Sunday, February 9, 2014

My latest distraction

I have written four or five chapters of my “Jacqueline” novel, my story about a French military doctor who gets orders to investigate her own family. She’s an OB/GYN by education and left the field for the Army Health Services. She discovered that growing babies and even labor fascinate her, but the run of the mill gynecological care and actual birth… not so much. 

Her oldest sister, Basilie Saint-Ebène d’Amille, at the opening of the story, is unexpectedly eight-and-a-half months pregnant after a troubled reproductive history. Basilie has a debilitating stroke at the same time Jacqueline is asked by the military to see if Basilie’s famous ex-husband, Étienne d’Amille, displays any adverse effects from an accident in the Djibouti desert during his conscription twenty-five years ago. As pregnancy is Jacqueline’s medical specialty and her sister has a serious condition, the army sends Jacqueline to Basilie’s side. The army suspects Basilie may be impacted by Étienne’s issues. 

I’m four chapters in and events are brewing. I’ve stirred trouble between Jacqueline and her boyfriend, threatened Étienne and thought out the clues that Jacqueline will eventually connect. But there’s this looming baby. And he has to join the world.

And for the last week? Two? I can’t stop plotting out every moment of his debut. It is outlined as the next chapter in the manuscript: “Jacqueline delivers Basilie’s baby.” But I keep writing and writing until I know every second of how that transpires.I have written more than 6,000 words and she isn’t even pushing yet. 

Most of these words will be wasted. But the effort will not. I know I will reduce this whole section down to at most 2,500 words. I can even see as I’m writing which elements are boring and which have the zing to survive the final cut. I recognize the key facts and moments that will build the story. Yet, somewhere in the archives and excess section of my laptop and backup drive, I will keep the entire record. I will know every moment of this labor. 

Normally when I do this, the excess information I have drafted will influence the characters in subtle ways. Maybe Jacqueline and Basilie will grow closer. (I already know that the baby will gain a new middle name from the experience, good thing he’s French and can have a string of them.) Maybe Étienne and Basilie will reconnect and realize how important they are to each other. I also know that the circumstances around the birth will drive Jacqueline and her current partner apart, but I wonder if she will indulge in break-up sex after the emotional and physical effort of her nephew’s birth.

Of course, it also screws with my head as I research obstetrics and dream of babies. But it’s something I write just for me and it becomes a memory for all of the imaginary people involved. 

But then… The scary thing is that I may finish writing this from Jacqueline’s perspective and then write some of it over from Basilie’s perspective and Étienne’s. Excessive, but I need to know.  

Artwork from a tarot deck based on my characters, designed by Darrell Parry,

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: The Art of Falling

I have waited for Kathryn Craft’s The Art of Falling for almost a decade. I have watched her score rejection after rejection, keep trying, keep editing and keep pitching. Kathryn is the reason I took on a leadership role in the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Group and she’s also a model of diplomacy and character that I emulate.

Plus, I think we have similar standards for our writing.

So I have patiently waited for Sourcebooks to release her first novel, represented by Katie Shea of the Donald Maass agency. 

My husband and daughter attended her Lehigh Valley Launch Party at Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, Pa. I was home with a cold. But they brought me the book! Signed, pristine and new… And I read it in two sittings.

It was a lighter and easier read than I expected. I’m not sure I ever liked the protagonist/heroine Penelope Sparrow but I felt she was real, her actions, situations and reactions true to what a woman in her place would do. It wasn’t as dynamic as I expected. Changes weren’t huge and scenes weren’t big, but this is also part of the reality.

The connection Kathryn explores between body image and self-esteem is an important one to me. I write about the high fashion industry and I have a supermodel character (Adelaide) slightly younger than Penelope Sparrow who also struggles with these body issues. Although I must say, I applaud Penelope Sparrow for overcoming hers. My character doesn’t fare so well.

I adore Kathryn’s use of secondary characters and how she weaves them into her story to the point where they become inextricable. That, to me, is the gauge of a well-crafted story. Nothing extra or just there. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

False starts

Finding the right starting place for a story is hard. I *think* I found mine after about six weeks of drafting and searching. I thought it might be fun to share various opening segments. And in reverse chronology so one can see the development.

Welcome to the world of Jacqueline Saint-Ebène.

Current (119 words): 
Hoisting her pregnant older sister, a stroke victim with limited use of her right side, into the cabin of a Falcon jet had proven the most grueling challenge of Jacqueline Saint-Ebène’s career as a military doctor. By the time she cajoled Basilie’s uncooperative body up the stairs, Jacqueline thought her own arms might fall off. Somehow, Jacqueline managed to guide Basilie into the leather chair  across from the door and buckle her seatbelt for her. Basilie offered a weak smile, the effort as exhausting for her as it had been for Jacqueline, and muttered ‘maan.’ Jacqueline tucked her shoulder-length hair behind her ears as she met her sister’s gaze. 
“You’re welcome,” she said in their native French.

