Posted in My Writing, Writing

Heading Into the Stretch: Final Edits with Three Readers (High School Boyfriend Continuing)

Due to problems on their website, the deadline for submission of manuscripts to the Faulkner-Wisdom Competition has been extended again, to May 31.

This is wonderful news for those who are  having problems with editing and could use the extra time.

It is a snare and a delusion for anyone whose approach to life is to wait until the last possible minute then race to meet deadlines.

I am not having problems with editing and, in fact, have three skilled readers searching diligently for everything from simple typos to contradictions in names or dates between chapters.. I am especially prone to setting up time frames that under no circumstances are workable, or even believable.  I have traced this flaw to my compulsion to put actual dates to events. I seem unable to curb my need to be specific. That first mistake is  compounded by my inattention to detail, so I never catch the fact that, if Camilla is born in 1893 and Martin in 1880, my  repeated claim that he is twice her age is nonsense and anyone who knows basic math and is even half alert will figure that out. This is the sort  of error that puts a reader off and can also involve considerable re-writing should I be lucky enough to have editors who aren’t afraid to point out that  portions of three chapters will need some work.

I have always been a get-it-in-two-weeks-early kind of girl, and I suspect this time will be the same. My third reader, a friend from Michigan, is coming for a week’s visit and the extension will  give  us time to read the entire manuscript out loud so I can finally get a sense of it as a novel  rather than isolated chapters.

I will hope to submit to the first competition no later than mid-May and will then turn my attention to submitting the same manuscript to at least one other contest.  This will require no further editing  of the main text, just a careful adherence to the particular requirements of each. No two are  alike. Some want a synopsis; others do not. Some require an author bio. Some want a  particular font. For some, you pay the submission fee online. Faulkner-Wisdom is one of a very few that requires you send the short entry form, with check or money order, through the post.

Meanwhile, the readers:

Reader #1

  • ID: My friend, co-author, and fellow editor
  • History:
    • Met in a book club
    • Wrote one novel together
    • Fought like demons during the process then realized we had strengthened our friendship and become better writers
    • Now edit one another’s manuscripts
  • Skills:
    •  Rearranging paragraphs or whole chapters. After reading through the manuscript, it’s as  if she tosses the chapters  up in the air and they fall together in a new way
    • Spotting inconsistencies in every detail of time, place, charactersSuggesting changes that are entirely consistent with my style and purpose
    • Sitting at home, alone, reading the manuscript out loud

Reader #2:

  • ID: The High School Boyfriend
  • History:
    • Met in second or third grade, so have known each other for about 65 years
    • Were sweethearts during our senior year in high school, broke up  when we went away to college
    • Contacts since the break-up:
      • 1970–went out for a beer
      • 1996–got together in our small hometown to walk the territory and see a few old friends
      • 2018–reconnected when I contacted him about identifying someone in a photograph
      • 2019–have been in regular touch ever since
  • Skills:
    • Retaining his southern accent (perfect for this book
    • Framing his comments as questions, an approach that forces me to rethink
    • Having an intuitive feel for the integrity of the story because  he knew the people on whom the main characters are loosely based
    • Having fun with the whole thing

Reader #3:

  • ID: Close friend and teaching colleague from my Michigan days, about twenty years ago
  • History:
    • Met when we both worked in the writing center at a small college
    • Had small offices right across a tiny hallway and so unavoidably got to know  one another
    • Survived and  provided mutual support for an entire year when the work environment became  hostile
    • Have stayed in close touch traveling to  visit in each  other’s homes
    • I consider her probably my best friend
  • Skills:
    • Willingness to devote a good chunk of  her time here sitting in my living  room reading this book with me
    • A hard bargainer, having notified me that she will read for food, specifically scrambled eggs with cream cheese and dill; salmon with veggies cooked in tiny tinfoil tents; Brussels sprouts salad
    • All other  skills remain to be discovered since she has never edited with me

Reader #4:

  • ID:  Me–Retired English teacher who, seemingly by accident, discovered she could write
  • History: Pretty much forever
  • Skills:
    • An instinctive use of language and manipulation of sentence structures (I didn’t spend nearly forty years reading Shakespeare and Faulkner to no avail)
    • A continuous editing of my own work. I edit  as I go, reworking sentences  many times as I write them, then circling back on several paragraphs, or a chapter, to read, double-check, rewrite
    • An appreciation of language as  sound and music,  hence the development of reading out loud as my  primary editing tool–both of my own work and when I am editing  for others.
    • A talent for introducing my friends to this technique. I hold out hope that this isn’t just a talent for manipulating

And  so, onward. If the reading goes  well at the end of April, I might actually decide  to  submit right after my third reader boards her plane for Grand Rapids on May 3.

 

Posted in My Writing, Personal, Writing

Final Edit Before Deadline: How Many Ways Do I Procrastinate?

To be fair to myself, I am reading and editing my manuscript as often as I can squeeze it in. I am awfully busy right now establishing my presence on Facebook and. repairing my relationships with my favorite online merchants: Amazon; Zappos (recently sucked up by Amazon); CraigsList; eBay. I often don’t purchase anything but am capable of spending a day just “window shopping.”  For those of you who might be interested: eBay has a fine line and a large supply of both Brooks Brothers and Tommy Bahama men’s shirts.  Very reasonably priced.

Oh, and there’s this blog, certainly a worthwhile endeavor that keeps me writing, but clearly not readying a manuscript for a May 1 deadline. Writing about deadlines is so much more rewarding than actually meeting deadlines.

But to belabor the point, I have not been idle in my romp through my to-do list and I am reasonably certain I will make that deadline.  What I am not doing is allowing myself any margin of error. Yesterday, I re-read. the “Tips for Editing Your Manuscript” from the contest featured in last week’s blog.  After a small fit of indignation, I dutifully began working my way through the list.

The main offender, of course, is Facebook, which provides a kind of one-stop shopping for all of my sins.  I have gotten so lazy that I am doing one of those things I swore never to do. I am spending most of my time scrolling through and “sharing” other people’s posts.

Occasionally, I make a kamikaze run on a political thread and succeed in offending nearly every one. Take the recent brouhaha about Joe Biden.

I am especially enjoying, this time around on FB, the humor that has been inspired by items like “Windmills cause cancer” or “We don’t want wind power. If the wind stops blowing, you won’t be able to watch television” or the incredible blooper on Fox News about the three Mexican countries.

