Seven Plates at the Table

denisesevenplates      When a fellow writing group member publishes a book, we don’t necessarily snatch it right up so we can read it because we basically have “read” it, some sections numerous times. And yet…we still like to see the final product, after the edits. So I leisurely started Seven Plates at the Table by Denise Waldron (also one of my Secrets of the Universe panel members) this past weekend, and ended up reading to the end before the weekend was over! This final product is a winner.

Denise creates characters we recognize instantly. And because they feel like family, we want to know what happens from the first page. We’re worried that not-good things are coming for these basically good people. Greta, the grandmother wants Thanksgiving, and every other holiday, to play out like an animated Norman Rockwell illustration. George, her husband, prefers his wife happy so he can do what he does which is take the occasional electrical job and enjoy his semi-retirement. Their children Emily and Alan can’t figure out how they could be brother and sister since they are so different. Emily’s bought an old farm cottage and is raising goats, while Alan, a stressed-out financial adviser clawing up the ladder of success, lives in a big beautiful house with his perfectly-groomed fundraiser wife Isabel and their well-managed five-year-old son Henry.But George is hiding something. And so is Alan, something his wife couldn’t even imagine. It’s Carl, Emily’s new boyfriend, who begins to shake up the status quo. As facades start to crumble, everyone wants to protect Henry.

This is a quietly seductive book about the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others, and the irreparable damage that can follow. Seven Plates at the Table is Denise Waldron’s second book, and she just gets better as she goes. I can’t wait to read her next book…

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Crazy Happy Hearts

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I’m weeding one of my garden beds, and for the first time in four years, I see little strawberry plants under the weeping Japanese cherry. I thought we’d lost them for good after an energetic spring weeder in the family identified the little strawberry plants as weeds. Seeing these little green plants thriving in late August, as the other garden plants and bushes have reached their peak and started the downhill journey to winter dormancy, warms my heart.

Opportunity only knocks once. He who hesitates is lost. Strike while the iron is hot. Sayings to increase stress for sure. The world moves fast enough. To imagine that we only go by everything once and if we miss is, that’s it, that’s a nearly debilitating concept for me. And not true, I’ve decided.

The tide must be taken when it comes. This is more like it. Because the tide will always come back. Every day, every month, every year. The important things in life, like opportunity, and tides, and strawberry plants, come around again, and again. Working the seasons in the garden is always a joyful calming reminder of the returning nature of life, along with its consistent beauty, strength, and natural order.

I believe there is a returning nature of love, too, in all its guises.  Love can come around again and again. So that’s what I write about, the things that I believe could happen; the things I want to believe do happen. Like when a single Manhattan book editor and widowed mariner ignite a decades-old high school attraction at the Jersey Shore. That’s the premise for my newest release, out this month: Crazy Happy Hearts. Susan’s and Kenny’s story is a reunion story.

Opportunity doesn’t only knock once. We really do get second chances.

Crazy Happy Hearts by Beverly Breton is available at http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=5758. and also available on Amazon and other on-line stores.
To discover more titles, and read excerpts and reviews, go to www.beverlybreton.com    

 

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Children and Animals, Welcome (in my stories)

There is an old adage in theater – “no children or animals on stage” – for good reason.  They can be great distractions from the rest of the action.  Get a four year old kid or a small, furry animal, and it’s too cute for words – the audience ooh-ing and ah-ing. Or, the spectacle of fear, terror and readiness to flee  – also quite dramatic. But mostly, just too unpredictable. The animal may bark or wander off, the child may turn somersaults or start to sing. Or worse. In any case, it’s too big a risk, for the most part, unlike in film, where those scenes may be re-taken, edited, or cut.

Fiction is different. All kinds of creatures, great and small, may habit the same world of the book, although, for the most part, there seems to exist a fairly strict divide between books for and about kids, books for teens, and books for adults.

I like to mix it up a little, throw a few kids and animals into the worlds of my protagonists. Some of them are more developed and others have bit parts.

