Writing

Esquire

From my forthcoming novel:

James McNaughton, Esquire, is how he introduces himself while he holds court on a grimy stool at the bend of the bar; his primary audience a speckled mirror, glazed in the omnipresent smoke of penny cigarettes and cheap tobacco wafting from cracked pipes. He taps his own— "‘twas my granddad’s this was—he’d puff great circles round his head as we bairns sat by the peat fire. He sang of Cathleen ni Houlihan and her four green fields and the lads and men who would rise to her defense when the bloody British violated her shores. He taught us our real history from the days of our great kings and the seanachies singing of the victories and tragedies as the men gathered ‘round turf fires after a hard day’s work. This here"—he lifts his dirty pipe like a priest lifts the sacred chalice—"is a legacy of your people and don’t forget your people, lad, or you will sore grieve it."

Esquire’s dark round glasses keep his ragged brows from his eyes and his black and gray beard, not silver as he claims, but iron gray, smoke gray, dirty gray at that, catches bits of spittle and brown bread. He thinks himself quite the figure in his sagging tweed patched and re-patched by his wife’s—God rest her soul—darning skills and little is left of the original woven in the Donegal mills of his grandfather’s day.

Esquire invented his grandfather since his own two were dead long before his birth. His first hearing of Cathleen ni Houlihan, the old woman and the young queen who is Ireland and her four green fields, was from a fellow passenger who believed his singing such a gift to the world that he bestowed it on every soul shivering across the Atlantic. The peat fire in a hearth in his lovely thatch burned only in Esquire’s florid imagination as he retched into a full bucket on his escape from the home he had to leave, wearing the tweed he took from his father’s back before he was lowered into the mud of one of Cathleen's fields. 

James McNaughton, before he was Esquire, sauntered down the gangplank in New York Harbor in 1864 to be snatched with the other scrawny lads by men in squashed felt caps with a great X of crossed rifles on their forehead. So, he was to be a soldier. Perhaps the High King Brian Boru would be re-born in New York Harbor that day.

The life of a Union soldier wasn’t too bad for the future Esquire. He got his first new set of clothes and food and rough bed. He managed to stay out of the way of any Rebel bullets in the only battle he was part of. Within six months of landing in America the Civil War was over and James had a handful of stories to tell around whatever hearth or bit of smoldering coal he could find.

Esquire thought himself an intellectual, therefore, unsuited to the work available to immigrants shuffling off boats in their tattered rags with tattered children in tow. They banded together in tenements in the Lower East Side of New York and in Brooklyn, and those not able to afford this much American luxury made homes of bits of wood and tin and ragged blankets left as trash that found new purpose as shantytowns. These groups of human refuse forced their lean-to’s on patches of ground that pigs and dogs and smaller creatures condescended to, but would not cede, as their natural turf.  

When he was released from the Union Army with a mouthful of stories ready to spill, young James had to find work. He managed to get a job as a street sweeper by chatting up the ward boss in his squat. He was a jolly fella with a mouth that never shut, which was acceptable as long as he kept the broom moving, but after too many corner stone conversations on what’s wrong with the world, the future esquire found himself at liberty with empty pockets.

More to come…

Lots to Learn

I thought of you the other day. We were watching the Grinch. Some folks might get insulted by that conjunction. But, I knew that Katie was referring to the line All the noise, noise, NOISE!  Add that to the collection of ways I manage to amuse my family.

I have great difficulty working in a noisy environment. Which is why I find some wry humor in the fact that I am the mother of four children who, over the years, have filled this house with alternative rock band practice, movie making, peals of laughter coming from the game room, wild disagreements between two little boys who knew the best time to escalate a fight was when Mom locked the bathroom door.

Ah, I digress. Which is the problem. I digress. I procrastinate. I find another article to read when there is work to be done. But now my book is out!! Kaloo, Kalai!! and I have another set of skills to learn.

Now I have lots, and lots, to learn about marketing. I spent more than three years writing, re-writing, and re-writing this book that started life as a single line that popped into my head during a writers workshop, something along the lines of she clung to the miraculous medal praying for her own miracle.  That, somehow, took on a life of its own and is now a 328 page book.

Now, I have to set up speaking dates, book signings, advertisements, readings, media negotiations and whatever else there is in this new venture.

So, my fair readers, if you have an event or a book club or a cozy chat you'd like to have a speaker/reader/author present, let me know.  I have to start filling my 2013 calendar.

BTW, my favorite line from The Grinch song is your heart is full of unwashed socks and you have garlic in your soul. Both are the kind of things my very funny father would say.  Love you, Dad.

To purchase a copy of THE NARROW GATE click here.

 

A Book is Born

Well, I finally did it. I finished a book. Writing one, that is. I cleared my calendar all summer of almost everything and gave myself an August 31st deadline. Here in Texas that wasn't so much a sacrifice. Nearly everyday from May until the beginning of September the temperature was 100 degrees or above, except for those days it dipped to 99. So going out in that kind of oven was not the least appealing to me.

I wanted to be able to stop saying I'm working on a novel. After all, who doesn't say that? (A friend pointed out to me that she doesn't know anyone who says that, so it depends on the circles in which one travels.) I wanted to be able to say I have completed a novel, and now I have to learn how to get an agent, and then, a publisher.

For a few days I was so excited that I had achieved this milestone. Then, oh yeah, then, I realized all the problems with the book. I wondered about the narrative arc, the characters, the plot, for God's sake. What's the plot?  Then, very kindly, a dear friend in my writing circle told me what the plot was. Wheewh!  What a relief. I had a plot that someone other than me (or is it I?) could discern.