Last week I made the terrible mistake of combining my shopping with my tiny FB addiction, and I clicked on one of the ads for clothing. I looked at a pair of linen pants and by the time I returned to my FB feed (probably ten minutes) it was packed with ads from every company on the planetthat makes linen pants.

One day I scrolled down further in my feed than ever before, into a dark and mysterious land where I was puzzled and unnerved to find that I did not know one person whose posts I was reading.  Not one. Total strangers. Names not even familiar.

I am sure there is an algorithm that explains all those unknown people.  I’m not sure I want to know what it is.

The Internet is calling, but I’m thinking I might try to change the display on my first ever cell phone, the one I can’t quite figure out how to answer but have encased in a pink holder (or whatever it’s called).

As a last resort, there’s always that manuscript.

 

Posted in My Writing, Writing Fiction

My Short Story: Thirty Chapters, Still Writing

I suppose the time is approaching for me to admit that I am not, and possibly never will be, a writer of short stories.  At the very least, this current effort can no longer compete in that genre. I hold out hope that it might be a novella, but I confess to not knowing the requirements for that genre, and I can’t quite bring myself to find out.

September:

  1. I posted a piece called “Ordinary Rituals: A Story,” but that was one of those classic cheats–an edited chapter from a novel.
  2. I finally challenged myself to write a story from scratch. It was to be a story about my grandmother.
  3. At the end of the month, I was still calling it a story and still writing.

October and half of November:

  1. The blog was silent.

November and December:

  1. I published one blog each month about problems with Chapter Nineteen of what, by that time, I had abandoned all pretense of calling a short story.  I managed to make a few smart remarks about my high school boyfriend.
  2. I continued to write.
  3. I rescued from the flames of an old website several blogs about the artist Joseph Raffael.

January:

  1. It crossed my mind that somehow combining photographs of my grandparents at two different stages might, as a cover, suggest a novel about a marriage over time. I spent the entire month and more juxtaposing and printing photographs for every friend and family member I know. I created a great book cover. I was taking a break from writing.

February: 

  1. I had to reorganize and rewrite Chapters Twenty-Seven through Twenty-Nine.
  2. I have just completed a draft of Chapter Thirty.

I am still writing.

And I did, finally, do a bit of research. I found this:

“A novella is a long short story or a short novel.”

That is the kind of thing that makes me want to start pulling my hair out.

Eventually, in time to save my sanity, I found something more specific:

“A novella is a text of written, fictional, narrative prose normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, somewhere between 17,500 and 40,000 words.”

 

On the tenth of February 2019 at 8:54 PM Eastern Standard Time, my manuscript is

42,936 words.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Posted in My Writing, Personal, Writing Fiction

On Writing #7:I Hate Chapter Nineteen and am feeling none too charitable toward my high school boyfriend.

First, about the boyfriend. He actually was my high school boyfriend. Our subsequent relationship is to let twenty or so years go by until something puts us back in touch and we exchange a flurry of emails, have long phone conversations, and generally wonder why we let twenty years go by. As we are both now seventy-two years old, I have pointed out that we most likely don’t have another twenty-two going forward.  For months we have had our usual talks that combine rehashing old memories with catching each other up on what we’ve been doing since we turned fifty–which was our last contact. We have exchanged photos of our grandchildren. I sent him a copy of a photograph of my father and the essay I wrote about it.  He knew and liked Daddy.  And somehow, I am sending him the current manuscript  (still called The Wife) and he is reading it out loud to me over the phone. This week he was having some back pain and couldn’t sit for long, so he read two chapters and I began reading at Chapter Nineteen.

I hate Chapter Nineteen.

I’ve lost control. The Wife, which began as an attempt to write a short story, doesn’t show any signs of being a short story. It is fast approaching a length at which I can’t even call it a novella (a genre I’ve never really believed in, anyway). It seems to be nearly a hundred pages of a novel that is driven by two strong and fully developed main characters, and at least two others who have great potential.  Nothing wrong with that. I like character-driven novels, and they are generally what I tend to write.  So far, so good. Until I got to Chapter Nineteen that, now I consider it, is the point at which I attempted to let the plot carry me. The only problem is there doesn’t appear to be any plot.

But about Chapter Nineteen. It is dull. It is wooden. It goes into great detail about things like the hallway in a new school building. The dialogue is unconvincing. People don’t talk that way. What scant plot it manages is, not to put too fine a point on it, boring.  As I read the chapter out loud to my high school boyfriend who appears to be enjoying watching my chaos at a safe distance (we have been at a safe distance since high school graduation in 1963), I was so appalled that I stopped at several places to exclaim some version of, “This is really terrible.”  And so it is.

I believe this chapter, and possibly parts of  a few others, can be salvaged. But it will not be an easy fix.

The alternative to fixing it is abandoning it, and I’m not ready to do that yet.  So, instead of slipping away from Thanksgiving festivities to discover where Camilla and Martin will go from here, I will be avoiding for as long as possible facing the unwelcome task of a substantial rewrite of at least one chapter.

Maybe I’ll try designing the cover instead.

 

Posted in My Writing, Personal, Writing Fiction

A Story Continued. First draft title: “The Wife,” Chapter Two

Chapter Two
“I Supposed Mr. Ainsworth Had Taken a Room”
Camilla Considers

For a good long while, several months at least, I saw almost nothing of our boarder, Mr. Martin Ainsworth.  His days were entirely taken up either by long sessions when Father provided detailed instructions on what needed doing and how it should be done or by the work itself.  Judging from a few pretty spectacular changes around the place and from Father’s increasingly happy mood, I concluded that Mr. Ainsworth learned quickly and there was more work than instruction.

Although Father was by far the best educated and the most successful–with a profession, a wife, a daughter, and a home– somehow their relationship was always one between equals.  I never heard Father speak to Mr. Ainsworth with anything other than genuine respect and liking.  And Mr. Ainsworth, for his part, clearly did not feel inferior or beholden to Father.  He soon was a comfortable member of the household.  His plan for taking his meals alone in his room was abandoned at Mother’s insistence, and we all sat down together as if we had been doing it forever.

I was aware, almost from the day he arrived, of his attention. In the beginning, it was so understated that I might not have noticed it had we not been such a small group, and even then I wasn’t sure all at once. But thinking back, and whether I was aware of it or not, I feel sure that Martin’s attention explains the discomfort I felt in the beginning. It was something new. I wasn’t accustomed to it.  Often, Mother and I would excuse ourselves to take the dishes out to the kitchen, get them washed and put away, make a pot of coffee, and generally get the house into order for the next morning. By the time we had finished with all that, frequently the men had either gotten into one of their discussions–the two of them could talk for hours about nearly anything–or they would have already gone off to bed.

