Saturday, May 29, 2010

Benjamin Percy and the Southern Cross . . .

Tonight, I'm settled in with the latest issue of Poets & Writers, reading "Home Improvement," by Benjamin Percy. I was jolted right out of a quiet evening when I read what Percy had to say about the difference between beginning writers who revise and a professional writer who " . . . mercilessly lops off limbs, rips out innards like party streamers, drains away gallons of blood, and then calls down lightning to bring the body back to life" (26). Ah, passion.

So today was research again, no writing. And that's what's slowing me down. The not writing. I did find some interesting stuff on the Southern Cross, always visible at night in the Southern Hemisphere, south of 35 degrees, particularly useful to sailors as the southern sky lacks a pole star. The Southern Cross was/is honored by Australian aborigines through folktales of the Two Brothers and of totemic protectors.

In 1854, the Southern Cross inspired a banner raised by protesting gold miners in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. The bloody battle that followed decimated the miners but their cry remains -- "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly to each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties." Many of the Irish transported to New South Wales were political prisoners, well versed with 18th Century American and French ideals of liberty and enfranchisement.

If I were sailing near Australia, I could find the southernmost pole now by tracing my finger down the stars of the Southern Cross. But I'm in my office, preparing to "lop off limbs" in one of my stories.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday . . .

Just a bit of blue through the clouds. A promise of rain. Outside, a young man walks a bouncy lab in the field next door, disappearing into the pines, perhaps following the scent of yesterday's white-tailed deer. I peek out of our third floor apartment. All is quiet. Early morning. And yet today I sent my first query out. I won't promise not to whine, but for the foreseeable future, I'll be poised between two worlds, one, heavy into research for the next book, Years of Stone, the other, this search for an agent, also more research.

Today's research tidbit from Charles Bateson's classic study of convict ships to Australia (1787-1868): Prisoners were sent from all over the world, not just England and Ireland, but Canada, Bermuda, Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope, and India. I'm thinking about India. Now there's a place that resonates with connections to historic Australia.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On writing . . .

The greatest surprise is always when the words come. Today, challenged by Carol K. to write three pages, and stuck on that rock of what's next after Standing Stones, and after I told Allen I would not be continuing the story in Australia, the story began again, on a beach near Van Diemen's Land. It's 1842, the Brilliant, a sailing vessel bringing passengers and convicts to Port Arthur, has run aground. Mac and Diedre are safe. The working title: Years of Stone.

Friday, May 21, 2010

On subs and crits . . . and reading

I'm making the last round of changes on Standing Stones. By mid-June, I'll be finished and ready for a new writing project. I know I could keep working on this novel, adding layers of detail, nuances of setting or character, but, for now, it feels done, complete in itself, and I'm ready for the next phase. This next phase requires tenacity of a different order as I begin the agent search.

So the question before me is what is my next writing project? I have the proverbial folder with some ideas. Do I continue the saga of the MacDonnell's, following what's next for them, staying in the mid-19th Century in three different settings -- India, Australia, or Hawaii/the Pacific Northwest? I begin to feel that the "next" story that's closest to my understanding is here, in the Pacific Northwest. I've grown up with a sense of the wilderness and the history of early settlement right here. So maybe. But I have two other stories cooking -- one a quilting mystery and the other, Mothers Don't Die, a first draft novel of a serial killer's attempt to build family.

I sent off the first chapter of Mothers Don't Die to my critique group on the Internet Writing Workshop. I asked for the harshest criticism possible, figuring that would bring me a sense of whether this first novel had validity. Ouch! Within a week, seven faithful readers generously gave me their sharpest comments. And ouch again! I learned some new things about critiquing others' work, even as the harshest of the comments taught me humililty. I learned that even writers of very bad stuff want to hear something good. That whatever I've written, some readers will see what I intended. If I do pick up Mothers Don't Die, I have at least 6 months of revision ahead.

I'm reading Jeffery Deaver's Watchlist, a thriller written by a committee of 22 established writers (including Lisa Scottoline, Brett Battles, David Hewson). Found two typos so far, but the stylistic issues are fascinating as each author contributes a chapter to the story. And I'm reading Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures, a tale spun from the story of Mary Aning, an English woman who discovered fossils (and who is the woman behind the old tongue-twister, She sells sea shells . . . ). Here, I see shifting point of view as Chevalier changes the first person narrator chapter by chapter. Beautifully written. Interesting characters so sharply defined. This video on introduces Chevalier's book with a wonderful author interview (so much more here, writer's process, a look at a writer's workspace, and the setting itself in Lyme Regis). Very, very nice.

My last discovery comes from Ann Hite on Writer Woman Blog, who brought me to Natalie Goldberg's new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. Goldberg's book of writing exercises promises another way to explore "between".

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A love poem: Fractals

Most intricate,
the smallest part
mirrors the whole,
infinite shapes repeating,
linear, unexpected,
Where is chaos here?
Footprints lost and then found,
and lost again.
I remember these
dimensions in your eyes,
your skin, your tongue.
Come, let us be butterflies
and fly against the grid.