A Light At The End Of The Editing Tunnel!

Today’s post is a happy one!

For I have found, and can finally glimpse, the light at the end of the editing tunnel. No, I’m nowhere near done with the long and grueling edit that I’ve got underway on my novel, but as I go I am beginning to see it firming up, becoming something less conceptual and more tangible. I know now what I need to do to make the edit count.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I hate it when I read a book, and I feel like the author phoned it in. Come on, you’ve all read books like that, you know you have. What do you think at their end?

Of course. You think, Why did you waste my time with this? You might even blame the author.

I commit to never wasting your time, dear reader. Both my time and yours are just too valuable for me to do that.

So I’ve come up with a poem to remind me as I continue editing who’s important to a writer.

Their publishers, sure, and if I had one their notes would be at the forefront of my mind. But even more important….

Their readers. We write to get readers.

If the reader

Doesn’t read

What the reader

Should have read

When a story went from concept

Living in your head

To words that might engage,

Enrage,

Or yellow on an antique page,

If what needed communication

Didn’t get to them,

The fault rests squarely

With the writer and his leaky pen.

So spend your ink wisely.

A Dispatch From The Editing Bunker

That’s not what I wrote!

Yeah, it is.

How do you know?

Did you write this book?

Uh-huh.

Then this is what you wrote; no use denying it, because this is what ended up on the page.

But that’s not what I meant to write! That’s not what I meant to say!

Tough.

Boy, have I enjoyed the internal debate that’s been raging in my mind. When what you thought you wrote and what you actually wrote, what you thought you communicated to the reader, and what you actually communicated to the reader differ to the point where your editor can’t quite understand the point of a certain section of writing, then, yeah, your book still needs some work.

There’s always, for me, that little bit of doubt that I let creep in and grow bigger, fed with negative thoughts and statements from this guy himself.

You can’t do it, my mind screams. If you could do it, if you could write what needs to be written, wouldn’t you have written it already?

As I sit hunkered in my editor’s bunker–the lady who edits my work doesn’t have a bunker; that’s just what I’ve taken to calling my room, where I mentally kick my own ass for the sake of what is (I promise) a great book, I try to remind myself that everyone must edit, even the greats, like Fitzgerald or Twain, and everyone has doubts. Push trough them. Review your suggested edits. List them. Brainstorm fixes. Put those fixes in your list. In this way, you can accomplish your edits in the way I need to; bite-sized chunks as opposed to humungous sections of writing that seem to have no end and make you feel like you’re swimming in an endless ocean.

Your Mind Can Get Hungry, Too!

Today’s post is a quick one. A little note on one of my favorite concepts.

When your body is hungry, what do you do? Easy, right? You feed and sustain it with food. But what about when your mind is hungry?

Do you know the feeling? I think you do. You’ve spent a while watching TV, a movie, the kind without substance, imbibing a tad too much, perhaps; your mind turned off to the world. And then, from its edges, the deepest alcove, the farthest outskirt, there’s a quiet but persistent voice.

I’m hungry, it says. I need to be fed. Teach me something. Let’s read a novel. Let’s find out something we never thought we’d know. We can do it together.

Always keep your mind hungry, and satiate that hunger in whatever way is best for you. For me, it’s reading and writing. For you, it might be math (those people do exist, and I’ve met them; I’m glad for them, because only with math could we have computers and the like, but I’ll stay firmly over here in the literature aisle, thank you very much).

Eleven Minutes

As I anticipate a week full of editing, I also want to keep my blog vibrant and worth the visit. So I have decided that, for your enjoyment this Tuesday, I will share a story I wrote soon after my grandmother’s passing. It is not a sad story. In my view, it’s heartfelt and hopeful. I believe I know where she has gone to stay, and I take comfort in that knowledge. And in the knowledge that I got the chance to say a full and true good-bye.

Eleven Minutes

 

 

The screen-door slams shut behind me, and I make my slow walk out onto the porch. Grandma is out here in her favorite chair, as always, smoking the cigarette I’ve told her over and over will kill her. She looks up when she hears me coming toward her.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she says. “Sit down. What have you been up to? How’s school going?”