So, with one thing and another, Mr. Martin Ainsworth and I exchanged very few words and hardly even saw each other except at the dinner table.  His presence in the house changed almost nothing in my daily life. Nonetheless, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, a man’s constant awareness of you whenever you are in the same room exerts a pull, no matter how subtle, that is nearly irresistible. These are lessons we learn only with hindsight.

But the day came–and I knew that it would–when Martin and I found ourselves alone.  Mother and Father had made one of their rare trips to town together. Our small Post Office had secured a display of photographs of some of the fancy vehicles used in the cities to deliver the mail.  Once Father heard about it, he just couldn’t stay away and Mother felt up to joining him, a treat for them both. Although they always denied it,  I have wondered over the years whether they had planned this.

I was sitting comfortably at the kitchen table, pages of schoolwork spread out in front of me, when Martin came in. It was early for him to have stopped working, and he surprised me.

“Oh, Miss Camilla, I’m sorry if I made you jump.  I have run out of the nails to finish the fencing around back, and I guess I missed your parents. They could easily have picked up what I need.”

“Yes, Mr. Ainsworth, they left almost an hour ago.”

“Well, the fence will just have to wait a day or two, and I can start on something else in the morning. That’ll work just fine, and I’ve got a couple of jobs in mind.”

“I know Father is very grateful to you for all the help, Mr. Ainsworth. And I think he is also grateful to have the company of another man around the place.”

“I’m the one should be grateful, Miss Camilla. This place, the work, the way you all have welcomed me, it’s just about saved me.”

I remember the conversation between us was awkward at first. It felt odd to even be in the same room with him with no one else there–not improper or anything, just unusual. I honestly couldn’t think of another thing to say, so I looked down at my papers and started shuffling them around, like I was about to get back to working on them.

“I hope it’s alright for me to say, but if that’s any kind of arithmetic, anything with numbers, and you ever need help, I’d be glad to offer it. It’s the one thing I did just about better than anyone in school, and a good thing since you need to know something about numbers to work on machines.”

I laughed, “I might take you up on that, Mr. Ainsworth, because arithmetic is the one thing I did just about worse than anyone else.”

There was silence again, not quite as awkward as before, then we started at the same time.

“Miss Camilla, would you mind if I sat down here at the table for a spell?”    “Can you explain how numbers are important for working on machines? Did you just mean you have to take measurements?”

This time we both laughed and, as he started to describe some of the machines around our place, and how knowing numbers let him use them in new ways, Martin pulled back the chair next to mine and sat down. Even at the time, I noticed how smoothly he managed it, and yet he didn’t seem conniving. I didn’t feel he was tricking me. And I noticed, too, that when he was talking about work he was doing, he talked more easily and seemed more relaxed. His voice even sounded different.

After a few minutes of numbers and machines, most of which I didn’t understand, Martin all of a sudden just stopped talking and sat looking at his hands. I completely forgot the proprieties and just blurted out, “Mr. Ainsworth, is anything wrong?”

“I expect so, Miss Camilla. I expect there is. I don’t even know what I think I’m doing sitting here at this table. I don’t think William and Megan would like it one bit. And they especially wouldn’t like what has been in my head from the minute I walked in and saw you.”

“Mr. Ainsworth, now I think would be a good time to stop. I’d like you to leave me to get back to my schoolwork.”

I remember how sad Martin looked as he stood up from the chair, and I didn’t want to let him go without saying something.

“Mr. Ainsworth, thank you for explaining about the machines and the arithmetic. It gave me some new ways of seeing things. But now you should go out.”

He left without any fuss, and I sat without doing much of anything until Mother and Father came home and I got up to help with dinner.

I must say that Mr. Martin Ainsworth impressed me when he appeared at dinner, the same as always, greeting Mother and describing to Father the nails he needed and the way he intended to use them.

There was one change, though, and I wonder if my parents noticed. Without appearing the least bit nervous or embarrassed in front of Mother and Father, he turned to me, and said, just as if he said it exactly like this every day, “Good evening, Camilla, I hope your day was worthwhile.”

Posted in My Writing

A Story With No Title Yet: Prologue & Chapter One

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Prologue
Camilla
1908

 It was an odd sort of day, in spite of the predictable late August weather.  As always in this corner of northwestern Georgia, it was hotter than blue blazes and so humid that even the rambunctious new puppy was panting on the front porch, his chin drooping half in the fresh bowl of water that Camilla had just put down.  The late afternoon skies held out the familiar false hope that this time the storm would cool things off a bit. They grew ominously dark, in anticipation of the first peals of thunder, the flash of lightning that startled Camilla every time, even though she’d grown up with it every summer for fourteen years, and finally the downpour that, for the few minutes it lasted, felt like it would drown the world and save them all.

“I suppose Father will be going out with the rest of the post.”

Camilla was angling to find out not just whether her father was about to leave for his afternoon round of delivering the mail but whether she might be able to get her mother’s permission to go with him. She knew perfectly well there was work needed doing in the house and that her mother was feeling worse in this heat, but she would gladly promise to get every single thing done the minute she was back. Camilla was a responsible girl, and her mother knew the work would get done. Still, and even as poorly as she was feeling, she couldn’t resist teasing her serious daughter.

“Mill, honey, you know he’s going out, at least down to that house by the creek and back, so that’s seven boxes to fill and a lot of miles between them. You’ve got these chores in the kitchen to get done.” Mill’s mother, whose name was Megan, had a hard time keeping her smile back when she saw her daughter’s face fall, but she managed for a minute more before putting an arm around Camilla’s shoulder and squeezing.

“And I expect you could drive on out with your father and still have time left over for housework when you get home.  I mean, if you want to go.”

“Oh, yes, ma’am. I do. I will. Oh, yes.”

Years later, Camilla remembered the unexpected sound of the knock on the front door, the quiet, raspy voice in conversation with her father, and her father’s deep call back into the house to her mother,  “Meg, could you come out for a second? I’d like you to meet someone.” Her mother pulled off her apron, smiled at Camilla, and said only, “It’s fine. I’ll be right back. You go ahead and get ready to go on the mail run.”

 

Chapter One
Martin

 “Yes’sir, I expect I could be of some help around here. I’ve always been handy in that way and the Cavalry kept me busy most of the time fixing whatever was broke, including equipment I’d only laid eyes on for the first time when it needed repairs. So I learn fast.”

