Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Monday, December 19, 2011
The lithopedia that I depicted in the first lines is a symbol of the dilemma of the narrator as well. As the author of
This excerpt is Lucy’s (my hero’s) ordinary world, a world where she is in charge but still nearly a child herself. She’s visiting her mother’s bedroom as if it is a shrine, hoping to gain the courage to do what she must do.
This excerpt is actually a discard from The Wonders of America, a story about a single mom trying to learn the meaning of family in time to save her daughter from a life as lonely as her own. And who are her teachers? Her daughter's father's family, as united (or not) and dysfunctional as the nation it lives in.
So why is this excerpt discarded? Because I am learning from these wise and wonderful authors, and understanding better what the story is about, and how it must be told, and where it wants to go.
I might keep the line about the Antichrist, though.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
My keepers won’t let me out of their sight. If they think I’m going to fill my pockets with seashells like a wannabe Virginia Woolf and walk into the Pacific as if it were the River Ouse, they needn’t worry. That isn’t how I have it planned. Though they’ve pretty much crashed my site when it comes to the logistics of just how I’m going to pull this off now.
This is the haunting beginning to Latayne Scott's completed manuscript A Conspiracy of Breath.I carry the wrapped child in front of me, in the crook of my aching arm, his head above his curled feet, as if he were alive. As if he had ever been born, or named, ordrew breath, or saw his dying mother’s eyes. As if she had ever seen his.
After Mother’s funeral I sat on her bed, fingered the peaks and valleys of her chenille spread and plumped her pillow to lean against the headboard. This was her world. A globe. A jelly glass of sharpened pencils. Bottles and bottles of pills. A tattered tower of crossword puzzles and a dictionary with a broken spine. A tub ofPonds Beauty Cream. Three library books, one with a bookmark only pages from the end. A picture of Papa, me, and the twins. And a Bible swollen with use.
“Miz Branch?” a voice called. “It’s Eric Russo. There’s something I think you need to see.”I opened the door and said hello to him through the screen. Eric was one of those polite boys with the acne and hair that needed washing and shoulders rounded like he was shielding himself from a blow. He held a paper in his hand.
These are words of my lost hope. Lost or taken, I can’t be certain, although I once was sure about the order of my life, of the people who came and went, what things occurred and what did not. Does it seem strange to speak about the things that did not happen? As if absence can be marked by the fact of it. How can a person catalogue the life that did not take place?
Christina tried to warn me about my boss.
"He's not the antichrist - I'm not saying that. Because everybody's going tolove the antichrist, and nobody likes Chuck. It's his one saving grace. But you watch him."
This last but not least excerpt belongs, of course, to the wonderful Kathleen Popa from her work-in-progress The Wonders of America.
We hope you enjoyed our Christmas contest as much as we did. On Monday, we will post a roundtable discussion about these novels, and explain the context of the excerpts. We invite you to join us on Monday to share your writing and reading insights and ideas.
For now: Did you guess correctly? Is there any author reveals that surprised you?
Friday, December 16, 2011
Christina tried to warn me about my boss.
"He's not the antichrist - I'm not saying that. Because everybody's going to love the antichrist, and nobody likes Chuck. It's his one saving grace. But you watch him."
I don’t pretend to understand much of what she said, but I knew Chuck, and I did watch him.
Just not near close enough.
The day it began was pleasant, at first - just that. The birds were singing their usual amount. The sky was blue, with a haze on the edges from a recent forest fire someplace to the south.
My friends had dropped by for coffee before I left for work. I called them “the Eena's,” Christina Alvarez and Serena Ortega, sisters who raised their families in adjoining halves of a duplex across the street.
I stood at the kitchen counter, browsing through the stuff my daughter had brought home from school.
The paper I held in my hand informed me that Claire Danes was my great-grandmother. Well - not Claire, but Yvaine, the fallen star she played in Stardust.
Her mother - my great-great-grandmother - was Pocahontas, and her mother was Cleopatra. On the other side of the family tree, a bit further back, was Mary Poppins.
"She got a 'D.' Minus." Christina pointed. "So stop smirking. It's not funny."
"Her teacher's got no sense of heritage."
