Friday, October 24, 2008

The serpent

Ever since I picked up a rock when I was five or six years old and found a snake coiled up underneath it, I have had an aversion to snakes. Up at the cabin, whenever we went on a hike, I had to walk in the middle of the line or right next to one of my parents. I was afraid of even seeing a snake. Needing to go to the outhouse meant someone had to come with me because once I saw a Blue Racer all stretched out on a sunny stretch of the dirt road, and who knows, he might come back.

I have to admit, I still don't like snakes. As part of my kids' birthday party one year, we had a friend who was an expert on reptiles and snakes bring a few of his "pets" over in pillowcases. (My husband "bought" his service at a church auction.) I reluctantly agreed, but said "show and tell" had to stay on the porch. The party guests seemed to have a great time while my skin crawled.

Sometimes when I am writing, I have to wonder where my ideas come from. Poor Karl Stern is sentenced to scrub the church floor on a Saturday for a misdeed that was not of his doing, and what do you think he sees carved into the floor right next to the altar? A snake of course. It's a reference to Genesis 3:15, where the Lord is coming down hard on those first sinners, Adam and Eve; coming down even harder on that serpent who got them to eat the wrong fruit. The Lord says to the snake, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between her offspring and yours; he will strike your head, and you shall strike his heel.

I knew that I'd heard of a church somewhere that had a serpent carved into a stone floor, then realized I had family connections to the congregation. I took the photo above when I was there for a conference over a year ago.

Months after he sees the serpent carved into his church floor, Karl finds himself battling snakes in a horrible nightmare. I guess most dreams have their origins someplace in reality. I find that to be true for writing fiction, as well.
Until next time...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Life and Death

For someone who loved English class, even way back in grade school, I am certainly having a hard time writing a decent synopsis of Eddie's Wake. How does a person condense a five year project down to one paragraph, one page, even three pages?

Perhaps it's because I do a better job spreading my sights out broadly than I do pulling something in to look at the bare essentials of it. And it's not just in writing fiction that I find this difficult. It's taken me my whole life to learn to look at a situation or set or problems, wrestle with them, figure out what the core issue is, then consider possible solutions. Being able to step outside the situation and realize that it's not necessarily my problem has been helpful; still, the truth is, I'm not too good at it. I get too involved with people.

But daily, my work takes me into life and death issues: things that can be fixed, issues and conditions that must be lived with, issues and illness that lead to death. Working in the church means that everything--everything-- is about life and death, both for individuals and for the organization.

I'm going through Eddie's Wake with a fine tooth comb--again--looking for typos and punctuation errors, and as I do, I noticing how nearly every character and every scene is about life and death or what is live-giving versus what is death-dealing.

Today I performed a wedding at a former congregation for a woman with whom I worked closely those years ago. The church seemed smaller than I remembered it. There were lots of people I didn't know. I was so happy to be there for this one person; the old connection with her was still there, but I've been away, no longer a part of the life of that place. I've been able to step back and see things a bit differently.

Maybe if I wasn't still so involved with Karl, Maggie, Jacob, Will and all the others, I might be able to step back and boil the novel down into a nice, tidy couple of paragraphs. Maybe I need to remind myself that they are not real (nor are they parishioners!), but figments of my over-active imagination.

Maybe I could do that for an hour, maybe even a day. But not much longer than that. The characters are still too real for me. More later...
P.S. The photo above was taken in northern Michigan, from the front porch of my Dad's first cabin.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jacob Denver

As I promised you last week, this post is all about Jacob Denver, one of the three point of view characters in Eddie's Wake. Jacob is the brother of Eddie's fishing partner, Will. Like Maggie Stern's character, Jacob is a composite of many men I've known. My grandfather was very interested in history, especially anything having to do with lumbering in Michigan; but I didn't know him as a young man, and I never saw his anger or passion, just his integrity, his love of family, and the stories he told about pranks he played as a youth. You can see some of the lumbering tools he collected over the years in the photo above.
Jacob Denver believes he has a great reason for acting like a jerk--which he does from time to time. Will has the guts to call him on it, taking away his flimsy excuse. The brothers grew up in a family of wealth; Will rejecting it and Jacob becoming the rich boy/man who believed money could solve almost every misfortune he'd hit in life. Yet he learns by the end of the novel that true love can take a person into disagreeable and dangerous situations that money could never fix.
Here's a short passage from the novel all about Jacob Denver:

The long drive north went smoothly, and although patches of snow covered the ground in places, the roads were clear and the sun shone. From Wakelin, Wisconsin, Jacob drove north and west along the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, past lake after lake in what once was a forest thick with white pine. At Carson Village he turned pure north, skirting the state of Michigan at Hurley, and from there drove west into the sun along the south shore of Lake Superior. Tomos Bay clung to the eastern limits of Ashland like a jealous little sister.
Jacob stopped twice along the way to check the white pine seedlings he planted two springs ago, caressing the soft needles of this one or that. He loved the way they felt: supple, tender, pliable enough to survive the heavy snows to come. Jacob’s grandfather had amassed a huge fortune for himself in lumber and Jacob’s father, Henry followed in his footsteps, clear-cutting the land, ignoring the wounds they made in the rapidly dwindling forests. Once they’d finished with it, their generations sold it to unsuspecting immigrants who soon found it unsuitable for farming.
Even before Henry died, Jacob decided it was up to him to atone for the sins of his forebears. He bought up acre upon acre of stump-studded, rocky property and endured his father’s ridicule for making such foolish investments. Jacob paid a fair price to the immigrants, employed some of them and began to restore the great pine forest by planting new trees wherever he could. It would be many years, however, before the land looked anything like a forest again.

Till next time...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

No Window Washing Today

Today is supposed to be window washing day, but the wind has picked up. Great excuse not to go outside and climb a ladder...

I've spent a good amount of time this past week reconsidering my choice of publishers. There are a lot of them out there who would be happy to take my money, but can't really tell me what I would get for it, at least not clearly enough for me to be interested. And comparing them is often like comparing apples and oranges. We've poured over websites, sent away for information, gone back and forth between two companies then settled on the one I'd thought to go with in the first place. Even then, there are so many options to think about. Of course I want an IDSN number, of course I want to be registered in the Library of Congress, of course I want an official copyright. But do I really need 500 business cards for $199? Or postcards? Or bookmarks? I don't think so.

I am eternally grateful to my husband, "TP Dadman," for giving me his time and asking questions that I wouldn't think to ask. He looks at all this through the eyes of a business-techy person which is something I don't do very well at all.

This coming week I hope to finish one more read though of the novel as I have it, looking for typos, words in the wrong places, redundancies, unnecessary dialog, punctuation issues, etc. And yes, I am finding things to correct. It's a painstaking process. To my instructor from Writers Online Workshops, in case you ever read this -- everything you have taught me is still floating around in my head whenever I look at a page of manuscript. I'm eternally grateful to you, as well.

I've included a photo of a White Pine tree that was taken in northern Michigan. The White Pine is lumberman Jacob Denver's favorite tree. The next post will be about him.