And before that (75 words): 
A reverberating boom and the random patter of metallic ran sprang them into action without anyone uttering a word. Limbs that had been packing boxes of bandages and medication immediately froze, dropped what they were doing and redirected their efforts toward prepping a triage area and arming themselves as first responders. Seconds later, the kind of seconds that spanned an eternity, an alarm sounded. Jacqueline Saint-Ebène’s beeper trembled. The message contained three letters:

And before that (65 words):
Limbs that had been packing boxes of bandages and medication immediately froze when a loud boom rocked the area. The noise itself wouldn’t be enough to worry the staff, but the random patter of metallic rain sprung them into action. Like a reflex. Seconds later, the kind of seconds that spanned an eternity, an alarm sounded. Jacqueline’s beeper trembled. The message contained three letters:

And once we get this far back, I’m not even sure what came first (134):
The sun blared across the desert, as the sun always did, a sea of beige hills and valley that extended forever. The din of the men, and the women, faded into white noise. Even the whir of incoming helicopters didn’t phase her. The large transport plane had landed. The wind kicked up a gentle spray of sand. The grunts trekked the crates into the cargo bay. One by one, the boys stacked and secured the pieces of her office into the plane. The transport plane would take the crates to the base in Djibouti where the field hospital would be stored until its next deployment and the staff would disperse for leave.
In Jacqueline’s mind, she hadn’t diagnosed enough STDs or treated enough friendly fire wounds to believe they would be going home soon. 

There was this (120):
In the middle of it, when the choppers landed and the victims rolled in, Jacqueline didn’t notice. Clamping arteries, removing shrapnel, bandaging children, she did not notice anything but the wounds. The death toll. The next day, by the bright glare of the Sahara sun, it hit her. She squeezed her eyes shut and blinked, thinking maybe the sleep deprivation had caught up with her. The patient, an Arab male in his early forties, had suffered a concussion and some contusions from the blast, and a broken arm that she had set. He woke as she stared at him, and he offered an uneasy smile, not uncommon for the Algerian natives who woke up in a French military field hospital. 

And I still like this (118):
Squinting against the sun glare that transformed the white edge of the target into a blinding mirror, Jacqueline fired the PAMAS-G1 and nailed the black silhouette in the heart. She shot the pistol again, this time striking the head right in the temple. She sighed, fired a third time, and hit the right shoulder. That bastard should stay down. She lowered the gun. Lieutenant Cavan leaned against the wall beside her, a smirk sneaking from his lips. She raised the gun, aimed at the target one last time, and castrated the fake son-of-a-whore for good measure. Cavan no longer smiled. 
“Okay, Doc Saint, so you can still shoot.”
“Told you I could,” she replied. 

This one was my first try (243):
The sun blared across the desert, as the sun always did, a sea of beige hills and valley that extended forever. The din of the men, and the women, faded into white noise. Even the whir of incoming helicopters didn’t phase her, unless it was a medical transport. Things remained quiet, too quiet for a deployment of this many men. The wind kicked up a gentle spray of sand.  
In Jacqueline’s mind, she hadn’t diagnosed enough STDs or treated enough friendly fire wounds to believe they would be going home soon. Sure, she appreciated the end of the ugly stuff: the obliterated skulls, missing limbs and gushing bullet wounds that accompanied this mission. She had two more years left in this tour, and despite eight years in the defense medical corps, she had never seen this kind of violence. She would welcome the end of shipping corpses to the mainland, and the apologetic messages to the families of these perfect specimens of human  beauty, men and women bronzed by the sun, toned by the physical demands of soldiering and slim thanks to the activity and the heat. 
Yet, Jacqueline dreaded her next assignment. After leave in France, she would report to Réunion where she would handle gyn/ob care on base. She’d rather deal with the ugliness of interfering in a former colony’s civil war than stick her hand inside another vagina. That’s why she joined the health service in the first place.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Official start?

I've always billed my "Fashion and Fiends" books as a trilogy. Book one about the twenty-something American supermodel whose low self-esteem allows her to fall victim to supernatural domestic violence. In book two, her fashion designer boss must deal with grief, a failing marriage and responsibility for the supernatural mess that has engulfed their lives.

Those two manuscripts-- Manipulations and Courting Apparitions-- have been worked and revised and the first one shopped and rejected but only 10 times before I got distracted by my offspring and the pursuit of a second bachelor's degree.

The third-- a work in progress I call Absolution-- focuses on the fashion designer's wife who must end the supernatural goings-ons before the universe introduces something greater to do it. 

But there's a good six or seven months between Courting Apparitions and Absolution. Recent revisions have made it so that the baby we learn about in book one isn't born in book two but is somehow six months old in book three.

My psyche is distraught over this so I can imagine a reader might have the same discomfort.

In the meantime, for fun, I started a new story. Not sure where it was going. I mentioned it/the main character in this blog: Jacqueline, the French military medic. I have a mild fascination with French colonial history and French-Algerian relations so her service as a doctor in the military allows me to explore that. I thought of her story as a companion, not a true part of the trilogy, until somehow the time and the place begins to fall into that big gap I had.

My husband protested that Jacqueline had nothing supernatural in her story, but she does, as she is related to the characters in the other books and her assignment in the army involves the supernatural stuff her brother-in-law kinda started.

