750words March 20, 2015 ~ Words and Heroines

It’s been a good month for words and falling in love with the people they build—again. I forget how charming and willful, stubborn and ugly they sometimes tend to be, then they come knocking, rising up from the page one by one, dusting the dirt from their knees, and I think, Hey! I know you. You’re the gal I gave the same hairstyle as my friend Sooz.

I’m talking about Irene’s crew of family and friends. Irene is the title character of a first novel (by me) due out in July 2015. Irene’s grand-niece is the one I gave the hairstyle of my dear friend, Sooz; her nephew (Buddy) is the one I gave characteristics of another friend’s cousin; the elderly detective who failed, in 1930, to solve the mystery of Irene’s early demise owns all the curmudgeonly charm of my favorite uncle. This month I found them again, these characters wrought from the real world I occupy into the fictional story-scape of vaudeville, circus, farm and city. Like best buddies from grade school or cousins from out of state, folks I haven’t seen or talked to in years, possibly decades, they warm this old heart when I hear their voice on the line.

A laugh escapes across the miles of telephone line and, just like that, their face is before me, a smile remembered, a cheesecake shared on a bench under a tree outside Riverside’s Mission Inn, a hike from the end of the road to the river bottom and, crossing the Santa Ana, the abandoned Power House on the river’s far side, flats of cardboard used as sleds to slide the steep and long-dry concrete slipway, wild rides perched in the back of a rusting blue pick-up truck through corn fields … oh, and all the crawdads caught in the irrigation canals running the perimeter of pastures and alfalfa fields … It’s like that, this reconnect to ginger-haired Irene who bruised and healed and bruised again, yet stood her ground with undaunted willfulness.

Words built my Irene, gave her freckles and a family which, for the most part, didn’t know how to handle the girl, much less the woman. Words constructed her worlds. From the Williamsport, Pennsylvania farm and the platform she dove from to slice into Loyalsock Creek as a girl to the Poseidon Park, Coney Island stage where she climbed into a cannon to be shot over the heads of paying spectators below—words gave these venues walls and windows, fields, ponds, farm houses and brownstones, kitchens, wall-papered bedrooms, railroad tracks and circus trains.

Reading and revising The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights for (what promises to be) the final draft, I came to the end and found myself already missing these fictional folks I’d brought into the world the way I miss my children and grandchildren when they visit—here for five days or a week—and gone, as if they’d only just arrived and their stay was too short. As if there were more conversations to explore, more Valentines to build with white glue, paper and glitter, more places to investigate, secrets to share, friends to introduce them to and shells to collect from the ocean’s shore.

So it is with Irene and her crew. They’ve been such a long time coming, growing into their environment … give me a sec while I figure out how to explain changes that have occurred, characters gone missing, scenes/settings which, at one time, filled pages …

You know how it is when you live in a neighborhood and gradually make the acquaintance of those who live around you, perhaps sharing cuttings and starts from your garden or recipes or cocktails at the 4 o’clock hour or coffee in the morning? Maybe you get to know more than you want (or need) to know about the nephew of this neighbor or the ex-husband/wife of that one, or the comings and goings of the mailman or too much about the personal life of the pastor at your local church or the manager of the Little League team your son or granddaughter or whoever plays on.

It’s like that—Irene introduced me to too many neighboring characters. I couldn’t leave them alone.

Regardless of how far afield they might lead me or how little they had to offer “Irene”—I wanted more and more of their personal stories. I let the novel’s neighborhood chatter take over, left Irene in a wobbly lawn chair on the periphery of the patio! (For those of you who find it difficult to follow my writing style, the gist of this is: I had to shush! the crowd. When this didn’t work, I had to ask some to leave.)

Yesterday, reaching the end of Irene’s rewrites, I wondered, “Where’s Ricky? What happened to Ricky Towne?” I found him today—day-dreaming about the bicycle shop he’d have if the world would just give him an effin’ break. A character of pimply-faced wonder, Ricky Towne was found in an early chapter on a file buried within a flashdrive at the back of a seldom used desk drawer. What a mouth that young man had, “F” words all over the place, and a bad attitude for a chair pusher on Atlantic City’s boardwalk. No surprise Ricky never earned much by way of tips on the boardwalk, or found his way into The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights final draft.

[He may, however, find his way into a short story. I do hate to think Ricky’s dream of a bicycle shop ended on my account … but—he’ll have to clean up his language before he finds space on my page.]

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Decades

Back in 2009, part of the previous decade, I found waiting a hardship.  The 5th draft of The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights was in the hands of an agent.  What would she think? Like it? Love it? Rue the day she said, Send it?

