Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Talk to Myself

I didn't tell people I was writing a book for the first few weeks.

For one thing, everyone and their dog has this crazy idea they just know will top the NY Times Bestseller List, if they can ever get around to writing it. Or finishing it.

For another, I've watched nearly every episode of The Golden Girls, and have had nightmares that I am Blanche Devereaux in the episode about her novel-writing experience. My ego is too fragile for that type of comparison.

But one of the biggest reasons I kept the book to myself was my complete inability to describe it to people. I dreaded the obligatory question; "What is your book about?", and found it easier to avoid the subject entirely than have to stammer out something like "Well, it's complicated." I'm not fortunate enough to be like J.K Rowling (wizards) or Stephenie Meyer (vampires), who can use a single word to describe their sagas.

Although I don't think it's the solution to all life's conundrums, I've found talking to myself to be extremely helpful in this case. After several lengthy discussions, we- I mean, I have managed to narrow down my plot synopsis to a sentence or two. Also important, I can say it without stammering. I sound smart, and smart is good.

I'm still somewhat hesitant to announce that I've written a novel, and probably will feel unqualified until the book is published. Let's not count our pages before they're printed. However, I'm no longer afraid of the inevitable question.

What is my book about?

I'm glad you asked.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pass the Zoloft, please

Polishing a manuscript is a walk in the park. The industrial park. In a lightning storm. Barefoot over rusty nails and broken glass. Blindfolded.

Just when I think I'm finished (again), I find another golden article filled with 'what not to do' advice. I've already butchered my novel, shaving off 30,000 words in a brutal blood bath, and the latest slaying has left nearly seven pages on the cutting room floor.

What not to do: Do not talk about the weather, give elaborate descriptions of setting, or indulge in purple prose in the first chapter of your manuscript. The first chapter is the writer's big chance to bond with the reader. Reach out and grab your audience!

Guess what my first chapter did. Described the weather, the setting and was full of purple prose. Although it was a particularly lovely shade of violet, the setting was beautiful and the sticky humidity was quite funny (in my opinion), it was definitely an example of 'what not to do'.

My new theory? I will never be done spit-shining this book. Even after it's on bookshelves, I'll be kicking myself for things I should have changed before it went to print.

For those of you who don't know me, this is not whining. I am prone to sarcasm. No, seriously. And I relish my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. There are few things more satisfying than opening a big bag of Starburst and lining them up by color/flavor to make sure they are consumed in a logical order. When I have time, I even scrutinize my Jelly Bellies the same way. Perhaps this is all some crazy metaphor, an example of how I compensate for the chaos created by being the mother of five children under the age of twelve. Perhaps I am reading too much into things because I have not met my required dosage of caffeine this morning.

Hmm, provoking.

Random memory: When he was ten, my little brother (who is now a Phi Beta Kappa law student at USC) used to flick a taquito up and down like a cigar and say 'Gimmee a penny and I'll shove it up your nose' in a remarkable Groucho Marx impersonation. Man, I miss that kid!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mountain Schmountain: Title Change

Alright, so I'm not in love with 'Golden Mountain'. I've never been attached to any title except my WIP label; 'Will and Maggie'. After doing some title browsing online, I've decided to try something a little more enticing and mysterious.

For now, unless something changes between here and the printing press, my novel is now called 'Linger'.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spoiler-free synopsis of Golden Mountain (needs polishing)

Maggie, a young woman entering adulthood, moves cross-country to her aunt’s farm in Tennessee when she decides a change of scenery will help fight her lifetime battle with depression.


Despite her determination to get her life in order first, she falls in love with Will, a local boy a few years her senior.


The family farm was her grandfather’s greatest passion, second only to his wife. Her death left him a broken man who spent his last days on the farm in the care of his youngest daughter, who lives there still. Echoes of his presence still linger around the old farmhouse, and Maggie finds the whispers and footsteps are a comfort instead of a fear.


As she learns the details of her grandparents' lives, she begins to see alarming similarities between herself and her grandmother. Even her relationship with Will seems to mimic the doomed love story that took place on the family farm before she was even born.


Maggie is inexplicably drawn to the old house at the back of the farm that once belonged to her newlywed grandparents. With her aunt’s blessing, she begins to restore the house and make it her home.


She becomes deeply entwined in the dark secrets surrounding her grandmother’s death, following the soft guidance of her grandfather’s spirit. Will is increasingly concerned about her obsession with the past, and is gnawed at by growing doubts about their future together.


Summer fades into fall, and the seasonal surge in her depression is dangerously close at hand. Isolated in the little house, ostracized by the small town and struggling with self-destructive instincts, Maggie begins a desperate search for the one thing, the catalyst that triggered her grandmother’s death, in the hope that the knowledge can save her life.


