Being days late with my blog post, and having been inexplicably visited by a poem this morning, I’m going to imitate Karen (see Dec. 12) and favor you with it. Apologies to non-poetry-fans.
The Taste of the Rose
Here it is imperceptible
That the rough calyx has begun to retreat
And the pink point to encounter the sun.
Here pink folds are still one solid mass
Though already they are crisp and smooth.
The scent is already thick.
Here at the tight center
It is fortunate for me
That I am hardly larger than my egg.
The taste is pink, crisp, smooth, as well as scented
All the way out to the edge of the drooping bud.
Now I encounter air. Now is the time
When the fact of my future wings is clear to me.
It is not my nature to consider
Whether they will be black or bright.
Returning to Arizona after eight months away–our fifth season of snowbirding–still feels as though we are embarking on a long vacation. You’d think we would have visited all of the tourist attractions by now. Yet we’ve hardly made a dent in everything this extraordinary state has to offer.
A few weeks ago, we spent a leisurely Sunday at Kartchner Caverns and Biosphere 2, both relatively close to Tucson though not anywhere near to each other. This thirteen-hour day was immediately followed by three (out of ten) of us sick with the flu. While my writing friends in NH struggled with severe colds over the holidays, I remained healthy, only to succumb to the foreign Arizona germs.
While in Arizona my plan is to hide out in the theater room with my laptop and work on my current project, “Anne.” (If you are confused as to which project is my current one, you are not alone. It reminds even me of a tennis match.) The score is 0 writing sessions to 3 movies (Dunkirk, Atomic Blonde, and The Zookeeper’s Wife). Writers take note: of the three movies, Dunkirk was the only one not based upon a novel.
Due to our trek to the Tucson area, we missed watching the 75th Golden Globe Awards live. The extensive news (more political than entertainment—who knows where the line is anymore) coverage has brought me up to date on what transpired. The highlights of the evening for me would have been when Big Little Lies and The Handmaids Tale won their awards. Both television shows are based on books of the same name by Liane Moriarty and Margaret Atwood, respectively. As a writer I want to believe that the success of these shows is due to the novels they are based upon. Looking for inspiration, I reread “Liars” as I recuperated from the flu.
To have someone—many someones—love your book so much that they would want to make a movie or television series based upon it would be unbelievable. (Though according to the panel of authors at the New England Crime Bake 2017 who had movies made from their books, it’s not guaranteed to be a positive experience for the author.)
Would the prospect of a movie or television series adapted from one of my (currently unfinished) novels motivate me to write? If my pinkie swear with Eleanor (to finish “Anne” over the winter) doesn’t motivate me, I doubt if anything will.
CLUCKS, MEOWS, ARFS, TRUMPETINGS AND SOME CHITTERING
This afternoon I framed the invitation to my daughter’s wedding in one of those two sided plastic frames that stand on their own, the two sides opposite each other. On the facing side I placed a picture of her when she was about 8 or 9. In the picture she’s sitting on the kitchen floor, her three chickens vying for her attention and all three sitting in her lap, an overturned bowl of chicken food nearby. She was a chicken lover, and the funny thing is that given three chickens now she’d do the same thing. She had names for her chickens which I can’t remember, but she would. She’ll never forget them.
She’d like time to write someday and I bet that her stories will include chickens.
My novel. I like the sound of that. I even like the story though no one else seems to. Outside of my group anyway. My novel has a cat. We weren’t around chickens a lot, growing up in Queens, but we always had cats and I remember each and every one. Cats in stories always add coziness to a cozy, make a thriller more thrilling and a fantasy more bizarre. I don’t know why but a cat has all the potential of an extra character with paranormal abilities even if they are just being themselves.
My fictional cat, Woodrow, does nothing but eat and sleep. He does sniff out the antagonist in one scene but the humans are not perceptive enough to recognize his odd behavior as significant. They give him food which shuts him up. He’s ordinary. But, as a cat he has the potential to deliver ALL that cats are known for: sneakiness, faithfulness, ruthlessness, bravery, devotion and otherworldliness. Woodrow just doesn’t deliver any of that. Maybe (sardonic laughter) in the sequel.
Could a chicken add as much to a story? Can anyone remember a story they’ve read where the protagonist is bound up in a relationship with their chicken?
