Saturday, December 29, 2012

Waits for No Man

29th December 2012

Time passes. (D. Thomas) A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then his heard no more. (Will.) Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change. (Hardy)
On the subject of time: I am filling out the questionnaire sent to me by Simon and Schuster for their website, and one question asks for my motto. I put, "Everything at this moment is exactly as it should be," a thought I hold dear but am not very good at living up to. Like this week when the Aspen Writer's Foundation got my name wrong in their "Upcoming books" section. Like yesterday when I found an e-book with a similar title to mine, with a similar theme and a picture on the cover of a castle and a hunk in a kilt holding a semi-clad time-traveller. Another question asked for my worst fear, and I suppose my worst fear these days is finding my book shelved in the Romance section. Everything at this moment is exactly as it should be.
Stephen King says that he writes every day, including Christmas. I find I can't write once I'm jostled out of my routine, like during the holidays. Other writers find it helpful to get out of their normal situation and take themselves off to a cabin in the woods or a motel. Unless I am sitting where I always sit on my chair in my house with the same view out of the window and the same clutter on my desk, I am too distracted to write. During the bustle and come-and-go of holidays, I just stay away and wait for things to go back to normal. But even in the usual routine, things can move in and upset you.
At times like these, like today, for instance, there's a scene from Amadeus that I return to again and again: Mozart and his father and wife are all arguing in the living room. Mainly the fight is between Constanze and Leopold. Unnoticed, Mozart steps out of the room and leaves them to it. He goes into an adjoining room where there is a billiard table, and, with the noise of the argument in the background, he starts to roll the balls on the table. He rolls one ball. It hits three sides of the table and comes back to him. He sends it off again. It comes back to him. Slowly, he begins to hear the music of Don Giovani. He rolls again. Everything fades back except for the music, which he begins to write down.
So, in the midst of chaos, you step out of the fray and find your creative space. The universe responds. It has no choice but to fill in the vaccuum.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

And To Know The Place For the First Time.....

22nd December, 2012

We all survived the passing of Armageddon yesterday - planes are flying, people are shuffling towards their morning cup of stimulant, computers are working and America is still coming down on the side of the NRA. I found my self with a group of folks yesterday by a fire on a hillside, turning to the six directions (downwards and inward being the other two) and I reciting the passage from Eliot, "And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." If we are passing into a new era, here's our best hope.
Eliot's wife, Valerie, died last month. She was far younger than he, of course, but how strange to have had until now that living connection to one of the last and greatest.
In publishing news: I received a curious e-mail from Simon and Schuster yesterday, which needed translating for such a computer half-wit as myself, but amounted to an invitation to add my details to a website generated by them so that future readers and enthusiasts will have access to me. I am currently filling out an extensive questionaire with such soul searching questions as, What are your most overused words? Who is your favourite fictional character/villain; what are your favourite five songs; who would you most like to meet in history; what is the key to happiness? I have been waiting for the excitement of my being published to hit, and now I think it  finally has. Good lord, it looks like I'm going to be published after all!
Apart from contributing to the expansion of my ego, this is a great thing for the publisher to do. I wish I had an in-depth personality profile written by the author for all the writers I admire. The questionaire has to be run by an editor, though, so my answers can be checked for being PC etc. But sooner or later, you'll be able to find me and my ideas of myself on Simon and Schuster's author list. Sweet.
I have also been working on my own website and have added a page of some essays I wrote on Scotland, a page of poems by yours trully, and a brand new page of my favourite Scottish songs. It's a bit like preparing for a newborn, assembling the drawers of tiny clothes and nappies, buying the changing table, preparing for a life without sleep. All shall be ready at the time. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. (Now, that's a "darling" (cf earlier blog entry) but I ain't going to kill it.)
One of the questions on the S&S questionaire was, "What is your worst trait?" I didn't have to stop to think about that one. "Shooting my Mouth off."  Still, history is full of us, and sometimes, just sometimes, we have something to say. It might actually be a requirement of a writer. My mother used to say, "Claire, you have too much to say."  And so I do.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Life as a House

16th December 2012
Nothing to do with writing, I just want to mention Sandy Hook Elementary and the atrocity that happened there on December 14th. I want to say, "Wake Up America! Look around you - other developed countries manage to incorporate freedom and the strictest gun control. You're being manipulated by a thoroughly dishonest body called the NRA, ad it needs to stop before one more innocent person is gunned down by a madman."  There, I said it. And I'm not sorry.
Now to things literary: When I first set out to write my oeuvre, I wanted to get five novels under my belt, so that if one sold, I would have an easy time of it following up with others. I didn't want to be under pressure to produce, because, as we all know, the muses need to fly free. So, sitting here waiting for the machinery to take me onto the next phase of the publishing process, my mind naturally travelled towards a sequel. I started one tentatively, and all kinds of things started to happen in the story that I hadn't anticipated. Often writing feels like walking into a screening room for an already completed film. I sat down and started to watch, and it was pretty interesting. So, I've written fifty pages, which is a sixth of a book, and I have no idea how it is going to unfold. But I do like the space to be still and listen to the story come.
There was an article on writing in The New York Times earlier this month called "The Art of Being Still," by Silas House. Can't he get a Pulitzer just for his name? It should be a new category:  Best Author's Name. What else could he have been but a writer with a name like that? He could have worked in construction and caused a few chuckles. But he is a writer, and what he was saying in the article was how writers creates their own stillness inside the most mundance tasks, that you can't actually wait until life conspires to give you uninterrupted time to write your great opus. You just have to find it, and if you have something to say you will.
So, excerpt four from the current novel, "Veil of Time." Chapter Four: Back in her own time, Maggie longs to get back to Dunadd AD 735. She hasn't yet met Fergus, but she has spent some time with the Sula the druidess.  She still thinks she's dreaming....
"Something in me it is that pulls me to fire.  I tug my raincoat on and climb to the fort in the wind today, stopping at the cleft of the rock where in my dream the gates stood. I remember them down to their heavy wooden smell and the knot in the wood above the sliding hatch.  And I notice on my way up this time, and wonder why I have never noticed before, several holes in the rock where the gate posts must once have been lodged. There’s a stain of rust leaking out from iron rods that must still exist somewhere deep in the rock. I gain the flat grassy area where the houses stood in my dream, but now instead of buildings, I am standing amongst rubble, half submerged in grass, looking like nothing at all. 
On the summit, I sit on the little ledge of stone left from the original seat in the witch’s hut. If I close my eyes, I can hear the snap of the fire, smell the drying herbs hanging from the rafters. Even now you can see why the ancient people picked Dunadd as a fort, for it looks straight across the Mhoine Mhor, a great stretch of peat moss leading down to the Atlantic.  Off to the south, through the dips of the foothills, you can see mountains; to the north and east great forests rise and fall, and along the valley floor the River Add wraps itself around the fort before snaking through The Moss, as though it really would prefer not to get to the sea at all. The sun is setting behind the islands, casting the world in an orange wash. From below, only the raucous call of the pheasant interrupts the stillness."

Friday, December 7, 2012


7th December 2012
The literary admonition to kill your darlings has been ascribed to several authors. I thought it was Auden, others say Faulkner. Here is Stephen King harping on about it: "Kill you darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings."
But whoever its author, it remains a very good rule for any writer to impliment. The "darlings" in question are not just certain flowery phrases by which you aim to impress, but those thoughts, expressions, pictures, that have a personal weight or meaning for you but act as dead weight in your writing.  You're going through an edit of something you have written, and there's an illusion, almost a private one, that gives you a bolt of joy (hence the "darling") and it takes all your strength to highlight the phrase and nix it. You almost have to close your eyes. Sometimes it's whole pages. I have had entire characters that fell into this category - someone I once knew and want to honour, but they're getting in the way of the story. Kill your darlings. It hurts, but kill 'em anyway.
One darling I won't be killing any time soon, because my protagonist Maggie would protest, is her love interest in the eighth century, Fergus MacBridghe (MacBreej, I want to write it out phonetically, so no one mispronounces it, but that's just one of those darlings that needs to get nixed.) This passage is from Chapter Three, when Fergus is first introduced:
"The call of an owl muted the subtler sounds; wings fluttered suddenly to Fergus's left, a good portent, the druidess would say. He had not meant to be away this long, too long since the day he left his daughter in the arms of her grandmother. Already, in his absence, the celebrations for her eighth year had come and gone.  Two years since the plague had taken her mother, and now there was talk among the Britons of another round of the pestilence coming up from the Sassenachs in the south.  If it spread this far north, he would take his daughter to the people who lived away from Dunadd, in the houses on the lochs, until the danger had passed. Illa was all he had left of his wife and he meant to hold onto her.
Fergus leaned forward into the smell of his horse, ran the coarse strands of her mane between his fingers. Horses were like the Druids in a sense, hearing and seeing more than they should. Only a little while now and he would be home--not the home he had shared with his wife, for he had closed that door two years ago after the body had been burned."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Writer's Compass