Here’s two-year old Frankie at the Bronx Zoo from Spanish Soap Operas:

Right off the bat, there was a problem. Outside the zoo entrance, a vendor was selling balloons and toys, including a big stuffed animal which Frankie wanted very badly. He was making a stink, kicking and screaming in his stroller, “Elmo!”

Marisol, unaccountably, was dressed for a party. She was wearing dress pants, a silk blouse, and low heels – for the zoo!  Ay, Dios, thought Gretchen, this is not starting well. Marisol argued with Frankie that Elmo was too big and too much money. He wouldn’t listen. Marisol, behind her sunglasses, was getting testy and loud. Gretchen searched the vendor’s wares until she spotted a splash of bright red: a small plastic Elmo figure, and next to that, Big Bird – fifty cents each.

“How about this one?” she said, picking it out and showing it to Frankie. He looked at her suspiciously, but at least he was quiet.

“Elmo,” he said, reaching out. Marisol bought the two figures: one for each fist, and they were able to make it through the gate.

They were ready to head to Jungle World, still some distance off. After a few minutes, Frankie wanted to get out of the stroller, badly. Marisol, perhaps fearing dangerous animals, was set on keeping him strapped in.

“What am I going to do with this boy?” Marisol complained. Frankie was fussing so loudly, they were attracting notice. She stopped pushing the stroller and looked to the sky. “My sister spoils him bad. She doesn’t never say ‘No’ to him. Look at him – fresh, fresh, fresh.”

Frankie let out another ear-piercing squall of protest.

“He needs the chancletas,” Marisol said ominously, lifting a foot.    

For a shocked moment, Gretchen thought she was threatening to kick Frankie.

“The slippers,” said Marisol, when she caught Gretchen’s expression. “You know, a little slap.”

Gretchen hung back, considering the situation. She had a lot of babysitting experience and wasn’t particularly alarmed by Frankie’s behavior. She was more upset with Marisol.

“Come on, Marisol,” she said. “We’re here now; let’s make the best of it. Let him out.” He liked pushing the stroller, taking his two new little plastic buddies for a ride. And he moved along pretty well, zooming here and there, once in a while aiming for the sedate pigeons that rose up at just the last second.

At last review, I have, besides Frankie, a couple young girls, a teenage female basketball player, a pair of spoiled Pomeranians named Ginger and Nutmeg, various cats, some geese, pigeons, seagulls, and a NYC rat.

Why? Because that’s how I like it, and it’s how I have experienced the world most of my life. Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to the Red Road, the broad term for Native American Spirituality, because it is a way of looking at the world that we share with our two-legged and four-legged brothers and sisters.  And because the view of children seems more realistic to me – not just potential adults, but fully formed beings, with their own rights and dignity.

 Like it or not, every piece of fiction is a depiction of a world, with choices we make of what it looks like, how it works, and who matters.  Sometimes in real life we end up inadvertently in “ghettos”, segregated living spaces in our main relationships, whether old and young, men and women, different cultural groups.  Of course, I realize children and animals do not belong in a novel about a nursing home, perhaps, or on a fighter jet, but you’d be surprised how many places they may turn up. Children and animals can be messy, and unpredictable, and badly written about. But I say, bring them on. Old folks, too. We’ve got room. They’re important, too.

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My Big, Fat White Privilege

For those not sure, here’s the definition condensed from Wikipedia, as good as any:

 …unspoken advantages that white individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice, including: greater presumed social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. It also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.                 

From my novel, Blue Eyes in Black Wonderland, an exchange between two waitresses, Nora, who’s white; and Wanda, who’s black, about serving a table of doctors’ wives, all white:

 “You should see yourself,” Nora whispered. “I know they’re fussy, but you can handle them.”

            “They don’t like me,” Wanda said, “and I don’t like them, either.  I had them once, and that was enough.” Her eyes narrowed as she added, “Ten percent tip; that’s nothing.”

            At the hostess stand, Mrs. Becker gave the girls a warning look.

