Five for Hanukkah

The eight days of Hanukkah will be from Sunday, December 18 to Monday, December 26. Here is wishing all my Jewish friends a happy Hanukkah.

Sabbath Prayer from Fiddler on the Roof

Light One Candle by Peter Paul & Mary

Hanukkah Blessings by Bare Naked Ladies

Bohemian Chanukah by Six13

Happy Joyous Hanukkah by Nefesh Mountain (written by Woody Guthrie)

And Now What: My Editing Process

Some of you, my readers, did it. You wrote that novel during this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Congratulations. It is an awesome thing you have accomplished. Now some of you are thinking your novel is pretty darn good. It needs work, but it could be published. Maybe even head for bestsellerdom. It’s been done before.

However, and there is always a however, it’s time to stop and smell the coffee. That first draft is not ready for prime time. As Hemingway once said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” Especially if you are self-publishing, you will need to put that first draft through the grinder.

So I am here to share my editing process  I have a first draft of an 80,000-word novel, Adam at the Window. I have developed this process after six previous excursions into noveldom. Many of these tips came from novelists and editors. A few I discovered on my own. Pick and choose what works for you. Paraphrasing John Lennon, I say, “Whatever gets you through the write.”

1. I took a month long break from my novel.

2.Then I read the novel straight through. It took me a weekend.

3.Then I asked, Do I still love the story? If not,I won’t go any further. Why would a reader like a story the writer doesn’t care about? I say yes and continue.

4.A helpful text I use: Self-Editing for Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print By Renni Brown & Dave King.

5.Always remember who you are writing the novel for. I made this my mantra: “Everyday I improve my story so that readers will love it.”

6.While editing my novel, I have been reading well-written novels by others that I can learn from.  I  have read a couple of Elmore Leonard novels to get insight into dialogue. I read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse for a painter’s thought process. Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast gave me a sense of Paris. Oscar Hijuelos’ Mr. Ives’ Christmas has been wonderful for description.

7.Next I determined what one question drives my novel. And how does it get answered. If it were a mystery, who done did the crime? Or if it’s a Columbo, how will the detective discover the killer? For a romance, how will these two ever get together? For Moby Dick, will Captain Ahab get the whale? Will the old man catch a fish in The Old Man and the Sea? Will NIck Carraway become Gatsby? Will the Joads make it in California? My novel, Adam at the Window, asks, What happens to a family when the father and husband does not return from war? Without this main question, no novel can succeed.

8. How will this question be worked out? Not only by the Main Character but also by the supporting characters?

9. I now make an outline of my scenes. As I go through the outline, I ask:

What purpose does this scene serve? If I can’t answer that, I don’t delete the scene. I mark it in red. I may discover its purpose during your editing.

Are there missing scenes? If so, I will have to write them during the editing process. I had to add a high school dance to Adam. In this scene, Adam met a character who was not in the original. This led to several scenes that had not existed. And made Adam a fuller character.

Are there scenes I can combine?

10.Am I happy with the structure of the novel? If not, what structure will I replace it with?

11.I put together a playlist of at least one song per scene.I listen to the song just before I start working on the scene. It puts me into the mood of the scene.

It may be helpful in flushing out the scene. When Adam was going to an interview with an art gallery owner, I played Elton John’s Roy Rogers. This gave me ideas for what art would be on display in the gallery. When Adam was learning how to paint, I listened to Carly Simon’s Touched By the Sun.

Some of the songs are songs played by characters in a scene. Peggy Lee’s Black Coffee plays on Adam’s grandfather’s radio as he paints. The grandfather comments, “Now that’s real music.”

12.Now I am ready to start the editing. I work on the novel scene by scene:

I create two text boxes side by side on a page of Microsoft’s One Note. (Scrivener can also be used for this purpose.)

I paste the scene in the text box on the left side. In the text box on the right, I type the text of the scene, making changes as I do. In some cases, I eliminate sentences. I may change the verb. I tend to leave stuff out in my first draft, so I add description. As I am working of a scene, I may have to go through this process several times.

Once I am satisfied with the scene, I paste it in Pro Writerly Aid for analysis.

When I have completed the analysis, I paste the text in a new version of my document. I change the font and read the text out loud. This helps me catch mistakes I missed.

