Happy Ending

She wrapped the shawl around her cold shoulders and went out into the fog. The yellow street lights made piss poor progress in that wet darkness, but it didn’t matter. She knew her way. “Either he’s there or he isn’t. If he isn’t, I’ll go home. If he is, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

It occurred to her that this was no choice at all.

“Wow,” she thought. “I’ve been pacing the floor this whole evening and THAT’S the best I can come up with?”

She knew herself. She wouldn’t raise her voice. She wouldn’t complain. She wouldn’t drag him home. She wouldn’t lock him out. She wouldn’t do anything, so what was the point of this?

“I saw him at the Purple Breasted Pigeon with Carla,” said her co-worker, Lucy, just two days before. “They were clearly not ‘just friends’ if you get my drift.”

“Why are you telling me?”

“We women have to stick together. It’s us against them.”

“If it’s ‘us against them’ why are we with ‘them’ in the first place?” The thought crossed her mind. She didn’t think of her marriage as an adversarial relationship, just sometimes a crappy one.

“I guess,” she’d said to Lucy. “I don’t know why it’s like that, though.”

“The nature of the beast,” Lucy said, nodding wisely, “the nature of the beast.”

Beast,”  she thought as she made her way through the fog. “Beast,” she said aloud to the empty street. Ahead she could see purple neon reflected on fog. It was a neighborhood bar, after all, and she was almost there. She heard music. She thought of their dating days, hers and Lamont’s, and how often they would go out dancing and how they never did anymore. “What happens to love?” she asked the vague and heavy air. “Maybe it’s the nature of the beast.”

She turned around. There was no reason to go inside looking for her husband and her friend. She would only look foolish, a step down from merely feeling foolish. Soon she was home, a three-story 1950s apartment building near the park. She and Lamont loved it when they first saw it, couldn’t believe their luck. She opened the front door, went upstairs to their apartment and unlocked the door. Lamont stood in the kitchen chopping onions.

“Where have you been, honey? I’ve been worried. Visibility is crap tonight. It took me over an hour to get home from work. There were crashes everywhere. Hey, did Carla tell you the news? I ran into her a couple nights ago when I was passing the Purple. Remember when I couldn’t get any close parking? She and her dude are moving to Oregon! He got that job he wanted. I bought her a drink. Anyway, I thought I’d make us some chili. Sound good?”

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/foggy/

Non-Fiction in Fiction

IndieBRAG has invited me to write several posts on their blog. Here is the second:

“Non-Fiction and the Brothers Path”

My consuming interest as a writer of historical fiction is to get as close as I can to the daily life of my characters who are, usually, just ordinary people. I’m most interested in how these sweeping events that are sketched for us in “history” were in their lives. With The Brothers Path I had some very intriguing facts on which to hang the story.

Here is the first post, Inspiration’s Mysterious Power.

 

The Date

So then he said, “Do you have a photo of yourself when you were young, 16? 17?

I said, ‘Yes, but it’s nothing special.”

“Of course it’s special. There is a lot in a photo.”

I don’t know why he asks; I jump to a conclusion and get pissed off.

Alfred Lord Tennisball echoes, “That which we are we are,” and I know how much more THIS somewhat worn carapace is than that juvenescent carapace was. For one thing, THIS carapace, and the heart and mind it carries around, was quite expensive; the price was my whole life so far.

It is gold; it is worth so much more than all that shining possibility; it is the fruition of that shining possibility with possibility not yet dead inside it. Given a choice, I’d choose this carapace over that terrified wavering phantom.

I think of offering a choice, a picture or a future, but I already know the mindlessness of most conversation and that the meaning I ascribe is not always (not even often) right. I continue to sit, to listen, to smile, but the retreat is accomplished. I am not there any longer. I’ve lost interest.

“I don’t know what this relationship is going to be, still not yet,” he goes on, “but the moment of our meeting was something that never happened to me before.”

That, I think was possibly the pinnacle. I’m bored. I think, maybe it’s true that men don’t fall in love with a woman; they fall in love with themselves reflected in the love a woman feels for THEM, or, as trophies, the value the beauty of a woman lends to their value.

