More Trouble with Waitresses

Waitresses played a big role in Return from Avalon (and Points West). I didn’t intend it that way. It all started innocently enough, with a little waitress named Tina up in Crescent City, California, suggesting to Arnie that he go east and not north.

“East, definitely. There’s lots of cool stuff that direction. Seattle’s pretty neat too, but after that it’s mostly ice and outhouses and Canucks.”

Pretty soon Arnie got where anytime he wanted to know something, he sought out a waitress to ask. Ended up sleeping with one, Moonglow from the Indigo Cosmos restaurant. Another, the earthy Maggie in southern England, helped him find the farmhouse he’d been dreaming about (she propositioned him, but he turned her down). And up in Hay-on-Wye, on the England-Wales border, the ageless waitress Vivianne turned out to be the lady of the lake.

(I know, I don’t have to tell you these things. You’ve just finished rereading Return from Avalon (and Points West) for the 3rd time last week).

There were no waitresses of note in Strange Bedfellows. But lo and behold, in Avalon, S.C., a waitress appeared casually and ended up taking over the part as the romantic partner of our hero, Rick Whittaker.

I honestly don’t know what it is about waitresses. I don’t think I’ve ever personally known a waitress in real life, other than friends who worked an occasional odd job as a waitress.

So now, in **working title only!** The Adventures of Sir Kay, here’s another one trying to take over the book.

OK–or “Oh, Kay” as they say in the Old Boar’s Head, Kay’s favorite pub outside Camelot–not really. That’s where Gilda works as a barmaid, incidentally. And that’s all she was, just a nondescript early 6th century working woman who brought pitchers of ale to the drinkers. But she refused to stay nondescript.

Here’s the first time she gives us a glimpse that there’s more to her than just a simple barmaid. In this scene, Sir Kay is questioning the bard, Cambry, to try to find out what he can about the Holy Grail. *** Warning! Gilda uses earthy language. ***

“How did Jesus come by such a thing?  Wasn’t he a poor carpenter?  That would be like you owning a bejeweled gold cup.”

Cambry scratched his head.  I nodded at Gilda who slipped off and brought back a pitcher.

“Well, m’lord, I guess I never thought of that.  Maybe it turned to gold when Joseph held it up to the dying god’s side to catch his blood.”

“Why did Joseph want to catch his blood?”

“Why?  M’lord, stories don’t say why, they merely tell what.  Why did the gods create men in the first place?  Why did Tristan drink from the drugged wine?  Why did Merlin not do something when he knew that love would be the death of him?  Why does man die without ever figuring anything out?  Why, why, why?”  He looked over at Gilda spinning her silver coin on the table.  “Why do men have most of the lust while women have all of the cunny?  Who knows the why of anything?”

“Even I know that, and I’m just a dumb waitress,” Gilda answered.  “If men had half the cunny, they’d do nothing but fuck themselves the entire day until half of them starved and the rest were bored with it all, and then there wouldn’t be any more people.”

“A perfect explanation, I must say. Well played, Gilda. Maybe there was once a whole country of folk like that, but if there was, they all died off.”

“Well, there you go,” Cambry stared down into his ale.  “If you want to know what, ask a bard.  If you want to know why, ask a barmaid.”

“Gilda, why would Joseph of Arimathea catch Jesus’ blood in a cup?”

“Because blood is the most powerful substance known to man.  That’s why women, who are supposedly the weaker sex, are really the strongest: because we bleed.  The blood of a dead god would contain great power.  It could cure or kill, and in the hands of a sorcerer, could probably crack the earth.  Men only bleed when they’re dying, and then it comes as a big fucking surprise to them.  Women know they are dying because they bleed, and so they make the most of living.”

 Wow! That from a “simple” barmaid. Obviously, much more than than initially meets the eye. Kay is also impressed and thinks about teaching her to read, but decides that is too intimate. Incidentally, Gilda is not a prostitute; she only sleeps with fighting men.

So yesterday she showed up again and attempted to steal another scene. Kay and I kept her from being totally successful, but it was a near thing. In this chapter, the innocent Galahad is all confused about his purpose in life, since the Holy Grail that he found turned out to be a fake. Kay is speaking as we take up the story.