            I sit across from her. “Grandma, you’re smoking… AGAIN!”

            “Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s a dirty habit,” she says. “Don’t you start it now.”

            “I won’t. And I wish you would stop.”

            She laughs. “You’re not the only one, believe me.”

            My mom and I have come to stay with Grandma for a while because my parents can’t get along. I don’t like to see my family split up like this, but I’m grateful because, without these trips to Grandma’s, I’d never see her. Thanksgiving and Christmas just isn’t often enough.

            I’m out here to ask Grandma to put The Muppet Movie on the TV for me, but now that we’ve got this time alone together while Mom’s at the store getting supplies for our sleep-over, we might be able to have a real conversation about what’s going on with my family.

            “Grandma?”

            “Hmmm?”

            I hesitate before asking, “Do my mom and dad love me?”

            “Of course they love you, sweetheart.”

            “I’m not so sure about that.”

“Why not?”

“Because… because I feel like if they really did love me, they’d stop fighting.”

            Grandma sinks back into her seat. If I weren’t here, she’d light another cigarette, but she feels me staring at her, waiting to pounce. So instead she looks out on the small, well-kept lawn that her landlord takes care of for her every week. I silently pat myself on the back: Because of me, Grandma will live eleven minutes longer than she would have.

           

What will she do with this extra time? I wonder.

            Maybe she’ll spend it with me at Disneyland. For a person with cerebral palsy, like me, Disneyland is an even happier place on Earth. Lines don’t exist. Eleven minutes is another ride on your favorite roller coaster, another riverboat ride through the Caribbean.

            Grandma’s never really liked roller coasters, has she? She likes the idea of moving fast; it’s leaving her house she struggles with. I guess that means go-karts are out, too. But she does like a good baseball game.

            Eleven minutes is an extra inning of Mariner baseball called by Dave Niehaus. Another go-around of that fabled game 5 bottom of the 11th in 1995.

            “Swung on and… lined down the left field line for a base hit! Here comes Joey! Here is Junior to third base…. They’re gonna wave him in. The throw to the plate will be… late! It just continues, my oh my!”

            Her first love, though, has always been good movies. She was the first in her neighborhood to own a VCR, and she has the biggest collection of videotapes I’ve ever seen. Eleven minutes would just about get her through another watch of the triumphant end to George Bailey’s journey. She’d go away thinking, Yes, it is a wonderful life.

           

Grandma’s voice—she’s talking to herself–brings me back to now. I’m staring at nothing when I come back, so I almost don’t see her trying to sneak a cigarette. But there she is, out of the corner of my eye….

`“Grandma!” I yell.

It surprises her and she almost drops the lit stick. Catches it just before it falls to the ground. “What, sweetheart? What is it?”

“I want you to live,” I tell her. “I don’t want you to go away. I want you to be here. Forever.”

“Forever’s a long time,” she chuckles. “But I’ll be here as long as I can. How’s that? Would you like a piece of gum?” She reaches into her purse, takes out a pack of Trident.

 

This whole what could you do in eleven minutes idea has me asking around. When Mom and I go back home, she makes up with Dad, and I ask him when she’s off watching All My Children , “Dad… what could you do in eleven minutes?”

He makes a strange face. Puts the football game we’re watching on MUTE. “I don’t know. That’s a weird question, even for you. Eleven minutes?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I could write a few good pages, I suppose.”

That makes sense. Dad’s a writer. Sometimes it seems like all he does is write.

I ask Mom the same question. She doesn’t make a face like Dad, and she answers right away.

            “Any extra time I get I’d spend out in the sun, tanning.”

            Over the next couple years, the question never quite leaves my mind. It’s always at the back, lurking, and as I enter my teens, I ask it of my younger brother.

            “Video games,” he says. “If you pick the right game, eleven minutes can get you through a level or two.” I know he’s thinking specifically of the new James Bond Goldeneye game he just got for Christmas, but he doesn’t want to come right out and say that.

