Being “Freshly Pressed” and Lifeblood of the Pen

This week my email contained a message from WordPress.com. It noted I had been “Freshly Pressed”. There was a moment of confusion as the editor that informed me was Cheri Lucas Rowlands, whose blog I appreciate and follow. I thought, how wonderful that she is communicating via email, and promptly re-read it. Ah, “Featured by Freshly Pressed”, those writings I so enjoy sampling and savoring! Chosen was the story “Pastime”, one written just this week when I felt uncertain about a much longer short story being revised for possible submission to a literary magazine. It was one item on my daily writing schedule. And it brought this great surprise! Far better than flowers at the door.

I had been working hard. I hadn’t yet pinpointed a good market for the 5000 word “Jasper and a Night of Thievery.”  I was puzzling over its subject matter, if a punch line near the end was too real for some. Meaning, a sock-to-the-stomach sort of reality ensconced inside gentle opening pages with swift bits of suspense. Then wham! The tough stuff. My career and life have perhaps unfolded like that too often. A challenge for me as a writer is to clarify the truth within a sturdy structure that is upheld by compassion, empathy and respect for our human journey. I also encourage the Divine to come forward in my characters. Truth-telling in writing has been something I can lose sleep over; my hopes and the mysterious writer’s way don’t always align powerfully or even well.

So I engage in many kinds of writing, creating pieces that are less perplexing, at times more uplifting. Briefer and perhaps occasionally even a lark. It all matters. They are gratifying to give shape and heft to, good tasks to support the greater body of work. And I write these without any fear, as opposed to longer fiction and non-fiction or poems that weave their way in and out of my psyche. Or sometimes harrass me until I relent. For reasons unknown to me, I can sit at a keyboard and words are freed as though water from a faucet. The immediacy of this writing on impulse thrills me. I just need to give it all permission to unfurl. It pulls me along until the period at the end, then fix a few things and head down again, nose to grindstone.

So being “Featured on Freshly Pressed” is a lovely honor. I am happy and grateful as I write this. “Pastime” was one of those brief stories that came quickly in entirety and gave me pleasure to share. This particular photo from the fifties came from a writer’s blog that I admire, Patricia Ann McNair’s as she offers daily writing prompts. I utilize my own photos as well as public domain art and photos.

Due to this blog I write a larger volume of pieces and my skills improve in the process. I am satisfied more often because I have the Tales for Life blog to supply. When I started this I was a neophyte in the blogosphere. It was a motivating force at a time I was lagging in many aspects of my life. It has become another potent avenue of creativity. A way to cull and offer what matters most to me as a writer-person as well as avail myself of other bloggers’ brave, beautiful and funny words. We are connected by an adoration of language, wherever we live or whatever we aspire to with our work. I am nourished by life–people and nature, God and my own tender, temperamental muse.

So here we are, each of us writing, making known our minds and hearts. What a way to live, make use of our time! It’s an endeavor of blessings. Thanks again, WordPress, for choosing my small story. And readers, I am profoundly loyal to the world of art-making–and so glad to have your company to keep along the way. Take your own risks. Speak your truth and I’ll keep speaking mine and so we keep the lifeblood of the pen (and laptop) astir.

Tryon hike

What Circles At the Edges of the Story

The room was large enough to seat hundreds but there was only one more person I was seeking. I headed to the left until I spotted her name on the table. She was checking her phone. I breathed deeply and composed myself. My mind was stilled and all I could see was her blonde head. As soon as I approached, she gave me a welcoming smile, then spoke my name. As I would at any important interview, I held out my  hand and returned the favor.

But it wasn’t an ordinary interview, not the sort that might land me a nice job. It was a pitch, which essentially is a sales pitch of a writer’s book. I was attending Willamette Writers Conference for the third time; she was literary agent number five.

It had once more taken me weeks of rumination and a couple of days of intensive, systematic work to prepare a two paragraph summary of an entire plot. It had to interest her enough that her eyes would not glaze over and her mind wander. Enough that she would ask for pages to read.

