Cover Art – It’s Here!

I got the first pass at the cover art for Return from Avalon (and Points West) yesterday.  I say first past, since they sent it to me for approval.  Couldn’t get that email out fast enough.  Which is why my prose may be more . . . um, immature? . . . than normal.

Wow.  I’m absolutely delighted.  Magnificent.

That’s OK; Debby didn’t give me any shit about bad writing.  Have I ever said how delightful Debby and Soul Mate Publishing have been to work with so far?  Probably.

I don’t have my feet back on the ground quite yet.  But any time now, I’m sure.

Here’s a recap of what I said when they asked me for my preferences and vision for cover art.

LOOK AND FEEL: I like for the artwork to cover the entire cover, not just an insert.  The name and title should not totally dominate the cover.  I like graphic art, prefer simplicity over complexity.

PREFER: Objects to People.

Are there any special objects that play a role in the book?

  • A 3’ section of rebar.
  • Tarot cards.  The most significant in order are: King of Swords, Ace of Swords, Queen of Cups.
  • A strange used book, Return from Avalon, by M. A. Gwalchmai, published in 1797 by The Crwys Streete Press, Cardiff, Wales.  A very thin book, bound in a fine leather binding, with rich thick paper, embossed with gold writing, showing little wear for its age.
  • Excalibur
  • Letters from the hero to his ex-wife (format of the book).

Any vision/suggestions you may have for your cover?  Based on my totally amateur vision, the two that came to mind are:

  • A 3 tarot card spread with the piece of rebar stuck into the king of swords.
  • A letter.  The opened envelope is on top, addressed to Ms. Jenniver Penders, 674 Oakdale, Atlanta, Georgia 30316, return addressee Arnie Penders, no address given.  Underneath can be seen the top of the letter with one of the letterheads from the book, date, and “Dear Jen” showing before it is interrupted by the envelope lying on top.
  • If the cover needs a person, it could be the hero holding the piece of rebar (or even Excalibur) while engrossed in reading Return from Avalon.

So: without any further ado, here’s what it looks like.

ReturnFromAvalon Cover

Is that classy, or what?  Way better than my amateur vision.

The Three of Swords, clearly visible as the upper of the two tarot cards, isn’t one that I listed.  But it is featured prominently at the end of the novel, when Lola suggests that Arnie is going to be unlucky in love three times.  And since he has met three women who he likes a lot on his journey, that bums him out.  But in typical Arnie fashion, he talks his way out of it.

The other card is harder to make out.  The Lovers, perhaps?  That would be Soul Mate’s subtle was of making the cover more attractive to women, I’m guessing.  Very nice.

So . . . what do you think?



How to Give and Receive a Critique

There are lots of ways to get feedback on your writing.  On one end of the spectrum, you can form a group of writers who pours over every word that each group member writes and offers detailed feedback.  The advantage of this type of critique group is that you’ll get the most detailed feedback from readers who are most familiar with your work; the disadvantage is the time involved when you commit to do the same with every other member of the group.  On the other end, you can ask your mom what she thinks.  The advantage of this form of feedback is that you’ll always go away feeling great about your writing skills and confident that you’re the reincarnation of Ernest Hemmingway.  The downside is, most of our mothers won’t tell us if what we’ve written is crap.

One of the most common ways, halfway between these extremes, is the critique group.  Critique groups range from the large, open group – meetings are public, and everybody present is invited to read and/or to offer feedback – to the private, closed group where you meet with the same writers for a long period of time.

If you are a serious writer and not a part of a critique group, I suggest you find one and try it.  If it doesn’t work for you, try a different group.  If it still doesn’t work, ask Stella for her advice on how to find one that’s right for you.

Here are some guidelines for how to get the most out of your critique group.


1.  Tell the group what it is that you want from the session.  Be as specific as you can.  You will get the least useful critique if you say, “Just give me everything,” particularly if what you want to know is if the personality of John’s girlfriend is too slutty.

2.  Accept all criticism graciously.  Do not be argumentative!  Remember: you are the ultimate authority.  You can go back to your computer (or pad and pencil, if you’re one of THOSE) and ignore everything you’ve heard.  You don’t have to do it at the critique session.

