Friday, February 17, 2017

Dismantling the Pulpit

17th February 2017

Before I hit "Send" and my re-write went swirling into the upper atmosphere, I had to describe to my agent all the changes I made. This is the longest time I have ever spent on a re-write. Because I want this to be right. I had two tasks: take out the preaching and "up the ante." My birthday happens to fall on the same day as Billy Graham's, so the stars were so aligned that I couldn't help but become a preacher of some kind. In addition, my dad was a minister, so I grew up listening to my father in the bully pulpit Sunday after Sunday. But novels aren't pulpits, and this is partly why my agent sent me back to the drawing board. If people want preachers they go to church or read a political treatise. The job of a novelist is to tell stories. So I had to go back and take out a lot of material that was dear to me. I had to recite the writer's Pledge of Allegiance to kill my darlings. Darlings are those things a writer feels compelled to put down on paper because she is attached to them. But they get in the way. You have to take your dearies out into the woods and sever their heads.

There are probably way too many darlings, even this version, but I did my best.
And then came the task of upping the ante: I kind of resist this. I mutter to myself about a book like Middlesex, which was in many regards an astonishing story about gender, and was going along fine until (and I could just hear the editor saying, "Up the ante, Eugenides!") the author plunges us into a high-speed car chase. This completely wrecks the integrity and register of the book, sort of like ketchup in a french restaurant.

So, I resent upping the ante and mutter about it. But I did it, had people getting caught doing things they shouldn't and a new chase (on foot!) and a new sex scene. Mutter, mutter. I tried not to reduce it to ketchup and I think I didn't, and I think the book is better for it.
I don't like to be pushed. I'm a Scorpio, for crying out loud. I do the pushing. But I am very bad at having any perspective on my writing. Like my children, I think they're all wonderful. And if it weren't for the small question of marketing, that would be all dandy. But any writer writes to be heard, and so we have to listen to the publicum. All well and fine. But it doesn't stop me muttering about it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Taking It Easy

10th February 2017

The view outside my window is a tapestry of snow and ice interwoven with skeletal trees. Narnia has taken hold. A large mountain lion was seen on my street early one morning this week. Coyotes howl out of the dark of the frigid hillside. I sit at my desk and spin words, getting close to the end of my final read-through before sending my book off to my agent for his perusal. The Ute Indians used to come to this corner of Colorado, but only in the warmer months. We Pale Skins are here only because of fossil fuels and electricity driven by fossil fuels. If all that failed, we would be dead in a matter of weeks, even after we had burned all our furniture and used our manuscripts for fire-lighters. We would die, because nothing grows in Narnia, at least not until it rejoins the living in May.
A quote on my calendar tells me that beneath the apparition of the surface, all living beings are one thing. And here we all are, one human thing, buzzing around in our heated vehicles, eking out our lives from one centrally heated house to another and to the cinema, and restaurants if we are lucky. All uniformally and stupidly forgetting how tenuous all of this is, how temporary this sliver of life we have parked our one human backside on.

And I was going to be good this winter and not get bogged down in the cold and ice like the shrivelled carcasses my dogs dig up from the snow banks, sticks with fur and frozen eyes. But I lost the battle, I guess, because next week I'm off cruising.  The lifeless landscape has finally got to me, and I need out. People were never meant to live here anyway alongside the starving coyotes and elk and the mice curled in  their grass nests beneath feet of snow. Once I dot the last "i" and hit "send" and my lovely words go sailing through the ether to the east coast, I am boarding a ship, donning the plush bathrobe in my cabin and settling back on my veranda with a glass of champagne.

