Archive for category Novel
Hey there (peeking up from my [can’t say the brand because it annoys some readers] keyboard, coffee mug in hand, looking a little wild-eyed. It’s been a crazy-busy month, and I’ve loved almost every minute of it, with that confusing sort of loathing, glowing love-fear-hate that all new business owners feel at the outset of their respective professional ventures.
Hmmm, that sounds both pompous and intimidating, but it’s also accurate. To do it right, to turn out a well-heeled, smooth final product, a self-published writer must take the reigns, learn the ins and outs of all aspects of publishing, or as I keep muttering under my breath in times of stress, “We’re going ALL-IN, baby!!!”
I keep trying to write an organized summary of what I’ve been doing, but that’s crazy, because it’s been a whirlwind, a cyclonic-blending of associated pieces of the crashing-wave-puzzle that is self-publishing. So here are a few pieces of it . . .
I have a friend who is a graphic designer and many other things extraordinary, and we agreed that the cover should look Salvador Dali-esque. Many private messages and phone calls later, and after many purchases of stock photo licenses, we ended up with the following, and we declared it beautiful. So did many-fold Facebook friends and followers. But then I got a message from a dear friend, and with some trepidation, this writer-blogger friend let me know that the traditional publishing house that put out Wicked used the same model with a different background.
“What?” chuckled my graphic designer, and so did I. “You mean a super-rich publishing house bought the exact same photo I did? No wonder traditional publishing houses are dying!”
Even though we weren’t violating any intellectual property laws, we agreed, without a split second of doubt, to nix the cover. The new one will be based on an actual friend rather than a stock photo. We’re not taking any chances this time. And it should be ready in the next day or so.
I’ve spent hours and hours talking, mostly on my main social media platform, Facebook, to friends and acquaintances. I devised as part of my marketing plan a legion of advance reviewers who will read mailed or e-mailed copies of a not-yet final version of Ripple. After helping me print pre-paid postage mailing labels from Stamps.com on pieces of white paper and taping them to bubble envelopes, my husband, chuckling, and a little tired of packing books, wondered how big “El’s Army” was going to get.
I like the term he coined. I love the grassroots feel of how I’m marketing this first novel of mine. So far, the feedback has been wonderful, and I’m hoping and praying this translates to buzz and increased sales. Even if it doesn’t . . . I’m giving it my all and enjoying every minute of it.
What I haven’t enjoyed so much, wait, okay, what I deplored and resorted to hair pulling, teeth-gnashing and much cussing over because of has been CreateSpace. Great company—don’t get me wrong. But for awhile there, I spoke of it between gritted teeth. I would upload a file (versions 7.1 through 8.3 and on and on) and then would wait for their file review process. Again and again, it came back with margin and font issues. I went through at least twenty uploads before I finally just ordered a hard copy. Once it arrived, I got out a ruler, measured the margins, and then applied the measurements to my latest working copy of my manuscript. And I chose a number of different fonts, from Cambria to Garamond to Calibri . . . and each font change messed up my italicized passages until I figured out how to use a template for italics.
Right. It’s boring to write about and your eyes are probably blurring up . . . unless you’re also thinking about self-publishing, and if so, please feel free to ask me what the hell I’m talking about. The way I see it is that if my meanderings into the sticky-icky world of CreateSpace can save you some trouble, then please let me help you!
So that’s about the size of it. I could write another 700 words about El’s Army and CreatePurgatoria, but my graphic designer is on the other line and there’s a note from Amazon’s Online Store that I must attend to . . . something about how pre-orders can begin in a couple of days, in advance of the actual 1/21 release of Ripple. And that’s worth a Snoopy Happy Dance or two or three.
As most of you know, I’m aiming for a Christmas release date for Ripple. My friend Deb Bryan linked to me on a chain that contains a few questions about my upcoming book, so here goes . . .
What is the Working Title of your book?
Ripple. Renée Jacobson came up with it while she helped me on the first draft. She told me to listen to the Grateful Dead song of the same name. The following lyrics inspired the name:Ripple in still water, When there is no pebble tossed, Nor wind to blow. Reach out your hand if your cup be empty, If your cup is full may it be again, Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.
After considering a host of alternatives, I’m sticking with Ripple as the title.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The characters came first and the plot followed. I used dialogue as a therapeutic device while in treatment for chronic PTSD. To help me unwrap my messy past, I wrote conversations between my adult self and my younger self, or “Little El.” Eventually, the name “Phoebe,” which means “Child of light,” entered my subconscious, and so little El became Phoebe. Before I composed the main plot of Ripple, I asked myself the following question: what do I wish my mother had done to my abusers? The instant answer was: I wish she had killed them.
