November–time for NaNoWriMo again!

Leona the Fairy One of the Cover Ideas Book 1

Leona the Fairy
One of the Cover Ideas
Book 1

Tomorrow, the first of November, is time to launch another NaNoWriMo project. In general, I’m a pantser—that is, I write by the seat of my pants. If I know too much about the story, I don’t discover it as I write, and the charm of the thing is lost. I like to have a heart and a skeleton when I begin, and that’s about all: an over-arching theme and a notion of the beginning and the end. The actual trip, however, is to be discovered. By the way, that’s exactly how I like to travel as well—by car, always; and make the trip an exercise in discovery.

For NaNoWriMo This year, however, I know more about my NaNo story than I have in the past. For one thing, the essence of it was ‘lifted’ from book one of the series. I found myself developing a minor character into someone far more important. As I wrote Book 1, once I ‘lifted the Thomas parts and put them aside, I developed a sort of story-board for this book (and also the two books after this book). It remains to be seen if it will be easier or harder for me to actually draft at least 50,000 words this November, starting with a general outline.

This will be Thomas’s story in fairyland. Leona will still be around, but Rosalea will be the side-kick character again. You’ll see some of the same old faces here—Froid and Freeman, Tiddly and Ralph—who I don’t think will be as significant as Driggs and Rigby, and Luck the Gremlin, of course—but you also find some new ones. Figuring the most important among the new faces, is Puppers, the Lacey family dog.

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So, just for review, my overarching themes for Book one and Book two are:

Book 1: Leona the Part-Time Fairy—Identity

You can’t become what you don’t want to be. If you insist on choosing two mutually exclusive identities, you will not become either successfully, but you will become an object of manipulation for forces outside yourself.

Book 2: Thomas Edison (no title yet, sorry)—Creation

To create is to bring something new into being using the raw materials around you. Even intellectual property uses ideas that come from outside yourself. Once you have fashioned something completely new from the old + inspiration, your creation will require your attention—nurturing and shaping—until, at some point, it takes on a life of its own and becomes itself.

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Conceptually, perhaps, the second book should have come first; but who’s to say which came first. Identity is to creation rather like the chicken is to the egg. Some people seem to have figured that out to their satisfaction, but many have not. For myself, in this instance, I just have to trust to my interior instincts which definitely went for Identify before Creation. My way of thinking is founded squarely on using the old + inspiration—obviously the old forms have identities.

 

 

 

 

Animal Dreams and Barbara Kingsolver–A Critique

animaldreams-kingsolverBarbara Kingsolver. I’ve recently read her book Animal Dreams. The most important thing to say about the book is that it stays with you, in your mind: that has to be a good thing.

My initial impression was that the language was beautiful–lovely analogies, descriptive nuanced prose; the sort of language I love. Then it became tiresome: there was too much of a good thing. Proust seems to carry this sort of thing off, but Kingsolver didn’t.

But I kept reading and the characters took over the story. They were wonderfully crafted in a worthy plot. Then the plot overtook the characters and the message became oppressive. The novel started to take a backseat to what was obviously the author’s social message.

So here I am, in the middle of the night thinking about the book, and the writing. Altogether, in one book, I have experienced both what I most enjoy about literature, but also what sets me on edge. I prefer social sermons in fiction to be more subtle; this one was heavy-handed.

What to do about it? Well, naturally, read another Kingsolver book, The Lacuna. Just ordered it from Amazon.

I’ve been reading my way through O’Hara’s short stories in the hot tub.

John O'Hara circa 1945

John O’Hara circa 1945

 

Truly. I have. It’s an old paperback titled The Horse Knows the Way–a collection of somewhere around 20 short stories. I love the short story form when it’s well handled, and O’Hara does that.

One of the things I especially like, I suppose because it gives me validation, is the way O’Hara handles his endings. Abrupt. Unexpected. Some might say, not in the right place. Since I tend to do the same thing in the short form, I relate. Love it.

O’Hara was recognized rather late in life for the novel form–the National Book Award, Award of Merit–but it is his shorts stories I prefer. Why? The main thing that comes to mind at the moment is that he packs so much into so little space. Every word takes you somewhere.

 

Mona L S Baisch

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Just about bit about the author from wikipedia:

John Henry O’Hara (January 31, 1905 – April 11, 1970) was an Irish American writer. He earned a reputation first forshort stories and became a best-selling novelist by the age of thirty with Appointment in Samarra and BUtterfield 8. He was particularly known for an unparalleled and shockingly accurate ear for dialogue. O’Hara was a keen observer of social status and class differences, and wrote frequently about the socially ambitious.

