Thursday, September 03, 2015

The King Must Die

I happened upon a more recent paperback copy of Mary Renault's The King Must Die, and found myself transported back fifty years or more. Instantly, the memory of being swept into another place and time washed over me. Bought the book, took it home, and with some trepidation, started reading it again. Would it hold up? Was the magic still there?

Damned straight it was and is. Once more, I can barely put it down.  I am in Greece right now, even though my body is at the lake and the fam is out fishing.  Looking back, I see now how my fascination with archaeology got started, and remember how it felt to walk the remains of the palace at Knossos. Crete was a hot, dusty, boring little rock in the sea, so what magic trick did it pull to become a political powerhouse?  Even then, I wondered at the fear the Minoans brought the "civilized" world. Reading Mary Renault's books taught me so much.

Even more clearly, it has come to me how she influenced me as a writer. First person voice, sometimes in the present, sometimes looking back from an omniscient future Theseus, is still my own favorite writing device. I want the reader to be the character. Renault does it perfectly.  How odd it is to discover one's writing roots and see so clearly how they grew.

I have an old first edition of  The Bull From The Sea, and barring hell or high waters, will start it next. How wonderful it is when the revisited past is alive and well, and not one whit diminished.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

My bad

To be honest, I've been busy, busy, busy. Jenn and Carolyn, my writing buddies, and I did a small writing retreat, and I had the fire if all fires lit under my tail feathers.  Which is a good thing.  Then there's summer and the lake, birthdays to celebrate, and the fun part of  working in the yard. Except, it's too hot for to be it fun right now.  I need to record the deafening roar of the cicadas and the bellowing of the bull frogs for the snowy days heading our way all too soon.  Love summer. Hard to keep the butt in the chair and hands on the keyboard, that's for sure.

Read an author new to me, Nancy Pickard. (Hope I have her last name spelled correctly.). The book is  The Scent of Rain and Lightning.  The mystery is good, but the real strength lies in the characters. Wish I'd written it.  Now to track down her other mysteries!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July: and the rains came and so did the next Harper Lee book

While the West is withering under the effects of an earth-killing drought, we are swimming in the wet. Rain and more rain. Humidity that is forcing creation to add gills to humans.  God bless, but it has been wet! And this is July. Picture me shaking my head slowly, wiping sweat from the back of my neck, and running my third shower of the day. If I'm going to get wet, I want it to be of my own choosing.

I fully intend to sound like a wet, woolly, icky blanket. Maybe the weather has made me cranky, but I will not, cannot read Go Set a Watchman, the "newly discovered" precursor to To Kill a Mockingbird. The NYT review revealed that Atticus, in this early version, is a racist bigot. I cannot imagine why any author would allow a revered and venerated character to be morally assassinated in another book. And now we know why Lee's elder sister, Alice, kept the manuscript locked up. Only after she passed on did it get "discovered" by her successor guardian, a shady deal if ever I heard one. Harper Lee doesn't need the money. So why did she allow this to happen, now that Alice is gone?

We'll probably never know the reason. Lee has stated that Alice is Atticus Finch. Maybe she wanted the world to know, finally, that her father, the purported foundation for Atticus, wasn't, in no uncertain terms. Graduate degrees will be given on an analysis of the two books and what happened between their writing. I really don't care.

I refuse to destroy a good and noble book that has influenced generations to seek justice and protect those who need it most. Atticus Finch will stay as he has been lo these many years, at least in my imagination.



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Family Trees

I have in my office a copy of a family tree, sketched by some relative many, many years ago, long before I was born. The tree shows long branches, cut-off branches, and a sturdy trunk, but the handwriting is so spidery, and everything is so jammed, it's hard to make out what's going on. Being a problem-solver, I thought I could untangle this branchy web with a diagram. Wrong. All I did was create more confusion. Then it came to me - I really don't care about genealogy, what I care about are the family stories.  So I picked out a few names and did some research. Now that's fun!

I am doing the same thing with my current WIP. I have a family tree of sorts for my characters, but it's filled with their ages, heights, hair colors, who is married to whom and what they do for a living, etc. This background may never be used in the book, but it matters to me. This is part of their stories. I list their nicknames, their foibles, their loves, and what scares them silly. It's all linked on a neat sheet of paper, and whenever I feel as if I'm losing touch with a character, I refer to it.

It also keeps me from making that most horrible of mistakes, changing eye color in mid-book!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

J. Rodney Johnson

When I realize how young Rodney Johnson was when he was my Wills and Trusts professor in law school, I'm gobsmacked. He seemed much older to a 23 year old me. In many ways he was. Deliberate of speech, careful in his pronouncements, a man who thought things through before he opened his mouth, he was one hell of a teacher. I can think of maybe four teachers in all my scholastic career I will never forget and always be grateful I was a student of theirs, and Professor Johnson was one of them. Miss Blazer (honors high school English), Dr. Niederer (art history), Richard H. W. Dillard (creative writing), and Rodney Johnson were the best. Richard still is, since he's the only one still with us.