“That sounds very impressive, Mr. Ainsworth. I’ll not deny I could use some help around here. I’m trying to keep up the little bit of farming I do, and I am pretty much the only person delivering the post.  Young Harley Brown takes a day here and there, but the boy’s not but twenty and he gets distracted. Anyway, you don’t need to hear all that.”

“Oh, no sir. I’m interested. I had a feeling when I walked in and saw your place that I might be able to stop here for a while, unpack my bag, do some honest work, and settle in.  I’m a quiet man, Mr. Whitfield. I’d get as much work done for you as I could, eat my meals in my room so as not to disrupt your family, and mostly keep to myself.  I’m just looking for a place to be and anything I can do to make your life easier I’d like to do. I’d need a good bed, a bath once a week, and my food at regular times.  And that’s about it.”

When Megan stepped out of the kitchen to join her husband at the front door, the men were talking, and she stood back so as not to interrupt.  Her husband was facing away from her, his attention on whatever their caller was saying. Megan couldn’t yet see the man and she was curious; normally, she would have joined them, but this time she decided to wait.

Although she couldn’t make out his words, she could hear the stranger’s voice. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it had the slight twang by which her father would have immediately labeled it “uneducated.” Her father, a pastor with his own church, wasn’t as interested in a man’s formal schooling as with whether or not he read books.  Meg was fairly certain this man at the door did not.

Megan Elaine Whitfield, William’s wife and mother of fourteen-year-old Camilla, was of average height, with thick, dark hair that she pulled to the back of her head in a heavy twist. The typical symptoms of her illness–extreme thinness and unnaturally pale skin–only seemed to enhance her appeal. Megan Whitfield was a beautiful woman.  She had suffered for years from consumption, and on her worst days was unable to get out of the bed.  Although the weather had made breathing even more difficult than usual, she was feeling better, and happy, after the easy banter with Camilla and ready to see who this stranger at the door might be.

She heard William say, “Well, come in, Martin, and meet my wife and daughter.” Then he turned and held out his hand, “Meg, come and meet Martin Ainsworth. He has stopped by to ask if we might give him room and board here in exchange for work.”

Meg stepped forward and held out her hand, “Mr. Ainsworth, welcome to our home. I am Megan Whitfield. Could I offer you a glass of water or tea on this hot day?”  Martin looked Megan straight in the eye, shook her hand firmly,  and said, “Ma’am, that would be very fine. I thank you.” He was reticent, but Megan didn’t think it was due to a lack of confidence, possibly only some habit from childhood of staying mostly alone. Whatever the cause of his shyness, she noticed that he was, at the same time, relaxed and at ease, not at all intimidated by these new surroundings.

Pushing open the kitchen door, she nearly walked into Camilla, who was crouched on the other side, listening as hard as she could, but without much success.  While she was making a glass of tea, Megan tried to describe Martin and to tell Camilla what was happening.

“May I come out, Mother? I will be very quiet–silent, in fact. I will sit in the very far corner of the parlor and only listen. Much like a small mouse.”

They both smiled at that wildly inaccurate description of Camilla’s personality.  She was  not a mouse of any size.

Megan was delighted with her daughter, as usual, but didn’t for one second believe her capable of holding her tongue.  Still, there was little for a girl of fourteen to do, and she hesitated to deprive Camilla of any new experience.

“I’ll tell you what, Mill. Let me take in this tea and I’ll ask your father what he thinks.  Will that suit?”

“Yes, Ma’am, it will.” Camilla knew her father had a difficult time saying ‘No’ to her about anything.  And, of course, she was right.

A few minutes later, Camilla was almost tip-toeing into the living room and seating herself, as she had promised, in the chair furthest from where everyone else had gathered.  As she had hoped, her father said,  “Oh, for goodness’ sake, Mil, come and join us.  Sit next to me and be formally introduced to Mr. Martin Ainsworth who might be coming to live here for a while.”

Mil smiled in her straightforward way–she had a great deal in common with her mother–and simply said, “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Ainsworth.”  It was enough to make an impression. Camilla Whitfield had inherited her mother’s exotic good looks, as well as her open manner–but not her illness. Already at fourteen, she drew attention without realizing it.

Martin Ainsworth had spent very little time around women. His mother had died when he was young; he had no sisters; and he tended to keep to himself most of the time. In response to Camilla’s greeting he was unable to do anything but smile and duck his head. For just that moment he was sure he had made a mistake coming here.  But it didn’t last, and soon he was answering questions for Megan, talking about various work that William had in mind on the small property, and smiling occasionally at Camilla. The Whitfield’s daughter was a child, and Martin wanted very much to fit gently into this family.  But still he was conscious of the girl.

They all liked him. Only Camilla went to bed feeling just the slightest bit of unease, and she didn’t really know why. Her impression was of an older man, tall, extremely thin, with large ears and the high cheekbones of hill people.  Not a handsome man at all.  He was polite, soft-spoken, and mostly concerned with the particulars of the work her father might want him to do.  Everything he said about repairing or building things sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and she could tell already that her father was feeling relieved at the idea of having some help.

She shook off her reservations and was asleep within minutes.  When she woke, just before dawn, she heard Mr. Ainsworth and her father talking in the kitchen.  She supposed Mr. Ainsworth had taken a room.

Posted in My Writing, Writing, Writing Fiction

On writing #5: I have turned blogs into essays and chapters of novels into short stories. I have been professionally published and have published independently. I have entered contests. Recently, I’ve been giving some thought to that woman on the waterfall.

I want to write a novel about her.

The woman on that waterfall, probably in her fifties when the photograph was taken,  was my father’s mother, and I have a great deal to say about her. Far more than enough to fill the pages of a novel. The only problem, and it is a big problem, is that I just can’t seem to muster the–whatever we should call the Whatever-It-Is that is absolutely necessary if you intend to write a novel.  You need it up front, long before you begin. You need it months before you touch a pen or a keyboard, weeks before anything other than notes–anything resembling a sentence–appears.

I have experienced it as a cluster of physical sensations and behaviors that I never recognize for what they are: my breath catches in my throat; I smile spontaneously at people I don’t know; I cry midway through hilariously funny movies, and I laugh so inappropriately, and so loud, that I am often asked to leave public places; I have ideas. Oh, my goodness, I have ideas. Thoughts almost literally spill from my mind, too fast for me to catch them. I am alive with ideas, some of which might belong in a novel about a grandmother climbing down a small waterfall, others clearly never will. On long walks around my neighborhood I imagine wonderful new ways to prepare salmon, and I am stunned when I hear myself speaking aloud a lovely sentence that contains a semi-colon–used correctly.