And so the main character of Ripple, Helen, becomes the avenging mother I wish I’d had.
Meanwhile, the third protagonist, Cassandra White, was born one awful morning, when I awoke to “barf in the bathroom and a broken down bus,” which was the original working title. Instead of giving up her legal practice to raise kids and write, like I did, Cassandra practices law, and balances a busy practice with raising a family. The morning she awakens to the aforementioned disaster scene, she receives a phone call from a safe house for domestic abuse victims, which is where Helen and Phoebe are hiding. Cassandra becomes Helen’s defense counsel, and like me, battles her own demons even as she helps her client.
What genre does your book fall under?
I struggled with this one, because Ripple stretches across several genres. In some respects, it is a psychological thriller. Like Silence of the Lambs, it has a creepy sociopath stalking a little girl (seriously, you’re going to have to read Ripple to figure out who this is) and some passages that will make you cringe. Ripple could and should fall into the category of women’s literature as well, but I took care to create a few likable male characters.
And yet Ripple is neither a thriller per se or women’s lit: it’s a work of literary fiction, and clocking in at 132,000 words, it’s almost epic in sweep. Although it’s not a beach read, the nonstop action and constant motion leads to easy page turning. Readers who enjoyed The Color Purple or Lovely Bones will likely appreciate Ripple.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
A movie producer-friend called me after reading the first few chapters of Ripple, and practically screamed, “Meryl Street must play Helen!” Indeed, the opening scene of Ripple features Helen, a high powered lawyer “who stands astride the legal profession” slamming a conference room door so hard the frame “shimmers and vibrates.” When I think of Helen, I think of the fashion executive from The Devil Wears Prada.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Oh no! I can’t . . . oh okay. Let’s see. A murder suspect teams up with a band of women at a safe house to trap a would-be rapist who is stalking her daughter.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am completely stoked about my decision to skip the entire agency representation process and go straight to self-publishing. As I wrote to my friend, Deb Bryan, I want to retain artistic control over my product. Traditional publishing is run by “writamaticians,”—or folks that view writing more as science than art. The more I researched it, the more I saw that by and large, the only way some excellent novels get published is despite of the mediocre ministrations of a horde of agents and publishers and their minions. Instead of offering the public a true range of work, they act like politicians who form their beliefs only after using focus groups to determine what the public wants. Rather than gatekeepers for the public, agents and publishers act as low rent intellectual whores. And I want no part of it.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Six months, give or take a year. I wrote the chapter about barf and the broken down bus a year before I was able to resume writing the rest.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
As mentioned above, Ripple resembles Lovely Bones and The Color Purple, but it has a happy ending. Also, I adore William Faulkner, Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger and pretty much all writers who take chances.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My therapist, who helped me piece myself back together and escape the mental prison of my past, inspired me to show other women how they could find their way to health and a better life. Therapists and professionals who give their all figure prominently in helping Helen and Phoebe turn from victims into Rebel Thrivers.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My characters move constantly, either on horseback, in vehicles, or running on foot on tracks, fields and cross country trails. Many scenes take place in conference rooms, where lawyers argue, negotiate and posture. My favorite character in Ripple, Zander, is based on my youngest son, Ben, and those of you who’ve read my blog entries about Ben understand just how entertaining Zander can be. My favorite scene in Ripple is when Zander climbs on top of a barn roof. He wants to see if his chickie can fly. You’d never guess who rescues him!
Thank you so much to my dear friend Deb Bryan, who tagged me in this blogging chain. Please mosey on over to visit the next link in the chain, my friend Stephanie Saye. The author of Little 15, Stephanie has completed one manuscript about a breakup gone really bad, and is working on another dystopian story about a man who gets pregnant after his wife is granted a wish by a psychic.
Before you go, do you have any questions or comments about Ripple?
Stephanie Saye is one of my friends. She’s also the author of Little 15, which tells the story of a high school girl who has an affair with her basketball coach. Little 15 raises a number of provocative issues, like: whose fault is it anyway? What sort of moral culpability, if any, does the teenager bear? What kind of girl gets involved with a married man? What kind of married man violates all moral and legal precepts by sleeping with a child?
The plot of my upcoming book, Ripple, does not shy from difficult subjects either; indeed, by chapter eight, the main character has killed her child-molesting husband with a golf club, and yes, friends, Helen Thompson would do it again. Why? Because he had it coming to him? Or because he had threatened to rape their daughter again? Did the main character act in self-defense? Could she have prevented the rape from occurring? How does a girl heal after having been raped? How does a girl overcome the pain and stigma of rape and incest?
