Thursday, September 28, 2006

I came to explore the wreck.

So I'm finding that the Persephone/Demeter story will tap some old family issues that I thought I'd outgrown.

That is, until I started doing the research on people who are controlling and manipulative, got furious at every man I know for no good reason, and realized I am packing just a soupcon of anger around with me.

It reminded me of a poem the fabulous Heidi shared with me once, Adrienne Rich's "Diving Into the Wreck," which follows in a blaze of copyright infringement.

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers

the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.
There is a ladder
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it's a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or week

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
and I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
Obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to the scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

And if you're interested, here's what other people had to say about it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Filled with love for mankind

I am just universally irritated today. How did this happen? I woke up in a good mood, some stuff happened at home, and now I am pissed off.

It’s the influence of the Y chromosome, is what it is. There is a home-improvement project happening at home, and that has created this fog of bad mood, as regrettable as a fart in church.

So I buckled myself into my escape pod and shot out into the world, but it’s hardly better out here. Case in point: my café experience this morning.

Standing in line for coffee, these two guys were talking about one of their girlfriends, who really likes her boyfriend’s toaster but refused it when he offered to give it to her for her birthday.

“She said, ‘I don’t want it as a birthday present,’” the wronged party said.

“So she can’t buy one, and you can’t buy one for her as a present,” his friend said, deeply sympathetic.

“Right. The only way she can have the toaster is if she deprives me of a toaster.”

They laughed; it was all very manly. Women! So difficult. So tricky. I hope that for his birthday, she gives him her dad's used nostril-hair trimmer. He could use one, and look at that! She has one right there.

“You know,” her boyfriend continued, “every time I’m over there I bemoan the fact that there is no toaster.”

“So you’re exacerbating things.”

I found myself wanting to punch them, but they did get credit for their good vocabulary. See? Generous.

“The thing is, I really like bagels,” the boyfriend said.

And that was when I got my coffee and whipped around, splashing their crotches with piping hot Yerba Buena blend.


And now I will continue spreading goodwill throughout the land.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Two good links

First up: Eileen and a few novelist friends have started up a new co-blog, The Debutante's Ball. Eileen's first post is today! Head on over and say hi-do.

Next: There's a good article on inciting incidents here, and on the same site, an article by Sheila Williams about the benefits of letting go of the rules while writing your first draft.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It's supposed to suck

I'm trying to write the first (official) scene in the Pere book. Well, no trying about it; I've just done it. It's quite short. And it sucks! Big surprise. (Although I did manage to get their kitchen garden in the first couple paragraphs. It's shaped like a Celtic cross. Yay me.)

But then, as Tess Gerritsen once said, it's a first draft: it's supposed to suck.

Where is Triumph the Comic Insult Dog when you need him?

Monday, September 11, 2006


This weekend I worked on the Persephone project quite a bit, but it was one of those weekends where work happened, but from the outside, it didn't look like it. Instead it looked like sitting on the front porch with a notebook in hand, staring off in the distance with a slightly befuddled look on my face.

I also collaged the first act, mainly, and found a couple surprises, mainly that a girlfriend from Pere's youth might have turned against her, and that there might be a couple women who are jealous of Hade.

I also thought about structure and turning points and flailed around a bit with the original myth, trying to figure out what to take and what to leave. Because while it is a retelling, that doesn't mean I'm taking the whole thing and just typing it.

And I got closer to motivation, although one of my CPs isn't happy with what I came up with. Which makes me think maybe I should just write the thing before showing it to anyone. Otherwise I will have too many voices in my head, which is counterproductive.

Mostly I would like this hero to be uncomplicated, actually, although you wouldn't know it from my machinations. I would like him to be a good soldier and completely and totally in love with Pere.

Anyway, so that was my weekend. Work happened, even though it didn't look like it. Trust me, the glacier moved.

Tonight I start a writing class, which should goose things along. Meanwhile I am trying to quit eating so much sugar, which is a hard, hard thing when you work within a perfect triangulation of incredibly good bakeries, some French.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Skimming the surface

So this morning on MSN, there's an article on depression. Here's the line that caught my eye:

"The more information there is, the more we end up essentially skimming the surface. This leads to a style of thinking in which we see only the big picture and miss the depth of detail."

This gets me because skimming the surface is how I've always written. That's the problem I have with most of the fiction I've written, certainly; and it's the flaw that most of my editors nail me on whenever I write professionally - although it's not as bad as when I first started out as a cub reporter. (And you should all feel great pity for poor Leslie who had to knock me into shape. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.)

Interestingly, when those lines caught my eye, I immediately opened Blogger to post about it - without even finishing the paragraph, which says this:

"As a result, when we are faced with difficult problems, we do not recognize the many small steps that solutions typically require; things feel overwhelming and insurmountable, leading us to give up before we even start."

And the other shoe drops. I think part of my problem with tackling any fiction project is arc: what are the little movements, the little steps, that make it up? I think they're there, I just have a hard time recognizing them.