13. I fill out an scene analysis sheet, answering the following:
The Date when the Edit is finished.
The Scene number.
The Name I am giving the Scene.
The Time with the Date and the Setting.
Number of Characters.
Number of Words.
What’s the Purpose of the Scene? Does it Reveal Character, Advance the Story, or Explore the Theme? If it does none of these, it’s time to get rid of it.
Is there an anchor at the beginning of the scene (Who, When, Where) to orient the reader?
Does the scene open with: Dialog, Thought, Action, or Description?
Does the scene close with: Dialog, Thought, Actiton, or Description?
Vary these elements. For instance, if you have too many scenes opening (or closing) with Dialog in a row, the novel will get boring.
Which of the five senses are used in this scene? The more used the more likely the reader is going to feel they are there.

14.Creating chapters. As I move through the editing process with the scenes, I begin to see that several scenes in a row have a theme, such as the Protagonist is meeting new people in these scenes. Those scenes become a Chapter. Once you have a chapter, ask, “Does this chapter end in a way that will make the reader want to read on?”

15.The final step. The Beta Reader. I find three, four or five people who read a lot and ask them to read my novel and give feedback. I will reward my beta readers with a token of thanks. Here are the questions I will ask my Beta Readers:
1. What is the story? Tell me in one paragraph.
2. Do you care about the Main Character? Why?
3. Were there other characters you cared about?
4. Any you hated?
5. Were there places in the novel that stopped you?
6. Or were not clear?
7. Were you expecting the ending?
8.Would you buy the book if you had not read it?

16.Once I have evaluated my Beta Readers’ analysis and made any changes I think are necessary, I will begin my submissions.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions that I might add to this process.

R J and Euterpe

Robert Johnson’s birthday is on Sunday, May 8th. Happy birthday, RJ.

Headlights streamed through the bedroom curtains and hit R J in the eyes. He shook the sleep from his eyes, then turned to the woman at his side on the bed.

“Clara,” he said, then louder. “Clara.”

The pickup stopped in the driveway outside.

“What?” she said, angry at being woken from her dream.

“I thought you said that your husband would be out of town all week.”

The headlights went off.

“Oh, shit. R J, you gotta get out of here.”

R J was already out of the bed and in his pants. He grabbed his shirt and his shoes. He leaned over and kissed her thick brown lips. “Be seeing you.”

He shoved the window up and threw his clothes out into the back yard. Halfway through the bedroom window, he remembered Euterpe. He ran across the room and picked the guitar up. The front door opened just as R J went through the window.

He heard Clara call out to her man, “That you, Hon?”

The husband called from the living room, “Who else you expectin’?”

“You, baby,” Clara said.

R J had his shirt and shoes on. He sneaked past the side of the house and then headed out to the street. Before he knew it, he was three blocks away and out of danger. He checked his watch by the streetlight. It was still early. Only ten p.m. He had enough time to make the appointment he had been offered. He shrugged his shoulders with a why-not and headed on out toward the countryside.

A half hour later he left the town behind him, making his way down the country road. The night was dark, no stars and no moon. Only the blacktopped road guided his feet.

R J came upon a bit of a forest. He stepped into the trees. If things were dark on the roadway, they were even darker among the trees. What was he doing? He didn’t need nobody to help him play Sweet Euterpe. He played that guitar just fine.

As he progressed, the oaks and the pines turned gnarly. They gave him the willies, that feeling they were trying to reach out and grab him and squeeze the dickens out of him. It was as if the forest was haunted. There were owls. There were the cries of wolves in the distance. Each of R J’s steps crunched something that didn’t sound quite like leaves. He was not about to reach down and feel the undergrowth. He advanced quickly, pushing back branches and vines that hesitated his progress. Without warning, he stumbled into a clearing. He dropped the case holding Euterpe to the ground.

It was not just any kind of old clearing. This was a clearing where the four winds met. This was a clearing where wizards were known to gather. This was a clearing where the supernatural and the natural encounter each other. This was a clearing where magic was done, and black magic at that.

R J advanced into the clearing, and he saw that the moon and the stars had come out of their closet. In the center of the clearing, four roads met. The road to the north, the road to the east, the road to the south, the road to the west. It was as if they were the four rivers out of Eden.

At the meeting place of the four was a giant stump, a stump as old as the world may have been. Upon the stomp sat a beautiful woman. She wore a long dress of the whitest and purest satin. Her golden hair fell down around her body. The glow pouring from her face put the light of the moon to shame.

“R J, what you expectin’?” she asked from her place on that stomp. “The devil?”