            “Mrs. Fenton, she’s the worst,” Wanda muttered, flipping the page of her order pad. “Miz Bossy Boss. Why does she have to repeat everything I say? Make me look like a fool.”

            The problem was that when Wanda set her face a certain way, she did look sort of grouchy and ignorant.  But Nora couldn’t very well say that.

            “Let me take them,” she said. “You can have that table of six when they come in.”  She pointed at a table reserved for a group of engineers.

 And then, continuing after lunch:

 As soon as they disappeared, Wanda was at Nora’s side. 

            “They tip you good?” she asked.

            “Yes,” Nora said. “And they were very sweet.”

            “Yeah, they probably like your type.”  

            Nora cocked her head. “What do you mean by that?”

            “You could be the daughter, or the little sister.”

            “So what?” Nora brushed it aside. “Maybe they found me charming. How did you do with the engineers?”

            Wanda nodded, a little bashful. “That worked out good.”

            “You have to admit, we did pretty well for two girls on the lunch shift.”  Nora jostled her own fat pockets.  Then she poked Wanda’s pocket, holding her gaze until she saw a smile appear, which turned into a full-fledged grin.

 19-year old Nora from California is not overtly prejudiced, but she never questions her advantaged position until her eyes are opened throughout the course of the book.  Nor does she see that Wanda’s reluctance is a defensive reaction to an earlier negative experience. Nora automatically gets the benefit of the doubt, where Wanda does not – a challenge to their friendship. Nora’s world assumes many good things about Nora, being young, female, white, blonde, blue-eyed, and well spoken. Being good-hearted and naïve, she hasn’t realized this is an unearned form of power and privilege.

 The subject of white privilege has been of interest to me ever since I found out what it was – at the Harvard Ed School in the early 1990’s. A guest speaker, Peggy McIntosh from the Wellesley Center for Women, put a label to something I’d been aware of but unable to name. I’d seen it in action, and so knew it was real. Hailing a taxi in NYC with a black, female friend, I was the one “sent to the curb”, because she couldn’t get anyone to stop.  Or, riding with my Chicano boyfriend in his bright red car in California, repeatedly pulled over for “speeding” – my job was to say, “Officer, we’re just heading to the university, and didn’t realize we were going a little fast.” Or getting the “special” treatment when shopping with a Puerto Rican girlfriend. It doesn’t affect you until it affects you, i.e., if you don’t have friends of color, you might not realize it exists.

 I’ve read Barbara Beckwith’s “What Was I Thinking?  Reflecting on Everyday Racism” and had conversations with Claudia Fox Tree, a Native American educator, about white privilege as part of race awareness. All of these things have informed my writing, and the creation of a character who in some ways epitomizes white privilege, even while encountering serious difficulties in her life.  Here’s the thing: white privilege is some insurance against being arrested for “breaking into” your own home in a tony neighborhood, if you are a person of color. But white privilege is no insurance against being targeted as a victim. Andrew Vachss, an expert on child molesters, has written that young, blonde girls are often kidnapped – for that same white privilege – to get the media attention, where missing girls of color do not.

 In retrospect, I can see how well white privilege has worked for me, including as a woman. People tend to assume the best about me. I am deemed good and harmless: I am often selected by others for help in a random group – no risk here. No one worries about me, to the point that I can be taken advantage of as too nice or too gullible. My son says that Louis C.K. does a comedy routine on all the really great things about being white – I’ll have to see that one. At least, my son knows there’s something to talk about.

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Thank You, Jane Austen

Another excerpt from BEBW, while I’m working on queries. This exchange between the two sisters, older and younger, comes, it appears, right out of Sense and Sensibility. That’s what happens from reading Jane Austen so intensely when I was younger. Looking back, I see how many of my themes and ideas, even characters, are borrowed from literature I’ve read, sometimes in the deep past, without really knowing it. Then I console myself that Shakespeare took a lot of his material from other sources, and so many authors have used things from the Bible and mythology. So, why not?

(Nora has left college and come to live with her older sister, Grace, a physical therapist, after a family financial crisis.)

