Time out...

I am relegating myself to the corner today for having – once, again --broken the rule of not writing long comments on other people’s blogs (sorry, Gina). I think my problem lies in not knowing the difference between a comment and a discussion. Hmmm…

At any rate, I have this wonderful discussion going on in my brain (blogs are not discussion boards – I have a feeling the same rules apply to them as dinner parties) so I will have to discuss it with all of you, here, instead, or I won’t get anything else done today.

“You mean you’ve been gone for months and all we’re going to do is discuss blog comments? When are you coming home?”

“Quiet, Lilly, at least she’s here.”

I believe the topic was editing, and the way in which different people go about it. At first, I didn’t think there was any particular way I went about it, but looking a bit closer, I find that there is. So, in a nutshell, here it is…

For me, there are two types of editing that apply to my fiction. The first is mechanical, and I do it like housework: picking things up as they catch my eye, so I don’t trip over them later. The second type is more complicated because it is for content, and done best only after I have collected all those serendipity discoveries along the way that add a more believable light and reason to the story itself. It isn’t until I am in possession of all of these gems that I can go back and place them into the hollow spots in order to clarify the original pattern.

Until then, I treat a hollow spot rather like a zero: its value lies in holding the place for what I will discover later… based on the amount that has happened before. But the time element – that percolating mysterious infusion factor must always be there in between the inspiration (rough draft) and the translation (content editing). Without that, I am still too close and emotionally involved (and hearing too many voices) to trust my own better judgment. Personally, I do not have the capacity to listen and translate at the same time.

But that’s me.

Oh, and I too, have a point at which I am thoroughly convinced that everything I have written is crap (another element brought up in the original blog). It comes somewhere between three-quarters of the way through and the end. Which I can only handle by considering it a form of postnatal depression, where one’s only hope lies in knowing that it will eventually pass. And it always does.

In summing up I must say that – unlike editing the work of others (which becomes more professional with experience) – self-editing can only be perfected by a better understanding of one’s personal experiences along the writer’s road, and a growing faith in what works best for them in striving toward their own particular destiny.

There. That pretty much covers it.

Now, how is everybody?

What’s happening on the farm today: I have not been home for months, but Pops has made a quick trip back to fix fences, get in firewood, and generally get ready for winter. And thanks to our many advances in modern communication, I know that there is a warm fire crackling in the stove right now, and there will be a delicious pot of cabbage and potatoes for dinner tonight. Me? I’m in a rainy, blustery storm moving across San Francisco Bay…


Real voice...

My days seem to be getting longer and longer, while my weeks and months are passing by like a runaway train. Hmmm… now, let’s see, where were we? Ah, yes, the bones…

I am still marveling over the bones of this new story. In the past, I would have sailed on toward the finish of the rough draft as if some sort of bomb threat were imminent. Driven might be a better word for it. Where does that come from? I am now convinced that it is one of the many intruding voices that authors are deluged with. It is not THE voice. The real voice never drives. It is more quiet, gentle, and easy to get in touch with. And it always invites us to "regard and consider" rather than "do this!" or "do that!" It has more respect for our talents, perspectives, and experiences: those things that make us truly unique individuals. It knows we have the capacity to create a story no one else can write. One that might possibly encompass the world if we are wise enough to "regard and consider" it.

The true voice for a writer is the one that inspires a partnership in great things. The one that says, "Let’s think on this a little longer. Look closer – there’s a treasure hidden for you in there." It is a good voice. To listen to it never makes you tired. It never fills you with regret. Most of all, it doesn’t desert you on some dead-end path to feel your own way out through the darkness, encountering any number of horrors along the way.

So, I am thinking about the bones. Of structure. Yes, and (as I said last time) the individuality of them, and the way all the joints fit together to benefit the whole, and the beautiful harmony of all the parts – the very craftsmanship of a working skeleton is beyond me. My eyes have gone over the whole thing countless times, and surely it must be time to go on.

Yet the voice keeps telling me to "Look closer, there’s a treasure for you there!" So, I agree. And continue to wonder what could be more fascinating about bones other than the way they – if fit together properly – are capable of moving so beautifully. Ah, but wait… perhaps there is some secret hidden in the bones themselves. And it isn’t until I take the time to actually look inside that the "secret" is finally revealed to me.

The secret of the bones… the secret of the bones… good heavens! The secret of the bones is that they are WHERE THE BLOOD IS MADE.

And where there is blood there is life.

What’s happening on the farm today: Beautiful day – a harbinger of summer. The horses have been allowed out onto a small piece of the prairie, where they are gorging themselves on grasses that have grown naturally and without the aid of chemicals or machines. Whenever I go out to check on them they glance up with concern. "You’re not going to make us go back home, yet, are you?" their eyes say. "Because we are not ready!"


