Monday, April 27, 2015

Il Lato Negativo Dell'Amore

"I peered at Lord Grosvenor's name and the pretty scrawl in Clarisse's handwriting below: 'La mia bella amante? Oh my, Clarisse! That is bold. Calling Lord Grosvenor your 'beautiful, illicit lady-love' will certainly win his affections. It might affront his masculinity, but he'll be quite glad you think him beautiful; he's so sure on that point himself!"
- Chapter One, The Windy Side of Care
Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight release of.... Cinque Scarpetto di Cristallo

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At the end of last week my fellow Five Glass Slippers authors and I were informed that Rooglewood Press (our publisher) was all set to release an Italian translation of our stories! It seems ridiculous to think that Lady Alis, Prince Auguste Blenheim, Laureldina, Sir Humphries, and the step-sisters will be available to Italian readers across the world in print and ebook formats, but so it is. Right now some gondola-man in Venice could be posing with his arm slung round a pole reading about Charlotte Russe from his Kindle. I am actually wildly excited about this. Plus, try saying "Cinque Scarpetto di Cristallo" without grinning. It's nearly impossible. "Scarpetto" is a classy trade-in for "slipper" I think.

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Know any Cinderella-loving Italians? Mind pointing them in the direction of Cinque Scarpetto di Cristallo? I think they'll love it, and I am thrilled to death to see Rooglewood putting this book in the hands of foreign readers who might find it difficult to enjoy the stories as much in English. We are informed this is the twelfth in a long line of governesses who have come to look after the children. Good heavens. I mean to say that it is the first translation of (hopefully) many that Rooglewood will endow the world with. Three cheers for Rooglewood Press, Five Glass Slippers, and the grand old tale of Cinderella!
Hip, hip, huzzah!
Hip, hip, huzzah!
Hip, hip, huzzah!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Can I marry a stockbroker?

"It is true that if you want to write well and live well at the same time, you'd better arrange to marry a stockbroker or a rich woman who can operate a typewriter."
-Flannery O'Connor
When one first begins writing, one hears lots of advice:

"Never end sentences this way: example."

"Never ever do this in this situation: example."

"And above all, show, don't tell."

As a young writer, I didn't realize that much of this advice drew from public opinion of the moment. True, lots of it is good advice when one looks at it from the viewpoint of having one's manuscript accepted by a big-time editor and put on the New York Time's Bestsellers list. I've read many books but I will admit that, till recent years, the majority of what I had read was written pre-1950. That meant that my literary examples were of the old style. My literary education was performed at an old school. While popular tastes demanded the modern cosmopolitan flair of Manhattan Prep from White Collar, I spent my school years at something with more of the flavor of Eton, to use a great school in a loose analogy. Naturally, I came to the class reunion talking slang from years back and finding "yo dawg" was not exactly what people these days go around saying. And yes, I felt as cheesy as that sounded. How is a girl to write the way she has been taught without sounding like an ancient tome? Because I have picked up books by authors who obviously had a similar literary education to my own and have thought, "Yeah, I wouldn't choose to publish this either." In many ways, the advice I was given was exactly what I needed to hear.

It is true that the modern reading public has a shorter attention span than in the days of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo. I consider myself a fairly patient reader and even I had to have three go's at the unabridged Les Miserables before I could finish, and even then it was a terrible struggle to push through his ponderous lectures to get to the heart of the story.
It is true that modern readers expect a certain hook at the front of the book and look for page-turning plots. The books I put down are inevitably the books that bore me to tears. If you can't capture my attention within the first chapter or two, how am I to trust you with my valuable reading-time not to continue to bore me throughout?
It is true that it's always nice to show instead of tell. We all like details. Details! Juicy, fat, details.