Now, with a whole week's worth of distance, I have to go back through and revise. But since I work in such a fashion that I have revised and revised and revised as I went along, it shouldn't be as painful as I anticipate. Plus, (now this is a big plus) I have a writing salon (sounds so literary, doesn't it?) and together we have been revising and commenting on each other's work all through the process.

Next question: How do you compose a query letter?  I'm giving myself one week to figure that out. Wish me luck.

 

Running In Traffic

Do you ever see those kids on the median of a parkway trying to beat the traffic and make it to the other side? I always cringe and pray that they make it over without becoming road splat.

So, why, oh why, was that the image that came to me when I was trying to picture the experience of being hit by inspiration?

I'll back up a little.  I spent a good part of Friday morning talking with my son Michael who lives across the country. Good part in many senses of the word. We so often end up talking art and literature and we we talked for quite a while-- so yeah, a good part of the morning.

He's a musician and a song writer and a lyricist (among his many talents-- I know, I sound like his mother--but so what)  so we can discuss all kinds of English Major stuff that other people usually walk away from and find a football game to watch.  Naturally, we ended up on the topic of 'where do some of these ideas, words, music come from'?  We agree that it is a grace, a gift, a visitation if I may be so bold, and it is wonderful.  Some get big doses of this transmission---Mozart, Shakespeare and Willy Nelson come to mind-- but for a more humble recipient of the occasional glimpses of grace that I receive---I am grateful.  It is why we keep doing this.  Even if our craft never sees publication or more than a little audience, it is still good.  Sacraments are the outward sign of God's grace, so I was taught in first grade (thank you, Sr Mary Norbert) so in the small 's' use of sacraments, these moments are sacramental.

Michael and I talked about both the gift end of receiving the grace and the showing up end--that is, you generally have to show up to work in some sense (though not always--that's the nature of gift) to receive those flashes, those sounds, those words and phrase that flow through your fingertips.

And that is where the picture of a kid trying to cross traffic popped to mind.  But in this analogy, messy though it is, you hope to get hit--not by a car--but by a slam of words, music, lyrics, art.

Which raises a question.  If I am noticing the kid on the median, then somehow he was 'lucky' enough to make it from the other side of the road safely.  Hmm,  that could fall into another category, not so good, as tempting angels.  Got to think about that.  Later.

NaNo

We are coming to the end of NaNoWriMo.  I'd surprise myself immensely if I manage the full 50,000 words by Monday midnight. The experience, though, has been fruitful if not completely successful.  I've gotten a few story starts, anecdotes, character filling out and understanding of what it is I am trying to say in my novel.  There are decisions to be made. Directions have to be chosen, because when you are writing about three generations there are too many distractions and side roads to wander and take you far away from the point, the point, that is, that you think you are trying to make. Since I usually write works that are shorter than a novel, much shorter, my learning curve has been steep. Here is one  fictional scene of what developed during my exercise of NaNo:

The side board in the dining room has rings. Concentric circles from sweated glasses left there, bare bottomed or through flimsy coasters that couldn’t do the job.

The rings have been polished over, but the lighter stain shows through years of benign neglect.

I kinda like them.

They conjure episodes of when life was simpler, for me, at least. On any given Saturday night in those days people would ‘drop over’. The men wore jackets and ties. The women wore dresses and spiky heels. The women all wore hose, of course, even in summer, except for the women who were ‘sporty’, the ones who smoked and dyed their hair and wore the kind of lipstick that left smudges on everything they came in contact with: napkins, glasses, cigarettes, cheeks. My mother wore stockings.

My parents always had a supply of rye, scotch, gin and beer on hand. And that awful Tom Collins mix.  The small bottles of ginger ale and the pretty maraschino cherries were forbidden to us. I really liked ginger ale, but we could only have it from the big bottles we got when we had bologna and Virginia ham and Wise potato chips for supper.

We’d sit at the top of the stairs, in our pajamas. The grownups would come in, loudly, laughing already, strong perfumes floating up the stairs, along with the smell of hairspray and cigarettes.  Dad had set up bar on the dining room table ready with pitchers of Manhattans, the makings of highballs and gin and tonics. Mom had cheese and crackers (I helped arrange them on the crystal dish before we had to scoot upstairs) and some cheesey puffs fresh from the oven that she made from directions on the side of the biscuit tube.  The maraschino cherries were in an etched dish with a tiny fork. There were green olives with pimentos in a divided dish, next to some pickle spears with little colored swords piercing them.

We’d hear the glasses clink with ice cubes and every so often a loud rise of laughter would follow one of the men who told a joke, I guess, that earned a lot of sloppy sshh’s from some of the women.  My sister would fall asleep right there on the landing on the pillow she brought from our room.  After she fell asleep I would wander down, wearing my best innocent I just woke up face, pretending to seek a glass of milk.

I was intercepted, as I had hoped, at the bottom of the stairs, by a woman with Lucy hair and an outline of poppy red lipstick on her mouth.  The cigarette she was balancing and the lip of the glass had stolen the rest of the color. She managed a long ash creeping almost to the cotton filter in the same hand in which she held a tumbler nearly empty of amber liquor. The cherry was still there, marinating in the watered down Manhattan.

When she bent down to give me a hug, calling me sweetie, and oh what a doll, she swept the fallen ash off the shoulder of my pink flannels. I was momentarily smothered in her ample cleavage popping over the v-neck of her tight dress.  Her perfume and cigarette made my eyes water.  It was not the perfume my mother used.  She speared the object of my real quest with a tiny green sword and presented it to me.  I slipped away with the rye soaked delight before she could hug me again.