Dem Bones...

"Without bones you'd be just a puddle of skin and guts on the floor."

If we were to look at an outline as the bones of a story, our own natural logic is more than enough to pick up the lesson. However, it has been tickling my mind lately how I could have multiple tasks for my outline (or in this case, outlines) that would be much more useful to me than just a place to hang up the "skin and guts." Which forced me to do a little research to back up the theory, since the Professor is still locked up in his laboratory and refuses to be bothered with impertinent questions.

"The only reason we even know he’s still alive, is that the food disappears from the trays we leave outside his door."

"And such noises!"

A bit more information than we need in this blog, ladies. I hope we don’t have guests. Now, back to this theory on outlines. On closer investigation it turns out that a skeleton is not just some rack upon which we hang ourselves, it is a veritable community of living parts. So well organized that, at first glance, one only notices that familiar hobgoblin of a person who either makes us laugh or scares the daylights out of us. It isn’t unless one scrutinizes that we find out it is a myriad of little things working together better than a well-oiled machine, yet each is doing their own peculiar job. That being the case, it might behoove me to look at my outline with an eye toward whether or not it has the right components included in it to bring a story to life. Hmmmm…

I can see right now it’s going to take more than a morning to figure out just what those components are. So, I suppose I’ll just think of them tomorrow.

"What -- did she leave again? Now, what are we supposed to do?"

"The only thing we can do, Lilly. We sit in Casablanca and wait. And wait. And wait."

What’s happening on the farm today: Pops is on the roof this morning, hammering and pounding away as he builds a covered porch outside the Livingstone guest room. The curiosity room is quite finished except for hanging up all the curiosities, and the kitchen window-seat (with its country French windows that open IN to let the outdoors inside) turned out absolutely charming. If it gets any better around here, nothing less than a boat could entice me away this summer.


And the answer is...

There we were. Clipping along at a good pace on the new project when suddenly – BAM! – the answer to a plot-tangle that has been hanging around for so long it’s embarrassing, suddenly revealed itself. Amazing in its simplicity… there must be some hidden flaw in it (I’m almost always the last to know about such things). On closer inspection it not only looks sound, but brilliant.

Where in the world did that come from?

All my usual sources are quiet. I haven’t worked on that particular manuscript for quite some time. Yet, something has been percolating in my brain that is larger than any one manuscript. Something of a revelation, only it wasn’t coming in very clear. Here’s how it started.

I was watching an old movie and keeping tabs on the "one darn thing after another" concept that I felt had contributed the most to its success. Suddenly I realized that it wasn’t just "one darn thing after another." It was ONE PARTICULAR DISTURBING UNIVERSAL HORROR after another that kept audiences glued to their seats. Here’s the difference…

One darn thing:
A stranger is in your house.

The college student you have agreed to rent a room to for the semester turns out to be a psychopath.

But that isn’t the complete concept. There are lots of successful plots that incorporate one particular horror. The difference with this new idea is that there must be several. Such as…

You forget to lock your door and wake up later in the night to the sounds of someone walking down the hallway.

You discover you have left your cell phone in the car.

You panic and climb out the window, only to realize your keys are still in the house.

You dart over to the neighbors as a last resort and no one is home.

You suddenly realize you are running around a public street in your underwear.

A patrol car pulls up to the curb because another neighbor has reported a half-naked predator slinking around people’s houses.

Hmmm. Now, if this were the new requirement for plots, just how might this effect my current WIP…

What’s happening on the farm today: Rain, wind, and a crackling fire to work by. The only interruptions come from "Boo Radley" who has not been in the family long enough to know rainy day schedules relegate all wet dogs to kitchen-only status. He thinks he must have done something really bad, but he just can'’ figure out what.


Game Over...

I apologize to the group, but we must take time out to play a game last week. You see – once again – I realize I have not gone by the rules.

"Oh, no, this isn’t going to be another self-analysis thing, is it? Production hasn’t even got up-to-speed since that last tangent."

Of course not, Ann. Though I will admit there is more than one lesson to be learned from this experience. At any rate, it occurs to me I wanted to read what others had taken the time to list, without doing the same thing, myself. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even realize it was necessary. I mean, nobody ever comes here but us, so what would be the point.

"Then what exactly is the point?"

Integrity. If one says they are going to do something, they should do it. Builds integrity. Actually has a bigger benefit for the person who speaks up than the one who simply hears. No one can survive in any circle these days without at least a moderate amount of integrity, so let’s get to it. We are to go to page 123 of the nearest book at hand that we are currently reading, count five sentences down the page, and then copy the next three.

"Whatever for?"