A controversial figure, O’Hara had a reputation for personal irascibility and for cataloging social ephemera, both of which frequently overshadowed his gifts as a storyteller. Writer Fran Lebowitz called him “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald.”[1]John Updike, one of his consistent supporters, grouped him with Chekhov in a C-SPAN interview.[citation needed] By contrast, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times dismissed him as a “minor writer” and a “well-known lout.”[2]

 

 

 

Reference: Wikipedia reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_O’Hara

Purple Penguins

purplepenguin-coveridea

 

 

Here’s the first draft of the first chapter of a new project–a middle grade reader. The working title is Purple Penguins (that is sure to change). Sometimes educational/social-psychological theory just has to be commented on. This is going to be mine–although, be careful, my thesis might be different from what you expect by the time you finish reading the first chapter.

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PURPLE PENGUINS (DRAFT)

CHAPTER ONE

THE CLUB

If some teacher sighs loudly, shakes her head, and says “boys will be boys”, everybody knows she means that some boy is in trouble for doing something she didn’t want him to do. And he did it just because he was a boy. Like, get real, girls never get in trouble?

Apparently girls are angels because there’s a big change that’s going to be made at school—almost as big as not singing Christmas carols, or saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Teachers are going to call kids purple penguins instead of boys and girls.

“STOOPID!” Norman mutters. He’s at the city park with his friend Jesus. The purple penguin policy—the teachers are calling it a policy to make it official—is what the two boys are talking about.

“Face it,” Norman says. “No self-respecting boy is going to want to be called a purple penguin.”

Both boys know that it goes without saying that, just as boys will be boys, girls will be girls. And that even applies to grown-up girls who you’d think would know better. Girls like to mess with people’s minds—especially boys. Even if the minds they’re messing with are their own kids’. At least Norman and Jesus can’t imagine that any guy  would ever think to call kids purple penguins. It has to be a girl thing.

“My own mother!” Norman complains. “She’s all for it.”

“She means well.” Jesus likes Norman’s mother. Besides, he’s been told not to say anything if you can’t say anything nice. Just the same, he thinks Norman is right. It is a girl thing.

“It’s hard to understand girls even when they’re our age,” Jesus admits. “Grown-up girls are probably still a lot like they used to be when they were kids. Anyone who ever liked stuff like Hello Kitty purses—or whatever it was that girls played with in the olden days …” Jesus can’t think of anything else to say.

“I know what you mean.” Norman saves him. And, he does agree with his friend. Girls are not a thing like boys.

“But they mean well,” Jesus usually has the last word in any serious discussion. For a kid, Jesus has very definite ideas. “It’s just hard to wrap your mind around some of the things girls think.”

“Says you.” Norman is far from ready to excuse his mother. She proves how out-of-touch she is with the male universe—with him—on a daily basis. If Norman did everything his mother wanted him to do, he’d have to call himself Norma. He kept that thought to himself.

“I asked Mom what the purple penguins were going to do about bathrooms,” Norman said. “I don’t think she’d thought about girls not wanting purple boy penguins in their bathrooms. STOOPID!”

“What’d she say?” Jesus hadn’t thought about bathrooms either. “I suppose you could have a picture of a purple penguin wearing a skirt.”

“Sort of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?” Norman actually sneers, which isn’t the way he likes to treat his friend. Jesus is a kid who doesn’t always get behind Norman’s projects, but he’s also a kid who’s usually right. Jesus sort of tags along and keeps Norman out of trouble. “The idea is for boys and girls to be the same.” Norman wags his head and rolls his eyes. “Besides, do you know a girl who wears a skirt to school? A fourth grade girl?”

“Hadn’t thought about it.” Jesus wags his head and rolls his eyes right back.

“Well, think about it!” Norman says, and he’s serious now. “And think about the idea that that’s the whole idea.”

“Say what?” Jesus isn’t prepared for his friend to actually be talking like he thinks the whole silly penguin thing is important.

“That’s the idea,” Norman repeats. “They want us to think that girls are no different from boys. We’re all purple penguins. When’s the last time you wore a skirt?”

Jesus was already rolling around on the ground and laughing before Norman said the word, skirt. Norman, getting into the spirit of things, began to give a flat-palm push to Jesus’s shoulder every time he could reach it. Before long, both boys were laughing and poking at one another as boys, not purple penguins, will do.

Norman was the one who pulled away and said something brilliant, “I know. Let’s start a club.”

“A purple penguin club?” Jesus sort of hooted the question out between uncontrollable snorts.