I had finally boiled it down to a few choice sentences that introduce the two protagonists, Sophia and Cal, what they need and what they had to rise above to get it. That wasn’t impossible, just challenging. I know my characters so well after years of writing and revising that they live their lives vividly in my waking and dreaming. Sophia is a dancer and choreographer who stops speaking when her husband, a respected biologist, drowns one night in a lake near the village of Snake Creek. But no one knows what really happened except one witness, her dog. Cal is a successful photojournalist who returns to Snake Creek after his friend and mentor disappears in the Amazon jungle. He has lost the desire to take photographs, and lost himself in his risk-taking, globe-trotting lifestyle. Then he runs into Sophia crossing the street.

So, I tell this to the open-faced, encouraging woman sitting across from me, but with the quiet passion I feel for this story. For it isn’t just about two people who meet and become catalysts for change. It is about dreams lost and found, about the power of speaking the truth. It is about domestic violence and addiction and the myriad ways people can and do recover and heal from great loss. It was written in part because I believe that trauma and the resultant grief and pain one feels does not need to defeat people, or stop them from living happier, fulfilled lives. Instead, a process of reinvention can occur through creative activities, spiritual nourishment, and the balm of nature’s wisdom. Connection to a caring community can become a lifeline, a safety net. And forgiveness happens even though the world tends to believe justice is often tied to revenge. The justice that Sophia and Cal discover rises up from courage and compassion.

But I don’t have time to say all this. She asks me some questions and I fill in a few details, climactic scenes. And then she asks: “Why this? What qualifies you to write about these subjects?” So I tell her. It is my life work; my specialty is working with women and men who have been beaten down, even brutalized, and seek relief in alcohol, drugs and other addictions. And I have seen them get better, stronger and even laugh again.

I want to say: I, too, have been there. I know how the dark can make you blind or grant you night vision if you choose to learn and adapt, and how the faintest glimmers of light finally bring you to your feet and out of the maze of misery. But I am too circumspect and this is not the place for this, perhaps.

So I say: we all suffer. No one is immune to sorrow and rage over life and what it can bring. And yet we usually go on. It is worth writing about.

I only have ten minutes and time is running out. Still, we are suddenly talking about books we like, authors we admire, and when the timekeeper comes by, the agent with the soft smile and clear blue eyes gives me her card which I look over as she asks for twenty-five pages.

“I am intrigued,” she says, “so I want to read more. If I like those pages, I will request the whole manuscript.”

So, I left with excitement and joy in my heart, right? Not so. I left with a sense of one tiny step forward. I have gotten this far before and nothing came of it. I have submitted many stories, poems, and creative non-fiction over the years; a handful have been published. Every writer knows that it is a crap shoot, that what an editor or agent likes is likely to be something other than what you have to offer.

But this novel is another thing. I have worked on it for twelve years, in between and around other projects. After getting home from ten long hours of paid work, at night, with dinner plate by the computer. On my days off. When sick and tired. It has undergone at least ten revisions. It is still too long. I always see something that can be improved. But I do not tire of Sophia and Cal and their lives in the woods surrounding Ring Lake. Or of the village of Snake Creek, the residents’ adventures, failures and triumphs.

So why, a week after the conference, do I sit here and write a blog post instead of further cleaning up the manuscript and sending it off happily? Because it is still mine as I examine and savor it again. It speaks to me as an old companion. It came from a place deep within, where what really matters to me lives free. I have cut and tossed out parts many times, a word here, a paragraph there, using the sharp knife of a rational mind, trying to make it shine even more. I have worked with other writers for months who have given excellent feedback. But it may not be excellent enough yet. It may fail to inspire the agent enough that she has to know what really happens to Sophia and Cal and the village that shields secrets while designing hope for the future.

So there is it: in my hands this novel’s life is still safe. Once sent out into the world of the publishing business, it may falter, even sink. As I write this post, there are wraiths of doubt slinking around the edges of this novel. There is still my lack of ironclad belief that someone will read it and be glad of it, then help it arrive in print.

