Monthly Archives: January 2011

rest, rewrite, tinker

I had something planned to write, but the last two days have changed my mind. Here is the truth of being a working novelist. For awhile, I’ve been beginning a new novel, with all the angst that comes with that. And I teach a writing novels class or two (writing can’t be taught, only facilitated), and prepare notebooks of information with each class. Anyway, I carefully measure my time on the novel, not driving crazy hard when everything is so unknown and messy and my nerves fray, but working steadily enough to keep some current of electricity going. When I say working, I mean actual writing, not just research.

Into that come chores for the about-to-be-published novel.  So, last week, I had a notebook to pull together for a class I’m teaching, some work on it done, but also it had to be compiled into pdfs to send to where I’m teaching. And I’d delayed looking at 2nd pass pages that came for Before Versailles, novel #4. 2nd pass pages are the corrections I’d made to the page proofs whose corrections came from the copy edits I approved, deleted, added to. The manuscript all over again. Are you lost yet? Me, too.

And I had a great idea slither in, as they do when one is actively working on something new, about the new novel. I got the idea to begin it differently, from a different point in the characters lives than what I was writing, and the idea had that little tingle that I’ve learned to trust, and I was excited about it. But it meant new research.

However, 2nd pass pages were waiting. Now, I only looked at the pages where I had made changes (I CANNOT read myself in entirety again!), but the job took 2 days, and, of course it came to me, in the soft way that I have learned to take seriously, that I could do a better job on the Author’s Note, a little historical context I threw in at the end. What occurred to me was that I could reshape the Author’s Note to reflect more of the ending and more of importance of one of the characters that I really wanted to highlight, as well as to reflect more of the love story, as well as make it a little less brag don’t-I-know-a-lot-of-history and more poetic and lovely to the reader. So all weekend, I rewrote two pages of material. A word here, a change there. Rest. Reread, tinker some more. I can’t tell you how many times. As well as dealing with notebook typo corrections and those #@#$#@ pdf conversions and some scanning to pdf for the class. And even compressed, the file was too big to send, and I had to make it two files. Kill me.

And my editor and agent and I brainstormed about blurbs over email last week. The editor sends out galleys to various folks hoping they’ll agree to say something nice that can be put on the cover. And so there was checking information on the internet, and I agreed to write notes, none of which I’ve been able to get to. That will be tomorrow’s task. Meanwhile, the new book, which needs its flame tended in the same way you would attend a fire that would be difficult to start again, is pushed to one side.

Oh, and I’ve been cleaning out my office. Three to four years of the clutter and tomorrow-is-another-day that happens when I write a book. Am I feeling a little nuts? Can’t keep all the plates in the air? You bet. And by mid-week, I will be back to making work on something raw and messy and unknown, and there will again be nothing but silence from New York. Writing for a living is not for sissies.



Leafing through journals tonight to find something to put here…in this empty space I aim to fill each week.  I feel too dull to find fresh words, a concept behind them. I come across this from another January…………………

From a Story Circle conference, from Texas poet Lianne Mercer: a poem is a picture in your mind of a moment in your mind. Metaphor is implicit rather than explicit. Trust the process; your mind will hand you what you need. Be present at the page………………….

And from another entry, just a page futher, what I call scribbles—hurried writing to a prompt or because I see something I know I ought to put in words, and if I’m lucky, I do….

Clutter. Unraked leaves, old boards from Hurricane Rita’s threat…the back yard  a mess…overgrown, brown with fallen leaves. I go to my bench in the morning sun, sun filtered by the camphor tree that dominates the yard, making all under its great spreading limbs feeble and brown from lack of light and water. I’m moody, fractured inside, feeling without grace. And then I see one sulfur yellow daffodil’s trumpet thrusting out…the only one of its mates daring to bloom, a grace note, a horn blast, a call to me from the great unknown…here I am, always, pilgrim……….


King's lover Wallis Simpson was 'miserable, second-rate American woman'

Been obsessed all week rereading the story of Wallis Simpson and King Edward, the king who abdicated his throne for “the woman I love.” It would have been the biggest story of the 1930s except for something called the Great Depression and that other event called the beginning of World War II. The King’s Speech got me started, watching Bertie step into a role he didn’t wish for because of his brother’s abdication. And then I found an old volume of letters between Wallis and Edward and a biography. Their affair became a grand romance, but even with all the money, it couldn’t sustain itself, though his devotion to her never wavered. I was reminded again of how cunning one must be to survive in high circles of power, of how when the establishment spurns, it’s a tsunami, crushing everything in its path. I’m reminded of the narrowness of what is called morality, how culture shapes it. She was a divorced woman, a label which offended many. She was cunning, but not cunning enough to do the homework she needed to have done to have helped salvage him. I’m reminded of Marie Antoinette, only grasping her power when it was too late, because she was too busy playing. Play isn’t a luxury those in circles of power can indulge for too long. And love. What is that creature exactly? It can’t be simply lust to endure.  Truth, duty, honor, gratitude, a certain purity of heart must underpin its fragile tendrils, as well as a sense of community and purpose. At least that’s what I theorize as I wind my way into my crone years and attempt to understand as fully as I can the unicorn we call love.

What do you know that I don’t about love? Tell me.

paperwhite new year

I bought them late, in December, snuggled them among glass stones, poured in gin water. I didn’t expect them to bloom so quickly, for the stalks to shoot up so taut and green once the bulbs were fed, didn’t expect to see the blossom already swelling inside its green casing. Two of the groupings I made have opened into paperwhites, the small fragrant blossoms that are such a contrast to the brown bulb that begins and then feeds them. The paperwhites are in the dining room, kitchen, living room….taking the place of the Christmas decorations I’ve so firmly put away, before a stray sorrow from Christmas past can find me and puncture my carefully restored peace with the season. Somehow there is a metaphor to these paperwhites. Somehow their fresh promise of opening comforts me––I always miss the frolic and red of put-away Christmas. It’s a new year. Without my realizing it, I placed something in my new year life that is already blossoming. What hope for me. I no longer believe in the resolutions I used to make––too many of them broken. I know without a doubt a year may bring sorrow and challenge as well as joy. But I can watch the paperwhites open.  (I’m a sucker for blossoms….once I saw the paperwhites were going to take, I explored around to see what else was there. The Christmas cactus, always late, had budded tips, one or two grown to near blossom stage. And I opened the front door and saw a cameilla bud still tight and small, but its color showing––impossible that the many petaled beauty that will emerge can all be in that bud, but it is. And one rose on the climber offers butter yellow sweetness.)

It’s the promise in buds that I love so much….particularly if I know the flower that will unfurl. I wonder if God feels like that about us.

What’s your new year paperwhite?