Slowly, this first rush settles. I am disappointed to lose it but by this time have begun to understand what it is. It is my grandmother’s novel.

She has always fascinated me. A schoolgirl, a bride, a mother, and a schoolteacher–all before I knew her–too many of her stories have come to me only second-hand and, as a result, only piecemeal.

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And, although I have, perversely, been able to make notes, to write whole sentences, to outline something resembling a plan, I have neither grinned at a stranger nor wept at “The In-Laws.” There is no novel calling to me.

I think back to the past year or so of writing and, after the most recent novel, I filled in the time by pulling chapters from the novels or by combining old blog posts and confidently sending off short stories and essays to literary competitions.  This activity allowed me to hide from the fact that I was not writing a novel.

I have run out of familiar choices. Two of my fellow-writers have thrown down the gauntlet, accompanied by a rolling of the eyes that no novelist could ever describe as subtle.  “Why don’t you just write a short story?”

Why, indeed, don’t I just write a short story?

 

 

Posted in My Writing, Writing, Writing Fiction

On Writing #4: Autobiographical Fiction, A Cloud of Unknowing

 

DECEMBER 16 2017
Not Quite a Year Ago

            “When I refer to Aunt Cade’s ‘big house downtown,’ I am talking about a house that, to my child’s eyes, was a castle. It had turrets and towers and lots of slanting roofs, and it was dark, looming over the street, completely shadowed by the big trees that surrounded it.”

 

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Recently,  I reported having written a little over four pages of a novel about my family, with a great deal of compulsive “make-work” in between the sentences that were trying to carve their way into paragraphs. In the two months since October 5, those four pages have  grown to almost fifty, and I am stopped again.  Two months. At this rate, I don’t imagine I’ll live to see the end of it.  All the signs suggest that the wise course of action would be to abandon it and get back to something I have a chance of completing.

I haven’t been entirely idle, of course. I have found more than I expected about the family without the help of the whole generation at the center of the novel, who are long dead and buried. I know a great deal about what life would have been like for any family in rural Alabama during the period that began in the late nineteenth century.  I have polished sentences, taken as great care in my word choice as I imagine Emily Dickinson did, read aloud to myself and to friends, enhanced dialogue. I have found a photograph of my aunt’s house that figures prominently at least in the scant beginning of the novel.

But I am not moving forward very quickly. I am circling the novel, working the field around it, but I am writing very little.

Perhaps this slow pace is the undertow that pulls me into this challenging and disturbing engagement with characters and story that both are and are not real.

I have read the accounts by famous novelists of their characters taking over, and I have usually considered that sort of thing an annoying bit of writerly posturing.   Unfortunately, although it might well be both pretentious and transparently affected–dammit–it’s true.  The characters do, in fact and literally, stake their claim to the story early on and continue to speak and act in ways that I have not planned. They do this to the outlandish degree of sometimes actually disagreeing with one another about where we are all going.  It is disorienting and terribly exciting.  I wake in the morning, eager for the next twist in the plot but much, much more than their actions, my characters greet me with revelations about themselves. I am getting to know them. I am entering into their lives and hearts at a depth simply not possibly in life. There is something about this combination of the person known and the person imagined that is pure magic.

My friend and sometime co-author, Alison Daniels, encouraged me in a recent email to take my time. Alison and I have been turning out novels–and pretty good ones–every few months. She assures me that this one is different, that it has the potential to be a serious piece of writing, that I should think in terms of a year, at the least. I’m not sure.  I know that I seem unable to make the decision to simply walk away from it. So I suppose I will continue. And thinking of this as a year-long project has relieved me of some of the pressure I tend to put on myself.

“My name is Emily Cade Ainsworth, and I am going to tell you a story about a family. In many ways, both the story and the family are like all the other families and every other story. But because this is a story about my family, it is also a story about the South. And that complicates things.

There are as many narratives about the South as there were crawfish in the creek behind my house in the North Georgia hills. One common notion about those of us born and bred in the Deep South is that we are stranded, permanently and more or less contentedly, that–immobilized by the heat or our genes–we are unlikely to move from the place or the state of mind in which we begin. Although I am not unaware of those sons and daughters of the South who will remain happily sweating out their July days by the pool at the country club or on the porch of a dirt farmer’s shack, the southerners I have known best are a restless and dissatisfied lot.

And because the South is a land haunted by the Scriptures, we have the perfect metaphor for our odysseys. Whether we are Baptists or Episcopalians, the image of the Promised Land, just over Jordan, informs our dreams. However–with no irreverence intended–promised or not, I’m afraid that in this particular version of the journey, you can only get to Canaan by way of bloodlines, memberships, an air of carelessness, and the casual cruelty of the question, ‘Who are your people?’

Our ‘people’ were pretty much a disgrace, but due to the monumental efforts of the generation before mine, we have achieved a reasonably convincing appearance of gentility.”

I am layering and interweaving time and place, which drives Alison crazy and sometimes, I will admit, even confuses me, but it just seems to be how I write.  I have begun with a present-time first person narration by the main character and have laced in chapters that travel back to the late nineteenth century (my great-grandparents) and forward again to the 1920’s (my grandparents, parents, and aunts).  I have travelled from a dirt farm north of Birmingham to “Aunt Cade’s big house downtown” in Montgomery.

I spend long hours looking at the photographs of all the women whose story I am trying to tell.

Imagination and Memory. Imagination and Life. In my limited experience of writing fiction, I find that I can no longer readily distinguish them. What I find, in fact, is that by imagining them, by taking the risk of just showing up as they worry and decide and speak and act, I am coming to know and understand these women I thought I knew so well.

My cousins and I call them “The Queens.”

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“And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.”

  • Johnston, William; preface:Huston Smith (1996) [1973]. The Cloud of Unknowing and the Book of Privy Counseling. New York: Image Books. ISBN 0-385-03097-5. (first edition, 1973)
Posted in My Writing, Writing

“Ordinary Rituals” A Story

What follows is an excerpt from my recently completed novel, I’m Not Going to Heaven. I’m Going to Birmingham: A Story of the South.  

The main character, Charlotte Cade Gibson, eleven years old, is based on my favorite aunt who was in her forties when I was born. I wanted to imagine the child who might have grown up to be the aunt I knew. I am satisfied that I have come, at least, very close.