“Gilda. If I told you that Galahad was the chosen knight, what would you say he was chosen for?”

“Him? Chosen to succeed his father as the greatest knight in the world, maybe? Chosen to find the Holy Grail, and that first little adventure was just a warm up to make the story better?” She ran her fingers through Galahad’s hair. “Or how about this? He was chosen to make Gilda the barmaid bounce and thrash around in her bed and feel like a young maiden again?” She bent over and gave Galahad a sloppy kiss full on the mouth, rendering him beet-red and speechless in one fell stroke.

[interplay here with other characters giving their opinion about Galahad. We resume with Father Gascon]

“I think God chose you to remind us that the His ways are done in His time and not when it’s convenient for us. Even those of us who wear the clerical garb and think it makes us better than other men. And I thank you for that, Galahad. Now that you’ve accomplished His first purpose, I think you will yet find the Holy Grail, when God wills it.”

“Y-y-you think I’ll find the Holy Grail, Father?”

“I do, son. Because you have humility, and innocence, and a purity of spirit that the rest of us seem to have lost. But,” he reached across the table and ruffled Galahad’s hair as Gilda had done, “if you plan to keep that innocence and purity of spirit long enough to succeed, you’re going to have to stay out of Gilda’s clutches.”

The pub exploded with laughter.

“So, twice chosen knight.” Gilda plopped herself down in Galahad’s lap with her arm around him and her lips close to his ear. “What’s it gonna be? Some old cup that nobody knows if it’s real or not, or the best cunny this side of the English Channel?”

Galahad leapt up out of his seat, almost dumping Gilda on the floor. But her arm around his neck allowed her to keep her feet until his reflexes kicked in and he caught her in time. Which put his hands in places he clearly hadn’t intended, deepening his blush until I feared that he might burst blood vessels. But innocent, pure of spirit, and overly susceptible to the debilitating effects of alcohol or not, Galahad was first and foremost noble to the core. He stepped back out of Gilda’s embrace, picked up his almost-full mug of ale, and upended it over his own head. Then, shaking his head to clear his thoughts—or perhaps to rid his hair of excess ale—he knelt down and took Gilda’s hand.

“Nay, fair lady. I am deeply honored by thy offer, but alas, it cannot be.”

Gilda looked down at Galahad with astonishment—and undisguised admiration. If I were a betting man, I would have laid down two gold pieces that she would be the ultimate victor in this contest.

But innocence and purity of spirit are so rare in my world. So I stepped up on the bench, placing my fingers on my temple and closing my eyes as Oswald and Garcon had done, before speaking.

“She offered her honor, he honored her offer, and all night long he was off her and on her.”

That effectively ended the seriousness of the evening. Galahad scurried out the door and fled into the night. Gilda swatted me half-heartedly.

“Oh, Kay! Having robbed me of my game and spooked my prey, are you volunteering to take his place?”

My thoughts turned back to the night before Oswald and I had left on our own Grail quest. Back to when Gilda revealed the normally-hidden delights of her intellect. And I thought it only fair to at least consider her offer for a moment. But I didn’t have enough purity of spirit that I could afford to squander any.

So, with a touch more reluctance than I expected, I got down on my knee and took her hand as Galahad had done.

“Nay, fair lady. I too am deeply honored by thy offer, but alas, it also cannot be.”

“Sweet puppies of Arawn. What does a girl have to do to get laid around here? Father?”

Gascon got as far as one knee before Gilda threw up her hands and stormed back to the bar.

Sweet puppies of Arawn! Am I destined to be plagued by waitresses my entire writing career? Fortunately, we’re leaving Camelot and going back out on the road today, so  Gilda is going to have to bide her time and wait for another opportunity to demand a larger role in the novel. But I’m not ruling her out by a long shot.

GERMANY OKTOBERFEST 2012

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Sleeping with the “Wrong Woman”

I’m about 34,000 words into the new novel that I’m working on.  The hero, Sir Kay of Arthurian fame, just got laid.  By the wrong woman.

I probably didn’t have to add that last sentence.  It seems to be a rather common feature in my novels, although I didn’t realize quite how common.