My mother’s echo, “let him feel you need him. Don’t be so smart all the time. Get a sexy nightie.” I am sitting with this man here and castrating him; I don’t like that I do this, but I hate  what he represents, what he IS. I won’t repeat this.

He talks to me about Kathryn Tate, how six years ago she was his instructor, and now she’s all cold and professional and old and “getting fat” he says. Who doesn’t? You will, too, I think.

“She’s lost her fire,” he adds.

Perhaps you drowned it, I think. Or you insist that she burn with yours; maybe she has her own. I look up to see myself floating beside this building, up about two stories, watching.

My dog lies here on the sidewalk beside me, my hope, my love, my gift from God; my never boring companion and friend, a challenge to my mind, the preserver of my soul. Ahhh, yes! There is no need for this bitterness.

Angry? Yes. Will I overcome it, get over it? I probably won’t. I know that, too. Too many kicks, too many fists, too much time alone, ignored and cheated on, too many remarks about my ugliness, my fatness, my lack of desirability.

You can believe it after a while, or, not believing it, still become tired of it and unwilling to risk it all again, and again, and again, especially at 50 which is where I sit here tonight. Or nearly — 49 years 4 1/2 months — 50!

I never imagined it would be like this absurdity; blue-jeaned, Doctor Martened, tattooed, socks with goats and a hairy gray dog, wild gray hair and bifocals — graduated lenses, if you please!

Downtown, with such a strange past, walking between fancy people, (like I was once, like I was raised to be) going to plays and restaurants, looking for a Chinese restaurant and fried rice.

My dog takes a shit on Market and Fifth and I’m proud of her candor. I watch skinny-hipped big boobed blonds and their rich fortyish balding boyfriends; a man drives past in a newer Rolls than my ex-friend Martin drove.

He blocks the intersection so my dog and I have to walk around him. I wonder about the homeless people but not much and not long; my stomach churns at the thought of what my brother might be doing.

I ask a Maitre’d of a fancy Italian restaurant where I might find a Chinese restaurant; my date —a fine artist—earns his bread in a parking garage. His life is chaos. I’m looking for dinner for him somewhere on the streets; wonder why he didn’t think of Ralph’s.

I like the walk, my dog likes the walk; horses go by and their drivers comment on my dog. “She’s beautiful,” they say, “I have an Aussie, too.”

“She’s only half,” I answer. I am proud of the Malamute in her as I’m proud of the Swede in me; indomitable snow people, my dog and I, drive on.

“Really! Well, that’s a beautiful mix!”

“Yes,” I say, “it is.” At Ralph’s I tie up my dog and go in; buy three apples, a banana, crackers — having returned to the parking lot kiosk to offer my suggestion that Jorge give up on fried rice and ask, “What can I get you at the store?”

“Why didn’t I think of that?” he says.

Because, I think, maybe you haven’t traveled alone with very little money in your pocket, a middle-aged woman in Italy, invisible in restaurants but hungry, all the same. My god, I like myself, I like my life, this whimsical peripatetic existence. I’ll cling to it as long as possible.

Jorge wants to mean something to me, but he doesn’t. I don’t know why; part of it is the gold ring on the third finger of his left hand. He has never mentioned a wife; I have never asked him.

He talks about all the things he and I are going to do; but I don’t believe any of it. I don’t believe we will ride mountain bikes, or go to the beach to drink wine, or go to Italy together to run after trains and look at frescoes.

I realize that where once I believed a man, a lover, was the vehicle through which I would experience life, I now see a man, a lover, as an obstruction. None of them were vehicles; they were all obstructions.

Who am I? What am I that it took so long to see these things? Walking down 2nd with my small bag of groceries and my gray animal, I run into a young woman with her own dog.
Dogs make people friendly, make them warm and unafraid. We pet each others dogs and chat for a minute or two.

“I am still an indistinct shape on the horizon of your life,” Jorge said once. “I have not taken you over yet; I have not become the sky.”

I thought, “Thanks for the warning,” even as I appreciated the poetry. I reach the parking garage and hand him the bag. Jorge talks about this and that and asks, “Why won’t you participate in the reading next week?”