“Y-y-y-yes.” His teeth chattered with fear. It was that kind of fear that came from the preachers when they stormed their congregations with visions of hell. He’d heard their sermons many a time and he knew all the way down to his toes that he didn’t want none of that hell.

“Do I look like an Old Scratch? Do I look like Satan?”

“N-n-no, ma’am.”

“‘Course I do not. I want you to know I have had my eye on you a long time. The way you play Miss Euterpe there. Well, it’s like you play like that Orpheus who lived a long time ago. He played so good, he got Mr. Hades hisself to surrender Orpheus’ one-and-only Eurydice.”

R J turned to look back to see where he dropped his Sweet Euterpe. It was not at the edge of the clearing. He looked down at his feet. There at the side of his right foot was the guitar out of its case and lying flat on the earth.

“Come and show me how you can play the beauty,” the woman’s voice beckoned him to the stomp.

R J did not hesitate. Any chance to show his stuff and he was ready. Euterpe flew out of the case and into his hands. He strode to the stomp. The woman offered him a place to sit beside her. He accepted.

Euterpe rested on R J’s lap and under his right arm, ready for the music about to be. Her master’s left fingers turned the tuning pegs a few notches, then the fingers made a run down the fret and toward the rosette and they returned to the center of the fret. It was then that the fingers on his right hand began their dance on the strings of the guitar. The fingers on the strings above the fret turned wild. The woman watched, her eyes growing larger than the moon. It was the midnight hour and R J was bewitching the witch.

She jumped off the stomp and her feet took her round and round, her hands cavorting above her body. The music grew wilder and wilder. Her dance too grew as wild as the wildest of things. The dress dropped to the ground.

Deep into the night R J played, his music frenzied, then dropped into a softness like a feather falling slow and peaceful-like to the grass below. The sound landed easily to a finale. The woman capitulated, surrendering to the gravity that held her to the earth. She lay exhausted on the ground, laughing, ecstatically laughing. She had been right to choose R J,  and this was the night to choose him.

Naked, she rose from the earth and walked to the Orpheus before her. She reached into the stomp and drew out a chalice and a dagger. The dagger’s blade pricked her finger and red blood dropped into the cup. She raised dagger and cup to the sky, then chanted the words of an ancient tongue.

Lowering the cup, she offered it to R J. “Drink, drink, my brother,” her voice commanded.

R J took the chalice and greedily quaffed down the nectar, draining the cup of its liquid. He went to return it to the woman. But she was gone. The moon was gone. The stars were gone. The clearing was gone. The chalice was gone from his hand. He was sitting on the side of the road, Euterpe on his lap.

R J did the only thing he knew how to do. That night and into the dawn, he soothed the sweetest blues out of his Euterpe ever heard by man or beast.

Y2K

Y2K. You remember it, don’t you? I know I do. It was before all sorts of hell broke out in the twenty-first century.

One moment, December 31, 1999 at 23:59:59, everything’s a-okay. Next, January 1, 2000 at 00:00:01, it’s not.

At 11:59:59 pm, you’re kissing your partner of thirty years. Then click, the clock turns to midnight, and you were kissing a stranger. They looked the same. They had the same voice, sure. But They were not the kisser your partner was before midnight. Not by a long shot. She was a stranger.

Most of you didn’t try to find out what happened. You were afraid that you might be going over to the dark side or losing your mind. Or maybe you were just afraid. Some of you did ask, “Did this happen to you?” When asked, most people looked at you a little strange. But there were a few that admitted it. Yes, they felt that it did.

The thing is that it happened to almost half of the earth’s population. To both the 99% and the 1%. You would have thought that it would have been on the news since it happened to so many. It wasn’t. Most wanted to ignore it and get on with their lives. They accepted that maybe, just maybe, it was they who were the ones that were off.

Of course, there were those who thought it was a religious experience. That indeed the Messiah had come to claim his people and you weren’t one of them. That Jesus had returned. That Krishna made an appearance.

So what really happened? Were you on drugs or was that a bad case of Hawaiian punch you drank? Or was it the Rapture and you got stuck with some sinner-replacement for that wonderful partner you’d fallen in love with at eighteen?

Well, Uncle Bardie has news for you. Now I must tell each and everyone of you that it is a secret, and that is secret with a capital CRET. And, yes, a little se. That’s shhhhh in some language. I am not sure which. So please, oh, pretty please with sugar on it, keep it on the q.t,

I spent a couple of days in the 24th dimension last night and I narrowly escaped. But here I am to reveal the Revelation. To give you the Inside Dope. Are you ready? Of course, you are ready, You wouldn’t be reading this far if you weren’t.