I have no idea. Except that there are a lot of people who refuse to even get involved in this stuff. The majority, in fact. Which is a good reason to re-evaluate. It’s just that the three lines on page 123 of my current reading book moved me to tears, put me in my place, realigned my priorities, and made me want to be a better person. Which tells me I have been entirely too self-absorbed lately if the only vehicle through which I am open to receiving inspiration is a game of tag. Why, Lilly – whatever is the matter? I haven’t seen you cry in years.

"Those three lines on page 123, I’ve just been looking them up."

Let’s get on with it, then…

"So I lagged behind and made a circle over the town, and it was burning, all afire; it looked like Stalingrad had looked. Besides the streamer itself, we penned a letter to the Borisov Party Council. The letter said that we wished the inhabitants to restore the city, to flourish, continue peacetime jobs, and help people survive, while we continued our job at the front."

Taken from A Dance With Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II by Anne Noggle

Of course, I had to read the entire account (which there isn’t time to go into) and here is the point that struck me like a lightning bolt:

How much impact can a word of encouragement carry? Especially in the face of such heavy losses and utter destruction as this town was experiencing? Even the highest declarations of comfort might be perceived as insult under these circumstances. Who would even dare to speak up at such a serious time?

Her name was Mariya Dolina, and she was a captain in a women’s combat squadron. Her fellow pilots had been so moved by the destruction they had seen that they risked reprimand (for which Mariya was later arrested) to throw a streamer with this message of hope down to the suffering people below. Was it worth it?

If you were to visit the Minsk Museum in Russia, you would still see this streamer with its original message on display today. Signed by Mariya Dolina. Only now she is referred to as, Captain Mariya Dolina, pilot, deputy commander of the squadron, Hero of the Soviet Union. She flew 72 combat missions and survived the war.

So, I make a pact with myself never to pass up any opportunity to encourage others – I must practice! Less I should one day find myself in such a moment…

And not even see the need.

What’s happening on the farm today: Spring fever! The weather is gorgeous, Pops is raking and burning leaves… and giving me five more minutes before I simply MUST get out there and enjoy some of it. Ahhh, Sundays!


Starting Rough...

"Thank heavens we can skip the rough draft and go straight to the good stuff! It’s such a drudge figuring out all that motivational detail."

Lilly, I have no intentions of skipping the rough draft. You wouldn’t build a house on top of the dirt without first putting down a foundation, would you?

"How big of a house and how long would you want it for?"

We’re not skipping the rough draft. It’s where all the treasures are hid. The most exciting part of the creative process, if you ask me. You look up something to check on accuracy and – boom! -- discover an entirely new possibility that threads in perfectly. Takes me beyond my own ideas. Too flat and confining to have to depend solely on my own scope of imagination. Besides, I’m way too dependent on those intricate details of other people’s lives to breathe life into a character without them. Those little nuances that have actually happened to somebody – no matter how bizarre -- make fiction more real, somehow. I love that.

"But we already have the rough draft for this one."

Well, it’s outdated.

"How could it be outdated if it’s set into a specific time and place? What do you think, Ann? Have you even been listening to a word we’ve said? You can work on that list anytime. Who knows when D. Ann Graham will show up, again?"

"What? Oh. I’m going to have to agree with Lilly. We did a lot of research on this one, and I don’t see how the word ‘outdated’ can even apply to research. Unless you’re talking methods. Which is the Professor’s department."

"Ann, we’re talking about rough drafts, not research. Pay attention, will you? I think D. Ann Graham wants to start the rough draft all over, again."

"Well, then it wouldn’t be a rough draft. It would be a rewrite."

Mere technicality. I’m calling it a rough draft for the simple reason that we seem to have entirely lost the original copy.

"Oh, good lord – not again! I thought Ann was backing everything up."

"Whatever was there, I backed up. It must have been lost before we put in the new system. If that’s what you meant by outdated, I agree. But don’t worry, Lilly, it won’t take long because it isn’t really lost. Just percolating around in her brain somewhere. So, you’d better get to work on your accessories and details, because I have a feeling… you see? She’s gone already."

What's happening on the farm today: Another spring day smack in the middle of winter -- even Nature doesn't seem to know what to make of it. Bugs are hatching, birds are house-hunting, and the leeks are popping up in the garden already. Why, I had a beautiful one to add to the chicken soup, yesterday. Weather predictions are for a freeze tomorrow... but today, I'm going to hoe in the garden!


On Your Mark...

How’s it going, everybody? Big things happening in here, no doubt, because they’re looking pretty good outside, too. So, where are we at, Ann?

"I rather think you should tell us, since there’s a new project in the number one position and I don’t recall putting it on the list. In fact, I don’t recall anything about this project, period."

"Personally, I think it bears a striking resemblance to that Africa thing she started way back during our island farm days. Ah, those were the days!"

