Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Which I Avoid The Bear

"Bear Update," was the title of an e-mail recently sent to everyone in our neighborhood. "A bear and her cub have been spotted roaming the streets and woods."

Now, I do not live on the Aleutian Islands, or Alaska, or the zoo. I have seen bears a few times WAAYYYY up in the Virginia mountains, but having them loitering by my mailbox is a bit much. Especially considering the stomach-churning fear everyone experiences when they think about things "a bit too much" while running in the foggy dark before sunrise.

The deer are bad enough, huddling behind bushes and mailboxes, waiting for me to approach -- rubbing their hooves together, I imagine -- and then exploding across the road in a rain of demon-hooves and swaying tree branches. Ha ha! Hilarious, deer! Perhaps you'd like to try my venison-flavored deer treats!

This morning I was trotting along in the milky ghost light of a rainy night and thin moon, when I saw outlined against the dim road a squat thing moving in the leaves. I veered right; it followed. I swerved left, it followed.

Easy, easy, I whispered. This is reality. Reality! Come on, reality! When I saw it waving long arms and legs I felt the long cold shiver down my scalp and neck.

It was my shadow.

In my defense, it was a solid-looking shadow because the air was so humid and it caught on ... uh, water droplets ... three-dimensional....

The worst part is that it startled me twice. On the same run. As in, "I know the last thing was just my shadow but this new hell-denizen is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT."

Somehow I made it home without crashing into deer, bear, or anything worse. If I could just convince myself that the "bear" was just someone rehearsing a Halloween costume, then all I need is candy.

If I see the bear I will pelt it with Smarties and lock the door.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Burning Road

This week's Sunday Scribblings prompt is "Shame." We all experience it differently. Here we go!


And it all come back to me. Well no. Pieces of it, pictures. Like when I used to catch glimpse of Red Haney’s TV cross the water some mornings, just blue flickers in the dark and sometimes a picture I could see.

Just pictures.

I hit her. I think I hit her. I hit her.

She aint in the passenger seat and she aint in the back seat and she aint anywhere in the car, just her stuff, her plastic SuprFresh grocery bag with clothes and another with makeup and music and thats it. No her.

And some more come back. I been drinking, it aint news, I been drinking my whole drinky life, against cold in winter and bugs in summer and crab pinches and fish spines and diesel stink all damn year. ALL damn year.

So I been drinking and she was arguing again, just like Julie always used to, and I knew, I just knew maybe some drink would soften her voice a little, soften her hard words so they didn’t nettle at me so. And partways I thought it was wrong and partways I thought it was right.

And she said no, dad no! like I was some kinda killer when all I wanted was some quiet so I could think. Cause we had a long way to drive and I was going to scratch my ears off if she kept shouting like that.

I didn’t hit her. I hit her. I tried to feed her the bottle like when she were little and Julie showed me how God it was so long ago, and she pushed the bottle away.

It all come back.

She push the bottle away and I got one hand on the wheel cause we still driving, aint we? And I take the other hand and guess I push the bottle at her hard, too hard cause something happens, the car’s swerving and she aint moving. And I know I just KNOW I made things worse not better, like I always did.

So we come to a dirtbag little town and the sun aint quite down and its raining that cold rain like its never gonna stop, and theres a clinic. I bust open the door and take her in and leave her there and they’re crying at me and my head’s spinning and the world’s spinning and the car’s still running and I get in and get it right out of there.

I think that’s last night. Same night as now and its still raining and still dark and she still aint here. But at least she safe. Away from me.

I look at the bottle by the gear shift and it says, I’m your exit buddy, turn here and its the way you want to go. This way home.

I look at that thing a long time. Dashboard lights make it sparkly and there aint nothing on the radio worth hearing.

I look at the pack of Camels and they say kinda the same thing and my mouth wants something besides drink so I light one up and smoke it fast. And I light another and smoke that down till it burns my fingers.

And another, smoking my way down the road to where Julie maybe is, west of here. California, all the west you can go, where there aint no rain and shitty crab boats and diesel stink and cold water.

The butts go right out the window, one after another, I don’t even care if they’re out or if they start a fire. Cause I would deserve it, and I think I see each little bouncing spark setting the road afire, and its fast cause its burning all the dead leaves, and the fire is racing along behind me, and the road of fire chasing me in the wet night.

