Saturday, April 12, 2014

A morning interlude

My son told me this morning
Of a hurt long ago
We were working
But something reminded him of a hard name
That had been spoken
The story brief, and in the telling
Not such a hurt at all
But he looked down at his coloring and sighed
When I was telling, he said
I colored outside the lines
I wondered myself
How often
I might have done the same

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Death of Helen Burns

no amount of time
can change me
when I think of you
I feel my heart in my chest
like a wounded animal
it staggers
it cries blood and
heaves viscera
I am no huntsman
you know my tiny hands
I cannot give it rest

I'm struck as I reread this passage in Jane Eyre by Bronte's focus on the outdoor world.  She describes a young Jane set free across the wild moors from dawn until sundown, while the whole school is consumed with sickness.  The wild flowers, the river, the sky, the low mountains - all are described beautifully.  Only as complete blackness descends does Jane finally enter the house.  Jane tarries the longest outdoors - sending companions away, staying in the garden to plant some roots by moonlight.  She is reluctant - one senses even Bronte as the writer is reluctant - to enter the sickness and to confront Helen's death.  I wrote this poem thinking about Helen. But I was also thinking about how any love poem I write from Jane's childhood would reverberate through the years to also encompass Jane's relationship with Rochester - which also features a staggering loss.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Honorable Rev. Brocklehurst

I'm continuing my work of writing poems inspired by my rereading of Jane Eyre.  Brocklehurst seemed one-dimensional to my younger eyes, but this time around some of the details of his character were a little more chilling - his fixation on the girls' stockings and hair.  Inspired by my LOFT Poetry Out Loud class, I tried to write a poem from a perspective other than Jane's own.  This was an attempt to get into the man's head - perhaps voice his side of the tale.  Many of the details are from the book - Jane herself notices Maria Brocklehurst's name on Lowood's front edifice on her very first day at school.
The Honorable Rev. Brocklehurst
they are so little these girls
they cannot see
but I watch them.
I take their cares to my breast.
my own mother
was always leaving.
I brought her the coat
and she took it from my hand
and didn’t notice
the difference
between her son and the man
she paid
only coppers.
she left her name on silver trays
on buildings
on men.
I took the coins
I bought them needles
and bid them be handed out
only one by one
that they might remember.
I remember
my mother’s curls,
my mother’s laugh,
the maid who did not
darn the stockings
and the blows that fell.
she was the first girl I
ever kissed
she laughed and squirmed
- a little thing.
I watched her fall
beneath the blows.
my mother didn’t notice her son
or the man.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


should it matter
that you are here
a church yard stone
does it matter who
unmade me
or that I was unmade
the stream
the low ground
our bare feet left there
filled with water
they did not last
there were white stones
no bridges
in crossing them
our feet
stained them black

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Re-Reading Jane Eyre

Since I began my poetry project I’ve been re-reading Jane Eyre s-l-o-w-l-y.  Usually I have treated the book as a mad race to the scenes with Mr. Rochester (it’s a love story after all).  Keep in mind that I first read this book when I was just thirteen.  As I’ve added life experience my interaction with the book’s earlier scenes have changed.  The childhood scenes at Gateshead are painful now to read as a mother.  I’m struck by the clarity with which Bronte describes first post-traumatic stress disorder and then depression (before these terms were invented) in a child of ten.  The scene where Jane describes looking at a pretty plate she’d always wanted to touch and not caring, is heart-breaking. 

As a mom now, I find John Reed more menacing than ever.  A large boy of fourteen, recently sent home from school.  A thick, fleshy boy on the verge of manhood who has been used to indulging all his tastes and appetites.  Trapped in the house with him, is a thin and stunted Jane, who has been for years a convenient outlet for John’s sadism.  As a grown woman now, it’s not hard to see where this will all end up in a few years.  Perhaps that more than anything explains Jane’s miraculous escape (as it seemed to her at the time) to school.  It must have been obvious to the physician (apothecary) called to treat Jane’s bruised and cut head after her seizure in the Red Room.  He professes to be concerned for the child’s nerves, but I’m not so convinced that’s the only worry.