3.  If you have a reason why you believe a particular criticism not to be valid, and you want FEEDBACK on your thinking or in view of your thinking, you can politely discuss the reason.  For example, if a critique is that your sentences are awkward and your intent is to imply that they come from an awkward narrator, explain that, and then ask if in light of your intent, if you’ve been effective in what you are trying to do.  Then accept the answer graciously.

4.  The standard for bringing something to a critique group should be that it has been at least lightly polished.  “I just threw this on the paper and wanted to see what you think” wastes everybody’s time.


1.  Every critique should start with something positive.  The only exception is if you are amplifying a comment from another critiquer.  *** Encouragement is as important as anything you can say about the writing.

2.  Always use I words, not you words.  “My reaction to this paragraph . . . “ rather than “You didn’t do a good job in the description in this paragraph.”  Yes, they’re only words, but we live and breathe words, and as we all know, they do make a difference.  You words automatically tend to put the author on the defensive, and detract from the critique.

3.  The most useful comments are neither overly general (eg: “Your writing is great!”) nor too specific (“I question the use of the word, “vastly” in line 73).  Remember: you are helping to shape the style, approach, character creation and presentation, flow, etc. of the writer, NOT helping to write the piece (unless, of course, that’s what the writer asks for).

4.  The most useful comments also point out specific examples of the point that you’re making.

5.  Assume that what you are reading is a later draft with some degree of polish but not a finished work unless the author states otherwise.  In light of that:

–  Do not comment on individual grammatical gaffs, word choice, etc.  MARK them on the copy that you are reading and hand them back to the writer.

–  HOWEVER, if you see a trend in poor grammar or style, you should absolutely point it out, with examples.  If there are multiple occurrences, the most likely reason is that the writer is unaware of the problem.

6.  Often we give as part of our critique an alternate way of writing something.  This is a very valid and important part of criticism.  To do this effectively,

–  Note the problem or deficiency that you see in the section being discussed.  “My reaction by the end of the first page is that I’ve lost interest (note the effective use of I words).”

–  Then offer an alternate approach.  “If I were to rewrite this, I would remove the first 3 paragraphs, saving whatever material is critical to sprinkle later in the book.  Then I would start with paragraph 4, giving it a power beginning such as: XXXX.”

 Most of all, have fun.  Both as writer and critiquer.  It’s a hell of a ride.

L0014220 Mentally ill patients in the garden of an asylum, a warden l

Snapshot of my Critique Group (can you tell which one is me?)




It Takes a Village

You know how sometimes you start a book, and the first page says, I lovingly dedicate this book to Hazel, the pet groomer who keeps Foo-Foo so nicely trimmed.  I’m guessing this book is the 56th one published in the series, and the writer has thanked everybody and their brother already and is opting for short and sweet.

More typical is the forward that runs 7 pages and mentions everybody along the way who made the most remote contribution to the book.  “And my Aunt Mildred, who suggested that I change the name of the pawnbroker from Simon to Herman.”

I’m not really the 7 pages of forward type.  But if I listed everyone individually who made a contribution to a book, it would probably be 7 pages.  Because for most of us, it really does take a village to write a book.  Here’s a sampling of my village.

As soon as I finish the first draft of a chapter, I send it out to my First Draft Readers.  Incidentally, this helps define what a “first draft” is – i.e., it has to be clean enough so I’m not embarrassed to send it out.  I’m a pretty sorry proof reader, so perhaps I should be embarrassed by some of the gaffs, but by now I’m not.  On the flip side, once a chapter is “released,” I never go back to rewrite it until the entire first draft is finished.  If I discover something that has to be changed, I make some notes in the chapter in red, but I never touch the prose.

Originally my first draft readers were mainly for encouragement.  I wanted a group of people who would give me shit if I didn’t get them a new chapter in a timely manner and occasionally tell me that they were really enjoying what I was writing.  Now, as a more mature writer working on Novel #4, I need general more feedback and not nearly as much encouragement.  But some.

