Ghost Story Late at Night

English: Elizabethan Museum, Totnes. The Victo...
Elizabethan Museum, Totnes. The Victorian nursery, with a courtyard through the window. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I dragged through yesterday because I’d stayed up late the night before, finishing Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black.  I’d planned to get to bed at a decent hour but made the mistake of turning one page too many and, as so often happens in cases such as this,  all was lost. I couldn’t stop reading until I’d turned the last page.

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Image by Derek Harper [CC-BY-SA-2.0]

I first heard of The Woman in Black from Kate Shrewsday, who said in a blog post,

“Susan Hill, a masterly ghost story teller, uses the nursery as the very epicentre of her masterly tale. An old house has unhappy history with tragic death at its centre. And those who died had lives which circulated about the nursery.”

The description sounded promising, so–after nearly six months of alternately remembering and forgetting–I got my hands on the book. It’s masterly, all right, a ghost story whose horror increases after the book has been returned to the shelf.

Now I’ll drag through tomorrow because of an inconvenient compulsion to post tonight. I’m probably already in hot water, because I have to be up and out before daylight, and my cousin Mary Veazey, the bossy one–you might remember her as the one who fell asleep while I was reading aloud the latest installment of my novel–well, anyway, she told me three hours ago to pack my suitcase and go to bed. I said I would but I didn’t.

Well, it’s too late to do anything about that now. Pun intended.

Before I get to the suitcase part, however, I’ll take a couple of minutes to link to a video of a little girl talking to a 911 operator about her father, who is having a heart attack. It has a happy ending. You may have seen it already–I’m usually the last one to discover such things–but if you haven’t, enjoy.

Shadow Chasing Shadow

clouds
clouds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today there were no clouds at all, but I could well imagine how magnificently the huge, brooding area of sky would look with gray, scudding rain and storm clouds lowering over the estuary, how it would be here in the floods of February time when the marshes turned to iron-gray and the sky seeped down into them, and in the high winds of March, when the light rippled, shadow chasing shadow across the ploughed fields.

~Susan Hill, The Woman in Black

Clouds by Ted Garvin (Own work) CC-BY-SA-2.5  

A Knotty Problem

Deutsch: "Kopfschmerzen". Die wohl b...
Deutsch: “Kopfschmerzen”. Die wohl berühmteste – stark von James Gillray beeinflußte – Arbeit in einer Reihe von sechs Blättern “medizinischer” Karikaturen, in denen Cruikshank Krankheiten als Teufelswerk brandmarkt. Erstmalig publiziert: 12. Februar 1819. Originalgröße: 210 x 255 mm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  George Cruikshank [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, PD-Art
 Yesterday Dominica felt faint, and Molly, my main character, steered her to a bench on the courthouse lawn and then dithered over what to do. She couldn’t leave Dominica, but she thought asking a passerby (of which there were none at the time) for help sounded lame.

Today, talking about treatments for migraines, one of my brilliant critique partners took a bottle of peppermint oil from her purse and passed it around. At the first whiff, I said, “Molly carries peppermint oil in her purse! She’ll use it to revive Dominica.”

In one fell swoop, I both saddled Molly with migraines and solved a knotty problem.

That is why I go to critique group.

Retreating

Retreat
Retreat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am at a writing retreat with two critique friends, deep in the heart of Texas. Have been here since 11:30 this morning. Two other writers arrive tomorrow.

Have written some fiction for me, some nonfiction for my friend Em. Before e-mailing Em’s to her, I read over it, as every conscientious writer knows she should, and discovered the nonfiction may be more fictional than the fiction.

Em will just have to deal with that.

I am tired. Fatigued. Exhausted.

And the phone will ring at 8:00 in the morning.

I shall retreat to my bed, where I shall dream about sweaters.

Sunday’s expected high–66 F.

Things are finally looking up.

Napoleons retreat from Moscow
Napoleons retreat from Moscow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Loving Molly

Author Susan Woodring’s post “This Writer’s Wish List: A Love Story” has been on my mind since I read it two days ago. I can’t make it go away.

Susan Woodring (short story)
Susan Woodring (short story) (Photo credit: suzanne carey)

It sticks with me because what Woodring says is true. Uncomfortably so.

