Posted in My Writing, Writing, Writing Fiction

On Writing #2: After All Those Blogs, Four Pages.

OCTOBER 5 2017
Having completed two novels, an accomplishment so amazing to me that I still don’t quite understand how it happened, I must have gotten cocky. For decades, my cousins and I have repeated our mantra, “Someone should really write a novel about this family!”  That eventually became an exhortation aimed directly at me, “You really should write a novel about this family!” And that was back in the days long, long before I had written fiction of any length, actually before I had written anything much except the essays I assigned my students and frequently completed with them. I suppose my family’s urging was based on the fact that I taught literature, the theory being that if I could teach novels, I could write them.  Any English teacher knows that is not a reliable formula.

Nonetheless, with the completion of those two novels, and some encouraging responses from a few readers, I decided that perhaps my cousins were right. Perhaps I should write a novel about the family.  It is, after all, a subject with which I am familiar and the received wisdom says that the best writing comes from writing about what you know.

I made a beginning. It is October, and I have written approximately two thousand words, a little over four pages. I have been writing and rewriting and pondering and correcting and researching those pages for over a week. I have made an outline of all the family members I intend to include in the book and I have collected hundreds of given names from the Internet. I have found scores of surnames. I have assigned fictional names to over half of my characters. I have, alas, changed my mind several times about the names I have chosen, which has made it necessary to go back into my four pages to change them all.

I have color-coded the lists–the actual family members in teal, the fictional names in a color called “cantaloupe.”  At first I had the names of my mother’s generation in regular font, those of my generation in bold, but I decided that this pseudo-genealogy looks more impressive with everything in bold. I have experimented with the location of that list. Am I able to refer to it more easily if it is at the top of the manuscript, that is, the four pages, or if I copy and paste it into a separate document?  And if I move it, should it have its own document or can I include it in the document that contains the Internet lists of names?  If I include it there, should it be at the top or at the end of the document? I have tried it several times in all positions.  I have changed the color scheme at least twice.

I spent a good portion of this morning moving that list around.

Now I am settled comfortably in my living room with two friends who are visiting from Canada, one of whom is at this very moment reading the first of my two novels. I bask in the glow of her close attention to the book and her periodic bursts of laughter.

Now I am writing a blog post about writing a novel about my family, wondering just in passing if possibly the color-coding is a bit too much. I decide to save the blog draft and take a look.

Meanwhile, my erstwhile writing partner, Alison Daniels,  is churning out mystery novels at a speed that impresses, horrifies, and intimidates me.  They are good mysteries; they are page-turners. They have interesting characters. The two detectives are doing what well-drawn characters do. They are developing and changing. They have a relationship that is growing. These are mysteries for literate and demanding readers.

It is Thursday. My friends and I have talked and laughed and remembered and enjoyed each other thoroughly, and now we are doing almost exactly what we were doing the last time we were together, seventeen years ago. Diane is reading. Al is taking a nap. The difference is that, instead of reading, I am sitting with my laptop, writing.

Today I have found, after an elaborate Internet search, several quotations by William Faulkner that I think might work as epigraphs for my four and a half pages of text.

At the end of the day, I began a search for quotes by writers about procrastination and writers’ block.

But before I get back to my four and a half pages, I have a few Halloween cards to write and it’s about time to get ready to go out with my friends for a late lunch.

Posted in My Writing

Book Covers

I thought I would get this bit of flaunting over with.  Here are the covers of all my books.

The first is a professional job by a fine publisher in Virginia Beach, Virginia–Koehler Books.  The next two I designed as part of  publishing independently using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP is not a perfect system, nor is the product equal to the one turned out by Koehler Books, but I had a grand time doing the whole thing, the books look good, and I learned a tremendous amount about things like formatting and layout and how they get those bottom lines all the same.

The first piece of fiction I ever wrote was a novel called Memory Is The Seamstress, co-written with a friend, Alison Daniels. My first name is Patricia, hence “Patricia Allison.” We fought bitterly during the writing of that novel, nearly lost our friendship, but somehow managed to come through it with a pretty good novel, a stronger friendship, and both of us better writers.

After that, I wrote two novels solo, based on the real woman, Lydia Roper, who was the object of a great deal of frustrating research.  When I asked her great-granddaughter what she thought of the idea of my writing a novel about Lydia, her answer was, “Maybe imagining Lydia is the way you will find Lydia.”

She was right.  The “Jessie” of my two novels is a Lydia I can live with.