December 1st 2012
"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer's radar."
I think Hemingway has hit on something very important in this quote. It's what Nietzsche referred to has having "psychological antennae." Someone once descirbed writing a novel as moving through a deep forest at night with a flashlight. But for that you need an inner compass. You need to know you'e going in the right direction, even though you are only consciously aware of the few trees in front of you.
And it would be a  mistake to interpret Hemingway's "shit detector," as an excuse for cynicism. The modern era has happily latched onto that one, because it's easy and instantly gratifying.  The writer's "shit detector" should be a highly private faculty, a radar screen behind the eyes, an instrument of  navigation, that, to my mind, is the umbilical cord to the source of all creativity that lies in the collective consciouness. The "shit detector" is best at routing out what is ego or mere circumstance. It's also a muscle, and it atrophies if not used. It's located deep inside the body, and you have to listen carefully or its message goes unheard.
Last week I posted a paragraph from the first chapter of my novel "Veil of Time." Due to popular demand (!), here comes another - this time from chapter two. To fill you in: my protagonist, Maggie, has moved into the cottage at the base of Dunadd Fort in rural Scotland. She has a history of seizures - in fact she is biding her time at Dunadd until the lobectomy surgery that should end these for good. Her medication usually takes care of them, but the following one slips through, and we begin to sense that her stay at Dunadd is going to bring more than she had counted on. This early in the story, she thinks these are just  dreams, but , as time goes by, the plot will thicken:
"After the seizure comes sleep.  I dream I am at Dunadd--not the present Dunadd, because in my dream there are high walls all up the side of the hill where nowadays the footpath meanders through heather and bracken.  I am standing where the house ought to be, looking down on the river, only this time there’s a footbridge, and across the field aren’t sheep but a village of houses, all thatched and smoking, not rectangular stone houses but round houses made of wattle and mud, houses that look for all the world like an African village.
I have had dreams before in the aftermath of seizures: I have argued points of theology with Mary Queen of Scots, who wasn’t the blockhead history has made her out to be. I have strolled along the beaches of Saint Helena with Napoleon insisting to me that he was being poisoned. But nothing has struck quite so close to home as seeing Dunadd in this way, with goats tethered and children running barefoot, with great waves of drumming and singing, and at the back of it all, a low murmuring like a didgeridoo. I must have arrived during some kind of festival.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Far From the Madding Crowd

26th November 2012

Late with this blog, but now my running over the globe is done for a while. Still, my internal monologue hasn't caught up with me, and my thoughts are still flying all over the place, yielding no place to settle.
So, now is as good a time as any to post a paragraph from "Veil of Time." If my publisher would let me, I could post a paragraph a week and let out my novel sowly like a fishing line, Dickens-style. But I have been promised I can post an entire chapter further down the editing line. So stay posted.
This passage is from page 2 of the novel. We have established Maggie Livingstone as the protagonist, and the fact that she has recently left her husband, Oliver Griggs, back in the city of Glasgow and moved to a cottage far from the madding crowd.

"What is this place called Dunadd? It is shades of green and all covered with bracken; it smells of moss and rain pouring for days on end. It is grey stone walls and cloud and bog and black slugs. It is sea and seagull cry, and the rough call of the pheasant. It is all these things and it is not that far from Glasgow, if you are a crow. If you are a bird, you fly high over a treeless mountain pass, over waterfalls and fingers of sea lochs that take a person in a car three hours to drive. Dunadd is a great rock rising out of a wide valley that runs from the hills that encircle it down to the sea at Crinan. It’s not the place it once was, when Crinan was Scotland’s main port, and wine and spices, jewelry and slaves were brought to Dunadd to be traded.
Mornings in my little cottage beneath Dunadd are so quiet now; the clouds are low and drizzling. Glasgow, where I lived another life with a husband and children, has no currency here. My children, who look at me from their picture frames when I awake, are not known here. Neither is Oliver Griggs of the University of Glasgow. Not even Margaret Griggs is known here, because I have unearthed the old Maggie Livingstone of childhood and pasted it over the Margaret I had become." 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Literary Scaffolding

9th November 2012

I came back to the United Sates with a heightened sense of place. Scottish place.  If there is to be a sequel to "Veil of Time," it's going to have to take place in the grounds of what is now Scone (SKOON) Palace in Perthshire. There was once a village called Scone here, but the overlords didn't like having plebs alongside their Cedars of Lebanons and peacocks, so when they built the palace in the early 1800's, they dismantled the village and reinvented it into the "New Scone" village of today, about two miles to the east. Of course, not a word was mentioned about plebs and their unsavoury lives; it was all couched in terms of progress (isn't it always?) and good will to common man. All that's left of the village is the Mercat Cross (Market Cross) where the plebians would gather and hold court.
But I wandered around the place where the village once stood, around the graveyard where they buried their dead (even "progress" recognises certain limits.) I took in Moot Hill where, once the center of the Celtic World had moved here from Dunadd, the Scottish kings were crowned (most notably Robert the Bruce, if you'll remember your Braveheart.) So, this area is replete with voices, and I want to go even further back than The Bruce and discover it in its heyday as a Pictish centre, and, for my purposes, the religious (read Druid) capital of old Alba.
I'm doing this in case a sequel is forthcoming, and so far I don't know if it is. But the first step was to get a sense of the place, and that's what I got, peacocks notwithstanding. I can't bring to mind an author I admire who doesn't start here: Bronte in Yorkshire, Lawrence in Nottinghamshire, Steinbeck in Monterey, Galvin in Wyoming, Lewis Grassic Gibbon in north east Scotland.
While I was in Scotland, I drove past a house where my family had once lived in a nice park area of Glasgow. When you're a child, you don't just live in a place, you absorb it and it takes up residence in you alongside other influencing features such as parents, syblings and friends. It beomes forged in the smithy of your soul (James Joyce in Dublin, let us not forget) into the armiture that your sensiblity will rest upon. Streets, signs, landscapes, a people.
Of course, Scone in Perthshire doesn't sing in my soul like Dunadd in Argyll, just because I came to it late. But it is humming. Just like the much-photographed Stones of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, which I've only visited once. For a writer, if you get a humming place, the rest should be history. I'm waiting to see if this one is.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bronte Fire

The Bronte museum. In Haworth, Yorkshire, is maybe my favourite museum - partly, I think, because it is housed in the actual Parsonage where the Bronte's lived all that time ago in the 1800's. So the couch, on which Emily uttered her famous last words "I shall see a doctor now," is still in the front parlor, and the father's bowler hat still rests on the table beside his chair. There is no touching, of course - the single most thing I dislike about museums. I want to touch so badly, I find myself sizing up the thickness of the glass, the paces it would take for the curator to get to me from his post at the door. Wherever possible, I can't help but ignore the "Please do not touch," signs - there's too much at stake. Being there turns me into a medium who needs to wrest what she can from the objects: vibes, a sense of the people who long ago touched them.  Emily's painting set is just the way she left it, with a depression in the block of black ink that she made with her paint brush. I look out at the rolling hills she saw from her window, and I am Kathy listening through the wind for Heathcliffe. It all comes rushing in, down to the weak limbs that come from her last consumptive days.  Houses, objects, once owned, I firmly believe, absorb a sort of psychic energy. It's there for the tapping, and it is one of the reasons I keep going back to Haworth to find the Brontes.
The other museum I went to this week, "The Burns Experience," celebrates the life of out great national bard, Robert Burns, author of "Auld Lang Syne," sung by all on New Year's Eve, but understood only by a few. Oddly enough, there's not that much to experience at The Michael Jackson Experience, sorry, The Burns Experience. It is just trying too hard, with verses writ large on the walls and on the glass cases wherein lie the letters you are trying to read unsuccessfully. The constantly running tapes of readings and songs squeezes out what might otherwise have been gleaned from his walking stick or his jacket (I reached past the sign and closed my fingers around the edge of his desk.)
I'm sure he's there somewhere, waiting to get a look in, but he's more present in the "neeps and haggis" in the restaurant than in the spirit of the place.
It is important, I think, to look back and bring these greats from the past into our company. They represent a pinnacle of achievement for our race and wait to provide stepping stones for us to go further, or at least step along with them. I like to think they take an interest in us. That's why I take the opportunity to wander around the parsonage in Haworth waiting for something to catch a spark, a little flame once harbored in the hands of those sisters, a little something to light my way.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Veil of Dunadd

                                         Friday, 26th October 2012

There's a Brigadoon quality to this part of Scotland. I came in late to Glasgow Airport and drove (on the left-hand side of the road, which is always an astounding challenge, even if that's how you learned to drive all those eons ago when you were 18 years old) almost solo along Loch Lomond, over the pass and around loch roads. My headlights alone lit the wayside trees, bare now for the late autumn that it is, and the rusty bracken in its unlikely retreat from summer. After almost three hours, you turn a bend, and then out of the darkness appears the white town, it's front of small-windowed houses lit by spots of yellow light, unchanged from those far-off 18-year-old days. It is not yet the middle of night, but no one is walking, the shops all shut up tight. No wonder it has provided me such a wealth of life for my, perhaps unusual, imagination growing up here. 
Beyond the town you're back in pitch black except for the car's yellow eyes, along narrow roads that were never built for more than the plod of a horse and cart. You flick on the ticking indicator, turn down the lane, and there she rises like a figment in the night, the great mound of Dunadd, tight-lipped, still guarding the memory of all she has known, from the Druids and warriors, to the farmers and holiday makers, to the tourists mounting her back to wrest what they can from the other lives she has lived. 
The break of morning finds me in the cottage where my book "Veil of Time" (now the title seems only too fitting!) takes place. I haven't been back here since I wrote that story, but here I am, a cup of tea between cold palms, staring out the window on the river winding through fields of sheep that my heroine, Maggie, looks out in between bouts of slipping back into this country's naked past. What comes to me in the silence of this place on this frosty morning is how easy a slip that might be.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Mountain Bluebird on a Scottish Wall