She says if we write because we want something–wealth, fame, a room of our own, shoes–we’re destined to fail.

To write well, we have to ask what the story wants. We must write out of love.

I have at times worked according to the love principle: when I wrote an eight-chapter satire on life in the teachers’ lounge; my first couple of short stories;  a segment of the Mystery in Four Parts for the annual Austin Sisters in Crime celebration; the daily assignments for the retreat in Alpine last year; the very first, and unspeakably horrible, draft of Molly; every post that appears on this blog. The less the product matters, the more I’m willing to consent to its requests, and the more I love to write.

My Friday critique partner and I even wrote the love principle into the title of our partnership. Recognizing that publication would not be a slam-dunk, we lowered our expectations–or as my thesis advisor once recommended, modified our aspirations–and named ourselves the Just for the Hell of It Writers. 

Somewhere along the way, however, I meandered away from the ideal. I focused on getting it right the first time, being perfect, failing to trust that something would come from nothing. I wandered away from the playground and haven’t found my way back.

While wandering, I suggested to CP that we change our name to something more serious, more business-like, a name we could take out of our tote bags and flash around at writing conferences, a name that would look good on our resumes. After much discussion, we chose Waterloo Writers. We even voted. The motion passed unanimously, 2-0.

Ah, the pomp and the circumstance. One could almost hear the strains of “Land of Hope and Glory” replacing Willie Nelson from BookPeople’s speakers overhead.

(Epiphany: As I write this, a Frasier marathon, compliments of Netflix, plays on TV. I just realized I am a Frasier. Uptight. Perfectionistic. OCD. No wonder I’m not having fun.)

Anyway, I haven’t loved Molly for quite a while. I haven’t asked what she wants, and I’ve ignored her attempts to tell me. Even when she’s yelling. She yells a lot, all day every day. And at night when I’m trying to sleep. I can’t make her–or her passel of friends–shut up. No one else hears them.

Ignoring the cacophony takes energy. And sugar. Today the shouting was so intense I plowed right through the sticky, cloying chocolate thingies my husband bought at Wal-Mart to take to work for lunch. Enough for the next two days, he thought. Tonight, to make amends, I baked brownies, which I have already sampled. If I go to bed soon, they have a chance of lasting till morning.

Obviously sugar isn’t working. It never does.

Giving up isn’t an option either. In the words of another critique partner–one I consider my mentor–“Writing is part of my condition.” I may stray from the rule, but never from the desire. The voices in my head keep clamoring, and there’s just one way to calm them.

For this writer’s brand of schizophrenia, the only effective drug is the one Susan Woodring prescribes: love.

Plus, I would add, equal measures of faith and hope. The three have a history of joyful collaboration.

*****

Susan Woodring’s latest novel is Goliath (St. Martin’s, 2012). She lives in North Carolina. More information about Susan and her books is available on her blog.

*****

Picture of Susan Woodring by Suzanne Carey, via Flickr, CC BY- NC 2.0.

Goliath cover from Susan Woodring’s blog. 

Telling the Truth, Mainly

William and Ernest: No relation to the content of this post

A friend asked recently, “Why do you blog? It’s for the numbers, right?”

No.

Numbers are nice. I won’t pretend I don’t look at them. Several times a day, in fact. Compulsively. As one who for a long time was her own audience, I’m delighted by every little hit.

Better than numbers, however, are what the numbers represent: people who take the time and make the effort to visit, read, subscribe, like, and comment. People I’ve gotten to know and like through reading their blogs. People who boost my morale and my ego.

Possibly more of the latter than is good for me, but that’s no reason to stop.

Anyway, I’ve wanted for a long time to say thanks, and now I’m saying it: Thanks.

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A recent post concerned my being behind in reading, writing, and a number of other activities. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that sharing my troubles, especially those I myself generate, might not be wise.

As I said, people read these posts. They might get the wrong idea.

So, once more, I shall explain: Like Mr. Mark Twain, I tell the truth—mainly.

In other words, it’s never as quite bad as I say it is. Except when I lock the keys in the car.