I want to say, “I don’t have anything to say in front of everyone and I don’t want to.”

He says, “I won’t ask you why.”

I say, “You just did.” I use my brain to keep him away. I feel it zap him like a bug zapper whenever he gets too close.

Two horse drawn carriages cross the intersection and I try to muffle with my mind the sounds of the cars and Jorge’s voice to imagine being Goethe with this sound outside the window with no cars, no Jorge. I want the momentary time-transport of the clopping hooves.

“What? I’m sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Maybe it does. I got caught up in a daydream.”

Things get busier in the garage and I sit in the cold night and worry about my dog’s arthritis. I haven’t connected with Jorge at all. I don’t mind. I just want to go home.

Tongues of desire have licked at me fleetingly around Jorge, but nothing sustained, nothing driven. I have no means of sexual expression, I think. The children around Chernobyl are not allowed to go to the forests, nor will their children, or their grandchildren; the radioactivity lingers long and dangerous.

Their fathers talk to them of hunting mushrooms, but it will only be a fable by the time people can go mushroom hunting again.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/price/

Hot Potato

“What happened? I thought he was the man of your dreams!”

“Nightmares.”

“Last week he was ‘the one’. You were imagining lots of green-haired little kids with him.”

“Blonde”

“Whatever.”

“You know what? It’s just, I don’t know. I’m just not seeing Lamont any more. ‘Why’ really doesn’t matter. What matters is I got out of it before it got icky. Let’s drop the subject.”

“But you’re still sad.”

“Well, yeah. One hopes, right?” She stirred her Italian soda with her straw, mixing the raspberry syrup with the soda water before taking a long drink.

Trey nodded.

Rain hit the window, incandescent drops of reflected streetlights. The door opened, the Pakistani camel bells hanging from the door handle confirming what the blast of cold, damp air had already conveyed. Trey looked up, happy Mattie’s back was to the door.

Lamont swept in with a tall brunette, her absurdly toned midriff bared, her flowing Indian sari-silk skirt hanging on her hips. “I get it, now,” thought Trey, looking thoughtfully at Mattie who was pretty, but never the pretty that could make an entrance like that. The woman with Lamont was traffic-stopping-stunning. No wonder Lamont had dropped Mattie. “Mattie is saving face saying she dropped the guy. I see the whole story.”

Lamont and the woman stepped up to the counter and ordered. Trey saw the strong line of the woman’s back. His heart skipped a beat as she tossed her head and the swath of long brown hair wafted across the top of her skirt. “Jesus,” he said out-loud. Mattie looked up, followed his gaze, and saw Lamont and the woman.

“Poor guy,” she said. “Now that I’ve dropped him, he has to go for coffee with his bitch of a sister.”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/drop/

Love’s Lottery or The Last Straw

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Days are Numbered.” What’s the date today? Write it down, remove all dashes and slashes, and write a post that mentions that number.

“Fucker could at least buy gas. God I’m sick of this.”
“What’s the matter, sweet cheeks?”
“Whenever we stop for gas, you vanish. I buy, and I pump the gas, you come back with some story about…”
“I got us a lottery ticket.”
“Yeah, that one. So that’s a buck, right? A buck you DON’T pay for rent or put toward food or gas or anything. I’m tired of this. It’s not fair. It’s wrong.” She thinks. She does not say.
“This could win us enough money so we never have to think about money again. I’m going to make it big. You want to go to the casino later? Two for one steak dinners.”
“Not really.” If he won? He’d keep all the money even though it was — ultimately — her dollar. She hated herself. All she’d gotten out of this relationship was fat. She knew it had to end but how would it end? She felt guilty — he had no job, no place to go, could she just THROW him out? What had he done other than LIVE OFF HER? Wasn’t that ENOUGH?

He drove her car everywhere — and when he got a short-term job (they were all short term, but well paid. None of that ever went toward their “joint” life) it was always in another city and it was HER car he took. “My tags are expired,” he’d say, but that wasn’t half of it. Three quarters of it was that he’d moved in with her because she lived in the country where the repo man would NEVER look for a Lexus. She’d had to RENT a car to get to her own job, the one that supported them. Finally, she’d bought a second car and gone into debt for it.

