My Next Big Writing Adventure

Funny how you can find yourself in the middle of something all-consuming, and not remember exactly how you got there.

That describes me in relation to the next big step in my fiction writing life.  Somehow in the past two months I learned there’s a writers’ group here in Pennsylvania called Pennwriters.  And I learned they’re having their annual conference not twenty-five miles down the road from me.

And after thinking and debating and weighing the relative value of networking and exposure vs. new shocks for the car, I elected to join the Pennwriters organization and register for the conference.

It’s this coming weekend, and may I say I’m very nervous?  It’s not meeting all the new people; I do that constantly in the course of my job.  It’s the fact that I’ve signed up for a pitch session with an agent and I’ve never done that before!  And is The Single Eye traditionally publishable at all, seeing that a few chapters of it have appeared on this blog?  How do I keep it out of the Christian fiction ghetto?  And what if I just sit there gape-mouthed and babble?

At least I have my logline written:

Two young architects struggle to preserve their practice, their love, and their integrity when a diabolical would-be client refuses to take no for an answer.​

Then there’s the Read and Critique session on Friday night.  I’m submitting the first two pages of the second book, Singing Lake Farm.  What if everyone says the beginning stinks but what I have is so tied in with what I’ve written after it that I’m incapable of changing it?

What if, what if, what if . . .  ?

Nevertheless, off I shall go to Moon (that’s where the conference is, in a town called Moon) this coming Friday and act like I know what I’m doing.  Having spent the money on this little get-together, I intend to get the last dime’s worth of good out of it I can.

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Has It Been That Long?

Just because I haven’t posted anything on this blog doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I finished my rewrite of Free Souls in early February, and in the process I scrapped the title and cut out over 65,000 words of the backstory I’ve posted.  It’s still part of my main character Sandy’s history; I don’t at all regret the time I put in writing it, but it held back the action and threw the book out of balance.

It had to go.

Most of the salient points I was able to work in here and there in the remainder of the text.  But there were some important aspects of Sandy’s past that wouldn’t yield to that treatment, foundational things underlying her motivations that she would not talk to others about, especially not the hero Eric.

So I— (she looks around, to see if anyone is looking)— wrote a prologue.  Yeah.  One of those.  I think it works.  I say the book would suffer without it.  In Chekhovian terms, it hangs the gun(s) on the wall so they’ll be there to take down and fire later.

The two beta readers who’ve reported back to me apparently haven’t been fazed by it at all.  Neither of them have refused to read the novel because it has a prologue.

But will I get the same reaction from someone in the publishing industry?  And would I be wasting my time pitching The Single Eye to someone in the industry, given that some of the first part of it has been published on this blog?

Yes, the new title is The Single Eye, after Christ’s saying in Matthew 6 (King James Version).  It seemed to do the best job summing up the themes of the novel.  And unlike “Free Souls,” it relates to the story, and isn’t just an ironic reference to the real-life situation that gave me the idea.

As to why it’s suddenly important that someone in the industry should be well-disposed towards my first novel . . . I’ll save that for another post.

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Since Last Time

Work I’ve gotten done since last time:

Title: Free Souls
Chapter in Play: Part 2, Chapter 12
Beginning Word Count: 91,923
Period’s Ending Word Count: 92,049

Oh, the joys of growing as a writer! Or should that be, “the pains”?

Chapter 12 of Part 2 introduces the next guy in my main character Sandy’s life, her first college boyfriend Marvin Jansovic. Marvin is a bit of a problem, not only for Sandy, but also for me. A scruffy, careless, self-centered, over-drinking good-time Charlie, he was, I thought, settled in Ch. 2.12 as previously written. I wanted the reader to see him as her reaction against the “divine” and disappointing Jeff. As an embarrassing episode she’d rather forget and pretty much had. And I think I succeeded.

Trouble is, I wrote that chapter when I was making a point of reminding the reader that all this backstory is something she’s remembering one evening ten years later. It’s from the perspective of her 28-year-old self, older and wiser. But I’m not doing that anymore. Even though technically it’s still all reminiscence, I’m putting her (and the reader) back into the events of her past, as if she were going through them for the very first time.

So as much as I liked the distant tone of the original Marvin chapter (good grief, it was so distant I wasn’t going to give him a last name!), now it won’t work. Because even though she’s never madly in love with him, or even much in love with him at all, something in the affection line has got to be there to keep a girl like that in a relationship with a guy like that for over a year. Sure, she leads with her head, but the emotions are there and need to be seen.