I periodically vow to stop yowling about my little quirks, but doing so would raise another problem: I wouldn’t have much to write about.

Posts would go something like this:

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The new refrigerator didn’t come again today, so we are still surviving on microwaved frozen entrees (the freezer works), P. Terry burgers, Wendy’s salads, and Chinese take-out.

[At one time, I could have made that into lively, amusing fiction. But I’ve lost all enthusiasm for the topic. David kindly left work and brought me a McDonald’s burger for lunch today. I think that’s about the point at which enthusiasm began to leak.]

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On Saturday afternoon, our right front tire began to unravel at 60 mph in the middle lane of IH-35. It went flap-flap-flap, and we knew intuitively that the rubber had met the road and intended to take up residence there. Fortunately for all southbound traffic, it didn’t abandon us completely. We exited the freeway, crept back home, and set out again in the other car. The ailing vehicle is spending the night at the tire store, being completely reshod.

*

There are the facts, no yowling, no self-recriminations, just the happenings of the past week. Not the stuff of which blogs are made.

One thing did happen today that I would love to post. The bare naked facts, lacking all embellishment, would raise laughter from stones. I’ve been all giggly ever since I hung up the phone. Or perhaps since I relayed the story to David. He didn’t laugh, but I saw the corner of his mouth turn up. That was just after I said, “You were right all along, and you may now say, ‘I told you so.'”

But as much as I want to share, I can’t. Won’t. I am a good, kind, generous, compassionate person of maximum integrity, and I cannot in good conscience send that story into cyberspace. No matter how much the main character deserves it.

What I can do is to tuck it away, let it age, and bring it out again as fiction.

I’ve spent all afternoon trying to figure out how to fit it into my current novel in progress.

But if that doesn’t work, stay tuned. All this laughter is shaking my integrity to its very core. Sooner or later, it’s bound to crack.


Book Review: Kaye George’s CHOKE

Question: If you combined Lucille Ball with Inspector Clouseau, what would you get?

Answer: Imogene Duckworthy, amateur PI and main character of Kaye George’s new mystery, CHOKE.

Immy is a delight–the 22-year-old unwed mother of 3-year-old Nancy Drew Duckworthy (Drew), she lives with her retired-librarian mother, Hortense, in Saltlick, Texas; slings hash at her Uncle Huey’s cafe; and wants with all her heart to be a detective like her “dead sainted father.”

When Immy up and quits her job (Huey wants her to work double shifts again), and then explains her sudden unemployment by telling Hortense that Huey pinched her bottom (well, he DID pinch the other waitress’s bottom), Hortense heads to the cafe to give Huey what-for. Then Huey is murdered, the police take Hortense to the station, and Immy has her very first case. Guided by the Moron’s Compleat PI Guidebook, she sets out to find the perp.

The Moron’s Compleat PI Guidebook says nothing about staging a jailbreak, holing up in a Cowtail motel, or color-coding her list of suspects. But it does mention disguises, just what Immy needs to investigate on her home turf. An outfit that combines “Buns of Foam” with “Boobs and Belly,” however, leaves the amateur PI in need of the Jaws of Life, and the reader in stitches.

Kaye George’s CHOKE is a different kind of mystery. In most detective novels, the reader watches the sleuth-protagonist work his way through chapter after chapter, picking up clues and discarding red herrings, until he finally comes up with the answer. In CHOKE, however, the reader picks up clues while watching the gullible, ultra-literal, but enthusiastic Immy charge through to the solution while remaining blissfully clueless.

With CHOKE, first-timer Kaye George has accomplished something special: an original mystery, an original Immy, and a novel that leaves readers laughing and wanting more.

FTC Disclaimer: No one gave me this book. I bought it with my own money. Kaye George is one of my critique partners, but our relationship did not influence my review. I did not tell her how to write CHOKE, and she did not tell me what to write in my review. In fact, I never even critiqued the manuscript, and my introduction to the novel came when my copy arrived in the mail. I wish I had critiqued it, because I would like to take credit for “Boobs and Belly,” and the part about the letter opener, and the chicken. But the whole thing was Kaye’s idea. Even the orange pickup on the cover.