19th October 2012

Colarado days like this one are called Blue Bird days with skies so blue, like a child took the bluest crayon and coloured it in thick and deep. You could lie on your back in the grass and look into a blue like this, broken only by the lazy flap of a raven, until you're abducted, not by aliens but by the sky. Snow has been creeping from the tops of the far peaks down the slopes, a little more each night, telling us we will wake one morning soon and find its footprints on the stark trees, on the wall that I put together round stone upon round stone,  two sides coming together to lean upon each other and call themselves one wall, a Scottish wall under blue skies, shifting uneasily, robbed of its moss and lichen.
Last week I was about to embark on a few tips for aspiring writers, but I got waylaid in talking about why writing is a craft and why some writers are craftier than others. 
Here are a couple of tips:

(1) FORGET THE AUDIENCE. I know you wouldn't be writing anything down at all if you weren't thinking some one else would read this some day (some writers are very dishonest about this fact.) So, acknowledge them, then turn out the theatre lights and go to your writing desk.  The greatest hindrance to writing is the editor parrot perched on your shoulder. Just like you wouldn't invite anyone into your dressing room to watch you undress, keep those same people out of your writing space. You don't want to know what they think of your last sentence or your writing project. When I was co-chair of a writer's group, we'd often have people come in and read the one chapter they had written and then ask if anyone thought they should carry on with the project. That is not only listening to your editing parrot, but raising him to king. Shoo him off! The reason for your writing has to come from deep inside, not any place that ever sees the sun, or a Colorado blue sky, and especially not the opinion of others. You write because you can do no other. If there is any other reason, then maybe you should find a different outlet for your creative urge. Which takes me to Advice Number Two.

(2)  FORGET THE FAME AND MONEY: The fame part is harder to let go of than the money, just because we really do write to be heard. Now, I know it happens now and agin that a writer strikes rich with half a book completed (like "Clan of the Cave Bears," for instance.) It happens, but not that often. If you're after riches, there are far straighter roads to that particular goal. I've yet to make any significant money from writing, and it has always been my sense that fame and riches could actually undermine the writing process.  It was my goal from early on to have a collection of books before any one of mine was published, because I didn't want to end up a JD Salinger, a one-hit wonder (he still qualifies as that, even though he wrote other things.) I could see the danger of the success of a first novel and the pressures that are brought to bear on that author. So, I wrote a collection of five unrelated novels, and at that point felt able to start sending them out.  To date I have about eight novel, which I think gives me a nice cushion for Blue Bird days and doing nothing but getting lost in the sky.

Next week's blog and the following one will be sent out from Scotland, home of my birth. I plan to make a mad dash down to the Emily Bronte Museum in Yorkshire, then back up to Alloway to the  Robert Burns Museum, and finally to the Writer's Museum in Edinburgh.
I have many more writing tips, too, which I will get round to by and by.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Digesting writing

13th October 2012

The slender cottonwoods in my garden that take up the foreground of this view from my window are slowly denuding themselves. A crowd of smaller trees by the wall never got the memo and are still in coats of orange. But the clouds are low today, touching the hills with a lace of fog, as though the day has forgotten to wake up. The hours pass slowly on the grandfather clock downstairs, and I spend my day in a no-man's land between waking and sleeping. Der Tag will nicht erwachen.
Someone once gifted me what must have been a ten-year subscription to Writers' Digest magazine, so I flick through it when it arrives. I brew a steaming cup of tea and sit in the corner of my couch musing over its titles and advice.
One thing that comes up repeatedly, and not just in this publication, but wherever writer's discuss writerly things, is advice for aspiring writers. I went to a book launch lately where this was asked and the author said that the only qualification for being a writer was that you write.  I spent a good ten years of my life attending and eventually chairing a writer's group, and I can't whole heartedly endorse that sentiment. I certainly wouldn't like to go to a doctor whose only qualification was that they practiced medecine. I would want to think that they had made their gruelling way through medical school. Not that I am proposing every writer should run off and join an MFA programme. Far from it. But writing is a craft, something that most writers put in their thousand hours over, something that you learn brick by brick along the way, and nothing that an education in literature or writing will necessarily furnish you with.
My first forays into creative writing produced nothing that would give anybody else any joy or sense of accomplishment. I had mostly been involved in academic writing in what was then my short life, and my writing style was dense enough you had to pry every sentence from the next and from the paragraph as a whole with an exacto knife. In short, although the images were quite nice, nothing flowed. It was like handing a hungry restaurant patron a piece of overcooked steak. Still steak, still full of protein, but not exactly palatable.
It took years and years, for me to find the button that had "Let Go," printed on it in fine print. It was hiding all the while somewhere under the breastbone, but I didn't know that for a long time, certainly not at the beginning when I was trying so hard to be a writer. I had a few principles back then, all of which eventually had to be tossed, and one that said, "Writing in the first person is a cop-out."  For me, finding that let-go button had to do in part with allowing myself the freedom to write in whatever voice came naturally. That turned out to be the first person, and just that little allowance unleashed a flood of creativity and gave me new channels to pour it into. (Aside: I still sort of believe that principle, so I'd like to get back to writing in the third person, but I'm not holding on to it in a death grip. It's more of a musing now.)
So, are you are a writer because you write? Are you a painter because you paint? Modern art says Yes. I want to say there is a whole lot more to it than that, something you'll discover if you commit to the craft and are open to learning it along the way.
I started this blog with the idea of giving a few guiding principles to aspring writers, but I've run out of space, and I'll do that next week. But for one to go on, you can't do better than the advice to write routinely and keep at it. It won't make you a writer right away, but it is to writing what a restaurant is to a cook. It's a very good place to start.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Oliver Griggs

5th October, 2012

Somewhere in a graveyard in Liverpool there is a gravestone bearing the name of Eleanor Rigby. Paul McCartney doesn't believe he has ever seen it, but it gives me a nice seque into the question of where an author finds his or her characters. (By the way, just as an aside, I sometimes get introduced to people as an "authoress." It makes me want to reach out and clip that person around the earhole  - as my aged aunt used to say - because it seems a bit diminutive. I remind myself that a lioness is no less of a lion, but somehow in the term "authoress" seems hidden some surprise that a woman should be writing at all. Like a fish riding a bicycle. Maybe I'm just being paranoid. Anyway.)
I suppose characters come from all over the place, even graveyards, but my advice to anyone who knows an author (or authoress) well is to watch out. Snape, that infamous character in Harry Potter, was based on a mean-spirited teacher that JK Rowling once had (he says, "I knew I was strict, but not that bad" - the happy ending of that tale is that he cashed in on his infamy by writing a book about some of the places from JK Rowling's childhood. His name was John Nettleship, which is almost as good a name as Snape.)
So I am not the only authoress who gives in to the temptation to get back at some of the less savoury characters in her life. They just pop up whenever you reach for a name for an antagonist. Just saying. You know who you are, and you are invariably male and in a position of authority.
As for the good characters, the same probably applies. Beth in Little Women was based on a friend of Alcott's who was commonly know as "Elizabeth the Wise." Mark Twain based Huckleberry Finn on his childhood friend. It's just so much easier to write about someone you don't have to invent. Once you have tucked them into your story, they already have a personality, and you don't have to wonder how they would react in a given situation or how their face would look. In one of my books, I pretty much took a professor I had as an undergraduate (a nice one) and stuck him straight into the narrative wholesale. I made him more colourful, but he was already quite a personality in himself.
So far, I have rarely managed to create a protagonist who didn't think like me. I suppose I must not be very creative. I did try in my last novel, and even gave her the name of a childhood friend, but she didn't act like that friend or think like that friend. She didn't even really look like that friend (or me) but the things coming out of her mouth sounded like me. I don't know if every authoress (or author) has this problem, if it is a problem. I imagine that Kathy of Wuthering Heights was every bit like Emily Bronte, and Sylvia Plath bore a strict resemblance to her protagonist in The Bell Jar. We're exorcising our demons, I suppose.
But whatever the cause or result, I will probably keep on doing it. It's not a question of being lazy, more just what you do when you set out on a journey: sit down in the driver's seat and hand-pick a few friends (or not, as the case may be) to walk the path with you.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Peculiar Music

