An invitation…

As I am slogging through the hard work part of being a writer — editing/revising — I wonder if anyone would like some expert advice on such activities. In several former lives, I have been an English teacher, writer, ghostwriter*, and editor…and now fiction writer.

I’m inviting readers, and friends of readers, to send me questions about our difficult language. I will work hard to answer each one promptly and with sources if needed.

I have also done considerable research for my novel, set in the 1920s-1930s in NYC. I think this is very important if an author wants to present an authentic sense of time and place. There are incredible resources in personal stories, old newspapers, local historical societies, and so much more. I’d love to share.

So have at it. I’m ready to enjoy some avoidance behavior here!

*Not like Stephen King or Dean Koontz, but rather writing in other people’s voices. Although I wouldn’t mind being able to spin tales like either of them, ghosts or not.

Whose book is it?

When I started writing my novel, I had no idea what I was about to do. All I knew was I wanted to find the child who became my father. He had shared many memories, insights and stories about his youth with me over the years. I had been writing them down as I heard them, and I just kept asking questions. Once I brought him a map of the Bronx from the 1920s, and together we found his homes, schools and places of import to him.

At some point, I realized the boy who was emerging was my father’s edited self-portrait. When I accepted this, I knew that I had been given the freedom to find that child for myself.

And then, I just began! One day I sat down and it started pouring out of me, out of order, little vignettes, a foray into his imagination…as I imagined it. At least three times, and probably more, I finished a chapter that I’m sure had written itself.

Here’s one. Ben, the 15-year-old, found himself working at a garage whose owner was paying protection to the mob. Ben’s father, with his ladies coat and suit factory in the garment district, was also involved. The boss was big in the clothing unions, enforcement, and the protection racket. Ben was getting nervous the more he found out. One day, Rocco, owner of the garage, told Ben to deliver a mysterious box to Tony, the boss in the garment district.

I was in a writer’s mess, as I needed to get Ben out of all of this, and really couldn’t figure it out.

So, I took Ben and the box to Tony’s office. Neither one of us knew the contents of the box. This was frightening. Ben knew there was something awful about this transaction. And I was just along for the ride so I could report on the findings. When “we” delivered the box into Tony’s hands, we saw a gun and something wrapped in what looked like a bloody cloth. Something about it made Tony blow his top. Ben beat it out of there, and “we” didn’t know until later that evening, when Ben saw a headline about a mob shooting and a missing hand.

It was a right hand, and the victim was Anthony “Lefty” Cappuccio! Uh oh! Was Rocco the hit man? Did Tony think Ben was involved? …and what about Pauline? 

Well, I can’t tell the whole story here, but this piece of writing was an amazing experience for me. It made me wonder: Whose book is it?

A toe in the water

Today I will send a 50-page piece of my novel to a professional editor for review and advice on continuity, character, and the elements that move fiction forward. I’ve been polishing, tightening, tweaking, nudging, etc.

Many of you will recognize avoidance behavior, my real skill. I’ll know it’s time to send this when I need sunglasses to look at my kitchen floor.

But I will send it in a few minutes. I realize this will be when I accept the notion that I have really meant to be published all along. I don’t want affirmation as much as I want to develop readers: people who might be moved by or even just enjoy my writing. I want to stand on a street corner and read portions of this aloud; and later I can read this to the other people on my ward at the “home.”

This is the moment, just before I may be seriously shot down, when I say to more than myself “look what I’ve done. Don’t you think it’s good too?”

Here goes; stay tuned.

Writing and nature

I’ve been doing a great deal of bird watching in the past year, including monitoring an osprey nest, from nest-building through final flights on a live web cam, all last summer. As I continued working on my novel, the osprey family provided me a metaphor for the creative process.

Bird families start when the mating instinct brings forth the eggs. There is much sitting and waiting and waiting, followed by the first tentative taps and peeps from inside the shells. Already it’s clear that not everything emerges at this point. Some don’t hatch.

Nurturing and feeding, meeting demands, encouraging are all done for the chicks. Lack of attention at any point can create disaster. But nature tends to take care of itself, win or lose. With commitment and luck, there will be fledging, then much practice, then finally flight.

At the risk of beating this metaphor to death, what I’ve learned is: we get an idea and start something. If it feels good and real, we edge it forward, feed it and see what happens as it grows. Bottom line: it doesn’t always work. Statistics show that about fifty percent of osprey don’t make it. There are hazards everywhere. I’ve always known, whether or not this makes people sad, we need to trust nature. What lives is stronger. Ask Darwin.

I’ve been working on this novel since I started wondering about my father’s childhood. It’s been almost five years, and last week I typed “The End.” While this writing has been possibly the most exciting thing I’ve done since having children, what I have to now admit is that I’ve just become acquainted with my chicks. I anticipate the next steps with hope, but the real work starts now.

Welcome to Writerly

This site is where I will share my thoughts, inspirations, and some of my writing for honest feedback. Of course, it’s only shared if someone else sees it. I’ll be trying to direct friends here through Facebook and other sources.

I’m editing my first novel (read: slogging through and trying to be outside of it). From time-to-time, I may post a small piece for comments. I hope you will feel free to give me constructive criticism. A book is only as good, interesting, or entertaining as its readers think it is.

A note about the scene above: This was an incredible sunset in Newport, Oregon, where I have gone to find my muse. The ocean has always been important to me. It’s where I dream; it’s where I heal; and it’s where I am inspired. Whether East Coast, where I grew up, or West Coast, where I now live a bit inland; I need an ocean nearby. I spent four bewildered years in Iowa, where there is no ocean. I looked everywhere. There was much to love about Cedar Falls/Waterloo and the people I lived and worked among, but I was drawn to the ocean.

So, please feel at home here. Leave comments. Ask questions about writing and editing…or language and grammar.

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