November 19, 2009

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The Red Pen or The Shredder? Posted by Kate Flora Boo. Hoo. Where is Joshua Bilmes when I need him? The last time I was up to my ears in the pages of a promising, but flabby manuscript, he led me through the forest of rewrite with firm but calm advice. I cut. And I cut. And I tightened and I tweaked. And in the end, I had a book I could be proud of. So here I sit, the week before Thanksgiving, facing the grim fact that the book I just spent a month cutting needs more than word removal. It needs a plot lift. It needs greater focus. It needs scenes that economically move the plot and develop my characters. It needs tension, not whining. Showing, not telling. And a dump truck load of inner monologue hauled away. If I were my student...I'd know what to do. I'd make myself sit down and do a chapter by chapter and scene by scene analysis to see what isn't working. But today, I sat and looked at the size of the task and promptly reverted to Plan B. I would continue to indulge my obsession with National Novel Writing Month, and see if I could add a few thousand zippy words to my unserious novel in progress. Not a smashing success. For twenty-nine chapters, I'd managed to keep my characters from actually having sex, despite a number of times when they'd come within a whisper of the deed. Ringing phones, buzzing doorbells and the arrival of nosy cops had kept them apart. But finally, their moment had come. And once it had come...and gone...I lost my ertia. I couldn't think of the next interesting thing for them to do. On to Plan C. Flip over to eBay to see if I could do a little bit of holiday shopping. I went to Costco and bought gigantic amounts of food that wouldn't fit in my refrigerator, including way too many perishable berries. I zipped into my favorite clothing emporium, Global Thrift in Waltham, and picked up a Jil Sander jacket, an Italian designer skirt, a lovely bejeweled peasant top to wear to a holiday party, and two pairs of corduroy pants, all for the price of a sandwich lunch and a cappuccino. I practiced a fine form of busy avoidance. I knocked lots of things off my list, prepared a delicious dinner, and did my sit-ups. But the book is still out there, lurking just at the edge of my consciousness. Waiting for the attention it deserves. Tomorrow, I promise, I will take Mr. Laptop to the library, away from all distractions, and handcuff myself in a carrel. Tomorrow I will act like a grown-up. I will be diligent. I will carry my laptop to the library and I will edit the heck out of the little beast. I will not move until the first three chapters are slim and lovely and irresistible, with powerful forward momentum. But first, of course, I must go to the gym. Can't be typing novels with flabby arms, can I? And then there are batches of books that must go to the post office. And don't I have to be at a bookstore in Exeter, New Hampshire? Oh dear. It looks like I'm too busy for rewrite tomorrow. It's hard to believe that after twenty-five years in the writing game I still can't always see the forest for the trees, but that's my reality. Every book is different. Each one has a rhythm and a personality. Some come easily. Some are dragged out and nailed to the page. And rewrite is always its own challenge. Sometimes I can see what needs to be done; other times, I'm like a monkey at a typewriter, with the occasional good word or sentence coming out. Like every writer, I prefer those moments of obsession. I love it when the prose just flows and I can't type fast enough to get it down. But I've been in this chair long enough to know that what makes me stronger, and a better writer, is fighting my way through times like this, when nothing is easy. Nothing flows. And even though I'm practically bleeding on the page, the story won't behave. Persistence. Faith. Experience. Banging my head against the desk. And keeping myself in this chair. In the end, these will help me through rewrite. Something else will, too--my friends who have offered to read a few chapters and give me feedback. So far, my ego is badly bruised, but my mind is starting to tick away, evaluating suggestions and assessing avenues for change. By next week, when I'm thoroughly dug-in, it's going to be hard to get up and go cook that turkey.
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It Was The Worst Of Times, Now It's The Best of Times posted by Leann Sweeney Holiday season is upon us, a time of year I have had plenty of difficulty with. Ever since my children moved away and married, I seem to have dwelled on the the worst that holidays brought me when I was growing up, thanks to my very alcoholic mother and all the drama she brought to each and every day between November through the end of January. January was when she usually sobered up. As I raised my own family, I made sure that every Thanksgiving (and Christmas) was exactly as I wanted it to be--filled with food, laughter and love. And when the first Thanksgiving came that we weren't all together, I wasn't "all together" either. I cried a lot. I remembered too much about the past. I felt very sorry for myself. Way back when I was a kid, we didn't get a huge Thanksgiving break--just Thursday through Sunday. And I remember getting off the school bus on that Wednesday before Thanksgiving hoping I'd find a sober mom. And I usually did because she was preparing food that day, although sometimes she started drinking Wednesday night. And then Thursday morning her coffee was pretty heavily spiked. By dinner time she was wasted and embarrassing all us kids with her slurred speech, inappropriate jokes and unsteady gait. Oh. And usually something she'd prepared was left to burn in the oven. We could always count on that. Yup, holidays were the worst and I know there's a lot of folks out there who can relate, who know all about "holidays" and what they meant to children of alcoholics. It's called hell. But now that my father has passed, now that he and my mother's generation are all gone, now that I have a granddaughter, I find myself remembering that despite the chaos, uncertainty and shame I felt during those holidays, there were some very fun times, too. My father's side of the family always did have a wicked sense of humor and my cousins offered up a lot of laughs. While the adults were getting drunk, we were playing cards. We knew every kind of card game you can imagine. And if there was snow and ice, we'd be out ice skating on the rink my mother always managed to make in the front lawn no matter how drunk she was. Guess making layers of ice doesn't require your reflexes to be all that good. And the food. Now if there was one thing my mother was really good at, it was cooking. My grandfather was a chef and she learned at the hand of the master. Everyone wanted her cooking at Thanksgiving and that's one thing I brought to my own family. I cook a mean, massive, and scrumptious Thanksgiving. I guess that's why I didn't want to give up having the family always come here to Texas so I could be in control of the kitchen. And even when we did go elsewhere, I always did a big part of the cooking. Until we went to my father and stepmother's one year. We ate at the country club they belonged to. For me, that was blasphemous. I hated it. But last year and this, I seem to recalling many more of the pleasant memories--the spicy and rich smells, the Jell-o my grandmother always had to make, even if we had five different pies--and more importantly that real whipped cream she made to go with the lime Jell-o. The excitement of visiting my aunt's house where everything was so absolutely NON-chaotic. Today, I have given up the control. My brother-in-law cooked Thanksgiving last year and it was awesome. I didn't have to lift a finger, even to do the dishes. And this year my son and daughter-in-law are doing the cooking. And it will be fantastic. The reasons I had to do absolutely everything aren't important anymore. What's important is to let go of the control adult children of alcoholics so desperately cling to. Two years in row for me now! Yahoo. Maybe I should be counting and marking the anniversary just like alcoholics who get sober do. I've found there's so much more power in my new attitude: I can cook, and it will be delicious. Or someone else can work their butt off and it will be delicious. And that feels so right. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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