28th September 2012

Through this whole process of publishing my book, I am slowly gleaning what the different steps are all about. Until now the editing I have been doing with Abby my editor has been "content editing" in that through the last few rounds we have been focusing more on the story and how it progresses. With the last edit, we moved to "line editing," which is, as it suggests, going through the manuscript line by line to see where it can run more smoothly. I turned that line-edit in at the beginning of the week, and my editor told me the next stage would be to move the manuscript on to "Production" (a different department) for copy-editing. I had to look this one up, but a copy editor does not concern themselves with re-writing, just with clarity and flow. Once in "production," the manuscript is going to be changed into what it will look like in the hands of the reader, e.g. how many words per page, where the page/paragraphs will break. They are dealing with the visual image, not the story anymore. Abby says the copy-editing will take about a month.
When I turned in the line-edit, I also forwarded my acknowledgement page and my dedication page, which Abby says will make the production team happy to have so early. Now I'm worried I should have held back and made sure I had included everyone in my acknowledgements.  What if someone helps me in the meantime? As far as dedication goes, I made it go to my father who died when I was in my twenties and who was the ground I walked on. I have other novels that would be more appropriate to put his name to, but I figure I had better do it right away with this first (to be published) novel, just in case I never get another chance.
I was having thoughts this week about a sequel to "Veil of Time," called "Druid Hill," but I won't tell anyone about that.... I have only written two pages, and it may never happen, but if it were to come easily, it would give me something play with while I wait the torturous wait of an author-in-the-wings. Despite the torture, it is still very nice to be able answer people who ask me what I do that I am a writer. I am one. Unless Simon and Schuster goes down the drain.
People seem to like to stick articles under my nose about how book publishing is on its way out. I saw an interview with JK Rowling this week where she was asked about this question. She said she thought there would always be books, because reading a book is a whole body experience: the feel, the smell, the kinetic interaction with the book. She must be right - don't we all have books on our shelves that even the sight of can bring back a whole interlude in our lives. Take that book off the shelf and carress it, smell it, see the worn pages we went back to, and in a time-warp blitz, we are back there. A collection of Emily Bronte's poems called, "A Peculiar Music," given to me by my father when I was eighteen, does that for me. I took it to Germany for six months after I left high school, and opening it now takes me right back to pretzels with inch-thick butter and Kaffee and Kuchen at three o'clock in the afternoon. It makes me feel again how it was to be fumbling around in a foreign language and how my loneliness and hers mingled during that time and gave me something to cling to. Scrolling through a Kindle edition, is never going to be the same. I haven't even tried it, but I can imagine.
I am hoping that soon I will be able to post a chapter of "Veil of Time," on my website. So go there when you can,  and one day before too long you might be surprised.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hobos and Letter Boxes

21st September 2012

Leonard Cohen became an inductee into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame recently because his lyrics verge on poetry. In fact, he is the one songwriter that you can find among the pages of the Norton Anthology of Poetry:

As the mist leaves no scar
On the dark green hill,
So my body leaves no scar
On you, nor ever will.

It sounds as if it comes from a much earlier era than own. It paints a mood simply and doesn't engage us in any intellectual acrobatics. Lyrics can't do that - the music keeps them from it, because on the spectrum from intellect to emotion, music is as far from intellect as you can go and still end up with any kind of form. At some point in the past, about the time poets started wearing dufflecoats and smoking pipes, intellect made inroads into all the arts and for a while has been dallying there. In the meantime, the visual arts have been making a curcuitous route back to a kind of representationalism, and poetry has gone uderground into song.
Leonard Cohen is a good example, but there are others: "Is a jewel just a pebble that found a way to shine? Is a hero's blood more righteous than a hobo's sip of wine?" Joe Henry there. "Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes, they call me on and on across the universe. Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box. They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe." Lennon. There are more, of course. Poetry is the nebulous art of capturing mood and thundering it into the soul of the reader. It almost entirely misses the intellect, as someone once said. It's a rape of sorts, but one that you feel better for.
This week, in a haze of insomniac semi-consciousness, I tackled the line-edit of my novel "Veil of Time," (I keep hoping to find that title tripping off my tongue, but it hasn't yet.) I should line-edit the title: This would pack more punch if it were simply called Dunadd. I don't like the commercial feel of "Veil of Time," though, as my author friend Scott Lasser said to me, "I would trade commercial success over respect any day." So maybe I'll live with a commercial title. Anyway, the line-edit consists of a lot of replacing my English spelling with its American equivalent, a few suggestions as to how to make a sentence run more smoothly; a few small changes to a few scenes were also asked for. I have begun to panic about this being my last run-through, because if I get things chronologically out of sequence at this point, or if my foray into other languages has gone badly wrong, that's the way it will stay, unless the proof reader picks up on it down the line. Still, it's a small panic. As my friend Gail says, it's a high class problem.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hen sure

14th Sept. 2012

Yeah, at long last, the postman (or at least the e-mail-man) brought my editor's response to my re-write sumitted at the end of June! And, glory be, we're onto "line editing," although she still wants me to beef up the start of the romance between my main characters a bit. No big scenes, just a "scenet," she says. Line editing, as far as I can gather, means fixing any grammatical errors, any sentences that don't quite read well. But you do it line by line, small change by small change. No big changes needed at this point, which makes my day all of a sudden very shiny indeed. I wasn't happy to find out that publication is scheduled for September of next year, but that is what it is. No point in fighting it. Abby, my editor, says that once I get the manuscript back to her, they can send it out for "blurbs," meaning, I suppose, send it out for people to read and give splendid (we hope) reviews. All systems go again makes me happy, makes me want to pull out the throttle and getting speeding down the tracks.
But I don't want to leave this week's blog without a mention of a special person who had a birthday this week. He was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire on September 11th, 1885, which I remind people of, just to show them that something good happened on this date once upon a time.  He was, of course, Mr. David Herbert Lawrence, author and iconoclast of his day. In my youth, I couldn't get enough of his novels. Later I became engrossed in his essays and poems. "Lady Chatterly," is the best of his novels, though the re-write of that book published later under the title "John Thomas and Lady Jane," was better, and remains my favourite to this day.  He gave women's liberation its best fundamental tenet, because, to use one of his distinctions, he understood that being "hen sure" was different than being "cock sure." If he were alive today, I think old D.H. might wonder if the women's movement hasn't confused these two things.  As one woman once commented, " I don't support the women's movement, because I wouldn't want any man to think he was my equal." During his lifetime, Lawrence was embroiled in all kinds of law suits and arrests for boldly going where no novelist had gone before - into the realm of women's sexuality.  Even though he had to self-puublish much of what he wrote, even though his books and paintings were banned and burned, he never wavered from what he believed and what he felt must be spoken. This is a great lesson for anyone in any walk of life, and one we brush past cockily at our peril. Rest in Peace, D.H. - you didn't get much in your lifetime.

Friday, September 7, 2012


September 7th, 2012

I was watching a Youtube interview with Pat Conroy, under which someone had commented, "I don't know about The Prince of Tides, more like The Prince of Comb-over." His hair-do does leave something to be desired, it is true, but his writing does not. One critic said about "Prince of Tides," that "Conroy has made the language sing and bleed at the same time." What author could hope for a better critique than that?
So, I am still mystified as to why his books have cheesy covers and are relegated to the book shop back rooms. I thought a lot about this while I was reading "The Prince of Tides,"  trying to locate the moments when he tripped up, almost wanting to find a reason why he just didn't make the mark. If his prose were pedestrian, I could understand it. Maybe if his dialogue were just awful. But his prose is wonderful, rich and full of humour. He describes his sister in terms of "the weightless harmonics of her madness." In a dying woman's house, "I could hear great clocks spooning out moments with metallic strokes, their long blades cutting through the silks of time. All the clocks struck nine in semi-darkness, and the sombre tolling of every clock in every room of the house disowned the hour in the dumbstruck language of bells. I wondered if it was just in the house of the dying that you became so acutely aware of the presence of clocks." And those kinds of sentences are not few and far between in Conroy. You're constantly stopping to go back and savour the last sentence. So, that's good writing. If I could fault him, it's on plot. It's a little "smack you between the eyes."  A little. If I were pushed, I might say his drama slips sometimes into melodrama. But only if I were pushed. Also, in this book, the plot feels a little lobsided. There's a hell of a lot of flashback, to the extent that you feel like dragging the writer back to the present sometimes and asking him to get on with the story, which in this case is a love story. I wanted more of that to anchor those trips to the past. But I can't help thinking that was probably the fault of the editing. When Conroy turned "The Prince of Tides" in to his editor, it was twice as long, which would have been too long, but I think in the snipping and pasting the story probably lost a bit of balance. That said, it is still a delicious piece of writing, the kind of book you don't really want to end.
What I really would like to come to an end is the waiting for my turn on the runway. I was told a few weeks ago that take-off time would be after Labor Day weekend, but, alas, no word has slipped through into my e-mail box, which I compulsively check. I fret and worry that my publication date will be set back, and it is already a lifetime away. What if, in the meantime, the world makes a 2012 polar shift, and instead of living in the snowy mountains I find myself in a tropical forest, batting off tsetse flies instead of huddling under blankets at my computer?
I distract myself by working on the screenplay of the novel and have that nearly ready for some shaker or taker, preferably buyer. Preferably some director who values the role of the writer. Diana Gabaldon still hasn't released her film rights for "Outlander," because, so I hear, she can't think of an actor who would fit the part of her hero. More important to me would be finding a company who would work with me and not turn my opus into a piece of schlock. I am standing in the hallway, listening to sombre clocks spooning out moments.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Signifying Nothing

31st August 2012

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
Til the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays light fools the way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle, life is but a walking shadow,
A poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage
Then is heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot,
Full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