Just a matter of changing the chapter from Tell to Show? Uh-uh. That would miss the point. Sure, I am doing that, but the crucial difference is the tone of what I’m showing and telling.

But even as I show her liking and settling for this guy I still have to record certain events in their relationship, things she has to go through on her way to becoming the kind of woman who can’t let herself hope for reciprocated love from Eric the hero. It’s slow going. Oh, I could rewrite the material pretty organically– I’ve got a good start on it– but I’m in danger of excluding important milestones. But maybe they’re not that important? Better to think about it.

All I’ve done, then, is a mild amount of substituting, adding, and deleting. But mostly since the 19th I’ve let the writing sit and brew while I weed my rank pit of a front garden and see if I can finally hang my dining room wallpaper.

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Work I Got Done on Saturday the 19th

Title: Free Souls
Chapters in Play: Part 2, Chapters 11 & 12
Beginning Word Count: 91,185
Day’s Ending Word Count: 91,923

(This ending word count is misleading. It doesn’t factor in the verbiage I cut out. Nor does it reflect the fact that in Chapter 12, the one I’m currently rewriting, a lot of the old text yet remains underneath the new lines I’m substituting.)

On Saturday and into Sunday morning I finished up the revision of some chapters I posted in the Workshop last April.

Goody for me, right? But this whole Part 2 is a problem child, as you shall see.

Part 1 takes place in the late summer and fall of 1981 and ends on the evening of November 8th. That’s when Sandy and Eric, my MCs, have a disagreement over her accepting a promotion in his architecture office. This took the story up to page 20 in the original novella, and comes to 18,700 words as revised. Part 3 resumes on the evening of the 8th and will, once written, cover the months between then and late September 1982.

Part 2 originally was going to be nothing big. Originally it wasn’t going to be “Part 2” at all! All I intended was three or four quick flashback chapters in which Sandy, that same evening of November 8th, mulls over her previous relationships to figure out why she, a normal, decent-looking young woman, would be willing to settle for the role of office wife (sans any sex or terms of endearment) to the man she loves, and why she’d be willing to hold herself back in her God-given vocation to maintain that as the status quo. That’s what the question developed into, in any event, and I felt I needed to answer it because as first written her behavior makes no sense.

But Part 2 got away from me. Crazed-horses-pulling-the stagecoach over the cliff away from me. It mortifies me to admit it, but this backstory/flashback/nested story deals with her life from 1970 to 1980 and currently weighs in at a whopping 66,641 words! :eek: It’s a triumph (coff!) of showing, not telling. Oh, I think I’ve got some affecting stuff in there. After reading it you’d definitely understand Sandy’s motivations. And a lot of it is stuff I think the reader should know about her, things it would be unnatural (IMHO) to cram into the 1981-82 “present day” narrative.

But. But! 66,641 words? :wtf: Good grief, who’s going to remember what the rest of the book is about after that? In fact, that’s why I put in the “Part” designations. So if the novel ever appears in print (fat chance!), the reader can stick her finger in the book and skip directly to Part 3 and only read Part 2 if she feels she needs it. But I’ve just said the reader does need it!

I feel guilty about my nested story, but that doesn’t stop me from revising it. The parts I rewrote on Saturday will address a lot of the concerns my Workshop critiquers expressed. And hey, if even if the book never sees publication, I’ve gotten good practice at being a decent writer.

(Yeah, I know the most important thing about being a decent writer is maintaining pace and keeping your reader’s interest. Shut up. I’m off to post the revised chapters in the Workshop.)

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Concept List

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  Too busy writing to post.  Which means– what, you think I’m not getting any writing done now?  Never mind, here’s the fiction I’m working on, in chronological order of conception:

Title: Free Souls
Also Known As: Work in Revision (WIR)
Genre: Literary Romance Thriller (is there such a thing?)
Format: Novel, currently divided into three parts
Setting and Time Period: 20th century midwestern America; action as written so far spans the years 1970 to 1982
First Conceived: Circa 1983; first draft written, edited, and typed up
Idea Source: A bizarre encounter I had with a would-be client when I was working in a two-person architecture firm.
Premise: As an idealistic teenager, Sandy Beichten dedicated her life to serving God and her neighbor through doing great Architecture and making a marriage with a Christian man who’d share her ideals. Now, ten years later, she is working for Eric Baumann, the best young designer in her Midwestern city, and seems to be fulfilling the first part of her pledge. But Eric has little use for Christianity, and her hopeless love for him seems to be forcing her to choose between her heart and her vocation– until the plottings of a sinister stranger confront both Sandy and Eric with choices that are more chilling and ultimate still.
Themes: Work and vocation; love vs. infatuation; faithfulness vs. betrayal; family; focus vs. distraction; purity vs. corruption; order vs. anarchy; bigotry vs. tolerance/acceptance; defining standards and living up to them; defining which standards are most worth living and dying for
Motifs: Architecture; fine art; classical music; Shakespeare; vision; water; fire
Original Length: (71) 8½ x 11 typewritten pages, single-spaced, no paragraph spacings or chapter breaks; double-spaced between major scenes
Current Word Count: 91,185
Target Word Count: Who knows, but I have to pare it down