One of my first draft readers, Kate, also serves double duty as my wife.  She’s been my most dedicated reader throughout this journey, reading every word of every draft and making comments in the margins (she gets her very own paper copy).

Another first draft reader is my writing partner, Susan.  This is a new experiment for both of us – we’ve been doing it for 5 weeks now – but both of us are really enjoying the process.  We do a close read and give specific feedback on each chapter.  In Susan’s case, it is her indispensable “green edits” (I used the word “infamous” before, to which she took amused exception).   We also meet weekly to discuss.

I belong to two different critique groups.  One is a group of hearty amateurs, poets and prose writers both.  We meet twice a month; everybody reads something and gets a critique.  Some of our members have made amazing strides in their writing over the year that we’ve been doing it.  But we encourage as much as critique.

The other group is the Woodlands Writers’ Guild.  This has some very talented critiquers who will fiercely (if lovingly) pounce on a point-of-view violation or an awkward phrase.  This group also meets twice/month.  Strangely, only a small handful of writers read per meeting.  I don’t understand that – I read every time.  They’re probably tired of hearing from me by now, but if somebody is going to listen to what I’ve written and give me feedback, I don’t want to miss it.

Once I finish a first draft, I do a hard content edit.  Probably a third of the words get changed during this rewrite.  Tighten, improve, polish is the goal.  For my last novel, I posted chapters 3 times a week on my blog.  By the end, I had developed quite an online critique group.  There were hundreds of useful comments.  It took a while to incorporate them all – an extra rewrite, truth be told – but the result was a much improved work.

Then there’s the proofreaders.  These people have a talent that I’m simple lacking, and are happy to employ it on my behalf.  No publisher would look twice at the error-ridden result of my rewrites.

And let’s not forget Stella.  World-class networker, her goal is to unite the writing world, one niche at a time.  Stella is the driving force behind this blog as well as the umbrella web site and organization, AllThingsWords.  And who incidentally connected me with a publisher who wanted what I wrote.  Every writer needs a Stella, and I’ve lucky to have the original.

Beyond the confines of my village, there’s the army of people out there eager to help if you ask for something you need.  For example: there are statues of 5 artists in front of the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia.  I distinctly remember that from my youth.  I needed to know if one of them was Leonardo da Vinci.  One crappy little fact – you’d think it would be on line somewhere, but no.  So I called the museum.  An amused curator was happy to interrupt her day to tell me who they stood silent guard in front of her museum.

So thanks to my villagers.  I appreciate you.


Why Write?

Enough flippancy!  Begone, Trashy Muse!  I shall return to flippancy tomorrow, but today I write on the oh-so-serious topic of : Why Write?

Don’t tell me you’ve never asked yourself that deadliest of questions: Why in the fuck am I doing this? (unless you’re writing YA, in which case it’s “Why in heaven’s name am I doing this?”).

We have that old salt to go by: Writers write because we can’t not write.  But is that true?  Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and think, wouldn’t it be so much simpler if I just didn’t bother?  Or worse, sitting down in front of your word process at 9am, you ask yourself and then don’t bother?  Shudder.

Sure, we all dream of making it to the New York Times’ Best Seller List.  But if that’s why you write, you have my deepest sympathy.  Unless you’ve actually made it to the New York Times’ Best Seller List, in which case you have my deepest envy.  And admiration, I’ll admit it.  But mostly envy.

So here are some reasons why famous people write.  Perhaps you’ll find yourself in one of these quotes.

Sir Winston Churchill: “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”  OK, if that’s your reason, you’re not a writer, you’re a megalomaniac.  Keep looking.

Jack London:  “I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate.”  That’s the New York Times’ excuse in spades.  You only wrote to make a buck?  Really, Jack.  Say it ain’t so.

Benjamin Franklin:  “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing.”  Ah, the classic human problem: dealing with death.  The best way to cheat death is to leave something lasting behind.  So either your kids need to be real go-getters, or you need to write something lasting.

J. K. Rowling: “I just write what I wanted to write. I write what amuses me. It’s totally for myself.”  Ah, I really like that one.  Write to amuse yourself.  Particularly if you can do it, day after day.  In fact, if after writing every day for a year you still amuse yourself, you’re a hell of a writer.

