Friday, February 26, 2010

Bare hands

One of the things that goes unrealized by people who come to Las Vegas from back East is that if you want stuff to live, you have to plant it before April. If you don't, it won't have a strong enough root system to stand the summer. So while the rest of country is still covered in snow, I generally spend the last week of February outside, digging in the dirt, planting, fertilizing, replacing mulch and gravel and pulling up weeds left by the winter rains.* This year I've planted two new species of penstemons, along with scrophularia and Jupiter's beard -- all low-water native plants that like the sun.
I used to plan my flowerbed. One year I put lavender with artemesia, thinking that the purple flowers and gray-green leaves would look nice together. The lavender didn't thrive and the artemesia did -- in fact, the artemesia took over the bed and I've never had the energy to root it up. (I like to think that now I can make my own absinthe, should I choose.) So, what with unusual seeds that just happened to thrive and impulse buys at the nursery, my flowerbed is the same every year -- a total work in progress, never done, never perfect. I always have a new plant that I think is going to cover all my bare spots. Last year it was globe mallow, another low-water plant, which ran wild and then expired, leaving a weedy skeleton to loom over the bed most of the summer. Just today I discovered a guest -- I don't think it's something I planted but it's not a weed and where it came from I can't tell. I'll just have to wait and see.
I'd hate to have a garden that was so perfect I didn't need to work in it.

*You all can quit envying me in May, when it's too hot to go outside.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Take Two

Yesterday I sat down and discovered 1) a set of revisions that I thought had been saved last week hadn't been saved at all, and 2) moving from a thumb drive to one of my home computers I had copied an unrevised section back over a revised section, so that was gone as well. Neither section was very long, and I could remember some of the changes I had made, but I had done those revisions in a sort of concentrated fury which I knew I couldn't recapture.

So I didn't get much done yesterday. Mostly I just berated myself. I've never lost anything I've written before. I now feel completely disconnected from the manuscript.

I couldn't even enjoy the ice dancing last night. (Though after the Russian "Aborigines" the night before I think I need to question my interest in this so-called sport.)

Well, life marches on. And I've just remembered an incident from a bio of Peggy Lee I read recently. When they were recording "Is That All There Is?' she went through something like 30 takes, trying to get it right. And on the very last take, when she finally nailed it, it turned out the sound engineer hadn't been recording. So they had to do it one more time. And that was the take that got released.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Whoops! blogfest

Thanks to Laurel for sponsoring the Whoops! blogfest. Go to her blog to read the others!

Please keep a couple of things in mind.
1) This is a real WIP, very new.
2) It part of the opening scene, so it may change or go away altogether.
3) This happened to me all the time in school...although never with Rosemary's Baby.

Of course Guy doesn’t believe Rosemary when she tells him there’s a coven of witches next door. He’s one of them! Rosemary’s such an idiot.
This reflection is interrupted by an awareness of a kind of silence around me. A waiting silence. Rosemary’s Baby is ripped from my hand, without Mrs. Tate even breaking stride. Then her desk drawer is open and the black cover of the book is disappearing inside.
“Mrs. Tate!”
The class is laughing hysterically.
“Mrs. Tate!”
“If you want it back, Joanie, you can ask at the end of the semester.”
“But it’s a library book!”
“That is your problem. My problem is to instruct you peons in the multiplication of decimals. If I accomplish nothing else in my brief time on this planet…”
And so on. Mrs. Tate really should have been a drama teacher.
In front of me Dan Smiley has fallen halfway out his seat with the effort of laughing at me. He sits up and, pushing his fingers up under his glasses, wipes his eyes.
“Man, that was priceless,” he says. “Priceless.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I need some advice.
I've spent the past six weeks waiting while an agent who requested "exclusivity" looked at pages from How to See the Elephant. Last week, that agent rejected it, so I'm going to start sending it out again. Here's the thing, though. I've recently revised one section of it, cutting about 3,000 words and streamlining the narrative. It was not an overall revision of the ms, just one focused on that particular section, based on feedback I had gotten about it. Now, back in October another agent told me that she would be interested in seeing HTSE again if I ever did any revisions of it. So the question is -- does it make more sense to send a revised HTSE to the previous agent, since she showed interest in it? Or should I start afresh, with agents I haven't sent it to? Or can I do both?
Second question. Another recent rejection said they would be interested in any other projects I might have. Usually I don't take this very seriously but as it happens I do have my former WIP, The Poison Hill, complete. I really hadn't intended to start submitting it, however. I think How to See the Elephant is much more "sellable" -- the basic concept is simpler ("girl runs away and becomes a nurse in the Civil War") and it fits into a familiar genre. And I really don't want to end up with two agents interested in two different projects (ha -- I should be so lucky!) because that would be a personal nightmare. Decision making is NOT my strong suit. I'd prefer to just push HTSE. But am I losing an opportunity here? Should I just be sending everything out, at the first sign of interest?
I've been going around and around with this for the past couple of days. Any advice?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Love at First Sight

I didn't get in on the Kissing/No Kissing blogfests, but I'm pretty excited about Love at First Sight. This is from my (no-longer IP) WIP, The Poison Hill, a YA novel set in the 1920s. Gertrude, the heroine, has gone with her mother to a health resort in Montana, where she meets Frances... Enjoy it, and Happy Valentine's Day!