I wrote this on the black board one hundred times for shooting my mouth off about Shakespeare last week. This speech is probably without parallel in the history of literature. Depressing, but unmatchable.
Try this:
The history of the meadow goes like this: No one owns it, no one ever will. The people, all ghosts now, were ghosts even then; they drifted through, drifted away, thinking they were not moving...Only one of them succeeded in making a life here...Before a backdrop of natural beauty, he lived a life from which everything was taken but a place. He lived so close to the real world it almost let him in. By the end he had nothing, as if loss were a fire in which he was purified again and again, until he wasn't a ghost anymore.
That's from the opening of "The Meadow," by James Galvin. I keep mentioning that book, because it is one of the few modern books that doesn't try to hook you with anything but language. There's not a whole lot of plot here, but there's a whole lot of why we like that Shakespeare speech. Perhaps we don't use the same guage anymore. Perhaps we've let ourselves become cheapened by the hook. We used to let ourselves be tickled out of the water, but now we wait for the hook, line and sinker. We have become an illiterate breed of fish.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Shakespeare in the Round

24th August 2012

Every summer, a good friend of mine takes the best local actors and performs Shakespeare in a small amphitheatre off the main street in Aspen. They typically run for a dozen performances and get upwards of a hundred people per audience, which, here in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, only goes to show that Shakespeare is alive and well, as if we ever doubted it. Well, they perform Shakespeare, but not as you might find it in Stratford, home of the bard and the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's Shakespeare with a twist, more Kiss Me Kate than The Taming of the Shrew, more All Shook Up than Twelfth Night. Not that they don't stick to the script. They do. But they add a song or two, a dance step or three - this year, Twelfth Night, was set in the Swinging Twenties and featured some very good tap numbers and "Putting on the Ritz," for good measure. I can't help feel the bard would approve. He liked a joke, did old William, at least that's what we have to conclude from the Falstaffs and the Toby Belch's in his plays. He understood that even bleak subjects need a little levity. For me, Shakespeare needs it a whole lot, because I find it so supremely inaccesible. I've been to Stratford a few times; I have heard Shakespeare on both sides of The Pond, even squirmed in the uncomfortable seats at the reconstructed Globe in London. And, believe me, I only go to the lighter stuff. But even in the comedies, I am forcing myself to be entertained, trying to be amused by fairies and asses, and being eternally grateful for characters like Puck. I once saw Benjamin Britten's opera of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." At more than three hours, it was all I could do to stop myself leaping from the balcony to the unsuspecting audience below in a desperate act of suicide. Too much murder has been committed in the name of Shakespeare, including violence against the ear (in Britten's case.)
Of course, I jest. There are sublime lines in Shakespeare and runs of lines, but the rest of it feels like chewing on old steak to me. It's a good thing, I suppose, since man cannot live by bread alone. Except for the hard hitters, we would be malnutrioned. I take full blame for my ignorance. Maybe it was Hamlet read by unwilling high schoolers on the rural west coast of Scotland, maybe it's just the way it is acted by the Gielguds and the Barrymores, and I am sorry, but my eyes glaze over. I hear that Shakespearean voice and I think about what I had for breakfast. "To be or not to be," is all very profound, but it's been overdone. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" "My love is like a red, red rose." (Woops, that's Robert Burns.) I know it's just me. I know I should be firmly set with the "popular" authors back in the room for paperback sensibilities. I'm just saying, that's all. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Potted Plants

17th August 2012

In this month's Writer's Digest, agent Marcia Wernick gives this advice:  the hardest lesson to learn for any writer is that everything takes longer than one expects. No kidding. I mean, you spend years writing and years trying to find an agent, and then you'd think things would start to get going. But then your book doesn't find a publisher for another year, during which time there's only silence when you would REALLY like an  answer from that agent that you love for taking you on but secretly suspect of playing mind games with you. When he submits your work to publishing houses, there are the rejections and the re-writes to make the rejections less likely (or so you or agent think.) Finally. the day comes when a publisher picks up your book and then you wait. You get that first re-write done in lickety spit time, and then you wait. Summer comes and goes, your editor goes quiet on you, and then an e-mail arrives one day saying you are third for take-off, probably in about three weeks. Right after labour day. Being a Brit who has only lived in the country for twenty-five years, I have to go and look up when labour day is. I begin to worry that with all this delay, my book won't be coming out next summer, after all. But, anyway, third for take-off is better than back in the hanger. "I have two other books in the hoppper before yours," says my editor, and I don't know what a "hopper" is - probably something only people who have lived in the USA for more than twenty-five years would know, but I get the general drift: I'm in line. I'm saying all this, not to denigrate my agent or my editor or the publishing house, but just to reiterate Marcia Wernick's point: It all takes a lot longer than you'd think. And being impatient doesn't help a bit. Right?
This week, I was reading an interview with best selling Y/A author, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, in which he says, "Music is what I love most in the world, more even than books."  On the face of it, this seems a strange thing for a writer to say. But it's not, and this is where the potted plants come in. If you've ever tried to grow a tree in a plant pot, you'll find that it can indeed grow, will grow, in fact, for many years, but it won't grow very big. If you want to see a tree live to its optimum, express its DNA to the fullest, then you need to take it out of the pot and put it in the earth and surround it by other life. And a writer is the same. I was sitting in a concert this week at the Aspen Music Festival listening to an extremely youthful demigod run his fingers through, around and over Rachmaninov's second piano concerto. It might be as close as a person comes to being vivisectioned, as the soaring lines of that incredible melody steal into your heart and rip it, still beating, from your ribcage, then hand it back to you. Music can do that to you, probably more than any other discipline, but you have to put yourself in the way of it.  If you keep your writerly self to writing and to other people of like mind, you're stuffing yourself into a pot. To grow strong roots and great spreading branches, you really need to get out into the world - go to a concert, go to the theatre, watch a film and be moved by it, expose yourself to all this rich soil for the soul. Blinkered writing, like blinkered anything else, becomes wrapped up in itself and soon can't see the forest or the trees.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Filthy Lucre

10th August 2012

Forbes has just published its list of Highest Earning Authors, and who says there's no money to be made in publishing? If, as the German's say, "Geld regiert die Welt," or Money Rules the World, then write on! Mystery writer James Patterson earned a staggering ninety-four million last year, followed, one suspects (though she's too new to make this list) by author of The Fifty Shades of Grey, EL James (I see her sales are actually sagging, so maybe it will turn out to be one of those strange fads that takes people over for a while until they come to their senses, like Crocs.) It's a piece of good marketing to give her such a distinguished name, sort of like J. Alfred Prufrock, and TS Eliot let us know how vacuous these kinds of names can be.  JK Rowling doesn't actually have a "K" in her name, but her publisher thought it would give her more credibility. She hardly needs that these days, though she didn't make the top ten on the money list. Who cares? She got eight million advance for her upcoming adult novel. Jeff Kinney who writes those "Wimpy Kid," books that adults love to hate, earned a whopping twenty-five million. Nicholas Sparks whose books leave your fingers drippy and sticky, earned sixteen million.
Let's put our money on the table. I earned a whopping fifteen thousand for my upcoming novel, and they aren't giving it to me all at once either. I got six thousand upon the sale, which sank to five thousand once my agent got his cut. I blew the rest on a trip to Steinbeck country, which I consider money well spent. I'll get another six thousand once my currently silent editor and I finish the editing process. Then I get the last installment on the date of publication. Small change, I guess. If I had got fifteen million, I would be shopping for a house with panoramic views and river access.
But, anyway, fashion in our stimulus-happy culture has always been richly rewarded. I look at the list of millionaire authors, and I wonder how many of them will be read in fifty years. There seems to be very little correlation between those authors pulling in the lucre and the writing life and what that is all about.
Truth is, I wouldn't know what to do with ninety-four million dollars. And the the other truth is, the business of writing has as much to do with dollar signs as Hostess Twinkies have to do with nutrition. We don't write for money, because art is not a commodity. I like the term "priceless," which this culture only applies to works of visual art, but at least it got that much right. This isn't Hollywood. You can't pay writers or artists for their performances. The "performance" happens in the silent corners, in the lonely place out of which a writer does his or her stuff. Strictly speaking, you can't reward someone for being a misanthrope in that way. I think that if some law barred us from ever earning a penny for our efforts, we would still go through the motions like a runner in sleep, still jerking those legs, because we don't know how not to. And that is where the artisitc life resides, like Luther, in not being able to do otherwise. Money has nothing to do with it. The act of creation is priceless.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Here, There and Everywhere