Nikki Giovanni:  “We write because we believe the human spirit cannot be tamed and should not be trained.”  Hmm.  I can honestly say I never sat down to write because I felt my human spirit was getting too tame.  For me, it would be more like I was deathly afraid my spirit was getting too tame, better write something.

Benjamin Disraeli:  “The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write a book about it.”  Relax – that was in the days before Internet.  Now there are WAY easier ways to become acquainted with a subject

Here is a series of quotes in support of the “I write because I have to.  Hmm.  Maybe that does fit the best.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh:  “I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.”

Desiderius Erasmus:  “The desire to write grows with writing.”

Charlotte Bronte: “I’m just going to write because I cannot help it.”

And my favorite of all.  When I found this quote, I just quit looking.

Rita Mae Brown: “The last thing I have to say is that ice is the past tense of water. I’ve always wanted to write that sentence and now I have.”

So, how about you?  Why do you write?

why write

Vacations from Writing

Let’s suppose — strictly hypothetically, of course — that you wake up one morning and don’t feel like writing.  Can you take a vacation from writing?

Hard to imagine, which is why this is a strictly hypothetical suppose.  Like waking up one morning and deciding to take a vacation from chocolate, sex, peanut butter and sardine sandwiches, whatever it is that always makes you sit up and take notice.  But just suppose.  Is it OK to take a vacation from writing?

Absolutely.  Sometimes your subconscious, which has been working really hard to generate all this creativity while your logical brain merely provides the grammatical excellence and occasionally edits the plot, just needs to recharge.  Your subconscious (Percy or Kevin or whatever name your subconscious goes by.  What, you haven’t named your subconscious yet?  C’mon, let’s get cracking here) lets you know by generating all these weird dreams like your high school English teacher giving you an F on a creative writing assignment and making you read your turdlet to the whole class while standing up in front in your underwear and you don’t have your reading glasses.  That’s how your subconscious tells you, “Hey, out there.  I need a vacation.”

BUT . . . here’s the catch.  You can’t wake up in the morning, not  feel like writing, and take a vacation that day.  That’s not responsible burnout control, that’s sloth.  One of the 7 or so deadly sins.  That makes it way too easy to wake up the next morning and, nah, not today either, it’s cloudy and I’m never fully creative when it’s cloudy.

You have to schedule your writing vacations in advance.  “I’m taking Thanksgiving week off, relax with the kids, sleep in, gorge on turkey sandwiches.  Then, Monday morning November 26th, I’m back on it.”

You have my permission to do that.  Just not too often.


Writer’s Block

So what about writer’s block?

I had a conversation with a couple of the members of the Woodlands Writers’ Guild about writer’s block after our last meeting.  I’ve thought about that quite a bit since, and decided to touch on it today.

Wikipedia defines writer’s block as “a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some ‘blocked’ writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.”  The article notes that “writer’s block is a common affliction that most writers will experience at one time or another.”  It also quotes Mike Rose (Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension), who further defines writer’s block as “an inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than lack of basic skill or commitment”.

The Wikipedia article lists the following as some of the causes of Writer’s Block:

  • Creative problems that originate within an author’s work itself.
  • A writer may run out of inspiration.
  • Being distracted, feeling that something needs to be done beforehand.
  • A project may be fundamentally misconceived, or beyond the author’s experience or ability.
  • Adverse circumstances in a writer’s life or career: physical illness, depression, the end of a relationship, financial pressures, a sense of failure
  • The pressure to produce work may in itself contribute to a writer’s block, especially if they are compelled to work in ways that are against their natural inclination, i.e. too fast or in some unsuitable style or genre.
  • Feeling intimidated by a previous big success

writers-blockSince this is a blog post (not to mention my opinion rather than a scholarly work), I’m going to limit the scope somewhat.  Specifically, the last 3 listed causes are way beyond this post, “adverse circumstances” as requiring more help than cheerful advice can bring; the last 2 as being primarily observed in long-term, successful, and/or published writers, which is WAY beyond my experience.