It seems part of the creative life, this terrible self-doubt that arrives despite hard work and denial of it. But no risk, no gain is one of the elementary rules of life learned and I know it to be true. We just keep creating. Besides, if the story was enough to keep me writing all these years, it surely will be enough for someone, some day, to take a chance on it.

I will get down to business this week-end and scrutinize the first twenty-five pages to make certain they are the very best I have to offer. Finally, I will send them off while I start work on a short story. Or a poem. A new novel. In fact, I look forward to being taken on a new journey with yet-unknown characters who are searching for something that remains hidden from me only until I place words on a clean sheet of paper. There is just no greater task–and  joy–if writing is in your blood.

Mr. Beech and Little Joys

“It is a day of little consequence,” she said, then whistled some of  “Girl from Ipanema” to make herself feel better. It worked. Her hands disappeared into a big turquoise bowl. “Some ripped romaine and red leaf lettuce and fat cherry tomatoes, almonds unsliced–like ’em whole and crunchy–fresh smoked turkey on top. Avocado. Herb croutons.” Lara licked her fingers, then wiped them on her jeans. Looked around the kitchen which was barely large enough to hold the basic appliances and herself. Her brownish, increasingly-white hair was swept back for a change, opening her pale face, showing off the loopy gold earrings she had found at an art gallery. An extravagant gift for this rude day of days, more a lapse in judgment. She rinsed her hands, then decided to add a  bit of the fresh purple-red onion, admiring the concentric rings, their tangy-sweet scent as she sliced.

“For Mr. Beech,” she said, and added the slightest drops of garlic oil, then tossed the salad. She took down the good glasses for mint iced tea. The round table had been set an hour ago. Down the center ran a sparkly silver-and-rose-threaded runner, something she liked despite the small stain on the edge. Large antique white bowls were at the ready.

The grandfather clock in the living room heralded noon. Lara took her sweater and sat on the porch, the better to watch for him. He always came down from the north, two streets up and two over.

He had been coming that way for the last year, ever since they had met at a neighborhood summer street dance and feast.  “A minor bacchanale, but worth attending,” he’d said to her smiling, taking her hand. She had noticed he’d lost two fingers–“yes, to a band saw some years back”–and yet he held hers with kind regard, and wondered if there was more where that came from or if it was just good manners. Then he cheerfully danced with her around the street, clumsily at first, fumbling a bit as they passed the children with their happy wildness and teens displaying restrained boredom that looked like contentment from a distance. Their parents were mostly youngish couples with brilliant smiles and flat bellies that held enormous amounts of chicken and potato salad and cookies without seeming to show it at all.

“They all seem terribly young, I hate to say,” Lara noted when they had sat on chairs at the curb, tart lemonade cooling them off.

“Not me, I say it often–they in fact are ‘terrible young’, which interests me a very little. But once it mattered, of course.” Mr. Beech turned to her, eyebrows raised. “Have you not noticed this before?”

She was panting slightly from the rigorous dance, and tried to hide it with a laugh. “Well, of course, but I have avoided the reality.” She lifted her hair off her neck, let the breeze take the dampness. “I’ll be sixty-two next spring and somehow that sounds older altogether than sixty-one did. I know it is foolish but…”

She felt embarrassed by the intimate slip of information and sipped her drink. Here was a  a man of good will and good mind, and she was blithering on. But that was her true thought, and she no longer had the habit of pretending otherwise.

The night went on and Lara and Mr. Beech–“call me Jordy if you like, short for Jordan, I know, I know, but it is what it is”–sat and talked. They both liked Pearl Buck novels, (which astonished her since no one mentioned her, anymore) and both had fallen into reading mysteries of late. They enjoyed classical music, especially string quartets. They liked water, any sort of water. Lara would rather meditate by a lake or swim in it. Mr. Beech–she couldn’t stop calling him that, she liked the sound of it; it felt safe–preferred creeks and rivers, the more obscure and humble, the better.

When it was time to go, they had one another’s phone numbers. It had been very easy to exchange them. But then they hadn’t talked again for two months.  Lara had even called  but there had been no answer. He had no answering machine. She was disappointed but that was that.

When she met him in the grocery, he came right over.

