29 December 2006
Got the whole thing printed off and was astonished. It's at 325 pages and it looks like I have a whole ream of paper sitting there. That's a chunk of paper that could really hurt someone! Well, let's not go throwing it or anything.
I guess I should be all teary-eyed and wistful. But I'm not. It's more like, get out the door, you, I have other stories that I gotta fix up.
I feel like I have a good chance with FSG. I sent it to them last December (it was a requested MS) and got a reader's report back in May and the editor asked to see revisions. And now she's getting them. But if she doesn't accept the book, it won't be the end of the world.
Maybe I should submit a query for the book to other editors and agents. With the new, improved synop, of course. I shouldn't pin all my hopes on one publisher. I should have backup.
(P.S. The agent I sent the query to earlier said no. So it goes.)
28 December 2006
One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.
Each Sentence says one thing—for example, "Although it was a dark
rainy day when the Adjective walked by, I shall remember the pure and
sweet expression on her face until the day I perish from the green,
Or, "Will you please close the window, Andrew?"
Or, for example, "Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window
sill has changed color recently to a light yellow, due to the heat from
the boiler factory which exists nearby."
In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, "And! But!"
But the Adjective did not emerge.
As the Adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat—
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.
22 December 2006
Unfortunately, the critique went, "WTF?"
Whoo-whee! Last May an agent read the hook for this novel and said, "Girl, your synopsis is confusing as heck!" So I went and read through a previous Crapometer and revised the hook accordingly, which took a while. But even with the revised version I still managed to confuse the heck out of everybody, everywhere!
Oh well, back to the drawing board.
20 December 2006
19 December 2006
Or, Babe III.
Before the movie started, they showed the preview to Bridge to Terbithina. Omg. And I thought this movie was so totally not in the book! Giants and odd creatures everywhere? Has it been that long since I read the book? Because I don’t remember that kind of fantasy aspect to it.
Pretty opening in the Garth Williams style.
No “Where’s Papa going with that ax”? What happened?
In the book, Fern talked Pa out of killing Wilbur. Because of her strong words, he gave her the pig. In the movie, Dakota pulled the pig out of her dad’s arms. What a pushover dad she has.
Nice cut to frying bacon after the farrowing scene, tho.
What on earth is that pig doing in Fern’s bed? It’s nice that she sang him a lullaby, but that’s so totally not a farm girl thing. Not to mention I don’t know what kind of parents would have this little backbone to say “No pigs in bed!”
Bucolic narrator: It was just a big red barn full of typical stuff.
You know, if Andy wrote about barns like that, he would have won the Newbery.
Bucolic narrator: Just because it was a barn didn’t mean it was full of life.
That really threw me for a loop. Anybody remember the beginning of chapter three, the lovely essay about the barn being a lovely place, full of interesting things and full of life? The barn as, let us say, a microcosm of the world, where so many beautiful things happen? But this film is so determined to turn that on its head. That’s part of the reason I’m so down on this film, because Andy created this beautiful world and they just deny it, except for the bravery and nobility of Charlotte and Wilbur and Fern.
My word, these farm animals are rude and condescending, calling Wilbur and each other names. So much of this movie follows that formula that you must have tension in every scene, even if the tension is nonsensical.
There’s the first fart joke. And then all the animals call each other names again. This is to show the viewer that the animals do not get along. I don’t think Charlotte could help this; I think they need therapy.
I do like that view of Templeton’s underground nest. That’s really cool. I wish they had viewed the barn with the same interest and fascination.
Now we have these crows and the old joke about the scarecrow, “When’s that guy going to look away?” which of course was not in the book. And do they not think that we have seen this corny joke before?
Horse: Spider! (faints)
--But why on earth would any farm animal worth his salt be scared by a spider?
And then the animals do their general disparagement of spiders. I can’t get over how rude these guys are.
Bucolic narrator: Ignorance is bliss.
Me: And I’m starting to believe it’s true. This guy is actually making a case for ignorance, like it’s a good thing.
The gander made a proper speech when the goslings hatched, right from the text. That rotten egg that Templeton rolled away was right up the filmmaker’s alley. At last, Andy’s text made a concession for them!
Fart joke #2 came up when the egg was broken.
They did actually stick to the Dr. Dorian scene. It was nice to hear actual text. Oh, thank you, thank you!
They did do justice to Charlotte acting like a spider, focusing on the legs with their flair for balletic movement. I liked that they did pay attention to some spider details, like when a spider lands anywhere, she always fastens her line to the ground next to her. And the scenes where Charlotte was building her web were awesome. I was pleased by that. Thank dog for special effects, or else I would have been griping all through this review.
So totally not the farm: slopping the pig at high noon, and the farmer struggling to get out of bed at 6 a.m., and the way they pen a bunch of high-manure-producing animals on the barn’s ground floor.
And then that damn narrator comes in with his clunky cornpone prose. Do they really think rural folks talk like that? Don’t they know that many farmers have a college degree in agribusiness?
I’m surprised they wouldn’t think that Fern knows about the fair. She’d surely know how to show her own livestock. She’s probably in the junior FFA already.
Third fart joke. But the audience laughed.
There’s those crows again being scared by a scarecrow. So they go chase Templeton instead. Doesn’t this rat know to stay out of sight? Oh, look, a toilet joke. Oh, well, it’s just cheap entertainment.
A second neat web-building scene. Aah, thank goodness.
Fern wants to take Wilbur to the fair. “Fern, what’s gotten into you?” says her mom. But people who own livestock generally show it at the fair and various contests, so their winning livestock or their progeny can be sold for higher prices.
Homer is complaining that if he enters Wilbur, that he’ll be out the entrance fee. Chill, dude. Entrance fee is pretty cheap. Why are you worried about the entrance fee anyway when, as a farmer, you’re about $10,000 in debt to the bank?
Nice father-daughter bonding. Nice that Fern got her Uncle Homer to go to the Fair after all, despite the fact that he doesn’t seem to know the first thing about farming or fairs. And there’s a nice bit with Fern and Henry Fussy. Fern runs off with Henry when Wilbur’s getting his prize, which is also right.
But what the hell is that speech that Homer’s giving. You have full access to Andy’s words and you wrote this!
Damn that’s a disgustingly big egg sac, bigger’n Charlotte even. No wonder she’s dying.
As usual I cried when Charlotte died. Even though I was totally aghast that they did not use Andy’s words. “She never moved again. Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died. The Fair Grounds were soon deserted. The sheds and buildings were empty and forlorn. The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. Nobody was with her when she died.” No words at all.
But at least that damn narrator didn’t jump in with his own bit of trite prose.
Except in the next scene, he says, “Now that isn’t to say that Charlotte was gone forever.” Um, actually, she was. But see, in the book, it’s part of the grand course of life and death that goes on forever. In the movie, it’s like we have to gloss over it. Barely a glimpse of the ax in the first scene. No deathly fear and crying from Wilbur when he’s told of his impeding death.
It was lovely to see Wilbur standing in the snow until the narrator said, “It was as if Charlotte had shaken it out of the sky.” Come again?
When the baby spiders hatched, it started moving into horror movie territory. The wee spiders started crawling around on the farm animals’ faces, looking remarkably like little ticks. Ick!
But when Wilbur met the three daughters, that was so right, and they actually took that from the text, as well as the speech he made.
The audience liked fat Templeton.
“An ordinary barn and a pig that welcomed his second spring. Followed by many more. Because someone stopped to see the beauty blah blah.” You write for an advertising company or something?
At least they quoted the last sentence. Though to have quoted the last paragraph would have been better: “Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
Ah, well, people, let's go read some books!
18 December 2006
I got my edits back for the Charlotte's Web review. I wrote about 5 pages of notes on the movie and had to boil it down to 500 words. I plan to get the edits sent off by tomorrow morning. I'll post the stuff that didn't make it to the blog later. Not all of it, or course.
In the meantime, here's some silly stuff for your amusement. I don't think it's funny enough. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Jesus Christ Plays for the Royals
Denny: It’s the bottom of the ninth. Three on, no outs, here comes Jesus Christ to the plate. Well, folks, we know how this is going to end.
(Crowd noise: Son of God! Redeemer King!)
PA Announcer: Now batting for the Royals, #3 in one, the one in three, Jeeeeeeeesus Chrrrrrist!
Ryan: Sounds almost blasphemous when he says that.