I’m further going to discard the Wikipedia assumption that writer’s block is “primarily associated with writing as a profession.”  We’ve all experienced what we’d call writer’s block.  We sit down to write and . . . nothing comes out.  We play a game of solitaire for inspiration, then go wash up the breakfast dishes, check our email, and still nothing.

Doesn’t sound too serious, except it’s like a slump in baseball.  The next time you’re afraid that you’re going to swing and miss, and it thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My solution – you won’t be surprised to learn – comes from the sage wisdom of my T-shirt: “Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page.”  Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  So if you run out of inspiration, you still have 90% of what it takes.  Write something.

OK, so write what?

If you’re written yourself into a corner and don’t know how to go forward, make up a ludicrous ending that you know you’re not going to keep.  Go back to where the current problem started and write an alternative chapter, getting rid of the problem.  Write a letter from the character to you describing the problem.  A dialog between you and your mother, where you describe the problem and she tells you her answer.  Something.  Anything

Here’s what’s going on:  your mind is made of up two “co-processors,” your logical left brain and your creative/illogical right brain and/or subconscious.  Your subconscious is sitting down there, full of new ideas and thoughts and wonderful things just waiting to get on the page.  You just have to get your left brain, who sometimes thinks it’s in charge, out of the way.  Plus, the discipline of writing something that you know you’re going to throw away works through the distractions of feeling that other things need to be done beforehand.

Remember: at your innermost core, you’re a writer.  So don’t take any crap from yourself.


My Date with The Trashy Muse

OK, this is absolutely the last post I’m going to write on this topic.  Yes, I know.  The previous post should have been the last one.  I wasn’t going to post this at all, both on grounds of good taste and that whole kiss-and-tell privacy thing.  But Rat said if I didn’t post it I was a total wuss and she wouldn’t respect me anymore.  I’m not sure she respects me all that much anyway, but she knows how to push my buttons.  And so.

I had a date with The Trashy Muse last night.

It all started innocently enough.  OK, we all know that’s an outright lie, which wouldn’t be so bad if you hadn’t already figured it out, so let me take that back.  I was hoping to charm The Trashy Muse into becoming MY muse, at least on a part-time basis.  Yes, I know, that’s a pretty low thing to do.  But I rationalized that being Meb Bryant’s muse probably wasn’t a full-time job, and I figured she might have a few nuggets of trashy inspiration left over for me.

And yes, I already have a muse.  She’s deliciously offbeat — downright whacky, some might say — so our styles match pretty well (or more accurately, I’ve learned to match her style over the years).  But she’s a bit of a prude.  In our last novel there was this prime opportunity for a great sex scene and she sniffed and pronounced it “vulgar” with just the right hint of sneer, in the way that only Southern belles can do.  And when I got the Cover Art detail sheet from Soul Mate Publishing, one of the questions was “Heat Level” which I was ashamed to answer, “Cold Shower.”  So I was hoping for at least a session or two with The Trashy Muse.  Figured I could make it up with Meb later.

The address she gave me was this mansion in West U.  Greek columns — well, what did you expect, Rusty?  The whole place had a decidedly ethereal air, which suited the situation perfectly.

A dark, mysterious woman dressed in leather pants and a leather vest with a black blouse and a choker answered the doorbell.  Wow, not what I was expecting at all.  But it wasn’t my date, it was her sister Mysteria (who I later figured out was William Simon’s muse).  “You must be looking for my sister,” she said in this deep, dark voice that fitted her perfectly (wonder how Will manages to concentrate?).  “Ratty!” she yelled up the stairs.

Rat was more like what I expected, if anyone can ever anticipate a muse.  Attractive, in a stripper sort of way.  She was going to be a little underdressed for Morton’s Steak House, where I had reservations.  But what the hell, you can just about wear anything anywhere in 2013, particularly women (some places still require jacket for men, but I’ve never seen a sign “Pantyhose required”).

“Rat is quite an unusual sobriquet for a woman,” I asked on the drive over.  “How did you come by such a moniker?”  Didn’t think it would hurt my chances to throw in a big word or two, although Rat didn’t look like the type to be impressed by such flagrant locution-dropping.