“It was my mother, you see. She became quite ill and then passed in October.” He shook his head. “It’s okay. I’m home again. Let’s see what we can find to do.”

And one thing led to another: lunches, small hikes, then holiday activities, art museum outings, films. By January he was spending a lot of time at her place on the week-ends, even overnight twice, a surprise. The rest of the week she worked at the insurance company and he was more than a little busy being retired.

It had been pleasing to spend the wintry rainy season with him. They sometimes did nothing much,  just sat by his fireplace and dozed. Read bits from their books. Lara wrote stories; he read what she wrote and found it mostly good or better reading. Mr. Beech worked word and number puzzles that fascinated her.

“Little joys,” she told him one night. “Life is made of them more and more. Thank you for reminding me.” He kissed the top of her head and held her close, as though she fit. And perhaps she did, better than before.

Now it was April and the time had come: the persistent rumor of sixty-two had turned out to be true. It was her birthday lunch she had fixed. Simple, easy, nothing to make a fuss over whatsoever–that is how she wanted it. They would attend an afternoon film, something foreign and full of intrigue.

She grew restless on the porch, put the salad back in the refrigerator, noted the clock struck twelve-thirty. He was not one to be late. In fact, he was early in general. Lara wandered to the mirror over her vanity and smoothed her hair back again, secured the sides. It was getting wispy and greyer and not as pretty; the barrettes looked faintly ridiculous but she liked their golden accent. She reapplied the soft coral color to her lips and made a silly kiss in the air. The pale blue scarf at her neck was re-wound, then discarded. It had gotten warm the last couple days. The spring heat crept up her neck and gave her skin a generous glow.

But where was Mr.  Beech?

By one o’clock, she grew hungry. She stared at her phone and thought of calling him.There must be something, some reason why he couldn’t get here on time. Unless he had forgotten. They had last talked a week ago. He had gone to the coast for a day or two to visit a friend but had been due back this morning.

Time passed slowly. Her work friend, Anita, called to wish her happy birthday, then her neighbor friend, Deanna. She chatted a bit, told them she was expecting Mr. Beech.

“Really, Lara?” Deanna laughed.  “You don’t still call him that to his face? How oddly quaint! But I can see it, I can. He’s a bit old-fashioned, but then he’s older, isn’t he? Well, tell him I said hello and have a good time!”

Lara thanked her for best wishes and ended the conversation politely. Why did they not understand him?  He was generous with his time and paid attention to conversation. It meant something to him, their talking, and also the silences. He was a man of compassionate reserve, careful opinions. He liked her easy frankness, her sudden questions. It all had made him very important to her, she realized, and the thought made her peer hard out the window. No one out there but kids on their bikes.

Lara looked in the refrigerator, nibbled on a piece of romaine, and worried. He might have fallen down the stairs of his rambling two-story house; he had a faulty knee. He might have had an accident on the way back from the beach, for all she knew, crashed into the sea. Who was his emergency contact? Who had he visited? Was it Stan Tallman or Henry Conner? He was fishing, too, wasn’t he?

“Lara!”

He was there. She was at the door and let him in.His arms held flowers and a small cardboard box.

He kissed her cheek and peeled off his jacket in a rush. “I am so sorry I’m late, what a poor substitute for a man I am, it’s your birthday and I had every intention–but–” he led her to an armchair and motioned for her to sit. “Wait until you see what I have found.”

This was so unlike him, his shirt wrinkled, pants dirty at one knee, his words a bit feverish, and now he was picking up the box and placing it at her feet as though it was some great treasure, his movements suddenly deliberate. He looked at her and made a funny face, one that told her there was something here that was unexpected and he was truly hoping she would be glad of it. She held her breath.

He opened the box and lifted out to her a small grey tabby kitten with four white feet. He put it in her lap and her hands went up in the air.

“Oh.” She looked at the kitten and saw its scrappy beauty and was speechless. “I…”

Jordy Beech frowned. “You don’t like it.”

“No, it isn’t that…” she felt the prickle of tears and willed them back.

