Monday, July 16, 2012

At Last!


I am so excited. I’ve finally decided on a major cut to my newest manuscript. Though this blog is supposed to be a writer’s journal, I haven’t mentioned very much lately about the writing process, or anything else for that matter. That’s because I’ve been so busy writing, totally involved with my novel, Hairt Before Dawn, writing and revising again and again.

The first draft was entirely too long, more than 107,000 words, and it is a YA. I learned from my book club that few adults, much less young adults want to read a book that long. So I’ve been slicing and dicing away at my precious words, precious to me anyway. Writers are told to take a good look at their “darlings”, those favorite passages, and kill them. I’ve been doing that and have reduced the length of Hairt to about 96,000 words by leaving out what I thought were gripping scenes important to the development of the protagonist. Still not enough.

I have been carefully studying my main plot and the subplots that support it, pondering over what and where to cut next. I’m well aware that anything that doesn’t advance the major plot needs to get the ax, but I couldn’t see anything not vital to the story. It finally hit me. Last night, in my twilight zone, not awake and not asleep, it came to me. A minor character had insinuated herself into too much of the novel, taking way more print that she deserved at the cost of detouring from the main plot.

Now I cannot wait to get back to the story, and put that aggressive character in her place, the background. It will take a lot of cutting and rewriting, but if it leads to a better novel, I’m ready. I’ll just save the cuts in a file ready to use in a future story, if needed.
Wish me luck!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vampire Musings

The other night I finally watched the movie, Twilight. I never planned to watch it at all because I didn’t like the book, had to make myself finish it. I know that’s un-American, judgmental, prejudiced, and all the other tags you can think of to describe a person who admits a dislike for an extremely popular phenomenon. I tried hard to suspend disbelief and get into the story, but the basic premise of it, finding vampires irresistible, got in the way, though irresistibility is part of a vampire’s character.

Through the years, I’ve read vampire books, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and others, but the whole vampire concept is repulsive to me. I only read the books to see why they are so attractive to so many readers, and that’s why I watched the Twilight movie. Stoker’s and Rice’s books made me a horrified spectator with never a touch of sympathy for the vampires and their sordid, nasty worlds. I had to admire the writing especially that of Anne Rice who made the vampire’s life so real.

Stephanie Meyer in Twilight attempted to make the Cullen vampires more acceptable by having them satisfy their blood lusts with animal blood, but they remained vampires, cold and unfeeling except for their beloveds. In most vampire stories the prey of a vampire is an innocent, unwilling victim. Not so in Twilight. Bella was attracted to Edward from first glance and desired him while Edward, though obsessed with her, controlled his lust for her blood to protect her humanness. Not typical vampire behavior.

In all the vampire stories I’ve read, vampires are magnets, sensual, attractive beyond resistance to their mesmerized victims. In one scene Meyer’s writing far surpassed the movie in showing this. That was the scene in the sunlight when Edward revealed himself in all his vampire glory. That was the only time in the book that I could understand why Bella was so attracted to Edward’s pale, cold vampire self. I was disappointed in the same movie scene and thought I should have experienced a feast for the senses in music, color, movement that made me feel a little of Bella’s fascination with the vampire.

The movie captured Bella’s fear of, Edward’s rival, the vampire villain with all the lust, instinct, and ruthlessness of the typical vampire we love to hate. The appropriately scary sights and sounds of the movie kept me glued to my seat at times, but other scenes like the ones of Edward zipping about with Bella clinging to his back made me want to laugh.

I will say about Twilight, both movie and book, I’m glad I saw and read them but won’t do it again. That’s what I said about the acclaimed book and movie, Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence. So what do I know?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back in the Here and Now

I have been lost in my novel for many, many months, neglecting family, friends, life in general, and especially this blog to spend my time with fantasy people in their world. Real time and place were almost dreams to me, and the people I know and care for were characters in those dreams. My life was in the words that poured out creating the story of love, struggle, perseverance, and hope that filled the pages of my manuscript while I secluded myself, allowing no distractions to entice me from my work.

Now, after the story is done, mundane words replaced with vivid words full of emotion, plot refined and honed to epitomize the theme, characters and setting grown familiar yet unknown, I step out of that world back into the real one that competes with my imagination. I left my desk this afternoon to drive through golden ginkgoes, maples of red, orange and yellow, multicolored trees wearing their autumn dresses. Glad to be alive here and now, I entered the recording booth of the radio station at the library to read a Christmas short story by Charles Dickens.

Everyone knows the Dickens story of A Christmas Carol with Scrooge and the ghosts, but his other Christmas stories were a revelation to me. Today I read What Christmas Is As We Grow Older, a very short one that took only fourteen minutes to read. I had read the story before and didn’t think much of it when I read it silently. It seemed to be merely a collection of the author’s memories. But when I read it aloud into the microphone, it came to life. I had never thought I’d like to read aloud the convoluted, multi-clause sentences of Charles Dickens, but I did. The music of the language and the richness of the words made those memories of Dickens come alive for me.

