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Month: November 2012

A Novel I Love More than Christmas

At Beth’s Bookstore, I slipped a paperback from the shelf. I read the first line. That’s how I chose a book: the first line, then the first paragraph. Sometimes if I’m unsure, I continue further down the page. Then I either buy the book or I put it back.

I’ve been burned using this method—occasionally, a book doesn’t live up to the opening—but not often. This time, “The Revolution of Little Girls,” by Blanche Mccrary Boyd, proved to be a very funny, poignant read.

After I finished reading, I went on-line to learn more about the author and the book. Because the book was published in 1991—pre-on-line dominance—the Amazon reviews were sparse. Of the 9, 3 were negative. On Goodreads, the majority were 3 or below. The novel received enthusiastic reviews when it was released; it won awards. Many on-line commenters, however, did not like its “Southernism,” its structure (“jumps around too much”), its resolution. To me, the major flaw of the novel occurred about 2/3s of the way through, when it actually became too linear, after the author had taught us to expect discreet, non-linear chapters. Still, I thought it wonderful, as so many did not.

I am so glad I had this experience. As a woman on the verge of hiring an editor to get my Southern novel into the marketplace, I needed to see the negative reviews of a novel I thought was hilarious. Earlier, in the course of evaluating potential editors, I’d looked at Amazon reviews on work they’d edited. One author in particular had screechingly negative reviews. I thought that relevant. Now I’m not so sure.

More importantly, this experience has made me comfortable with something I knew intellectually but now embrace: some will like my novel, many will not.

The main thing, therefore, is for ME to like it.

So, in choosing an editor, the determinative question is, which one will help me create a novel I love more than Christmas? Which editor can take this work—which many will not care for—and make it the best the work can be? If I accomplish that, wedging my work into the cadre of writers whom I love, appealing to the readers who like what I like, then I will have been successful.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The Trenches We Dig

 

In New Orleans working on a novel where the main character, a little girl named Jazzy,

evacuates Katrina to her grandparent’s home in Jackson, Mississippi,

I’m studying maps of New Orleans to understand the storm surge

from Katrina

while I’m sitting in the Bywater neighborhood,

which is separated from the Lower 9th Ward by the Industrial Canal, where the storm surge breached the levee

on both sides, inundating this part of the city

(but not the Bywater because we’re higher ground), and

I cannot believe that civilization ever developed

on this water-surrounded spit of land,

the land’s secondary status exacerbated by

our determination to connect those engulfing bodies of water—

the Mississippi River,

Lake Ponchartrain,

the Gulf of Mexico

—with more water,

i.e. canals.

At Beth’s Bookstore, I slipped a paperback from the shelf. I read the first line. That’s how I chose a book: the first line, then the first paragraph. Sometimes if I’m unsure, I continue further down the page. Then I either buy the book or I put it back.

I’ve been burned using this method—occasionally, a book doesn’t live up to the opening—but not often. This time, “The Revolution of Little Girls,” proved to be a very funny, poignant read.

After I finished reading, I went on-line to learn more about the author and the book. Because the book was published in 1991—pre-on-line dominance—the Amazon reviews were sparse. Of the 9, 3 were negative. On Goodreads, the majority were 3 or below. The novel received enthusiastic reviews when it was released; it won awards. Many on-line commentors, however, did not like its “Southernism,” its structure (“jumps around too much”), its resolution. To me, the major flaw of the novel occurred about 2/3s of the way through when it actually became too linear, after the author had taught us to expect discreet, non-linear chapters. Still, I thought it wonderful, as so many did not.

I am so glad I had this experience. As a woman considering hiring an editor to get my novel into the marketplace, I needed to see the negative reviews of a novel I thought was hilarious. Earlier, in the course of evaluating potential editors, I’d looked at Amazon reviews on work they’d edited. One author in particular had screechingly negative reviews. I thought that relevant. Now I’m not so sure.

More importantly, this experience has made me comfortable with something I knew intellectually but now embrace: some will like my novel, many will not.

The main thing, therefore, is for ME to like it.

So, in choosing an editor, the question is not, which one will be most likely to get me published? The determinative question is, which one will help me create a novel I love more than Christmas? Which editor can take this work—which many will not care for—and make it the best the work can be? If I accomplish that, wedging my work into the cadre of writers whom I love, appealing to the readers who like what I like, then I will have been successful.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

At some point along the line, I began using as my email sign-off phrase, “peace in creativity.” I don’t remember the trigger. Maybe a combination of the traditional “religious folks” sign-off (peace) plus “creativity” as a variation of the title of my book (“Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God”). Whatever, I’ve continued to use it because so very often, there is no peace in creativity.