“Erato sounds so, like, stuffy.  Ya know?  That ‘What’s in a name’ crap is like total bullshit.  A rose by any other name might be a wild onion.  If I’d been Shakespeare’s muse I’d have dropped his phony ass on the spot.”

When Rat ordered the escargot — two orders — I had visions of Vivian in Pretty Woman and the “slippery little suckers.”  Nope.  She had that problem scoped out.  She just picked up each shell and sucked the escargot out, then licked the butter off her lips — a hauntingly seductive maneuver.  Then sopped up the rest of the butter with French Bread, and licked the dish to make sure.

I have no idea how Rat can eat light that and not weigh 300 pounds.  But if she had an unwanted pound, it certainly wasn’t on her magnificent thighs.  I got to examine them at very close range as I participated in what she called “an extended audition.”

“How am I doing?” I tried to ask, although my words were pretty muffled by the circumstances.

“Hmmm?  Well, I’d say you definitely have potential to be a passable writer, just need more practice.  No, don’t stop dear.  Hard work pays off oh yes I’d say Oh God yes.”

And this morning she’s back at her normal day gig.  Or she’s probably sleeping in before going to her day job.  But I’m definitely feeling inspired today (and I’m really going to be inspired when I get the credit card bill).


The Trashy Muse

I tried to goad Meb Bryant, guest and interviewee yesterday on AllThingsWords’ companion blog EatReadRate into giving up mystery/thriller novels and writing a book about her “trashy muse.”  But she turned up her nose at the project.  Hmm.  Perhaps her muse isn’t as trashy as she envisions her.  (Check out the interview and the comments at: )

But I think this is a novel just waiting to be written.  In the best tradition of Tom Robbins or Christopher Moore, two of my writer heroes.  I mean, what better character for a writer than his own muse?

Hmm, let’s see.  How about this.

The Muse lies abed at nine.  Perhaps a touch of a hangover, but ah, such is the life of the muse.  Inspiring is such hard work at times.  And sometimes involves cavorting.  Which often involves drinking, among other vices.

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.  Otherwise, think of all those poor pitiable poets, trying in vain to write an ode that isn’t odorous or a sonnet distinguishable that does not raise sonorous refrains.  Or worse, a love poem to make some fair maiden less protective of her chastity.

And then there’s the novelists.  Ugh.  Sitting at their word processors day after day, weaving plot lines.  Hera and all the Furies, is there anything worse than a plot line woven without a muse?

Thank the gods that she isn’t Calliope.  Epic poetry.  What in Hades was Zeus thinking?

Hmm.  Nine already, and not a single worthy line penned.  “Hey, you writers down there.  We could use a little adoration up here.  Get on it, chop chop.”

Peering down through the clouds, the Muse ponders their efforts with amusement.  Will any of them pen a single verse worthy of Keats?  Not bloody likely.

A worrisome thought flits across her inspiring consciousness.  Could I be slipping, perhaps?  Perish the thought!  I’m the Muse, by definition what I do is perfect.  She snaps her fingers for a glass of champagne and contemplates the sorry state of literature today.

Not trashy enough?

“Yo, can I get a fucking doughnut over here?  A girl’s gotten eat, you know.  What do you mean, you’re trying to write?  I’m your muse, you twit!  You’ll write when I say you can write, and right now I need a fucking doughnut.  And some music, maybe.  No, Lady Gaga’s too distracting, all that trashy wiggling around.  What do you mean, she reminds you of me?  Fie on thy writing for today, I’m going for a nap.”

Sluttier?  Let me get back with you on that; it’s a little early to be writing erotica.


The Journey

In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the great mythologist Joseph Campbell described what he termed the monomyth, the basic form that many stories from all over the world take:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Not all mythic journeys involve actually “going” somewhere.  Sometimes it’s a journey deep into the mind of Hannibal Lector, or discovering that there is beauty in and among all of the disadvantages of growing old.  But often it is a real, physical journey.  From The Odyssey to Lord of the Rings and Lassie Come-Home, we travel with our heroes as they leave the ordinary behind (far behind, in the case of Frodo) and enter the realm of supernatural wonder.