 I'm here to say that though much of what the modern writer is taught is good advice, pleasure remember that it is just advice after all. It is someone else's idea of how to you ought to write. Perhaps this other person is more qualified than you to say what sells, what readers like, and what will attract the attention of a worthwhile publisher. But when it comes down to whether modern taste is Holy Writ, I'm here to say it is not. To illustrate my point: at a coffee shop the other day I chose an old, weathered book off the community shelf. I picked this book because the illustrations looked similar to those in a P.G. Wodehouse novel. My Ten Years in a Quandary by Robert Benchley. Between rounds of mancala I read the first two chapters. Nothing much happened in those two chapters. Gasp. Rob Bell would have a fit. But the book entertained me well enough to the point that I left a note inside at the place I left off for the next reader. How? Nothing happened! The plot did not advance in the slightest and I can hardly see how each sentence mattered to the whole of the book's events. Here's the secret power of this book and the best of the those in the old style: they didn't arrest a reader by virtue of action, but activity. Benchley's voice in the first two chapters of his book is anything but passive. It romps about with as much energy as The Hunger Games could possibly give, though in the latter you're thrown right into the midst of a world gone mad.
I also know from experience that I don't mind character-driven fiction. Sure I like things to happen and plot is terribly important. Glaring at you, The Notebook. But if the characters are well-drawn, the voice lively enough, and the story-world interesting, I am one-hundred percent okay with a sauntering pace. Just like I don't run marathons because I prefer walking and enjoying my surroundings (and let's be honest: I'd feel like I was dying), I almost prefer a story that, while well-constructed, leaves me time to savor the summer pace of its pages. I think of some of my favorite films (CinderellaThe Devil Wears Prada, The Help, Saving Mr. Banks, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Miss Potter, Master & Commander...) and realize that though plot is present and well-formed, the real reason I am invested is the strength and color of the characters.
I'd been throwing these thoughts around in my head and waiting for them to gel before writing a blog post when the final driftwood was thrown onto my seaside fire: Flannery O'Conner (yes, that paragon of all things Southern) gave me a lift in denouncing the prophetic law that the Modern Reader has tried to make of "Show, Don't Tell":
"All the sentences in Madame Bovary could be examined with wonder, but there is one in particular that always stops me in admiration. Flaubert has just shown us Emma at the piano with Charles watching her. He says, 'She struck the notes with aplomb and ran from top to bottom of the keyboard without a break. Thus shaken up, the old instrument, whose strings buzzed, could be heard at the other end of the village when the window was open, and often the bailiff's clerk, passing along the highroad, bareheaded and in list slippers, stopped to listen with his sheet of paper in his hand.' The more you look at a sentence like that the more you can learn from it."
Yes, dear Flannery O'Connor. We can learn that the editor at Harper & Row would fling the papers into Flaubert's satchel and say, "Try again some other time when you've learned the market." Yet one of the most well-respected writers of Southern fiction goes on past the quote I shared and continues to praise a very obvious lapse of POV and showing vs. telling. Now I don't mind so much. I'm accustomed to that kind of description and that kind of description is, in fact, what I tried for when I first began writing. But such a thing would admittedly not stand up in today's court again a jury of modern readers. I suppose the point of all this is to show you that there is both wisdom and error in the advice given to the modern writer. Wisdom, in that the current marketplace wants a certain thing and if you want to engage in commerce, you must learn to cater to their whims. Error, in that the modern way is the only way to write well. Flannery O'Connor reminded me that in each era there is, speaking of literary technique, a temporary right and wrong. Each era's faux pas were different. Our era's are one thing...fifty years from now it will be another.

For now....just try not to write like Flaubert.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


Never say goodbye.
As the rain falls, silvering a field green with wheat. As small drops on a breeze sift onto the back of your neck, refuse.

The goodbye wells up in my heart, thrusts itself forward for notice, and the sky weeps for me. This melancholy strokes my soul with a meaningful fingers and says....what?
That it is time?
That old things must change?
No, the rain sings a many-tongued song but it is not that. The meaning lies just beyond my reckoning but the body needs no words to feel the import of this painful pleasure. Have you ever worked till blisters form? A hot, swollen testament to purpose, a work completed.
Well done, old girl, well done.