Book one is complicated by the attraction another boy from town feels for Maggie. They have a great deal in common, much more than they can see in the beginning. When he discovers her relationship with Will, his jealousy becomes a deadly threat. Maggie's unseen link to him makes her the only one who can see the logic behind his actions, and her empathy only spurs him on.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ode to Falafel

Having discovered the simplicity of homemade falafel, and finding it far superior to the "just add water" crap-in-a-box, I feel inspired to pen an ode to my lunch.

Oh crunchy chickpea balls of pleasure
With your tender yellow center
Tomato, lettuce, whole grain pocket
(Until you've tried it, please don't knock it)
A Nutty drizzle of tahini
And I'll still fit in my bikini

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Excerpt from Golden Mountain

“I’ve got a surprise for you.” Will reached behind the seats in the cab of his truck.

Movies and television had led me to believe that surprises from male suitors usually involve some form of precious metal and possibly a sparkler, so I was totally taken aback when he pulled out an enormous, four foot long rifle.

“Am I in trouble?” I asked, disappointed about the disparity between my life and romantic fiction.

“I told you I was gonna show you how to use one of these, didn’t I?”

“Well, yeah, but I thought you were talking about like a handgun or something, not a bazooka.” The rifle was intimidating, a smooth stretch of black with flashes of reflected light from the metal and glass on the more complicated working parts.

“If you hear someone around here talking about guns, they’re talking about one of these.” Will said, smiling at me with an air of mockery. “Those little cap guns y’all have in the city don’t work for hunting.”

Even though I knew he was having fun at my expense, it was too much not to play along. “I’ll have to remember that the next time a deer breaks into my house in the middle of the night. Of course, I’ll have to get a bigger nightstand to keep it in.”

He didn’t find it as funny as I hoped he would, but he was still mildly amused. “That’s right, you’re from a place where you have to keep your doors locked.”

I frowned, a little too noticeably. There were too many conflicts between Will and the city.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, spotting the change in my expression.

“I just wish you could see it sometime.” I couldn’t picture him anywhere near Salt Lake City, but I’d learned enough to know that anything was possible.

“See what, a deer in a ski mask going through your underwear drawer?”

“Oh, ha ha. So are we going to shoot this thing or what?”

“Yeah. Come on.” He took a small rectangular box out of his truck before shutting the door. “We’re running out of daylight.”

I trotted after him, each of his steps was equivalent to two of mine and he was moving quickly. The grass was lush, the blades wide and the most vivid shade of green. I had slipped on a pair of thinly strapped flip flops when I left the house, and my toes were cool and wet with the dew that had already condensed in miniscule beads over every surface on the farm. There were small white wisps in the grass in a few places, which I discovered were spider webs as we passed close by. I was immediately aware of the bare skin on my ankles and calves, exposed to whatever creatures were lounging in the yard and had been disturbed by us rushing through.

I had to remind myself to be tough. After all, I was about to be shooting a really big gun. The mental image of me holding the rifle almost made me laugh.

We passed by the shed, where Aunt Carol’s canna lilies were blooming with blood red speckled tangerine flowers tipping their tall stalks. The plants that volunteered themselves around the lilies had flourished into thick bushes that flowed down in a solid carpet to the grass below. In the silvery light and balmy climate, the plush vegetation seemed like a tropical rainforest. The rising hum of the insect choir only added to the ambiance.

Will slowed when we came to where the ground began to slope sharply downward toward the creek bed. We were beside the entrance to the cow pasture, lined with ancient log fence posts and strands of barbed wire. The song of the crickets and frogs was louder there, chirping from thickets the lawnmower couldn’t reach.

“This’ll work.” He said, looking over the immense cascade of dark green that spilled from the trees down the steep banks of the creek. It formed a dense, leafy wall at the edge of the field across from us.

“What is that stuff?” I asked him, studying the wild vines that were swallowing up the trunks of the trees and drowning them in a sea of wide lobed leaves and hungry tendrils. “It’s everywhere.”

“The vine that ate the south.” He said, leaning the rifle up against a fence post and opening the little box. Inside was a row of gleaming brass tubes. Bullets.

“No, seriously. What is it?”

Will laughed at me. “I’m not kidding, that’s what people call it. It’s really a kudzu vine though. Farmers hate it because it grows on everything and spreads faster than they can kill it.”

“It’s creepy. I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

“Well, that’s gonna be your target. Aim for the other side of the creek.” He handed me the gun. “First you’ve got to load it.”