I have earned it. So there.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Veu do Tempo

3rd February 2017

Around the time my book Veil Of Time was published by Simon & Schuster, a publisher in Brazil bought the rights for a translation into Portuguese. That was only for Brazilian Portuguese, though. If Portugal wants the book, they will have to negotiate the rights separately. At the time, my editor told me that eventually a book with my name on it and a Portuguese title would arrive on her desk and when it did, she would pass it on to me. Forward to a few days ago, when a Tweet in Portuguese appeared in my email box, and since so much time had passed since the original purchase, I thought this must be a Portuguese comment on one of the many Tweets I put out in the name of Scotland and her interests. I didn't understand the Tweet itself, of course, but good thing I thought to click on the link, because it was about the launch of Veu do Tempo in Brazil.  What do you know!

I actually like this book cover a lot. Rather than trying to sell with sex, it is fairly faithful in representing what the book is about: a woman with her cup of tea dreaming wistfully of bygone times in Scotland. The castle in the picture is from a much later time in Scottish history than my book is set, but still, it is on a rocky mound overlooking the sea, and I appreciate that they took the time to convey the sense of the book. What lies between the covers is anybody's guess, since no Brazilian translator ever contacted me to ask, "What is this: when someone is asked a question, they just look away to the hills?" Goodness knows what they made of the Gaelic lines or of the dour Scottish temperament in general, quite different I imagine from anything you might come across in Brazil.

Anyway, perhaps Veu do Tempo might sell well down there. Perhaps the book-count may go up on my "Recent Activity" page on the author portal at Simon and Schuster that I try so hard not to click on. It's life, and, whether American politics or your opus magnum, pretty much everything is just a feather weight away from tipping the balance.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

Overcombing the Facts

27th January 2017

We spend a lot of our time pulling ourselves into tight little worlds, fearing dissolution, dreading death. The Buddhist sees death as a little drop of water dissolving back into the ocean, and that image has not always seemed too alluring to this substantial ego. 
But then you get dropped into a seething mass of humanity 200,000 strong, and it makes your heart soar. It makes you cry. 

It's where you belong, not in your own little corner but as one beat in a massive moving human pulse.  E Pluribus Unum. It's loud, and it's uncomfortable, but it is wonderful. 

I had all but given up on the chance to walk in any of the women's marches last Saturday. My plans for DC fell through and then true to Colorado form the weather closed in and made driving to the nearest city of Denver a scary prospect. But at the last minute someone couldn't go on a bus I was eleventh on the waiting list for, and off I went at 3am, hardly knowing what I was going towards, only knowing that I had to go. I had no sooner got off the bus in Denver when someone from a radio station put a microphone in my face and forced the issue: Why on earth was I there?
This is what I said, not eloquent, because it was freezing at 8am in the Mile High City, and anyway, I hadn't really formulated the issue for myself. I said, "There's nothing much to be done about Donald Trump now but show solidarity against another male hierarchy. Woman have lived under male hierarchies for two thousand years, and it's time for a paradigm change."
I was wrong, of course. I vastly underestimated how long the male hierarchy thing has been going on. You have to go back to the moment in history those Israelites decided to take on their war god, El, as supreme God and make him plural, Elohim. Ex Uno Plures. Male God, male hierarchy. Across the world this happened. The goddess was seen as weak and discarded.
But, hey, she's back! 

There was nothing weak about the three million women who took on Predator in Chief Trump this last weekend. They came in the name, not of one male god, but with one female voice. I was there, and it was a wonderful. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Marching as to War

20th January 2017

A star just appeared on my horizon, and it enables me to boycott the inauguration of Humpty Trumpty altogether and focus on what matters more to me, which is the independence bid of Scotland from the same rotting right wing factions that are taking over America. This week, the British prime minister defined her war zone and it doesn't include the single market within any community of foreigners, nor does it include any recognition of Scotland which has been screaming its dissent from the sidelines for at least a year and for the last three hundred years if you take the entire takeover of my lovely little country into consideration.

Get back in your box, says the British establishment. These boots are made for trumping.

