Thursday, April 29, 2010


I used to belong to the Church of the Breakout Novel. I wasn't much of a believer in the sermons, but I enjoyed the gossip from the pews and the feeling of doing well I received from letting the liturgy pass over me. Having been washed in the steam-driven liturgical bath, I was blessed in my endeavors.

Then, as I repeated a psalm with regards to the proper introduction of characters, I realized that I had slipped. No longer was I believer in the general goodness of the Church of the Breakout Novel, which doesn't harm me and shouldn't be judged according to the actions of its adherents; now I had fallen into the benighted darkness of believing in that I had a voice.

We are taught that it is not so. Voices belong to the angelic choir of geniuses and they, by their nature, are able to make of nature a gem in which faulty inclusions are the relic of the earth and not the transmogrification of the angelic pressure in the forming of the gem. In other words, it's the fault of the base matter that it breaks when lifted and refined, not the skill of the angel in doing so. The rest of us should strive to perfect our base matter.

So much for the Church of the Breakout Novel. It was a comfortable place to rest and a good place to absorb the blathering of those that do so that you don't have to do for yourself. In what heresy should I trust in next?

Monday, April 26, 2010


I've come to be standing on the sidewalk at night, in front of the turn-off to my home, ready to say good-bye to the group who's walked me this far in the dark. I can take a candle and borrow some of the light to get me to my door, but I have to put my back to the warmth and walk into the shadows to get to where I'm going.

It's a heavy and familiar metaphor, one that sags in my head as I skim the beginning and question myself as to whether this is a good decision. It's not an easy business saying good-bye to something that you've been a part of and imagining it continue while you dim and fade in the distance. On the other hand, it's hard to see the other paths when you're blinded by the one you're on.

Too often over the past couple of years I've found myself at this juncture and I can attest that I've spend more time looking back over my shoulder and aching for things to go "back to normal" than I have adapting to new situations. I'm still writing and I hope that I've got enough determination to finish the novel I'm working on and risk the rejection of agents and publishing houses (should there be any left) when I'm done. I hope that I have enough imagination to patch the plot holes and lift the airless plot up where it belongs. ;)

Right now, though, I'm going to take a few minutes and be grateful for those who helped me get this far and sad that I'm no longer going to have their company for the rest of the way. I wish we could have remained walking in the same direction. Thanks.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

In the Cave of the Chicken Leg

My grandmother was a formidable woman. A former nurse whom I remember complaining about the 3 pounds she gained when she switched from cigarettes to gum--and still weighed less I did when I got married--and the kind of person grandkids and restaurant/hotel staff feared to anger. Formidable. Fashionable. Determined.

She and my grandpa lived for a time in Port Arthur and there is a highway of memories between there and the city in which I grew up, a terminal node of which is the Luby's at Baybrook Mall. This was dinner before we arrived home, vacation over. It had the vastness of a way station--asphalt parking lots that faded into coastal scrub melting in afternoon heat shimmers, turned wood railings that made the restaurant itself seem partitioned but open, a line that stretched twice as long as our local Luby's. Refuel and jet into homebase . . .except that I was more elves and pirates than sci fi at that age. Still, the color scheme was the umber/ocher/olive of a specific time period, retro with that futuristic tinge of one-day-I'll-be-an-adult that hits you when you're away from home and just one more person in an impersonal line leaning against the carpeted wall and staring fixedly at the steam trays.

Several of my memories of her surround food and cars. They had big beige Buick and Cadillacs with puffy leather seats in the back that would become crammed with stuffed animals, notebooks, blankets. I would lie on my back and stare out those windows, watching the sky flash in the windows. Rain or sun would pound us the entire way to Port Arthur. This is Texas, after all.

Was Luby's the cave in which I came upon the chicken leg? No. The chicken leg was served in a restaurant whose name I can't recall attached to a department store. Heavy eaves covered the glass of the store, but it was bright inside. The restaurant, though, was a big open-raftered faux-Western barn of darkness. You sat at a table (maybe a booth?) where the light from the order area reached and received a single drumstick and a mound of potatoes perfectly formed by scoop and sealed with a layer of brown gravy that only extended to the edge of the scoop. No extra, no gravy down in the potatoes. Just a layer of salt and chicken essence brown on the tongue. It was enough.

There is a trust that allows you to push off from the edge and fall into the water, to feel the bright liquid all around you, supporting you, pressing the air from your lungs. You experience it entirely, from the heart of the pool. Eating chicken with Grandma was like that. She was giving you a break in the middle of the day and the best chicken and gravy you would ever taste. She wasn't going to tell your mom how irritating you'd been or about the new toy that was lurking in your bag. She was going to spend the weekend or the week toting you to the cousins, letting you have one sleep over, letting a family friend fill you up on tuna and macaroni salad (another post in itself). Right now, in the middle of day, it was hot and ya'll were hungry and here is a cool place were she can think and you can eat.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Holding On

I've been trying to decide how to identify a brave action as opposed to a determined but useless one. This is rising from a writing challenge that I'm undergoing in revising last year's draft of a novel featuring a sentient planet, genetic mutations, and feral, snappish, living books. Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Should I abandon such an apparently episodic, shaggy-dog story in favor of stories with clearer plot lines?

Last night, I had one of those 'writer moments.' It was dark and I was dozing on the futon while the dogs snoozed in their pens. As I tossed plot bunnies out into the thirsty lawn of the imagination, I envisioned my novel as a not-yet-adult child sitting there with me on the futon waiting for me to decide whether to abandoned it to its own difficulties or to support it through this conflict-ridden period. I've never conceived of my books as children before and I've never had the emotional experience of feeling like abandoning a book was a abandoning a responsibility.

It's possible (probable?) that I'm looking for ways to make myself care enough to dig back into the text. That being said, I know that I've been feeling like this story is just something that I came up with to fill a word count quota, that it's not "my" story in the same way that the fairy tales about spiders and bees and elvish truckers are mine. It didn't grow up in the soil of childhood.

Instead, this story grew during a November spent in Panera Bread, the Montgomery County Library, and the reclining chair in front of the Pumpkin King's monster TV. Specifically, it was last November, in no way part of my youth. Yet, it is a complete story (except as plots change, as they do while being revised). There are toads and snakes instead of spiders and bees (although I believe there will be spider as well), madness and wormholes and dreaming planets intent on owning consciousness. There is a ghost on a road, a road that only be walked in one direction because it is a stretch of The Road, the one that catches its tail and brings all those who journey on it round about again rather than letting them become retrograde to their stories and go backward. If you leave home on The Road, you'll only find it again after you've completed the entire circuit and some of us never will.

Perhaps this story is my child and my road. Perhaps it is a will-o-the-wisp and I am about to leave the path.

Monday, April 5, 2010


In suffering through the random literary education of the Texas public school system augmented by my parents' library and the public library I have never come across the poems of Clark Ashton Smith nor those of Robert E. Howard. Why are such modern examples of joy in language neglected as we try to conform our understanding to societies that bear little resemblance to our own and thus must fight both language and culture in our understanding?

I did well enough in school, though I don't recall many stories that lodged in my self the way the stories read outside of the classroom did. Much that was good I missed.

Coming late to these poems, I sink into them like into the soil in the back garden. The words root in my imagination and the ideas behind them curl and crawl through the lines and stanzas. Given back to me is the pounce of discovery and the willingness to work again at my own relationship to language, which has become somewhat strained of late.