Sincerely, Jonathan

Girl Scout in uniform
Girl Scout in uniform, 1973--Image via Wikipedia--Public domain

Does anyone remember The American Girl magazine? The old one that was published by the Girl Scouts of America?

My mother surprised me with a subscription the year I was nine. I was in my second year as a Brownie, but I didn’t know the magazine existed until it landed in the mailbox with my name on it.

I loved The American Girl.

It provided access to information about movies, fashion, health, etiquette, and, most important, things I didn’t want to ask my mother or didn’t trust her to get right.

It also introduced me to fiction, as Nadine Bonner says, “about teen-aged girls trying to find their place in the world, just like me.”

Of the eighty-one issues I received over the next nine years, the  first is the one I remember best. And I remember it because of a story: “Sincerely, Jonathan.”

I don’t know who wrote it–except that the writer was not Betty Cavanna. I’ve googled and come up empty-handed. Without further research (probably of the paper kind) I can’t offer a citation. But I can tell what I remember:

Rosemary belongs to the “crowd” at her high school. They hang out at Ford’s, the malt shop. They burn up the roads in hotrods on Saturday night. They don’t study. They don’t make good grades. They manage to just slide by. They show no sense of responsibility or compassion. They’re cool.

Rosemary also has a secret. Before she moved here, she belonged to “The Honor Roll and Uplift Society.” At her new school, she had a hard time fitting in, and somehow she found herself taken up by the popular kids. She was embarrassed at first to introduce her friends at home, and she knows her parents worry about the change they see in her. But she does everything she can to protect her new identity. Her friends mustn’t suspect she’s a fraud.

Then one rainy morning on the way to school, she slips up. She sees the new boy, Jonathan Hockersmith, standing in the middle of the street, stopping traffic. With one arm he holds a stack of books; with the other, he holds his cello case as high off the ground as he can. A big Boxer pup is playfully jumping at the cello, blocking Jonathan’s way. Rosemary’s friends stand on the sidewalk, laughing.

On impulse, Rosemary hands her books to a friend and dashes into the street. She takes Jonathan’s books, he lifts the cello above his head, and together they run to safety. Jonathan thanks her, but she gets away from him as soon as she can.

Now she’s worried. She has allowed the crowd to glimpse the real Rosemary.

“I had reverted,” she says, “to type.”

Later, in class, Jonathan passes her a note:

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
I’ll remember you as someone who’s lovely and good and true.–Sincerely, Jonathan.

Rosemary quickly tucks the note into a book, but at the malt shop it falls out and into the hands of her friends. She tries to brush off their teasing, but Jonathan won’t leave her alone. He stops her in the hallway, waits for her after class, offers to help her study.

Spoiler alert: Because the ending is so fine, I’m going to tell it.

One afternoon, caught between protecting her “popular” persona and wanting to defend Jonathan to her friends, she surprises them by announcing that she won’t join them at the malt shop. Walking home, preoccupied, she catches her heel in a crack in the sidewalk and falls, hard, spraining her ankle. As she lies on the concrete, wondering whether her ankle is broken and how she’ll get home, Jonathan appears, picks her up, and carries her to her house. While her mother calls the doctor, Jonathan takes the casserole out of the oven and keeps the baby occupied.

Rosemary’s friends visit, laugh and joke, borrow a sweater and some pearls, and say they’ll be back. On Saturday night, however, they’re absent. Jonathan comes, though, and every night for the next week he brings her assignments and helps her prepare her work. He predicts she’ll make good grades. By the end of the week, she’s tired but happy.

When her friends finally crowd into her bedroom to report on the fun they’ve been having, and to say the pearls and sweater she loaned them are now ruined, they meet Jonathan on his way out. In response to their squeals and jokes, Rosemary tells them she won’t be coming back to Ford’s at all.

“At my last school,” she says, “I belonged to the Honor Roll and Uplift Society. And I aim to make it here.”

That statement breaks up the party. Alone with her thoughts, Rosemary summarizes what has occurred: “I had reverted, permanently, to type.”

That’s a lame account–I’d rather link to the story so you could read it yourself. But I’m surprised, after fifty years, at how much I remember.

