News for the New Year

Since I began posting here at Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such, I have posted more than once a week. In the past year, it’s been three times a week. Beginning tomorrow, January 1, I will cut down to once a week.

Why am I cutting back? It is not for lack of material. I have material up the wahzoo. And no, that is not a river in Florida. It is the lack of time. I have a forty-hour a week day job. I usually spend an hour or two a day six days a week writing.

The reason for cutting back: I am editing an 80,000-word novel, Adam at the Window.  I hope to have it ready to send out to an agent by the end of 2023. I am using the editing process I posted in And Now What: My Editing Process.

Adam at the Window is the story of what happens to the Janssam family when the father does not return home from World War II. It is loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey. Adam, my main character and the youngest son, is the Telemachus figure. He is a talented young artist who finds he can’t paint. In order to become the artist he was meant to be, he has to find out what happened to his father. First, he tries to run away to Paris. But Paris is not the answer.

Over the years, I have written six or seven novels, using the National Novel Writing. This is the first one I feel confident enough to want to publish. It is a story that is, in some ways, autobiographical. So there are some personal issues I have in common with the Main Character. How can a child come to terms with the abandonment by a parent?

Because I am a Virgo, I am a bit of a perfectionist. Perfectionism is the road to shooting myself in the foot.. Nothing gets completed. So I have learned when to stop. Unlike James Joyce, I am not up to putting a comma in a sentence, then taking it out again and again. Once I take out a comma, I don’t put it back in. I try to find another place to put the darn thing in. Just kidding. But sometimes it feels like that.

Some parts of my novel are ready for the Show. I want the completed novel to be all dressed up in its Sunday best. I want it to be something I can be proud of when I send it out. But it won’t be perfect.

Creating a novel is as much an odyssey the novelist must make as it was for Odysseus to get back home. But it shouldn’t take me twenty years.Three, four, five years maybe, but not twenty.

So here’s to wishing all of you a very Happy New Year. And may God’s blessings be with ye.

 

The Itch I Just have to Scratch

To all of you who are doing the Nanowrimo challenge.

It’s a mystery to me how the miracle of a story, a humor piece or a poem was created. I am always amazed that I was allowed to participate in the labor, for it is such a labor of love. It is worth all the blood, sweat and tears that it took to breath it to life. And the frustration too.

Though the final creation is a mystery, I do have a process that seems to work for me. Here’s my process of invention, of creating something out of nothing.

1. The itch. It often begins with a picture or an idea or a dream or some scene or a phrase or a word that strikes me over the head. For instance, I was sitting in a restaurant several years ago and I observed a grandfather bouncing his granddaughter on his knee. I tucked this scene away in my subconscious. Then I saw a series on World War 1. It talked about how the men who had lost part of their faces in that war battle were called gargoyles. Tucked this away too. At a workshop a couple of years later, the prompt was to write about a scar or a wound. Immediately the old man and his granddaughter came to mind. I asked myself, “What if he had lost some of his face?” Bing! the idea began itching and it itched like crazy until I had completed a short story called “Rose and the Gargoyle”. In the case of poetry, the itch is often an opening line such as “Welcome to our town”. All this starts me asking the question, “What if?”

2. Start writing a scene or the next line of the poem and write it quickly. In my poem “Open your eyes”, I open with “Open your eyes, wipe the night away./Open your eyes. It is morning.” Those words came to me sitting on my back porch meditating. I immediately knew that I wanted to share the joy of morning as I was experiencing that joy and that moment. Mostly I am answering questions very quickly. Questions like: What is he doing in that car? What happens if she yells at him and he doesn’t yell back? Why is she taller than he is? Why would she wear a new pair of dress shoes on the beach?

3. Character and setting. Once I have a scene for a story that may or may not be an opening scene or an opening line to a poem, I have a sense of who may very well be the main character and what they really want. I have a pretty good sense of what the point of view may be. I let the story make that decision. And from that scene, I usually have a pretty good sense of the setting.

4. Where am I going? In the case of a poem, it may begin like “‘Be good to Sylvia. Always,’/Mrs. Plath said to son-in-law Ted”. This poem was inspired by the movie “Sylvia” about Sylvia Plath and is a direct quote from the mother in the movie. As soon as I had written those words, I knew where the poem would end up. It would end with Sylvia Plath’s death. The thing is that I wanted to use the journey of the poem to show that Ted Hughes was not to be blamed for his wife’s death. After reading years of criticism that blamed him in such a way that he was judged for his character, not his poetry, I wanted to defend Ted Hughes and how he must have suffered from the loss of his wife. In “Janos of the Mountain”, I was not sure where the story was going after the opening scene. I was almost at the end when I discovered that the protagonist was a teacher. I only knew this two paragraphs from the end when Janos says to the protagonist, “‘It is that our children will not ride the bulls on top of the mountain. How our bulls must miss the mountain.’ Then he said with a hint of a threat in his voice, ‘You must remember this when you teach our children.'”