This rain blisters me. Under old callouses a new but familiar pain forms, swelling to the chafing of the true things it flings earthward. A cardinal flaunts on a gaunt pine-branch and its small voice is as sharp and acid-sweet as the rain: a goodbye that won't come.

Train-song drives upwind, iron wheels hammering the same tune. Away, away, away, away. How I want to reply, "I will away with you!"
But I can't. Never say goodbye to good things. To good friends. To best times. I never do. How could I?

Harder, fleeter, faster fall the raindrops. The pain intensifies, becomes sweeter and firmer in its vintage. Goodbye, goodbye!
I could say it. If my soul was more tender or a deal harder I could say that dolorous word, goodbye. But I think that if I hold onto Them, those things I cannot set free, They will stay. Goodbye would be easy if I did the leaving. But while the song drums "away," it is a gypsy-call for Them. Those things I feel I must keep. The song has two words...
"Remain," is mine.

Like rain, my word spreads feather-light mist over my eyes and soul.
Let them away. You remain here, for here is your place. Say goodbye.
But I cannot. Never say goodbye. Goodbye is a severe word. If they go away, who promises I will see them again? Who promises I will not remain obedient and empty-handed and absent-hearted?

A train shouts through the mizzle: away, away, away, away.
And again.
And again.

I shiver. A divisive pleasure and pain this is, though as dusk falls I have learned its tongue, dividing my will in shards of yes and no.
I will. I believe and trust it is right.
Away. Give them away.
But can I? Greater than a fear of tangible evil is the thought of being left behind, forgotten, shrugged out of like a coat They once loved but grew too large for. Must we keep growing? Can we not stay as we are? Remain young and safe so They will never have to give me away? I would like that. We could walk in this rain together and balance on the tracks along the railroad and staunch its song. Never have to say goodbye. We could all stay. Would that be so wrong? We are so happy.

More rain. Green now yawned up by slate and darkness. If my heart would not grow, would not breed such eager dreams, maybe the rain could not chafe its palms. We all accept the good agony of a heart's sprawling expansion, though it sometimes makes to burst the chest apart.
Oh. That is why we grow bigger, isn't it?
If we could not, would our frightened, brittle child-bones crush the thrumming soul? Or would the heart grow like cancer and force the indolent frame apart? The frame that would not say goodbye, at war with itself.

My lane is a pale blue horseshoe in the grass. Rain trots down the gutter and asks again:
Won't you say goodbye?

Will it hurt? I don't like to hurt.
Will I be lonely? I can't bear to be alone.
Will I ever get it back?
But the rain has only one double-edged sword: away, remain. It is my choice to let us grow or to make us suffocate in a body ill-shaped for the shape of our souls. If I say goodbye, if They never come back, will I miss Them? Will other days and people and times come to fill the emptiness They left? And will the day arrive when "remain" will have become too small a word for my life? And will They have to say "away" to me?

Down, down comes the mist and all glistens in the gloaming. Maybe, soon, I could say goodbye.

My blisters cool in the rain.

Away, away, but you: remain.

And somehow it's enough.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April's Chatterbox: Walk it Off

No, I haven't forgotten.


I saw you looking at me that way.

I have not forgotten that it is April and that we are midway through already and that I haven't set up this month's Chatterbox topic. I have taken artistic license with time-frames this month, and you already knew that. So. Without another delay, I am here to announce that April's Chatterbox topic is...


 I am allowed to be arbitrary, you know. This is my Chatterbox and my blog-space. The decision to label April's topic as "travel-by-foot" might have a little bit to do with the fact that I took a five-mile walk (at least that far) out in the countryside this morning with a friend. April is a time perfect for taking long walks, at least in Virginia. The year hasn't heated up so much that she's all sweaty and humid. Pollen will soon settle down (the pine-pollen is KILLING me today), dogwoods bloom like forgotten lace handkerchiefs along the roadsides, and if you intend to get any sort of outdoor walking into your year, you'd be wise to get out now, because Summer temperatures strangle that idea. Plus, walking along the road gives one the opportunity for many new experiences. I met an interesting old fellow Sunday afternoon, and you never can tell what'll happen by going by foot in a world overrun with autos. :)

When you've written your Chatterbox piece (see tag at bottom of post for details), link up with the linky-dink and we can enjoy each other's work. Also, it's #wordplaywednesday so if you have anything of that nature, tag it up and share on social media! Cheers!


