Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mocking the universe with Pietro

I found a stack of old stories today. Reading them, I was amazed at what my then-15-year-old imagination could come up with. I was also amazed at how much I've changed in writing style, perhaps not all for the better.

The summer that I turned 15, my last summer of unemployed freedom, was when I literally plopped myself before the family computer -- a top-of-the-line Apple IIc -- and didn't move for hours at a time. I had a few tape cassettes, Fleetwood Mac is the only one I remember, that I played over and again on my brother's boom box. I learned how to type that summer, though not in a manner that would win awards or A's in a classroom. I've yet to figure out how to hit the keys in the "proper" order. All I know is that I can pound out a page in mere minutes... without looking at the keys.

Science fiction was my forte back then, believe it or not. I had an alien invasion and a half dozen intrepid young adults fighting to save the planet. I created my own language and jargon, tox being one of my favorite. Tox was short for talk-box or, in our world, walkie-talkie. My characters had names I once thought exotic and daring. Best yet, though, was the fact that I was writing for myself. I wasn't penning a thing for an audience so I wasn't worried about anything but making the story interesting for me and me alone.

This blog, however, is another story altogether. Good Lord, I've an audience. (I think.) I can't publish family secrets, someone I know might read them. I have to be careful about the names I mention, some nut might stumble across this. If I publish my stories, I have to worry about first rights and all that legal stuff. And, of course, there's one great big huge gigantic fear: what if no one reads this?!

Leave it to me to worry, huh? You name it, I can come up with a worse case for you.

Tucked in with my writings was a quote I treasured eons ago in college:

With a goose quill and a few sheets of paper, I mock the universe... let others worry about style and so cease to be themselves. Without a master, without a model, without a guide, without artiface, I go to work and earn my well-being...

Pietro Aretino wrote that. He rocketed to fame by writing a mock last will and testament for Hanno, Pope Leo X's pet elephant. He was, according to some accounts, the "Renaissance mouth that roared." I'd caution you though before looking him up: the Renaissance was not all curtsying and proper manners. Think of Pietro as the Howard Stern of his era... pre-FCC.

It's a reminder to me now to write like I'm fifteen again: carefree, for myself, and creatively.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Checking ...

As an ernest freelancer, I find myself checking my e-mail a dozen times a day. I delete what I'm not interested in, keep what might be promising, and read through the responses to my "hired pen" want ad. Most of the stuff gets deleted; I'm quite lucky -- I can pick and choose. There's something marvelous about being able to say "no, I'm not going to sell my soul for that" or "You need a kidney before you'll hire me? Sure, take mine!"

I did read some interesting advice the other day, the latest Writer's Digest had an article on getting past that infamous slush pile. When you're sending clips, some editors like to see clips from the same publication, with the logic being that anyone can write for a publication once. But being hired back, to write again, well now, that's something else.

Today was a particularly quiet day professionally, nothing worth reading let alone replying to. Just as well, I had company. My biological father, his wife, and his mother all came for a visit. It was a delight, my son kept his grandparents quite busy showing them his room, his toys, and his clubhouse (a dishwasher box), leaving me to visit with my grandmother, a delightfully honest woman of 70-some years.

"I don't recall my father ever hugging or kissing me," Grandma Clare said, breaking a comfortable silence as we listened to Gavie laughing in the other room as "Dack," his grandfather, held him up to touch the ceiling. "He was German. They aren't particularly..." she paused, looking for the right word.

"Demonstrative?" I offered.

"That's it, he never really showed any of us affection, but you knew he'd do anything for you." She went on to tell me how he'd send money to a daughter whose husband left her, or how he'd help by watching Clare's sons after he retired. This great-grandfather, who died long before I was born, may not have shown much love, at least not in the form that we today look for, but he knew what it was. Had he lived today, someone would have hauled him in for counseling or dragged him to Oprah for an intervention on how he was harming his children by failing to hug them.

The truest proof of his love, however, was the house he build for his wife, my great-grandmother, also long passed. After raising ten children in a rather large farmhouse, he decided that they could stand to have a smaller place, something for just the two of them. Just as he finished, his wife went into the hospital for her high blood pressure.

"We were taking things over a little at a time, and we had them about half moved in," Clare said. "And my father said 'stop.' He wasn't going to move in until my mother was home. He said that if she didn't come home, he was going to burn that new house to the ground."

This man, who worked seven days a week and kept a small farm as well, and who raised ten children, knew about love. He loved so deeply that the idea of his wife never living in the house he built for her was too much for him to contemplate. He wasn't about to let it become a monument to the dead when it was meant as a gift to the living.

Growing up, there was many a night when my dad did not come home from work until long after my brother and I were in bed. My mother insisted that he peek in on us on those nights. "They're asleep," he'd argue at first. "They don't know."

"But you do," she'd fire back, holding her ground.

Eventually, she stopped nagging him. She didn't have to. It was a habit he'd grown into, and even at 18, I remember his shadow in the doorway those nights he worked overtime, just peeking in on his little girl whom he thought was asleep.

Incidentally, my great-grandmother lived and came home to a new house. And I now peek in on my dad who is riddled with cancer, checking on him as he sleeps in his recliner.

Friday, August 12, 2005

An opening with a little bit of everything.

Somewhere along the way, I heard that writing for publication was something akin to giving birth. You sweat and toil and engage in all sorts of mental contortions to get the right words in the right order on the right page... and when you're finished, the published piece is sent off into the world, toddling on its little feet to meet the great unknown.

Having given birth to a baby, I can tell you, that the cliche has two nuggets of truth in there. One: both hurt like the dickens. Two: letting go is not particularly easy. I still find myself wondering about the course that I wrote for an on-line college last year. Did the lectures work? Are the on-line instructors okay? Do they have questions? Can I help them?

My baby, now a solid little toddler who loves bugs and rocks, gets the same treatment. Are you okay? Do you need anything? Do you understand? Can I help you?

(Since my son clings to what I call his vow of silence, save for a few key words, there are times when I feel that I'm getting about the same response from both him and the course: nothing. Of course, let it be noted pestering my son is expected, while pestering a former employer is not.)

Both children and characters, by the way, have a mind of their own. Anyone who writes regularly will tell you that. Anyone who insists that you have complete control over everything either never wrote fiction or is living on another plane of reality.

Right now, however, my eyes are on a file that's been haunting me for the last nine years. It started as your basic adventure: girl meets psychotic boy, doesn't figure it out until it's almost too late, girl meets another boy who helps save the day. It worked well until the girl, a lovely and determined protagonist of thirty, decided that she didn't want to be a damsel in distress. Then the psychotic boy wanted to be more subtle about his nuttiness. Mr. Saves-the-Day threw a wrench in to things as well. He decided that he liked the newer version of my protagonist better then the "someone please help me" original, which was a boon. But he didn't want to show up in her life until she buried her husband and started to come too close to the truth of her best friend's murder.

I'm not writing this story. They are.

Working on this story, Killing Julie, has become (once again) an obsession. I have to finish it. So I search for moments where I can squeeze in a few sentences and wait impatiently for my son to go to bed at night, then rush through the kitchen dishes so that I can steal an extra hour (which turns into two) in the evening.

Mark Twain once remarked: "Write without pay until someone offers to pay you. If nobody offers in three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for."

It's not particularly profound, but I like it anyway. It goes well with another quote, this from the 2004 day calendar, Mama Gena's School of Womanly Arts: "Serve your lust."

I'm serving, people are paying, and Julie's tale is being told.

And now, I'm ending this hodge podge of thoughts. Julie's been bugging me all day anyway, apparently she decided not to faint at her husband's funeral after all. :)

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