bend at the baseboard?
An easy compliance.

“Glory be to God for dappled
things,” said the poet.
Rhombuses of light
are not pied or
dappled, but when created
by a window speak
to the relationship between
solidity and light.

She repeats herself. All
those references to clouds!
It’s time to find and replace.
Thunderclouds with slate
grey bottoms, slants of
rain like an etching against
the horizon. Again, Eliza,
really?

Her friend rode a dappled
grey sixteen hands high. How I had
to look all that up, authority running
to cats and dogs and at a stretch to
the way the interior of a barn
smells and how light catches
dust and particles of hay
drifting below the rafters.
How light and gravity inform
a moment.

Imagination as authority,
not a popular position
these days.

Ripples of clouds above
the marsh, liked ruched
silk. Sunlight on creek
shining like pewter. God
in nature. We get it! Eliza
got it.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
got it.

Light will slide up the
wall as day goes on.
Sometimes the miraculous has
a predictable element to it.

All those author interviews
and how they make her
shrink. What’s on HER
bedside table? Did she
even read as a child?

The Case of the Hidden
Staircase.

But it occurs to her now,
more memory than thought,
that reading Gerard Manley
Hopkins as a teenager
opened a previously
undisclosed chamber in
her heart.

You can do that with
language? Light can
bend at baseboard
and be celebrated and in
strange syncopations?
Why does one element
mimicking another thrill
the senses? Light like
water. Sedimentary rock
like ripples of corduroy.
Memory like glass.

As a priest, he told
himself to shut up.
Figures an early hero of
mine would go to such extremes
and for all the wrong
reasons. Virginia Woolf with
rocks in her pockets.

Heroes, heroines, perhaps
best not to have them —
but how else learn how
to write, how not to panic,
how to pick at a scab and
move on?

Just once, she’d like the column
to soberly reveal an author
that didn’t read until she
was seventeen or so. Too busy
mucking about in creeks and
negotiating with terror. Why
sit still?

Music floods the chest.
A good reason for silence,
she thinks, a single window
at a time being enough,
the light passing through
glass from the east,
inching toward the center of the hall.

You mean to tell me
the rhombuses of light float down the wall
and not up as morning progresses?
The unreliability
of observation. What motes?
What barn? Memory like glass.

Eliza’s daughter was about to
turn eleven when he died. Eliza’s
husband. Harriett’s father.
The dates are there for the finding.
July 12, 1758 and August 7, 1758.

What I make of turning
eleven just after the death of
a parent is not what you will
make of the same.

Even Harriett, poor dear,
would have made several
things of a singular devastation.

She had wanted to read
“Pied Beauty” at her father’s
funeral. The altar boy
turned atheist would have
appreciated its point, even
if Longfellow and Poe were
his favored fare.

Her sister overruled the selection.
Longstanding habits
of bullying that can’t even
be attributed to grief.

“I think that I shall
never see a poem as
lovely as a tree,” he
wrote in my autograph
book — remember those? —
“But with his help, I’ve
made a Dee.”

“He fathers-forth whose
beauty is past change.”

Swapping out an altar
in the Catholic Church for the
Kinderhook Creek doesn’t mean
one has no god.
Trout fishing as sacrament.

Harriett was ten about to turn
eleven. I was 24 or 26 and the fact that I can
never remember without adding age-at-death to
one birth year and then subtracting another
birth year speaks to loss.

 

*     *     *

Poetry Fdtn link here.

Adding light, revising novel

I’m adding light and shadow to appliqued hawk. Made her head lighter and used white poly for beak to make it pop. A scrap of fabric practically fell out of the basket and felt like a minor show of Providence.

Jude had the idea over on Instagram to darken some of the ripples around the hawk’s head. Since I like the way it adds a sense of motion, I may continue around the body as long as I have that color thread. It’ll look good flowing off the wings.

Had some gross polyester swirled with black in that basket, too. Added to tail and wings for more contrast. Light. Maybe you can see a difference with earlier incarnation, maybe not (below).

It’s nice to have company.

In the meantime, I finally talked to my paid manuscript consultant yesterday. Round three coming up. I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, perhaps even shouting off the rooftops: SHE LOVES MY BOOK.

I think people forget how solitary a process writing is.

House names should not be italicized. If I’m gonna talk about the elder Middletons toward the end, they need to be introduced earlier. Still sags here and there — needs tightening. Not so many descriptions of clouds, perhaps. Maybe not so much about Melody’s first owner. Explain what head rights are and how to memorialize land in Author’s Note, which starts like this:

When I began this novel, Trayvon Martin was alive and as I finished the second edit, George Floyd was dead.

The suggestion that I add an epilogue (say in 1758 after Eliza and Charles Pinckney return from a five year stay in England), will take a little more thought. That’s fourteen years after my original end. Lots of years I haven’t thought about all that much.

A six year time frame (1738 to 1744) allowed a laser-like focus. Etiquette in 1720? I don’t care! Rice markets in 1750? Also don’t care. Now I need to care. I’ll start with Eliza’s letters.

A walk with temps in the 40’s was cause for celebration this week. Daffodils shoving aside leaf debris. Snow shrugging off the curbs. It won’t be long now ’til the miracle of hyacinths.

In the meantime I am trying to answer the question (Acey’s): how do you hold your heart? Or maybe just asking it. Softly.

The collage challenge with Paris Collage Collective continues. This week: Shirley Chisholm.

More to come. I want to cut up seed catalogues and wreathe her head with flowers. In the collage above, the headstone of Harriett Jacobs served as reference to the long history of oppression, Jacobs being another Black woman who overcame so much.