Dogs figure largely in novels and no denying they are fun, but they don’t have the cache of a cat. Try thinking of what dogs symbolize and they’ll fall flat and short of a cat. In fact they are usually the fall guy in a book with a cat AND a dog. They bite and growl. If your story needs that, throw in a dog or two.
Elephants. They’re like large cats. Mysterious. You never know what they’re thinking. I loved the ending of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. A cat would do that. Or get the elephant to do it for him. They have the same mindset. The trouble with elephants is their size; far too big for anything but a circus or the African veldt.
Parrots. They think like cats and elephants. And they add color. Suspense, too, if you’ve ever been around one. They’ll rip into you if you’re not careful. And they’ll talk and spill the beans if someone is killed in their presence. But only if they liked the victim. They can come in handy for that special story.
Monkeys are underused. They could deliver some intrigue as in, I wonder what the monkey over the mantelpiece is going to do, and when. Like the proverbial gun they’re way too obvious, however. They stand out like a sore thumb in a typical setting. Cats patrol the floors, just under the radar, always on the alert, as invisible as the old family retainer who waits. Monkeys are not subtle.
I’m waiting for the chicken story. And I’m looking forward to the big day.
Woke up this morning to temperatures that would not rise to see minus 1, Fahrenheit.
The bed was warm but I couldn’t stay in bed forever. My husband, after scanning the weather reports, informed me that it is warmer in Greenland, Iceland, Siberia and Antarctica. Granted, it is summer in Antarctica, but, really . . .
The furniture is cold till I sit for awhile and release some body heat into the cushions. Throws cover me from top to bottom. I need gloves to read.
Only the cat is warm. He sleeps on the heat register and blocks the heat from the wood stove in the basement from rising any farther than his fur. It’s his job and he takes it seriously.
It will be like this for at least a week.
Readers are prepared for this eventuality. It is the same eventuality as being laid up with a cold, as I am right now. And, following so closely on the heels of Christmas, we must certainly have gotten new stockpiles of books to keep us going. I received two gift certificates for my e-reader, a book of cat cartoons and cat short stories from the New Yorker, a Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter mystery in French, and, from the library, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. That should be enough for now, but if the weather cold and the viral cold continue then, by gum, I’ll have to dip into an older pile of books.
Perish the thought that I should write something while waiting for my brain to warm up. My blood has become sluggish, the synapses in my brain have gone on holiday. I’ve become like molasses in January before January. Dulled and stupefied by internal and external attacks on my well-being I have hunkered down to await warmer muses.
It is possible that a thought worthy of being written down will actually worm its way into my mind during this period of hunkering. I wouldn’t say nay if I had one, I wouldn’t resist it, but I haven’t much hope. Those mercurial Muses enjoy more temperate environments, not fevered minds in frozen bodies.
It is the practice in Iceland to give books on Christmas Eve and then spend Christmas day reading. It’s not a bad idea.
But then it is warmer in Iceland than it is here.
Warm wishes for a Happy New Year to all.
Happy reading and productive writing.
I took a busman’s holiday today. I’m starting to plot my second book and, needing to get a blog post out, I gave myself permission to noodle around online, seeking useful info for my plot and a blog at the same time. My next set of murders involves forging medieval manuscripts. So it’s perfectly legit for me to find out how to do that, right? Just because I enjoy it doesn’t mean I’m not working.
I had great hopes of a news story on NPR yesterday. Seems the French police arrested the CEO of Aristophil, a Paris dealer in manuscripts, who has collected billions of Euros from investors for “shares” in his portfolio of assets. But alas! for my murders. These manuscripts seem to be perfectly real. The police claim it was the investment management that was shady — a giant Ponzi scheme. In any case, the court is having the collection sold at auction, so if you’d like to bid on the manuscript of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, you’ll soon have the chance. [Breaking news! The French government has stepped in to declare the Sade manuscript a national treasure. It’s out of the auction. Sorry.]
It turns out that the University of Delaware’s Library possesses a special collection devoted entirely to forged manuscripts. It was the gift of Frank Tober, a chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project. His interest in the subject began with the chemical methods of detecting fraud, but twisty subjects lead to twisty trains of thought. Before he was done, Tober had branched out into counterfeiting, the forgery of artwork and furniture, hoaxes, and imaginary books and libraries.