Like Stephanie Saye, I write about subjects that are taboo–that make grown men cringe. When I first pitched my book to friends and acquaintances, many people gasped, winced, or simply stared at me slack-jawed. Soon enough I realized that many people couldn’t get past my one-sentence synopsis. I know that Stephanie has encountered similar resistance. But you know what? If people can find the courage to read our books, and to delve into the deep issues we explore, they might find the tools they need to carve a path out of their own darkness.
But there’s the rub: our books must reach the public. And so when Stephanie dropped me a line the other day to let me know that Little 15 had been banned from a private literary event in Houston, well, I got fired up and asked her to write about her experience here. Without further ado, I present–
• • •
Do you know what sometimes happens to fearless authors who write controversial books?
Their books get banned.
And that’s exactly what happened to my book just last week.
Long story short, I was uninvited to market and sell my book at a high-profile literary event this week in Houston.
I’m not going to tell you the event name, because I’m not devious and I don’t believe in revenge. But I will say this: the keynote speaker for this event is a best-selling author (I’m talking New York Times Bestseller list here), whose blockbuster novel was recently made into a hit movie.
Up until a few days ago, I was one of a handful of authors selected to sell books before and after the big name author’s speech, which based on ticket sales, is expected to draw a crowd of over 1,000. And for an indie author hungry for sales, that’s like striking gold.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve worked diligently back and forth with the event coordinators on copy and images for promotional materials, including the event program that would feature a write up on my book. I did exactly what they asked of me every step of the way. I made travel arrangements. My husband set me up for wireless credit card processing. I ordered promotional materials for my booth, along with a couple hundred copies of my books from my publisher, which were delivered to my door step in six separate boxes that have since taken over my living room.
Everything seemed to be falling in place for this event, until I opened up my email one morning and found the following message:
Good Morning Stephanie,
Thank you so much for signing up for the 8th Annual [HIGH-PROFILE PRIVATE LITERARY EVENT]. After further review with administration, we feel that your novel is not appropriate for our event. Due to the nature of the book, we just do not feel comfortable including it at the event. I apologize for the late notice and decision. We thank you for considering to join our event and again we are sorry to have to decline.
We wish you the best with your future endeavors!
All my best,
[Event Coordinator Person]
Are you kidding me?
The thing is, the event committee APPROVED my book almost two months ago. As part of the selection process, I was required to send a copy of my book and a sample of reviews. Shortly thereafter, I got an official letter inviting me to promote and sell my book at the event.
So here’s how the cookie crumbled. When the copy for the event program went up the ranks for approval, a chief decision maker apparently stopped on the description of my book and took issue.
Little 15—a riveting story about a girl, her coach and their torrid affair.
“This points to a major breakdown in our selection and approval process that we will be sure to correct moving forward so this never happens again,” one official assured me over the phone. “We are so very sorry, but given the nature of your book, we just aren’t comfortable having it at our event.”
Fine. I know my book is edgy. I know it’s risqué. But as I told the event official, my novel is intended to be a cautionary tale—one that is helping to raise awareness of an issue that happens all too often in our schools. In fact, if you look at some of the reviews for Little 15, readers have said that my novel has inspired them to sit down with their kids and talk to them about this kind of abuse.
I used that and other reader feedback as the basis for producing a book trailer for Little 15, which I scrambled to launch last week on the heels of having my invitation revoked. Psychologically speaking, it was what I needed to do to move my artistry forward in the face of what some might consider a failure or loss. But in my mind, having my book banned from an event because of the nature of its content underscores my purpose as an author: to write books that move me, no matter how off color my stories might be in the face of mainstream societal beliefs.
On the other hand, I understand how the topic of my novel could be offensive. Literary works of art often are. And that’s OK. I knew that going in. But to change your mind a week before the event? When I’ve already invested in promotional materials and 250 copies of my books?
So now, as I reflect on the events of last week, I find myself asking the question: “Is there a silver lining to all this?”
Oh yes, my friends, there sure is.
As it turns out, having my book banned puts me in a category with some pretty famous authors like Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, Shel Silverstein, Maya Angelou and Judy Blume to name a few.
All of these authors, and many like them, have had a book—or in some cases, books—removed from school or library shelves.
This sort of thing still happens all the time. I realize that my book wasn’t actually removed from a library or school, but having my invitation revoked to a private literary event gave me a taste of what censorship feels like.
In Good Company
To give you some background, each year the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom receives hundreds of reports on books and other materials that were “challenged” (their removal from school or library shelves was requested).