 

Ordinary Rituals
Charlotte
1919

 Charlotte Gibson was eleven the year her father, John Warren Gibson, died. Her sister, Marcella, was a year older, but it was generally understood among all the siblings that Charlotte was the one they would like to have in charge in an emergency. In both appearance and temperament, she was very much the person she would remain for most of her life. With her thick, dark hair and flawless skin, she was already a beauty, and she possessed an uncanny calm under pressure and an ability to think clearly in the worst of circumstances. But once in a while even Charlotte—who was, after all, still a child—was caught off guard.  And that is what happened in 1919, in a little town just north of Birmingham, when the second wave of the Spanish Flu hit the state of Alabama and much of the rest of the nation, as well.

Although everyone knew about the flu epidemic of the year before, Charlotte had heard that a lot of the people who got it had nothing worse than a low fever and chills, stayed sick for a week at the most, and then got well. She wasn’t too worried. Still, because she was in every way her daddy’s girl, Charlotte kept a sharp eye on him when she heard that the disease had returned to some of the large cities, including Birmingham. Just two days before he died, John Warren was out at the far edge of their small farm, mending fences. Charlotte had gone with him, and she could swear to it. He had been quite well. “Charlotte Cade, could you look over there where my tools are and bring me the small saw?”  Charlotte was always eager to please her daddy and had learned what every tool was, so she had no trouble picking up the small handsaw that she knew he used to trim the fence rails.

“Here it is, Daddy, and I went ahead and brought the middle size hammer and the right nails to put that rail back where it belongs.” Charlotte grinned. She was pleased with herself.

“You are the best girl I have, Charlotte, but don’t you go telling anybody. Nobody needs to get their feelings hurt.”

The next morning, he woke burning with a high fever, shivering uncontrollably, and hurting all over. In spite of her pregnancy and because she refused to ask her neighbors for help, his wife Nell was with him all that day and the children, including Charlotte, were forbidden to enter the room. As soon as it got dark, the children went to bed as always.  It was a large family, with Marcella and Charlotte the oldest, followed by their one brother, Stamford, who was eight. After that, came “the babies”: Kendall Ida, age five; Virginia, three; and, Beryl, just turned one. And their Mama, Nell, was pregnant and already showing.  Everyone had been excited about having a brand new baby in the house.  But that night, Charlotte and Marcella couldn’t quite imagine another one in diapers to take care of, and they just barely got the younger ones tucked in before they crawled under the covers in the bed they shared. They stayed awake a long time whispering.

“Marcella, what do you think’s going to happen to Daddy?” Charlotte tried to keep the fear out of her voice, but Marcella was afraid, too, and she responded as directly as she could because she knew Charlotte didn’t like being told anything short of the truth.

“I think, Charlotte, that our father is terribly sick, sicker than anyone knows how to fix. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I am awfully worried. I did peek in the door just an hour or so before we came to bed, and I can tell you he wasn’t any better, and I’m afraid he was worse.  His skin looked blue, and I could hear him trying to get a breath.”

Charlotte was silent. After a while, she reached over, took Marcella’s hand, squeezed it hard, and the two girls fell asleep.  When the sun was up, Charlotte raced into the front room where she found Nell with her hands around a cup of coffee, crying softly.  She didn’t dare to ask, so she walked into her father’s room.

Charlotte had spent her eleven years on a farm, and she knew what death was.  She had seen stillborn calves and dead chickens and even dead goats and cows. Some were messy because they had been torn up by other animals; some just looked pitiful, smaller in death. But they all looked basically like they had when they were alive—the chicken still a chicken, the goat absolutely unchanged from a goat.

Charlotte had never seen a real dead body—a person–and this wasn’t just any person. This was her father. Except this body, with its blue skin, the bubbles of spit still hanging on the mouth, the eyes open and black, looked nothing at all like her father. For just a minute, Charlotte was terrified and wanted to run out of there as fast as she could move. But she didn’t run and pretty soon she got up her courage and reached out to touch her father’s hand.

She stood like that for only a few minutes before her sense of responsibility—already far greater than her eleven years—took over, and she walked out and sat beside her mother who was still crying and had opened a jar of whiskey that she was pouring into her coffee.

Charlotte took a deep breath and said, as gently as she could, “Mama, I expect some of the neighbor ladies will be getting here soon. Would you like me to brush your hair and pick out a dress for you to wear? I think that dark blue one would be real pretty.”

Nell looked up at her daughter. Dear Charlotte, always knowing what to do, always thinking about how to get everybody organized. She was a big help at times like this, but sometimes Nell had to admit Charlotte was more than a little bossy. Sometimes Charlotte got on her nerves. Just for a second, Nell had the urge to scream that she wanted to be left alone. What she finally said was, “Charlotte, baby, if you can give me a few more minutes just to sit here, maybe make me one more cup of coffee, then I will really thank you if you can do something with this hair. And you’re right about the blue dress. I think it will even fit over this baby.”

By the time the first of her neighbors arrived, Nell’s hair had been brushed and pulled up into a knot above her pale face, lovely and sad-looking. Charlotte had been right about the blue dress. It was dark enough to clearly signal mourning while still flattering Nell’s hair and complexion. And it hung loosely over her pregnancy. When the first knock at the door came, Nell seemed to freeze, and Charlotte actually thought for a minute that she might bolt.

“Now, Mama, I don’t want you to worry about anything today. Let’s go open the door together—it looks like it’s Miz Henry from the next farm—and then you sit right back down in the kitchen and let her take care of Daddy.”

With that reassurance, just as Emmeline Henry knocked on the screen door, Nell started forward and, in a weaker voice than Charlotte had ever heard, she turned her smile on her neighbor, “Emmeline, you are much too kind, and I am grateful. I am going to need a whole lot of help to get through this.”

“And you’ll get it, Nell. Don’t you worry. We’ve got some pretty great neighbors around here, and I know that Martha Flannagan will be right behind me. She was taking a ham out of the stove at my house, and she’ll be bringing beans and something else—maybe a pie—and will be staying to see to your husband.”