            “Surprise!” Nora said as Grace opened the door. “I’ve got news.”

            “Oh?” Grace came into the living room, taking a seat and putting down her purse.

            “I got a job, the very first one I applied for.” Nora snapped her fingers. “Just like that, starting Wednesday. Can you believe it?”

            Grace looked dubious, and then, strangely, a little disappointed. “Well, all right then,” she said, nodding and running a hand through her short, dark hair. “So, tell me.”

            “Waitress — at the finest establishment in town, the Grand Marsh Inn.  They had an ad in the paper.” She paused. “What?” Nora said.  “What’s wrong with that?”

            “Nothing is wrong,” Grace said. “But…here’s the but.  I found something at the hospital that might be really good, too.”

            Nora said nothing, unable to imagine what it could be.

            “Medical records. There’s an opening right now. I talked to the woman in charge.  They provide training and health insurance. Plus,”and this appeared to be Grace’s ace card. “They will pay for a couple classes a semester, in anything related, business or health care. It’s pretty wide open.”

            “Oh,” said Nora, trying not to laugh; it seemed so unlikely.  “Not bad. What’s the pay?”

             “Five dollars an hour to start. Plus the benefits. You could probably move ahead quickly – you’re a quick learner.”

            Nora made a face. “Not as good waitressing!”

            “No, not right away.  But will you get insurance at the Inn?”

            “Well, no; maybe later.” Who knew about stuff like that? Who cared?

            “Then you better not end up in the hospital.”

            Medical Records?  Nora turned to look out the window at the late sun in the trees. How boring, not to mention lonely.  The picture that came to Nora’s mind was a basement room with metal shelves, no windows and artificial lights. And there she was, reaching up and an avalanche of files falling on her head.

            “Grace,” she tried again. “I understand what you’re saying. But I really want to try this waitressing job.  It seems like such an interesting place — all very elegant and high class.

Grace shifted on the sofa. “I realize Medical Records sounds pretty dull to someone like you. But it’s a good way to learn about the hospital and the health field. I could see you in Patient Services or even a Social Worker some day.” She smiled encouragingly. “You could still do theater on the side. Maybe you need to thinking about developing marketable skills, at least something to fall back on.”

Her tone was so somber, not like the old, can-do Grace.  Something was wrong. It didn’t add up.

“Come on, Grace,” Nora coaxed. “Things will work out, eventually. We’ve been down before, after Dad died, and then things got better. Besides, you know Mom always encouraged me to follow my heart and pursue my dreams…..” she fluttered her eyelashes, “to be a theater artist.  She wanted to be a singer; that was her dream. And then she gave it up for marriage, kids, blah, blah, blah.”

Grace looked away, toward the calendar on the wall – mallards on a marsh. “Mom called me, too,” she said, finally. “She asked if I could pay your tuition.”

Nora sat up with a start. “No!”

“But I couldn’t. I paid cash for my car.  Had I known, I might have financed it. But that money is gone.  I’m sorry.”

“Don’t say that, Grace. That’s not right. She shouldn’t have asked you.”

“Nora,” her sister said, lifting her hands from her lap — working hands, no jewelry, no nailpolish. “There is no money, not now, and probably not for a long time

As bad as that?  Nora had really not known, living in her sundrenched world.

Grace cleared her throat. “She also said that she regretted she had no skills to make money outside the home. And that, maybe she wouldn’t have married Gordon if she hadn’t felt the need for support after Dad died.” Her eyes widened. “Here’s the bottom line:  we’re on our own; there is nothing else.”

 

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Two of a Kind – Same Sex Relationships in fiction

In 2013, the issue of same sex marriage is in the forefront of news. But I’m of a generation that witnessed a great deal of secrecy and persecution before things became more open. And in my fiction, I’ve wrestled with the subject of gay relationships during this period of time, the mid-1980’s. Two excerpts:

-In the first, from Spanish Soap Operas, Gretchen and Marisol are discussing a painting for an exhibit that depicts two men embracing, one very similar to Marisol’s brother:

 Gretchen put down her editing pen to consider. “I don’t know,” she heard herself say. “Two men embracing?  That’s nothing compared to what I’ve seen at the Museum of Modern Art or even the Met – you know what I’m talking about?”