Not surprisingly, J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series (which is one of my family’s all-time favorites) draws the most complaints, commonly from parents and others who believe the books promote witchcraft to children. Other frequently challenged titles include:
- “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, for its use of language, particularly references to race
- “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, for the description of rape she suffered as a child
- To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, for offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group
- Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer, for religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, for offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
- My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult, for homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
That’s a pretty impressive list, if you ask me. And I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t aspire to be a part of it. So why this allure to be part of the banned?
Because to me, being a banned-book author is more of an accomplishment than a drawback.
It means not being afraid of tackling hard-hitting topics that might make people uncomfortable. It means not shying away from writing about real-life drama that sometimes exposes the dark side of our human character. And it means having the courage to write for one’s self instead of being driven by what people think.
That’s what I did when I wrote Little 15.
And that’s what I’ll continue to do over and over again.
• • •
***Stephanie Saye is the author of Little 15—a story about a high school basketball star, her coach and their torrid affair. When she’s not writing novels, getting a wax or spending time with her husband and two sons, you can find Stephanie on the street corner trying to hock the 250 copies of her book that she’s now stuck with after getting banned from a recent literary event. A recovering corporate suit and a native Texan, Stephanie surprisingly does not own a horse, a gun or even a pair of chaps.
What do you think about censorship, banned books and controversial topics?
It’s been raining this morning since I woke up. The house takes on a grayish tint without sunlight and I’m thinking about grabbing my red running jacket and heading out to run over tree roots and through mud and into puddles. That will come later. For now, I grab a sweatshirt, my husband’s thick black fleece one, and edit and write and think and create, hoping to sculpt some beauty out of the uncertain edges that make up my rainy morning.
I don’t write to anyone else’s requirements anymore, and I love that. I love the freedom of crafting words according to my own artistic needs. For far too many years, I wrote what and how and when I was told . . . by partner, court or client.
Please forgive me, kind friends who have bestowed lovely blogging awards on me, but I simply cannot spend time writing to spec, so to speak. What I love most about this writing gig of mine is I can blaze my own trail. I have total and complete artistic freedom, and this is more precious to me than almost anything else, save my family.
Artistic freedom is a beautiful and mighty thing. I was thinking about this last night while talking to a dear, dear friend of mine. You see, I will never work for anyone else again. I’m going for it. I’m all in, as far as my choice of vocation. I am blessed to be doing for a living the one thing I love most: writing.
While I don’t write to spec, I love to riff off other writers, and my favorite source for improvisation material is my dear friend, Deborah Bryan. A few weeks ago, I received her post, Let’s Get Real, in my in-box and I sat there, all hunched over my brand-new Macbook Pro, reading the results of five minutes of unfiltered, fearless, straight up “this is what I’m thinking and fuck it all I’m going to tell you what’s on my mind” writing. And I grinned and howled and felt at home, as if she and I were sitting on her balcony drinking tea and watching the cars race past on the freeway overhead.
So here goes.
I know I write well. Am I arrogant or just honest? I suck at a lot of things and am average at best at many more.
For example, I strive to be a good mom. In truth, I think I’m a mediocre mom, but that’s better than telling everyone who will listen that I’m a great mom and consistently proving otherwise.
I’m mad at Facebook. My friends call Mark Zuckerberg something different. They switch the “Z” with an “F” and I think it’s funny but then I feel guilty for calling him bad names even after I use his product all day, every day. That said, he is trying to make page owners like me pay for what was once free. My friend, D.Z., explained that he should be paying us, the content creators, for what we do. We get Facebook users to linger more online, and the more our followers linger, the more likely they are to click on the paid advertising links.
I’m bored with this rant.
I’m bipolar and hyper and unable to sit still. I interrupt people too much; smile when I’m sad; giggle when I’m mad; and hate to wear dresses or uncomfortable shoes. In fact, the real reason I’m a writer is so that I can wear athletic shorts and a t-shirt every day.
I love my hair. It’s long and sort of dirty blond, not quite auburn, and not yet silver. It makes me feel feminine and pretty, which is hard for me. Usually, I don’t feel pretty or even feminine. It isn’t safe to be soft and pretty. It scares me. And typing that makes me wanna cry . . . but I don’t cry much and I don’t feel like being sad today.
Loud noises give me a headache. Violent TV shows give me nightmares. Every time I see a gratuitously naked woman in a movie, the little child in me screams in pain and fury. Shades of Grey’s success infuriates me. What the hell is wrong with people anyway? Why is this book popular? The book celebrates abusive sex and the writing sucks.
This world we live in is so awful. Damn it all.