My male readers are puzzled.  “Wrong woman?  What does that mean?” (I should say, ‘my male readers and Denise,’ who is atypical of my other female readers in her approach to this topic).

But my female readers have a clear gut understanding.  The “right woman” is the one to whom they first become emotionally attached in the novel.  Everybody else is the “wrong woman.”  Comments consistently note a sense of betrayal.  I have come to realize that they feel betrayed, not by the hero, but by me.  SusanH, my writing partner, is due to erupt in an explosion of purple ink at any moment.

Let’s see how typical this pattern is.

Rick Whittaker, our current hero, slept with Chai Fox 34,000 words into a 105,000 word novel, about a third of the way in.  Almost exactly at the same point in the novel as Sir Kay.  Perhaps the fictional pressure builds up to a breaking point after so many words (sort of like real horniness).  Incidentally, unless something really drastic happens, he and Sabrina are finally going to do it in the next chapter or two, after the book is around 95% complete.

Arnie Penders in Return from Avalon (and Points West) slept with the wrong woman, Marta, after only 26,000 words.  It wasn’t really his fault: she wrangled her way into his hotel room and by the time he woke up, he was already doing it.  He slept with the next wrong woman, the fun-loving Moonglow (who is a lot like Chai Fox in many ways), after another 25,000 words or so.  At the end of the book, we can only speculate whether or not he ever gets together with the “right woman,” Annie.  This book causes a lot of secondary confusion, as most women mistakenly latch onto Arnie’s ex-wife Jen as the “right woman.”

Bradley Schuster in Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail begins the book in a sexual relationship with “the wrong woman,” Judy Blue Eyes, although readers are pretty slow to figure out that she is and are a little pissed at his behavior.  It’s the sexually permissive mid-70’s, and the two of them are shamelessly using each other but clearly not in love.  He finally makes it with the right woman—another Annie, totally by coincidence, who crawls into his sleeping out in the Sinai desert—134,000 words in (book is currently a whopping 146,000 words).

Walter is the exception.  In Strange Bedfellows, he finally sleeps with the right woman 80% of the way through the book (he begins the story married to the wrong woman, but that’s another story line altogether), but also with the “wrong woman” who is co-occupying Amy’s body.  It’s only after Aunt Morgan jumps to another woman that the difficulties begin.

Kay’s “wrong woman” is none other than Morgan Le Fay, operating out of her “Valley of No Return.”  It’s really not his fault here either; she’s an enchanter, and totally ensnares him with her magical arts.  It’s the same Morgan as in Strange Bedfellows, just 1500 years before and in her original body.

Morgan unquestionably qualifies as a femme fatale.  Wikipedia defines femme fatale as “a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.”  I’m not sure any of the other wrong women qualify.  Chai probably comes the closest, but in the end she lets Rick go with too much dignity and class to be a true femme fatale.

Wikipedia further notes that the femme fatale is “an archetype of literature and art.”  I say when you encounter a real live archetype (well, live if you live the novel the way that I do), you have to give her a little respect, even if you hate what she’s doing.

forbidden fruit2

Likeable Characters

I’m concerned that my characters are too likeable.  That I’ve become the Pollyanna of writers.

Rick?  Occasionally he’s shallow (well, duh!  He’s a guy!), but he’s growing fast.  Sabrina?  Bit part, grew into somebody so likeable that my female readership rebel if Rick isn’t off being faithful and celibate, even if she’s with somebody else.

Continue reading

Minor Characters

I love my minor characters.  In general, since they don’t serve to advance the plot, the “experts” suggest not spending as much virtual ink on them as I do.  But to me the add color, interest, depth, and amusement.  In a novel like Avalon, S.C.—or truthfully, anything that I’ve written—those things are every bit as important as the plot.

Just to make sure we’re using a common language, I’m going to offer these working definitions:

SUPPORTING CHARACTER: Not as well developed or as significant as a main character, but generally they hang around longer and help advance the plot.  If the novel is turned into a movie, the actor playing the role would be considered for an Oscar for best supporting actor.  Adeline is a supporting character, the only one so far (hmm.  Who would play Adeline in the movie version of Avalon, S.C.?).