Aside from the new menace I feel from the opening pages - I am struck by one other thing that I missed through all these years.  Bronte chose to give both the torturer of Jane’s childhood and the cousin/potential suitor at the end of the narrative the same name.  The second character is St.John Rivers to be sure.  But it can’t be coincidence (even for a common name) that Bronte created this echoing connection between the characters.  They practically book nd the narrative.  Bronte (subtly – she was a minister’s daughter after all) connects St.John’s zeal with the abuse Jane suffered in her youth.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

New Poetry Project

For a number of years now, I've been posting here a variety of love poems.  I am a novelist by trade, but I've always felt that poetry keeps me honest. So I write it. Even in a day and age where love poems seem slightly embarrassing, something best confined to heart covered notebooks in the 5th Grade. 

That's a shame really, because the world needs more honesty. More love poems.  And anyone whose been in love knows that real love doesn't fit neatly in the pages of heart covered notebooks. 

After a number of years, I've put my love poems together in a book and I'm looking for a publisher.  So it feels like time to start a new poetry project.  One thing that strikes my passion is Jane Eyre - a love story writ large.  I've loved it since the 5th Grade. I've begun a new series of poems rewriting the book in verse. Here is the first in this series.  If you've read the book, you'll recognize the opening window scene.
the view

when I was a child
there was a certain window
where I would sit and draw the curtain
it would rain only for me
the wind pushing the wet, shivering birds
across the garden.
there were stories and
I would read them
it did not matter
who owed the books
- the words, the rain, the birds
they were mine.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Drafting A Novel - Writing Process

I’m always a little amazed when I do readings at how interested folks are in the mechanics of my writing process.  I suppose it makes sense, that many readers are writers.  And writing is a lonely process.  It develops naturally – a little like a speed skaters movement on the ice.  It’s interesting to know how others go about it.  One thing that is pretty constant about my routine is the way that I handle novel drafts.  I’m working on my seventh novel now and the pattern that emerged for the first few has held consistent over the years.  So in case you’re curious – here is my drafting process:

Draft One: Open a document and pour it all out.  Do not revisit scenes, do not correct.  The goal to create enough pages that there is the semblance of a novel.  I don’t make myself write in sequential order. If I want to write an end scene, I write that.  If I want to write a love scene (even if I have no idea where it fits) I write that.  The next day I may tackle the very opening scenes.  This draft usually generates between 120-150 pages.  It ends with some big gaps. 

Draft Two: I fill in the gaps. I may generate an outline to start this draft, noting what I’ve written and jotting down ideas to fill in the holes.  I go back and I fix things in this draft, but it is still mainly a process of adding scenes and ideas.  The goal of this draft is to have a fully written novel from page 1 to the end.  This is usually where I have 200-220 pages.

Draft Three: I feel like sometimes you have to be nice to yourself.  The only thing I do at draft three is spell check.  It’s an easy victory, and it makes me feel better after the work of the last two drafts.

Draft Four: This draft builds on the last and I go through the whole thing and correct bad sentences and bad grammar.  This is mind numbing.

Draft Five:  I read the whole thing aloud.  Hopefully the last two drafts will have caught any technical errors, but this draft makes the language sing.  This is an intensive draft (almost as much as draft one).  This is where most of the cutting occurs, since finally I am turning an eye (ear actually) to sound and flow.

Draft Six: Another easy victory.  I hire a professional editor for find any problems in the manuscript.  I really labor to send a polished and finished manuscript to this editor.  The goal is to have them catch the things that you start to overlook after 6 months of work on the same damn document.  After awhile you lose your ability to see flaws.  This is also a good “rest” period, since the manuscript is gone for a month.  Sometimes the silence tells you more about a project than grinding it out.  So how dada of me – this is the draft that I write by not writing.

Draft Seven: I review the professional editor’s comments and then work those into the manuscript.  This is usually the part at which I am “Part 1” done.  At this point I start drafting pitch letters and the dreaded synopsis needed to sell the novel. 

Additional Drafts:  If the manuscripts sells there are likely to be additional drafts based on the editor’s comments.  With my about to be published novel The Patron Saint of Lost Comfort Lake, I believe there were four additional drafts to fix problems/gaps and spot errors.  I think it’s important to point out however that I try to be very surgical about these drafts.  I fix what I’ve been asked to look at and treat everything else as off-limits (unless it’s glaring).  I’m a firm believer that you can rework a manuscript too much – until it’s more like a limp dead salamander than a story.  Time and distance help with the urge to savage your manuscript.  Usually there is a great big pause between Draft Seven and working with an editor.  In today’s publishing world it can take me 2-3 years to sell a complete story and get it back from the editor with comments.  By the time this happens, it almost seems as if somebody else wrote the story.  I try not to mess around with their work too much.