Emmaline saw no point in mentioning that Nell could have asked her neighbors for help anytime, and maybe given them some help in return, if she hadn’t been so stand-offish. Emmaline had never figured out whether Nell Gibson thought she was better than the rest of them or was just shy, and she guessed it didn’t matter now. What Emmeline couldn’t know was that Nell was a bit of both.  She was certainly shy, or at least very private, because she felt that she had let her life get away from her and it made her feel ashamed. She had married John Warren Gibson, the very first man who had asked, when she was only fifteen and, it felt like before she knew it, there were all these children. So, she did feel sheepish about asking her neighbors, with their two and three children, to help her with her houseful. On the other hand, and just as strong an influence, Nell had been her parents’ only child and her father’s darling. He never let a day pass that he didn’t tell her she was the smartest and the prettiest and the most wonderful girl in the whole wide world.  In short, Nell was so confused about how she felt most days that it seemed easier just to keep to herself and let people think whatever they wanted.

Emmeline Henry was a simple, straightforward woman, generous, kind, and not given to thinking too hard about anything other than the job in front of her.  Today Nell needed their help, and they would all show up to do what they could. The Henrys were good people, and today was no exception. Emmeline walked in firmly, gave Nell and Charlotte quick hugs, put two large covered dishes on the table, took off her coat, and turned to Charlotte.

“Honey, let’s walk out on the porch for a minute.”

“Yes ma’am, Mix Henry.”

And once Emmeline thought they were far enough from the open door, she began. “I want to give you an idea of what’s gonna happen, Charlotte, because your mama seems like she’s too weak and upset to take it all in.” Charlotte just nodded, and Emmeline continued. “When Miz Flannagan gets here, which I expect will be soon, we’re going to need all the soft cloths you can find and the biggest pot you have, filled up with real warm water. Why don’t you get the stove going and the water on, if you can wrestle us out a pot. I’ve brought a special soap and some real sweet-smelling herbs from my garden, and we’re gonna take good care of your daddy.”

“I can get the pot easy, Miz Henry, and I’ll get my sister, Marcella, to help me fill it and heft it up onto the stove. Should it be boiling or not that hot?”

“Go ahead and let it boil, sweetie. It’ll cool off fast enough, but don’t you all try to lift it once it’s hot.”

Charlotte and Emmaline Henry were talking quietly, and Charlotte, who had been thinking hard about what she wanted to say, got up her courage—seemed like she was needing to do that fairly often—and turned to Emmaline, “Miz Henry, I want to ask you an awful big favor.”

“You go right ahead, Charlotte. I expect the answer will be yes to anything you’ve got in mind.”

“I’d like to help with Daddy. Just me. Nobody else would want to, but Daddy and me, well, we were close, and I would just, well, I guess I would kinda like to say goodbye. I don’t know . . .”

“Charlotte Cade Gibson, you are an unusual girl. I will admit I never would have thought about you wanting to help in there, but I say ‘why not?’ So, yes, sweetie, you certainly may join us and help just as much as you like. You have to promise you’ll go slow and wait for me to tell you what to do.”

“Oh, yes ma’am. Yes, ma’am, I surely will. And, oh, thank you, Miz Henry, thank you so much.”

“You’re very welcome. Now let’s get on back inside and see what we can do for your mama. Oh, and here comes Martha Flannagan, so you go hold the door ‘cause it looks like she’s carrying a load of stuff.”

And so the morning went. The women arrived with food, with their own scented soaps and ointments and with one or two soft cloths each, until there was a respectable pile. These were poor farmers’ wives, and the soaps were often no more than slivers, the ointments the last traces in a jar that had been put back for the next death. This was what they did. They took care of each other in death as they always had in life, the rituals familiar in this small community. But Nell was an exception. She never came to help when someone’s husband died, never wanted to even think about it, and she failed  entirely to see the irony in the comfort she was now taking from having her house full of these same women and knowing they were taking care of John. Emmaline called Charlotte over, “Charlotte, honey, do you think your mama’s gonna be all right? She’s putting an awful lot of that whiskey in her coffee. I know sometimes it helps but more often I think it’s just apt to make things worse.”

“Yes ma’am, Miz Henry. We know about the drinking, and I’ll tell you the truth. We’re worried near to death. Some days Mama just seems like she’s so wound up she can hardly sit in a chair, and ever since the baby was there it’s gotten worse.  I really am afraid some days that she’s just going to go flying off down the road and never come back.  And the drinking can’t be good for the baby, right?” It wasn’t a conversation that had any kind of satisfactory conclusion, so they just drifted off and Charlotte headed inside to get snacks ready for when Kendall and Virginia came back in from wherever Stamford had taken them to play.  Bless him. It was exactly the kind of help she needed.

In the afternoon, the men came in a small wagon, hands washed, to stand around the front room, shuffling their feet and talking in low voices about crops and the weather.  They didn’t stay inside long, and some of them went out to take care of John Warren’s chores for that day. They fed the few animals, checked on the fields and repaired a couple of places where a fence rail was pulling loose. Those that didn’t help on the farm unloaded raw pine planks from the wagon, carried them out to the barn, and began the work of building a coffin.

Inside, Charlotte stood ready as the job of preparing her father’s body for burial began. She had to admit that she felt afraid at first, remembering the grotesque face and swollen mouth. Mrs. Henry had explained to her that they would wash every inch of the body with the scented soaps and the cloths, would rub it with oil, and sprinkle some of the herbs all around the bed. Emmeline watched Charlotte carefully to be sure she wasn’t going to get upset, limiting what she let her do at first, handing over a damp cloth and pointing to a hand or a calf and showing her exactly how to rub, very softly, in circles.

Finally, Charlotte turned to her and asked, “May I wash his face?” Emmeline hesitated. “Are you sure, Charlotte?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’d like to see if some washing and some of your oil might smooth it out a bit. It looks kinda scary the way it is.”

“You’re right about that, honey, but look again and you’ll see that the blue is fading out of his skin and the swelling is going down, so you will be doing your daddy a real service if you really think you can.”

Charlotte spent a long time on her father’s face. She didn’t hurry. She was no longer afraid. When she had finished with the oil, John Warren’s face looked young and relaxed. More important for Charlotte, he looked like her daddy again, just dead. And Charlotte wasn’t afraid of dead.

For the next two days, the Gibson house was filled with neighbors—friends, and even some strangers—come to pay their respects to John Warren and to offer their sympathy and their help to Nell.  On the third day after his death, John Warren was carried in a new pine coffin to the Bucksville cemetery for burial.  Because the land was so iron-rich, digging with ordinary tools was nearly impossible, but some of John Warren’s friends, who had gone to work in the big furnaces at Tannehill, came with their miners’ tools to break through the hard ground to bury one of their own.

