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Archive for November, 2008

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t and danced his did

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then) they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i  guess
(and noone stopped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

~ e. e. cummings

poetry friday is under the covers this week.

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This middle grade novel is turning out to be quite the exercise in patience.  I guess it’s to be expected that when you live with an idea for years without really thinking it through before writing.

Last semester I took this thing on because it was the most pressing, the most insistent of my unborn children waiting to see daylight.  I felt it was a good place to start on my MFA journey because the characters would be easy and the story simple.

Easy, ha! Simple, pfeh!

So I wrote a good 70 pages or so and then it was clear it wasn’t working.  Reboot.  Started again and it felt like I was writing to please my advisor. Abort.  Took a month off and came back to it fresh and ended up with a good, solid 20 pages.  Six months and 20 pages, but they were good pages.  Okay, I’m a novice, I’ll take it.

This semester I was determined not to let all that hard work dissipate so I picked up where I left off.  40 new pages the first month, almost 70 the second, I was too close to stop and pushed to finish.  It took 10 weeks but it was a solid 150 pages of middle grade humor and anxiety and I thought: finally, time to pass go and collect $200.

Revision came and I saw the flaws in the opening, a beginning written before the ending was clear in sight, a beginning full of the wrong voice and misplaced focus.  No problem, just dump it.  Take a later chapter and use it as the opening, refocus the relationships.  Add some chapters, splice together with other ideas.

Nope, not quite.  I created a monster.  It’s still too much the old wrong story, too much of a Frankenstein creation than a new vision. Re-vision, reenvision, revise, reinterpret, rework, work.

The notes came back that if I was going to tell this story I needed to incorporate any number of elements much earlier than I originally planned.  The notes included a laundry list of elements from the manuscript, characters and conflicts.  The notes included the recommendation for an “experimental” new opening chapter incorporating all these elements.

I’ve sat down five days in a row and tried to re-imagine the opening, the last four days I have tried to start from scratch.  After the first day I had to ignore the original first draft and attempt a chapter purely from my memory of what I had written and the laundry list of notes.  After three days and three different openings I started a fourth, totally ignoring everything including the notes.

I think I’m getting it.

It isn’t just an experiment, it’s an exercise, a flexing of the muscle I call a brain.  It’s an expansion of the story, a variation on a theme, an orchestral development of a melody and a new arrangement of harmonies.  It’s a test of direction, a test of faith, a test of wills between me and the story.  It will either be an unmitigated disaster or a quiet triumph but will be the natural conclusion of all these attempts.  It might not even be the final version, but it should at least be able to stand on its own finally.

But it needs to be written first.  And the next person who hears about what I’m working on and says “I’ve been thinking about writing a children’s book,” thinking it’s as easy as jotting an email to a coworker, had better step back when they say it; I’m coming out swinging.

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From the collection Blues Poems selected and edited by Kevin Young

Nosferatu Blues

To be honest, I love your awkwardness most.
Not the naughty plumage of your lips

Or the splayed wildcat of your accent
Or the unexploded heartbeat of your paintings,

But your uneasiness in crowds–
How you skirted the edges

And wandered companionless,
Fidgeted and tried to mingle.

What should I tell the torch-bearing mob?
That I longed for you like a lost dog,

Spent an undead winter wondering
What your throat tasted of?

How you sashayed across white-haired sidewalks
Into the end credits of back-projected afternoons?

Or just how your car flashed silver in the sun,
Your voice shot through with radio and slang?

Shit, damn, what does it matter.
I’d settle for some broken piano chords,

For a half-finished B-movie from the 60s
To walk around in.

Then again, you know, I know, forgive me, but
What South Carolina do you dream in whoever’s
bed tonight?

What flaming hotels, what French aviators,
What ginger ale?

~ Jeff Fallis

Poems are funny sometimes in how they can strike you one moment, confound or frustrate you the next. Reading through this excellent collection, this poem jumped out and hit a nerve in me. I brought to it, and with it, a background and love of movies, visions of Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski. I thought about all those images of vampires that have come since Stoker — the Bela Lugosi, Anne Rice’s Louis, the Frank Langella, the Anita Blake prey, and now the Edward Cullen — and none of them can shake those black and white German Expressionist shadows, those angled buildings and stilted expressions that treated celluloid like a canvas rather than an entertainment.