And I hope it catches me.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Transom dry assembly

That's right, you read it correctly: the transom, Frame 7, and seat fronts are all dry-assembled!

While you fan yourselves and mop feverish brows, allow me to explain. I'm at the stage in the boat project where I'm putting together the whole back half of it. The place where you sit, where the outboard motor attaches, where there are lockers to be filled with line, flares, emergency pump, etc.

You clamp everything together -- and this is, let's see, six separate pieces of wood, all three or four feet long -- drill the holes, and insert temporary screws. Then you do some other stuff (mumble mumble chines mumble #$#!*@ inflexible wood), remove all the dry-assembled pieces, add glue, and reassemble permanently. So needless to say this is an exciting moment, to see the aft end of the boat come together.

Last night around 7pm I had reached a convenient stopping point. It was getting late, I was about three hours past hungry, and the next step was a complicated boat-lifting operation.

Except I still had half an hour before making dinner, so I looked at the boat and got back to work. It'll only get built if I build it, after all.

So I measured the gap, selected a piece of one-by, ripped it to width, slid it in under the boat, removed the old jig cross-piece, and happily drilled the transom-bottom holes at the correct angle. (Previously the jig piece had been in the way of the drill. What I wouldn't give for a tiny but powerful drill.)

Hey awesome, it worked and I still had time for dinner. I know, right?

I seize on every opportunity to celebrate in this long building process. Kinda like writing a book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Slow Discernment

Revisionzzzzz. Recently I decided that every sentence of my manuscript should be perfect.

Because after all, if you think about it, why wouldn't you want every sentence to be as good as it could be, just right ... perfect? Exactly. That's the trap I found myself in this morning.

No problem I said, heroically sipping coffee from my special Writing Mug, I'll just go through and check 'em all. So I started, after some more coffee (no reason to be barbaric), and it -- was -- working!

Sentences and paragraphs that previously hadn't been quite right, or which had been good but not great, I examined, turned inside out, dissected and rebuilt, diced and recombined, or (best of all) deleted.

It's scary how much I was changing. In fact, it was almost like re-writing the whole book, one sentence at a time, just like the first draft. So it was alternately frustrating and exhilarating to realize there was a different and better way to say most things.

This is where discernment comes in, and judgement. Does the rhythm of this sentence work? How about the sounds of the words: rhymes or alliteration or mushiness? Should the clauses be reversed to emphasize something different? Can I pick a slightly different metaphor that will resonate through multiple meanings? ("darkness at its center" was one I landed on this morning).

It's great that this was working (which for me, maybe for many writers, means: not failing) but it was. very. slow. After half an hour I'd gone through two pages, which is about as fast as writing the book from scratch.

At this rate it will take weeks and weeks to go through.

But so what? The book needs it so that's what it gets. Time to make some more coffee.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Seeing Stars

Accursed Daylight Savings: It is now dark when I arise at 5 to run, dark when I leave the house, dark during my run, and dark when I return. In a few weeks when we lose Daylight Savings Time, I'll get an hour of daylight at dawn. Of course, it'll be pitch dark when I leave work, so six of one...

This morning we finally had clear skies, so I was hopeful that some light would leak across the horizon from the rising sun. No such luck: it was stars, stars, stars, and my breath fogging in the night of our first frost.

It was too dark to see: deer, monsters, other runners, road kills, goats, man-sized vultures, and other nightmarish creatures that I am certain inhabit our darkened neighborhood. Often a mailbox or a trashcan would pretend to be something else as I approached it nervously.

But mostly it was just stars and trees and the dim paleness of the road. Until, at about 3 miles, I looked ahead to where the mountains were just showing their crumpled outline in the darkness, and there was a streak of light in the sky, blink-fast and nearly vertical.

Ha! quoth I, a falling star!

And then, a few miles later, another one. This time I snapped my head up faster and saw a lingering trail of green hanging among the stars for an instant after the tiny green light fell, like a long dab of fingerpaint or cold smoke.

Nice to know there are some benefits to forcing myself out of bed and into the cold, cold darkness.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bad Odds

What do you do with bad odds? You beat them.

At my day job I'm sifting through resumes for a position we have posted. Whether due to the economy, the town, or some sublimated tectonic explosion of interest, we've been deluged. And I can only hire one person.