Hard Brexit in Britain and Trump's inauguration today is a sad moment for progress. But for Scotland Brexit comes with a silver lining because it bolsters the arguments for independence. I am already seeing stickers for YES2018. If subersvience hadn't been pummeled into these occupied nations (a necessary strategy to keep the natives at heel), if the Scots hadn't been taught to keep their eyes on the well-heeled shoes of the masters, then the argument would have been over a long time ago.

You look at Trump handing Tillerson his in-route to the Russian economy and with the same utter disbelief you watch your fellow Scots handing Theresa May their allegiance. It's sheer ignorance, this Stockholm Syndrome, this kowtowing to the overlords, this adoration of the Windsor Magi.

I have been watching The Crown, a TV series about the reign of Queen Elizabeth the second of England and first of Scotland. These royals seem like nice enough people, but the takeaway is: what an utterly ridiculous insititution and how blithely it severs even those among them who dare to find a voice.

I say that I am turning a blind eye to Trumpantics today, but here I am about to make the four hour journey to Denver to join the thousands of women marching against the stinking offence called the old boy's club of America.
But in doing so, I will be taking a stand too against the self-interested shenanigans of the English government under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher Mark 2.
On either side of The Pond, we have the same sickness.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Fall of the Titans

13th January 2017

History barrels forward with Humpty Dumpty elect, and Americans, who seem to have a psychological predisposition for gilding the lily, are going along with it. The question I keep asking myself is: how does this man and his party, this blatant takeover of America by collusion with its adversary, think they are all going to go down in history? We might have asked the same question of Nixon and his minions, but, frankly, Nixon would be welcome at this point. Come back twisted lier-in-chief, all is forgiven.

Kelly Anne Conway, adviser to Humpty Dumpty wants history to view him like this:

But take off the funny mask, and he is more like this:

The thing about any Humpty Dumpty is, he's set for a great fall. And that's how history will record Donald Trump and the strong-arms he surrounds himself with. Future high school students will look aghast at pictures of Trump and Tilllerson, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.  They will shake their heads at the rise of autocracy in this moment in American history, and teachers will have to explain how like any fascism it happened from power-grabs, unbound egoism and lies. Trump will end up on history's garbage heap with all the egoists who have made their ultimate goal power.
Our only solace, as we curl our toes around the edge of this precipice, is that when the fall is over, and we are dusting ourselves off, not  all the law suits, not all the kings horses nor all the kings men will ever be able to put this Dumpty together again.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Back At The Beginning

6th January 2017

After a three week Christmas hiatus, the rewrite of my third book in the Veil of Time series is back up and running. There was a moment when I thought to do a Stephen King and push through the holidays as though nothing was happening. But the bottom line for me is that despite what writers often think, reading and writing are not a substitute for life. The arts, glorious though they be, come second and the world comes first. Too much near-sighted drivel has been written by authors who don't understand that their particular corner of the sky is only interesting in as much as it reflects the light of a bigger universe.

There has been a long tradition of hermit authors spending long periods in recluse, half in and half out of a bottle of strong drink. And so the romantic myth is promulgated.  But first you have to tingle at real life, submit yourself to the barrage of the everyday, take it in, let your heart process it, and then inch it out in scrawls onto the page. A Child's Christmas in Wales resonates because every one has been that child with their nose pressed up against the toy shop window. Art only hums if it joins in the wider hum, and the individual hum is interesting in itself only to the hummer and to those fringers who cast value on oddities simply by virtue of their being odd.

Anyway, after three weeks away, I'm going to have to go back to the beginning of the text and restart the uphill plod. When I was an eager writer in my twenties, so much seemed to be waiting for me at the end of the publishing rainbow: all my debts would be paid off, fame and fortune would be lavished upon me, I would have carved out my piece of history. I would, in short, be vindicated. But these days, it's the small steps I focus on. I have lost some of that "If only," which I think must be a good thing. Even though my debts are deeper these days, I keep turning up at my desk for the next write and the next re-write, for the simple reason that I can do no other. Ich kann nicht anders.