MINOR CHARACTER: They have a real personality, albeit even less well developed.  May only appear in one scene, as long as they play a significant role in that scene.  In your book group, you could answer some questions about what they’re like, what their hopes and dreams are, as well as their foibles.

EXTRA:  Strictly paid by the hour, no credits.  You can speculate what they’re like but the evidence is sparse.

Sabrina started out as a minor character, auditioned very well with her relentless wit, and immediately demanded (and got) an elevation to Supporting Character.  So do you think she will be satisfied with that position?  I don’t know; she seems pretty strong-willed.

Sheriff Tate is a more typical Minor Character.  I could easily have made him into the stereotypical Southern Sheriff, but didn’t think that would be particularly interesting.  You don’t know what his family is like, how close to retirement he is, anything like that.  But you do appreciate that he’s business-like yet warm instead of blustery.  Plus I like it that you know what his hands are like.

Tomorrow you’ll meet a new Minor Character, Jerome Collins, proprietor of the Low Country Gallery.  He’s one of my favorite Minor Characters ever.  Auditioned very well, but unfortunately, there was absolutely no supporting role available for him.  The experts—the same ones that suggest not spending too many words on minor characters—caution you not to have too many Main and Supporting Characters (and on this, I agree with them).  Plus it would have been difficult for me to create a larger, ongoing role for him.  But I confess that I thought about it.

[Amos] Carter—he with the plethora of potential names that you provided, excitedly awaiting my decision for what he is going to be called the rest of his life (as well as what he was called in the past.  The author has SO much power.  His mother wanted to name him Amos, but Hah!  We know better!)—is a Minor Character.  Maybe.  He plays a fairly large role in the novel, and you know quite a bit about his history, as well as his hopes and dreams.  In the movies he would definitely become a Supporting Character, probably played by Morgan Freeman who at a minimum would be nominated for an Oscar for his performance.

SO, the question remains: are the minor characters round enough?  Too much?  Worth the words I’ve committed to them?  For now, I’m going to ignore the experts and press on.

sheriff2Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Supporting Character, Smokey & the Bandit)—defines the stereotype.

sheriff5Sheriff of Nottingham (Supporting Character, Robin Hood)—does NOT fit the stereotype.

 

Chapter 1: Avalon, S.C.

Women can get you in a lot of trouble.

That would be a perfect epitaph for my tombstone.  So perfect that the next time I got a raise, I was planning to order one, pre-carved with everything except date of death, and propping it up beside the TV, a constant reminder easily visible from my recliner.  Except that it wasn’t happening anytime in the foreseeable future, considering I wasn’t going to see another promotion until the day after hell freezes over.

I guess it goes without saying that my state of employment excommunication was caused by a woman.  Here’s how that happened.

We were sitting around in the bullpen of a newspaper office that shall remain nameless, since as a veteran reporter I am well aware of the power of libel laws, watching the evening news and having a mini party.  The mayor and a handful of city councilmen (I guess I should say city councilpeople, since one of them was a woman) had just resigned under the cloud of a misappropriation-of-funds scandal, broken by our paper in a story uncovered, investigated, and written with a genuine byline by none other than yours truly.  I didn’t have expectations of a Pulitzer or anything like that, but it was still a sweet moment to savor.  Mr. Pierson had bought the booze, even springing for Tanqueray since my fondness for martinis is well known.  People kept offering another round of toasts and well, I could catch a cab home and so why not.  Then Missy Pierson showed up in a pair of cutoffs that barely hid the cheeks of her delectable ass which she proceeded to plop into my lap and when I asked if she was old enough to be drinking, she told me not to be an old fuddy-duddy, the legal age was twenty when you’re in the company of a parent.  Twenty is well over the age of legal consent in South Carolina as well, and one thing led to another and eventually I got to savor the glory of those bits of aforementioned delectable ass that the cutoffs had been hiding.

I remained the darling of the reporting staff right up until Monday morning when Mr. Pierson called me in and informed me that he was moving me to the local sports desk, get out there and cover some high school football.

And there I stayed for seven weeks and four days, unrepentant and unreconciled.   How unfair.  OK, maybe I should have used a bit more judgment.  But ultimately, Mr. Pierson should at least share the blame for any shortcomings in the proper moral instruction of his daughter.  Besides, half of her genes are his.  Although his ass was in no way comparable to hers, and I wasn’t going to kiss it to get out of reporter hell.