But Marisol did not.

“The Mets?” she repeated.

“No, the museum – The Metropolitan Museum of Art – on the Upper East side?  You’ve been there, right?”

“Oh, there. Not since high school.”  But now Marisol was nodding her head. She knew about the nude statues and the paintings of naked people.

“That’s art for you,” Gretchen said. “Besides, don’t you think it’s time they know the truth about Eduardo?  I mean, not that they don’t know, but that it’s out in the open?”  The words sounded unreal, especially coming from her. When had she become an advocate for the gays of New York?  But, it wasn’t that. She had no gay friends among her small circle of friends, except Hector, maybe. It was the hypocrisy of knowing and not admitting that bothered her. And, while not very informed about art, she knew by now that it consisted of many disturbing images and ideas.

Marisol wasn’t convinced. After a moment of studying Gretchen’s face, she suddenly popped off the desk onto her feet and strode away. With a shrug, Gretchen returned to methods of measuring body fat. Taxes she could deal with, and boyfriends. But gays and art were still a reach.

           

-In Blue Eyes in Black Wonderland, Nora is at a dinner party hosted by co-workers, a same sex couple, discussing coming out with another couple still in the closet:

             “Thank you all for coming to have dinner with us.  We truly enjoy the company of friends,” and then turning his head toward Sylvia, “and family.  If only Mom and Dad could see us now.”

            “Have they been here?” Lee asked, his face lit with curiosity.

            “No, they haven’t and they won’t be coming, ever.” Roland had a knack for provocative statements.

            “But they do know . . . everything about you two, right?” Travis jumped in, unexpectedly. “That’s what Lee said — you were out.  My parents still don’t know, and it just better stay that way.” He went on breathlessly, “My daddy has a gun, and I do believe he would use it.”

            Roland picked up his napkin to dab his forehead, starting to glisten with beads of perspiration.  He turned to Travis with an uncle’s smile.

            “Oh, they know all right.  They allow us in the house once in a while.” He looked up as Tony reappeared in the doorway.

            “Excuse me,” Tony said, looking apologetically at Nora. “That was Celia.  She has to stay until they get the lights right. She won’t be able to make it, after all.  I’m sorry, Nora.  We’ll have you meet another time.”

            “Oh, I understand.” Nora said, doing her best not to show disappointment.

            “What were you saying?” Tony asked Roland, aware of having stopped the flow of conversation.

            “My folk’s house,” Roland cued him.

            “It’s fabulous,” Tony said. “A beautiful brownstone not far from Georgetown.”

            “Did you know that their father is at the Government Accounting Office?” Tony asked Nora. She could imagine that someone in government accounting was financially secure and also fairly conservative. And had somehow ended up with an activist daughter and a homosexual son.  Ha! Listening as Tony went on about the early days of his relationship with Roland, Nora again had that feeling of disorientation, things being not as they appeared, and everyone knowing what was going on around, except her. She helped herself to another glass of wine from the bottle on the table.

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May Day Magic…in March!

Starting yesterday, March 5, through Friday, March 8, my newest “short’ story–May Day Magic by Beverly Breton–is FREE on Amazon to read on your Kindle or by downloading a free Kindle app. on another device.   

 
Set in New England, May Day Magic is a light sweet story about chances taken. Meet Diane Avery, a school nurse and single mother so busy taking care of everyone else she forgets herself, and Marc Stafford, the owner of an upscale garden center/gourmet grocery and divorced father about to become an empty nester when his son goes to college. Add a sick student, Diane’s mother’s operation, a family tradition, a shared love of flowers, and Diane’s tween daughter who becomes a surprise source of romance advice, and the result for Diane and Marc is…romance? Happily ever after? I hope you’ll download the story, and then read it and find out!  And if you enjoy it, do please spread the word… 

Happy spring to all.