This poem holds me until the last two stanzas, when my world crashes into the poet’s. Not that the poet didn’t have a specific object in mind, but as I read I could project into these words and feelings my own sense of what it means to be in thrall of such a creature. At the end the details become too specific for my images to hold and suddenly I feel shut out. And that’s appropriate, because this is not my Nosferatu.

I understand the Poetry Friday roundup is at Brimstone Soup today.

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Feverishly working over the new workshop piece, worrying every line.  Not because I want it to be perfect, but because it has to work.  Like setting up a line of dominoes that won’t correctly splay into their patterns if they aren’t placed just so.

I’m orchestrating five main characters – or rather, two main characters and their three integral close friends – but there needs to be a supporting network of secondary characters that fit as well.  Everyone needs to be up front, no surprise visits down the road. Five distinct characters, believable and funny.  It has to be funny.  Those were the first words I wrote about this story when I decided to tackle it: “First, it has to be funny.”

Not in the instructions to myself but equally challenging: third-person.  After years of writing first-person viewpoints and honing the voices of characters I have left the crutches behind and am standing on my own two wobbly feet of omniscience.  There’s no other way to tell the story, I have to be inside all these heads.  It wouldn’t be as funny, and the reader would miss so much because there’d be so much I’d either have to leave out or have the main character explain.

My ill-at-ease over the third-person POV is offset by my internal conflict over YA in general.  I have these YA stories to tell, yet at the same time feel that young adult readers should be expanding their reading beyond the marketing and into the wider world of fiction and literature, a world that doesn’t require a qualifier in front of the word adult. Third-person omniscient is the adult voice, the seasoned voice, the voice not only of a narrative authority but of the storyteller, not the story maker. It’s a suit that’s never felt comfortable to me before, always a little itchy, like stiff new wool.

And so I’ve been fussing over lines, over flow, over making my presance unobtrusive while at the same time in control. The rudder, beneath the visible surface yet guiding the visible ship. But is it headed in the right direction?

Suze thinks so.  I don’t think I’ve ever handed off so green a set of pages before, but yesterday I needed to know: is it even funny? Are the characters distinct? Does the first chapter work? I’ll grant, family cannot always be the most objective judge of a writer’s work because there’s too much at stake.  But at the very least a close first readers can buoy hopes against a hostile nation of critics.  At least someone likes it, the writer can say. But Suze didn’t like it, she really, really liked it. It was almost disarming how much she liked it. The characters are there, the humor is there, the storytelling is there.  One quibble over who is saying what in one particular place, a small fix in a single sentence, but otherwise…

So today I feel better.  I feel as if the glacial pace of writing these past few weeks paid a huge dividend.  Those hours trying to get a single paragraph down in writing were worth it. I may be setting myself up for a huge let-down in workshop come January, but I’ll have a few months to gird myself for that. Right now, in the now, I’ll take my strokes.

Feels good.

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A while back I was talking about my affinity for The Magic Kingdom when I outlined that I had three distinct theories about what it is that draws me in to this hyper-real park. I had it brought to my attention recently that I am two parts behind on my discourse, thus we have part two.

In the first part of my personal theory I talked about the idea of place, the magic of treasure maps.  This time around, it’s all about this idea of strangely familiar.

What is it about a place, a face, a smell, a laugh, what is it that triggers the neuro pathways in the brain to react the way they do?  Could there be something more than a mere connection, something less visible than the flipping of switches in the brain?  And if so, how does Disney’s land-of-lands trigger those responses?

I was a senior in high school when I went on the Pirates of Caribbean ride for the umpteenth time.  I had been on the ride so many times I could practically narrate the ride blindfolded, down to the turns in the path and the details in the treasure rooms.  But this one time it was nearly dusk outside and the transition through the ride and brought the overall light down to the same level as inside the queue area.  When we boarded the boats it was as if the transition between outside and inside had been a long, seemless fade not only in light but in time.  As the boats left the docks and we floated aimlessly through the faux bayous of New Orleans before the first drop into the underworld I had a strange thought:  I’ve been here before.

I’m not talking about the ride, but that sense of deja vu where you find yourself in a place you know you’ve never been to before but is perfectly familiar.  Had Disney’s magic pixie dust finally convinced me from previous visits that this was an authentic recreation of the real deal, was my deja vu an unearthed memory of having been on the ride as a child come back to haunt like the ghost of my childhood?