It was late, Friday night but just barely.  I had just wrapped up my brilliant coverage of West Ashley’s thrilling last second victory over arch-rival Wando, including a play-by-play description of the pyramid the drill team had constructed at halftime using bodies and chairs.  The shallow end of the news pool, but when you’re a reporter, you report, yessirree, Mr. Pierson.  I held no illusions that my riveting prose would get me back into real reporting, but it would probably enable me to hang onto my job until Missy got around to seducing somebody else and my misdeed was forgiven, or at least forgotten.

Anyway, I had emailed my last story to the editing desk and was strolling around the halls, killing time until the deadline to see if I might be needed to make any changes or clarifications.  As I passed Classified, there on the floor was a letter that had likely fallen from an overburdened in-box.  I scooped it up to replace it, but having nothing better to do—plus being a reporter and therefore nosy—I read it first.

Most classifieds are emailed in, and those sent by snail mail are typically scrawled on notebook paper in block letters by people who don’t have access to computers.  This one was thick, cream-colored stationery engraved with an Adeline Foster’s name and address in blue.  The text was written in a neat and legible cursive.

WANTED: Journalist for extended investigative project.  Accommodations and stipend provided, with bonus for success.  Send resume to (use address below).  For more information, inquire weekday mornings between 9 and 11 at 843-999-9999 (not the real phone number, of course, privacy laws being every bit as vicious as libel statues).

And look!  Here I was, a journalist damned tired of local sports reporting and therefore available for an extended investigative project.  If I believed in a god that sent signs, this would definitely qualify.  So I stuffed the letter in my pocket.  If it were indeed a message from god I didn’t need the competition, and if it turned out to be a dead end I could always return it in time to make the classified section on Tuesday.

At 9:01 on Monday morning I was on the phone.

“Ah, Mr. Whittaker.  What a delightful surprise.  I have read your stories with much interest, although not so much lately.”  A certain bell-like quality in her giggle took some of the sting out.  “Certainly YOU don’t need to send a resume.”  Again the giggle-bell.

“So tell me about this ‘extended investigative project.’  How extended, for example, and what are we investigating?”  Not to mention the devilish details about what sort of accommodations and how big a stipend.

“If you are truly interested in the project, how about coming out to Isle of Palm to meet me and discuss it.  Say, tomorrow at noon?  I shall have Priscilla prepare a light lunch.  I much prefer to do business over a good meal and a glass of wine than in some stuffy office, much less over the phone.”

Midday on Tuesday was about as slow a time as there was for local sports, particularly during football season.  I readily agreed to meet.

In preparation I consulted both Google and the well-indexed morgue at the newspaper.   Ms. Adeline Foster was a financially-independent 43-year old double-divorcee.  Born into an upper class Charleston family with an aristocratic lineage if little in the way of current prosperity, she had rectified that shortcoming through marriage.  The newspaper had lots of ugly details about her second divorce—in flagrante delicto infidelity by her shipping magnate husband with two underage prostitutes, captured on film by a private detective who sweet Adeline had hired to confirm her suspicions.  There was even a photo in the file, although we hadn’t been able to run it; once black stripes had been applied liberally enough to cover everything that the State of South Carolina defined as indecency, it would have looked like the women were wearing burkhas.  In fact, it was probably illegal to have that photo in the archives, even in the interest of thorough journalistic documentation.  I risked taking a moment to appreciate the creative athleticism of the young women before slipping it safely back in its envelope.

The photos on the web and in the morgue didn’t do Ms. Foster justice.  While perhaps not quite over the line between beautiful and merely attractive in her natural state, Ms. Foster didn’t appear in public au natural.  Lean as only an addiction to working out or a personal trainer can accomplish—I was betting on the latter, uniformly tan, glowing with health.  Not to mention perfect teeth, perfect skin, and perfect hair.  When Priscilla (I assumed; she didn’t introduce herself) showed me to the veranda, Adeline was sitting with her feet on a stool, exhibiting a pair of shapely calves peeking out beneath khaki capris.  A crisp white shirt was knotted above a taut belly that a woman fifteen years her junior would have been proud to display.