I like to write traveling novels — obviously, since I’ve written two of them.  Return from Avalon (and Points West) (the one that’s coming out in June) is a real, just get-in-the-car-and-start-driving sort of journey.  The type that almost all of us relate to the most.  We gave up dreaming of slaying dragons and ogres when we left childhood (actually, that’s probably a good working definition of the end of childhood: when we no longer dream of slaying dragons), but we’ve all had the dream, in one fashion or another, of just leaving it all behind and start driving.  Unfortunately, the America of the mid 19th century where our forefathers could actually live that dream, sell everything and buy a covered wagon and head out, is long gone.  Sigh.

Strange Bedfellows, in the last edit before submitting for publication, is even closer to your fantasy.  The hero — the first hero, I should say, since there are actually 4 — is a middle-aged accountant who hits a $47 million lottery, buys his way out of his miserable existence, gets into his 7-year-old Camry, and heads out looking for adventure (which he finds in the form of a 30-year-old stripper, her 11-year-old son, and the mysterious “Aunt Morgan” who lives in the stripper’s head).

My personal problem with writing a traveling novel is that I tend to get too mired in the details of the journey.  I sometimes find it hard to balance “real adventure” – an event that pushes the characters toward their own decisive victory over the fabulous forces – and travelogue.

Generally my first draft readers and writers’ groups keep me on track, and I end up with a lot of words in that ethereal trash can in the cloud where electronic words go to die.  Fortunately, words are ultimately cheap, although they don’t feel that way when you’ve spent so much time and love putting them down in the first place.



Women Who Won’t Behave Part IIIa

OK, this is absolutely my last post on this topic.  It’s an update on, “So, Rusty, what happens to the women who won’t behave?”

As far as Sabrina and Chai go, I don’t know.  I’ve more than 80% through the 1st draft, and I have only the vaguest idea.  But Meg’s story is complete, at least for now.  I’ve got a real itch to do a sequel — and yes, I know, I don’t do sequels — that follows her life after Return from Avalon (and Points West).  So here are the scenes where we see her next.  Arnie has done his save the world bit, and has come back to tell Meg what it was all about, as he promised (and you previewed in Women Who Won’t Behave Part III).  If Meg doesn’t completely steal your heart, well, you might not have one.

By the way, Return from Avalon (and Points West) is scheduled for publication in June.

* * * * *

Midmorning Saturday found Vivian and me indulging in an intimate picnic on the bank of the Avon, accompanied by my little prepubescent changeling.  Meg was in little-girl heaven, walking along between us, one hand protectively holding each of ours.  Talking to first one of us and then the other, stopping and staring while she talked, concentrating totally on that person.  After a bit we spread a blanket and pulled out lunch goodies, and while we ate I told Meg what it had all been about, as promised.  But of course she managed to steal my thunder.  “Yeah, I saw it all on the telly last night.  It was pretty odd in a way, like it was you and not you at the same time.  But I don’t mind hearing it all again, ‘specially with you telling it.”

Meg’s fascination with Vivian certainly wasn’t one-sided, either.  After lunch they spent quite a bit of time with their heads close, talking in very low voices.  I couldn’t follow the conversation and was dozing off when Vivian sat up and said, “OK, I’ll show you.  But it’ll have to be our secret.”  To which Meg replied – I’m sure I don’t have to tell you – with a serious single nod.

So they went off a little ways and came back with handfuls of twigs and kindling.  Vivian stacked the fire makings into a little teepee, at the same time telling Meg, “Back when my Grandmother showed me how to do this, it was a lot more useful than it is today.  Matches weren’t common yet (matches weren’t common yet?), and you either kept your fire going all the time or used flint and steel to relight it.  Now you can just carry a lighter if you need a fire.”

Then she knelt down, spoke something under her breath, and touched the twigs.  And it was like a flame sprang from the tip of her finger and started the kindling gently burning.  And her description of it was right on – it made a subconscious sound.  Sort of like a siren faintly rising and falling one time off in the distance, except too faint to hear except in your mind.  Having heard the stones sing, which I guess is in the same vibration category, I wasn’t all that surprised by it.

