I didn’t intend to blog today. Yet, here I am – four cups of coffee consumed, a self-made mcmuffin eaten, and my patience severely frayed.
The short story about the mostly dead girl? I’ve stalled. The ending isn’t quite right, and it needs something more. But what? I can’t quite see how to fix it, only that something is wrong.
In the middle of trying to fix it, I received a rejection from a literary magazine. It is the 6th one this month. That, of course, means I’m trying – and I’m a little bruised. No one likes to hear/read, “Thanks, but no.”
The rejection smarts, as they do. It’s par for the course. Sometimes, that course is full of alligators. The smart people get out of the ponds. The stubborn people stay.
Yes, rejections are no fun. They always bring with them a small offering of doubt, which smells of fear and middle school gym class. (Really.) But caving into fear, or doubt, or whatever – it keeps you in quicksand.
And by you, I mean me. Doubts are made to be shoved aside, so I’m shoving – and I’m going to fix this damn story. Maybe not today. Maybe tomorrow. For now, I’m going to put it aside, make a cup of tea (yes, coffee, I’m cheating on you with English Breakfast tea), and work another short story I wrote last week.
I’ve found that Great Gleaming Plot Holes are evasive things. If you stare at them too hard, almost willing them to be righted, they scoff. Like watching a pot on the stove, nothing happens. You can’t look words into submission. People? Sure. Words? They are made of stronger stuff, I’m afraid.
When something won’t work, don’t force it. This is advice for life, as well as writing. A relationship can’t be willed into functionality – no matter how much you wish. There are great gleaming holes abound. Make peace with them. Or eat chocolate. Either way. They simply ARE. Only time and patience will change them.
Also, on a completely unrelated note, holy frakkin’ hell – it is SNOWING. Again.
The other day, I wrote a story that turned into something I didn’t expect. At all. In it, a formally dead woman wakes up in a graveyard, has a talk with a few crows, and gets a little bit of revenge. There’s more, but that’s the gist.
I’m editing it right now, with my lilac colored pen. And I realized something: I can’t leave humor out of my writing. I’m a wisecracker. I’m of the Buffy Bunch. I wanted to be one of the Scooby gang, damn it. So, I quip. I mock. I put characters in slightly crazy positions, because it’s funny. Except, I didn’t mean to write this story in this way. It works. I think.
It’s totally outside my realm of normal. A few bits required research. I added Old Norse. I then had flashbacks of an undergrad class where I had to read out loud in Old English. If anything in my college career made me want to cry, it was that class. Old English might as well be greek with a bit of nonsense thrown in. I am really bad at phonetics, too, which did not help me.
But my point…I like it when characters surprise me. I like humor, when and where it will work. That’s pretty much my approach for life, so it makes sense that it’d seep into my writing.
For years, I resented short stories. Most of the ones I had to read in school bored me. I would breeze through them as quickly as possible, and pray for that unit to pass as quickly as it could. Gradually, as recently as a few years ago, I came around. I found short stories that absolutely amazed me. In short, I got over it. And I started writing them with regularity. (I’d written a few, but they were–if I’m being honest–horrible. They should’ve never seen the light of day, let alone the poor editor at a press who I tortured with it. Who, by the way, was kind enough to write back with a personal note.)
I have a slight phobia with the short stories I write. I do not yet feel totally comfortable writing them. I always harbor a fear that it’s not done. That the ending sucks. Or that I have no business writing them. I started out writing poetry. I’m more comfortable with that. But I feel like I’ve learned so much — and that I’ve improved.
Stories often surprise you. Characters, too. They should. To me, if something unexpected occurred, the story is organic. I believe that instinct should lead, not some pre-planned piece of plot. What I believe in the most, though, is that it’s necessary to push yourself. Don’t limit yourself to writing only one thing, even in terms of genre. You learn by trying, by doing. You learn by surprising yourself with the unexpected story.
I never know what to do with grief or loss. I cry, certainly. I eat copious amounts of chocolate. I drink unholy (and possibly damaging) amounts of coffee.
But what does one do with grief? Where do you hang it? (In the hall closet, next to the coats?) Where do you set it down? (On the bookshelf?) How long do you entertain it? (Perhaps another plate should be set at the table.)
The answer, I suppose, is that you deal with it. Process it. Handle it. (Handle it? What is it? Chop meat? A package that needs mailing?)
I’ve never been very good at loss. Frankly, I am afraid of the person who is. No one should be skilled at losing anything but his/her keys. If that was an Olympic sport, I would EXCEL. But that’s hardly the point. In fact, I’m awkwardly avoiding the point altogether.
My grandfather was a good person. Not always an easy person. But he was, as his core, a good person. He used to say, “Alison, if you need anything, you just tell Grandpa.” He meant it. If I had called him up and told him that I needed to buy a washing machine, a couch, or a pelican – the money would’ve arrived a few days later.
He used to get the biggest kick out of the smallest things, and I loved that about him. For instance, the fact that I drink coffee, drive (even at night!), or that I enjoy spicy foods. He’d gaze at me with a mixture of horror and admiration every time I slathered my Chinese food in hot oil. A lover of spicy food, I think it was a lot of mostly admiration.
He often told the same story over and over again. That was okay by me, though. He knew how to tell a story, even if he occasionally laughed himself silly before he got to the punch line. (Dollars to donuts, you would be laughing right along with him, even though you had no idea what the joke was about.)
He used to tell this one joke, and it became a joke between us. After a while, I forgot (and still forget) the actual joke. But the punch line is: I don’t know you. You don’t know me. They don’t know us. So, who the hell are we going to invite? It didn’t matter that I couldn’t remember the heart of the joke; the end part was what made it funny.
