Nothing More

What was it, Herb Tyler wondered, that told a hound to wait for Saturday evening to chow down on a gun-grease rag?

It was past 1:00 AM and he was waiting to hear from the emergency vet in Robbinsville. If Floozy didn’t pass the scrap they’d do surgery. Routine procedure, nothing to worry about. They’d call and let him know.

He settled back in his recliner, rereading Zane Grey and relaxing to the pummelling of the rain on the cabin roof.

Rinnnnggg!

Hell! Damn phone made him jump. Hey, ease up! Floozy needs an operation, I can swing the cost. She’s a good dog. She’s worth it.

“Herb? . . . ”

Not the vet. Just that moocher Russ Henson. What’d he want this time of night? Bail?

“Yeah?”

“ . . . favor?” Bad cell connection. It figured.

“Listen, man,, you keep– ”

“ . . . last time . . . promise.”

Yeah, right. “OK, whaddya want?”

“I’m . . . swamp . . . pickup . . . ditch . . . your place . . . ?”

Was that all? “Yeah, sure, man. Come on over and dry off. You can walk here from where you are?”

“Yeah. . . soon. Last time.”

An hour passed. No Russ.

Not sending a search party after him, the fool.

Hour and a half.

Maybe he’s gone clean the other way.

Wait. That noise. Somebody out there, or just trash blowing across the porch floor? Floozy could’ve told: she barked at anything on legs. But the dog was in Robbinsville.

Herb listened, his ears straining.

What was that? “Russ, that you?”

Silence.

He clutched the door knob. You chickenshit. Nothing’s out there. Nothing.

Nothing? He jerked the door open. The soaked-through body of a middle-aged man swayed, reached blindly forward, and fell face-down on the plank floor.

“Russ!”

He helped him to a chair, got his wet clothes off him, and wrapped him in a blanket. “Shit,” he said, handing him a mug of steaming coffee, “you look nearly dead.”

“I feel d-d-dead,” said Russ, his teeth chattering against the rim.

“Why the hell’d you take the shortcut through the swamp on a night like this?”

“C-c-couldn’t see the road. F-f-followed some bastard’s t-t-taillights. Felt something was wr-wr-wrong but it was t-t-too late.”

Too late. It was too late.

Hell, no, it wasn’t! Ignorant sumbitch was sitting here safe, wasn’t he?

“F-f-frigging lights dipped down, then back up again, like the road was c-c-clear. N-next thing I know, the water’s p-pouring into my cab.”

“Shit, man, how’d you get out? You’d be fried if you hadn’t.”

“More like one wet gh-ghost,” said the figure in the chair.

Rinnnnngg!

“Sorry, gotta get this.”

It was the vet. Floozy would be fine.

Behind him, ceramic crashed against hardwood. He wheeled. The receiver fell from his hand.

On the chair he saw his blanket, empty; on the floor, in a puddle of mixed rainwater and coffee, the shards of the mug.

And nothing more.

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Back Again, with a Big Decision

Or maybe not so big.

It’s about my work-in-revision, Free Souls, and its serial publication on this blog.

In my last post on the subject, I considered how I should proceed with that, given all the rewriting the book has needed, not just in Chapters 19 and 20 but in several other chapters before and after.

Between then and now, I’ve reworked 19 and 20 and resubmitted them for critique on WritingForums.org.  And the tough love I got there has brought me to a decision.  No, I’m not going to cut the nested story of my MC’s past out altogether as one critiquer suggested. Too much in her present is not intelligible without it (at least, I think it’s not). And I won’t rewrite the whole thing chronologically starting with her high school or college years, as another urged.  That would mean ditching the thriller plot, which is necessary for Sandy and Eric to become the people they need to be so they can love each other as they should.

The advice I will take is to cut out all or most of the introspection, and I’ll do that by rewriting the nested story to set it entirely in the past and not bring the reader out of it till it’s done.  And make a distinct break between it and the parts set in “story present.”

Book 1, Book 2, Book 3 . . . rather pretentious for my piece of fluff, but I think that’s the only way to make it work.

I haven’t started the work on the Big Rewrite.  Instead I’ve skipped ahead to work on few chapters from Eric’s point of view.  I wish they were getting themselves written faster, but with me putting in twelve to fourteen hours of (minimally) paid work a day my mind isn’t always at top speed even when I do get a chance to write.

All this has an impact on this blog.  Posting this novel (as previously-conceived) was a way of generating content for it, right?

But not any more.

No, as much as I’ve enjoyed posting the book chapter by chapter, as much as it’s been an incentive to stay hard at work and produce, as much as it galls me to give in to it, no more chapters of Free Souls will appear on this blog until it’s reasonably done.  With the revisions I’ve made in the typescript, the ones that are up already need more alteration than I have time to do.  And I can’t just tack the next chapter on and pretend those revisions don’t exist.  That’d  be the same as assuming no one would bother to go back and read from Chapter 1.

