Monthly Archives: March 2008

Come into my parlor

louis-small.jpgAs I read over the last draft to see what I have to work with, I’m amazed at how timid I am, afraid to describe fully, show these people in action. The draft is tight, tight with my fears. And now, in the polish, I have to unfurl it, make it blossom, make these worlds of long ago that I find so interesting, alluring for the readers. Come into my parlor, my spider has to say to the fly. And the fly has to go because it cannot help itself.But how to I get there from this tight, frightened draft? Strap on my high heels and start dancing. Dare to be bad so I can get to good. That’s the only wisdom I’ve learned from writing three novels. The anxiety isn’t going away. I need to write a whole draft, no matter how dreadful it is, not get stopped on reworking good scenes because I feel safe and the writing sings. I can make it better because when I’m through with a draft, I know the people and I know the plot a little more fully. But I can only learn such things through that process of the draft with all its mess, meandering paths, wrong turns, undeveloped characters.

I didn’t think Louis XIV would be the main character in this novel, and he is. That surprises me. It pleases me, too, because it’s hard to let go of history, what the biographies say, to create a character. That’s why real people who lived in the time periods I write about have always been side characters before.

But Louis was the headline of the 1600s. Why would he allow anything different now? The French court is a maze of intrigue and families. It’s been work to sort it out. But now I know the cliques, the twists of friendships. I’m on the polish, and yet I encounter places, as I did today, where I have to write new scenes. Ah, the terror of a new scene. Will it work? What do I know anyway? What makes me think I’m a writer, much less a good one?

Same old fears. Same old hip hop three novels down. You be bad. Every day, there it is. One just has to keep on typing and stay away from the scotch.


Poetry in the morning

Not long ago, I was in Carmel, and I took a tour of the Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House. Robinson Jeffers was a poet widely known in the 20s, 30’s, 40’s. He appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1934. His poetry can be dark and convoluted, but also starkly beautiful. That’s how his house was, starkly beautiful. It was rich in its simplicity. He built it from stones on the beach, apprenticing himself to a stonemason, who did a simple house of living room, guest bedroom, bath, attic for sleeping. Jefferson wrote as well as slept in the attic.


He learned enough to build a square tower for his wife, Una––another story, his wife, Una, with her charm and Celtic leanings; he said they made love like hawks––and he built a wall and later a dining chamber himself. Rolling stones weighing 400 pounds, he worked with his hands in the afternoon and with his poetry in the morning. Friends brought gifts, jade from China, rocks from graveyards, and those gifts are in the walls. So are sayings on stone tablets: “Fight on, my men, I am hurt, but I am not slaine; I’le lay mee downe and bleede awhile, And then I’le rise and fight againe.”Energy still plays in the house, touching those who enter. The beautiful and wild Carmel coast is just out the door and down the path. Passionate docents read Jeffers’ poetry at the bed he died in. He described his death: “….the patient daemon behind the screen of sea-rock and sky/ Thumps with his staff, and calls thrice: Come Jeffers.” Someone large lived there, who made his living writing. The house is authentic in a way that makes me inarticulate.

For you, Carmen

CarmenMy second novel was just reprinted, and it gives me another chance to say, I love you, little sister, this is for you. My sister died in 1995. She was 42 and left six children behind her, the youngest five, the oldest 20. I’ve never seen anyone die finer than she did. No blame, no recriminations, just a digging in to love harder.This new edition of Now Face to Face (it came out in January from Three Rivers Press) includes scenes I took out of the original manuscript. They were about a character dying, and I couldn’t bear for my sister, who really was dying, to read my imaginary death scenes. So I reworked the book and deleted those scenes.But now it’s been ten years. And there is a reprint. So the scenes are included in an afterward, which I dedicated to my sister. And this, too, this blog, this writing life, is for you, Carmen. You were beautiful. I love you. Karleen