Last Worked On: 7/18/2014

Comments: I wrote Free Souls the 1983 novella as a gift to a fellow writer, in response to a novella she wrote for me. The three main characters were based on a would-be architectural client, my former boss, and myself. My writer friend’s feedback was enthusiastically positive, but even back then I was painfully aware that there was no way those characters could work out those plot solutions as written. I’m rewriting and expanding the original novella to deepen the characters, to render their actions more believable, and to develop themes and motifs implicit in the original. I hope this will make the story more compelling and more worth reading.

Title: Florrie (working title only)
Genre: Psychological Horror
Format: Long short story or novella; haven’t found out yet
Setting and Time Period: Midwestern United States; initial action takes place in 1967 or so, main action in the mid-1980s
First Conceived: Circa 1983
Idea Source: My writer friend’s day job as a newspaper reporter got me thinking of that milieu. Then the opening line of the story popped into my head, giving me the character and her situation fully formed.
Premise: Where is the dividing line between an author’s creatively basing her characters on people she knows and her using them to the point she sucks out their souls? Struggling newspaper reporter Chuck Randolph is not a fan of romance novels. But he reads everything produced by popular romance author Sarah Trent and obsessively follows her career. For Chuck knows Ms. Trent– and what’s worse for him, she believes she knows him, too.
Themes: Creative vampirism; infatuation; obsession; success and failure; self-delusion; self-destruction
Motifs: Writing and authorship; newspaper reporters; romance novelists; Dorian Gray in reverse
Current Word Count: 659 (in the file I can locate, though I could swear I’ve written a lot more)
Target Word Count: We’ll see

Last Worked On: 9/6/2012

Comments: This was going to be my next project after I “completed” Free Souls back in the 1980s. But I knew next to nothing about life in the typical newsroom and lacked the confidence to use one for my setting. Yes, I could have consulted my friend, but she was in California and I was in the Midwest and I was too busy practicing architecture to write letters and too poor to talk to her long distance. With the coming of the Internet a lot of my research problems are solved, and I intend to get back to this project once I have my two novels finished.

Title: Singing Lake Farm
Also Known As: Work in Progress (WIP)
Genre: Psychological/Supernatural Horror
Format: Novel in two parts
Setting and Time Period: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and eastern Ohio, 2009-2011
First Conceived: 2004
Idea Source: The visual simile that oozed into my mind when I was trying not to face the fact that the organization I’d pulled up stakes to come lead was rife with dark secrets from the past no one would admit to or discuss.
Premise: For 55-year-old Mary Ellen Matson, the old Henry property is the ideal place for her to fulfill her lifelong dream of developing a plant nursery and demonstration garden. Singing Lake Farm will be more than her livelihood, it will be a memorial to her late husband and son, and she is willing to invest everything she has to establish it. But once she does, she may find that the land hides something that was not in her plans.
Themes: Dream fulfilment; family conflict; family curses; the supernatural; cryptozoology; love and idolatry; appearances vs. reality; the hidden revealed; work and ambition; friendship; money; religious faith neglected
Motifs: Gardening; plans (mental and as drawn); dreams and nightmares; water and drowning; witchcraft; animals that hunt; snakes
Current Word Count: 49,668 (including sketches for later proposed chapters which I append to the typescript draft)
Target Word Count: 80,000 to 100,000

Last Worked On: 4/7/2014

Comments: Poor Mary Ellen. It won’t come out well for her.

Title: Thelma and Svetlana (working title only)
Genre: Family drama
Format: Novel, maybe, in three parts
Setting and Time Period: Rural Minnesota, 1930s, with flashbacks to earlier times
First Conceived: April 2009
Idea Source: This story emerged from a dialogue-writing exercise in a writing class I took in spring 2009.
Premise: Svetlana, passionate, elderly, Ukrainian, and Eastern Orthodox, has nothing in common with Thelma, her no-nonsense middle-aged Norwegian-American Lutheran daughter-in-law. Nothing, that is, but her son, Thelma’s husband Yuri. But Yuri is dead, and the two women must live together in Thelma’s house after Svetlana’s homestead goes under the auctioneer’s hammer. Can they heal the wounds of the past, and will the one thing that seems to divide them most be the factor that brings them together?
Themes: Family conflict; religious conflict; hopes suppressed and deferred; reconciliation; beauty vs. homeliness
Motifs: Housecleaning; religious holidays; cooking and preserving; farmwork; rural life
Current Word Count: 349
Target Word Count: We’ll see

Last Worked On: Some revisions made in 2011.