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Humans: They Amuse Me

April, my loves. April has come with all of its busy glory and I have to say that the front half of it has been impossibly full. For one thing, my hours at work were slightly beefed, I snuck down to Atlanta to surprise my best friend, Katie (Lady Alis of The Windy Side of Care), Easter happened while I was down there, and then I came back to play hostess and fundraiser and help my sisters organize, prep, create art for and throw a swanky soiree silent-auction to benefit our upcoming missions trip to Romania. All that to say, I have not written anything except people-watching sketches this month. I feel slightly bad for even admitting that until I realized that living life also qualifies as research. Meeting and appreciating new people helps one build realistic characters. Hashing through life situations with friends helps one understand and portray nuances. And I think we're all on board with the idea that travel broadens the horizons of one's mind an awful lot. So maybe April has been full of useful and unusual methods of research.

I am currently in the mood to ask each of you to drop what you are doing and start up a people-watching journal. I can't tell you what a treat it was to drag mine out on the flight from Norfolk to Atlanta and read back on all of the wonderful humans I have come in contact with since I began to write about them in December. It is such a treasure because each description, however slight, never fails to conjure up an exact image of that moment in that place. Take this, for example:
"A man with shy eyes an a gentle smile and his young daughter are sitting across from me. He has good hair and is in his prime but has no ring. His daugher is shy around him, leading me to believe he is divorced, not widowed. Very handsome but sad-looking, somehow. His daughter has his profile and their eyes share the same quiet humor. She is about twelve, he probably in the late half of his thirties."
When I read this, I can picture the exact table in the Busch Gardens Fest Haus at which I sat when I encountered this man. It is a fascinating way to retain experiences as well as practice one's descriptive powers.
"The man is so terribly conscious of himself. Not self-conscious, but apparently confident that all eyes are ever upon him. I dislike him so strongly and I am unsure whether it is mainly his real character I despise or whether I merely resent the fact that he expects homage paid...One fears to ask oneself what sort of life he leads that he can afford to leave all so flippantly and gang tae the hielands on his ridiculous whims. (He) is proud of being a dilettante and I have no patience for it."
My entries range from the frustrated (above) to the amused (below) and everywhere in between. But all through I find myself content with playing the game of capturing likenesses of as many people as I can in words. I think of it as my hobby, sort of in the same manner as photographer Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York project.
"...When we finally ordered, Maryanna mentioned a shrimp allergy and he grew so incredibly excited.
'Oh, I totally understand,' he crooned. 'I'm allergic to everything under the sun--lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant--I'm also a bit of a hypochondriac. And I was eating shrimp the other day and my lips started itching and I am so worried I am developing a shellfish allergy.'"
I usually keep the entries brief, though some require longer explanations if I take time to set the stage of the interaction. Of course it is inconvenient to keep such a thing up; I realize that. I learned the discipline required in the first year I went to Romania and religiously kept my travel journal. But I count my people-watching book a valuable tool. Not only does it serve as an opportunity to improve my non-fiction writing skills and keep my goal of writing something every day, but it also gives me an entire volume of characters to choose at will for my stories. Do I need someone unusual, or a funny interaction for a scene? With a people-watching journal kept faithfully, I ought to have plenty from which to choose a case that fits. Let it be a lesson, dear folks: there are many reasons keeping your eyes and ears open (and remembering what you see and hear) is of value. Also, never underestimate the power of smiling at strangers and looking approachable. You never can tell what sort of interesting humans are waiting for a chance to meet you!