5. Getting to the end. Now that I have a destination, do I know how I will get there or where it’s at? Hell, no. I do not. I only wish I did. And no amount of plotting will help me. I am like Hansel and Gretel slogging through the forest. I know there is a gingerbread house out there somewhere. I just don’t know where it is or how soon I will get there or what kind of winding road I am going to have to take. And I don’t always know what’s waiting for me there. I just keep asking what happens next, and what happens after that next. My story “Caffeine Blues” begins with a waitress sticking her head into her boss’ office, offering him a massage. He refuses. As I go along, I learn that he is not interested in a new relationship. He hasn’t gotten over being dumped by his fiancée. He sits in his office, doing paperwork and making a success of his restaurant. Until….well, let’s just say that something happens that completely changes his life.

6. Once I am there, I am there. As Buckaroo Bonzai says, “Wherever you are, there you are.” Once I have arrived at the end and I have done very little editing, it is time to go back and start anew. This time I know where I am going. So I can put together an outline and do bios of all the characters and the settings. I can analyze the scenes to see if they are up to the job of doing what they are supposed to be doing. If it’s a poem, do the lines work? Do they have the sounds I want? Is a line necessary? Many a time I’ve reread a prized line and go, “Oh, shit. That doesn’t work. Why oh why doesn’t it work? I love that line. Well, if it’s gotta go, it’s gotta go.”

7. Patience. Now that I know what I know about the story, now that I have made friends with the characters, it’s time to settle back and take a pause. Give the story some time to stew.

8. Stir the pot. The story has stewed in my brain for a while, could be days, could be months. And now I am back at it. I print out the completed story and start retyping it or rewriting it in a notebook. No copying and pasting. That would be cheating my creative process. Only this way can I discover things that may have been left out. Or things that were put in and don’t work. In the story “Rose and the Gargoyle”, this was how I learned that it needed a paragraph, and only a paragraph, about what his war had been like.

9. One last scrubbing. I have worked my way through the story several times. Added a this or a that and subtracted a character or two that just didn’t fit or replaced the saloon for the stable, ’cause the scene needed the smell of manure. I’ve added commas and I’ve subtracted those same damned commas. When I start doing that, I know the piece is finished. I’ve polished it till it shines as best as I could get it to shine. It’s dressed in its Sunday best and ready for the world.

10. The itch has been scratched until it itches no more. I’ve done my part and made the work the best it can be. I have put my work out for acceptance or rejection. I have no control over whether it will be or not, so I don’t worry. If it is accepted, I rejoice. If not, then I’ll be sad. All I know is that I have done my job the best I can. I have absolutely no control over the fate of the story. That is in other hands. I accept that and move on to the next thing. I rejoice that I am a writer. That is the best thing there is.

11. Suddenly there’s another itch, and I’m off again. God help me if the itching stops. Sometimes I wonder if that is why writers take to drink. The itching has stopped—for the moment. And they don’t trust that it will come back. It scares the hell out of them. The thing is, it always does come back. I’d stake my life on it.

Near 500 words: The Birth of a Storyteller

Sikha sat on the roof of her father’s house. From here, she saw the whole neighborhood. She saw the roof of the house of her friend, Aditi. She saw her brother’s house and the houses of people she had known since she was a baby.

It was here she told herself stories. Stories she was beginning to write down. She had even sold one of the stories to a city magazine. It was a story about a Westerner with a hat. When she first wrote it down, it made her laugh. The more she wrote the more she laughed.

She told the story to her family and Aditi. They laughed too. They told her she should submit it to a magazine. At first, she said no. She knew they would hate the story but her family and friends kept insisting.

“It’s your way out,” her father reassured her. Her father was the one she trusted the most.

So she typed it up on her grandfather’s old Remington typewriter, put it in an envelope and sent it out into the world. Then she forgot it.

Two months later, she received an answer from the magazine. They were going to publish it. And there was two rupees’ payment with a letter written in neat English script that said, “Send more please.”

That evening, like usual, she went up to the roof. She began to think she was going to create another story. She thought and she thought and nothing. For the first time, she did not find a new story in her.

The only story that came to her was the story of the man with the hat. Only a new episode with him came to her. Night after night she threw it away like trash. Instead of flying off, the story kept returning. This was not good. Finally, she became curious and gave in to the story.

The man with the hat went to the bank. His name was Marvin. He went to the bank building and inside. The sign said, “No hats allowed. Please take your hat off your head.”

Marvin critiqued the sign. Didn’t the bank management know they had too many words?

The guard walked up to Marvin. “Take your hat off.”

“Say please,” Marvin said.

The bank guard blew his whistle. It was a loud whistle. Three other guards appeared. Now there were four men in uniform standing before him, demanding he remove his hat.

Marvin was a reasonable man. Since it didn’t seem reasonable to him, he did not remove it. It kept his bald head warm.

One of the guards knocked Marvin’s hat off his head. He should not have done that. A bright light shined from Marvin’s head. The guard backed away, holding his eyes.

“Put that thing back on,” a second guard shouted. “Put that thing back on.”

Marvin reached down for his hat. As he did, the light hit another guard’s eyes.

A third guard grabbed the hat. Keeping his eyes closed, he placed the hat on Marvin’s head. The light was gone.

The two guards, who could see, turned Marvin around and sent him back into the street.

“Now what?” Sikha on the roof asked herself. She laughed and said, “Isn’t that always the way of stories.” She looked up at the stars and whispered, “Okay, Marvin, I will return tomorrow night. Then you can finish this story.” She went to the stairs and looked one last time. “Or not.”