August 3rd 2012

After singing Pat Conroy's praises a few blogs ago, I decided to read "Prince of Tides" again. It's a big book, though not as big as it was in its initial 1400 page version. An editor at his publishing house made him cut that count by half, which I think was probably a good idea. He was made to re-write the book eight times. Ron Carlson says that if you open a book on any page, it should bleed. And Pat Conroy's book certainly does do that. All over your hands and down your wrists. It's a bloody book, and the presence of the author is very raw. I always think my writing is a bit like literary vomit - I can't help it. I have very little dignity as a writer. The story just comes out heaving and ends up on the desk, and then neatly into paragraphs and pages somehow or other. There seem to be (very generally speaking) two types of writers: there's the vomiting kind and then the ones that stack their stories brick upon brick, very carefully avoiding smudging mortar on anything. DH Lawrence was of the former, James Joyce of the latter. James Joyce could spend a whole day working on half a sentence. Not I. Not Pat Conroy.
I should wait until I finish "Prince of Tides," before giving my verdict. But I do know an interesting fact about it, which is that Conroy listened to Barbara Streisand a lot when he was writing it. He was in South Carolina and she was in California, but when she picked his book up, she couldn't put it down. She didn't know him, but she vowed she would make a film of it, which she did, and handily (though  haven't seen it yet) as it was nominated for seven Academy Awards. So, the moral of the story is: watch what you listen to when you write. Stephen King listens to heavy metal when he writes. Enough said.
As for my book, I am still hurrying up and waiting, which seems to be the name of the game and something I have done plenty of since it was first picked up moons and moons ago. Agents and Editors follow this ritual of abandoning New York in July and heading for the Hamptons (this is how the story goes) where they sit around reading books not on their work lists. Sounds good to me, but not what I want my agent or editor to be doing. At any rate, I haven't heard a squeak in at least one moon and, Hamptons or no Hamptons,  no one is answering my e-mails. Still, the bottom line is that it says in my contract the publisher has to publish the book within eighteen months, so if the clock is ticking, it isn't my clock. Why should I worry (she asks unconvincingly.)
I want to get moving in other directions, is the answer to that. I feel vomit coming on. Another of my novels, which I have re-written several times, needs more than a new coat of paint; it needs a whole new engine. It's about a troupe of Scottish nationalists stealing The Lewis Chessmen (strictly speaking the property of Scotland, so not stealing at all) from The British Museum in London. It's a great story, but it sort of got drowned in my efforts to be oh so literary. I need to eat it up and try for a more productive spew next time. I would really like to get away from writing in the first person,which I resisted for a long time because it is limiting. But whenever I go for third person narrative, for some reason it gets stodgy. This Lewis Chessmen story is in the third person, and I would love to keep it that way. Writing in the first person seems like a bit of a cop-out to me, though I do my best writing (thus far) in that voice. It's the closest voice to vomit, so no surprises there.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I like Pat Conroy's writing. It leans towards being a bit over the top, but you get the sense of a big intellect behind it, which is always a good backdrop for bloody writing. As a rule of thumb, if you are reading along and keep having to stop to savour the beauty of a sentence, you are in good hands. Messy but adept hands.

Friday, July 27, 2012

El Camion Vacilador

July 27th 2012

The Olympic Games open today in London, providing a spectacular opening ceremony and a month of events we will follow and then forget.
Books can be like that, too. Some offer fireworks but leave little trace, some offer not much of anything. But the kind that you make room for on your book shelf, the kind that draws you in and lends you its world to live in for a while, you don't forget those. I name among these "Zorba the Greek," "Lady Chatterly's Lover," "Consider the Lilies," "Sunset Song," "Wuthering Heights," "Tortilla Flat," "Of Mice andMen," "Cannery Row," "Grapes of Wrath," "Travels with Charlie," "Angela's Ashes," "The Meadow," "Tinkers" - I could go on. Every so often, a new gem comes along, and you stuff it impossibly onto a shelf already stuffed. It's like bringing friends along on the journey. They sit up there being very still, marking various stretches of the path you walk along.
A month or so ago, when I was moseying around the book room at the John Steinbeck museum in Salinas, I came across one of his titles I hadn't know about before. It was called "The Wayward Bus," though this is a bad translation. Steinbeck wrote the synopsis in Spanish and presumably the title, too - "El Camion Vacilador," which present the translator with a problem, because there is no good translation for the word "vacilador." "Wayward," certainly doesn't do it. "Vacilador," is a wonderfully Latin concept, a bit like what we call "Mexican time," which is time maybe a bit earlier than you expected, probably a bit later, but almost assuredly not now. Vacilador means that you have a destination but you don't care much whether you get there. This is not a term we gringos can get our minds around much, because we are very destination-oriented. But the bus in this story is vacilador, and as the introduction to the book concludes, it is a much overlooked book, coming as it did into a very tight spot between the publication of "Cannery Row," and "The Pearl." It's also quite a bit more sexual than Steinbeck usually gets, so the guardians of the moral majority at the time, and they were legion, might have seen fit to sweep it under the alfombra.
The story starts in Steinbeck country at a bus stop on a crossroad comprised of a gas station and a lunch room. The owner, Juan, is also the bus driver who collects pasengers from various other points and takes them to meet the Greyhound Bus on its way to Los Angeles. As the book opens, Juan's bus has broken down and the passengers have been forced to spend the night at the lunch room. All the passengers, including Juan and his drunk of a wife, are at another type of crossroads in their lives. As day breaks, the sky threatens more rain, and Juan isn't sure he should drive out, when flashfloods threaten to take out the bridge they must cross in order to get to their destination. There are only eight passengers, but Steinbeck draws each one meticulously, down to the shape of their earlobes. There's the young salesman, the older couple with a sham of a marriage; their randy daughter; an attractive blond who entertains business men (the husband of the couple is quite sure he's seen her before, but can't remember where); a grouchy old man who poses as a prophet of doom; Juan's adolescent car mechanic, and the lunchroom's waitress who thinks she's on her way to meet Cary Grant. The story sort of hangs around the character of Juan, who, perhaps more than the others, must come to a decision that will change his life forever.
Steinbeck conjures each character so deftly, that you find yourself climbing into the skin of their lives.  He manages a difficult task for a writer, that of making each of his character's words their own and not his.  You really can hear each one speaking.
When Juan's bus takes a much less travelled back road and becomes stuck in mud, each of the passengers is forced to crisis point. It always makes for compelling reading when social facades drop, especially with characters you are invested in. Anyway, I won't give away any spoilers. Suffice it to say that "El Camion Vacilador," is well worth a read. And you won't forget the word "Vacilador," either.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Five herons

2oth July 2012

Birds being what they are in our mythical history, I took special note last night when I was walking my dogs in the evening and saw five herons flying together. The most I have ever seen at a time is two. What could it mean? It's hard to know. In Cherokee folklore, an owl is a harbinger of death, in my own mythology from Scotland, the owl is good luck - but that depends whether it is on your right side or your left. I think there's something to these superstitions because of the way things work in our universe, everything intertwined, all moving patrs influenced by other moving parts like some massive mobile hanging there in time and space - no, not in time and space at all, but just hanging there by dint of some myserious force that science currently calls dark energy, but which our ancestors thought of as gods or goddesses, at any rate some kind of binding principle.
Yesterday, I was having a talk over tea with a writer friend about things literary. We were throwing back and forth ideas about what separates "Literary Fiction,' from "Commercial Fiction."  I would think of a book such as "The Meadow," by James Galvin as strictly literary fiction, and something like Diana Gabaldon's "Highlander" series as commercial. On the face of it, it might look as though the division has to do with what sells the most, though for the life of me I can't imagine why "The Meadow" isn't being torn off the shelf. If we lived in Russia, it probably would be. Some might call it heavy, some might think of it as a steak dinner instead of crackers and dip, but whatever it is, it isn't plot driven. Whatever else, Gabaldon's series is, it is plot driven, and in between the two there's a vast grey area. A few years ago, I was reading through Pat Conroy's books. I thought he was a pretty good writer. But when I went to our local bookstore to buy one of his books, I couldn't find it in the shop's front section with its glossy hard backs, its "Book of the Month" endorsements. I was told it was in the back in the "Popular" section, and this seemed to me an outrage. Who is deciding what's "serious" literature worthy of a spot on the front table or trashy commercial literature stuffed at the back with all other trashy paperbacks? If Dickens were a writer today, would he be on the shelf next to Pat Conroy? No one could argue that Dickens' books aren't plot driven. And who is to say that a plot driven book can't also be well written?
Whoever is saying that, I take issue, especially because, as my editor keeps reminding me, my book "Veil of Time," due out next summer, is not going to be on that front table. I'm going to be back there with Pat Conroy! The book has time travel in it, so it can't be literary, seems to be the consensus. But I write literary fiction. None of my other books has anything approaching themes like time travel -well, except for the book in which a woman turns into a Selkie, but we won't bring that up. Truth is, my heroes are the giants of the literary world: Steinbeck, Lawrence, Bronte, yes, and Galvin.  That's the kind of literature I aim to write. And if it can be commercial, too, then, who's to argue? Perhaps I'm just a straddler.
"Fifty Shades of Grey," is another question. I read ten pages of it on Amazon, and I just don't get its appeal. Of course, it's not the writing in this case, but, like Harry Potter and equally surprising to its author, it has struck some nerve. Millions of copies have been sold in four months; it has been translated int thirty-seven languages. I didn't even know there were thirty-seven languages. I wonder if it's been translated into Cherokee. But whereas the nerve that was hit in Harry Potter was easy to identify - that un-scientific nerve, which we all have in heaps at our core - I haven't a clue what a tale of sado-masochism could be hitting (no pun intended.) Has the women's movement all been in vain? Has the power been too much for us, and we all still want to be dominated by a faceless Mr. Grey? I shudder to think.
But the literary world has to take note of what is "Popular." Because those nerves it hits are the very ones litertaure coalesced around in the first place.  Literature can't work in a vacuum, neither can any of the arts. It has to be a voice; it has to have something to say. Which isn't to say it has to be forced or outright political. Literature groans under ther weight of politics and goes astray. But it has to hit nerves. It has to be a harbinger in some sense. Like those five herons I saw, it has to turn the eye and then turn the heart.