To occupy time and spend a little of my impatience, I did research.  I found a great site and wrote what follows as a means of sharing my discovery, my ups and my quirks and my downs.  [Originally publ. August 1, 2009, to Irene/Journaling Blog.]

First things first.

At the moment posting a link to a site with the heading “Lone Star College – Kingwood” tops my list.  This is the place —  http://kclibrary.lonestar.edu/decade00.html  —  to find American cultural history broken down by decades from 1900 through 2000.  The link will take you to 1900-1909; a menu bar across the page offers the subsequent decades.  A couple cool things about this site: the font is easy to read; there are small blocks of statistical info like population, life expectancy, wages, unemployment, cars on the road, miles of pavement in existence, days necessary to cross the continent, etc.  And there are additional links provided to other sites such as the Library of Congress and interesting connections to art, architecture and design pertinent to the era.

Sites like these are the reason I love research.  A mention of one thing ‘here’ sets me off to learn more about that one thing ‘there,’ and ‘there’ I stumble upon the mention of another thing that sets me off to learn more, and from yet another ‘there’ the interests hopscotch or leapfrog way-way beyond any information I will possibly use in the project at hand.

Caution, however, is advised.  When many things of interest clutter my mind, when I want to somehow include a mention of as many of these interests as possible — the work stumbles under the weight.  Choices!  Choices?  I fear I’ve made some wrong ones while writing The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights, eventually spending more time on the Winton automobile than on Irene’s athleticism or the plight of women athletes, in particular swimmers and divers, during the first thirty years of the twentieth century.  Then again, the current draft is only number 5; changes may yet be made; the balance of information in the current draft may be on the button; or not.

Waiting — is difficult.  And decisions in regard to further edits to the current draft are difficult.  Self doubt enters.  An agent has draft 5 in hand.  I should wait.  I should make improvements.  I should wait.

The advice from Coach Vannucci [my editing advisor with the Beat the Book gang] is:  Start the next novel.  Busy your mind.  Put this one away for the present.  Drink a bit of the bubbly.  Relax.  Enjoy.  Create.

Yeah, Vannucci.  Right.

 

Watermark from Past Rain

When the 20th of July 2013 arrives, four years will have elapsed since my last blog posting for this WIP (Work In Progress) Irene in White Tights category. Four years—Whoa!  

            I could feel remorse.  A sprinkling of guilt.  Yet—paused as I am, eyes searching the white ceiling overhead for some shadow of such feelings tilted in that direction—I find none.  Not a smidge.  I do find a watermark stain where rain from the past crept under the asphalt and tar roofing to sign in with a drip-drip-drip, rains from long before I put down a deposit and took up residence here. The leak must’ve been fixed as the stain is located over my bed and, despite seasons of rain here on the Baja California coast, my bed’s remained dry.

I have white paint.  I have a gallon of Kilz to wipe-out the stain’s pattern before applying the white paint.  I can borrow a ladder.  I have excellent neighbors with ladders and cocktails every evening at sunset, croissants and coffee for mid-morning chats, company for walks through the fields and on the tumbled rock playa below.  I have the music of those rocks as they tumble, conducted by the symphony of ocean’s tides, the froth of bougainvillea in need of pruning, the play of hummingbirds in need of my watchful eyes to witness their being, their busy presence in this wondrous world.

I lower my gaze from the watermarked ceiling to the window, the tall stand of yellow and white wildflowers blooming in the distance, the swagger of palm fronds between here and there.  Remorse, about my negligence of Irene? Not a whiff. Yet Irene, that love of a girl, her ginger-freckled face and wide smile is very much present.  I smile at the wild yellow and white beyond my window, shake my head in quiet awe (partial disbelief?) over the renewed interest in Irene’s brief life—the fictional life I have written as well as the inspirational Irene who graced this earth so briefly—and wonder if she may, in fact, find a stage for her story to be acted out word by word.

The ceiling watermark is shaped like a mouth.  The mouth neither smiles nor frowns.  It is full-lipped, as was Irene’s.  It is patient, resolute, fixed.  I will delay repainting, keep the stain there, overhead—a sign, as if from a very old friend—to greet me each day, a reminder I mustn’t forget.

