Tag Archives: life

draft/other

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.

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mystery

indexIt becomes a day I treasure. My grandchildren are at my house. The weather is wonderful, mild, caressing, sunny, so beautiful it makes me a little crazy. My grandson, 4, is focused on the above-ground fish tank my husband has build. My grandson claims to be cleaning out the tank (a horse trough), but he’s really using the aquariam net to attempt to catch fish. Luckily, they’re too fast. His skullduggery amuses me, but the day is so beautiful, I am so glad to be outside and with these humans in the making, that anything would amuse me.

His sister has a small plastic Minnie Mouse. His sister is 2. Her vocabulary is, like her, small: stop, eat, open, again, Minnie, for Minnie Mouse,  her idol. She loves the fish tank too. It’s suggested by her brother that she drop Minnie into the water, and he will rescue her with the net. Well, the tank is too deep, and he can’t do it. So I do. Wonderful. Hurray. How fun. Minnie is dropped again. Again, a rescue is attempted, and I am called in. I think I have her. But I don’t. This happens twice. Now I reach my arm in (the tank goes almost to my shoulder). No Minnie.

Where can Minnie be? The question of a fish eating her is raised (not by me). My granddaughter considers this, but to her credit doesn’t break under the burden of that possibility. We swirl, we net, my arm goes in again and again. Where can she be? we all ask over and over. I get a big flashlight and shine it in the tank. There are cement blocks stacked to hold plants, and they have holes. I search the holes as best I can. No Minnie.

waterlilyWhen it’s time to go home, my granddaughter is willing to leave without Minnie and without tears. I tell my grandchildren—my grandson has taken charge about the disappearance and is pretty official about it—that my husband will find her for certain. There is a conference, quite serious, quite long, at the car as everyone is strapped in. Assurances are made. I promise I will call on the phone when she’s found.

She has to be there. Yet the mystery of it all…..

waterlilyAll afternoon, I laugh to myself. (I find out later that my grandson tells his father in no uncertain terms that another Minnie will have to be bought if she isn’t located, and that my granddaughter invents a game in which she goes all over the house asking, Where’s Minnie?*)

*She was pushed far back in one of those bricks’ holes.

in and out of light

It’s late afternoon, and he goes into the bedroom, the little spirit, my youngest grandson not quite three who lights my life right now. Rainbows, he calls out excitedly, and I see that the afternoon sun has sent its prisms through the cut glass set high in the bathroom wall, and colors are here and there on both the bathroom and bedroom floors. I forgot, I tell him. You forgot, he repeats, as he steps into their colors and moves about in happiness. She forgot, he tells the colored light. Nana forgot.

I do forget to walk into my bedroom in the afternoon and see this tiny spectacle of light. I forget to be glad of it. I forget to feel wonder, but my latest angel reminds me. He is moving out of angel stage, into little boy, into maneuvering and understanding this world of ours. But right now, he steps in and out of light.

I do the same, inside. Do you?

 

for my son, whose middle name is Edward……

I wrote this in 2008, and I think it wears well. One more time……

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years during World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high-school, senior-year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He, too, had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a unmarked prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was eighteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troup. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather.

ready

I sat Friday in the office of a funeral home looking at packages for cremation. It’s for Mom….not that anything’s happened, but we don’t have a thing in place for the time when she leaves us. Mom’s not sick….if you can call having Alzheimer’s not sick….and the funeral home was small and quiet and surprisingly comforting. As I discussed details with someone, tears came up. There was a momentary glimpse of that time when she will be no more and of the big gap it will leave in my life. I had glanced through a book on grief as I was waiting. With Alzheimer’s, the book said, you lose your role, your place, with the beloved person long before you lose the person. That moved some of my continuing upset into a more understandable place. A funny Mother story: she grabbed up the four placemats from the dining room table not long ago, went to the front door, and announced, I’m ready to go. Is she? And am I ready myself?

The clay

 

I was talking to a friend of mine who is an artist. I was complaining that I’m having a hard time writing the ending of this next book. She said an interesting thing, that she can’t control her creativity. That what comes out comes out, even if she has something else in mind.

stairs2

Yes, being patient, waiting for the shape of the story to show itself takes more than I have in me sometimes. I have to put words down, though, or the shape doesn’t show itself. It’s as if the words, the scenes, the sequels, on the page are the clay. If I never put anything down, I never have anything to touch and mold into something else. It’s only after words are down that mind starts flashlighting the better shape for me––have him say this, have her do that, take that out. The scene changes, but it can only change when I have written it down. I must bear the imperfection until the muse refines it to something that works for the story. Christmas has me frazzled. All my creativity seems to be going into that. But maybe I have to do what I’m doing, errands and cooking and decorating and making or finding presents and having lunches with old friends, no time at the moment for the book. I guess that’s the clay of my life, the way it’s shaping it to its final form, to its one and only story.

Journal entry from 1999

that woman today at the bus stop with the little boy in her lap she so tired so gallant looking the sadness of her mouth the worry on her brow the boy so fat brown succulent so good as if he knew he mustn’t stress his mother at all the way she held him in her lap at first i thought he was asleep but he was just still very still like a baby animal that senses danger her shoes her best black slightly frayed at the heels uncomfortable for walking she was hot and tired of carrying the heavy baby hose a dress not flattering but good why was she dressed up for an interview was she a student did she speak English my throat got tight with my lack of Spanish what if I’d spoken to her told her how lovely her brown eyed still boy was the van that drove up was new was nice was she distressed i thought so beautiful little boy whose face resembled his mother’s