My grandfather was also a hearty trickster who could’ve given Loki a run for his money. He once had a friend who used to mooch off of him. Constantly. He never paid for something if he didn’t have to. He would go into my grandfather’s barbershop every morning – and he’d drink a cup of coffee. He filled it with sugar, which to my grandfather remained a cardinal sin (a sin which I happily committed). So, one day, my grandfather replaced the sugar with salt. His friend came in, like always, and made himself a fake sugar-laden mug of coffee.
He sipped it. He made a face. He told my grandfather that the coffee tasted strange. My grandfather suggested that, perhaps, it needed more sugar. Great idea! More sugar was added. And more still. The damn coffee still tasted funny. (Imagine that.) My grandfather’s friend still finished that cup of coffee.
Of course, if you set foot in my grandfather’s house, you needed two things: a sense of humor and a willingness to play cards. (Three things, actually – you needed to always bring your appetite. It didn’t matter if you were hungry. Don’t be bashful. Eat! Mangi!) If you played cards with him, you quickly learned to pay attention. If you didn’t, you would lose before you had a chance to figure out what you had in your hand. If he was feeling particularly devilish, he’d attempt to cheat. He’d do that, every now and then, just to make sure you were paying attention. Always pay attention. Always trash talk. Always be prepared to lose spectacularly. He was damned good at cards, and he’d tell you exactly what you had in your hand at any point in time.
This week, I will bury my grandfather. I don’t like to think about that. I do not like to dwell on what that means. The ramifications seem daunting and somewhat endless. Soon, there won’t be a need for that house that holds so many memories, from the time I tried to hatch a pigeon egg to the time my grandfather sneezed in my dad’s soup – and then began to laugh hysterically.
I don’t want to think about the viewing or the funeral – two things that must be gotten through. I don’t know what to do with any of it. So, I’m doing what I do best: writing about it.
I want to remember my grandfather, with his pageboy cap and sly sense of humor. He could make fun of anyone – most of the time without their knowledge. With a grin (and sometimes a wink), I’d usually end up laughing at the dinner table, muttering some pathetic excuse.
In the middle of his 90s, he would insist on directing the car out of the driveway. Never mind that he did not, himself, drive. He was looking out for his kids and his grandkids, and come hell or high water, we were getting out of there safely. Miraculously, we never ran anything over by accident.
My grandfather always knew best, after all. He’d tell you to put a coat on – you’re cold. It didn’t matter if you were cold. You’d have to convince him otherwise. Like the cards, you’d probably lose, but you’d laugh about it.
I will, without question or pause, miss my grandfather. But I know that it was his time. I know that he is finally at peace. And I know that he’s probably cheating Dean Martin at Gin Rummy right now.
Good luck, Dino. You’ll need it.
- Ask ‘why me?’ instead of ‘why not?’ Then, forget the question.
- Pretend you never met him/her.
- When walking the tightrope, never wear shoes – but carry a parachute. If you slip, always have a plan B.
- Get off the train tracks.
- Pretend that your heart is just a muscle, broadcast that it still works just fine. Wear a smile, even if you have to paint it on.
- Duct tape.
- Pretend that you have amnesia. In your altered state, you only speak French. If you don’t speak French, make up your own language. Do not make up a word for love.
- Don’t watch as the trains collide. You can’t stop it, anyway.
- Keep a torch handy in case the wolves show up. They will. And they will be rabid.
- Don’t throw yourself into somebody else’s wreckage. If you do, look out for shrapnel. Avoid kryptonite, blue eyes, and anyone who kisses with his/her eyes open.
- Don’t kiss. Failing that, don’t close your eyes.
- When you say I Love You, mumble. When pressed, don’t explain. Instead, dance about architecture.
- Never put anything in writing. Failing that, write everything in permanent marker. You can’t erase emotions. Stop trying.
The novel I’ve written is starting to bug me. Not in a bad way. I can’t stop thinking about it the past few days.
I find myself wondering if it’s finished. Or if I should, possibly, gut the thing in a horrible way–that might leave it limping or totally brilliant. Then, I wonder if it’s already brilliant. If I make any changes, I could mar what I’ve already made.
Thinking about this, tonight, I realize that I know the answer. I thought that there were two possibilities. The first is that I need to rip the novel apart like a hellhound on a Winchester. The second is that I feel like I need to write something, so I’m going back to the most recent novel. I’m leaning toward the second possibility, but I’m not ruling out the first.
The novel in question is tentatively titled Devil in the Details. I shopped it around to a few agents. Then life throw a few boulders on my path, and I haven’t had time to do the proper research to send it out to more agents. It’s collecting book-dust. And I’m starting to feel antsy. (So, obviously, tomorrow night is Agent Research Time.) That damned novel has been through so many versions and revisions. I have excised whole chapters, rewritten characters, and made one seemingly annoying ex-boyfriend into a flippin’ loon (fictionally speaking, of course. Really. I swear).
I had the inspriation for it while I was sitting in church on Christmas Eve. I probably should’ve been struck by lightning. I wasn’t. The irony is not lost on me, since the premise is not exactly God-friendly. But whatever inspires, inspires. Such is the way of things.
But back to the point. Or one of them. I haven’t written much lately. There have been a few poems, a couple of short stories, and a short story that turned out to be the beginning of a novel I haven’t written yet. I have two other novel ideas as well — one of which started out as a serialized short story, but then decided that won’t do. Funny how that works.
What it boils down to is that I need to pick an idea and give it a go. There’s no use floundering about waiting for the *perfect* idea to spring into my head. Or out of it.
Tomorrow, I’m dragging out my purple notebook. And pen.
Let’s begin something, shall we?