"This is not how I meant to start. I meant to start with when I arrived. For some reason everything I wrote in my diary is…well, I wouldn’t say not true, but sort of unimportant. There were some things I couldn’t write down for fear of other people reading them and then that made other things too complicated to relate and soon there was nothing to write but unimportant stuff. (I wonder if all diaries are like that?) Still, I thought I had included some of the important things. I didn’t remember I’d written so much just about the train ride. And a few things I wrote were not exactly what happened. For instance, I wrote that I talked to Frances at the hot springs pool, but actually I was just sitting on the edge, with my legs in – the water was so hot and sort of nasty-smelling – and she was drifting around on her back on the other side. Then she turned over and swam towards the ladder like she was going to get out. I tried to think of something to say. I was still thinking when, as she climbed up the ladder, she pointed at the leg of my bathing suit and said:

“You’ve got a thread loose.”

And that was all, except I went back to my room and cut the thread off with Mother’s nail scissors.

Except it wasn’t all. It was a lot, actually. She had looked at me and spoken to me and I was so irritated at myself for wearing an old bathing suit like that and at the same time not really upset because she could have just walked right by me without saying anything, and she didn’t. It wasn’t like she said the thing about the thread to be mean. I didn’t feel that at all. There was something about her tone, as if she were calling out to me and laughing at the same time, so I didn’t take it amiss as I might have with another girl.

But of course when I sat down to write about it I couldn't put all that down. It wasn't there enough to write down. I couldn't write down either that I wanted to make her notice me that first night at dinner. I never could have, because it wouldn't have sounded right. But I did want to, even though I didn’t know then that she was going to be a person of importance to me.

But no, I can’t write that truthfully. I did know it. It was like a trumpet blast, when she looked at me at dinner. Windows must have shattered for miles around. And all around us people went on talking about duck blinds.

For days and days after that there was no thinking about anything. I was happy all the time. When I took the elevator past Floor 2 I would say to myself that’s her floor and when I walked in that sun-stunted rose garden, all brown leaves and withered stock, I would say she’s walked here.

No, that’s wrong. It’s soppy. I was never soppy.

It wasn’t a bit like what Louis is, either. There was absolutely nothing sick about it. I mean, you would only have to look at Frances to see how feminine she is. And all the men at the Paradise were crazy for her. Mr. Lind, the man with the false leg, who was a gas case from the war, never took his eyes off her and used to hobble up to talk to her in the halls.

No, it was not like Louis at all. It was something else entirely."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rain and Ruin

I know I haven't been here much lately. Sometimes things get very busy at work and I just can't seem to get clear of it. It's been raining a lot here in Vegas, which is good when you are staying in bed and reading Jane Eyre again but bad when it makes you want to eat lots of toast. Somehow rain and toast seem to go together for me.
Meanwhile I noticed this week that the trees are budding. My tulips are coming up in their pots on the porch, and the sweet peas rambling, although I'd prefer them to climb the trellis above them instead.
Oh, and I just got the most annoying kind of rejection letter -- not even any useful feedback, just "we didn't connect with it."
So I'm getting my agent notebook out again.
My officemate just said, apropos of something else, "well, it's better than a sharp stick in the eye." So I'll take that as my philosophy for the day.

I will be posting for the Love at First Sight blogfest on Sunday however!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hero Worship II: The Sylph

Lizzie Siddal (or is it Siddall?) was a different kettle of fish altogether. In the first place, even more obscure than Anne Boleyn. No one’s heard of her except art majors who’ve strayed down the same byways I have. And her life was pathetic. Anne Boleyn at least lived well and died bravely. You can dress Lizzie Siddal up all you like but she was still a drug addict who killed herself. And yet I admired her. I saw her as a role model. What was I thinking?
Perhaps part of it was the difference been childhood and adolescence. As a child I fixated on a dynamic heroine who did things her way. As a teenager I admired a passive, insubstantial figure who turned her back on life when it became too difficult for her. Pretty much textbook, I guess.
Elizabeth Siddal (1829-1862) started out as a model for the Pre-Raphaelite artists, particularly Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and in time began living with Rossetti, though they put off marriage until 1860. The reasons for this un-Victorian arrangement seem to have been 1) economic (Rossetti was poor), 2) social (Lizzie was from a lower class) and 3) true love never running smooth (they broke up for more than a year.) Rossetti encouraged her to paint, as did John Ruskin, but Lizzie was sickly, given to going to spa cures and killing her pains with laudanum. She was, however, Rossetti’s primary muse, painted over and over in small, intricate, mysterious pictures. (The picture above is one of the early ones. There was a period in his life when he did little but sketch her.) In 1861 they had a stillborn child; thereafter she behaved “erratically” and became reclusive. In February 1862 Rossetti came home to find her dying of an overdose.*
In terms of actual facts, not a lot is known about Lizzie’s life. Only a couple of her letters survive. Victorian reticence covered her during Rossetti’s lifetime. By the end of the 19th century people had begun to spin mythologies about what they needed her to be: a frail muse, an emotional vampire, and, later, an anorexic victim of the patriarchy and Victorian hypocrisy. With her apparent beauty and not-so-apparent talent, her obscurity, her mysterious illnesses and her early death, she was born to be fictionalized. I can’t isolate now quite why I found this combination so admirable, but perhaps this was my first experience with pure storytelling, with floating away from reality into a world of embroidered highs and lows, of romance and drama.

*After this, things turned very weird: Rossetti buried his unpublished poetry with her, then, seven years later, decided he really needed those poems back and had her dug up so he could retrieve them. Then he had a mental breakdown and became an alcoholic and drug addict as well.