Once the novel is completed, God willing, I’ll put the whole thing up as a pdf on a separate page on the blog.  It’ll be better for the readers that way.

Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with flash fiction.  And there’s always the poetry.  I should be able to come up with something for regular posts.

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A Poem on Missing the Mark

Sur le même sujet*

Sometimes, I feel drawn to you
As an arrow towards a goal

But each time I attempt my bow,
I miss

It is not that
My aim is bad
But rather, my unsaved friend,
That you do not yet
Live

by Catrin Lewis, March 1985

*as this

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Got a Question

First of all, I really appreciate the Likes and Follows I’ve gotten on this blog.  They’re nowhere near what some people receive, but for all what I get, I thank you.

But now I need comments, on the following question.

To-wit:  Should I go back and revise the individually-posted chapters of my novel Free Souls?

As mentioned in the previous post, I’ve realized that Chapters 19 and 20 are not the only places major revision is needed.   I’m cutting, pasting, stretching, curtailing, and rearranging and a lot of the material won’t be under the same chapter number any more.

In fact, some of the material I originally included in Chapter 20 may get moved to Chapter 46 (or whatever its number will be once I’m finished).

So would it be helpful to repost or at least rename everything from Chapter 9 on?  Or should I just post the novel in chapter order on a separate page of the  blog and refer whomever wants the latest to it?  And put up new chapters as individual posts and let the previous posts remain as they are?

Your input wanted and welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

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Meanwhile . . .

Rewriting, rewriting Free Souls, going all the way back to Chapter 9.  Raising the stakes for my MC and strengthening her motivation to do all this dredging up of her past.   Lots of good, clean, obsessive fun.  Who knows when it will end?

Meanwhile, here’s a random old poem (wish it were a new one, but the Muse distributes her gifts as and where she will) to keep the pot boiling.

It’s called . .  .

Lunacy

To him I’d give the diamond stars
If I could steal them from the night
To forge a chain for his delight
To hang my pendant heart upon

And though a thousand nights were gone,
I’d swear they’d shine as virgin gold:
Through sober days a millionfold
My love as faithful would remain.

But there’s a wildness in my reins
Tonight that seeks the wind’s embrace
And as the clouds give manic chase
I’d seize the moon, to make it yours.

One lunic night to run this course
And laughing, let this milky pearl
Become our toy, the ball we hurl
As evanescent link between.

And then becalmed, I shall be seen
To forge my chain by light of noon:
With you, caprice by fleeting moon;
For him I work the durate stars.

by Catrin Lewis, February 1995; all rights reserved

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Too Bad I Ain’t Doing This for the Money

More thinking, more critique forum input, more thinking again about my problem-child chapters in my work-in-revision Free Souls.

One reason they’re weak, I’ve decided, is because they’re trying to answer the wrong question.  I’d had my main character verbalize it as “Why am I so afraid?’  That misses the mark.  The real issue for her is,

“What do I love so much about the status quo between myself and [the hero], and why am I afraid for it to change?’

That got me thinking about what her status quo is.  Ah, yes, she’s his office wife.  No sweet nothings and no actual sex, but plenty of secret thrills for her whenever they’re working literally close together.

This poses a question for me, the author:  Do the prior relationships I’ve given her logically bring her to a point where she’d settle for that and not want to see it jeopardized?

Yes.

Next question:  Does she have a reasonable fear that it might be jeopardized, as the draft is currently written?

Hmmm.  Come to think of it, I don’t know.  Where did we leave her in Chapter 9?  The hero has paid her a personal compliment or two; he’s offered her a promotion and she’s grudgingly accepted it.  Maybe she’s just borrowing trouble when she fears that either of those will disturb the homeostasis she has established!

Ooooh.  Not good drama.  Not effective in holding the reader.

Let me think some more.  How to ramp up the drama?

Well . . . I could expand a couple of paragraphs in earlier chapters of the book, to make readers more aware of the happy status quo with the hero and how much she enjoys it and what’s at stake for her if it ends.  Don’t spell it out, show it.  Yeah.

And maybe I could intensify the conflict in Chapter 9, in the car where he offers her the promotion.  Leave her acceptance of it up in the air, and make it clear that if she refuses, things will not go back to the way they were.  That should increase and justify her anxiety.

That might do it.

You see what this means, don’t you?  Last November when I started serializing this old novella of mine I figured I’d slam it up there, with a little tarting up here and there. I wasn’t going to publish Free Souls anywhere but here.  I’ll never make a dime on it.  Now here am I, treating it like a real work of art.  And neglecting my “real” novel, Singing Lake Farm.  

I’m committed to this stupid book, chained, stuck, and my income tax return isn’t even done.  

Aaaaaaaaagggghhhhh!