“Wait, why am I aiming at all of that? I can’t tell what I’m shooting in there.”

Will laughed at me. Again. “Don’t worry about aim yet. Just see how it feels to fire it first.”

I was disappointed. The lesson wasn’t going to be as exciting as I’d thought it would be. “Alright, fine. Where do I stick this thing?”

Will pointed to a dull metal ball at the end of a short lever above the trigger. “See this?” He asked, pointing. “This is the bolt handle. You’ve got to flip this safety first,” He snapped a little black switch at the end of the silver bolt, “then lift the handle and pull it back.”

I flipped up the little ball and pulled it back toward me. The sound was tantalizing, an articulate, calculated set of clicks that were perfectly succinct as the metal parts locked into their places.

“Now you’ve opened the magazine.” He handed me one of the long, pointed bullets. “Load this in there.” He said, showing me just where to insert the deadly piece of metal. “OK, now lift the handle again and push the bolt forward this time.”

The intricate clicking was just as titillating the second time, a dangerous sound that made me feel brave and virulent.

“You’re holding a loaded rifle now, so be careful.” Will stepped partially behind me, positioned at my side. “Put this part,” he patted the wide end of the gun, “the butt, into your shoulder. No, higher. Good. Now put this hand here, under the forestock, and your other hand up here on the trigger.” He positioned my arms, lifting up my elbows so that I had the gun level with my shoulders.

I felt like a sniper.

“Put your cheek right up against the gun and look into the scope. What do you see?”

The scope looked like a very thin telescope perched on top of the rifle. The lens was a good four inches from my eye and all I could see was a purple glow, so I moved my face closer. The purple became blue, a duochrome effect like oil in water. Transposed on the surface of the glass over the rainbow was my reflection, a birds’ eye view of my squinting gaze staring back at me.

“I see myself.” I said, feeling stupid.

“You’re too close. You’re gonna knock yourself out. Slide back a little.” Will was sporting a playful grin, having way too much fun with the experience. “Tell me when you see something.”

I moved my face back millimeter by millimeter until a small circle began to open in the center of the purple mirage. There were magnified green fronds behind faint crosshairs.

“OK, I see something now.” I moved the gun very slightly, trying to focus on something specific in the wall of vines. “All I see is that damn vine.” I said, irritated. “How do I know where I’m shooting?”

Will chuckled. “It doesn’t matter as long as you’re facing that way and you’re looking at leaves through the scope.” He paused. “Are you ready?” His voice sounded more concerned than it should have.

“What am I doing wrong?” I sighed, not budging from my frozen pose with one eye open and my elbows raised at the level he’d put them.

“You might want to spread your feet out a little and bend your knees.”

My stomach jumped. “Oh no, this is going to hurt, isn’t it?” I asked.

He loved it. “Just pull the trigger fast like you’re ripping off a band aid.” He said, taking several large steps away from me.

I tried to move the index finger that was resting on the trigger, but the knuckle wouldn’t bend any farther.

“You’re not chickening out, are you?”

That was enough of a challenge for me. My finger finally responded to the signal from my brain and pulled the trigger.

POW!

My shoulder was shoved violently backward as the gun recoiled. The bang of the rifle firing ripped through the air, echoing off the distant mountains and ringing in my ears, officially the loudest sound I’d ever heard.

I lowered my arms, still holding the gun with both hands. My heart was thundering in my chest, the blood racing through my body at the speed of light. Everything sounded fuzzy, like there was cotton packed into my ears.

“That was awesome!” I gasped, looking at Will with wildly sparkling eyes and a wide smile that seemed to stretch without my control. “Can I do it again?”

Will looked impressed and a little bit shocked. “Sure, but first you’ve gotta eject the shell.”

“Oh cool, like in the movies! How do I make it pop out?” I inspected the gun around the place I’d inserted the cartridge.

Drawing closer, he reached out and touched the gun to show me what to do, but didn’t take it from me. “It’s the exact opposite of loading. Flip up the bolt handle, pull it back.” He moved his hands over mine as we brought back the bolt together, and the gleaming brass shell casing was forcefully bounced out of the magazine with a satisfying metallic clink.

Will took a few of the pointed bullets from the box and snapped them into the rifle. “Push it back up and lock the bolt handle.” His arms wrapped around from behind, easily reaching along the length of my own to completely shelter me as we lifted the gun back up into position. “Ready to try again?” He asked, whispering.

My body was still electric with the rush from the rifle blast, and the warmth of his encompassing embrace sparked into an arc between us. There was crushing pressure in my chest, a grip that made it hard to breathe and it was all I could do to focus on something other than the sizzle between his cheek and mine.