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Fiction Writing

When you are a fiction writer you are forever seeing and hearing tidbits in real life that you might someday weave into a story.  I have not written fiction for a long long time, but I still plan to go back to it.  Non-fiction is not my first love but I have been pursuing it in recent years.  I think this is partially true because my creative juices have been sucked dry by my busy life.  I wrote fiction in high school and college when life was simple and I didn’t have to take care of a child or earn a living.  In my dreams I am the author of the next Great American Novel.  But, will I ever really seriously write fiction again? 

But every once in awhile I hear or see something that I think, “Oh I have to remember that for the book I will write someday!”

I had one of these experiences last Thursday.  I was chatting with a real estate customer, David Caruso, who plans to put his house on the market in the spring.  We were discussing the color he was going to paint the living room to get it ready for the market.  He told me that he could count on his father to help him pick the right color.

“My father was a colorist.” Dave explained. 

I looked at him and asked, “A colorist?  What kind of colorist? You mean a hair colorist?”  surprised because Dave didn’t seem like the type of guy whose father would be a hair colorist – although what kind of guy that would be I don’t know – but that was the only colorist I had ever heard of.

“No” said Dave, “My father was a wallpaper colorist.”

“A wallpaper colorist?  I’ve never heard of that.”

“Yeah, his job was to pick the colors for wallpaper.”

“There is a job for that?”

“Yeah, he did it for years.  In fact, he named wallpaper after me and my sister.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“If you look at the old goose wallpaper printed in a variety of colors by General Tire it is named DavidCaruso or DCaruso or DaveC and other wallpaper is named RoseCaruso or RCaruso after my sister.”

“You have got to be kidding!”

“No, really I have wallpaper named after me.  Noone else can say that outside the family!  It is our distinction.”

“No way!”  I laughed.  “That is too cool!” 

 Meaning this is  one of those delicious tidbits that  would be hysterical in a book!  I have to remember to make someone a wallpaper colorist in my novel – whenever I write it.

Real Estate Hint – When you sell your house do not pinch pennies.  Recently I had to get a quote for a customer who has moved to Europe for a Trash Man to clear out his house and garage.  We are talking a major clearout – wood, paint, insect poison, mouse poison, old tools, file cabinets, etc.. The price to bring in dumpsters, dispose of hazardous waste, etc. is going to cost the homeowner over $2000.  The seller was not happy and did not want to pay this large sum.  I had to explain to him that he had no choice.  He had accumulated all this stuff over 25 years and if he wanted to close on his house it all had to be removed.  He had to remember that he was making $600,000 and the $2000 was a necessary cost of selling his home.

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2013: The Year of Shrinking Underpants?

A new year, and my underpants are shrinking.

Really? Did I just form that thought? Looking in the mirror on the first day of January 2013, I really did. But before the observation even fully formed, I knew it was a fantasy explanation. I may have spent many hours imagining scenarios and events for story characters, but in the real world, I have a rational streak that wouldn’t swallow the premise that after 83 washings, this particular light pink pair of cotton with a touch of spandex bikini underpants had shrunk, really noticeably, on the 84th wash.

My jeans had been quietly shrinking for a period of weeks, as had a number of my clingier shirts. Hmm, there was a constant here…what’s that darn dryer up to? In days gone by, a winter layer of extra pounds could keep us warmer in the winter, and no one would be the wiser. But now, with our penchant for spandex pants and stretchy tops all year round, or for bathing suits for laps at the athletic club pool all winter, there is no where to hide…including the clothes dryer.

I am on a continual path, as are many American women, of finding inner peace with my silhoutte, shutting out societal cues that dictate the impossible physique that will make me look like a million dollars, and all the variations that won’t. For a number of months now, I have consciously relaxed my former strict, and often stressful, routine of diet and exercise, and accepted a curvier, mature version of me. I’ve been okay with her. Her neck and shoulders are not anywhere near as stiff and sore as the earlier me endured, stuck on her strict schedule of writing on the computer, exercising, and just being super woman in general, and that’s been a gift.

