Monday, May 04, 2015

When it doesn't go as planned. . .

I was cleaning up the deck at home, hauling out lawn chairs, pulling cushions from their winter hidey-holes, and generally rejoicing in a perfect day, weather-wise.  We were just back from a quick trip to the lake, and feeling the need to continue the great outdoors adventure.  So I hauled the umbrella for the dining table from the shed, and quickly dropped it through the hole in the tempered glass table.

Big mistake. The explosion was immediate, the shock quickly followed. Glass everywhere, including in my skin.  I stood there for what seemed hours, as the tempered glass crackled and continued to break from its death place on the deck floor. Slivers of glass had shot into my jeans and my shoes, and all I could think was, how on earth do I clean this up and start over? I wished I could I go back to five seconds earlier and re-do everything I had done, which was clearly a mistake.

There are no do-overs for shattered glass or writers, once a book is published. When it's done, it's done.  I can't tell  you how often I will read a paragraph here and there in one of my books, and think to myself, I need to do another rewrite. If I have the rights back, I sometimes will.  But not often. It's crazy, but warts and all, it's my baby and it needs to be what it is. I just have to get over myself and my compulsion to rewrite the heck out of everything.

A story loses its sparkle, at least for me, when I'm compulsively rewriting it. One day, I'll learn to let it go. It'll fly or sink on its own.

So there. I need to go clean up the million pieces of glass all over the deck. At least I know what to do with that.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rereading the classics

A few books stay on my keeper shelf forever. Others have wandered away (NoMoreLendingBooks!), leaving only their memories. Some, I mean to reread and analyze. Others, I can practically quote them verbatim. In that category:

 Theophilis North by Thornton Wilder. What a charmer. A writing style I will never achieve.

 Falling Woman by Pat Murphy. So cool, even years after the first reading blew me away.

Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer is going to get an analysis - I'm going to outline the structure - because it's so unusual.

Anne Tyler's A String of Blue Thread is going to get the same treatment. The death of the narrator in the middle of the book threw me a loop, but she manages to weave her back into the story in the second half with effortless style. I don't think I can do that, so I need to learn how Tyler pulled it off. Or if she didn't, and I'm just hoodwinked.

Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm. What a hero. What a heroine. What an incredible opening. I still see certain scenes, and I haven't read the book in a long time. Must go find it now. . .

There are many others, but these always jump into my head first thing when I'm looking for a book to pick me up and give me something wonderful all over again.

Oh, and of course, Pride and Prejudice. Or as it's referred to in our house, P&P. Wish I owned stock in that book. It has paid me incredible pleasure dividends over the many years since I first found it.  Dialogue to kill for.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The skies are gray

but it's coming - that elusive sprite, Spring!!! Feels like a Mamas and Papas song, right? Anyway, I'm busy buying out the greenhouse store, collected a new pair of garden gloves, and my snips and trowel are already in action. Yep, I'm getting happy. Humming Pharrell Williams as I dig.

I found a doll stuck in a box the other day, a Madam Alexander Cissy model that was my mother's. I remember my father giving it to her in the mid-50s for Christmas. The doll has red hair, wears a lacy teddy and thigh-high stockings, and is in perfect shape. I wish I knew the backstory, but I don't. Maybe my mom had wanted a doll like her when she was a girl, and never gotten her. Still, it's odd to think of my father, the army officer, buying this sexy looking doll for his wife, the mother of his two children.  She was very proper, my mother. And she kept that doll through moves all across the world, until she passed away.

When I was 8, I got a Cissy doll for Christmas, too. Mine is named Helen, and she has a wardrobe filled with clothes my mother and grandmother made for her. She had high heels that laced around her ankles, pearl studs in her ears, and a white satin evening gown with a bunny fur wrap.  She was the most beautiful doll I ever received, and I, too, still have her. Helen, however, is in much rougher shape than my mom's doll. Helen saw a lot of imaginative play and hair combing and clothes-changing. We are still buddies, even though she resides in a pink doll case. I can't imagine parting with her. 

Especially since my eldest daughter looks just like her.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Running away

I casually mentioned to a friend that, if the weather didn't improve substantially (when will the &* sun come out?), I was getting in my car and heading for Key West. She said to let her know, she'd be there. At that moment, I almost threw a toothbrush in my computer bag, loaded up the laptop, and headed for the gas station for a full tank.