“I found her in this box by the side of the road in Manzanita when I was visiting Stan. I looked everywhere for a child or someone else who might be selling the kitten, but no one was around. I drove away, thought about it, went ten miles back. Then a woman came out of the house and said there was one left from a litter and would I please take her.”

Lara stroked the smooth ball of fur as it curled onto her lap and settled in. She felt it purr, the small rumble of its voice strong but sweet. A kitten was something one needed to watch over. Enjoy. She stroked its perfect head.

“I named it for you but you can change it if you want. Little Joys. Remember what you said once?”

Lara placed her hands on the kitten and wondered how he knew this much of her. It had been a long time since she’d had a creature. She hadn’t been sure she even wanted one again. It meant more attachments and thus, naturally, more loss. It seemed harder than necessary the last few years.

Little Joy looked up at her and languidly blinked, yawned.

“Yes, Jordy, it’s more than alright. Thank you for bringing her to me. I”ll take good care of her. She’s an excellent surprise!”

“Ah, good,” he said and took her arm. “Let’s eat and drink in celebration of salad days  being here again, your sixty-second, Little Joy and your use of my first name…”

Lara cocked her head at him and they went into the kitchen. She whistled a little to herself as she poured iced tea; he brought the salad to the table and put the flowers in a vase. It was good to be in the midst of one more year leaving and another arriving.

Naming the Beauties and Beasts

Sitting on the rickety bench made of well-seasoned wood, I chewed on the pencil eraser. It tasted rubbery but also like words, the little and big ones I had gotten rid of while list-making. I studied my list now: Anisa, Melody, Rena, Roan, Genevieve, Carter, Tupper, Link. There were more. I updated my notebook of names sometimes daily. They were people I had not yet fully met but wondered over, with their singular lives and vast stores of knowledge, their foolishness and kindnesses. Their violent hearts. Little lies. Arms full of flowers for anyone who was lucky enough to cross their paths. Hands of love like birds nesting.

They lived and breathed just as surely as I felt the dampness of leftover morning dew on my bare feet. Robins sang out a morning newscast. The pine trees leaned in to me with their dark greenness; I felt the spongy carpet of old pines needles with my toes. If I was lucky, no one would find me for awhile.

What next?

I wrote in a bigger notebook with smooth, grown up college-lined pages: “Rena and Roan knew their way up the path. They had been out to the mountain many times. Roan whinnied a little as his mistress settled on his back and then he picked up speed. Behind them, Tupper sat on the porch, worrying his pipe, the smoke disappearing into the cloudy sky. Somewhere out there Link was fixing fence and not thinking about anything else. Rena would change that.”

“Cindy! Time for breakfast and then chores!”

I scratched an old mosquito bite on my leg. Why did they sometimes call me that awful name? It was Cynthia. Names were pretty important. I knew that even at only ten years old and kept my Book of Names handy.

I propped my head on my hands and turned a little so that I could see a bright sliver of Stark’s Nursery through the branches. A dirt road cut through the swath of tiny new trees and bushes. It beckoned me. I could wander through the nursery for hours, thinking of girls who ran with Bengal tigers, or a ship of spies sailing to Shanghai. I acted out many parts in the stories in the nursery, away from prying eyes.

Something fell thorugh the branches, then stopped its descent. I suddenly thought of outlaws and shining knives that were hidden in leather sheaths on belts and shivered. That was not the story I was working on although it often came back to me. I hadn’t found a place for it in my notebook yet. No, it was Rena today. So, why was she going to that mountain? To take something to Link? Yes, a letter from far away, the one he had dreaded and wanted all at once…

The bushes parted and the hidden doorway cracked open.  My sister stuck her head in.

“Mom says come in now. What are you up to?”

“Writing a story.”

“Oh. Well, write later. We have to practice our music lesson and you have to straighten up the living room and then dust and I have my stuff to do. Their bridge party tonight, remember? The Halls and Grays are coming and I forget who else. I’ll be gone by then!”

Gloria squinched her eyes and wrinkled her nose, then stepped back, the bushes closing over her. I could see her shoes, mostly white tennis shoes. I reached down and grabbed a shoelace and as she walked off she tripped, then laughed as she righted herself. I waited for her to charge back into the hideaway; instead, she ran across the back yard. The screen door bounced once, twice, and then was quiet.