So when it comes time to rewrite, I have a hard time separating the wheat from the chaff. Revising becomes overwhelming, so I freak out and replot, and end up with War and Peace. Nice process.

All this is sort of beside the point for today's writing; I wrote what I think will be the Act 1 turning point for Pere. (I took down the blog; it was getting too much traffic and I freaked out about someone stealing my idea. Paranoia: that's how I roll.)

But it's a good scene, dark and affecting, and actually full of sensory detail. I'm not sure the foundation has been laid for Pere's heartbreak, but at least now I know that I need to lay it, and how.

And for today, writing this good scene has banished the sort of malaise I've felt creeping up on me lately. Some runners get cranky and out of sorts when they don't run. I get cranky and out of sorts - and increasingly paranoid - when I don't write.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A few more stories from Bermuda

My favorite thing about Bermuda was the rasta-man scooting down the South Road, taking care to be as legal as possible. That is, he had both hands on the wheel, both feet on the footboard, and he was wearing a helmet.

Of course, it was propped up on three feet of dreads rather than his frontal lobe, but still. Law-abiding Bermudian!

Also? Bermuda? Not veddy British. Although C and I tried to combat that by becoming super-British ourselves. After a brisk 45 minutes on Bermuda's roads, we'd cry, "Capital scoot!" But it didn't help much.

My other favorite thing about Bermuda was the old man I met at the bus stop in St. George, after spending the day with C, C's mom, and her beau Michael. We missed the bus by inches. We'd run up, waving and yelling, but the old man had sat motionless and the bus had trundled on without us.

"We're going to be late," C's mom said. It was almost time for the rehearsal dinner and we were still halfway across the island.

The man, sitting on an unmarked bench like he had all the time in the world, asked me what time it was.

"3:10," I said, still pissed off.

"A little bit left to live, then," he said, and then he started to talk.

At first I couldn't make out what he was saying. He spoke in a mumble, in the changeable Bermudian accent: part Jamaica, part Jersey.

But finally, I heard him say, "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"To get to the other side?" C asked.

"Right," he said, nodding his tired old black head. He had freckles just like mine: smallish liver spots across the tops of his cheeks, a few at his temples. One of his shoes was held together with a safety pin, but otherwise he looked tidy, clean. Not fashionable; just neat.

"So why did the baby cross the road?" He asked, still looking across the street, as if he knew I was looking at him, assessing him, and he did not care. Or maybe he liked it.

C and I looked at each other, shrugged. Meanwhile, C's mom and her beau pretended they did not know us.

"Stapled to the chicken," the man said, and started telling me about his life. He'd grown up in Bermuda, went to school in Jersey, went into New York "for shows and whores," he said.

He would have stayed there if he hadn't been in an accident. Two cars hit him, broke his leg. So he came home to recuperate. And when he did, in a cast, the first thing his father did was ask him what he was going to do for a living.

But his mother shooed him out of the room, told him her son needed time to recuperate. And that was it, for him. He became an electronics repairman, spent his whole life working all day, and every night after work, he'd get together with his mates and go to the beach and drink rum. Never married, never had children.

"I have no regrets," he said, "except I wish I'd gone back to New York. Been more ambitious, instead of working all day and drinking rum all night."

I thought about it, spending most of your life in Bermuda. Watching the sun set over the Atlantic every night with your friends, a little rum buzz on.

"That sounds like a lovely life," I said.

"Coulda done worse," he said, and nodded, and looked across the street at a tidy little turquoise house.

We waited for a moment, thinking about it. We each could have done worse, really.

"I tell that joke to every tourist I meet. It's from a Stephen King book, The Gunslinger."

"No kidding?"

"No one ever gets it. I used to bet 'em $10 they didn't know the answer. Cleaned up. But then I met someone who did. She looked right at me and said, 'Stapled to the baby.' Couldn't believe it."

"So what'd you do?" I asked.

"Told her, 'Check's in the mail,'" he said, and laughed a deep, horny-throated laugh.

I sat down next to him.

"You see that place?" He asked, pointing to the turquoise house. "That's a mortuary. I was in there this afternoon. I asked the mortician if I could try on a casket, but she wouldn't let me."

I took it in. Cancer patient? Suicide in the making? Maybe just a lonely old man.

"You know why?" He asked me, looking impish.

"No," I said. "I can't imagine why."

"She said the expensive part of dying's the casket," he said. "Best thing I can do for my sister is to be cremated. So? Burnt," he said, his stiff old fingers fluttering as if to say soon, he will all be ash. As will we all.

And then the bus rolled in, all heat and steam and large blank face. I told him it'd been a pleasure; he just smiled and nodded.

"Off with you," he said, and that was the last I saw of him. We got on the bus and swept away through the little Bermudan streets, lined with houses that are straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, the great palm trees and the stepped whitewashed roofs and the turquoise waters of the Sargasso sea.