It’s The Immortals. Yep, them guys. Or should I say Guys. You see, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Even farther than Darth Vadar Land and the Death Star, it was at the Beginning. Yes, that Beginning. Big Bang and All. At that moment before wrist watches and cuckoo clocks and Big Bens and atomic clocks and grandfather clocks. Even before sun dials. At that moment, The Immortals worried.

What did They worry about? The Immortals worried that they would become extremely bored. There would be a sameness to things. People born. People graduate from high school. People die. And that was all. They thought about the Sims. You know how you put the Sims on cruise control. You come back a month or so later, they are Sims doing Sims things. They are not doing Halo things or Minecraft things. They are doing Sims things. They are doing exactly the same things they did when you put them on cruise. We all know how boring that can be.

Well, that was what The Immortals were facing. Since this was well before Halo and World of Warcraft and Mine Craft, they had to think outside the Box. They put their Immortal heads together and they thunk and they thunk. Immortals do that a lot. Finally they had a plan. We could call it Plan 9 from Outer Space but I think that has been taken.

So here was The Plan. Once every millennium, millennium is Latin for millennium, you know, once every millennium, they would create a fluctuation in the Time Continuum. As each new millennium comes into existence at 00:00:00, half the souls on earth are zapped from their bodies. They are frozen in limbo for a millennium. Those souls are replaced by souls from a previous millennium. Since the new millennium may need more souls than those of a previous millennium, souls are split into multiples. So you may end up with a partner who is a piece of Cleopatra soul. And it might not even be the sexy Cleo you get. You may get the bossy Cleo, or the suicidal Cleo. Or even worse. The Cleo who likes to play with snakes. I don’t know about you but I don’t care much for snakes.

So there you have it. One moment you’re with your best bud, the next you’re with Genghis Khan. He wants to rape and pillage, pillage and rape something bad. And you know what that spells. The Music Man said it best. “It spells trouble. That starts with t and rhymes with p and that stands for pool.”

So get out your pool cue. It could be a very long millennium.

Binge-worthy

I prefer movies to tv shows. But occasionally I strike gold with a tv series. “Lonesome Dove,” “The Sopranos,” “NYPD Blue,” “Deadwood,” HBO’s “Rome.” And now “Downton Abbey.” And when I watched these, it was like reading a great novel.

For six seasons, PBS gave us an updated version of “Upstairs Downstairs.” Only this one was in a great house in the country. While “Upstairs Downstairs” covered the twenty-seven years from 1903 to 1930, the “Downton Abbey” years are 1912 to 1926. But both series have one thing in common, the tremendous changes in British society and how its people, including the aristocracy, had to adapt. Throughout the series, the devastation of World War One, the changing role for women, and the new job opportunities for the working class will play an important part in the story of Downtown Abbey.

“Downton Abbey” is a family story with all the challenges, conflicts and triumphs that families have. Though there is an upstairs and a downstairs, we come to see that downstairs is as much a part of the family as upstairs.

Downton Abbey is the home of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). They live at Downton with their three daughters, Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Sybil (Sybil). Downstairs are the butler, Carson (Jim Carter), the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), the cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). Daisy the cook’s maid (Sophie McShera) and the footman Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier). And watching over this household is the Dowager Violet Crawley, Lord Robert’s mother (Maggie Smith), just down the way.

In the opening season, Lord Robert learns that his heir lost his life on the Titanic. Since a woman cannot inherit the estate, Robert must find a distant relative for an heir. And it is preferable that Lady Mary marry this heir. Otherwise she will be out on her own with only small inheritance.

A crippled man, John Bates (Brendan Coyle), joins the household staff as his lordship’s valet. Thomas believes the job should be rightfully his. And he will do everything he can to bring Bates down.

Meanwhile the youngest daughter takes up with the new chauffeur (Allen Leech). Lady Edith, the middle daughter, seems to have trouble bursting out of her wallflower role. And Lady Mary resists all efforts to put her together with Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens).

Then comes World War One and Downton must do its part for King and Country.

As the seasons roll along, we come to care about these people and their problems as much as we would our own families. Then we’re finished with the six seasons and the movie and we’re finding ourselves longing for the good old days of Downton Abbey.