But this world is beautiful too. I hear the raindrops hitting the leaves in my backyard. It’s raining harder and harder and not every drop makes the same noise as it hits the green and yellow leaves. It doesn’t sound discordant, and I wonder how many raindrops it takes to create harmony.
I laugh too loud. And so do my kids. Sometimes I worry that they laugh too loud. I worry that I laugh too loud and too much so that people will like me more.
I’m terrified to publish I Run because I’m going balls to the walls and telling my story, my real story. What will people think? What will my birth family do to me if they find out about what I’m writing?
Did you know where the phrase “balls to the walls” originated? It comes from the aviation world. On an airplane, the handles controlling the throttle are often topped with ball-shaped grips, referred to by pilots as balls. Pushing the balls forward, close to the front wall of the cockpit increases the amount of fuel going to the engines and results in the highest possible speed.
In other words, balls to the walls means giving your maximum effort. That’s the way I live and love and write. Consequences be damned.
And that, my friends, is a wrap. I’m going to write like this more often because it feels good.
I’m heading out for a run in a few minutes. While I’m gone, please feel free to tell me something unfiltered about yourself in the comments below.
I’m confused and frightened by evil. I’ve seen it at close quarters. I grew up around it. I’ve lost people I loved to it. And yet, I still don’t understand evil, and to combat it, I think we must first understand it. I’ve been thinking about these issues a lot lately, and at some point I will explore them in depth in a book tentatively titled, Alien Enlightenment. For now, I want to ask a few questions.
Evil. What is it? And why does it fuel some people? Can feeling hatred turn you evil or insane, or does being evil or insane make you feel consumed by hatred? What is the difference between a sociopath, a psychopath and a demonically possessed soul?
Perhaps we all have evil inside of us. If you believe in the concept of original sin, we were born with it, and we need God’s love to fight it or overcome it. If potential evil takes the form of temptation, then evil actions occur when we fail to fight the temptation. Under this theory, we must use the free will He gave us to choose to do right, to resist the temptation to sin, so that we don’t commit evil acts.
This still doesn’t explain how a person becomes evil. We all sin, or taking the religious context out of it, we all say and do things we shouldn’t. And yet, one bad act does not turn a woman into an evil one.
Even if you’re an atheist or an agnostic (or, I suppose a Buddhist) and don’t believe in the Biblical definition of sin, I bet you believe in evil. You know it when you see it right? Perhaps the concept of evil is a simple one: it is evil to base all of your actions on hatred, right? It’s evil to kill someone with premeditated malice, for example, or with the intent to cause harm, but it isn’t evil to kill someone in self-defense.
Are you still with me? I feel like we’re about to dive down a rabbit hole, but that’s the nature of philosophy. I think I’m going to define evil here as either hatred of the good or the purposeful act of allowing hatred to fuel your actions. With that definition in hand, how about the next question: what comes first—feeling hatred, or being evil?
I’ve watched people I love lurch from good thought to evil action and back and forth until I couldn’t make sense of it. Take the case of my mom. She would do something kind for me one minute, scream that she hated me the next minute, and at a certain point, all I knew to do was to hide from both the good and the evil she represented. At some point, in my head at least, I decided she was more evil than good, or I stopped caring about solving whatever equation she represented.
For a long time, I wondered why she could turn so hateful. I ran through all of the options. Was she crazy? Her behavior met with the standards for many different mental illnesses, from psychosis to manic depression (with psychotic breaks) to borderline personality disorder and over the last ten years, dementia. Looking backwards, I have no idea what’s wrong with her, but I do know that hatred, rather than love, is her fuel.
I’ve seen other relatives lose their minds, either from substance abuse or from mental illness, but this got me thinking. I have as much mental illness as any of my other relations; in fact, my brother used to taunt me that I was doomed to end up in a mental hospital like the infamous Spring Grove that housed an Aunt. But even though I heard voices at times, and certainly struggled to overcome evil, destructive impulses, I did not turn bad. I did not and do not act with hate in my heart.
Can sane people be evil? I think so. I’ve seen sociopaths in action. I’ve seen it when a man sexually assaulted me. There was no crazy in his eyes. Just lust, misdirected. Can one really evil act, like rape, turn a man evil? I think so, but perhaps that question is, as a priest once said to me, above my pay grade.
What about psychopaths? Isn’t that another word for an insane person who commits a lot of evil acts? At some point, hatred mixes with insanity and blossoms into a degree of evil that is pretty much beyond rational comprehension.