I sighed. Streaks of sunlight were sneaking in and warming me up. The pine needles gave off a toasted pine scent that made me drowsy. I closed my eyes and soon was half-dreaming, wandering into a woods somewhere far off, maybe the Black Forest in Germany. Where beautiful dragons lurked who could be friend or enemy in a flash, and powerful men kept watch over all trees and food. Where women and girls often fended for themselves. Only the smartest and fastest survived and when they did, they were made Victorious and Wise Queens of Hyacinth Castle.  The one they had rebuilt after the terrible winter storm…or maybe it was the smaller one they had taken from the weeping dragon…was she still around? Yes, Fraxonia.

A fly buzzed my nose. I shook it off and peered between the branches at the nursery. I thought about walking in the forests up north, near Interlochen Music Camp where we were all headed in a few weeks. That was it: the one real place I often longed to be. Interlochen. Where there was nothing but music and art and dance and plays and writing stories. Starlight on water. Sailboats breezey in the sun. Nothing else mattered there. Just letting wonder happen. Making something small become bigger and better, with work. What stories would come to me there?

The notebooks fell off my lap and I opened my eyes. The Book of Names had opened to the center page. And on it was one word: Charlisa. I whispered her name and picked up my pencil, drew the edge of a lake and placed Charlisa there. She held her hand to her eyes and surveyed the towering trees.

“This time,” Charlisa thought, “this time there will be an end to the dark mystery that imprisons our land and we will all walk free again.”

I sat up and studied the drawing. Not the best but no matter, Charlisa was about to…. what? Make a tree house? Find her friend the messenger? I could hear my mother walking across the yard. I reluctantly closed my notebooks and stuck my pencil behind my ear. Then I went through the hidden doorway and into the other world where my mother had paused at the cherry tree.

“I know, I know,” I said grumpily.

But she smiled the way she did when she was teasing, her grey-blue eyes bright in the spring morning, and asked,  “What did you write about today?”

I put my arm around her waist. “I was naming more characters. But then Rena and Roan came up again–out there on the ranch. But the best thing was Charlisa. The one I couldn’t figure out at all. It turns out she has found her lost country. Now she has to get to work and make things happen.”

“Good, more to come. But right now, food, and then other work,” my mother said and we entered the house where blueberries and french toast waited.

***************************************************************************************************

A postscript: After my mother died in May 2001, I became disheartened when I was  diagnosed with heart disease and was unemployed; I have written of these events in other posts. One night I was watering flowers on the balcony, wondering what to do next– not with my life, exactly, but just how to best live it, especially as I was not sure (and still am not; is anyone?) how long there was left. Sadness seemed to follow me day and night. But that early evening I felt her presence strong and clear as though she stood by me, and she said one thing only: “You must write.”  I suppose she thought I needed a reminder that I have always had to “name the beauties and beasts” and let them speak in Story. So that is what I still try to do, even on those days when all appears to be a shadowy mystery, or when there seems nothing left to say, as it has seemed the past few days. There is always a story waiting to come forward, so I sit down and write once more.

Writing the Life of a Novel

They had a dream of a simpler life in Michigan’s northern woods after years in upper class Boston. But Sophia Swanson, a dancer for thirty years, cannot dance or even speak now. Thomas, a renowned biologist and her husband, pursues her relentlessly although he mysteriously drowned. And Mia, their adolescent daughter, tries to reconstruct her life far away with relatives, bit by salvaged bit. Keeping watch over everything is Daedalus, a Husky-German Shepherd mix who lives in the woods with Sophia. A year after the drowning, famous photojournalist Calvin Rutgers returns to Snake Creek after a lifetime away. He has lost his mentor to the depths of Amazonia and needs peace, a reconnection to family and history, and inspiration. He is welcomed home but Sophia isn’t so impressed. She waits to see who he really is and what he wants.