Okay, I’m talking about reincarnation and past life resonance.

Most of the time I find the word reincarnation tends to make people think of coming back in another life as a bug, or people who think Shirley MacLaine and people who claim to have once been African priestesses, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.  It’s also a little more mundane and perhaps a little more commonplace than most people might think.

For a moment, imagine that we do come around on this earth more than once. Whether its in your belief system or not, just do the old ‘what if?’ game for a moment.  What is the point of reincarnation, of returning to this world, if not to have gained some sort of wisdom or perspective from the past?  And what better way to kindle the embers of that perspective than through this sense of deja vu, the familiarity of feeling and place?

Disneyland contains jungles and savannas, trees and animals out of place in Southern California but placed within their carefully planned and landscaped contexts.  If you could see through the walls of the rides you’d find dinosaurs mere feet away from pirates, turn-of-the-century America facing frontier America, Abe Lincoln speaking (or at least he used to) yards away from the Grand Canyon and a rocket on its way ito space.  Look around.  Gothic cottages are within eyesight of alpine chateaux.  The cobblestones of a castle lead to the Gold Rush and, just ab it further, a Polynesian shack.  There are plants from all over the world, details taken from cultures and centuries, carefully orchestrated so as not to stand out so jarringly when juxtaposed.  In Disnesyland, the world slips in and out of time, in and out of location, turning the modern visitor into a time traveler.

Every once in a while the traveler stumbles.  It’s the color of the stone painted just-so, or maybe the fake fireflies darting above the water on wires.  Suddenly a door is opened and the fake becomes the real, the memory of the old flushes forward into the new, and body pumps adrenaline in response.  We recognize the moment but we don’t know how or why.

And how do we respond?  A nervous laugh.  We shake it off.  Weird, we say, I just had a moment of deja vu.  We don’t investigate further, but we are suddenly more aware of our surroundings.

What Disneyland does is provide for an optimum of opportunity to revisit pasts, both real and imagined, in a coccoon of safety.  Some would call it sanitized, as much of what Disney tackles in its films is a sanitized version of something else in the guise of being family-friendly.

In a familiar parlor game, if you could visit any time in the history of the planet — and come back home unharmed and without having altered history in the visit — what would it feel like?  Would it feel as engaging as if those times were our very own, or would there be a calculated distance in our approach? Could we imagine ourselves fitting seamlessly among the people, settling in among the villages and towns as comfortably as if they were old favorite clothes in the closet?

Would it feel, maybe a little, like you were at Disneyland?

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revision is like…

building Hoover Dam singlehandedly.

shifting beach sand five feet to the side, one grain at a time.

watching paint dry in humid weather.

using a fork with broth.

herding clouds with a paper fan.

(feel free to contribute)

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Okay, so my camera wasn’t really eaten.  But I am blaming the diet for making me muddle-headed and causing me to accidentally delete al the pictures on my camera’s flash memory card.  So no pictures of my daughter the hobo on Halloween, no pictures from my walk around the block that I hadn’t uploaded to Flickr, and who knows what else was there that I lost.

That was the last straw.  The diet had to go.

Actually the diet had to go last Friday when, after three days, I was starving all the time.  I’m not morbidly obese, I won’t be buried in a piano case, and my doctor only expressed a concern about my triglycerides.  He didn’t say I needed more tests or needed to go on medication, all he said was keep exercising, watch the fat intake, and cut the portion sizes.

But for the last decade (or so) I’ve had a bit of gut I’ve wanted to get rid of and five days a week at the gym weren’t going to cut it.  Okay, fine.  So Suze suggested a diet (whose name I will not mention to avoid unnecessary spam and comments) that I was willing to try because, hey, I’m serious about living until I’m 92 years old; I have to in order to do all the things I want to do.

Problem is, the diet sucked for me.  I was constantly hungry, what I was allowed to eat didn’t fully satisfy me, and my body rejected it soundly – while Suze continued to lose weight, I did not.  I fought some strong craving and resisted some strong temptations and got nothing for it.  In a totally random phrase borrowed from an old friend of mine, I left teeth marks but I got no oat cake.

So I finished out the day yesterday and I’m reevaluating the whole diet thing.  We’re switching over to something a little more balanced for my tastes, hopefully less punishing, a little more vegetarian.  With any luck I might be able to actually be the one to lose some weight instead of the camera. The ability to focus on my writing will be welcome as well.

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