At the age of nine, I didn’t hotrod (I never hotrodded, in fact). I was too young for malt shops and jukeboxes and a “crowd.” I was too young for the “needle heels” that Rosemary was wearing when she fell.

And it was years before I figured out what “reverted to type” meant. I didn’t think it had anything to do with a typewriter, but I wasn’t sure.

Still, I knew what the story was about. I read it over and over. I loved it. I tore it out of the magazine and put it away with my treasures.

I have a pretty good idea that it’s in a box somewhere in storage, waiting for me to feel industrious enough to clear things out and read it again.

I wish I thought today’s teen magazines were publishing stories like “Sincerely, Jonathan.” But unless something has changed since I shelved my last batch of periodicals, I know current fiction doesn’t come close. Nor do the magazines come close to matching the quality of The American Girl.

That’s not age talking. It’s fact.

I don’t know when I’ll read that story again. I feel no hint that I’ll be deluged with industry any time soon. Until then, I’ll have to go on depending on memory.

I’ll remember you as someone who’s lovely and good and true.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

Sincerely, Jonathan

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Image of Girl Scout in uniform by father of JGKlein, used with permission (Father of JGKlein, used with permission) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teaser Tuesday 3

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers.

My teasers:

“I barely had time to flinch before I saw Grace’s body tossed in the air. She flew several feet, then landed in a heap as the unicorn charged again, horn lowered, teeth bared, at the crumpled figure on the ground.”

~ Diana Peterfreund, Rampant


 

 

 

My hero(es)

William is curled up in my clothes closet, either napping or plotting an outrage.

He looks so darling, wearing his little orange cream striped pajamas, that I’d like to post a photo of him here. But then you, Gentle Reader, would know more about my closet than would be good for either of us.

Moving on.

Fannie Flagg will appear this Saturday at BookPeople. Her latest novel, I Still Dream About You, is described as “equal parts Southern charm, murder mystery, and that perfect combination of comedy and old-fashioned wisdom…” That quotation appears on the Random House website but is probably accurate even though the possibility of bias exists.

Emma Hagestadt, writing in The Independent, (see link, below), says the book is “a comedy-mystery featuring a group of post-menopausal estate agents – a golden-girl romp every bit as eccentric as it sounds.” Ms. Hagestadt is an experienced reviewer who obviously knows funny when she sees it.

Here is my favorite story about Fannie Flagg: In 1975, Flagg, who had never written fiction, went to the Santa Barbara Writing Conference because her “idol,” Eudora Welty, would be there. As part of the conference, she wrote the story “Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man.” But instead of submitting it under her own name, she used a pseudonym. Flagg’s story won the contest and later became the basis for her first novel.

I don’t know which amuses me more: the fact that Fannie Flagg, an experienced actor and television writer, was too shy to enter a fiction contest under her own name; or the thought of the twinkle in Eudora Welty’s eye when she presented the prize for best story to Pearl Buck.

 

Day 17: Perpetual writing

I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, “Damnit, Thurber, stop writing.” She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, “Is he sick?” “No,” my wife says, “he’s writing something.” ~ (James Thurber, in an interview with George Plimpton and Max Steele. Paris Review, Fall 1955)

Surrounded by crucifers, I calculated the odds that today’s cauliflower would make it to the dinner table rather than mummify in that mausoleum otherwise known as the vegetable crisper.

Candy to left of me, Cosmo to right, I pondered twenty-seven ways to lose fifty pounds by Thanksgiving and ninety-two prescriptions for gaining it back.

Crossing the parking lot, I put in a grocery store between the hair salon and the antique shop.

Then I hired a manager.

Joelle currently does cuts and perms–she was Margaret, the assistant postmaster, before youthening and changing her name and her career–but she could operate the grocery, which carries better stock than the Abomination out on the highway. And her husband, Scott, could take over when he retires.

I don’t know when Scott will retire. I’m not even sure his name is Scott. He used to be Herb, the postmaster. He took that job just before Margaret turned into Joelle. But he’s awfully straight-laced, and Scott suggests a certain amount of elasticity…

Grocery shopping isn’t the only endeavor that detours into writing. Sometimes I’m in the shower. Sometimes I’m driving to an appointment.