“Wonder if she sleeps with men who have no money,” my lusty alter ego immediately speculated.  Meanwhile, the working part of my brain was busy repeating my new mantra:  Women can get you in a lot of trouble.  Oohm.  Women can get you in a lot of trouble.  Oohm.

The working part of my brain didn’t stand a chance.

Status Update . . . and Announcement!

OK, so where are we in this process?  Many of you faithful readers have been following my blog for almost a year now.  You’ve read Strange Bedfellows chapter by chapter as I posted them, patiently waiting for the next one without giving me too much grief about it.  But that’s been awhile now.  So what’s going on?

Well, since you asked.

FIRST: STRANGE BEFELLOWS.  I incorporated your comments and suggestions and bundled it off to the proof reader.  Got it back on Monday, made final corrections, and SENT IT TO THE PUBLISHER!  Now we hold our collective breaths and see if she likes it as much as you did.

drum roll 3SECOND: AVALON, S.C.  I’ve been giving you teasers about this book for months now.  STARTING TOMORROW (drum roll, please), I’m going to start posting chapters Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  I have to tell you just how much I enjoyed the process and the interplay while we shared Strange Bedfellows.  So I’m looking forward to doing it again.

THIRD: RETURN FROM AVALON (AND POINTS WEST).  It’s been through one editor, corrections and suggestions sent and replied to.  Now it’s in the hands of the Debby, the second editor.  I expect to get her corrections and comments any day now.  Hopefully they won’t be, “What the hell was I thinking?  This book is horrible.”  Particularly since we’re scheduled for publication next month.

FOURTH:  NEW NOVEL WITHOUT A TITLE AS YET.  I’ve chosen a topic and a story, and have started working on characters and plot (or at least general direction).  I expect to spend a couple of weeks tops on that, and then start putting words on virtual paper.

LAST (BUT NOT LEAST): BRADLEY SCHUSTER AND THE HOLY GRAIL.  This is a very good novel (if I say so myself) patiently waiting for the perfect publisher to show up.  By the end of this year, I’m going to start actively marketing it again.  We’ve created a small problem in the meantime: Morgan Le Fay in that novel is not the same character as in Strange Bedfellows.   You told me that wouldn’t work well.  So there’s got to be some editing involved.

So spread the word about Avalon, S.C.  See you tomorrow.

 

How Much Plotting is Enough?

Yes, I am a dedicated pantser.  I went to a workshop last year where the presenter, a successful author, showed us how to construct a full story arc with crisis one, two, and three; twist one and two; refusing and ultimately accepting the call; wallowing in the depths of despair when everything seems to go wrong; and when we had finished — LO AND BEHOLD — our book was practically written.  All we had to do was to just add words.

story-arc-1I confess that my reaction was one of total horror.  I’m going to HomeAloneScreamFacespend months writing a book and all I get to do every one of those days is to just add words?

My very favorite thing to do as a writer is to put my characters in situations and see how they react.  And I don’t get to do any of that?  The very idea makes my skin crawl.

But you can’t just sit down with a blank page and start writing.  Maybe some people can.  Columnists, for example.  But I certainly can’t.

So how much plot is enough?

First of all, I have to know my characters.  I put off the whole plot thing by spending the first few days creating character bios.  Ever the geek, I start each bio with tab in an Excel spreadsheet.  Dates when they were born (including their birthday, even if it never has any relevance), graduated from high school, got married, etc.  Then I write several pages of bio material.  What did their parents do for a living?  What were their interests in high school?  Most of that never sees the light of day in the novel, but when I’m done, I know them inside and out.  Oh, they can and do still surprise me.  But at least their lives don’t start on page 1.

Then, once that’s finished, it’s on to that troublesome plot.

At the very least, I have to decide what the ultimate crisis in the novel is.  Even if there are no road maps, there has to be a beacon out there somewhere.

Sometimes, that’s enough.  It was in Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail.  Of course, if that’s all you know in the beginning, you set yourself up for a lot of rewriting.

I dislike rewriting almost as much as I dislike plotting.  So there has to be a happy medium.  On the verge of starting Novel #5, I’m still working to find out what that is.