Friday, July 13, 2012


July 13th, 2012

Australian writer Geraldine Brooks, who won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2006, said at a talk recently in Aspen, that every morning before she starts to write, she lets the Norton Anthology of Poetry fall open at any page, reads the poem and is all set for her writing session. I think this works because poetry exists at a deeper level than the nitty gritty of our ordinary lives. It's a kind of dream language, and dreamtime is the best place from which to write. To create any art out of. Becuase it connects us to the undercurrent of human experience which is what Carl Jung called The Collective Unconscious. If it comes from anywhere else, if springs from the individual brain and never gets any further, then it becomes the bearer of what Pat Conroy called microscopic epiphanies or what Steinbeck described as litanies in empty churches.
Last night I went to the launch of my friend Karen Chamberlain's posthumously published collection of poetry called "Ephedra."
She writes:

The body, not the shadow
of feeling, is what I want of memory,
of language, of the yet-unconsummated
marriage of the two. But words, hours,
faces, all pale, crowd into sameness,
and this tedium braces only panic.
Words, especially, seem nothing
but their sum of letters, scattered,
unfocused, like a hundred schoolgirls
giggling and shrieking in uniform
idiocy, running from the shadows
of two dark strangers -
articulate rage, speakable grief.

Poetry has to get you in the gut, not in the exchange of ideas. In our age we have become lost in the zone of ideas. We think, therefore we are. We turn away embarrassed by the depth of things. We have become to fashionable to plummet them.
Here's Dylan Thomas.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Great poetry, any great art, sets you on a path into the sun. It is a sweet and devastating look into the place  you come from and your destination, as well. It is worth the sum total of any religion - just the one line that pierces the human brain and steals into the heart of the matter.
One last poem, though I could go on. It's WB Yeats, who else?

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I have shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

So, Geraldine Brooks is onto something. Before you sit down to write next time, delve into the soul of the poet. Sit down in the cool green shade of it, lean back against the heft of it. There is much to be gleaned there.
(In memory of Karen Chamberlain 1942-2010)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Guess who's coming to dinner?

On one wall of my office are pictures of "helpful people" -  according to Feng Shui they should be on this wall and no other. I have five of them, starting chronologically with Friedrich Nietzsche with a heavy moustache, his cheek on his hand, his piercing eyes averted. I have seen thos eyes before - I don't want them following me around the room. Then there's Emily Bronte, in her only known portrait, looking whistful and intense both. Below Emily on the wall is D.H.Lawrence, leaning against an adobe wall in Santa Fe, on one of the stops on his global search for the ideal place to live. To get to Steinbeck, you have to cross over a poster of Braveheart, because it is signed and it was given to me, and I am proud to have it, Laddie. If you don't stop with William Wallace in full war regalia, you'll find John Steinbeck leaning back against a tree with his travel dog Charlie. I would like to invite that five to dinner and call it a short story. I would seat Emily next to Friedrich, because she needed him so badly. Even though he was only three when she published "Wuthering Heights," he must have been a very sombre and intense little boy. By the time he needed her, she was already dead, so I could give them this moment in fictional history to meet and love, and leave together. Lawrence would interrupt them, of course. He'd be trying to plummet the mind of this man he already knew was a genius back in his youth in Nottinghamshire. If I were at the head of the table, I would be trying to overhear that conversation. I would have my question, too: But Friedrich, why did you live like a monk when you knew the only way to sanctity was the path of Dionysus? I'd have Steinbeck on my right, and I would like learn fom him the craft of the smooth sentence, the enthralling paragraph, the scalp-raising metaphor. I don't know where I'd put William Wallace. He would probably already be playing footsy with Emily under the table. They would have saved her, any one of those men, because all she needed was a good Fanfaronade, and we would have had a shelf load of books like "Wuthering Heights." Or maybe not. It's the paradox of the pain again; it's the subject Peter Shaffer grappled with in "Equus."
I'm not a very good host of dinners. I have very little small talk myself. But I would go all out for these guests, try to steal a moment of levity for them. Emily would lay her consumption aside and revel in a death-by-chocolate dessert which she would lick off Friedrich's spoon. Friedrich would put his cataclysmic visions down by the foot of his chair and enage in a little flirtary. William could, just for this moment, step out of his role of defender of Scotland and sing a ballad by Robert Burns, whom I should also have invited, but there would have been no hope for Emily or for me. So, Burns had to stay downstairs with the maids, where he would be rejoicing with joy unspeakable. Steinbeck and I would take after-dinner port in the other room, talking until dawn about books and the role of the writer. I can't help being an egg-head. It comes naturally to me.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Veil Of Time

29th June 2012

So the auction hammer has come down, the bidders have made their play and are leaving the room. There I am sitting alone on the front row, wondering if I got a good price for my auction item, my novel Dunadd, sold to the highest bidder. "Veil Of Time," is the title, said the hammer. And I can live with it. I suggested it a while ago in a long list of titles. I can accept it because the book is about time. It's about turning the notion of linear time on its head. We're done with that old paradigm - it isn't even good science anymore. What we live in is a kind of continuous field of energy blips. Maggie, my heroine is a blip in one time; Fergus was a blip in another time. They came and went out of the quantum soup, and who's to say that one came before the other. I think they exist at the same time. I think everything that ever was or will be is happening in this pardoxical thing called Now. It's not about lines, but more about layers, not pictures but holographs. I think people get that. Science is always a few steps behind the collective consciousness, trying to preserve the old paradigm while the new one is luring us on.
This is the zone in which Harry Potter exists - everyone is so over the Newtonian paradigm with its isolated objects being nudged along by reasonable causes. Every child knows that there are really no limits, and that's why they're reading Harry Potter like bedoins at a pool in an oasis.
Anyway, so "Veil Of Time," is a pretty good summary of that. I only resist it because it also conjurs images of the covers of Romance novels. I have been honing my craft on this writing path a long time, and I want the sum total of what I have mastered to be more than the limp pages in between the covers of a Romance novel.
I talked to my agent this week, and he says that the main thing is to push for a really good cover, which will mitigate to some extent the ambiguity of the title. My editor sent us a few examples of the cover art from some of their more recent publications, and I thought they were quite good. I liked the cover of "The Time Traveller's Wife." Audrey Niffenegger had a better title, and because she was working with a small publisher, she might have had more say in the cover art, too. That remains to be seen.
I was asking my agent what is to happen with the first novel of mine, "Duntrune," (oh, what they will do with that title!), and he said we will know by next spring how well "Veil Of Time," is going to do. He says that by then the book sellers (who helped to choose the title, for God's sake) will have made their orders, and we will get a sense from the type of reviews the book has gleaned . If all looks good, he will start moving on Novel No. 1. Oh, the business of this, the commodity that everything becomes in a free market economy. Well, it wasn't much different in Dicken's day. He knew about selling his work. Would that I have his success.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 23rd 2012

This last week, I went to a class at The Aspen Writer's Conference on how to market my book. What I learned is that you can't start too early, but you can defintely get to this aspect of things too late.  What I also learned is that I am going to have to hire a publicist to do this for me, because when it comes to the interent and tweets and toots and all things bright and beautiful, I am a complete blockhead. There were about twenty-five people in this class, and they seemed to be quite savvy in the art of facebook and its spin-offs, whereas this blog is about as techno as I get. I asked how much a publicist would cost and the answer was anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000. My problem is that I don't have any sense at this point how much the publisher is going to get behind this book. They can go a long way or do very little, and if it's the latter, then I had better get my skates on, as we say in Britain. It's all about building a fan base and whatever you need to do for that, like setting fire to yourself on the steps of the county courthouse, like doing a Lady Godiva through the streets of your neighbourhood. You can try to get publicity through your local papers and then those further afield, you can get a list of top book bloggers and try to befriend them, get them to review your book.There is apparently a site called HARO (Help a Reporteer Out) through which journalists actively look for good news items, and your story might be one. In short, you have to create a social media presence, which is hard for a writer who spends their favourite times locked away in a room scribbling. You have to befriend librarians and bookshop sales people. You have to send out questionaires and buy business cards.
I don't know about anyone else, but all this makes me want to put a pillow on my head and hide. If I had been good at selling myself I would have gone into the theatre. Still, the rub is that a person in my position is actually on the cusp of greatness or looking at a short sharp dive to the bottom of the heap. As my agent reminded me, one thing worse than being a writer with no books on the market is one with a failed book. So, you have to pull out all the stops, do whatever it takes, dance naked on the coffee table of your local bookstore, sing Scottish ballads on your local TV station. Or then again, you could just hire a publicist.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 16th 2012