Charlotte Cade went home to put her younger siblings to bed, to try to convince her mother not to drink too much whiskey, and to stay up late whispering with Marcella under the big quilt. Even after she heard Marcella’s breathing deepen and knew she was asleep, Charlotte lay awake remembering the feel of her father’s skin on her hand. She felt the great silence of the house around her, broken only by an echo of her father’s voice, “Charlotte Cade, could you look over there where my tools are and bring me the small saw?”

“I’m here, Daddy. I’m right here! Please come back.”

But John Warren Gibson would not be coming back, not ever, and the sound of his voice was dimmer, as Charlotte heard him say, “You are the best girl I have, Charlotte, but don’t you go telling anybody.” She never did, and because she was wise for her years, Charlotte knew of course that the voice she heard was only her imagination, only just the sound of her missing her daddy so much, but still she felt strangely peaceful.  What she didn’t know was that it was the last time she was to have any peace for a very long time.

Aware that their mother was sad, that she was expecting a baby, and that she was pouring more whiskey into her coffee every day, Charlotte, Marcella, and even Stamford  took on the chores on the farm. They didn’t complain about watching the babies when Nell wanted to catch an occasional ride with a neighbor and spend an afternoon walking around Birmingham, “just to get a little relaxation,” she explained.  Butthen one morning, as Charlotte was sweeping the front porch, and Marcella was following behind with a bucket of water and an old mop, giving it a good scrubbing, a dusty, slightly battered automobile pulled up out by the fence and a man climbed down and started toward the house. Charlotte had looked up at the unfamiliar sound of the car’s engine and had time to turn back to Marcella and whisper, “We do notknow anybody with an automobile, Marcella! Who is this?” Marcella just shook her head.

Then they heard the screen door open behind them and Nell stepped out onto the porch, obviously pregnant, but looking very pretty in one of her best dresses, her hair freshly washed and shining. Charlotte stood with her mouth open, utterly silent, so confused she couldn’t even think of a question to ask. She knew one thing, although she couldn’t have said exactly why she knew. This—whatever it was—wasn’t good. Marcella looked straight at her mother and said, “Mama, you sure look pretty. What’s going on?”

Nell laughed self-consciously and said, “Now Marcella, does something have to be going on for your mama to look pretty?” By this time, the three little ones were clustered behind her, but she spoke only to Charlotte and Marcella, “You girls, I’d like you to meet a particular friend of mine. This is Daniel Darden. And Daniel, these are my two oldest girls, and my helpers around this place.

“Charlotte, Daniel knew your daddy. Daniel used to farm but then he took a job up at Tannehill. He works that big furnace. What do you think about that?”

Charlotte was staring at Daniel and looking every once in a while at her mother. “I reckon that’s fine, Mama. Are you about to go somewhere?”

“Well, yes, darling. Daniel has offered to drive me in his automobile into town to get a few things we need. I won’t be gone too long and I won’t worry about the children as long as you and Marcella are here.”

“Yes ma’am.” With that, Charlotte picked up her broom, turned, and walked into the house, shooing the smaller children in front of her. Marcella just said, “Well, Mama, we’ll be here when you get back.” Neither girl had acknowledged Daniel Darden. All the children were listening carefully as the car started up and drove away. Kendall Ida, five years old and always full of questions, couldn’t get them out fast enough. Charlotte sat in the big chair, pulled Kendall onto her lap, smelled the sweet little-girl hair, and couldn’t say anything except, “I don’t know, Kendall. I don’t know.”

Six months later, Nell Gibson and Daniel Darden were married, and the following exchange had occurred:

“You can’t make me give up my kids, Daniel. You cannot make me do that.”

For a long time, they just sat, neither of them speaking, until Daniel got up, stretched, and before he headed out to his car, said, “No, Nell, I can’t. But I can’t stay if you don’t.”

The buildings in which the orphanage was housed were large and, if they had been recently painted, would have been a stark white.  But on the day Nell Gibson left her children there, the paint was peeling and several of the shutters on the main building were hanging loose. Charlotte could hear them knocking against the windows. She wondered why the glass hadn’t broken. She wondered a great many things that day and for most of the days for years to come. But Charlotte being Charlotte, she took Marcella’s hand in one of hers, and Kendall’s in the other, and she saw to it that Marcella and Stamford were looking after the others, and they walked up those stairs as proud as if they were entering a palace.

Aunt Dean

Posted in My Writing, Personal

On Writing #3: They Don’t Like My Novel??

My mother’s favorite word was “Shit!” and she wasn’t even a writer. She was a Southerner, though, and that probably explains it.

This morning, “On Writing #3” was a short essay describing the next phase of the writing of my autobiographical novel.  It followed smoothly and logically from “On Writing #2”– some thoughts on the first four pages and the elaborate techniques I developed to avoid writing them.  All as planned. These are, after all, summaries of the stages of a completed novel. They are re-workings of my original on-the-spot reporting of the process as it unfolded, lost to me–and, no doubt, to the ages–by the recent flame-out of my three-year-old website and blog.  I am able, with a little effort, to blame this not-entirely-unexpected event on any number of villains, but the real culprit was the fact that I had no hand in the building of that site and hadn’t taken the time to learn enough to save it.

However, I digress.

In one twenty-four-hour period, John McCain died, Neil Simon died, and my autobiographical novel was rejected by the most significant of the three literary competitions to which I submitted it.

Possibly “rejected” is too strong a word. I made it into the list of 158 semi-finalists, a fact that might have ameliorated the pain somewhat except that it came immediately before I learned that being a semi-finalist did not constitute being a “winner” and therefore, if I wish to revise and resubmit for next year, I am eligible, along with the people whose names appear nowhere but whose manuscripts have been judged–not just inadequate for a prize–but “rejected as not ready to place.”  I can’t help wondering if anyone spoke up in favor of a search for a gentler word than “rejected.”

Whatever the case, during the period between submitting the manuscript in March and  receiving today’s email, I have already made substantial changes.  In order to re-submit (not until December), I must attach to the newly minted book a letter describing my revisions and making a case for a reconsideration.  Already I’m worrying that they won’t even let it in the door.

The subject of the rejected (let’s just say it) novel is my mother’s family, and I found the whole experience of writing it both painful and transformative.

Tentatively, cautiously, I am feeling my way towards a novel about my paternal grandmother, and have begun, as I seem to do, with images, photographs of the fifteen-year-old girl who married a twenty-seven-year-old cavalry officer, a boarder in her parents’ home, and just nine months later gave birth to my father.  She was a  beautiful girl. This photograph was taken on her wedding day.

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