Speaking of evil that is beyond rational comprehension, I believe in demonic possession. Yeah, I know, I fell down the rabbit hole, but here we are. Once when I overdosed, I heard demons telling me to jump out a window. I’ve seen angels, or felt the light of their protection inside me. And I’ve observed a woman curse God as she spoke of the call of demons summoning her to kill the baby she did not want to carry to term.
Weird? Yes. Crazy? Perhaps. Demonic? I can’t prove it, but I am intuitively sure of demons and the battle we must all wage against them.
See you on the other side. The better side.
When I started this blog, I promised to be honest. Of course, being honest doesn’t mean saying whatever the hell is on my mind, either. If I’m not getting along with someone I love, I’m not going to go public with it. My relationships mean more than my audience reach or edification. But I can talk about me, if I’m losing my mind, or losing my shit, as I prefer to say (or did prefer until a few people challenged me for having my characters cuss too much) then I might as well talk about it with you.
I used to write this mind-bendingly honest stuff when I started my Facebook Page. 8,000 fans later, I wonder if maybe I’ve lost myself in the never-ending search for greater popularity. This need to find an ever-greater number of LIKES on my page speaks of hubris and dependence on others to define my own self-worth, so I resist it, oh man, how I resist it. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate being liked. In fact, I love it . . . right up until I find that I’m forgetting what makes me—me.
And that’s where I am now. It’s not just my Facebook Page, or even my blog here, which is much smaller. It’s my book.
I’m almost done with draft three, which consists of fixing inconsistency in POV (point of view). Mostly this is an easy fix. I have three main characters and each scene either needs to be written from the perspective of one of the three characters or it can be written from third-party omniscient POV. The thing that is confusing me to the point where I want to send the entire manuscript to the trash is if I’m in third party omniscient, how much can I show of each character’s thoughts and feelings?
I’ll figure it out, no doubt. But I don’t want to lose my mental stability in the process. I’m trying so hard to hold onto the essence of what makes these scenes true and real and (I hope) beautiful . . . and now I hold this Exacto-knife to each scene, cutting the excess. But I’m scared, so scared, I’m cutting the essence, the muscle, the dimples that make a face special—OUT along with the fat.
I’ve studied both the science and the art of writing and I’m an artist, not a scientist, when it comes down to it. I write according to feel and I try to hear my characters in each word I fashion. I think great writing is almost a mystical process, one that unites mind and heart and soul with a seamless tap of fingers on keyboard. There are some right and some wrong ways to go about writing, but if I had to define what makes a book great, I’d have to respond that it sounds or reads or even feels right.
Some people speak of magic formulas and objective guidelines to writing novels. And for sure, there are rules and guidelines, but so often, these rules and guidelines exist to be flouted. For me, citing and obeying too many rules and techniques can reduce the magic of writing to a mathematical formula, or what my friend The Monster in Your Closet calls “The Dread Writamatician.” And when I try to apply these formulas to my manuscript, I skate into a place of angst and frustration that feels all too close to mental instability.
That’s why I quit writing so many years ago. I could not reconcile objective standards with my inner definition of beauty, and I fucking lost it. Really—lost it. I made it through all of that, but only after I chose surviving over living my dream, and if I have to make the same choice, I think I’d choose a balanced, sane life over art again. But it’s not an easy choice. I love my art that much.
So where am I? This third draft is pretty much making me crazy. I’m scared and frustrated and for some reason, angry, and I don’t know why I’m angry. I think I’m angry with myself, to be honest.
But that said–I’m fine. Well, no, I‘m not at all fine, but I will be fine after I get over this funk. I know I’m putting too much pressure on myself and I’m closer than I’ve ever been to sending Ripple to the trash bin. I won’t. Instead, I’ll go for a run and I won’t stop until this pain of creating makes me feel too much like destroying.
This weekend I finished Draft Two of Ripple and I have sent it out much gratitude to my very competent beta readers, Deborah Bryan and Astrea Baldwin, as well as the world’s best writing partner, Renée Schuls-Jacobson.
Meanwhile, with the help of the gracious and brilliant Piper Bayard, I’ve drafted a logline, or 25-word plot summary for Ripple:
A murder suspect teams up with a band of women at a safe house to trap a would-be rapist who is stalking her daughter.
While Ripple is undergoing review, I am working on another big project: writing a book with the working title of either I Run, or Running with El. I am pulling together all of my blog and journal entries from 2011 that pertain to running. So far, I am looking at a 200-page book, and will publish this as an E-book in the late summer or early fall. Those of you who follow me on my Facebook Page know that Running from Hell with El applies both to my identity as an abuse survivor and as a runner. For those of you who don’t know how important running is to me, I thought I would excerpt the first few pages of I Run.