In the middle of a romantic birthday dinner at the Clay Pit, I erupted: “Ooh! I just thought of somebody else I can kill!”

That’s not the way to win friends and influence people, especially if you’re seated in the little room downstairs, where voices ricochet off stone  and land in the neighbors’ chicken korma.

No matter. People look at me funny, and they think I’m scatterbrained, and rude, and some no doubt think I’m criminal.

But there is one advantage to this perpetual writing, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Ever since fifth grade, when I heard a high school prose reading contestant perform “The Night the Bed Fell,” I’ve aspired to write like James Thurber.

And now, if I think about it in just the right way, I can say that I do.

What’s an old lady worth?

The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one….If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies. ~ William Faulkner

One of my instructors, citing William Faulkner’s statement that good writers are ruthless about their art, asked the class whether there were any subjects we could not write about.

William Faulkner
Image via Wikipedia

One of the students came up with an extensive, and very funny, list of things she couldn’t write about.

But for anyone aspiring to publish, it’s a serious question.

In her memoir, Limbo, A. Manette Ansay writes that to tell her story, she had to tell a story about her father as well. It was a memory so painful  that he disclosed it to her only when she was experiencing a deep personal crisis and he believed hearing it might lessen her pain. If he hadn’t given permission to tell his secret, she would not have written her memoir. Her father was more important than her art.

Against all the rules, I’ll digress to say that Limbo is a wonderful book, and everyone reading this post should run to wherever you go and borrow or buy one. I borrowed the book from my library, when I had one, and received no perks for stating this opinion. I say this in a spirit of full disclosure and a certain amount of pique that I have to say it at all. (Actually, since this isn’t a review, I probably don’t have to say it, but I’ve always wanted to use the word pique, and this way I have an excuse to do so.)

Back to the original topic. Because so much of my so-called inspiration comes from people I’ve known or heard about, I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about what I can’t write about. Is there anything in my life or that of my family that would be best left alone? Is there anything I cannot use as fodder? Anything really really good that, if I were lucky enough to get it into print, might be considered indiscreet? I can use my grandfather’s roll-your-own Bull Durhams and my Cousin Ruth’s statuesque leg, but is there anything that simply must not find its way into the bookstores?

General Robert E. Lee mounted on Traveller, hi...
Image via Wikipedia

I’m talking about family here.

Of course there are things I can’t write about.

In my case, family includes a whole raft of people I’m not related to, I hardly know, or I’ve merely heard about from other people. For example, my grandfather once knew a man who, as a boy, saw General Robert E. Lee sitting astride Traveler.

There’s nothing wrong with writing about a boy seeing Traveler (who both my grandfather and I knew was much more important than General Lee), but, for the purposes of my art, I consider that boy part of the family. It’s complicated.

Anyway, back to the question, What can’t I write about?

Like many other answers, it depends. Fiction allows–requires–the writer to stretch the facts to get to the truth. Characters aren’t people. Plot isn’t memoir. With that kind of leeway, the possibilities are endless.

And let’s face facts. I am neither a William Faulkner nor an A. Manette Ansay, and I’m in no danger of producing anything that will cause readers to confuse me with Keats. Or even with Janet Evanovich, more’s the pity.

Still, if I were forced to give a straight answer to the question, I would agree with Ms. Ansay.

Whenever I read Faulkner’s declaration, I think of “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Keats took comfort from the urn. I take comfort from the poem. “When old age shall this generation waste,” those things of beauty will continue to delight. It’s difficult to put a price on that.

But then I think of all the old ladies I’ve known.

From what I’ve read about him, I believe even Keats would consider them worth more than an ode.

Is there anything you can’t write about?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Another disclosure: Zemanta didn’t help me write this post, but it did provide the pictures and the link below, which accesses an audio archive of William Faulkner’s lectures and speeches. According to the accompanying article, the author was “quite the wit” and would “routinely slay audiences.” I’d planned to say I felt guilty for using Zemanta, but I’m so pleased at getting to hear Faulkner speak that I’m going to allow Z to assist me as often as it wishes.