So, Jacqueline's story, currently called Recovery, has officially joined "Fashion and Fiends" as the new book three (or book 2.5 in my nomenclature). But starting a new book is often near impossible. It commences with huge blows of inspiration and motivation until you realize you started at the wrong moment, that you can't find the beginning, and you haven't done the research.

After about five previous attempts, and writing Jacqueline into book two formally, I offer this:

Chapter One
Hoisting her eight-and-a-half month pregnant older sister, a stroke victim who had lost the use of the right side of her body, up swing-down stairs to the cabin of a Dassault Falcon jet had proven one of the most grueling challenges of Jacqueline’s near decade as a doctor in the military health services. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ides of January

Earlier this year I made myself a sort of half-hearted promise that I would do something to move closer to my goals every day. One day I made a pitch to an editor (and haven’t heard back”, submitted a book review (and haven’t heard back), worked on some block posts, explored avenues for internships or a new job, expressed interest in changing my position at my current job, solidified a concept in the novel I finished this fall and revised the last three chapters to include it, and started a new novel.

I read a memoir. I looked at the other books on my to-be-read pile. Today I finally picked up book one of the Outlander series. I made it to approximately page 150.

I am working six days a week at Target. Yesterday was my regular day off and my next one comes on next Tuesday. I’m volunteering as cookie mom for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and in a couple weeks my duties as a trustee at Mary Meuser Memorial Library resume.

I helped a friend register her car. Did laundry and dishes and did them again. Finished House MD and really want to do a review of the whole series. Which I loved.

My friends and acquaintances tell me that they didn’t like House MD. Either the medicine got too repetitive or the whole thing felt formulaic. Having seen every episode I disagree. The core characters and the changing supporting characters explore so many everyday struggles. They make you laugh (we rewatched the ‘speed dating’ episode from Season Six tonight) but they also make you consider issues that effect the human psyche. House’s addiction to pain meds. House’s search for his biological father. Cuddy and her desire to be a mom. Taub and his marriage. 

That’s where I’m at.

And the new novel? It’s not really new. It’s the French medic in Algeria story except now I’ve completely gotten her and my existing protagonist intertwined. What I thought was a story that happened between some of my other stories with a cameo by some overlapping characters is now the next logical story in the sequence.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Anti Amazon Law

I'm heading out the door to work but just saw this via Publisher's Weekly on Twitter:

France is passing a law that won't allow Amazon, Fnac and other online retailers to discount book prices and offer free shipping. The history of the law, how it works and past efforts to protect brick-and-mortar bookstores was very interesting.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Everyday routine


As a writer, my job is to be creative, dream things up and build worlds. As a journalist, my job was to provide people with the information they need from the right sources so they can live their lives in an educated manner. Yesterday my job was to try and hold my household together.

I have a part-time job at Target. I took this job more than four Christmases ago. The newspaper industry in my area had started its decline. I had seen the end of three newspapers (and I stayed with one of those until the end) and watched others I used to work for sell to a new owner. After leaving newspapers, I managed an after school program for a local non-profit and freelanced for the local daily. I decided I wanted to return to school and professional part-time work made that complicated. 

I graduated from Lafayette College in May 2013 with a second bachelor’s degree in International Affairs, with a keen interest in post French colonialism, Muslim affairs and contemporary politics. This accompanies my English language and literature degree from Moravian College.

I love working for Target. It’s not what I set out to do with my life, but it’s a good corporation to work for. I am hoping, in the next few weeks, that events at Target can provoke either minor or major changes for some of the struggles my family faces at home. I am also applying for professional jobs, as I have been for the last year. I have gone on interviews in Manhattan, D.C. and here in the Lehigh Valley. I honestly don’t know exactly what direction I want for the rest of my life. I hope when the right opportunity arrives I am ready.

This brings me to yesterday. My daughter had a day off of school for extreme cold temperatures. Yesterday was my day off. And I had a doctor’s appointment. I did three loads of laundry, with the wee one’s help; loaded and reloaded the dishwasher and washed the pots and pans; researched refinancing the house and talked with a mortgage representative; made breakfast for the child and I; fought with a frozen whole chicken and finally got it in the crockpot (we thought there was a bag of giblets in the chest. There wasn’t); got gas in the car; went to the eye doctor; picked up my husband from work; and started homemade chicken stock.

My day off was exhausting. Today, daughter has a two-hour delay which means my morning routine of household chores will then lead to taking her to school at 10:30. I will return home from my very frigid walk at 11. Need to have lunch ready for my husband and I at 12. At 1, I will drive him back to his office so I can have the car to drive to work later. Daughter gets out of school at three. I will walk her to Girl Scouts and then go directly to work. I will close Target Café, come home and have a similar day tomorrow and Friday.

And somewhere in all of this mess, I need to add time to talk to a different financial guy, update my resume, and apply for internships and professional positions. I’d like to pitch more articles and fiction projects to potential markets. And it would be really nice to write more than a sentence in my latest project.

I like my latest project. It gives me something completely new to think about, which allows me to look at the world in a new way. So, yes, I’m a little overwhelmed right now, but these moments force a person to prioritize and I keep realizing I am no closer to having a vision of what my priorities and goals are. I keep doing everything until something works. I need to streamline.