At first I thought the pickings were slim for me in the Tober collection: it has only one forged illuminated manuscript. It always pays to keep digging, though. The Tober manuscript is one of hundreds produced about a century ago by the “Spanish Forger,” whose work still lurks in museum collections today, although many have been identified. And the art market always adapts. The Spanish Forger’s work is now eminently collectible. And probably easier to forge than the original manuscripts. (Plot idea here?)
Of course, when you are surfing the web, diversions and byways are legion. Searching for forgeries naturally brought me to hoaxes. I was thrilled to find a “Museum of Hoaxes,” right in San Diego, where I will be visiting in another week or so. Well, almost there. Only a hundred miles away. I could visit! And the web site kindly gave directions:
We’re based in San Diego, California. If you’re in the downtown area, get on i-5 north and keep driving until you see a giant floating jackalope off to your right. You can’t miss it! If you reach LA, you’ve gone too far.
Oh, boy! I’ll just… Wait a minute. Just drive north? Till you see a floating jackalope?
Maybe I’m not really competent to write about forgeries, far less spot them.
The “museum” is, of course, just a web site. I would have tumbled to that eventually, when I scrolled down to the “Staff” section:
Curator Pretending to be in Charge of a Museum
Deputy Curator in Charge of Fire, Electricity, Dead Pigeons, Insane Hamsters, Frog Skeletons, Poltergeists, and Medical Curiosities of All Kinds
I seem to have wandered far from my serious and entirely justified research project. And it’s lunch time. I’ll leave the rest for another day.
You may notice that I didn’t say writing “in” December? The only thing I’ll be writing this month will be this blog post, addresses on envelopes for Christmas cards, and checks as gifts. I don’t even need to sign my photo Christmas cards—our names come pre-printed.
As luck would have it, this poem (mostly) popped out of my mouth while I was in the basement bedroom sewing Christmas presents. I believe this is the first poem I have written since grade school, over fifty years ago. And that one was better than this one.
I apologize in advance—the use of “poem” in reference to what is written below is hyperbole at its best/worst. I blame the poem and my willingness to post it to our esteemed blog on the stress I have been under as a result of December and Christmas.
Most wonderful time of the year. Kids must behave and adults gear Up. Up. And up. Photos to scour for cards and calendars. Hurry before Snapfish wants more of your dollars.
Envelopes to address. Stamps to buy. Cookies to bake and apple pie. Presents to make. Who spends time crafting presents anymore? No one! That is what Amazon is for.
Who gets what? How much? Oh, to heck with it. Everyone gets a gift certificate. Secrets to keep. A tree to cut and lights to string. Decorations. Carols to sing.
Parties to attend and surprises to hatch.
Parties to plan and Hallmark movies to watch.
Do not forget
The Hallmark movie drinking game,
Carrots to leave for reindeer tame.
Stockings filled by Santa before milk and cookie, Smiles of children at presents placed under the tree, Make it worthwhile. Christmas night all is calm, the gifts put away. We’ll do it all over, come what may.
Heidi here. I’m in book jail, and I’m not writing fast enough. I was already not writing fast enough when I came down with the flu. The words dried up completely. Here are my four tried-and-sometimes-true methods for making the deadline anyway.
- The filing method: shuffle paper (or electrons.) Look through all those appended notes for corrections and improvements. Organize them. You may use pretty-colored file folders to do this. If you get lucky, some sentence will click and you find yourself writing instead of amending.
- The copy editing method: You’re going to have to weed those adverbs eventually. Start the line-by-line read-through. The upside of this method is the same as for Number One. Some connection will appear that sets you to churning out words for elsewhere in your book. If worst comes to worst, you end up with fewer adverbs and cleaner prose.
- The jig-saw method. Bring up on your screen all the hopeless dreck you’ve generated while trying to get your current chapter right. Clip out the substantive bits that simply must be in the final version or the plot won’t work. Dump them in a new file. Try to make them fit with each other. This method works the way physical jig-saw puzzles do: each sentence — even each phrase — that meets your eye might just fit over here… or over here… or…. And you’re just going to do one more piece before you stop. Really.
- The butt-on-chair method. For those of us raised as New England Puritans, this is Number One, not Number Four. If you were a serious writer and a virtuous person, you would simply ignore your illness, sit down and write. The result would be War and Peace or the Iliad, at least. On account of your will power, you see. The fact that this is a total crock never penetrates the Puritan mind. Neither does the fact that if you try it, you succeed only by using methods 1, 2 or 3.