"No, you know who doesn't have a sense of heritage? You! You have no sense of heritage. No sense of family. Lily, you have no family."
"Did you even offer to help with her homework?" She punched a finger to the inkjet paper Sierra had been given as a history assignment.
I held my hands up. "What could I do? She never even told me about this."
"And why didn't she tell you? She didn't know she could."
"Not listening." I covered my ears. "You can't make me feel guilty for working and supporting my - "
"I work. And my kids know their family."
Of course they did. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, Easter and Memorial Day the street was lined with the cars of the Ortegas and Alvarezes.
"That's because you have a family,” I said. “You said yourself - "
"Sierra has a family. And so do you."Wonderful, isn't it? Give it your best shot. Leave your guess in the comments section. Return on Monday for our Christmas Roundtable. The conversation continues!
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
These are words of my lost hope. Lost or taken, I can’t be certain, although I once was sure about the order of my life, of the people who came and went, what things occurred and what did not. Does it seem strange to speak about the things that did not happen? As if absence can be marked by the fact of it. How can a person catalogue the life that did not take place? The cancelled meeting, the person who did not come, the blister that never raised on my foot. I can do this because everything is always happening, all at once inside each of us. I carry in me the same primordial instinct as did my ancestors and the ancestors before them. The footprint of time is stamped deeply into my DNA and my body tells me of the things that never happened to it, but could have. Should have. And in another time, did.I’m not crazy. I don’t need to be told what is real. These are the days I live with my eyes closed. The days of absence.This place within these pages is the only place where no one can touch us. No one can approach, encroach, or rip away. We are safe here in the pages of this book. My journal of the other life I lead. This is the journal of my fondest hope, the place where I have found my truest feeling, my deepest emotion, my most real self. The true life I found lying within the husk of an empty future.I’m not crazy. None of this is real. Yet it is more real than my hands, which write it.Now it begins.A life takes up residence so deep within me its existence can’t be detected on earth.A secret that is buried weightless inside of my flesh. A heart not yet beating, yet it complies with steady contractions of my own heart. In time, it will take on flesh that is forged by will—constructed—life that is sprung from God’s imagination.From the beginning, the two of us together extend and contract, one begins and one ends, each contained by the other. My body’s darkness possesses his body, and inside of his forming body he possesses our now shared soul.It is a boy. I know this in the way women know things. He has a name, it’s the one that has dwelt in the back of my mind from the time I was old enough to have my thoughts turn to such things. A name I don’t speak or allow myself to think. Not yet.They say you should wait until after the first three months—the first trimester—that it’s within this fragile time so many babies slip from the womb. But he is solidly inside of me. I know this, too in that same female knowing way. He is a stone set in the sediment of a tranquil river. A resident, and not just a stranger passing through. The certainty of him seeps in. But still, I wait to speak his name. I know he doesn’t blame me.I lie in my bed, and together he and I rest in our shared secret knowledge of one another. I sing him songs that until now I didn’t know I knew the words to. As if his presence has brought the memory of music back to me. This sits right and good. Like another miracle being dragged. That is what this is: a cluster of miracles one following on the other’s heels.
Monday, December 12, 2011
“Miz Branch?” a voice called. “It’s Eric Russo. There’s something I think you need to see.”I opened the door and said hello to him through the screen. Eric was one of those polite boys with the acne and hair that needed washing and shoulders rounded like he was shielding himself from a blow. He held a paper in his hand.“I think this might be yours.”He briefly met my eyes and looked away, rubbing the back of his neck with his other hand. I unlocked the screen and took the paper from him.…and Sophie was not the type of woman to ‘go gentle into that good night’ without raging…My name rested at the top left corner.The page wasn’t even wet.My voice came out pinched and accusing. “Just where did you get this, young man?”He cleared his throat. “On the riverbank. There’s more, too. Thought you’d wanna know.”“On the riverbank?” I asked, not comprehending.“Yes, ma’am. All up and down both sides. I saw it on my way home from delivering the paper to the Jolleys.”More pages. Not in the river. On the riverbank. On…The growing roar in my ears made it difficult to hear what he was saying, and it alarmed me when he opened the screen and reached out, but in the end he kept me from hitting the floor by carefully lowering me onto the rug where I sat with my head between my knees.