I started running when I was a chubby, fourteen year old fast pitch softball player and point guard. Soon enough, I found that I loved running as much as I loved hurling a ball or shooting a layup. After a month of running, I was hooked. I could run just about all day, and pretty fast, too. I captained my cross-country team and could run ten miles in seventy-five minutes.
I ran fifty miles a week right through college, with a year off to gain my obligatory freshman fifteen pounds. Unfortunately, the fifteen turned into fifty pounds, and losing that weight was its own odyssey. I kept running fifty miles a week through my first couple years of law school. To my great regret, I did not run a marathon when I could have, because I was afraid. Then, in my second year of law school, I broke my ankle, and was never the same athlete after that.
In my late twenties, I developed epilepsy, high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat, and to this day, I take medications to treat these conditions. From age 26 to age 33, I practiced law in Virginia and D.C. I worked hard, but found the work soul crushing, boring and stressful.
Throughout my twenties and early thirties, I stayed in shape but struggled to keep my weight down. I stopped practicing law when I bore my first child, and two more children followed, stepladder style, in the next two years. While I stayed in shape and worked out, I ran only sporadically for the first three years after my third child was born in 2006.
In 2009, I started to train seriously again. This time, I took to the pool, with the crazy idea of swimming across the Chesapeake Bay and then the English Channel. By the fall, I was swimming 2-3 miles a day, running and lifting weights. I was back in fighting trim.
Then, on November 16, 2009, a Washington Metro bus struck my family’s SUV in excess of 30 miles per hour. Miraculously, my three children escaped injury; unfortunately, I did not. In that moment between living and dying, many highlights and lowlights of my life flashed before me. I yelled at God to save my children, and promised that if he did, I would stop living my life in fear. God heard me. I was grateful to have another chance to live. This time, it would be without regrets.
The accident left me unable to walk, run or swim without serious pain in my back, rib cage and left knee. My dream of swimming the Chesapeake and the English Channel looked impossible. By Christmas Day, 2009, I felt depressed and overwhelmed. In search of hope, I formed an equally impossible dream: to run a marathon.
My husband’s response to this was, “Whatever you want to do, Cutie.” And for the next eight months, he remained at my side as I worked at my rehabilitation for hours each day. Eight months later, I began running in earnest. In October 2010, I ran the Army Ten-Miler. No longer could I run ten miles in 75 minutes. Now, it took me more than 100 minutes. I may have lost my speed, but in its place remained guts, determination and sheer endurance.
By the end of 2010, I had run 750 miles. At no point was this easy or pain-free. I received painful shots in my knee, feet and back, and underwent a rhizotomy on my back that burned the nerves in my facet joints at 300 degrees. Throughout 2009-10, I fought through all sorts of back and leg pain. I ran, and I kept running.
In January 2011, I set a goal: to run 2,000 miles and ten marathons. This is the story of how I chased after this goal: the joy, the pain, and the sheer craziness of all those miles on an aging athlete’s tired old legs.
I run so I don’t have to stand still. I run from the depression that ensnares me if I let its dense shadow catch me. I run back to my better, stronger, happier self, to hold and carry her in spirit for a stride or two, until she leaps out of me and I realize that I must always chase her but never catch her. I run for the little El who had nowhere else to go but far away from the only home she knew. I run for tomorrow and yesterday and today.
I run for the smell of the dew on the fresh-cut grass. I run for the glint of sun dappling through the towering pin oak trees. I run because in running sometimes I find answers to questions I didn’t think to ask. I run for the quiet, gentle burn in my chest. I run for the dopamine and the endorphins, drugs stronger and healthier and safer than the drinks and drugs that destroyed my childhood home.
I run to silence the demons of my past life. I run because I can run and I must run. Some say this doesn’t sound healthy or wise or reasonable or sane but when I cannot run, I am none of these things either.
I run for today because there is nothing I can do to fix the mistakes of yesterday and there is no promise there will be a tomorrow. I run for no one. I run.
© 2012, E. L. Farris
What title do you like better? I Run, or Running with El?
Hello my friends! I apologize I have been so quiet, but I have been on a furious editing pace, trying to get Draft 2 of Ripple done by the end of June. Ripple is more than 450 pages long, or 122,000 words, and I started draft two June 1st . . . so you get the idea.
I had a hard week, to be honest. Some difficult things went down, and I felt like hell on Friday. Pure hell. Instead of surrendering to the fit of melancholy, I took my three kids to the pool and swam a quick 800 meters during break, and this got me thinking. Before my accident in 2009, I was swimming two to three miles a day, and daydreaming about swimming the five miles across the Chesapeake Bay. The bay, however, is not enough. I want to swim across the English Channel.