“Ready?” He whispered again.

“Hang on, I’m trying.” I still hadn’t willed my eyes open yet.

Will’s lips delicately brushed my jaw, the tip of his nose tickling the hollow below my ear with a feathery touch before he kissed the length of my neck to the back of my shoulder.

“You’re making this really difficult.” I said, wishing he wouldn’t stop.

“I know.” He lifted his mouth so that his words were a slight breath beside my ear. “It’s fun.”

Just as I was ready to drop the gun and turn around to violate him, his teasing let up and his guidance was firm again. His right arm shadowed mine, bent at the elbow with his hand cupping my hand on the trigger.

“Ready now?” His words had his voice behind them to give them weight, even though they were still hushed.

“Ready.” I squeezed the trigger again, and the power of the explosion inside the rifle thrust me back against Will’s chest as another deafening blast reverberated through the countryside.

His voice was a whisper in my ear again. “Eject the shell.”

I slid back the bolt to flip out the empty cartridge again and pushed it back in place, relishing the fabulously meticulous clicks made by the metal.

Even though I couldn’t see his face, his familiar smile was recognizable in his voice. “I never would’ve thought you’d be so into this.”

“Me either.” I answered him absentmindedly, as I searched through the scope, looking for something recognizable that I could aim for. Scanning over the rabid vines, I finally found an exposed area on the trunk of a gargantuan old tree on the other side of the creek.

“What are you doing?” Will had felt me scanning the creek bed with the rifle.

I focused on keeping still, balancing the heavy gun so that the crosshairs were fixed on the rough bark of the tree. “I’m finding a target.”

He coughed from over my shoulder and I felt determination surge as though he’d just double-dared me. Holding my breath, I tightened my hold and braced for impact.

POW!

The gun bucked up, rearing into my shoulder and throwing echoes over the surrounding hills. My ears were ringing as I kept my cheekbone firmly pressed against the rifle to search for the tree through the scope. The recoil had knocked my view a few inches out of place, but I managed to find the trunk again. It looked completely untouched.

“How far will this thing shoot?”

His smirk was a little too handsome to be insulting. “Much farther than across the creek if that’s what you’re asking. Did you miss?”

Puberty

I wrote this in high school, but I still love it. Scares the hell out of me that I'll have teenage children in a few years.

It all started the last time I didn't feel anything. I thought I was numb, but I was really just coming to life. Then came the pain, the slowness, and it crawled through me like a diseased heartbeat, making its way down through me in my bloodstream.

I tripped into rigor mortis like a mud puddle and tried to stay in bed, but I thought 'walk it off, walk it off' like an idiot and I lost most of my toes when they snapped off on the sidewalk.

Decomposition started soon after, biting at my fingers, chin and nose, turning my skin livid violet. Lay down and feel it, I did. Sat in it. Rolled in it. Let it chew on me with dusty musty baby teeth until, one day (blue and bloated) I fell apart at the seams.

My mother told me I was becoming so developed and mature, right before her lower jaw fell off and gassy yellow boils broke out across her left cheek.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Accident

I guess it was a quarter to two when the power went out. I don't really know how long ago that was, because the little red numbers on the alarm clock died with the lights. The sun hasn't come up yet. Not that I could see it from the closet, but some instinctive part of me knows.

He's out there still. I can hear the meat tenderizer finishing off the last pieces of glass from the medicine cabinet mirror. He's been at it forever. You know that sound when someone drags the tines of their fork across a plate? Imagine that sound in short, succinct bursts. That and the sound of splintering glass had chilled me straight through, sticking needles in my skin.

I can barely remember the accident, although it was only two days ago. I guess calling it an accident isn't entirely correct. It was a strange sound, like pressure building and mounting until... until... In this case, until water trickled under the front door. I stared at it for the longest time, before the door caved in under a wall of water and darkness crawled across the carpet to drench my socks and creep up my jeans. I ran up the stairs- No, I flew up the stairs, holding onto the handrail but barely touching the floor as the water rose slowly to cover the first step, and then the second. The water stopped about a foot above the top of the stairs, opaque and swimming with leaves.

I sat atop my dad's oak desk until he found the metal mallet with the spikes that my mom used on last night's chicken. He'd put holes in the walls trying to find us, but most of us managed to get away. I haven't seen either of my sisters, but I'd been close enough to watch my little brother race across the wading pool that used to be the second floor landing. He hadn't made it. After he disappeared under the leaves, I shut the closet door.

I've been here, watching that alarm clock for almost two days, even after the power went out. I don't think I'll be waiting much longer.