(PA plays “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”)
Denny: The pitch … Jesus swings … strike one, a called strike. And the crowd is letting the umpire know what they think about that.
Ryan: Can you believe the offer that Christ turned down from the Yankees?
Denny: Yeah. The Christ told Steinbrenner to his face to give away all he had and follow Him. Half of the Yankees followed Christ out.
Ryan: All these years Steinbrenner thought he was God, and now here comes Christ to prove him wrong.
Denny: The pitch. Low and inside. That almost got Him. Now the pitcher is kneeling on the mound and looking upset, and here comes Steinbrenner for yet another conference on the mound. The crowd’s going crazy.
(PA plays “Jesus is Just All Right With Me.”)
Ryan: That’s the sixth conference tonight. They’re having a bad time trying to walk the Lord of Lords.
Denny: Anybody would have a hard time with a batter with a 1.0 batting average. The pitcher stretches … Christ swings … a long fly ball … it’s gone! Over the top of the stadium again! The Royals win, 29 to 3! Christ hits fists with Sweeney, the dugout empties, they’re pretty jubilant. That was another thrilling game, though the ending wasn’t much in doubt.
Ryan: What the Royals saved in hiring Christ, has to go to the budget for baseballs.
Denny: You know, they found one of them in Gladstone. They built a shrine for it and everything. It’s amazing … blind people seeing, people throwing their crutches away …
Ryan: Look, Denny, my psoriasis! It’s gone!
Denny: Like I really want to see that.
Ryan: Word from the Vatican is that the Pope was going to step down, since he’s supposed to be the embodiment of Christ on earth. And obviously the chairman of the board is playing for us. Christ told the pope to stay where he was until the season was over. Then he and the Church are going to have a little talk about what happened over the last 2,000 years.
Denny: Ooh, I think I could skip that one.
Ryan: And now for the Friday night fireworks, provided by none other than Christ himself.
Denny: He’s giving Wal-Mart a run for their money. Tonight, tiny flames are flickering over the heads of the entire audience. What a sight.
Ryan: Why, Denny, you have a flame over your head, too.
Denny: Hallelujah! Abi doo zarbaza fooi! The Lord has preached unto his hosts!
Ryan: Amen, brother.
Denny: Whoo, that was all right. I’m over it now. I’m ready for a beer.
Ryan: Sounds good.
Denny: Though not with you. That’s all from Royals Stadium tonight, folks. Ryan will give you the stats. I’m the veteran and I’m outta here.
Ryan: It’s time for “Now Ask the Royals,” and here’s Jesus Christ to answer your questions.
Christ: Hello, Ryan, good to be here.
Ryan: Here’s the first letter. “Dear Ask the Royals: Does God exist? If so, could He create a boulder that He couldn’t move? Signed, Taylor in Prairie Village.”
Christ: Why in the name of me do they ask these questions when they could be doing good works for those in need? Aquinas was completely off base with his theory that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. But the church fathers were all over that. Other than that, I’m not at liberty to say.
Ryan: Thank you, Christ. And for speaking on Ask the Royals today, you will receive a $50 gift certificate for the Hoof and Horn.
Christ: Give it to the poor!
Ryan: And that’s it for this broadcast. Remember, baptisms will be held after every game in the fountain at the back of Royals stadium. And for the Royals, this is Ryan Lefebvre, saying good night.
Christ: And God bless, of course.
14 December 2006
But that ain't the way you write about a character. Villains in all the stories and TV shows are evil. So what, big deal. Trite! I can't create a guy whose only reason for existing is to trip up the MC. Almon needs his own damn purpose. So maybe my MC is actually the bad guy, because he comes between Almon and what he wants. What does Almon want, anyway?
So today I worked on Almon's point of view. That chapter that I can't write because he's in it? I wrote up a scene from Almon's pov leading up to that chapter. Once that scene was done, I went back and looked for things that defined his character a little and brought those out. What he looks like, how he walks low to the ground, his voice. And I also kept asking, why does he do that? What makes him act that way?
And I looked for things that would make him human. Though technically Almon's a raccoon. Looked for things that showed that he had feelings like all the rest of us, that he wasn't just running around looking for evil stuff to do. And I paid more attention to those feelings and thoughts and deeds, kicked them up a notch. Even squeezed in the usual stuff about his cubhood. Though I could certainly do better than the 'usual stuff,' that nobody loved him, etc.
Next I'm going to take that lousy chapter and write it from Almon's pov. Get into Almon's mind, really look at my MC and his cronies through his eyes. This is also enlightening because I get all this extra stuff about my MC that I didn't see because I was looking at him from the inside instead of the outside. And also I get a truer picture of what's going on here.
What other things do you guys do to make your villain, or antagonist, whatever, more real?
10 December 2006
Today he e-mailed me and asked if I'd like to drag myself to the movie and review it for the Horn Book website.
What a wicked guy.
He said he'd pay me.
So I'm going.
I plan to read nothing but Charlotte's Web all week to my kid, so that she'll be well and truly vaccinated by the time we hit the theatre on Friday (or Saturday if the lines are too long).
And may the Lord have mercy on my soul.
08 December 2006
I'm trying to raise her right! But some Hollywood dweeb has to mess it all up.
06 December 2006
I remembered how, when I worked on the Symphonians novel, that my scenes came out better when I focused on one at a time. If I try to write a whole book at once, I freak out, not knowing where to start, and then I get nothing done at all. (That's the same reason I have trouble reading through a Norton anthology -- I end up skipping because I want to read the whole thing. And in the end read nothing.)
And I'm so dissatisfied when I rush on and leave a scene undone because omg there's more work to be done up ahead.
So: instead of having a trail of unfinished scenes and half-baked notions I'm going to do one thing at a time. No pretty word count pileup. Just a bunch of one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back work in a small space.
And I'm going to do these two things to make each scene as strong as possible.
1) I'm going to write the scene from the other character's pov -- best of all is if I can write it from the pov of the antagonist. Half the time I'm going in there with no idea about what the heck is going on in that guy's head. Then he just comes out evil, instead of a nuanced character who has feelings, too. The antagonist also wants to get something out of the transaction. What is it? Then I'll take that info and incorporate what I can of it into the original pov.
2) I'm going to do what I did with the other raccoon story: I'm going to visualize, as clearly as possible, the setting around the characters.
So many fantasy novels feel like they're happening in this sort of cloudy void. Once in a while something the character needs will pop out of the void -- say, a tree, or a road to walk on, or an open-air market -- but most of the time, there's very little around the character that's very clear.
When I did this exercise for the other raccoon story, I was astonished by how grounded I felt in the world after the revisions went in. It really felt a lot more real, and I wanted more to be a part of that world. I think that's part of the wonder, that if you work hard to make your world real, you just want to walk right in there and stay a while.
So that's my big goal. And then when it's time for a crit from my critique group I'll also have three halfway decent chapters to submit, too.
04 December 2006
We'll see how that goes.
28 November 2006
Okay I'm done.
Really, I didn't do too badly today. I got a pretty good run through part of chapter whatever. I probably would have gotten farther except I kept messing around with blogs and i-Tunes.
Then I crashed into the next scene, crashed and burned. I got up and started picking through the wreckage, but by then my work day was over and it was time to fetch the kid.
I do wish that I could turn off the internet on my work machine. 'Course, I'd just turn it back on again.
27 November 2006
Also, when I take a cursory look at literature online about Missouri forest fires, even the larger fires won't kill off most mature white oaks (which is what I need to do to chase the raccoons out). Not to mention that most of the forest fire literature pertains to the forests in the Ozarks, which are massive and also have more pines, which burn better than your decidious hardwoods.
I could just whip up a fire like the ones they have in the west, but then that wouldn't be true to what I'm trying to do -- write a book that uses natural history responsibly. If I put the fire in, then I'd have to mess up the whole ecosystem by adding plants that are more fire-prone but simply don't exist in the area, then adjust the ecosystem accordingly .... That's just a headache I don't need.
Even when writing fantasy, I have to keep it true to life.
I'll just have to figure out a different way to keep those early chapters moving.
24 November 2006
Hell's bells! The trailer manages to squeeze in a fart joke. Yep, that's what Andy always did for a laugh in his books! He was the Captain Underpants of his day. His editor, Harold Ross of the New Yorker, was also enamored of his scatalogical humor. "We need more goddammed fart jokes!" he'd often bellow into Andy's office as he rushed past.