Other Than Words is a mystery,  psychological drama, and romance about lives being reclaimed; about trauma and healing; and about the arts as powerful medicine. It tells of a village that hums with seasonal rhythms and the complicated lives of its residents, who demonstrates a willingness to embrace the suspect and eccentric. Beautiful Snake Creek and Ring Lake are where old friends, new inhabitants and uneasy neighbors coexist.

I know this territory so well I can see every inch of the village, every part of the surrounding woods and waters. I am the creator of both place and people, or perhaps I am only the chronicler of their stories. I am a most happy captive.  They have been my dear companions.

In 1999 I became ill with a virus that left me literally reeling. I tried to get out of bed one morning and crashed against the wall and to the floor. Any light reaching my eyes made the room spin worse, so I covered my face with a blanket and blindly called my sister. I crawled to the front door when help arrived. At the ER, my diagnosis was labyrinthitis, a disorder of the inner ear. It took a good six weeks to be able to walk across a small room in a  straight line, but five months to recover enough to return to work.  In the meantime, I discovered if I sat very still at the computer desk and hold my head at just the right angle, the dizziness mostly abated. I could miraculously write for hours. And so, an old idea for a novel came to fruition and my life became a writing life, full-time.

Other Than Words was the result: twenty-five chapters told from two different points of view, with a surprising five hundred and seventy-two pages. I have revised it fully eight times and counting.  I have pitched it at a writers’ conference and had one agent “nibble”, so I went back to work on it again.  And again. An excerpt was published in an anthology, and then nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  I want to publish this novel. I love the characters and their rich life stories. Still, I have put off the tedious business of innumerable submissions and more revisions. I have a job as an addictions counselor and don’t get home until eight-thirty each night. The hours left over are few. But on Fridays when I do not work,  I try to sit down to write by two o’clock and generally write until nine o’clock or later. But it isn’t enough. I want more time to work diligently at the craft–to bring this passion for the written word into a potent, more elegant state of being. To make the stories vividly alive, moving, truth-telling.

Because I need  time to work on more fiction, I will be posting fewer posts on this blog, likely twice a month at most. That is, unless a very, very short story idea grabs hold and won’t let go,  or my addictions work presents something I find intriguing, or my heart disease/recovery experiences strike me as worth putting out there for others who share the diagnosis. There is always one more good reason to write; I run out of time, never topics!  But the desire and intention is to sail this novel into the world so it may reach people who love to read settle-into-your-chair fiction. There is already another novel ready for more revision, and a third waiting for release from my head and onto white pages.

Today I want to share with you the opening paragraphs of Other Than Words. I hope you enjoy them. Let me know what you think if you are so moved, or if you would be interested in reading more.  Another blog might spring up about the novel and the writing process, or perhaps even a website. I’ll stay in touch. But right now I better get back to work.

Other Than Words

Part I-Sophia

Chapter 1

After Thomas died, I stopped talking. I had everything to lose by not speaking, but muteness, unlike speech, is a force that can’t be controlled. It took charge and relegated me to tenant status because I had nowhere else to live but in this body. I was caught between “Before His Death” and “After”. It was disorienting, but not an impossible way to live.

His body was retrieved from Ring Lake not far from the place we lived, the chapel-house, so named because it was originally a chapel here in the northern Michigan woods. Thomas’ mother and my family–parents, two brothers, a sister–came from the east coast to mourn and provide my daughter and myself with rudimentary care.  They tried to make sense of the disorder they found. They wanted to think I had lost my mind from the shock, but were closer to believing I had just decided to stop speaking. I was, after all, a dancer and choreographer, given to strange fits of introspection and moments of  theatrics. It didn’t occur to them there might be things I could not say aloud. Not yet; maybe never.

Janice, my younger sister, paced back and forth, her muddy shoes leaving dark stains on the wooden floor. I shared the couch with Daedalus, who looked more Siberian Husky than German Shepherd. He watched her with mild interest, his blue eyes like cool oases in the humid afternoon. The footsteps reminded me of Rorschach ink blots. I interpreted fear, extreme impatience. Hers, not mine. I felt porous as a sea sponge, everything drifting through me, leaving barely a trace.

Copyright 2011 Cynthia Guenther Richardson