On the way home that afternoon, the decision made NOT to go to the casino, he said, “So we’re getting cable this fall, right? I mean, so I can watch the games.”
“No we’re not. Where did you get that idea?” She couldn’t possibly handle another bill. She was hard-pressed to handle the ones she had already.
“You said. We talked about it.”
“In your dreams. I need to pick up a prescription.” Anti-depressants but it suddenly occurred to her that the cure for her depression was an empty driver’s seat in THIS car. Or the car and driver could go away together. That would work, too. Yes. She’d GIVE him a paid for two year old car just to get RID of him.
“I’ll go get it for you,” he said.
“OK,” she replied, fighting the urge to drive away without him the minute she saw him walk in the door. But she didn’t. It seemed wrong. She puzzled over her absurd sense of justice. She would NOT violate it no matter what he did, not yet… “It’s coming,” she thought. “I wish it were now, but it isn’t. His days are numbered.”

Two weeks later, as she held the flashlight over the toilet tank so he could repair a disengaged part, he yelled at her. “Hold that goddamned thing where it’ll do some good.” A switch flipped in her brain and she set the flashlight down.

“Get out of here,” she said. “Get the fuck out of my house. I hate you. I wish you were dead.”
“You don’t mean that.”
She turned and walked outside to the patio, climbed up the stone retaining wall and went to her flower bed. There she occupied herself in trimming dead heads from tiny petunias. She felt a cool rush of peace, one of those Zennish moments.

The day went on and he didn’t leave. She let in the man who was going to hook up the new stove (more debt and the old stove worked fine). She did more work in the yard. She took a nap. He came to her and said, “I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done. I’ll make it up to you.”

She thought, “You’re going to make up three years of disintegrating finances and psychological abuse? How?” She said, “Get out of my house.”

Before she left that afternoon to see her therapist, she said, “You’d better be gone when I get back.”

He was, but he came back. She was ready. Her therapist had advised her, “If he leaves, he’ll come back. If he comes back, you leave. Give him a time limit and tell him if he’s still there when you get back, you’re calling the cops.” This she did. It pleased her.

The next day she found herself faced with a house filled with his stuff. He called. She said, “Your stuff will be in the yard. You have an hour to get it out of here. You must come between 10 and 10:30. If you don’t, I’m taking all of it to the Goodwill.”

She sold the semi-stolen Lexus for $500. It was something, some help, that the guy she sold it to would have to deal with the car’s very marginal status. That night, on her way to the toilet, she stepped on a scorpion. She found its dead little carapace the next morning. She reflected on the irony that the most recent ex’s astrological sign was Scorpio.

A week later, as she scrubbed out his room from top to bottom, she found a lottery ticket. A scratcher. So far only four of the numbers had been scratched off — 11 08 20 15. One left. “What if?” she wondered feeling around in her jeans pocket for a coin, then she looked at the date.

The ticket was four months old. “He never finished anything,” she thought. “Fucker.”

Biggest Chance?

Daily Prompt Take a Chance on Me What’s the biggest chance you ever took? Did it work out? Do tell!

I wrote about it last year — it was, of course, being born and so on and so forth and here I am and I guess I like it fine, so far…

Most things require both risk and luck. A very large chance I took recently is expounded upon on the blog Colorado or Bust!

No one knows yet how that’s going to pan out because other things happen along with that big move, it seems overall to have been a good decision. I’ve recently had the feeling that I’m no longer moving here but that I now live here, though it still seems a lot like a movie or play. I know that will change.

I’m a writer so I take chances with that all the time. The chances come when I try to sell my work to someone. Having done that for so long, I no longer feel despair when a story’s rejected. It’s more like “same old, same old,” and it no longer makes me doubt my writing. I know more about the world now and the people in it and I don’t expect that a novel written about a young knight who fights depression by killing Moslems in the Holy Land is going to be on everyone’s “must have” list.