Andy resisted a movie version of Charlotte's Web for years, though he finally gave in in 1976. Not bad for a book published in 1953.
"It is the fixed purpose of television and motion pictures to scrap the author, sink him without a trace, on the theory that he is incompetent, has never read his own stuff, is not reponsible for anything he ever wrote, and wouldn't know what to do about it even if he were. I belive this has something to do with the urge to create, and the only way a TV person or movie person can become a creator is to sink the guy who did it to begin with."
And on the Hanna-Barbera version:
"And I am also at work trying to get the bugs out of the screenplay of 'Charlotte's Web,' which was written by a Hollywood character whose knowledge of life on a New England farm is sub-marginal."
(And naturally after he sent in his changes they ignored them.)
To his lawyer:
"I want the chance to edit the script wherever anything turns up that is a gross departure or a gross violation. I also would like to be protected against the insertion of wholly new material -- songs, jokes, capers, episodes."
The man did his damndest. But money talks and the author walks.
You've probably seen the trailers for Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan. Lord. I'm standing there watching the trailers with my kid, going, "That wasn't in the book! And that wasn't in the book. And that totally wasn't in the book." It just floors me that you can lift a couple of characters out of somebody else's book, and write a screenplay loosely based on one or two of the events in the story, and then make a movie of it and get a big pile of money out of it.
Just so you know, I am trying my damndest to be sure my kid never sees those movies. Andy deserved better.
Here, go read this instead. It's an essay entitled "Andy," written by Roger Angell, his stepson, former editor of the New Yorker (just like his mom) and no slouch at the keyboard himself. Check out the parts where Andy's writing. That's what I most admire about him. That's what I want to be like.
And ended up at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
It was a great morning. I picked up seven new checkmarks in my Birds of Missouri book: Green-Winged Teal, Buffleheads, a Northern Harrier (a juvenile because its belly was chestnut -- scroll down the link to see a pic of a juvenile), Pintails, Canvasbacks, a Golden-Crowned Kinglet, and Pelicans! Also saw the usual Shovelers and Mallards and assorted geese and two juvenile bald eagles -- we'll see more at Eagle Daze next week. (Actually it's Eagle Days but I used to work the event as an MDC volunteer.)
Also saw a bunch of coots and a couple of grebes! Coots are actually not ducks but relatives of the Sandhill Crane. Coots look like a little black duck with a tiny white bill. But big old chicken feet. They're my favorite. Grebes are cute too. I'm really starting to like them, too.
And Miss Thing scored a little sticky frog and a wood duck that, when you squeeze it, sings its song. And we went for a walk on the bluffs where you see the whole refuge all laid out below you, and once in a while the snow geese rise into the air like a little white cloud and settle back down on the water again.
So we made out like bandits.
17 November 2006
Sorry that my source is Fox News. "Fair and balanced" so far to the right it's going to fall over. So naturally the headline screams "Gay penguin book!"
They made a little reference to my local library at the end of the article. Actually, this library has branches in both Savannah and St. Joseph. When I'm in there, I pull the book from nonfiction and put it on top of the stacks with the other books on display. Just doing my part.
But first I talked to my boss. Which was good, because I found out that I can't do it. Hamline has their residencies in January and August, which are super-busy times here at the Journal. "We wouldn't be able to let you go for a whole week," said my boss. "I'm sorry."
Bummer. I sent an e-mail to Hamline: "Is there any way that I could at least study with some of these faculty without the residencies?"
They wrote back, "Nope! Maybe the job situation will lighten up."
Sorry, guys, not in a million years. (The Angus breed is getting popular and profitable, which is good for my job, but not good for making things less busy.)
Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. I really like this job, because of slow times (like right now), and they're super-generous regarding everything else. But they do expect you to be here during busy times and pull your weight -- fair enough.
It just bugs me that this program can't loosen up to help folks like me out. I need to stay in this job to support the family when my husband heads over to Waddell and Reed to work as a financial advisor. Also, it's nice to have money. Freelancing was cool, except I was working on everything else EXCEPT my novel because novels don't pay the bills. So it's like I keep my job so I can work on my novel!
I really need education and guidance, though, because I miss school and I want to move to the next level. The University of Iowa has correspondence courses for writers, though it's more for literary short stories. I'll be signing up for those.
I just hope I get a good teacher this time. I've taken a U of I correspondence class in the past. For the first half of the class, I had a great teacher; I wrote him letters and he'd answer every question in them and talk to me about the craft. Then the semester changed and I got a new teacher, one who disregarded my letters, and he'd mark up only the first few pages of my MS and say, "Okay, these are the problems, I don't need to mark up any more pages." In short, he was a dick.
Of course I could always tell the bosses if this happens again and get a different teacher, I hope.
14 November 2006
Here's my list of the books and poems on my bookshelves, the ones that I'd push on you or any innocent bystander that looks as if she could use a good read. Then you guys can copy the list and then complain about the books I should have been reading.
The Odyssey -- Homer
The Iliad, though I tend to skim the extended battle scenes.
Parts of Beowulf. Though the other day I was reading the Seamus Heaney translation and kept falling asleep. My fault, not his.
Dante's Commedia -- all of it. I seem to prefer the Mandlebaum translation, though I like what Sayers did with the tetra rima thing.
Bits and parts of the Canterbury Tales, though not enough bits to say that I have actually finished it. But Chaucer's cool.
Right now a big stack of Elizabeth Bishop poems, esp. "Sandpiper," "The Armadillo," "The Fish," and "The Moose." But I have "The Great Poet Returns" by Mark Strand stuck to the wall right now.
Four Quartets – T.S. Eliot
American Indian Poetry
Living on Fire – Virginia Hamilton Adair. She was about 83 when they published this. I saw some of her poems in the New Yorker and just had to have this book.
No! It was Ants on the Melon I had to have. But where the hell is my copy? Ai!
Gang of Poets anthology. This book isn’t not available anywhere; it’s just a small book the local Gang of Poets fixed up from our readings at Paper Moone Books, back in the day. All my buddies are in it, and me too. I miss those days!
Vita Nuova – Dante. This is the skeleton for the novel I want to write someday.
Complete Works of the Gawain-Poet – John Gardner. I like The Pearl best.
Also he did Gilgamesh.
I read Piers Plowman. And I don’t intend to make that same mistake twice. Sweet Jesus! I’m sorry, Dr. Slater, but this book is narcolepsy between two covers!
Media – Euripides.
The 1919 edition of the Oxford Book of English Verse. I found this in one of the boxes that Grandpa Vance brought home from an auction. It got left in the rain, though. I set it out in the sun to dry, and it got me through high school. I later got an updated edition so I could turn the pages without fear of crumbling. The paper’s like onionskin now.
Poetry of the Victorian Period. In high school, I turned to this book often, loving the flowery diction of the Victorians, but also trying to seek out bits of unannotated poetry quoted in St. Elmo (below).
Dominic -- William Steig. I read it to my five-year-old daughter, editing on the fly, and she loves it. That dog is so filled with adventure and life.
Charlotte's Web -- EBW. Obviously.
His Dark Materials trilogy -- Philip Pullman. Especially love the world-building he does in Compass. I want to do that!
Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen – Garth Nix.
The Apple Stone – Nicholas Stuart Gray. Also The Seventh Swan. I never hear anything about this guy, but he was pretty good.
Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson. I got to tell Laurie, in person, that her books kick literary ass. She seemed to appreciate that.
A Girl Named Disaster – Nancy Farmer.
The Last Unicorn – Peter Beagle.
How the Mouse Deer Became King – Margueritte Harmon Bro.
Lyra’s Oxford – Philip Pullman. Stay tuned for The Book of Dust.
The Green Knowle books – L.M. Boston.
Any of the Magic books – Edward Eager. These books had me burning a low fever, yearning for magic, in my junior high years.
Homecoming – Cynthia Voigt.
Also, If She Hollers – Voigt.
Watership Down – Richard Adams.
The Darkangel trilogy – Meredith Ann Pierce. Awesome. Based on a dream recorded by Carl Jung.
The Babymouse books! Jennifer and Matt Holm. My girl and I like these a lot.
Essays and other stuff
Pretty much anything by E.B. White. During college I just devoured White essays by the bushelload. It did me good.