Friday, December 9, 2011
After Mother’s funeral I sat on her bed, fingered the peaks and valleys of her chenille spread and plumped her pillow to lean against the headboard. This was her world. A globe. A jelly glass of sharpened pencils. Bottles and bottles of pills. A tattered tower of crossword puzzles and a dictionary with a broken spine. A tub of Ponds Beauty Cream. Three library books, one with a bookmark only pages from the end. A picture of Papa, me, and the twins. And a Bible swollen with use.
I touched all of these things—balanced a pencil on my finger, smeared cream over my face, spun the globe to run my finger along its worn equator. The Bible crinkled when I picked it up. I fanned the pages to release the smell of ink and old leather. A photograph fell into my lap.
And there she was, my mother, a teenager standing self-consciously in front of an old car. One hand covered her mouth to hide the gap in her teeth, something she’d done even as an adult, but her eyes were smiling. She wasn’t alone in the picture. A small girl, much younger and as fair as butter, hugged Mother’s waist. The little girl’s head tilted back as she laughed. They were salt and pepper, light and dark.
Who is she?Who is she, indeed? The author, I mean. Who is she? Give your guess in the comments section for a chance to win $50 toward one of George Popa's beautiful sculptures or a cookbook.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Monday, December 5, 2011
My keepers won’t let me out of their sight. If they think I’m going to fill my pockets with seashells like a wannabe Virginia Woolf and walk into the Pacific as if it were the River Ouse, they needn’t worry. That isn’t how I have it planned. Though they’ve pretty much crashed my site when it comes to the logistics of just how I’m going to pull this off now.I hate women who meddle.Okay, that’s a strong statement even for me. I just wish I’d forgone the request to borrow the beach house and come without anyone knowing. Broken in or something, a stealth trespasser. But I wanted them to know where to find me, when this is over, and I’m paying the price for it now.I cast a glance at my red-polka-dotted stepmother, who stops every few feet to shake the sand off her flip flops, not caring how ungraceful she looks. A sand crane she’s not. But she is the organizer in all of this meddling, I’d bet my life on it. Ha. Not much of a bet. I bark out a laugh at my secret joke, and I swear I hear a seal bark back a reply.Sissy turns her face my direction, and covers her eyes with a cupped hand against a sun that’s dipped past its zenith. "What’s that, Bristol love?"I pretend her words get lost in the wind, like a kite sailing off without a string. Oops, there they go... As a diversionary tactic I reach down, pick up the remains of a starfish and hurl it Frisbee-like into the waves. My efforts are as lame as everything else in my life, as the very next breaker brings it back to my feet. I bend down and pick it up again, my boomerang starfish. And I’m pounded with the thought, where is my boomerang baby? Oh, God, where?
Friday, December 2, 2011
Readers say they want reality. Publishers say too much reality is a downer and downers don’t sell. They say people who are in the midst of debt, depression, bankruptcy and loss don’t want to read heavy topics. Readers need something distracting and uplifting and the sales numbers bear it out. So we try to tell our stories in positive, uplifting ways but if the story subject is heavy to begin with, how do you even market the book? How do your write back cover copy that conveys both realism and hope – something that will make readers want to take a chance?
How much reality do people really want?
During the 30s, Hollywood produced movies like Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Captains Courageous, and Stagecoach to distract the public from the problems of the Great Depression. Escapism. These stories couched realism in fancy. A woman survives the Civil War, a girl learns she has power over her situations and another runs from her dysfunctional family. A boy learns what it takes to be a man, and a man becomes a hero. Let’s face it, these are great stories, regardless of the financial climate.
Latayne and Patti led us into some great discussions on authentic writing this week, and many of you shared from deep places in your lives. So much potential for great storytelling! And while there are wonderful, authentic stories in the Christian market that require us to wade with the protagonist through swift, muddy waters to the shores of spiritual growth, there are others that simply distract us from our problems for awhile. A bit of escapism is okay, too.
For those of us who prefer the swift, muddy waters, it is quite possible that we are not the target audience of Christian fiction. If so, where does that leave us as readers and writers? Tell us what you think.