Now, I get these bright ideas often, and my husband replies the same way each time. He gets a gleam in his eye and his mouth turns up in one of his trademark half-smiles. And then he replies, “Sounds great, Cutie,” or something sweet like that, and I grin at him. That is how we ran two marathons together in 2011. This is how my man and I roll. And it might be what I love about him the most: I come up with some crazy adventure, some faraway dream, and he figures out how we can make it come true.
This is how I keep my “black dog,” as Winston Churchill called his depression, at bay. I dream. I dream big. And with that dream, that goal in mind, I begin to work toward it, and with my energy focused on the future, my present troubles weigh on me less.
I don’t know when I will swim the English Channel, but it reminds me of the challenges I have both created and am overcoming in the process of writing Ripple. This is not an easy first novel by any stretch of the imagination. For one thing, a lot of characters live in its pages. In addition, these characters move and interact at an increasing gallop throughout its pages and the topics addressed are weighty and emotion-packed.
I wanted to share with you what the editing process looks like. For your amusement, what follows is Draft 2, Page 1 of Ripple. As you will see from the excerpt of Draft 1, page 1 of Ripple, almost nothing carried over from the first draft.
“The trial is in a week, Ashtray,” thundered Helen Thompson, slamming the glass door shut so hard the frame shimmered and vibrated. The young associate nicknamed “Ashtray,” from Baker, Pitts, Kenzey & Moore scurried out of the hotel’s conference room as Helen’s words echoed into the corridor behind him. “I needed the witness list two hours ago! If you can’t get it to me in the next fifteen minutes, you might as well grab a cab to the airport and catch the redeye back to D.C.”
Helen glowered, imperious, her auburn hair and bellowing tone resembling Queen Elizabeth I. If Queen Elizabeth could make a man move before finishing a sentence, Helen could make him run.
Her eyes cut a slow arc around the conference room, searching for anyone who was not meeting her expectations. One hand still on the gold-plated door handle, Helen made eye contact with a bemused, dark-haired senior associate named Carl Hansen, who had worked with Helen for enough years to shrug off her frequent explosions.
Helen waved her hand. “Seriously, I don’t give a shit what’s going on in his personal life. These pimple-faced recent graduates don’t pull their weight.” Helen stomped from one end of the room to another, her 5’6” frame appearing much taller because of her ramrod posture, black custom suit and Manolo Blahniks heels. A senior partner at one of the top law firms in the country, Helen stood astride the legal profession. She did not suffer fools and within that category remained all recent law school graduates until they proved their mettle with years of hard-nosed toil.
As you will see, not much of Draft 1 remained after my writing partner, Renée Schuls-Jacobson and I redlined it. And for your amusement, I attach a picture I found on Facebook that channels Helen Thompson’s personality. The only difference is the hair color of the speaker.
“Ms. Thompson?” Helen held up one hand impatiently and continued upbraiding her youngest associate, Alex Peterson. “Seriously, Alex, I need that witness list and I needed it a half-hour ago. I don’t give a shit what’s going on in your personal life. Get me that fucking list NOW!” The second-year associate jumped up from the conference room table, his shirt untucked from his suit pants, tie askew, and almost careened into the hotel employee who stood at attention with a phone in his hand. “Excuse me Ms. Thompson for the interruption, but the Judge’s clerk phoned and asked to speak directly to you.”
“Hmm, the judge’s clerk huh,” Helen muttered. “We don’t usually get calls from chambers. Are you sure you got that right?” The employee nodded politely and Helen thought about the studied good manners of all the employees at this swanky Chicago hotel and wondered if they went home at night and told their families what assholes the attorneys from her crack legal team were.
Inwardly she chuckled and realized she didn’t care. At $500 a night, they can get it together to call us “Ma’am” and “Sir” and even open the doors for us. It’s all covered in the rate. “Yes Ma’am. The clerk gave me the direct line for what he called, um,” he glanced at his notepad and continued, “Judge’s Chambers, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California.” Helen’s eyes opened a little wider and she nodded and Carl Min, her crack senior associate, “Right, thank you so much. I suppose that phone is for me?” Helen strode across the room and pivoted, one hand gesturing as the other reached out for the phone. “Yes Ma’am,” the employee replied, and with one hand one the door handle, waited for Helen to take hold of the phone before he let go and unobtrusively left the room as quietly as he had entered it.
Dreams, big dreams, take time and work and pain to bring to fruition. Like running a marathon or swimming across the English Channel, there is nothing easy about editing Ripple. And yet I am having the time of my life.
© 2012 E. L. Farris