Wills and Trusts was a required course when I was in law school a thousand years ago, and I really wasn't in the right frame of mind for it. I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. As far as I was concerned, spend your money and don't leave any for your heirs. That philosophy only works when you're 23. Rodney Johnson was a no-nonsense kind of teacher who expected you sit up, pay attention, and think.  I respect that in a professor, so I grudgingly did what he asked. Along the way, I learned a heck of a lot that was fascinating and showed me how the legal landscape of wills and trusts was fraught with time bombs and not for the faint-of-heart lawyer. Yes, people killed over estates. I soaked it all in.

I can't say I ever wanted to work exclusively with wills and trusts, but I learned enough to take my time, research, and ask the right questions. If I had a sticky situation that had me wondering if I was writing a document correctly, I could always pick up the phone and call my former teacher. He'd start with his slow drawl and pleasantries, then say "well now, let me make sure we're clear about the problem." And he always helped me regain my confidence, or he'd steer me in another direction I hadn't realized was there. I will be forever grateful to him for his kindness and professionalism.

He was a good man who gave unstintingly of himself to others, and not only his former students. His dedication to his family, especially his lovely wife, his church, and his faith were givens. No one ever doubted his sincerity or his joy in giving of his talents to those who needed them.  It's pretty much a cliché to say the world will be a lesser place without him, but in this instance, it's horribly true.

I wish I'd known he wasn't going to be with us for long.  I'd have written or called, and I will always regret that I didn't.  The best thing I can do to honor his memory is to pay it forward.  I will.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Valuing our work

 I've never given my books away online. There, I've said it. I'm just not convinced using "freebies" will get you new readers.  Imagining a vast wasteland of ereaders jammed to the gills with free downloads, I just can't bring myself to toss my hard-worked, sweat-of-my-brow, blood of my soul stories into the ether for free. I worked hard on those books, damn it.

I feel as if it would be a betrayal to give them away. I don't mind an occasional story or bits and pieces. Sometimes I just need to know if something is working before I spend the next six months of my life on it.  And as a woman, I recognize the fact that we get paid a hell of a lot less than men for doing just as good a job, or even better. So the issue of the laborer being worthy of her hire strikes a resonating chord with me.

I'm also suspicious of what people will think of a free book. Will they think it's less good, less valuable, less worth their respect or time?  I know I feel that way. Or else, I wonder why a writer considers this book to be a throwaway. None of those feel right to me.

Marketing Ebooks online seems to me to be like herding cats with an invisible net.  If there were a sure-fire way to garner huge readership by giving away free copies, I'm sure the writing world would be doing it en masse. Me, I think the real idea is to write a damned good book. Let the readers take it from there.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Cherries

Grocery shopping is one of those necessary evils, like laundry and house chores. I get it done, then collapse in a heap of OMG, I survived another Kroger's run.  But yesterday I bought cherries. Yes, cherries, my saving grace.

Every year, I wait for this season not just for the weather (61 degrees in June! really??!!), but for the flowers and fruit. Cherries are a vice, I swear. How can any one fruit (except for sweet Georgia peaches) taste so wonderful? It's a struggle to parse them out, because I want to dive head first into the bag.

They also bring back a very early memory. My family bought a house when I was in preschool that had several mature cherry trees.  I can still see the fruit falling on the driveway, the trees were so laden. My mother decided this was a waste, so she put me to work pitting the buckets-full she collected. I loved how the cherries stained my hands and nails a bright red. The next step involved making cherry preserves and pies. Now, my mother was not a die-hard kitchen fan. Cooking wasn't her forte, but she couldn't stand wasting all those cherries. I remember my dad getting involved in sealing jars with hot wax, the steamy kitchen, the counters filled with bowls of newly pitted cherries, my mother rolling pie crust.

That was a magical summer before my foray into first grade. Cherries filled my dreams. When I arrived in first grade, I was reluctant to leave that hot kitchen filled with wonderful smells and food. So I learned the art of daydreaming. After all, Dick and Jane led incredibly boring lives and had never pitted cherries. I rolled pie crusts in my mind. My teacher, young and pretty and prissy, was not amused. A conference with my mother ensued.

As my mother told the story, the teacher remarked, after introductions, "Well, now that I've met you,  I understand Tracy." My mother wasn't sure whether she should be flattered or insulted. So she chose to be amused. After all, my mother was a college grad and pretty darn smart.

I promised my mother to hide my boredom. After all, I could read already, and that's all my mother cared about, not my prissy teacher's opinion. It all worked out in the end.

I still love cherries, and not only because of their flavor.