           

Many years pass. Years when I find out I’ll never drive, which devastates me. That not all girls are nice like my mom, or think it’s cool that I’m able to shrug off my cerebral palsy most of the time, or turn words into stories. Years when I learn bullies are no fun, unless you are one, and probably not even then. Years when not being able to walk like the other kids goes from a unique oddity in fourth grade to something that ends up leaving me sad and alone most middle-school days. Through all of these years and more, through my graduations from high school and college and beyond, I talk to Grandma on the phone each week. I prefer Wednesdays. Whenever she answers the phone, it’s always with: “Hello, sweetheart!” like there’s no place she’d rather be than sitting in her kitchen, stretching the phone cord as far as it will go, talking to me.

            She has quit smoking, finally, a function of the open-heart surgery she underwent, the pacemaker that was installed, the coughing fits she’d get into if she lit up. She has left the house with the manicured lawn and the screen-door to the porch where she smoked away so many years. Now the husband she re-married five summers ago, my grandfather, is gone, and she has relocated to a senior community, where everyone calls her “The cookie lady”. She has to be careful not to singe her wig when taking the fresh cookies from the oven.

            Today’s a Wednesday, and her phone rings. She picks it up.

            “Hi, sweetheart.”

            “What are you up to today, Grandma?”

            “I’m making cookies.” When is she not making cookies? “Everybody here just loves them.” So do I. “Then I’m gonna watch Idol tonight. You’ll be watching it, too, won’t you?”

            “Yeah.” Sometimes I call her the day after American Idol, to talk about what’s happened. More often than not, though, she’s out with one of her friends, or downstairs putting out a fresh cookie batch, not there to answer. I can count on Wednesdays.

            She never travels far. It’s as if her entire life is lived within a five-mile radius of where she lays her head, and she is not technologically inclined. That revolution is lost on her. She’s sent me a total of one e-mail, to tell me how much she loved the Johnny Cash movie, Walk The Line. This means our phone calls are our only contact.

            “I need to tell you something, sweetheart,” she says, when I’m finished relating my latest gossipy anecdote. Both of us love gossip.

“Can you believe my dad caught our crazy neighbor burning plastic?” I asked her, breathless. “This just happened yesterday. Dad was so mad.”

“No, I really can’t,” she’d replied, sounding appropriately incredulous, before launching into her news.

I figure it’ll be another nugget of gossip. The comings and goings, arrivals and departures of Fountain Court Senior Apartments.

“A few weeks ago… when I was baking cookies… I fell. I passed out.”

“Grandma, why are you just telling me this now?”

“I didn’t want to worry you. I made your mom promise she wouldn’t say anything.”

“Mom knew? Knows?”

“M-hmm.”

“So what’s going on? Did you go to the doctor?”

“Yes. She says I have cancer.”

 

            Lung cancer’s a bitch. I’ve already lost one revered grandparent to it, and I am preparing myself to lose another. When Mom calls me from work on a Friday—something she rarely does; I’ll call her at the office, but her call me… I think not—she says, “Let’s go and visit Grandma tomorrow. She fell again yesterday.”

            “She did? Is she okay?”

            “She’s fine. But she’s in the hospital.”

            Immediately, tension takes my body hostage. I forget to breathe for a second or two.

            “Honey…. honey, are you still there?” Mom asks.

            “I’m here. You’re gonna pick me up tomorrow, and we’re going to the hospital?”

            “Yeah.”

            “What time should I be ready?”

“Let’s say noon. How’s that?”

“Fine with me.”

Mom ends the call with, “I love you, honey. I’m sorry I had to call with this, but I love you so, so much.”

 

            “Use the elevator just past the fish tank,” the lady at the hospital’s front desk tells us.

            It’s odd: The things you find funny when faced with impending tragedy. To us—Mom and me–the idea of the elevator we have to take up to Grandma’s room being referred to as “the elevator just past the fish tank” is hilarious, and we’re giggling as we walk the corridor. Grandma would be laughing, too.