Image of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten,  Library of CongressPrints and Photographs DivisionVan Vechten Collection, reproduction number {{{2}}}

Image of Gen. Robert E. Lee, September 1866, author unknown; [Public Domain]; file has been extracted from an original image in The New Student’s Reference Work:Image:LA2-NSRW-3-0037.jpg.

Image of Grecian Urn by John Keats (1795-1821) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/litmuse/64111434/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


An Ever-widening Wilderness

Okay. Enough of this sweetness-and-light, writing-is-my-life, revising-is-a-glorious-process, retreats-are-so-inspiring, the-daily-miracle-will-come baloney. Writing stinks.

Last night, no matter how hard I tried to make the technician at the other end of the line understand that the problem was caused by a short in the ground wire on the keyboard, and was surely related to the March 30 keyboard malfunction, he kept insisting that my hard drive is going out, and he made it clear that if I wanted to get to bed before 1:00 a.m., I’d stop asking questions and agree with him.

Back in the good old days, when faced with equipment failure, I just asked my daddy to get out his pocket knife and sharpen my pencil. But now I have to wait for the external hard drive to arrive, and back everything up–and I don’t want to hear one word about not having it backed up already; the critical things are on a flash drive and in my e-mail–and then call the service technician and tell him I’m ready for him to replace the hard drive. Of course, he will have already have called me, and I’ll have told him I’ll call him after I’ve received the external hard drive and run the backup.

That was Plan #2. Plan #1 was to send the corrupted hard drive to the factory and lose everything.

It’s enough to turn one into a raving Luddite.

Then there’s The Chair. For the past two years, I’ve sat in a recliner, feet up,  laptop on my lap, and typed away. The most discomfort I’ve felt has come from Ernest draping himself over my left forearm, and that’s not too terrible. At fifteen pounds, he’s not heavy enough to completely stop blood flow to my fingers. As long as he keeps his paws off the touch pad, I can work.

But now I’m sentenced to the desktop, which means sitting in The Chair. I love The Chair. It’s been in the family for over a hundred years. It’s an office chair. It wasn’t meant for sitting. A little while ago I sneaked upstairs and stole my husband’s vintage-1950s plastic chair with the wide contoured seat. It’s some improvement but I might as well make an appointment with the massage therapist while I’m thinking about it.

And what else? The Just for the Hell of It Writers meet tomorrow morning, and my critique partner, bless her heart, has decreed we must show up with fifty pages. Each. She has well over fifty pages of a coherent draft. I have a zillion pages of nonsense, rubbish, bilge, bunk, drivel, gibberish, hooey, hogwash, piffle, stultiloquence, and tripe. And that’s just the beginning. I haven’t even started on the adjectives.

Actually, it’s not all tripe. Some parts are decent. If they were adjacent parts, I’d be working on them now. But they’re scattered, and I’ll have to go looking for them, piece them together, and then fill in the blank spaces.

Furthermore, I’m sick of the characters. I’ve known them for a long time, and you know what they say about familiarity and contempt. If I had my way, I’d knock off the whole bunch of them: Miss Pinksie and all the suspects and Molly and her cousin Claudia and the Rat Butlerish love-hate interest and those cute twins. And the goat.

In addition, last week I received the Silver Lining Award, which made me smile, and here I am frowning before I’ve even had time to pass it on.

And to top it all off, I need to lose 900 pounds. By Monday.

The way things are going, that’s more likely to happen than my turning up tomorrow with fifty pages in hand.

In summary, writing is Sheer Hell. It’s a Vast Wasteland, like the tangle of cholla, prickly pear, dead brush, and dried grass in the photograph at the beginning of this piece, with splashes of yellow flowers and green trees representing false hope in an ever-widening wilderness.

Not that I’m complaining, of course.

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The photograph at the head of this post was taken at Paisano Baptist Encampment, near Alpine, Texas, during the Texas Mountain Trail Writers Writing Round-up. Paisano is a beautiful place. The opinions expressed in this post reflect the writer’s thoughts about writing and not about Paisano or the TMTW retreat. In fact, she likes cactus and dried grass and would love to drive so far back into a mesquite pasture that she can’t find her way out, an unlikely event in 21st-century Central Texas.