20 July 2009 : The Status of The True Life (etc.)

The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights has survived through four drafts and the weight of an added Epilogue which may, or may not, be incorporated into the final chapter — depending upon what the fifth draft demands.  Each draft assumes its own personality and presence; or, perhaps, each draft decides upon yet another facet of ‘self’ it will show.  I begin to think I may be in need of psychoanalytic training, that if I asked the fourth draft to relax on a long sofa (a very long sofa, one capable of accomadating one hundred thousand words, not to mention a circus, a carnie venue, a Brooklyn brownstone, an adobe casa in Cottonwood, Arizona, a park, some pigeons, Barbados, Hell’s Kitchen, China Town NYC —-> nevermind <—- trust me, a  v e r y  l o n g sofa!), and then asked the fourth draft to tell me its innermost fears,  well, I begin to think I wouldn’t know how to soothe the fourth draft, how to give comfort, how to advise it other than offering some sort of mantra, like: 
                                      I’m ok.  You’re ok.
          Advice from my friend and editing coach, Lynn Vannucci, is along the lines of “start a new project, occupy your creative side with other enjoybable tasks.” 
          Sure, Vannucci.  Fine.  Meanwhile, the first chapter may or may not have been discarded by an agent who has those early pages in hand.  Ok.  Ok.  The new project is moving out of one Rosarito, BC, Mexico casita into a casa with an ocean view.  (Has the agent opened the email yet?)  Second new project is knitting socks from yarn recaptured from old sweaters I can’t wear down here in Old Mexico as Christmas gifts later this year for children who live in climes where such socks might be appreciated.  (Will the agent have read the first chapter by December? By Christmas?)  Third project is squeezing pre-mixed sheetrock plaster onto red roof tiles out of a cake-decorator’s parchment cone in primitive motifs of leaves and stick-legged goats.  (Is The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights a stick-legged goat?) 
          Fourth project is on the horizon.  I will look there right after I publish this journal entry to my long-abandoned blog.

 

11 March 2009 : Camelias in the Red Bowl

They last such a long time, camelias broken on short stems from a friend’s eave-high plant outside her blue front door.  Only now, a week later, do they begin to show dark beginnings at the edges, as if someone has held a fountain pen or sharpie marker a tad too long in dotting the “i” on a page, but the page is a petal of glorious coral pink.

Second draft on Irene in White Tights has also been waiting for the sharpie or fountain pen to move on, to scrape a horizontal scratch across a waiting “t” wanting to be completed.  Her ladyship, the muse, seems on hiatus.  She never strays a great distance, this wayward muse of mine.  But, since the power outtage for 5-6 days a week ago now — she has been lolling about on the beach or watching pelicans dive headlong into the ocean.  At least some homely, plain birds are at work!

5 March 2009 : Where Has She Been?

The simple answer first.  No.  The simple question first: Where has who been?   I suppose the “who” is me, lynn, and where I have been is here, in Rosarito, Baja, for six days without electricity or DSL or phone internet keyboard printer imagination [oops, no, imagination never went off even for a blink, unfortunately! Ah! but then, you see, the pencil’s lead has gone dull! and the only sharpener is electric, but for the pocket knife to shave a new point … but by then the thread of what I’d meant to write is gone all wonky and there I am, new point on the pencil and wondering what it was that I wanted to write], and sundry other things that go missing when you have no electrical power.  Where is the old manual twenty-pound Smith Corona when you need it? eh?

But the other “who” is Irene of Irene in White Tights.  She is, on page 145, or thereabouts, napping in her frigid tenement apartment in Hell’s Kitchen while someone taps lightly on her door.  Her mother, Olive, is in Hollywood, California, visiting Irene’s younger sister, Florence (the sister married to the fight promotor named Mike, the second husband named Mike Flo has wed, the fourth husband — but who’s counting — in her much-married, modeling career).  Irene’s other sister, Mae, is in a rocking chair back in Brooklyn and attended by Jane Smith.  (Jane Who? And where did she come from?)

Quite suddenly now, at any second, these words will stop and Lynn [that’s me] will be waking Irene up from her nap and putting Olive on a train for home (Brooklyn) with no one waving her off and goodbye from the train station . . .

16 February 2009 : Cyclops Eyes in the Elm Lid

Slow going today on the Moses segment of Irene.  It’s Chapter 12 time and I am, after dragging this red trunk around through the Rose of Sharon and Irene threads, finally leaving it behind in dismal room two floors above Heung Fats noodle house on Grant Street in China Town, NYC, circa 1909.  But, two thousand words into a thirty-five hundred word goal I’ve set for this chapter isn’t all bad.  And I’ve managed to introduce Moses, Yun Li, Sing Cheung, Benjamin Smith and Ellie Bowles, not to mention the knots in the elmwood lid of the red trunks where Moses hid out from his daddy, Sing, when he was very young so as not to have to do lessons.

Now.  All I have to do in the next fiftenn hundred words is put a body inside that trunk.