Very perceptive, Lilly, and right you are. It suddenly sprang to life all by itself – with the knots worked out and perspectives on a dead aim – I couldn’t do anything but run with it.

"What about the magazines? Are they relegated to the bottom – at last?"

Hardly not, Ann. They’ve got such momentum of their own at this point, I’d get run over if I turned my back on them, now. But I think I’ve hit on a plan. Worth trying, anyway. I’m going to work on both projects every day.

"Good lord – you’ve never been able to do that before!"

I realize that, Lilly, but I’m more mature these days.

"Who ever heard of age being a guarantee of maturity? It’s not in your psyche, if you ask me. But you’re the boss, so I suppose we’ll have to give it a go. I do wish the Professor was here to give us his input, but he’s sticking to his guns about his alternative fuel thing."

"Not completely sticking to them, Ann. He let the cousins out to visit with that Laurie person, didn’t he? And that little WK is always going back and forth with errands for the PBS contest he’s got everybody talking about. Maybe if we knocked quietly on the laboratory door and said it was an emergency--"

Certainly not. One of the first ways I’m going to be able to work on more things every day is to stop getting involved in shenanigans like these. Entirely without purpose. But I would like help dredging up some of the research on the Africa project. Anybody have any objections to that?

"As long as you don’t mind us keeping a running account of how you handle it all, and a good supply of aspirin. You be in charge of the aspirin, Lilly. And make good and sure it’s just aspirin."

We’ll start tomorrow, then.

"What about our account?"

Go ahead with it, but don’t let out any secrets.

What’s happening on the farm today: A glorious day! Seventy degrees and springtime, when only two days ago there was snow on the ground. I realize it was all probably brought about by global warming, but never-the-less it does wonders for cabin fever. Pops and I tramped though the back pasture and made all kinds of plans…


The Importance of Lists...

"It’s a good thing we have nothing but time at our disposal because you certainly are wasting enough of it for us."

I realize that, Ann, and I apologize to the group.

"But look at this ‘to do’ list – it’s got seven-hundred-and-fifty things on it."

"Good lord! I hope my ladies-trapped-in-the-basement predicament is at least somewhere up in the top ten!"

"Quiet, Lilly. We don’t even know, yet, if D. Ann Graham is here to actually work or just peek in at us."

Just a peek, I’m sorry to say. I’m barely treading water out there in the real world and about ready to go under. Haven’t any of you got anything encouraging to say? Any brilliant ideas or schemes that might be able to help get me out of the soup? I don’t suppose it would do any good to remind you that if one goes, we all go…

"We’ve got a list, haven’t we? But a lot of good it will do you if you don’t even bother to read it once in a while. It’s amazing how little distraction it takes for you to close off your doors to inspiration entirely. Reminds me of the panic of twenty-nine: everybody so worried about themselves, they didn’t recognize the real catastrophe until it sneaked up and kicked them in the—"

All right, all right, I get the point. Let me see that list. And you might as well call the Professor in here so I don’t have to repeat myself.

"I’m sorry to inform you that the Professor has locked himself into his laboratory and refused to come out until he gets the bugs worked out of his alternative fuel formula. Something about the necessity of making it available before what’s-his-name gets enough nuclear reactors in place to set us all back a thousand years."

Then who’s watching the cousins?

"He’s taken them all with him. Including that new boy you sent over last week."

"You mean, W.K.? From over there at – I think he’s the cutest little new blogger that ever ventured out into the—"

"Quiet, Lilly. This is no time to bring up the fact that you’ve been flitting around cyber-space so much, you haven’t contributed anything worthwhile around here, lately, either."

I don’t know how many times I’ve told the Professor that laboratory of his is no place for kids, especially when he’s tinkering with explosives. I guess I’ll have to go over there, myself, and—

"He knew you would. So, he left this note for you. Shall I read it?"


"My dear… it is at times like these when explosives are the very things children need most."

Why, it’s almost as if he’d been listening in! Don’t you think so, Ann?"

"I'll tell you, Lilly, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he had this whole place wired for—"

Nevermind, ladies. However he did it, that’s exactly the sort of inspiration I was looking for. I guess sending W.K. over here wasn’t such a bad idea, after all. Now, I’ve got to get back to work because I’m late, already. Keep those ideas coming.

"Does that mean you’ll be back tomorrow?"

Without doubt.

What’s happening on the farm today: Pops is hard at work out in the shop, building a canoe. I hope it isn't an indication of the mode of travel we will be taking when summer comes around this year! Seems he must have some distraction from all the repairs needed around the place. I suppose we all have our own ways of dealing with things. I write a book and he builds a canoe. In the meantime, there's a storm blowing in and we’re preparing for a freeze. All supplies are running low, but our ship is on the horizon. Now, if we can only hold out until it docks…

Value status: It occurs to me this blog has become more than an experiment.