I can only hope my writing may some day enthrall a reader as much as I was captivated by the world and the writing of Charles Dickens. That would be more than full payment for the months and years I’ve spent closeted with my research, my creative muse, and my computer. Not that I regret any minute of the process. Nothing is more satisfying to me than creating another world peopled with characters who are part of me and everybody I know, people who meet the challenges of their world with hope.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yann Martel

Yesterday I met Yann Martel. In a dimly lit studio at Radio WYPL 89.3, Stephen Usery interviewed Yann Martel as I sat there avidly taking in every word. I’ve been a fan of Martel since I read his Life of Pi a few years ago. The topic of the interview was his new novel, Beatrice and Virgil which somehow combines the story of Beatrice the donkey and Virgil the howler monkey in Okapi Taxidermy with the Holocaust.

I have not read the book but now have it and cannot wait to delve into it. As a writer, I was fascinated with what Yann Martel had to say. For one thing, he said he was a slow reader, reading a word at a time to get all the author put into a book. According to him, every book a person reads should give the reader a new or more complete understanding of life and the world and leave him or her thinking about it. Martel writes to give his readers the kind of experience he wants from any book he reads.

Before writing Beatrice and Virgil, he read about eighty new books and spent a tremendous amount of time in learning experiences and research as he planned, plotted, and lived the story. That’s why some people may have thought he suffered from writers' block; he said that was not the case. He had no problem writing when the book was ready to be written.

As a fan, I was glad to know Martel is a warm, friendly person. He appreciates all of his readers, especially women and their book clubs. Though he classified himself as a middle-aged man, he admitted that most middle-aged men do not read.

A silent listener to the interview, I think I learned more than I have in several day-long writers’ workshops I've attended. So many writers seem to whip out the books one after another that I had wondered why I was so slow. Now I’m glad to know that all my time spent in research and planning, several years of it for my current novel, would not be at all unusual for Yann Martel.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Taste of Guernsey

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY. What a name for a novel about the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II! I have to admit it. I was intrigued by that title, but when I opened the book and found it was written as a series of letters, I might have returned it to the shelf if my book club had not chosen it to read this month. I have never before found a book of anybody’s correspondence or personal diary fascinating enough for me to enjoy reading it.

Thanks to Sunday Readers Book Club and author Mary Ann Shaffer, I can lay that prejudice aside. From the first page I was hooked by the characters and the experience of living in post World War II London and learning what happened in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Each character with his or her own nature and personality became real, struggling to live through the occupation of Guernsey or to write the story of the islanders’ survival. There are several villains, more than one love story, an orphan, history, and plenty of humor in the novel, as well as shock and horror.

Since I hosted the book club yesterday to discuss the book, it was my privilege to provide snacks. Naturally, my first thought was potato peel pie, created in the book by Will Thisbee who said he wouldn’t attend any meeting unless there was something to eat. After checking the Internet, I found that potato peel pie existed only in the pages of THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY and the minds of a few creative cooks who, with varying degrees of success, had tried to recreate Will’s pie. In the novel the potato peel pie was Will’s only culinary contribution that other members of the Society actually liked. I set out using Will’s ingredients to duplicate his success and produce an acceptable potato peel pie based on a recipe from Trish of Empire Bay, Australia. Thank you, Trish!

Potato Peel Pie

2 cu. grated raw potato peels with eighth inch potato left on, packed
1 small to medium onion, finely chopped
1 large egg, well beaten
2 tbsp. self-rising flour
2 tbsp. vegetable oil. I used extra virgin olive oil.
Mashed potatoes made from peeled potatoes
2-3 small beets, cooked and mashed
½ cup sour cream
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. thyme
½ tsp. salt
4 tbsp butter
Oil pie pan. Heat oven to 400F. Mix grated potato peels, 3/4 of onion, egg, flour, and oil. Press into pie pan with spoon to form crust. Bake crust 20 minutes or more until brown.
Cook potatoes until soft. Place potatoes and all other ingredients including remaining onion browned in some of the butter. I wanted to add bacon, but they had eaten all the pig. In food processor, blend until smooth. Pour into crust and bake in 350 F oven for 15 minutes.

The pie smelled wonderful, looked like raspberry, and according to the book club was very good. Someone said it seemed like a dish for company dinner.

I also served a traditional Guernsey apple dessert, Gache Melee, pronounced Gosh Mel-are which got rave reviews. For those who asked, here’s the recipe.

Gache Melee

2 cu. plain flour
¼ lb. Guernsey butter
3 cu. peeled, cored, and chopped apples
1½ cu. brown sugar
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. mixed spice
½ cu. water.
½ tsp. salt
1 egg

Cut butter into flour and other dry ingredients until like breadcrumbs. Add apple and mix.
Add egg and water, and mix well. Place in 7 inch square pan. Bake in slow (300 F) oven. Serve warm or cold. You can add a dollop of cream or ice cream. Yummy!