Finally is the novel closest to my heart, the one for which it now seems the others were preparation. It is a novel about my mother, her sisters and brother, and their mother.  It is the story of my family and myself. I have submitted it to no publishers, nor have I attempted to publish it myself. I have entered it in three literary competitions and, while I wait for a fall decision, I have already rewritten it extensively and so anticipate sending it off again next year.  It has had four or five different titles and the same number of covers, but it is I’m Not Going to Heaven. I’m Going to Birmingham. A Story of the South and, as far as I’m concerned, that cover is carved in stone.

You will have to read the book some day to discover what that title means.

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Posted in My Writing, Writing

On Writing #1, 2017: A Retrospective. A Few Problems, Fewer Solutions, Several Entertaining Anecdotes. A First-Person Account


A Sort of a Journal of What You Do After You Finish Doing What You Thought You Could Never Do.

SEPT 26 2017
Two novels completed. Not one viable idea for a next book. I find I can’t simply take a break. I am now no longer capable of not writing.  And so, the question arises. What in-between writing can I find this time to keep my hand in, to keep my brain fresh, to operate like playing scales back in the days of piano lessons?

I cheat unashamedly. I go online and I find the hundreds of sites that offer lists–of twenty-five, fifty, a hundred, five hundred sentences to use as the first sentence in a short story or novel.  I don’t know if any of them will ever turn into my next novel, but I chose five today and have written on one.  It was wonderful fun, almost like automatic writing or a ouija board.

  1. By the time I reached the train station, she was gone.
  2. There was a time when my family was extremely happy.
  3. Flowers came to my house every other Monday around 1 o’clock.
  4. Bouquets of flowers filled my living and dining rooms but how did they get in here.
  5.  They say Old Weezie’s been reading palms out of her run-down shack for a hundred years or more.

 First attempt (10-15 minutes)

Bouquets of flowers filled my living and dining rooms, but how did they get in here?

First things first, as my grandmother always said. Before I address the question of how they got in here, I would like to establish exactly what it was that “got in.” When I say “filled,” that is precisely what I mean.

I do not mean that there were a great many of these bouquets, say twenty or thirty or possibly even forty, that seemed to (but actually did not) cover every available surface of the two main rooms of the first floor of my house. Those rooms were not, in any literal sense, filled.

I do not intend you to imagine a number of bouquets, however large, that it might be possible, with any amount of effort and concentration, to count. Granted, most of what I am calling “bouquets” were in containers, vases of every size, shape, and color, crafted out of glass or metal or wood, some even looking like children’s creations made from cardboard. These, I suppose, one could count, although I would not like to tackle it.

But in addition to these flower arrangements, for want of a better word, there were what I would estimate to be thousands, possibly tens of thousands of bouquets, that is flowers tied together in bundles, tossed around the room so as to cover entirely the spaces in between the vases. On tabletops and on the floor, was an uninterrupted carpet of flowers. These uncontained bouquets were of varying sizes, ranging I would guess from bunches of three or four stems to the largest I was able to see that must have contained at least a hundred white roses.

And that, obviously, is the next question to be addressed. What kinds of flowers were they that had taken over my home? Did there appear to be anything consistent? Any color or type of flower? Any association as, for example, the lily that is often associated with funerals? And that is one question to which I can give a definitive answer. All the flowers were roses, roses of every shade I had ever encountered and many, many bouquets made up of roses in colors that hardly seemed natural or, in any event, not any that I have ever encountered in nature. And yet, they didn’t look artificial or dyed.

So, having satisfied my grandmother’s dictum, I shall proceed cautiously to the second question at hand. You now have a full knowledge of just what I saw when I opened the door of my spacious, renovated 1920’s bungalow in the very center of a busy neighborhood in a medium-sized city in the South. How did they get in here?

I will save you the trouble and wasted time of thinking about his as a locked-room mystery or, indeed, as any kind of standard mystery, or whodunit, at all. There will be no puzzles to assemble in what is to follow.

I am a retired teacher of literature and tend rather toward the personal and the narrative than the mathematical or strategic. The first question that occurred to me when I opened that door wasn’t “how” at all. It was a burning desire to know who would have done this, and why. And, as I prepared my solitary meal to be eaten with one of Margaret Drabble’s early novels propped up in front of me, I began to go over the list of the people with whom I have had significant relationships over many decades. There seem to be quite a few.

Is there the beginning of a novel here? I have no idea.
I write four blogs about writing, one consisting entirely of experiments with opening sentences.
I write a blog about gun violence.
I write a long introduction to a guest blog by a friend.