One Man’s Meat – E.B. White
The Points of My Compass – EBW
Those two are my favorite books of his essays, though technically I love ‘em all. Hey, if anybody has a copy of The Lady is Cold lying around that they don’t want, send it to me.
Anything by Thurber except for the stuff he wrote close to his death. My favorite collection is My World and Welcome To It.
Walden -- Thoreau. I like when he's in the canoe, playing the flute, and the fish swim to the top of the lake. This was EBW's favorite book.
Pygmalion – G.B. Shaw.
Best American Short Stories 1982 – collected by John Gardner. These stories illustrate what he thought good stories needed to do.
Maus – Art Spiegelman.
I like the Norton anthologies, except that I get so overwhelmed with the sheer number of stories in them that I can’t decide what to read and then I don’t read anything at all.
The Brothers Karamozov -- Dostky. I had such a crush on Alyosha, the first time (beyond my own Symphonians) that I'd developed a crush on a character from a book. But he's such a sweetheart!
Beloved -- Toni Morrison. Though I couldn't figure out that one stream-of-consciousness chapter.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I've read this one several times. After my semi-miscarriage (just a blighted ovum, said the docs, but I took it seriously), I read the whole trilogy straight through, over about four or five days. It helped.
St. Elmo -- Augusta Jane Evans. Sue me. This is the most flowery, antebellum Victorian novel you will ever lay eyes on. But this book was my big high school favorite. Oh, that romance just grabbed me.
The First Violin -- Jessie Fothergill. Another Victorian romance, this time about a young English singer and the noble first violinist.
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte. Read it outside of class.
Back When We Were Grownups – Anne Tyler. This woman can make these incredible characters, and I envy her skill. But not enough to actually write over 250 pages on my own characters, the way she does. Wimp.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon.
Earthsea trilogy PLUS Tehanu, Tales of Earthsea, and The Other Wind – LeGuin. Would that make it a hexology?
Also LeGuin's short-story collection, Unlocking the Air.
To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf. I keep not finishing it, but I keep starting it again, because something in me needs this book.
Lake Wobegon Days – Garrison Keillor.
The Dubliners – James Joyce.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – JJ.
Kissing in Manhattan – David Schickler. Especially his story “The Smoker,” which appeared in maybe the O. Henry collection.
“Catface” – Arthur Bradford. It’s in one of the O. Henry story collections, early ‘90’s, I think. For God’s sake, go read it. Craziest damn story you'll see anywhere.
Truman -- David McCullough. I have read this big hunk of book through several times, and it is so worthwhile, both for the portrait of the man and for the writing. After I read this, I became a certified Trumanophile.
Birds of Missouri. I checkmark the birds I’ve spotted.
The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants – Michael Dirr. This is a horticultural bible. And the man really knows his stuff.
Missouri Wildflowers – Studied this since I was in fifth grade.
How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method – J.I. Rodale. It’s old, but the information here is still very good.
The Rose Bible – Rayford Clayton Reddell. Luscious pics of roses (aka “garden porn”) as well as excellent care instructions and extensive rose history.
The New Organic Grower – Eliot Coleman. Even if you are not a small-acreage farmer, this is an excellent look at working with the soil and nature through good management and plant positive (as opposed to pest-negative) behaviors. Also info about raising greens and root vegetables through winter.
Mammals of Missouri – Charles Schwartz.
Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri – for the hardcore botanist. The MDC is coming out with a new, three-volume edition, but each volume takes about 15 years to compile.
Natural History of Raccoons – Doris MacClintock. I have to say I like her book better than Sterling North’s books.
The Well-Tempered Listener – Deems Taylor. A series of essays from his talks on music. Short and fun.
Score to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos 1, 2, and 3. Because you really don’t appreciate all the work the pianist has put into these performances until you are racing through the score to keep up with the piano, flipping pages so fast that all those black notes become a blur.
Assorted essays by humanist psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Really interesting stuff.
The Discarded Image – C.S. Lewis. Great scholarship on the medieval way of thinking.
“Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen” – Alan Watts. That essay (published here as a pamphlet) put me on a Zen kick for a while in college.
The Power of Myth – Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell. Never saw the actual show this was based on, but what the hey, I have the book.
I wish that I could say that I love Santayana’s Life of Reason, but I can’t wrap my brain around it. I love Santayana, though, is that good enough?
Seven Roads to Hell – Donald Burgett. About Bastogne, where Grandpa Mike may have been stuck during WWII. Also wrote The Road to Arnhem, about Operation Market Garden and the Dutch Resistance (and Grandpa did for sure jump there).
Memories, Dreams, Reflections – Carl Jung. The man’s autobiography, parts of which are really … interesting.
Elements of Style by Bill Strunk and EBW. I used to have this memorized.
The Art of Fiction – John Gardner. Yes, this book really changed my life!
On Becoming a Novelist – John Gardner.
On Writers and Writing – Gardner again.
Writing Fiction – Janet Burroway. Though many of the stories she included are real downers.
Writing Poetry – Robert Wallace. One of Dr. Trowbridge’s poems are in here.
(I wish that I could say that I read Fowler’s Modern English Usage, but no. Though I'll give it a shot occasionally.)
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott. Of course!
The Writing of Fiction – Edith Wharton.
Steering the Craft -- Ursula K. LeGuin. I like best her chapter on crowding and leaping.
Did I miss anything?
13 November 2006
Today I got it down to 89,570.
I was really elated until I realized that I'd cut only 7,556 words. Which sounds pretty wimpy compared to the word dump my novel has become. Seven thousand words is one of my shorter short stories.
Now you see why I have a hell of a time writing poetry.
So I'm thinking, okay, then let's cut 10,000 words altogether, because that sounds like a big number and a worthy goal. Also I don't have much farther to go if that's my goal.
And then I have to strengthen the Kay/Noel relationship in the book, which means I get to add them all back.
So it goes.
10 November 2006
The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.
And then I turned back to my story.
Though Silverlady knew the news was necessary for gossip-crazy raccoons to hear, she also knew that most raccoons looked at it as a chance to get together and blab. It was often said that more news was exchanged between the gossipmongers than the newsmonger actually provided.
"Damn," I said.
07 November 2006
"Yeah," I said. "They did apprehend the shooter. A Hispanic man. Allegedly."
I carried my hot chocolate into the office, but then wondered: why did I say he was Hispanic? Did it matter in the case? Not at all. It was a man with a gun who did it; did the color of his skin make him shoot more accurately? No. If a white man had shot the gun, would I have told her "A white man shot the gun"?
So I guess I'm not as color-blind as what I'd hoped. Keep working on it.
06 November 2006
In the meantime, I've been working on the mythology of the raccoon tribes. Right now I'm reading through American Indian Myths and Legends, compiled by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz. (Just discovered that it was banned in Anchorage schools -- somebody didn't read through all the stories, obviously.) I'm just picking up bits and pieces instead of using stories straight out of there, and I'm finding some cool details.
Also working on thinking about a raccoon's creation myth. How would a raccoon look at the world? What's most important to them and their way of life? Also pulling details out of my own way of life. These are Missouri small-town raccoons, so you're going to have some rednecks and some nice church ladies and stoic farmer types and some hellraisers and a lot of nice folk and two-three folk who thinks there's always a conspiracy somewhere.
And then we have the outcast caste, the outlanders, the raccoons who (so they say) are only wild raccoons who have lost all power of speech, uncivilized as any bird or dog or human. A lot of prejudice against these. Unfortunately for Thorn, he has to tell everybody that his successor was born from an outlander mother. Actually Thorn's successor, Silverlady, is a member of the tribe, but the spirit of death came and killed her litter just after it was born. Thorn managed to save Silverlady, but he has to keep her identity secret so the spirit of death doesn't find her again.
Also, to make things more interesting, the gods here are not all-knowing or all-powerful. (And actually, I don't think that our God is all-knowing and all-powerful, either. St. Thomas came up with that theory, and the church fathers were probably all over that. What better way to say, "Our god is best?")
I better get to work on the story or else I'm going to have 30 sale books show up on my desk today.
03 November 2006
So I went online and found "The Moose" at Poets.org (note: be sure to get a proper website when looking up poems -- some websites might mess up the formatting, or the spacing, or some dang thing). I printed it off, trimmed it to size, and tacked it up over my workstation.