One thing I absolutely can’t decide up front, however: how does the hero react to (or get out of) the crisis.  And yes, sometimes I get to Chapter 54 and wonder just how I’m going to get out of the corner I’ve written myself into.

But just think how much fun that can be.

Really Bad Writing II

When Really Bad Writing is elevated to an art form, is it still really bad?

Take, for example, the winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.  This contest, sponsored annually by the English Department of San Jose State University, invites writers to submit “the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”  According to the official rules, the prize for winning the contest is “a pittance” of $250.

The contest is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the much-quoted first line “It was a dark and stormy night,” from his 1830 novel Paul Clifford.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The contest attracts more than 10,000 entries.  And if you’re not bad enough to win but are noteworthy in your badness, you may be awarded a Dishonorable Mention.

Here is the winner of the 2012 Contest, by Cathy Bryant of Manchester England.

As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.

Or my personal favorite, winner of the Children’s Literature Category by David Nelsons of Falls Church, VA.

He staggered into the room (in which he was now the “smartest guy”) with a certain Wikipedic insouciance, and without skipping a beat made a beeline toward Dorothy, busting right through her knot of admirers, and she threw her arms around him and gave him a passionate though slightly tickly kiss, moaning softly, “Oooohh, Scarecrow!”

With a certain Wikipedic insouciance?  What a fine turn of phrase that is.  Indeed, based on that alone, I would have to answer my opening question with a resounding “No.”

However.

My intrepid writing partner SusanH, who trolls the ‘Net for such things, sent me a blog post from GalleyCat: Did Amanda McKittrick Ros write the worst novel ever (I keep encouraging – aka “motivationally bullying” – Susan to spend less time on the Internet and more time writing but she spurns that advice)?  This is truly elevation of the bad.

There were Amanda McKittrick Ros societies at Oxford and Cambridge. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their fellow Inklings were largely responsible for this enthusiasm: the informal Oxford literary group held sporadic Ros reading competitions, in which the winner was the member who could read from one of her novels for the longest without breaking into laughter … She was a sort of Bizarro World Oscar Wilde: an Irish author who became a London cause célèbre for the complete witlessness of her writing. Her fame even reached the shores of the New World, with no less a figure than Mark Twain crowning her “Queen & Empress of the Hogwash Guild.”

You can download a copy of the novel Irene Iddesleigh and see for yourself, if you are truly a glutton for punishment.  But I’ll share with you the opening of the book, so you can save yourself the pain.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34181/34181-h/34181-h.htm

Sympathise with me, indeed! Ah, no! Cast your sympathy on the chill waves of troubled waters; fling it on the oases of futurity; dash it against the rock of gossip; or, better still, allow it to remain within the false and faithless bosom of buried scorn.

Such were a few remarks of Irene as she paced the beach of limited freedom, alone and unprotected. Sympathy can wound the breast of trodden patience,—it hath no rival to insure the feelings we possess, save that of sorrow.

The gloomy mansion stands firmly within the ivy-covered, stoutly-built walls of Dunfern, vast in proportion and magnificent in display. It has been built over three hundred years, and its structure stands respectably distant from modern advancement, and in some degrees it could boast of architectural 10 designs rarely, if ever, attempted since its construction.

So, once again I ask: When Really Bad Writing is elevated to an art form, is it still really bad?  As we can see, the answer is still, YES.  However, maybe Ms. Ros gets the last laugh: you can still buy her novel on Amazon.

Irene Iddesleigh cover

Link to the GallyCat post:

http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/amanda-mckittrick-ros-worst-novel-ever_b68851

Poised on the Edge of a New Project

I love/hate starting a new novel. 

Writing is a discipline.  Oh, I know.  It’s a whole lot more than a discipline.  It involves imagination and creativity and a certain ability to string words together in a way that pleases people who read them.  And at its best it transports the writer out of his (or her: not being sexist here) everyday world into a place of mystery and delight.

But at its core, it’s a discipline.  You want to be a pianist, you practice.  You want to be a good pianist, you practice a lot.  If you have a limited grasp of what music is all about you will likely never be a great pianist.  But if you practice enough, you’ll be pretty damned good.