Creativity is such a lovely concept. The word embodies a time of intense focus on what is being born, unbridled by concern for what the other thinks of the coming creation. Peace.

That’s when you are creating by yourself. Add in other people, and it becomes a jake-leg, herky-jerk, fits-and-starts, back-and-forth, contentious process. No peace.

Often, the email I’m sending is to one of those ornery folks with whom I’m involved in the creation process. The recipient knows very well we are not in a place of peace.  Sometimes I think they get the email and think, what the hell?

Yet, I force myself to type, “peace in creativity” as a statement of belief and faith in a certain reality, all evidence to the contrary. The whirring wind, the noise and confusion—that’s the Spirit spreading across the face of the water at the dawn of time. Chill. Believe in the outcome. Wait for it. And, even more importantly, enjoy it while you are in process. Life won’t come this exact way ever again.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

We Got Plenty of Time

It’s six o’clock. The cab was supposed to be here at six o’clock. I call.

“This is Ellen Prewitt? Y’all were sending a cab?”

“You’re in Harbor Town, right?”

“Yes’m.”

“We’ve got someone coming.”

I stuff the phone in my back pocket.

Two seconds later the phone rings. “I’m coming to get you. You’re in Harbor Town, right? I’m on Park. I’ll be there in six minutes.”

Park is a long way from where I live.

I gather my bags, huddle at the front door. It’s black as pitch outside. The train leaves at 6:50. My ticket says: arrive thirty minutes early, or the train will leave your ass.

In a minute, the phone rings again.

“I’m on Fern Bend.”

I pause. “I don’t know that name.”

Across the harbor, speeding along the tracks, the train whistles by. The train I’m supposed to be on. Headed toward the station. Where I’m supposed to board.

“You’re off Island Place, right? Harbor Isle Circle East? You go around a curve?”

I consider. I’m terrible with street names, but something rings a bell. “I think Island Place is two neighborhoods down. Is it a big wide street? I’m in Harbor Town.”

“Oh, I know where you are. You’re in Harbor Town. My girlfriend, she has my GPS—she’s a contract driver with the company. That’s why I’m asking you where you are. I’ll be there in two minutes.”

I hang up.

It’s 6:20.

I drag my bags outside, lock the door behind me.

Something rustles beneath the maple tree. It’s a woman walking her dog, at this time of the morning. She glances up, startled to see me standing on the walkway. I think her dog pooped and she didn’t scoop it up.

I stand in the dark. I’m glad I didn’t tell the cabbie my porch light would be on because, of course, I’ve had to turn it off. Getting ready to leave. Whenever the cab arrives.

Headlights tear down my street. The cab—one of those van-like things—bounces to a halt. I sling in my bags.

“I knew I would find you,” he says. “If you were in a hole, I’d find you. Then I’d sling a rope down that hole, and I’d pull you out. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that before.”

I go through my wallet, hunting the money for the fare.

“Don’t nobody in dispatch help you. I’ve been driving a cab eleven years. They’re supposed to help you. ‘You supposed to know where the street is.’ Well, I’m supposed to know where the street is before I get in the cab. You can’t know where every street is. Sometimes GPS is wrong, sometimes the map is wrong. It’d work better if dispatch and the driver worked together. Only one person in dispatch would stand on their head for me. Don’t nobody help. ”

We’re tooling along. We hit a red light. We wait.

Then he tells a story. It’s a funny story. The story involves Eades and a long drive  into the country and million-dollar houses, eight concrete steps to get into the house, a brass handle on the door, drunk-as-skunk millionaires partying in the house. “I’m afraid to go in the house,” he says, “poor Black guy out in the country with nothing but million-dollar houses.”

I want to reach out and touch him on the shoulder, tell him I know we can’t go any faster if he quits talking, but I need for him to quit talking. I refrain. He takes a left down G.E. Patterson. Some cabs I’ve been in, they circle around, trying to find the entrance to the station, confused by the one-way streets. He’s headed straight there.

His dispatch calls. He says, “Yeah, I got her. It don’t leave until 6:50. We got plenty of time.”

When we glide into the station, traverse the parking lot, ease beside the long platform that leads to the train, there is no train.

Has it left already?

“See there,” he says. “The train is late. It was late yesterday morning, too.”

I give him a $3 tip on a $11 fare. My bags and I head to check-in.

He comes trotting after me.

“That was your cellphone I was calling, right? When you on your way back, call me and I’ll come pick you up.”

When I get on the train, I retrieve his number from my phone. I write it down. The man knew what he was doing, GPS or no. I liked him, I liked his story. But most of all, I liked his attitude. I need someone to drive me around, telling me every waking minute of every day: relax, we got plenty of time.

 

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