The mallet is on the bedroom door.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Regrets

He kept a crisp blue tarp over the boat, and on warm evenings he'd pull it back, baring the rusted skin of her breastbone under the buzzing gold of the porch light. He'd kneel in the backyard, soaking the knees of his khakis with the sharp tang of dew from his freshly mowed lawn. He'd fondle her between beers, but mostly he'd just sit back on the white resin lawn chair and stare at her while mosquitos danced on his skin.

I think she liked the feel of his eyes on her. She seemed to hum with satisfaction when he ran a hand over the filmy old paint on her sides. He'd loved her well in their years together, I'd always been aware. Something crawled from him and went off to die alone once we'd moved from the river to the suburbs and she'd been laid to rest behind the garage.

He'd spend hours with her, talking in a low even voice while his forehead rested on her aging shoulder. Sometimes, the hushed tone of his voice would carry through the screen door into the kitchen, and I'd run water in the sink so I couldn't hear him whisper to her.

Those were the dark nights when he'd lay on top of the sheets next to me, long after I'd turned off the lamp. He'd turn toward the window with his back to mine, no sound but the crickets and the soft purr of the refrigerator downstairs. I knew he was regretting it again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Golden Mountain: Will & Maggie

After 20 weeks and five days of obsessive, late night writing, Will & Maggie is finally finished. What began as a story about a girl discovering traces of her grandfather's spirit on the old family farm quickly became a dark love story, complicated by a dangerous obsession and an unseen enemy hidden deep inside a young woman's mind. That was the easy part.

Nearly 30,000 words have been chopped from the story during the polishing process, many of which were written in the first few chapters before I'd established the plot change. For those of you who weren't wowed by that number, let me put that in perspective for you. A good rule of thumb is that one page equals approximately 250 words. So basically, I shaved over a hundred pages off my novel. Ouch. Still not the hard part, though.

Literary agents are extremely busy people, reading page after page of prospective material every day. Naturally, they don't have time to carefully study every manuscript pitched their way. To alleviate their reading load and assist in their decision making process (Is this worth reading, or would I have more fun trimming my toenails?), many agents ask for a brief synopsis of a novel before requesting a partial or complete manuscript. A brief synopsis. Brief.

There are a number of different threads running through my book, so I can't describe the plot by saying 'girl meets boy, girl and boy meet conflict, girl and boy overcome conflict, everyone lives happily ever after'. It's not that formulaic. The synopsis must include major events and characters, and reveal the conflict resolution and big dramatic ending. No cliff-hangers, just tell me what happens, damn it! My first synopsis was more than twenty pages long, but was very thorough. Every book, blog and article I read about writing a synopsis told me that was too long. I hacked away at it, paring it down to seven pages of clipped plot description, and was asked for a 1-2 page synopsis. *sigh* Finally, I worked out an extremely condensed version of my plot, which is about as fascinating as 'a little guy gets a spiffy ring, which is cursed, and joins up with an elf, a king, two short dudes and some other people to go destroy it. A slimy weirdo is freaking out about it, a glowing eyeball wants it, a tall wizard with a beard won't touch it, and the king/alcoholic from that one Sandra Bullock movie is in love with an elf girl. Trees talk, a king does a Linda Blair impersonation, a witch has a mood swing, ghost knights glow in the dark, and the slimy freak bites off the little guy's finger and falls in some lava with the ring.' Granted, I'm not in the same league as Tolkien, but you get the idea. Oh yeah, and that still wasn't the hard part.

Before an agent will pitch a novel to a publisher, she has to read the novel to make sure it'll sell more than three copies (one for the author's shelf and one for each of her parents). Before she'll read the novel, she has to read several chapters to make sure it's worth taking the time to read the whole shebang. Before she'll read several chapters, she has to read the synopsis to find out if it's a unique, or even interesting, story line. But before she'll read anything at all (or even bother to learn your name), she scans through a paragraph about the novel and a brief summary of your previously published works. Doesn't sound too bad? That agent has hundreds of emails in her virtual inbox every week, with hundreds of different plots and hundreds of different Stephenie Meyer hopefuls trying to get their work on bookstore shelves. In a couple of sentences and about thirty seconds, I have to convince a very busy person that I am worth their time, and that I can earn them money.

Query, Query Deux, Query Redux, and Query AGAIN have all been labored over on my laptop, and are beginning to find their way to literary agents' inboxes.

Golden Mountain: Jack & Helen is burning in my brain, bouncing around in my dreams and distracting me twenty-four hours a day. When I'm not perched at my breakfast bar at zero-dark-thirty, watching the cursor fly across a glowing screen as it spells out my story, I'll try and post updates, musings and past writing projects for my readers.

--SayCaity