I have been very happy with this arrangement. When I read poetry out of a book, I tend to skim along because I have this urge to read as many pages as possible within a short time span. I don't linger over the text, make connections. But with Bishop's poem on my wall, laid completely out, I can move around in the text and find those connections so easily (no page-flipping!), think about the poem as I work, take short glances, or long glances. So I can think about the dogs that keep appearing in the poem, or the use of the colors red and pink, try to figure out that "twin" thing she has going on at the beginning, and the thing with the houses and churches and the moose.
In other words, I wish I'd thought to do this long ago!
02 November 2006
In working on the raccoon story, I remembered an article by Jennifer Armstrong from the Horn Book which talks about how she likes to set up her stories. In revising Symphonians, I was really disappointed in how few images I had and how there seemed to be nothing behind them. I'm going to try and change that in the raccoon story, since I'm rebuilding it.
But here is a short list of questions Jennifer asks herself in writing her books.
What is this book about?
What ideas will be in it?
What images will I use to reinforce these ideas?
What metaphors will I use to reinforce these ideas?
What’s the tone?
What’s the voice?
What characters will I use? And, why did I choose these characters for the purposes of the book?
A list of important words.
Write a list of scenes, and a list of images that appear in each scene.
More on this later, because a brand-new sale book just landed on my desk.
A day later, as it turns out. (I wrote the above yesterday.)
I haven't started answering Jennifer's questions yet, because when I started trying to, I discovered that there's a lot of information I need about the story to answer them. (The shameful thing is that I've already rewritten the story a million times over the years -- I actually started on it in 1995.)
So I'm exploring what the story's about. One of the things it's about is the idea of "home." So I started riffing off that, writing down the definition of "home," etc. Then I got bamboozled by looking at the big picture. Then I thought, why don't I start building from the images I already have, such as the Psyches with their butterfly wing headdresses and the Outcast, the black hound that burns with an oily light?
And then I thought, let's work on it from both ends, and that way I can find out where they meet in the middle. How zen is zat?
29 October 2006
Ha ha! That always clears the room!
Yeah, it's anthopomorphic animals. You want to take this outside? But I'm an outdoorsy kind of gal, volunteered with the Missouri Department of Conservation for years and years, and worked outdoors for years and years, so I mix in plenty of natural history. Try to stay true to the facts about how raccoons act, except for the teensy fact that they don't live in large communal groups and that they do not talk, generally, or not in the way I have them talking.
But I'm so frustrated by the fact that I hardly ever see raccoons any more. In St. Joseph, they live in the sewers, and sometimes at night I would see them come out of one sewer and cross over into another one. In the small town I live now, we don't have those kinds of sewers, so I haven't seen a single one. The nearest wildlife rehabilitation station is in Kansas City, a long way to drive. But why would I want to drive clear out to KC to observe wildlife when I know I'm surrounded by raccoons here?
There are some at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha -- long way to drive, but a worthwhile trip.
But anyway, my dandy critique group just got finished critiquing the beginning of the book, and so I've started putting their thoughts into action. I'm going to have to tear out big chunks of text and write lots of new stuff. So it goes.
But the other thing I was going to do was use the Writing the Breakout Novel workbook and go through the story and really get it going. I can use all the help I can get.
25 October 2006
Discovered that I have 30 pages left to mark up, and then I'll type in corrections. yay! Except ... I'm getting discontented by everything I've written, and I mean everything. I'm going, why do all the changes have to be imposed on Kay from outside? Except for that winter camping trip that she takes to get away from Carter; what the hell was she thinking? And what does this trip do for the novel's structure and Kay's conflict overall? The final confrontation sucks of course. And is there enough motivation for Carter to suddenly go off the deep end and try to drag her to Omaha? And on and on.
I'm going, stop already, let's just write the damn thing first before we go tearing it up. But my brain has some kind of Action Agenda of its own, and apparently "nitpicking" is at the top of the page.
I'm hoping breathing exercises and B.B. King will help. Also slouching in my chair with my chin on my folded hands, my face in a frowny pout, seems to help. Or that's how I usually find myself when I get thinky.
18 October 2006
I'm going to work on that last chapter some more tomorrow (it's been really slow at work -- today I just did a few corrections and that was it) and then I'll print it out. Then I'm going to mark it up, along with the last 60 pages. But I'm starting to feel a lot better, mainly because I've been whining about revising the second part of the novel since May. Geez Louise, that's been five months! But I'm still going to send it out to two critique buddies to get some comments. I'm hoping to get this novel finished off and sent back to FSG by December, because in January my workload's going to pick up big time and it sounds like I'm going to be unavailable for two months because of overtime and other fun stuff. So that's my goal. Let's see if I can reach it.
13 October 2006
IF YOUR LIFE WAS A MOVIE, WHAT WOULD THE SOUNDTRACK BE?
1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that's playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool...
I did move some of the scenes around for the sake of continuity. And then I gave up and went with the flow instead of trying to be so anal. And I cut several scenes, like the "Waking Up" scene, because everybody knows those scenes are boring.
"Man on the Moon" -- REM
Okay, so the movie's out there, or it's about Andy what's-his-name.
First Day At School:
"A Riverboat's Gone/Bumblebee in a Jig" -- April Verch
It's taken a folksy turn with a fiddle. Country girl going to school, tra la!
Falling In Love:
"The Tide is High" -- Blondie
Ha ha! And now she sees a hot man at her school and she's going to chase him all over town! And then she gets her hands on him. Hey handsome, the tide is high. So let's go to the prom. And he says okay, of course.
"Nobody" -- Sylvia. That old country song about a gal whose husband is cheating on her. Let's try a different one.
"No One Like You" -- Scorpions. Okay, an 80's prom and they're playing the metal ballads. I can dig. Except he spikes her punch and they end up in a hotel room. And when she wakes up, she's so pissed.
"I'm Still Crazy" -- Vern Gosdin
OMG, this is so appropriate! "Well, I woke up one mornin with a note up on my chest. Said I'm gone for good, you're no longer the best. Never dreamed there'd be another man for you, so I just went crazy. There was nothing left to do." That'll teach him to spike her punch. Note: she affixed the note to his chest hairs with duct tape.
"Dancing in the Street" -- The Mamas and the Papas.
Well, "Dancing on the Ceiling" would have been more appropriate, esp. if the MC had been partaking of the magic mushrooms to get over her breakup.
Life is Good:
"Bubble Toes" -- Jack Johnson
Apparently the mushrooms have kicked in and she's now remembering when she was three years old. Wait, is that a flashback? Well, she's taken the hallucininatory drugs, she's entitled to at least two. Which brings us to the next scene:
"That Ain't Love" -- REO Speedwagon.
And it's the mid-80's, and our MC has gotten over the magic mushrooms, and she's kicking the ass of the man she was chasing at the beginning of this flick down the school hallway. Ah, memories.
(as she's kicking his ass nine ways to Sunday)
"The Way It Is" -- Mark Strand
Hell of a fight, this is actually a poem, and a deathly depressing one at that. "He cannot be heard as he moves behind trees and hedges, always at the frayed edges of town, pulling a gun on someone like me. I crouch under the kitchen table, telling myself, I am a dog. Who would kill a dog?" Let's try a song.
"Rock of Ages" -- Def Leppard
That's more like it! "It's better to burn out than fade away!"
Getting Back Together:
"Roll With the Changes" -- REO again
But what a hell of a set of changes she's rolling with. Why has she stopped kicking this man's ass? Because he's going to be here when she's ready to roll with the changes. Oh, okay, handsome. So let's get married. Okay!
"Cymbeline" -- Loreena McKinnitt
And then he dies.
Paying the Dues:
"Mamma Mia" -- ABBA
"Just one look and I can hear the bells ring. One more look and I forget everything." So I guess she's fallen in love with another guy. Which means she's going to pay and pay.
The Night Before The War:
"Hold On Loosely" -- .38 Special
This story's gone all to hell now. Let's try another song.
"Candle in the Wind" -- Elton John (the Live in Australia one you'd hear in the late '80's.)
That's more like it. General musing on mortality and looking at soldiers' pictures here.
"Circle in the Sand" -- Belinda Carlisle
Can't we get something a little more, I don't know, monumental?