The story I’m working on now involves a different chance; I’m pondering seriously the notion of making “luv” central to the plot. I don’t like love stories (sour grapes, possibly) but I think it makes a good challenge for me. I’ve tried to make the protagonist a female character, but I’m afraid that just isn’t in me. I do know that the protagonist and his love interest are not very good people or very bad people. I don’t like them much (this is different) and I’m disappointed that their motives are quite banal even though their story isn’t. Since they’re loosely based on the people from whom I’m descended of course I’d like to make them wonderful people, but they aren’t. They’re just an ordinary rather arrogant tradesman and a woman who loves him, and not a great woman or a woman noble of soul or a revisionist feminist silenced by history and the time in which she lives. What is interesting about them is that they will — he will — finally realize his dream of going to America when he is in his 40s and she, who never wanted to go, will die on the voyage.

Those things did happen. They are my Lodestar.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/take-a-chance-on-me/

Art’s Nowhere Near as Dangerous as It Should Be

Daily Prompt That Stings! Franz Kafka said, “we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.” What’s the last thing you read that bit and stung you?

Everyone has an idea about what literature — art in general — should be. Kafka, obviously, would want people to be “stung and bitten” by what they read. Certainly somewhere in his cock-roach riddled labyrinthine brain was a guy who wanted to sell “The Hunger Artist.” Edward Albee said the words that I’ve used as a title for this post. I agree with him. Why not with Kafka?

…I don’t want to be stung or bitten. I don’t mind being in danger. Masochism vs. risk-taking.

Once I was big on literature. I was a literature major so, like, DUH, whatEVER. Now? Youth is the time when people go out and look for the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Once you’ve been hit and jabbed a few times, have a few arrowheads stuck in your body forever, you don’t do that. You might wear armor (don’t we all?) you might have weapons of your own, you might just get good at fending off stones and sticks, and, probably you stop looking for them.

Kafka may have been a young man when he said that. Albee would not have had to have been young when he made his remark. Dangerous art means that the artist takes risks and that is, I think, the point of art. Beyond that, an artist who tells his/her artist who THEY are supposed to be has overstepped his/her bounds. Artist, be responsible for yourself. That’s as far as you can go, anyway.

I write historical fiction, so the stuff I read mostly has to do with what I’m writing. Right now I’m doing research into what it was like to be an emigrant coming from Switzerland to America. No one really taught that in school, and I think that the story I’m approaching now demands that I put it in front of my reader as it was. Yesterday I learned that emigrants were not looked at or identified as “people” or “passengers.” They were called “cargo” and “freight.” The companies that arranged their transport had figured out that the emigrants could fill the hold that would otherwise go empty to the New World where the ship would pick up its real cargo — tobacco, wood, and other raw materials. As the colonies became more and more self sufficient, ships were heading to America close to empty and filled with ballast. Human cargo changed that.

One third of the “cargo” died — sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the length of the voyage. Many were penniless by the time they reached America and had arranged to work for someone who paid their passage. If someone who had been indentured died on the voyage, that person’s family had to assume his or her indenture. Many of these indentured servants were branded and sold like slaves; most of them died in service. It wasn’t the convenient system I learned about in high school; it was slavery.

My question in this stinging and biting world of history is how to end my story? Happy ending? Moving ending?

I learned a while back that writing to the ending is a good strategy because then I know where I’m going. Ending a story is, for me, the second most difficult part and knowing where I’m going. At this point, my story ends here. I’m not sure I want these poor people to leave the ship and go into the Pennsylvania wilderness slaves, but we’ll see…

It’s a bit much. I hope this bites a bit, and stings. 😉

Sea Burial

The dead were sewn into their hammocks, the last stitch through their nose, “Just in case,” explained the ship’s master. Sewn in with them were “holy stones,” the rocks used to clean the deck. Grim as this was, it would be grimmer still were their bodies to float to the surface and follow in the wake of the ship. They were lined up on deck, the name of the deceased and the signature of a family member or friend scrawled on the shroud. Funerals were the first order of the day. Those well enough to bid a final farewell to those they loved stood in a line on deck waiting their turn.

Heinrich, Conrad and Jakob stood beside their father. Their tears made salty rivers of pink on their grimy cheeks. Hans Kaspar’s arms stretched to enfold his boys’ boney shoulders.

“Yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me,” he whispered so the boys could hear him. “Thy rod and thy staff will comfort me.”

Two sailors tipped a board over the rail and a body fell into the sea. Hans Kasper and his boys stepped forward.

“Yours?” asked the sailor, pointing to the next body.

Hans Kasper nodded. The sailors lifted Liese and Elisabethli onto the board and balanced it on the rail. The ship’s master, Mr. North, a good Anglican, held out the Book of Common Prayer, said something in English and made the sign of the cross over Liese  and small Elizabethli.

“Father?” said Heinrich.

“Shh, son, it doesn’t matter. Come,” he pulled his boys more closely to him. The sailor tilted the board and mother and daughter slid over the side of the ship into the dark water of the North Atlantic. Hans Kasper held his boys even more closely and whispered, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/that-stings/

Why do I think I have to write novels?

Bumblepuppies, Blacklight Candelabra, “This week’s challenge has two parts.  You will start by creating the constraints you’ll have to work with later.  To achieve this, you will forge a chain.” We are to pose ten questions for ourselves, then answer them, and construe the answers into a blog post.

——————————-

Yeah, actually. That’s freaky — it’s all about being submerged in an unnatural environment. A long time ago I wrote a story called “A Vast Chain of Dancers.” It was based on a description Aristotle had made of humanity through time. He said we are just that; a vast chain of dancers. My then-boyfriend said, “I have a little problem with a chain being vast.” I don’t think he saw what I saw; a chain as a net, as in chain-mail. I still think a chain can be vast and I still think Aristotle did a good job describing the generations of humanity, how we’re linked to each other. That was my first real writing experience. It was a story based on a then-occurring hopeless love affair.

I loved writing it and it was a way for me to make sense out of the experience I was having. I found that story — it’s as long as a novel — and I re-typed it into the hard-drive of my RIP Mac PowerBook. If I want to do anything with it, I will have to take the three extant printed versions and type it again.

Writing, which I’ve been doing as a full time job since I retired last fall, is a strange occupation. I have a novel — a good novel — published and out there. Savior. People have offered to review it (and didn’t) and I’ve solicited reviews from friends and acquaintances who then offered to review it, but none of them have. Reviews are essential for a self-published author. What this makes me wonder is if the book actually sucks and no one wants to tell me. Strangely, my cousin (whom I did not know when she read and reviewed the book) liked it better than the one most people think is better, Martin of Gfenn.

I think the novels are equally good, but the protagonist in Martin of Gfenn elicits a kind of sympathy I do not think Rudolf, the protagonist in Savior ever could. Rudolf’s story has a happy ending. As a friend said when I spoke with her about it, “Yeah, it’s OK, but I just LOVE Martin.”

It’s disturbing to me on a personal level because I know, deep inside, that Martin represents Kirk, my brother, and Rudolf is me. Kirk was a captivating character, beautiful to look at, extraordinarily talented, fun to be around, passionate and intense and doomed. While I can be charming, I’m basically introverted. Otherwise, I’m not completely ugly, moderately talented, often fun to be around, passionate and intense, I’m NOT doomed. Like the protagonist in Savior, I’m a person who has striven against my inner demons, and I have mostly managed to hold my shit together. I’m not burning my candle at both ends and giving a lovely light. I’ve already lasted the night. Prosaic.

My cousin, who loved Savior, is also such as one as I.

For whatever reason, Savior so far has only one review and while here, yes, I’m mentioning it, I haven’t really asked anyone why (and I’m not asking). Still, it’s made me wonder what is the point of writing novels. That’s a question I should either answer or forget. And so far, I haven’t decided which. Anyway, I’m am asking myself what is the point of writing novels. As for the other question? Maybe I already know that they [my readers] don’t want to hurt my feelings by telling me something I don’t want to hear.

——————————-

Here’s the actual prompt for anyone who wants to give it a shot

https://blacklightcandelabra.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/forge-your-own-chain/

Stories We Want to Tell

A decade ago I was good friends with a painter and her husband, a writer. Both of them have that semi-fame that means they can make a living from their work even though they are not Michelangelo or, uh, Tolstoy. They are about ten years older than I; were at Berkeley in the 60s and he was active in the Civil Rights movement. They are white. She is Jewish. He is from Oregon. They have carried their 60s flags into the “modern” world as have many others. Facts, nothing more. Context.