This coming week is The Aspen Writer's Conference, which is where I found my agent (after many years of submitting to agents and editors there.) The problem was that I was always writing new stuff, so I would submit whatever I was working on at the time. It would have been better to have kept submitting the same piece, so there was some consistency. Anyway, it was lucky that I did submit the sample I did when Esmond Harmsworth was among the agents brought in to the conference that year. It was a fit, and that doesn't happen that often.
What I like to go to most at the conference is panels of writers talking about writing or about the publishing business. I'm going to one on Monday with writers who write about the place they come from. To me, it is more unusual when a person doesn't write about the place they come from. If writing comes from a place of longing, and the writer isn't living where they grew up, as is usually the case, then why wouldn't that place well up out of them? Being so far away from Scotland in exile, I get in front of my desk, go into the zone, and Scotland is all around me. I want to experience it, so I conjure it up through writing. Someone like Colum McCann, who comes from Ireland, but writes about everything under the sun but, is a puzzle to me. He's good, but he must be writing out of a different place.
Another event I am going to at the conference is a two-hour seminar on How to Market Your Book - I'll report on that next week. Everyone tells me it's not like it was in the old days. No matter that you have a major publisher, you're going to have to get out there and sell your book. Marketing is not something that comes naturally to me, or even unnaturally. It just doesn't come to me at all. That's why I'm a writer and not up on the stage. I'm a hermit by nature.
I have been doing a lot of hermitting lately, trying to get through this re-write for the publisher, which is turning into something of a major re-mix. I'm so close to the material now, I don't know when I put this in or if I pulled that out. The facts and figures of it are swirling in a cloud above my head.
This week, I was talking to Scott Lasser, a writer friend of mine. His fourth novel "Say Something Nice About Detroit" is coming out next month. I was expressing my anxiety over not being able to come up with a title for my novel I liked. I even proposed "Auld Lang Syne" to my editor this week, and I guess the lack of reply meant she didn't think much of the idea. Scott said that the title doesn't matter that much, doesn't need to have that much to do with the book, as long as it is a good title. If it needed to be about the book, he suggested, I could call mine "Cold and Wet." Well, it's a nice cold and wet, Scotland is, and it's not always cold, though it's usually wet. It belongs to the longing at the heart of me. It's probably the reason I write.

Friday, June 8, 2012

June 8th, 2012

Since I got my editorial notes from my editor Abby Zidle at Simon and Schuster a couple of weeks ago, I have been working hard on making the fixes that were proposed. None of these was very significant in terms of the story; it was more a question of highlighting things that were important but had a fairly muted presence, as things stood. I keep before me  - I think it was Auden, who said - "Kill your darlings." Very good advice but very hard to do. But I killed off quite a few darlings, re-wrote other chapters, added new material.
I look at it as a sculptor might. Your story at first is a block of granite,  and you just have to keep going back to it and fine-tuning, getting those features sharper so that the image you had in your brain to start with is what the viewer sees. From a big block of marble, you're getting closer and closer to your David. I feel good about what my hard work accomplished - the balance wasn't quite right before, and now it feels better in the hands, the weight of this as opposed to the weight of that, all working towards a cohesive whole. I feel like I pulled out (for view) my heroine's emotions more, so that the choice she has to make at the end of the book is heart-wrenching for the reader, too. I will make another run at it after a day or two's break (just to get some distance) and see how it looks to me then.  I'll tie up some loose ends and do some last minute tweaking before I send it back in to my editor.
After that, she tells me, and depending on whether she feels this new revision has addressed the problems she was having, it will either come back to me for another run through, or she will start the process of line-editing - so, nothing substantive, just pointing out uneasy transitions, that kind of thing, all sentence-level stuff. I had a question for her about the two foreign languages I use in the book - who's going to check those? Turns out, I'm responsible for making sure I get those right, so I'll have to run my Gaelic and Latin phrases past some experts in the field. I would be so embarrassed if the book got published with those kind of errors - I wouldn't be taken seriously in Scotland if my Gaelic wasn't up to snuff.
After line-editing comes copy-editing (for grammar and spelling) and proof reading,then type-setting. I will at this point start getting whole actual pages to look at.
And then there's the on-going question of title. My editor says her superiors are telling her we need it NOW. So, we had toyed with "Circle of Dreams," but that got rejected for being too "squishy,"  too "Fleetwood Mac." Don't quite get that reference. The next one she is going to run by them is "The Veil of Time." And here's something that completely floored me (being new to this game)  - it turns out that Barnes and Noble and Amazon both have a say (not just a small voice, but a considerable one) in the title of a book and in the cover art. That had never even occurred to me, but I guess this is a business, and what the title turns out to be might determine how many books either one of these mega booksellers buys to put on their shelf. Or so the argument goes.
I talked to my agent about it this morning. He says he's going to fight hard for a classy cover for my book, and I hope he's right. He pointed out that the cover art can put its own slant on the title. So, a woman in a veil (God forbid) would create the image of a wholly different book than a nice landscape of the area.
At this point, I feel a bit like I'm being backed into a corner. This is what the term "has you by the goolies" is all about, and if I had goolies I'd know what that means right now.

Friday, June 1, 2012

June 1st 2012

Just to finish the thought from last time about what a writer is, let's ask the question about what the art of writing is, or any art for that matter. I'll turn to Hermann Hesse here, who said that art is the universalising mirror. When I look into a Renoir face, that wistful look of the woman in Les Danceurs, I get, without any explanation, what that look is. To me the Impressionists got the balance just about perfectly between the impression and the expression. As soon as we get out of the Impressionist period, we get the expression taking over, and that (at the risk of pulling a wall of bricks down on myself) is how we got to modern art. So, the same goes for literature - there has to be a resonance, and at best a perfect resonance between the situation and the truth of what we're about as human beans.
Anyway, I shall move on, because hardly anyone agrees with me on this. I have had too many arguments in modern art exhibitions, getting red in the face over Art for Art's sake. I don't buy it.
On a more mundane level, and in case anyone is interested and still following this blog because it was supposed to be about publishing, here are some of the points my editor at Simon and Schuster asked me to fix in my upcoming book. (A small piece of trivia: the Simon in that duo is the father of Carly Simon.) Most of these points offer good advice for any writer:
1. Really get into the emotional lives of your characters and make the reader feel what they feel. Otherwise, you've just got a lot of facts. Another writer called Ron Carlson says that when you open a book at any page, it should bleed. Very good image.
2. With regard to the two lovers in a love story (which my book is only partially), the interaction should be electric. Thing is, this doesn't always happen in reality, but literature isn't reality, block by block - it is more like an allegory. For instance, dialogue between literary characters has to be somewhat unrealistic, more condensed, more to the point of the story - otherwise, you'd have a lot of "Hmmm's" and "Eh's," and "Excuse me's" and "Do you want milk with that?"
3.In my particular book, which takes place partially in the past, my editor thinks the tilt of the book should be about 65-35, past to present. The readers need to be more immersed in the past life, because it's more foreign to them.
4. Being a Scot, I sometimes assume my American readership is going to know what I mean when I allude to things like "The Stone of Destiny." So, explain it, why don't you?
5. My heroine, Maggie, has a teenage son in the present. He is one of the chief reasons she keeps feeling the pull back to her modern-day life. However, I haven't really taken that relationship to a level that would warrant that feeling.
6. The ending. My initial ending left the characters up in the air and faded into the mists rather melancholically. This was the first version, and the one I showed to my agent. His response was, this is a great story, well told, with a lot of commercial viability, but CHANGE THE ENDING. It was his opinion that no one likes a downer for an ending. I rather liked the ending the way it was and stood up for it. He told me I was shooting myself in the foot. Fine. I made the ending much more resolved, much happier. My editor likes that ending, but she wants me to amp it up even more. I'm thinking about it. We all like a happy ending. It just makes you put that book down with a smile. It gives you hope that everything everywhere will turn out all right in the end. I don't mind giving people that feeling.  I'm just not entirely sure where taking this path might fall off into sentimentality. As I was saying earlier, the burden on the artist is to look in the mirror and keep it real.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 25th 2012

I think it was Eudora Welty who said that if you can come up with any good reason not to write, then you should follow that urge. Because a lot of nonsense and romanticism has been fostered around "The Writing Life." There are books by that name encouraging the failing author or the stuck poet. Following Hemingway's lead, the modern author is prone to think that these things can only be endured by heavy drinking. If you're Ernest Hemingway or Hunter Thompson, you think you have to blow your brains out. But stuff and nonsense - I don't even believe in writer's block. If you have something to say, then say it, and if you don't then choose something else.  More literary masturbation we don't need. Find some other way to relieve yourself. This might sound harsh, but the so-called writing life is no picnic. If you mean business, you have to be head strong and you have to believe that what you have to say is worth its space in print. People aren't going to like you if you have this attitude, but all writers have it. Some are just better at concealing it. Why do we write, those of us who choose this way to fill our spare time? We write because we have to. It's a sort of working psychosis, and, as Jung said, if you have a psychosis that works, leave it alone. It's not a question of, "Oh, I'd like to write a novel, but I think I'll go for a bike ride." It's a question of keeping your sanity. If you don't write today, things will begin to teeter. If you like to live in the grips of that kind of obsession, then writing might be for you.
The black hole that is my publisher spoke this week. It spake and saith, "I give you your notes. Six pages. Eight points. Have it in by the end of June." It didn't actually speak like that, because my editor at Simon and Schuster is a nice lady. She said, "Don't fall off your chair, but here at last are the notes." I have waited for these for close to four months. Here's the time-frame: The book was accepted in November; I signed the contract in January and got my editorial notes in May. My book will come out summer of 2013 I'm not complaining. It is the way of publishing. You have to hurry up and wait.
Here's my quote for the day by Andre Dubus: "I really think that if there's any one enemy to human creaivity, especially creative writing, it's self-consciousness."