Comments: When I looked for it for this post, I couldn’t find the dialogue file anywhere on my computer. :eek:Fortunately I was able to get it back from one of my blogs, where I posted it in May 2009.

Wasn’t particularly thinking of developing this, but the scenario got into my head while I was refinishing my stairs back in 2011. I wish to gracious I’d made some idea sketches at the time. I conceive of the novel as a framed story, exploring Svetlana’s and Thelma’s backgrounds in turn to show how they got to where they are “now.” Once I’ve brought them up to date to the 1930s, I’ll work on how they are ultimately reconciled, so Svetlana can die in peace.


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He didn’t want to be there.

When Charlene had come home gleefully waving two free tickets to hear the sensational new virtuosa, Malcolm told her he wasn’t interested. When she’d said, nonsense, he loved concerts, he’d shrugged and said, “Not necessarily.” When she’d insisted he wear his tux, he looked so handsome in it, he’d said handsome was overrated.

But there he was, sitting Row Five, Center Front, in his tuxedo, next to his girlfriend, watching this woman fiddle the heart out of a bunch of helpless dead composers.

Charlene tried to hand him the opera glasses. “No,” he said. He could see the performer well enough without them.

She was gorgeous, Malcolm gave her that. She was like all these female soloists, thinking a low-cut dress and ample cleavage were a fine stand-in for talent. Though talent she had– if you liked an overdone, pseudo-passionate display that manipulated the emotions and bypassed the brain. She wasn’t moving him.

It was all for show. She was French. She must despise the whole audience as ignorant Americans, himself included.

Let her.

Charlene would not stop jostling him. “Oh! It’s too beautiful!” she whispered, grinning like a jack-o’-lantern. Malcolm folded his arms and stolidly ignored her.

God! How many curtain calls will the woman take?

“All right, Charlene, it’s over,” he said. “Let’s go home.”

“You’re crazy. There’s a reception for Mlle. Duchesne in the Schubert Room and I’m not leaving until I’ve met her. You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t meet her, too.”

In the Schubert Room, he raked his eyes over the crowd. “She’s not here,” he announced. “We can leave.”

“Silly, she’s still in her dressing room. Why don’t you go to the Men’s? She’ll be here by the time you’re finished.”

Or she wouldn’t be. Fine with him.

Head down, he escaped into a side passage marked Restrooms. A woman, hurrying out of the Ladies’, cannoned into him.

“Hey! Watch where– ” he began. And stopped.



“It is you truly?”

Her look.  Her voice.  Her scent.  His whole being reeled, remembering. She offered her hand. In a dream, he took it. “That night. Why did you– ?”

“Hush. We will not speak of that. You are still composing?”

“Yes. Amelie, your performance . . . were you trying to kill me? Do you realize how hard it was to keep from– ”

She laid a finger on his lips. Her other hand remained in his.

“I could not forget you. I am yet alone,” she said. “And you: that girl you sat with. Is she anything special to you?”

Even through the door Charlene’s laugh vibrated down the hallway.

Yes, let me introduce her to you.

He opened his mouth.



by Catrin Lewis, 2014.  All rights reserved

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Carboot Sale

(Oxfordshire, Easter Sunday, 1995)

By camper, car, and caravan
they come
Creeping, slowly seeking
Along the sloping open road
Alert with eyes rolled naked
Lest they pass        The very town,
The turn, the way (it’s told)
Will lead to reborn treasure, wholeness’ heart,
To all they’ve learned this lurching life
can give.

On this desired, this dream-deferréd day–
This day of all the year, at last arrived–
They find for watchfulness a full reward
As booted angels, flinging back the lids,
Reveal old wares, seen through their eyes
as new.

While in a lonely land so long away
Three weeping wishing women seek the Dead.
With him their dreams have died, yet they would pay
With love’s small coin grief’s yearning due.
But finding not, with angel-opened sight
They know the Dead Alive,
Who from his life full treasure gives
Of life and heart and eyes.

And here, numb eyes dead toys caress
And cannot find the road. The turn, they miss.


by Catrin Lewis, 1995.  All rights reserved

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