Tossing out the sloppy ones, or those riddled with errors, is an easy decision. As is eliminating those who have mixed things up and are applying for a different job. But then I'm faced with several dozen, very qualified applications, and I think to myself: I feel like an agent going through query letters.

Agents: I feel your pain, sort of. Because each one of these remaining resumes has a person's hope attached to it. The careful formatting, the agonizing over phrasing in the cover letter, the debates about font and margin spacing.

So I had to start thinking like an agent. This person has the wrong professional background? Out they go. This one has typos and misspellings? Cut. They may be accidental, but at the same time, this resume -- or query letter -- is a representation of you and your work. It better be spot on.

This one is personalized to the job opening or, better yet, our company? Hang on to it for now. This one answers everything we ask in the ad without going on and on and on? A keeper.

There's also a strange element, which I've sometimes seen agents note as well. Does this application, does this query letter, have heart? Is there a spark there? It's subjective and maybe unfair, but writing should have heart. A query should have heart. A cover letter should have heart.

And in the end, what do you say when the resume is perfectly fine but just not right for the job? Thanks, but this is not for me. We've all heard that from agents. It's not malicious or condescending; it's just that there are fifty other resumes to go through and I can't take time away other work to write a detailed letter of pros and cons for each person.

The odds are not good. Sorry, they're just not. Which is why, when I labor over my query and synopsis, and when I grind through another revision, I remind myself: Beat the odds.

Steve Martin once said the secret to success was to be so good they can't ignore you. There's no trickery to it. Just quality.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Crap Blast Dang Crunklesnit Gashbunking Crud

News flash: it is fun inventing curse words. All those good Anglo-Saxon fricatives, harsh and spittly. Sliverous wretch! Ark-barking mange-eating snail pit! Gubbering, zit-poxed, lackwit, specilious, feculent gorgon! Harpish festoon! Squit-flanked rash-cobbled linny! On and on.

Yet I should get down to the business of this post and the reason for my vexation: the thunderclap realization that while my latest book is pretty good, it's also NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

Here's what brought this home. In my writing room I have a shelf full of sailing books for "research" (and entertainment when I'm supposed to be brushing my teeth, going to work, cleaning the litterbox, writing, folding laundry, finding receipts, whatever).

Several of these focus on the nearly-lost art of seamanship of big square-rigged sailing ships. A few others --strangely interesting -- are just dictionaries of archaic sailing terms, now nearly lost. I'm fascinated by words that are specific to a skill, or an industry. Especially when the words go the way of the great ships, sunk or lost at sea or burned in war. Imagine a whole language comprised of nothing but the thin whispers of extinct words.

I actually have to make myself not even open the dictionary of archaic sailing terms, because it tends to ensnare me: jaw sags open, eyes dilate, unfolded laundry drops to the floor, and I read and read and read.

The problem is that even with this wealth of information at my fingertips, I have not included nearly enough of it in my manuscript. Part of which is very concerned with life at sea, and in a port city by the sea.

The only solution, I fear / hope, is to read that dictionary, to learn all the terms, and then to carefully sprinkle them into the story. After all, I don't want so many strange words that I need a glossary.

EXCEPT! Hold that thought! D. M. Cornish does just that with his Monster Blood Tattoo books; I should be so lucky to create a world so vivid and compelling as that one.

The good news is, whether I add in lots of these words, or just a few, I get to read the dictionary either way. Now I just need a cold and rainy weekend.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Completed boat

No, not MY completed boat, but Steve Earley's. I met Steve at the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival this weekend and finally got to see a finished, working version of the boat I'm building. Very exciting!

Steve did a great job building Spartina, and, after cruising over 500 sea miles in her, knows more than a little about what works and what doesn't. He even took my mom and me out for a gentle sail in light airs while I hopped around probing into hatches and asking about bungs and plywood joints and mast step drains.

Without further ado, here is my inspiration, the completed boat:

You have to kind of slide into it, and it tends to sail fastest backwards, but....

No, only joking. Here is Steve's boat:

Note spooky disembodied hands; I wasn't taking pictures of people, but rather hatch, sheeting, and coaming details. And here's mine from the same angle:

As you can see I have a little ways to go in the waterproofing department.

Two more: Spartina from above (beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, love the grey) and my frames from above, similar angle.

Steve, thanks for answering my endless questions and taking us out for a sail. Someday I'll return the favor!