"On the Shoreline" -- Genesis
"Well, there's a place where two world collide, something something against the pull of the tide. You can stay with your feet on the ground. Or step into the water, leave the dry behind on the shoreline. Where you can only swim if you try!" So she's grappling with the bad guy at the ocean's edge for offing her man at her own wedding!
Moment of Triumph:
"White Lightning" -- George Jones
Which is a song about drinking moonshine. Try again!
"Oh Death" -- Ralph Stanley
So they all get killed, including the MC. The moonshine still at the ocean's edge apparently blew up. And death triumphs once again!
Um ... Already handled that.
"Hells Bells" -- AC/DC
OMG! I swear to God that's what came up!
"Delia's Gone" -- Johnny Cash
"Delia, oh Delia, Delia all my life. If I hadn't shot poor Deila, I'd a-had her for my wife. Delia's gone, one more round, Delia's gone."
Well, that movie went all to hell!
The other day I actually had some time to write at work, and boy, what a relief it was. (They'll let you do whatever you like if there's no work sitting on your desk -- real nice workplace I got here.) Like I've been saying (or complaining), with Symphonians it's one step forward and two steps back. I had been working on the second-to-last scene, but then I ended up jumping back 40 pages from the end to fix up Kay's attitude. Carter had just attempted suicide -- a cry for help? A bid for attention? A way to trap her? -- and her actions directly afterward were bothering me. A guy takes pills in front of you -- that's going to detonate a depth charge in your soul. But at the same time it really drives home the realization that she's got to get out of the relationship. So I was able to work on Kay's turning point, and now I feel a little better. I'm not totally satisfied with it, but I'll just keep working on it.
Remind me to tell you about that Anthony Gomes concert we went to last weekend, it was a blast.
06 October 2006
What was really interesting was that my great-grandfather, who was a good Christian and really walked the line, said on the sheet that he was 21 years old. Actually he was 16 and Grandma was 17.
I ended up writing part of a story about it, and I'll post a bit of it here.
Rose walked out of the hot kitchen of the boarding house for a moment, rubbing flour off her fingers, shaking it out of her hubbard. It was a misty, drizzly day. The mist caused the wood smoke smell to hang low over the small river town. Down the street, clanging like a distant bell came from the blacksmith’s, then stopped. So quiet out. An old yellow tom, his winter coat thick as an old coon’s, meowed as he stepped toward her. A slight cool breeze touched her face, but it wasn’t cold enough to freeze the rain or turn her breath into vapor.
A loud cardinal at the top of a walnut tree ran through all its songs. Sourdough bread scent leaked out of the screen door behind her. Though rainy Saturday afternoons are dreary, written in a minor key, it’s still beautiful, despite the yellow October grass and skeletal back trees and white sky. A steam train bellowed several miles away, probably at Marti’s crossing. That meant it was about 11:45. Back to work, Jonas is on his way. She smiled.
Inside the kitchen, lit by oil lamps, Grandma was placing some wood on the fire, arranging the logs to keep the heat as even as possible around the oven, where the bread was baking. Noodles in red sauce bubbled on top of the stove. Grandma shut the fire door and wiped her face with a man’s handkerchief.
Grandma had run the boarding house for several years, ever since Grandpa had died of a stroke out in the fields. Rose had been helping for the last year, receiving a measly payment for her efforts. “About time you got back in here,” Grandma said, stirring the red noodles, scraping the bottom of the pot to keep the noodles from burning. “Now get those dishes washed.”
Rose got the tin dishpan, put it in the sink under the small pump, and began pumping. Freezing well water splashed down. Rose sighed. The whole world outside was so beautiful, but she had to stay in this cramped, hot kitchen and listen to Grandma’s complaints. She could not understand how her mother could stay so patient with Grandma. Mother had faith in God and the sweetest temperament she’d ever seen. But Rose wanted to lash out against Grandma – indeed, against this small world that kept her locked in. She didn’t want to plod along like Ma did, like cattle in harness.
At least there was Jonas, and their secret.
Jonas rode up on his sorrel horse with the white face. Her heart fluttered to see him. He was a stocky young man with curly blonde hair, and wore droopy work overalls as all the men did. He slid off the horse and tied it up as the horse tugged at the rope with short jerks of his head. His sorrel was one that, if he didn’t like what he was tied to, would look around and take off.
Rose smiled, giddy, and brought the hot rolls to the table just as Jonas walked in, hanging his hat on the hooks by the door. Several other men from the fields or the businesses around town were also coming in. Jonas’s cool blue eyes met her and he gave her a secret smile. She blushed, smiled in return, then, abashed, hurried into the kitchen as the men, talking in their loud voices, began to seat themselves at table.
End! (for the moment)
02 October 2006
I awoke to the real world to find Noel looking with curiosity at the Symphonians’ notebook.
"Oh, this and that," I stammered, trying to sound nonchalant as I quickly covered the scene with my arm. "I don't know. Sometimes I write any old thing in here. It's nice." I clutched my skull. I'm smart! Yet I talk like a cheerleader!
"You know, Kathy, I see you with that notebook, and more and more I think you ought to try out for Brain Bowl. I’m graduating next month, so I won’t be able to play any more. But you'd be perfect for the team. You obviously know how to concentrate, and you’re always hanging out in the library, so you’re not afraid of a little knowledge." Noel, holding his black fedora by its crown, lifted it a few inches and dropped it, lifted it and dropped it.
I squawked, "Really?" I cleared my throat. "I don’t know. It's obvious I can't talk."
"You're talking now."
"Yeah ... but talking's hard." Wow, did that ever sound dumb!
Noel put both arms on the table and leaned toward me, and I caught a whiff of spearmint gum. He chopped the table with the side of his hand as he spoke. "You have to learn some things to make talking easier. It's not easy for everyone. I learned because I had to." He leaned back in his chair. "Kathy, when I moved down here from Parnell in junior high, I didn't know anyone. So I made myself stand out from the crowd. I spoke to everybody, I remembered names, I complimented people. They paid attention. Now I'm beginning to reap the dividends. It was tough, though. I can't believe how cliquish these people are."
I nodded. "You got that right."
"Personally, I think you'd do well in Brain Bowl because you like research and you're smart. You've always got a book or a bass clarinet. Anyone who plays bass has got to have brains." There was a little wink in his voice.
I shrugged, though I was flattered. It would never be possible, though. It was too easy to look like an idiot in front of everybody. "Oh, I don't know," I said, being polite. "I'm doing all kinds of music stuff...." I glanced up and found his brown eyes full on mine, saw the little crinkles at their edges where he smiled. An electric current ran through me. Confused, I pushed up the sleeves of my cardigan. The library was warm as a strange tide rose in my chest, turbulent, wonderful, frightening. “I’m pretty busy,” I stammered, looking at my green notebook like some doofus.
“Have it your way,” Noel said, friendly.
He went back to his test. His brows lowered in thought as he frowned at his paper, his dark face intense, unguarded. Could he see how defenseless, how alone I am?
Yeah, maybe he'll pick you up and carry you away.
At once my imagination kicked into overdrive: Noel carried me out of burning houses, through war zones, rescued me from the mall during Christmas season.
The bell jangled: my lunch break was over. Reluctantly, I stood. Noel gave my arm a gentle squeeze, and I felt the warmth of his dark hand.
"See you later." Noel smiled at me. I longed to put my arms around him and AIEE don't think about that! And with one last confused smile in return I fled. I ran down the hall to Chorus, dodging students, my heart pounding, propelled by a giddy sense of doom. This is going to kill me! But I love it!
Yet I wanted to run down the hall with my arms open singing “Musetta’s Waltz” in a ringing operatic soprano, though my pipes would not have cooperated.
"It's just an infatuation," I told myself, knocking over students too slow to get out of my way, as my thoughts spun around Noel like a whirlpool. "Ignore it." Because my other infatuations had faded out after a year or two. This one would too. Simple as that.
Another part of me rebelled. Look, why are you so scared? Why can’t you be like a normal girl and go out with normal guys?
I didn’t have a good answer. So I squashed the voice like a bug. “That’s just the way I am,” I muttered, heading up the stairs back into the bandroom where the other Chorus students were gathering. “Deal with it.”
That’s not a valid reason any more, said the other voice, crawling out from under my metaphorical shoe. Why not change? Why not act like the rest of the world?
Shut up. I dropped a two-ton boulder on it and got out my choir music. I can't even take a hug, though I'd love a hug. They felt like an intrusion.