But now this new curvier version of me has crossed the line. She’s screwing with my wardrobe, and that’s a problem. When I walk into my closet and have to pass on a number of selections, top and bottom, because they are too small, she and I need to talk. I’m not ready to cross over into the next size–not only out of principal, but because I love clothes, and buying a whole new wardrobe isn’t an  option. 

Can she change? I don’t know. This current twin doesn’t feel exactly right, but for most of my life, I’ve not traveled with middle-aged me. In my imagination, I’ve designed a peaceful universe where both of us–the one who is more relaxed and easy going, and the one who can fit into her clothes–coexist in the same body. Fiction, or nonfiction?  I’ve prayin’ nonfiction…

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In the Beginning (of the Book)

Good news: the story, Blue
Eyes in Black Wonderful
, is complete. The manuscript, my first full-length
novel, started 7 or 8 years ago, had been sitting in a drawer, so to speak,
while the second was written and self-published. As a first novel, it had major
problems with structure, or lack thereof. The plot was full of interesting
incidents without a specific, overarching conflict to be faced and resolved. In
retrospect, I could see that it was like a meandering river, with no real
destination.  In a more literary novel,
that might not be such a problem. But for the story I wanted to tell, and the
audience I wanted to reach, it was. So I learned, and I restructured, and I
made, I believe, a more compelling, forward-moving story. And out of that grew
some new, unexpected twists and an ending that feels quite appropriate and
satisfactory.

 Bad news: I’m back at the beginning, specifically, the first
three chapters.  And I’m having a heck of
a time with the changes and revisions that need to be made, so that the whole
of the story rests on a strong foundation. And so that these early pages will
grip and hold the interest of potential agents and editors in an effort toward
publication. This, along with a query (cover letter) and synopsis (summary) are
what they ask for in submissions (generally by email). It’s daunting to think
just how quickly they can hit the delete button (like the proverbial gong), and
never get to the parts of the novel that I know in my heart are good and unique.

 It’s hard. The beginning has so many jobs to do, and do
well. It is the introduction to the writer’s voice, appealing or not, and the
tone of the novel as a whole. It has to have some kind of “hook” as in bait to
catch the reader’s interest.  Point of
view is established, and in a single, third-person point of view narrative, it
had better be clear and sustainable. The main characters are introduced with
physical description, and their personalities shown through dialogue and
actions.  The setting, of course, the
where and the when, with adequate, but not too much description. The backstory
(preceding situation) needs to be interwoven to establish the situation and
motivation of the characters, but not too much and not too soon. And all must
be “shown” to the reader naturally, and not explained. As is, the beginning of
my story is adequate, somewhat interesting and a fair doorway into the rest of
the story. But it needs to be better than that.

 Blue Eyes in Black
Wonderland
began in my head as an image: a young, female college student in
line, discovering that there is no money in her account or from home. This
comes as a surprise to her and changes her fate. In the two approaches I’ve
considered, one of them has her clueless to the reality of this news, and
gradually discovering that she has some real problems on her hands. In the
other, she experiences some of the golden aspects of her college life –
promising acting role, great boyfriend, fun friends, before being hit with the
news of no money, as a kind of cliff hanger. 
Both have merits; both determine character. In the older, original
manuscript, this news leads to a cross-country bus journey, encountering America of the
‘80s, while establishing backstory. It was meant, in its way, to be “the rabbit
hole” that Alice
falls down, in my re-telling of the adventures in Wonderland. That’s all gone
now, partly because, in fact, the rabbit hole was never my favorite part of Alice in Wonderland. And today, the
trend is away from journeys to somewhere, in favor of getting right to the
action.

 I find myself inching along with these chapters – word in,
word out, word back in. I always want to put more in, while trying to pare down
to the essentials. I worry that it’s so much work for me, how can it be fun for
the reader. Still, it must be done, and I need to feel some confidence and pleasure
in this part of the book. I remind myself, “every beginning has an end”, and
that it cannot, should not be the best part of my book, or what’s the reason to
go on?

 

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