You’re going to be sick no matter what you do. But if you can bring yourself to put your hands on that keyboard, and something does click, for some blessed number of minutes, you’ll forget to feel sick.
Holiday tip: check out The Harvard Book Store’s Holiday Hundred
TERMINAL MEDIOCRITY OR CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE. What’s it to be?
There’s quite a distance between terminal mediocrity and conscious competence but there are also steps, conscious, and unconscious steps, to take from one end of this spectrum to the other. Or, you could continue to fly in a holding pattern over the spot you’ve called your comfort zone.
- Unconscious incompetence (also known as terminal mediocrity) lies at the beginning of everything. It’s a baby crying in the cradle. He can’t do a thing for himself and doesn’t know he can’t. Because he is unconscious of his state he could be doomed to terminal mediocrity as a human being. Because he is a human, however, his mind develops and he strives to grow, to achieve to whatever he is capable. Random crying becomes selective crying for example. The baby has moved on to:
- Conscious incompetence. Usually at this point he is not called a baby but a child, but that’s semantics at work. This stage could last forever. The child is still incompetent and he knows it. He can use his wiles but cannot control his functions. He becomes frustrated and carries on like a two year old, because that is what he is. Perish the thought he should remain in this state or his frustrations will consume him. Young men and women in their twenties are usually finished with this stage. Mid-twenties denotes the completion of the judgement functions of the brain.
- . . .
Okay, you say, we’ve been reading this drivel for some time now. What gives?
What gives is my fevered brain at work trying to generate a idea of when I will finally achieve my writing goals. At this point I seem to be hovering over the following step. So, if you will allow me to continue?
3. Unconscious competence. I’ve been in this holding pattern for some time; maybe eight years. Which is bad because I’ve been writing for eight years. I’m holding unto some of step two, the frustration. That combined with the knowledge that I can write (see step four) leaves me in some sort of a no-where land, like a teenager but worse since somehow I’ve gotten to elder-hood without watching where I was going. I know I want to write, and I write, but I’m not certain of the correctness of everything that appears on the page. Think teenage boy driving before his brain has fully developed. No, don’t think of that. Think practice can make perfect.
4. . . .
Yes, there’s one more. But I’ll leave out the follow-up commentary. How’s that?
4. Conscious Competence. This is the ultimate goal. The pinnacle, the apex. To know what you want to do, and how to do it. No faltering. A confidence backed up by knowledge. Getting out of the comfort zones of all the preceding stages and moving ahead. That’s where I want to be. Confident.
by Dave Pasquantonio
Congratulations—you finished your novel! You crafted nail-biting tension and perfect character arcs. You killed darlings and kept reader promises. And that ending? It sings. You’re done!
But wait—93,827 words? Uh-oh. You really wanted to come in under 90K. And that last editing pass was thorough. You killed off three secondary characters, consolidated scenes, and took out those boring pages where Wilhelm and Gene talked about that time they saw the moose. There’s nothing left to cut!
Or is there?
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The sleet snow hitting our skylight over the bed woke me up early this morning. Our first snowfall of the 2017-18 winter. Didn’t we just enjoy the warmest month of October on record? I loved every minute of those above-average temperatures.
I am happy to be up early today as in a few hours I will be on my way with Eleanor and Heidi to the New England Crime Bake in Woburn (rhymes with Reuben!!), Massachusetts. This is my second Crime Bake and I am expecting it to be even better than last year’s. I know I will return home motivated to finish my novel, “Clare.” Or any damn novel.
Yet I won’t be able to devote all of my energy to that pursuit. We are nearing the end of a bathroom remodel and bedroom refresh. Another week or two and the ceiling, walls, and woodwork will be painted, the vanity and shower glass doors installed, and a new gray (to match the paint) blind will cover the skylight–which explains how I was woken by the snow hitting the skylight. This remodel reminds me of writing a novel. I’ll save that for a post when the remodel is done and I can discuss it rationally.
November is the month to hunker down and focus on interior projects. It must be on record as being the grayest month of the year. That’s why for the last few years I’ve looked forward to participating in NaNoWriMo. Not this year. “Clare” is the beneficiary of my attention, not a new project. I’m plotting–not pantsing–and I can see it’s benefits. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
Time to pack and head to Woburn. A bonus of leaving town? My husband is in charge of the painting in our bedroom.