I was writing Martin of Gfenn at the time and, without seeing the novel,  the author-husband told me to stop writing that immediately and, instead, write what I know. “No one can write well,” said the man, “about stuff they don’t know.” I barely knew him; how did he know what I know? And what is knowing? “What do you know about life in the middle ages? What do you know about Switzerland? How can you write convincingly about that or even about being a man? How can you have a male protagonist?”

I thought about the experience I want when I write fiction. I do not want to relive my life in semi-imaginative vignettes, looking at episodes through someone else’s eyes. It seems inevitable, though, that any writer will write what he or she knows. In Savior the protagonist’s mother has assumed qualities (even words!) of my own mother; because of the potency of my memories of my mom, my fear of and contempt for her, Rudolf’s mother is one of the most powerful characters in the story. Left behind when her husband goes on crusade, hearing nothing about him for seven years, worrying, imagining the worst, while inside a seething anger grows and steals her soul, Anna is Helen, my mom — and in his relationship with his mother — the protagonist is me. Still, I never want to write the story of my life with my mother. Never, ever.

When I write I feel something like I do when I am painting; there are colors, an immense palette of experience, direct and indirect, and it is my job — joy — to draw from this palette using the paintbrush of my imagination. It is my grandmother Beall who sits on the bed of fictional, 16th century Kitty Schneebeli, keeping watch over her through the night praying for her recovery from the measles. In Savior it is my brother who is Conrad, lost in the woods and my mother who is angry at me, Rudolf, for not watching him better. Rudolf’s excessively protective feelings for his brother Conrad are similar to those I felt for my brother, but Conrad and Kirk are not the same person.

Isn’t this what writers do? Draw from their own experiences to create something new for others to experience?

 

Writing Workshop, End of Week Two

I’m — I’d — forgotten what is was like to be around a bunch of young people who talk about writing. It’s awful. I hated grad school, but this is a more exaggerated version in a way because the focus is not on what one SAYS but how one says it. The lie in that is NO one can ignore the story behind the words. It’s impossible. They are focused on abstract things, not on telling a story. I am focused on telling a story well. That’s my whole thing. Very basic, very concrete.

I won’t do this again. It hasn’t been bad, but it has been like slogging through a grad school class. I hated grad school. I didn’t understand it and I ended up being more-or-less thrown out. My department head expressed surprise when I handed him a finished thesis with only ONE necessary correction (spelling). I had the best possible thesis adviser and when I wasn’t given a third year stipend (as most other masters candidates were) to work on my thesis I really wasn’t daunted; I had a job. I could do the thesis around it.

With the two versions of the first chapter of my novel that I posted here today and on Facebook it’s more votes for the version that starts with narration than for the version that begins with dialogue. One of my friends has said she’s more comfortable having the chance to look someone over before having to engage with them. That makes sense. But the “vote” is still very close and the thing is still — clearly — going to be up to me. There’s no real mandate one way or the other.

The question is, which will sell? That’s what I really want to know. I want to sell this book. I don’t want to self-publish (which is essentially NOT publish) another novel. I will if it comes to it, but really what’s the point of that? So you have a bunch of pretty books someone could buy if they ever hear of them (and which readers think aren’t going to be that great, anyway, since they’re not “legit”?)

Has the workshop helped? Well, yeah. Other than getting some good comments on the draft of the first 15 chapters, I’ve had the experience now. There are still six (excruciating) weeks left. It’s well run, the teacher is good, some participants are active (of course, being me, I’m the most active — but I’ve backed off) one of the writers so far is actually good, I dislike one of them and it’s mutual (how can that happen in a situation where you never even meet? That’s crazy).

I think it’s a better deal to complete a draft, get help proofreading, work on revising and then hire an editor. I did that with Savior and while it is NOT flying off the shelves (has anyone read it?) it’s a good book, a solid book, and I like it.