            The room is a two-bedder. As we enter, a stranger we don’t know—a woman fond of screaming for a family who isn’t here–stares Death in the face, and Death stares back, his vacant eyes saying, You can’t cheat me this time, lady. This time I’m gonna win.

            My Grandma isn’t having the stare-down yet, thank God. She is still Grandma.

            “Have you guys been watching the football playoffs?”

            “I sure have, Grandma. I was watching the game before we came to see you.”

            She smiles at me, standing at the side of her bed. “I was watching it, too. But that one over there-“ She head-gestures toward the unfortunate woman- “she couldn’t take the sound. I coulda watched it on mute, but since I was listening to it while trying to grab a nap, that didn’t work very well. Finally I just turned it off. They say I should be outa here in a couple days. That means I’ll be home in time for the Super Bowl!”

            Standing in one spot for any length of time—not moving a muscle but just standing there, trying to keep myself from tipping over—is one of the most painful experiences anyone with cerebral palsy can have. Anyone with cerebral palsy who still maintains the use of their legs, that is.

            There is an overwhelming smell of urine, and if it were up to me Mom and I would step into the hall, take a moment, find a bench and some fresher air. But it isn’t up to me. So I ask, “Grandma, do you think I could sit down?”

            “Sure, sweetheart.” She then goes into the best and most authoritative yell she can issue from a hospital bed: “Can someone please get my grandson a chair?”

            I’ve got my chair; uncomfortable though it is, it’s a place to sit, and now Grandma’s talking about the old days. She gets my mom reminiscing about her childhood. All I can latch onto are the names of relatives I vaguely know. I can not share in communal remembrances.

            After about twenty minutes, Grandma needs to go to the bathroom. A nurse is called in to help, and Mom and I leave. There’s a Godfather’s Pizza across the street. That’s an interesting location-choice, I think. You won’t ever be lacking for business, but still it’s kind of strange, isn’t it?

 

            Grandma is indeed sent home in a couple days, as she had suspected would happen. I call her the following Wednesday.

            This conversation, unlike all our others, does not feel upbeat or light-hearted. Not at first. Something is weighing my heart down.

            “Grandma?”

            She can tell I’m fighting to hold onto my composure. “What is it, sweetheart?”

            Say it now. You might never get the chance again, I hear in my head.

            “I just wanted to tell you…. I wanted you to know… that whatever happens… I know I can’t drive out there to see you like my other cousins can, but I’ve always loved you, and I always will, and I hope you know that.”

            “Of course I do, sweetheart.”

            “Good.” My heart is unburdened. “So, are you happy to be home?”

            “Oh, I’m so happy. I was having soap-opera withdrawal, and everyone here was missing their cookies.”

`           The conversation goes on like this for a few more minutes. Then Grandma says, “Well, honey, I better get going. I gotta go downstairs and put out this batch.”

            “Okay, Grandma.” I circle back to our first topic. I have a sixth sense the end could be close, but I won’t admit it aloud. “Whatever happens, I love you.”

            “Whatever happens, I love you, too. Always. We’ve always had a special bond.”

            Why did she have to say that? Now I’m crying.

            “Bye, Grandma.”

            “Good-bye, sweetheart.” It’s the way in which she says it—with a finality she might not have intended, but it sneaks into her tone, anyway—that confirms my hunch. This will be the last time we talk.

            Three days later, Mom calls to say Grandma’s back in the hospital. “She’s in a coma, but they say she can still hear us, and I think we should go see her. To say good-bye.” I go, more to be there for my mom than for anything I left unsaid, and Grandma passes away two days after our last trip up in the elevator just past the fish tank.

When my phone-bill arrives, I scroll down until I find the last call I ever made to my grandmother’s phone number. Duration: 11 Mins.

 

A Main Character Leaves In A Huff

I thought, What should I write about today? And I came up with what I think is a pretty good poem. As a writer, I’m always hoping my main character will help guide me through his or her story, leading me to its resolution down what can sometimes be a long and circuitous road. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. When they don’t. it’s usually my fault, and it goes a little something like this.