Likewise, if you want to be a writer, you write.  If you want to be a good writer, you write a lot.  If you have a limited imagination you will likely never be a great writer.  But if you write enough, you’ll . . . OK, you might never be pretty damned good.  You may only end up with piles of pedestrian manuscripts.  But the last one will be a whole lot better than the first one,  I guarantee.

But deciding what you’re going to write about?  Try as I might, I can’t turn that into a discipline.  Ideas are elusive.  Oh, they’re out there alright.  You just can’t command them to come in.   They have to be enticed.  Like fairies.  Sprinkle some bits of sugar cookies about — fairies like sugar cookies.  Unless they’re hungry for steak.

Back when I was working for money (as opposed to working to get words down on electronic paper), we had a little satellite plant in Dayton.  Dayton, Texas; not the Ohio version.  An hour’s drive down little Texas back roads.  Driving there in the early morning was the best.  The mists are still around — did I mention that fairies love mists?  Distractions are few and far between, unless you’re distracted by feed stores, trailers, cows watching you as they finish their breakfast. 

About 30 minutes into the ride, the fairies would come and ride with me.  They seemed to be fascinated by the idea of riding in a car in the midst of this rural landscape.

Walking just doesn’t do the same thing.  It’s not boring enough, I suppose.  Or maybe I just need to choose more boring places to walk.  A 40 acre soybean field, maybe. 

Think fairies hang out in soybean fields?

I have a couple of weeks for this idea to come together.  So I need to change my work habits.  Get up, shower, read the comments you’ve left for me on my blog over coffee.  And then head out for Dayton instead of the computer.

Here, fairies.

fairies 1

 

I Didn’t Write Yesterday

I didn’t write yesterday.  I can hear your collective gasp of horror making its way across the ether.  What are you doing, taking an unscheduled vacation from writing!  After all the lectures (aka motivational bullying) you’ve delivered.  You hypocrite!

Well, it’s sort of an imperfect storm of events.

First, I finished the first draft of the novel I’m writing on Saturday.  Don’t usually write on Saturdays, but I was so close.  The missing guy was found in a most unusual place, the bad guy dealt with in a most unusual manner, the leading characters successfully bedded and happy for now.

So I get to start a new novel!  Except:

First, I got the first round of edits on Return from Avalon (and Points West) (novel #2) back from Soul Mate Publishing last Thursday and I have to review/approve/comment on them.  Number One priority.  I ignored them until yesterday, as wrapped up as I was in the end of Avalon, S.C.  So I’m going to spend several hours a day on them until they’re done.  I’ve only done a chapter (out of 26) so far, and it’s not a lot of fun.  Nose to the grindstone, Rusty.

Second, I have to move Avalon, S.C. (novel #4) forward.  My plan is to let it sit for a week (perfect timing with item #1 above, wouldn’t you say?), then do a critical reread, decide if there are any major modifications that need to be made.  And then begin the 1st rewrite.  Once I start, I’ll be posting 3 chapters a week here as they come out of editing. I’m taking a vacation the first week of May, so I might not start posting until I get back.  Stay tuned!

For you latecomers, I did that very successfully with Strange Bedfellows (novel #3).  Ended up with quite an enthusiastic crowd of readers giving me grief because they had to wait for the next chapter.  As well as extremely valuable feedback.  Strange Bedfellows is in the proofreader’s hands, and should be ready to go out by the end of this month.

Third, I have to decide what I’m going to write about next.  I’ve been brainstorming like crazy, but haven’t decided yet.  Since I do my very best thinking while driving, I’m thinking of taking a little road trip to finalize the “plot” (using the term very loosely).  Probably have an Arthurian connection somehow, unless I decide it’s time to leave my happy little niche behind and venture out into the cold, cruel world.

Two of the leading ideas have female leads.  All 4 earlier novels have been written in first person, and it’s decidedly my voice of choice.  So my question for you is: can I write an entire novel first person with a female hero?  So far, my 1st round readers and critique groups are skeptical.

Don’t think research will help.  I’ve pretty much spent a lifetime researching the female mind and my understanding is still only at a kindergarten level.

So . . . got any great ideas for a novel?

Dont-Know-What-To-Write-About