But that kind of love – sex – scared me even more. It wasn’t like I was going to have sex before I got married, anyway. Well, okay, not that I was even interested in getting married, either! So I’d be a virgin. I was curious, of course, and I mean really curious, but still, there’s nobody out there that I’d show myself naked to. Someone would see me with nothing on! Oh, God, that would be awful!
Besides, Noel’s a senior, and he’s going to graduate next month, so why bother? He has plenty of girlfriends to pick from. And I'm not good enough for him anyway.
That, I figured, was that.
Except I suddenly had an image of Jeremy, one of my Symphonians, tearing down the ice after the hockey puck, his blonde hair streaming out from under his helmet like Jagr’s. His blue eyes shone with the thrill of the chase. With a single slap shot – goal! And he did a double axle to celebrate.
Jeremy wasn’t afraid. So why was I?
(End chapter one.)
28 September 2006
In my notebook my Symphonians waited for me. Through them I plunged into another world: something like the show “Friends,” only with instruments.
See, I’d always been pathologically shy, where it just scares me to speak to people. I had a horrible time my freshman year. I was so depressed and isolated that some days I didn’t wash my hair. I wore the same sweatshirt until the cuffs got all worn at the edges, and I could not approach people for anything. I had problems with bullies that year, too, and because people ignored it when the bullies heckled me. So, I created my own friends. The Symphonians were everything that friends should be – fiercely loyal, generous to a fault, always loving.
And now I was a junior. I’d found my feet – washed my hair, wore cotton tops and comfy jeans and white tennies, so I wasn’t a total wreck. I liked to think I look nice, no need to be a supermodel, but nice, and I smiled a lot at people. It was just the talking part that gave me fits.
I headed to my little table in the reference section. When I rounded the corner of the stacks, I stopped. Noel was sitting there, working on what looked like a makeup exam, black hair rumpled, his black fedora sitting next to his arm. Before I could look around for another table, he looked up with those dark brown eyes. "Hey, Kathy. Did you want to sit here?"
“Um, sure,” I said. “Thanks.” When I sat down, I scooted my chair a few inches away, hoping Noel didn't notice. I wanted to scoot over farther, but despite my discomfort I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I pulled down the sleeves of my big cardigan (the library was freezing) and opened my green notebook, chewing my lip, and escaped into my work. Revisions, revisions, endless revisions. I loved ‘em, because I loved my people.
It was late. The concert was over, and most of the Symphony had gone home. Backstage, Roderick leaned on the piano, stuffing his tie into the pocket of his dress shirt while Jeremy and Penelope demolished another sonata. All three were still dressed in their black suits or dress, their regular concert attire. Penelope had black, curly hair that she wore loose around her shoulders, though she had it tied it back when she played her viola. Jeremy, who’d thrown his tie over his shoulder, his wavy blonde hair rumpled, was complaining about the way Penelope played her sonata, but the trumpeter wasn’t doing a very good job himself of showing her how it should be done. Jeremy gave up and began pounding out some Van Halen songs. Penelope covered her ears and rolled her eyes, but jokingly.
Roderick alone saw Violet heading toward the backstage door. Though Violet was about 25, about the same age as the three friends, tonight she walked like an old lady, with careful, small steps. Roderick thought, what does she do to herself to walk like that?
The three Symphonians were loitering around the piano, enjoying each other’s company and making a racket. It had been a while since Violet had loitered with them. That bothered Roderick. Has she stopped hanging around with us because I’m … interested in her? Violet was married. He’d never approached her. He had his reasons.
But to see Violet heading toward the back entrance in that dress like a black tulip, limping as if she hurt, stirred him. Now Penelope and Jeremy saw Violet, and he saw they all missed each other from the regretful, lingering looks they exchanged.
“Violet,” Roderick said. Saying her name made his blood leap in his veins. His dark hands tightened on the piano’s case. She turned, the dress flaring slightly around her ankles, and regarded him like a stray cat, ready to run.
Roderick waved her over. “Come here and hang out with us.”
“Yeah.” Jeremy eagerly leaned forward, arms crossed on the piano’s sill, to look around Penelope. Everything he did was with that boyish, wide-eyed enthusiasm, as if all his life was a variation of flying down the ice after a hockey puck. “We hardly ever see you any more. Where’ve you been?”
Violet, her clarinet case at her side, shrugged one shoulder so it touched her wavy brown hair. “I’ve been busy.” But Roderick thought that her face changed while she said it, as if she did not like being busy, whatever that entailed. Yet she took a step toward them. “Then again, it’s no fun being a hermit.”
“Play an upside-down etude for us,” Penelope pleaded, her brown eyes concerned as always. “It’s obvious that Jeremy and I can’t handle this instrument.”
“Yes, and it shows,” Violet said briskly. As if rising to the challenge, she came to the bench, her black dress swishing around her ankles. It had a fine, wide skirt to it that belled out as she walked: Roderick’s favorite. “Move aside, people.” And there was a spark of that ferocious Violet he’d always known. Roderick smiled.
Violet attacked the piano with grace, her fingers everywhere at once, something from Czerny’s School of Velocity. She fell into the music, her fingers flashing across the keyboard. Roderick loved to listen to her, as if the music was speaking to him. Then Violet played “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in the style of Chopin, grinning. She messed around with Chopin etudes. First it was “Paradise City” by Guns ‘N Roses in Chopin’s style, then some Green Day, then “The Thrill is Gone” by B.B. King. The Symphonians cheered and made jokes, and Violet bantered back. She caught Roderick’s eye and grinned, which made him feel like he could lift a car off the ground. Something passed between them, a spark that he saw leap in her eyes.
(Today I could feel the emotions leaping between Roderick and Violet like living things, intense. Why was my heart pounding as I revised this scene? Why was I feeling so self-conscious as I scribbled more notes in the margins?)
As if abashed, Violet ducked her head to the keyboard. Her music suddenly turned terrible, jarring, filled with what sounded like wrong notes, except there were no right notes.
“What in the world is that?” Penelope raised her head like a displeased queen.
Roderick watched Violet frowning over the keyboard. From where he stood, he could not see her hands at work, only the sweet movement of Violet’s body as she chased down the notes. “It’s from the opera Wozzeck,” Roderick said. “It’s the final so-called aria after Wozzeck kills his cheating wife and the man she was with.” Roderick’s stepfather used to play in an opera orchestra.
Violet spared him a sidelong glance, then turned her eyes back to the keyboard before anything else could pass between them. “So-called aria, my foot. It’s good music, so deal with it. Besides, that’s how the world is.”
“Not necessarily,” Roderick said lightly, wishing she’d look at him like that again. “Maybe there is such a thing as a happy ending.”
“Ha!” Jeremy cried, leaning on the piano. “Cooper, when have you ever thought that?”
“Don’t want to hear it, Richardson,” Roderick muttered.
But just then Violet glanced at the clock – and stood bolt upright, so fast that the piano bench tipped slightly. The piano fell silent. “He’s right,” Violet said, grabbing her purse. Was that fear in her face? And what brought that on? She’d been there for only a half-hour. “I can’t stay,” Violet said. “I gotta go. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want to miss my ride.” Violet raced out the door, her black dress flaring behind her.
Everyone stared after her. Roderick was floored.
Penelope said, “Did we offend her?”
Jeremy shook his head. “I don’t think so. She’s probably just late.”
But Roderick stared at the door, which was still slowly closing, was nearly closed, after her swift exit. That fear on Violet’s face was way out of proportion to missing a ride.
26 September 2006
On a lark, I thought I'd start serially posting my novel The Symphonians, bit by bit. I figure that by the time I've posted the whole thing, I will have achieved publication. It's 338 pages long, so settle in.
11 September 2006
Got down to City Hall, turned up the radio, left the truck door open, started weeding geraniums. And then they reported that the second plane had crashed into the second tower. And I just went really still and thought, oh. They did that on purpose. And I wondered what the heck we were in for. And I thought, Well, I guess I'm not going to hear the rest of that education report.
Switched stations on the radio all morning, finally settled on an ABC affiliate with Peter Jennings, who I like, and heard about the tower coming down, something that I could not imagine until I went home for lunch to cuddle my little girl, who was three months old, and saw the footage on TV, and it was awful. My dad was a war baby, I was a war baby, and now my girl was born into a war.