Meg, on the other hand, was totally fascinated.  She closed her eyes and cupped her hands over her ears, like she was trying to hold the sound in.  She stayed like that for a long time, then took Vivian’s hand and ran her fingers all over and around the fingertip that the flame had come out of.  And then sat back and pondered for a while.  We indulged her fondly without speaking.  It would be hard to say which of us was more taken by her charm.

Finally Meg gave the nod – more to herself than to us, I got the feeling – got up to collect more kindling, and piled it up just as Vivian had done.   Then she stared at it for a while with her precious little face screwed up in serious concentration.  At last she closed her eyes, moved her lips without speaking, and extended her finger toward the little pile.

Holy shit, it was like you were climbing up in the bell tower of Notre Dame and all of a sudden Quasimodo decided to play Tarzan and started swinging on the ropes.  Clanging and bonging loud enough to wake the dead.  Meanwhile, the poor little defenseless brushwood went up like someone had turned a flamethrower on it.  Not to mention scorching the living shit out of everything in a streak a couple of meters long on the other side and starting a grass fire which we hurried to stamp out before it turned Clive’s place into a smoking ruin.  While we did our Smoky the Bear thing Viv turned to Meg and gently remarked as if nothing remarkable had happened, “Maybe not quite so much force next time,” to which Meg just nodded, looking pretty pleased with herself.

(next chapter, next day)

When I rang Millie’s doorbell to pick up Vivian, I walked right into a gloomy little ceremony.  Millie’s eyes were red and her laughter was perhaps a bit more subdued than usual, Drew was keeping a stiff upper lip with obvious effort, and Baby Gail was wailing and hanging on to Meg’s leg.  It took a bit of sorting out before the impetus for this emotional display became apparent: Meg was going with us.  Predictably, she was the least emotional of the lot.  “Oh Mum, don’t be such a sissy.  I shan’t be THAT far away, I’ll be home for Christmas before you know it, and we can write and talk on the phone and everything.”

With Meg’s bags added to the rest of our stuff, our little car was pretty well packed. But she squeezed in back without complaint, then leaned forward and gave me a quick pat on the arm.  “Let’s just go, Mr. Artie.”  Vivian’s matter-of-fact explanation, “She coming to live with me for a while,” didn’t do much to clarify what was going on, but neither did it really surprise me – I’ve pretty much learned to take the small stuff in stride.  Same with the fact that she was back in her eye-popping white outfit, which was impressively wrinkle-free after a week in her knapsack.  Well, Vivian had already demonstrated much more remarkable skills that couldn’t be explained by normal science; this one could have been affected merely by borrowing an iron.  I was more surprised that Meg was wearing a dress but didn’t give her any ribbing about it.

We made time to swing by Stonehenge on our way out of town.  Vivian wasn’t all that impressed – said it hadn’t changed much since she’d last been there (I cleverly deduced from what I knew of restoration at the site that her previous visit had been in the last 50 years).  Meg, on the other hand, had never been there before (how can you live less than a hour away from one of the most significant archeological wonders of the world and not have visited it?) and was properly awed.  She stood as close to the giant stones as the crowd-control ropes would let her get and just stared for a while.  Finally she ducked under the rope (I made no attempt to stop her – wasn’t my job), walked over to one of the sarsens, and put her ear as close as she could get it without actually touching it.  She stood that way for a moment, then put her hand over her other ear and closed her eyes; listening intently for several minutes.

During all this the crowds began to take notice.  At first there was just a mild rise in the conversational buzz, people nudging their companions and pointing her out.  But quickly that died down, to be replaced by a respectful silence.  One of the attendants walked down the path a bit toward where Vivian and I were standing, skirt snapping with the authority of her stride.  But something in the tableau made her think better of interfering, so she stopped and joined the spectators instead.

Finally Meg turned toward us with huge eyes and a giant smile.  “Mr. Artie!  Miss Vivian!  They sing!”

At her words, the crowd let out a sound that was half-sigh, half-moan.  And they moved back a little as Meg came back under the rope, perhaps a little intimidated.