After all the food and a great discussion, the book club left just before Frank and I discovered that our AC had also left. Temps in the 90s are not much fun without AC, even with ceiling fans. After a sweltering night and a desperate call to the AC maintenance company this morning, we now have a new hero wearing a toolbelt and cool air again. Whew!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Funny or NOT

Since the evening after Christmas, I’ve been a little concerned about the next generation, the one that follows mine. That evening my sisters, cousins, and I presented “A Musical History of the Bolly Girls” a true farce about our childhood and teen years.

The five of us had worked for about three months preparing a singing/dancing event to entertain our daughters and granddaughters at our annual Bolly girls party. None of us carry the name of our grandfather, John Bolly, but we’ve always been proud to call ourselves Bolly girls. We thought the younger ones should know all about being a Bolly girl, so we wrote and presented what we thought was a musical comedy of our life on the hill in old South Memphis.

To the tune of “The Crawdad Song,” We sang about Grandma and our mothers, and then about us.
Five in all, we had a ball, Honey, baby mine.

Grandpa brought home from the cemetery, Honey,
Loads of ribbons in colors bright, Babe.
We sewed those ribbons and made some skirts,
Worn with pride. We were a sight! Honey, baby, mine

Our audience sat silently watching as we sang about Doris’s pet duck that was eaten by Mrs. Stackhouse and about our friends and the spanks we got. I never heard a snicker, and we thought we were doing funny stuff. Couldn‘t figure out why they weren’t laughing, or groaning, or something.

Orma’s dream was to dance on stage,
But a concussion stopped that at an early age,

We wore our daddy’s shirts; we wore our daddy’s ties.

Then she held a baton up high,
Leading on the marching band,

For pots and pans and dirty dishes,
And for your hands and for your face.

When we sang, “Grandma’s Lye Soap” in the most off-key, raucous voices we could muster, no response. But by then the youngest granddaughters were getting into the spirit and wore big smiles as they stared at us.

By the time we got to “Jesus Loves Me,” I was seeing more smiles. Almost everybody sang with us on that one.

Then:
Sunday morning in an old paneled truck, Honey,
We’d head to church, holding our noses, Babe.
During the week Grandpa used the truck
Hauling chicken manure to make his compost hot,
Honey, baby mine.

A few smiles, but mostly silence brought us to the finale.

We leave you now with a taste of just
The way we were. You’ll remember I trust,
Honey, baby mine.

While quickly transforming ourselves from 1950s teens into current dancing queens, we heard from the other room the uproarious laughter we had hoped for. They must have been entertaining each other.

You can dance, you can jive
Having the time of your life

Thanks to ABBA we ended on a high note with most of the granddaughters singing with us.

We bowed and it was all over. Not one wave of applause in the silence that followed. Nobody said much about our great performance. What a disappointment! We had so hoped they would love the show. What I heard was, “I was amazed you could remember all that and had the stamina to do it."

Finally, a week later, my daughter said they all really enjoyed our performance, but didn’t know if they should laugh or clap or what. They didn’t want to hurt our feelings. I would have thought seeing five grandmotherly women cavorting about, singing the hilarious lyrics I wrote . . .

Oh, that’s it! What a blow to the ego! I’m not a funny writer. And we had thought seeing old ladies in ribbon skirts, galloping through the house on beanpole horses would have been so funny nobody could keep from laughing.

The real concern is that our kids have forgotten how to play and have fun. I wonder if they ever get so tickled they just can’t stop laughing. I know our mothers did. And we did too, again and again, when we practiced that farce. Maybe funny these days is different. It might have to be on a screen of some kind or be accompanied by a laugh track to let people know it’s funny.

My assignment for the new year is to find out what’s funny.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dancing in the Morning

Glorious, breathtaking, awe inspiring! The splendor of the sun-kissed scene that greeted me this morning was indescribable. Overnight, after days of damp gray dullness, golden leaves from the willow oak across the street adorned the ground, sprinkled the street, and sparkled in the shrubs like sequins on a denim jacket. The yellow gingko glistened in the light. I wanted to dance and twirl with leaves borne by the warm wind that lifted my hair and filled me with joy.

The world was blessed with a luminescence that sent me into the house for my camera. I didn’t snatch the camera and run out into that magnificent day as I wanted to. No, I began my yoga stretches, gazing out the window at the reds and golds of Japanese maples and crepe myrtles against the background of Foster hollies with their red berries shining in glossy green leaves. As I stretched, grayness returned and hid the glory of the sun. The trees no longer shone with jewel rich colors. In a matter of minutes, the unexpected marvel of the morning was gone, and I had missed the chance to capture it on film.

During the high that possessed me while the sun did its magic, I thought I wanted those bright, effervescent colors all over my house. Paint the walls with the reds, oranges, golds of exuberance. Then I remembered a previous fall season that seemed to last forever before the autumn colors faded and disappeared. I had loved the glowing colors that delighted my eyes and filled my heart, but after several weeks of such mind-boggling vivid colors, I found myself longing for the serenity of the more common blues and greens of the landscape.

That must be why God in his infinite wisdom gives us glorious mountain peak experiences for only a short while. We just can’t handle more. After the grayness took over this morning and the rain poured down, I was content to sit here in my chair at the computer and write. I’d never get anything done if I were out dancing with the leaves all day.