 

The blank screen of a fresh page mocks

Amid nothing besides night’s darkness and

The tick of a ceaseless clock.

Time travels onward,

A cycle that toys with the mortal,

While my characters, annoyed,

  Sit trapped aboard

A London double-decker.

 

I consider ending them, all of them,

Right here,

The delete button

My own personal wrecker.

“You’re a hypocrite,” I hear the main character yell.

“First you invite us–my family and I–into your  mind.

‘Your story’s fascinating,” you say.

 “One I want to tell.’

And now you threaten us with extinction

Because you have yet to find

Literary distinction,

And you’re not sure we’ll get you there.

Well, fine,

We know when we’re wanted,

And when we’re wasting our time.

We will gladly vacate your mind

And find among your writery lot

Another aspiring writer,

One who’s got

The guts to give us our due,

Who won’t give up

When the edits get tough

Or when the words get stopped up

And won’t flow.”

Who Do You Write Like?

I know, it’s a strange title. But it’s a question I get a lot (my high school English teacher would bristle at that use of a lot: “A lot is a place where a house is built, ladies and gentlemen!”). Often. It’s a question I get often. There. Much better.

Some people write mysteries. Others write thrillers. Suspense, perhaps. Then there’s literary fiction, where the use of language is almost more important than what that language actually says.

There are so many different genres—YA (young adult), magical realism, fantasy (which differs slightly from the broad sci-fi designation)–that to pigeonhole a writer into one, and only one, is not fair to them. Yet it’s done all the time.

I write stories I would want to read. I think every writer does. Mine do tend to land in the fantasy genre (though rarely, if ever, do they contain mythological creatures).

A conversation I’m very used to having when I’ve just met someone:

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh. That’s great! What do you write?”

“Fiction. Short stories. I’m working on a novel.”

“Ah,” says the interested party. “Who do you write like?”

I write like me. My books are my books. But the potential reader doesn’t know my work. So I have to take a shot in the dark that they might know the work of someone else.

“Do you know Mitch Albom?” I ask.

“The Tuesdays With Morrie guy?”

We’re off-track just a bit. “He’s written novels, too. The Five People You Meet In Heaven?”

“Oh, sure,” says the bookworm. “I like that one. So you write like that, huh?”

“Kind of.”

It’ll be confusing if I tell the guy, “I have cerebral palsy. You might have noticed I walk a little differently? I write stories about people who are just like you. They experience life just like you, and have wants and hopes and dreams like you. Only, like me, they have palsy.”  He might think my stories are only for people with palsy, as opposed to what they really are: Stories I–and hopefully many–would want to read about interesting characters in fantastical situations, one of whom might just happen to have what I have and walk like I walk and experience life the way I experience life. I’ll just let the Albom comparison stand.

When It was suggested that I keep this blog, I gave a firm “no” at first. I feared blogging would be like shouting into a dark void and hoping to hear my words echo back in the mouths and minds of actual readers. But I changed my mind when I realized that, through this blog, people who were truly interested could discover “who I write like”.

I write like Mitch Albom, preferring his secular slant on things to another of my favorite authors, Richard Paul Evans’ more obviously religious style. That is not a comment on either writer. I enjoy both. Personally, I believe in a higher power (though I know people who don’t), and I would like to believe that, when the time comes, I’ll be able to ask Him (or Her) why I was given my exact obstacles in life. God’s plan might be enough for some. It isn’t, for me. There has to be more.

I write with just a bit of the sarcasm my grandfather gave me. I write with humor that isn’t mean but can be biting sometimes, if it’s done right. I write characters who aren’t perfect, because no one is perfect. I do prefer Frank Capra films over scary movies that stay with you at night, and that preference leaks into my words and work.

Put simply, I. Write. Like. Me. And I’m as proud of that now, as a novelist seeking representation, as I will be should I find it. I hope you will want to read what I have to say, because I’ve got a lot to tell you!

*Grin.*