This interminable winter (no daffodils, really???), has given me some inspiration, however. I read an amazing YA book years ago about what happens when the moon disappears and the subsequent climate change kills all crops and descends the Earth into freezing darkness.  The images are vivid in my mind, to this day. But what happens if the climate change is a gradual chilling, not global warming? It's so subtle, we are in trouble as a planet before we know it. It's not a catastrophic Ice Age, but endless summers of cool rain and pale, sickly grass, wet grain, and sweaters. As a metaphor, it works. Society has grown so hot with conflict, it has to cool down somehow. Mother Earth takes matters into her own hands.

Where this will lead, I'm not entirely sure. But I find the premise is intriguing, and as these things go, people will begin populating this dystopian world and hopefully, tell me their tales.  I hope I like them enough to care what happens next.

If not, there's always Key West.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A long thirty days

Not long after I posted the picture of Julia Cabaniss Hayden, my brother-in-law died.  Hours later, in fact, much to our shock and dismay, he passed away quietly in his sleep. No real physical reason for his passing, the doctors said. They couldn't figure out what sent him on his way to his next experience. They were as shocked as we were. He was only 66.

I am sure he decided it was time to go onward. I believe we have to give our consent to pass into the next phase of our existence, and he was worried that his time here was going to become hampered and uncomfortable. He didn't want to be a burden on anyone. Diabetes was getting him down, and he was tired of fooling with it. Two days earlier, he'd had to put down one of his beloved Cornish Rex cats. Nothing felt right. So he made up his mind to leave us. With no wife, no children, and a cold, gray winter, he must have felt as if checking out was the sane thing .

We buried him in the family plot in Illinois, where the deep snow and ice had to be plowed aside to make room for him. I told him he'd better run when he sees me coming in the next life, because he's in deep trouble with me.

Believe me, next time I see him, he's going to get a piece of my mind. A big chunk of it, in fact. We miss him. A lot.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Julia Cabaniss Hayden

Found this daguerreotype totally by accident on Flickr. She's related to my father's mother, through the Henings of Virginia.  My grandmother and her siblings always talked about Aunt Julia of Smithfield, and I have some silver spoons with Hayden engraved on them. It's amazing to see such a lifelike likeness of someone who is just a name on a genealogical tree.  Mr.Hayden was her second husband - her first, J.D. Wilson, died. My great aunt Dolly's real name was Julia Cabaniss Batten, in fact.

What a pretty lady.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

First Drafts and the Harper Lee Saga

I have to admit, the news of a new (old) Harper Lee novel sent me into a heavenly place. How wonderful is this, I thought. Then I had a second, third, and even fourth think, and I'm getting goosebumps. Not the good kind. The creepy kind.

So I pulled out the copy I own of Shields' unauthorized biography of Ms. Lee, titled MOCKINGBIRD.  It's well written and feels very grounded, and I haven't read it in a while. So I looked up the pages about Mockingbird's evolution, and what I read reinforced the icky goosebumps.

Go Set the Watchman was a first draft, all right. The agent Maurice Cairn and his wife, Annie Laurie Williams, who agented film rights, saw it as a great start, but anecdotal with no story arc. It needed rewriting, so Ms. Lee rewrote and rewrote, for two and a half years. She produced the best book she could, and it was To Kill a Mockingbird.  I'd been wondering at this news of a "newly discovered" manuscript, when it was clear the agents and Lippincott's editor, Tay Hophof (? I'm sure I've misspelled the editor's name) knew and had read Watchman. Why hadn't they published it after Mockingbird, especially since they were dying for a follow-up novel?

I'll tell you why. First drafts are usually so ugly only their mothers can love them. Then they go through growing pangs and the awkward phase, until they mature enough to be shown to the world. I have first drafts hidden in the attic that I should take out and burn. My bet is, Watchman is that first draft that was filled with passion but plot problems. We've all been there.

Anything by Nelle Harper Lee is worth its weight in gold. I get that. But after years of refusing to put out another book, I can't help but wonder what changed Ms. Lee's mind. 

I can only come to ugly conclusions, none of which taint Ms. Lee, but only those she has trusted.  I would hate to learn who it is, singular or plural, because the wrath of the reading public can be vicious.  If only it doesn't taint Ms. Lee's literary heritage and well deserved stature as a great writer and social conscience.

I pray that is so.