The two-way radio at work was silent all day. Some folks came outside from City Hall to pray. All the blinds in the windows were closed. I was wondering what kind of plane would be able to clear Museum Hill and hit a three-story building. But all day I pulled weeds as best I could and listened to the radio. There was no place on the dial that was playing any music: just dire news pouring out of the speakers. Blue sky, lovely weather, little sparrows hopping around under the truck. So weird. Then after work, horrendous lines at the gas pumps, and I sat in them.
But several days later, when the Daily Show came back on, Jon Stewart said, "No, humor is not dead," and my husband and I cheered.
So where were you?
07 September 2006
So far it's been proofing sale books all day. But I really like proofreading. It's nice and quiet, I do my best to be sure all the info is accurate, and sometimes you have to do a little detective work. Also they give you breaks and quite a few folks will go outside and walk for 15 minutes and I go with them, and I've noticed that the little pooch in my tummy seems to have shrunk a little bit, though the scale says I'm still the same weight. But I do like walking.
The main drawback is that I'm stuck in a chair all day. Sometimes I stand up while I'm proofing just to get out of the chair. I wish there were a way I could proof while jumping up and down, but I doubt that my cubicle-mate would care for that. Also it would look weird.
BUT if I find myself falling asleep at the desk, I go make hot tea (yum!). And if that doesn't work, I'll go to the basement and run a few wind sprints, and that usually does the trick.
02 September 2006
|Current music:||O Holy Night -- John Berry|
A meme I found over at That Girlie Girl's page. And though I need to be working on the story I gave in because it's about MUSIC.
Open iTunes/iPod or Windows Media Player to answer the following. Go to your library. Answer, no matter how embarrassing it is.
How many songs? 864 on my playlist, 3188 songs when I include my husband's list.
Sort by artist:
First artist: ABBA
Last artist: ZZ Top
Sort by song title:
First: 'Deed I Do -- Jay McShann
'Round Midnight -- Theolonious Monk
Last: Zimmer Imagines Heaven -- Paul Zimmer
Youth of the Nation -- POD
Sort by time:
Shortest Song: Let Me Be Your Hog -- Weird Al Yankovic (:16)
How Poetry Comes to Me -- Gary Snyder (:17)
Longest Song: Le Boeuf Sur le Toit (The Ox is on the Roof) -- Darius Milhaus (18:45)
Macarthur Park Suite -- Donna Summer (17:36) whoo!
First Album: '80's Soft Sides with "Hold Me Now" (Thompson Twins)
Last Album: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Kenny Loggins)
First song that comes up on Shuffle: "Sweet Dreams" by Air Supply
Then "She Still Thinks I Care" -- George Jones
Top songs played on the computer --
29 plays for "A Song for You" -- Ray Charles
29 for "Let Me Be Your Hog" -- Weird Al Yankovic
26 for "Brick by Brick" -- Kelley Hunt (my daughter likes that one and me too)
26 for "Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear" -- the Muppets (I play it for me; my girl's ambivalent about it; she prefers "Manah Manah")
26 for "Shining Star" -- Earth Wind and Fire
How many songs come up when you search for "sex?"
1 -- "All My Pretty Ones" -- Anne Sexton
How many songs come up when you search for "death?"
1-- "O Death" -- Ralph Stanley
How many songs come up when you search for "love?"
66, including "That's the Way Love Goes" by Merle Haggard, "We Live for Love" by Pat Benetar, "Never my Love" by Kurt Elling, and "Sailing" by Christopher Cross (??)
How many songs come up when you search for "you?" 86
Including "If You Could Read My Mind" -- Gordon Lightfoot
How many songs come up when you search for "why?" 6
Including "Don't Ask Me Why" by Asleep at the Wheel and "Why Do I Love You?" by Kelley Hunt
How many songs come up when you search for "God?" 4
Including "Thank God and Greyhound You're Gone!" by Roy Clark
How many songs come up when you search for "crazy?" 2
"I Go Crazy" by Paul Davis and "Crazy Love" by Poco
How many songs come up when you search for "Certified Angus Beef!"
I just stuck that in there.
How many songs come up when you search for "f***?" 0, duh.
17 August 2006
1. Who was your best friend?
Probably Kelly Neel. We didn't talk a whole lot but I really liked her and she was so nice to me. I didn't really have a best best friend since I was so self-conscious and afraid of rejection.
2. What sports did you play?
Ha ha! Jumping to conclusions.
3. What kind of car did you drive?
A 1976 Toyota Corolla station wagon, but being a Toyota it was a short one.
4. It's Friday night, where were you?
At home trying to write something, or listening to the radio. I never went out. Or practicing hymns at church, or figuring out new registrations for the organ and figuring out how to play it.
5. Were you a party animal?
Ha ha! No.
6. Were you considered a flirt?
Like I talked to people!
7. Ever skip school?
Nope. I was scared that something terrible would happen if I did and I would be banned for life, or some damn thing.
9. Were you a nerd?
I was too shy and quiet to be a nerd. But I was a band geek, playing bass clarinet, piano, tenor sax (briefly), and singing alto. Does that count?
10. Ever get suspended/expelled?
No. I did get into a fight with a girl in the library once, though. She was saying mean things to me, and I think I was leaving, but then this troublemaker kid threw gum in my hair, and I thought she did it, so I rushed her and the next thing I knew I was in a headlock. But I didn't get suspended, probably because I had no record.
11. Can you sing the Alma mater?
Yes, all of it.
12. Who was your favorite teacher?
Mrs. Tucker, my English teacher. She'd read my stories and share Tennyson and other good writers with me. She always had time to talk. So maybe she was my best friend.
13. Favorite class?
Band. Also English Lit was fun. I could recite the beginning of Canterbury Tales in Middle English (I'd recorded Garrison Keillor reciting it on "A Prairie Home Companion" during one of his monologues and got the text and learned how to do it.). And lit was just my thing.
14. What was your school's full name?
Savannah High School
15. School mascot?
A Savage. (Sorry.)
16. Did you go to Prom?
No. Like I'd go to a dance, or go out with boys. And paying MONEY to go to a dance? Are you kidding? What's the big deal about prom, anyway? I didn't miss it. I was like a nun or something.
17. If you could go back and do it over, would you?
You know, I say no, but then again, I want to, because I'd like to know how much I'm getting right about myself as a high schooler in my stories and where I'm off the mark. I feel like there's so much I'm forgetting about being a high schooler, and I wish I could go back and relive it. But then I'd be violating the Prime Directive and changing everything based on what I've learned since then. Shoot, I could go back and shout down those girls who used to give me hell in gym class, and I'd go to the people who wanted friends and befriend them and start a writer's group, and I'd come right out and tell my man that I was really interested in him, but I'd still write him letters. So hell yeah I'd go back!
18. What do you remember most about graduation?
When the class went to their seats, my friend and I got in the wrong row, but while everybody had their heads bowed for the prayer, we ran over to the right spots.
19. Favorite memory of your Senior Year?
Running around with the crazy guys in the school play. That was fun. Everybody would tickle Dexter behind the knees until he fell down laughing and I'd wade into the crowd to protect him. Making songlists and sound effects for the play. The pizza party we had afterward.
20. Were you ever posted up on the senior wall?
21. Did you have a job?
I delivered the newspaper every morning to the residents of Nodaway. About 16 people. I did that since 1983-4. Senior year I got a job at the greenhouse, planting marigolds, tomatoes, and petunias and watering stuff.
22. Whom did you date?
I didn't date anybody, not until I started college. But I did fall in love with a few people. But I fell in love with this one guy on 31 March 1988, just before he graduated, so I visited him at Wal-Mart and wrote him letters. Finally he got a clue. We got married in 1995, so that worked out.
23. Where did you go most often for lunch?
I'd eat real fast in the cafeteria, then run over to the library and read.
24. Have you gained weight since then?
Duh! About 20 or 30 pounds!
25. What did you do after graduation?
Went to NWMSU, pined away for my sweetie, got into a relationship with the wrong guy, he flunked out of college, I started going out with my sweetie, got a house to rent in Nodaway, got a cat.
26. Who was your crush?
I had a crush on several guys over the years. One was a exchange student from Sweden, one was a nice ag student, one was my man, one was a nice dark-haired guy.
27. When did you graduate?
- "The Promise" -- Wind in Rome