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A Funny Thing

A funny thing happened on my way to editing my novel Free Souls. Funny-ironic, which is midway between funny-haha and funny-peculiar. I don’t like how I’ve written Chapter 19 and 20, in which my heroine reflects on the mess she got herself into her freshman year in college and how its aftereffects might destroy her relationship with the hero.  I’ve reworked and edited them two or three times before, but they still make me want to kick their little butts.  They simply won’t behave. From a writers’ forum critique site, where I posted them, I got responses that dealt more with theme and content than with method and style.  That made for some stimulating exchanges but didn’t get me much forrarder on my quest to whip the offending chapters into shape. So to cut off the flood of “she’s probably feeling like this” (when she wasn’t), Sunday night I posted Chapter 18 to show what my main character is really reacting to. And Monday one of the previous responders posted a comment that went, in part, like this:

Personally, I could not tell it was the same writer who wrote both chapters.

Oh. My. Gosh.  I have heard that before. Nearly twenty years ago.  The end of my third year at Oxford.  Up to then I’d been writing my final exam essays the way I always write expository prose:  Think of a metaphor that illustrates the topic, establish the relationship in the introduction, and develop the matter organically from there.  I’d done pretty well with that, but I needed three or four more leading-Alphas (α to αβ grades) to finish up with a first class degree. Boy, I wanted that First.  I had enough tests to take that I didn’t have to ace them all.  If I could raise my grade on enough of them I’d have it. So when my advisory tutor told us we could improve our exam essays by outlining first, I thought, “Well, he’s the expert, he knows what he’s talking about.  I don’t like outlining, but I need to be humble enough to try.” Sitting down to the first exam on the first morning of finals week, I took his advice.  I outlined.  I included everything I thought would cover the question, in the right order. The subject was Missions, and man, I knew a lot.  I was on fire.  I started writing and scorched the page.    A leading Alpha for sure. Imagine my shock when William, my Missions tutor, told me I’d failed that exam! Unthinkable!  Impossible!  I knew so much!  I was sure I’d done so well! William, who was also my college’s vice principal, went to bat for me.  He launched an investigation.  Unfortunately, the Oxford system forbids the student from seeing his or her test essay booklets after they’re handed in, so I couldn’t look at the grader’s marks and see what he or she had complained of. And at Oxford, all the students from all the colleges taking a single course/major get the same test which is graded anonymously by a faculty board drawn from the entire University.  Without breaking the rules of confidentiality, there was no way for William or me to question my grader on his reaction to my work, or even to know who that grader was. But eventually an answer emerged.  The head of the examination board told William something like this, and William told me:

“Her Missions essay ran like a disconnected list.  It had no organization or structure.  We dug her previous examinations booklets out of the vault and compared them.  If it hadn’t been for the handwriting, we wouldn’t have believed they were written by the same person.”

Oh. The only reason I didn’t plough the rest of my Third Year exams was because outlining was too much work and I’d gone back to my usual style the rest of the week.  I didn’t get enough more leading-Alphas and I didn’t get a First. But that’s what I got for taking advice that didn’t fit. In the case of the guilty chapters, it’s more the result of rejecting some advice then taking other advice in an attempt to make up for it.  And simply not knowing what to do. According to Jack Bickham, I think it is, a writer should never leave her characters by themselves to think.   But in this case, I had to.  My MC is a cerebral person, it’s natural she should think through her problems.  And her focus on her work (and on the hero) has isolated her from her friends, a state that will be important to the plot later.   I couldn’t have her calling up a friend to talk it over.  How to compensate?  By producing an extended internal monologue, with occasional verbalizations addressed to the four walls. But yer nawt suppozed 2 doooo that! I tried to compensate.  Dialogue is more interesting, everybody knows that.  So why not break it up like that, like she’s talking to herself (in a sane way), with quotation marks to set off her inner debate? But instead of making it more interesting and immediate, it affected my test readers like this:

“I find the quoted self-talk to be distracting. I don’t think that the quotes are needed, and the first set, at least, feels like an actual error.”

and

” . . . what’s with the speech marks? Who’s she supposed to be talking to? Is she speaking out loud? It’s very distracting because I’m never sure whether now I should expect dialogue or if I should expect narration, and the tone of voice for each should be different. As yours goes, everything’s kinda blurred and not in a good way. “

and even

“I would suggest a closer third person point of view, without the quotes. Rather than swapping back and forth between the narrator’s observations to the character’s thoughts, I’d suggest sticking with her thoughts.”

Aaaagggghhhh!  There is no external narrator in these chapters, or if there is, he/she/it only puts her oar in when my protagonist is moving about the room! Obviously, It Isn’t Working.  The comments are still coming in, and I’m working to integrate what they advise into my own style.  Maybe I’ll take some of the material in Chapter 20 and put it into Chapter 46 instead, which is why the latter isn’t written or posted yet. Will I be able to rewrite 19 and 20 so readers will receive without hitch both the style and the content?  I hope so. And if something funny’s going on, I better have caused it to happen on purpose.

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