Tag Archives: children


indexThis summer, I’ll run a class at the Writers League of Texas’s Summer Writing Retreat, August. Here are some questions they asked me about the rough draft of a novel, my topic for the class.

-What is it about the rough draft that’s so difficult? It’s a longer process than a short story/poem/magazine piece. So you stay longer in not knowing. To know the story, you have to write it, messily, badly, imperfectly. Later you may perfect it, but to stay in the uncertainty a long time is trying for most. Including me.

-For you, what’s the most challenging part of the writing process? The most rewarding? The most challenging is the rough drafts, the only place I can begin to know characters and what they’re doing. My first rough draft is always so amazingly bad that it’s hard for me to see what I’ve accomplished, which is usually a plotting piece, what happens when or what should happen but isn’t there yet. Characters emerge (shakily, not fully formed) in the first draft, too. I love editing, when I have enough rough draft to shape, enough rough draft under me like a rock to hold me up as I really craft the story.

index-When is a novel “finished”? I’m tired of it and cannot do another thing to it. This is after several drafts and polishes. Just can’t. Put a fork in me, I’m done. But I also have a really good sense of story, the pace of it, the waves of it. So I know when I’ve got that wave up to the climax of the story and then the falling back to end.

-As a sneak peek into your upcoming class, what’s one invaluable tip for those working through a rough draft? Realize what a draft is and what you’re searching for in one.

-Are you currently “in the rough”? You better believe it, although I’m on a second draft. Bad enough to discourage me, but solid enough to give me wing space to fly into the story at times and “to know.” That’s when I know I have the story, a certain “knowing” of the characters. They no longer feel like cartoon strangers with balloon dialog above their mouths. They are real in some place in me that writes. I know the story will happen–not when it will happen to be finished–just that it will happen and be a story when I have the feeling of knowing the characters, which I am relieved to say has happened in this fifth book.

indexAnd more, writing life this week:

I saw a vivid image of the word “stricken” at a funeral this weekend. It was the pale face of a 14-year-old whose father had died. The expression on his face transfixed me, and I’ve thought about it on and off all week. Yesterday, the word “stricken” floated up, and I knew that’s what I’d seen……

Carpenter bees are in a tizzy at the garage, whose cedar lures them every year to drill nest holes. They hover a dozen at a time, like clumsy landing craft, near the holes. It takes them a long time to find their particular hole, a perfect circle on the outside. They drone. They’re large. This only happens for a few months, and I love it. It helps comfort me as I think about the stricken boy I saw.



Just saw a movie in which a 57 year old man comtemplates starting over with a much younger woman who has a four-year-old. Ironically enough, he abandoned his own child years before. The older man/younger woman reminds me of a friend, male, of course, who started over at 50-something. Grown children, sons and daughters. Married a much younger woman. At 60, he became a father again, delighted, brimming over with grandfather energy, only toward a son, not a grandson. Meanwhile, the grown children are distant, far away; he was too busy carving out a career to be close to them when they were growing up. His then wife kept the homefront. He got to do it all again, with a kinder heart.

It makes me mad. As a woman, I can’t start over, not without the kind of surgeries and invasive procedures I’d rather not do. I can’t make a new immediate family through my body. I think about the grown children of men who begin young families again and wonder what they think. And what about the ex-wives, unusually in solid middle age when husband moves to someone younger. Now there are all kinds of reasons marriages die; interest in sex goes, boredom sets in, people travel down separate paths mentally and emotionally. I understand that. I understand it isn’t necessarily the man’s fault.

I’m just jealous that my friend got another clean slate, family-wise, to do it over again, this time with heart. I don’t want a startover, but I’d love the option. Interesting nature didn’t provide it.

Sing a song: partial journal entry: 12/20/07

Today I realized it’s finally over––that long, protracted period of grief I’ve been in. For a long time now, I haven’t worn black or scratched my face or wailed like women seeing their dead––but the grief was there––bearable, stiff upper lip,  no need to bother the neighbors. Like a scar one learns to ignore or a limp one forgets one has––the grief of the loss of my nuclear family, the family Karleen made with her second husband atop her first husband’s heart, dragging in her child whether she wished to be there or not, creating her son.

I pushed and pulled, worked and cried, ignored and dreamed to make that marriage work because I’d destroyed one to make one. So much investment of time and effort, so much giving up of hope and yet so much joy in mothering my children. Yes, that’s what I mourned––the marriage was the frame of my motherhood, and when it smashed, my motherhood was essentially over––though my son could have used some supervision and guidance, but I didn’t know how to mother a teenager––how to be quietly firm––hold fast in spite of his dislike––too wounded there myself.

Anyway, the grief is done. I got the rest of my life out of storage this week––the baskets I used to collect, baby clothes, glass blown brandy snifters from Murano––that time when I’d crossed my fingers that the marriage might make it. I got them out of a fifteen-year storage and am giving it all away––the first Christmas ornaments I ever bought at a Denton dime store, little objets d’art that are beautiful, books, my children’s toys, things, things, things.

All going away, out of my life, out of my psyche. I can’t put up a Christmas tree yet. Perhaps I never will. But I’ve moved on–-out of the valley, out of the shadow–-some subtle shift. Those days are gone, my mother days, my younger woman days, my own dear family days, and I gave them their due mourning. Much about them––my children––was absolutely beautiful, stunning, and it took me forever and fifteen years to sing the death song that had to be sung. I don’t regret a single thing––a single sad, distraught piece of it. It is my quilt–-my woman’s quilt––I make this life, the good and bad and sad and lovely of it. Sing a song of six pence, a pocket full of rye. four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie–-sing a song of Karleen. I have.