Norman only grinned at him before he punched him in the stomach. Not hard.

“Oooo. Stop it,” Jesus howled. “You’re acting like a boy.”

“I am a boy,” Norman said, punctuating the statement with one last push. “You know, boys are different from girls.” He was serious now. “This purple penguin thing has to be someone’s way to get boys to act like girls. Probably someone’s mother.” He only hoped it wasn’t his own mother. “Someone wants us not to be boys.”

“I guess that purple penguin stuff has already got into your blood stream and made you stoopid, too,” Norman says, quick to react to his friend’s mood change. Besides, he thinks Norman’s right.

“It’ll be a protest club,” Norman decides. “It will be a boys-only club where girls aren’t allowed. Why should they be? And we won’t wear purple.” Norman was getting excited about the idea. “We’ll do things boys like to do.”

“I’m in,” Jesus says. “What kind of things?”

“Go fishing. Find a place to build a club house. Play ball.” As soon as Norman thought about the games boys could play, he remembered that the school had outlawed four square. Another stoopid school rule. “We’ll find a place where they can’t tell us not to play four square,” he said. “The important thing is that we have to do things that girls don’t like to do.”

Jesus looks skeptical. “Seems to me that girls like to do just about everything.”

“Maybe so.” Norman, when he stops to think about it, has to agree. There aren’t many things that girls don’t like to do. Lots of them like to play four square.

Before Norman has time to completely think the problem through, Jesus yells, “I know! I know what we’ll do!”

“Okay genius, what’ll we do?” Norman asks.

“I am a genius! There aren’t many things that girls don’t do, but there sure are things that boys don’t like to do.”

Norman gets caught up thinking about that. “Like tea parties and dollies?”

“Stuff like that, sure.”

“And dancing and wearing skirts!”

“You got it,” Jesus says. “If we’re really supposed to all be alike, so you can’t tell the difference, we’ll just do the girl stuff we mostly don’t like to do.” Jesus kisses his fingertips and blows the kiss away on the wind.

“You think we have to wear skirts?” Norman would rather not wear a skirt.

“Skirts are probably the most important thing.” Jesus is really getting into the idea. “This will be club where we definitely wear skirts.”

“Can we wear silk underwear, too?” Norman has to be the one to push things a bit further than Jesus would want to go.

“You can, if you want,” Jesus hoots.

Both of the boys, hooting and howling, roll around on the grass, unable to catch their breath until, finally, still gasping, Jesus thinks of something. “What’s your dad think about this purple penguin stuff?” he asks.

“I don’t know. He probably doesn’t even know about it.” Norman frowns. “I haven’t seen him for awhile, but I bet he won’t like it.”

“I bet mine won’t either,” Jesus agrees. It was a safe bet that Jesus’s dad would want him to act like a boy. There was nothing girly about his dad.

“Yah.” Norman thinks about his friend’s dad and has to agree. He’s someone who runs their legs off when he’s home, who always wants them to do one more push-up or one more lap. “But your dad is in Afghanistan. You said your mom doesn’t tell him things he’d worry about. She won’t tell him about purple penguins, and she’ll tell you not to tell him, too.”

“You’re probably right,” Jesus says. “Mom only tells hims stuff she wants to tell him.”

“What about Teresa?”

“My sister? She’ll do what Mom wants.” Jesus thinks about Teresa. She’s okay for a sister. “You know, I bet we could get Teresa to help us.”

“No! This is a boy’s club, my friend.” Norman is very sure that girls are the problem, and not part of the solution.

“Think about it,” Jesus insists. “Girls probably don’t like the idea of purple penguin bathrooms, either.”

“You know that’s not going to happen,” Norman brays. It’s a stoopid thought. “They’ll find a way to make us think we’re all alike, but without making us all alike, really. They’ll have to, because we’re not alike. We’re boys, and they’re girls.”

“Who came up with this purple penguin idea, anyway?” Jesus is beginning to see that there’s more to this thing than he first thought.

“Somebody’s mother,” Norman states emphatically. “You can count on it.”

Jesus, getting into the spirit, begins to prance around on tiptoe in a circle. “Don’t do this. Don’t do that. What is it about mothers, anyway?”

“What doesn’t your mother want you to do?” Norman asks. He likes Jesus’s family a lot. In fact, he sort of wishes they were his family.

“For one, she doesn’t want me to see you,” Jesus says. “She says you’re nothing but trouble and that I can find better friends.”

Norman looks embarrassed. “Guess I knew that. Why doesn’t she like me?”

“That’s not it.” Jesus didn’t mean to make Norman feel badly. “She just wants me to stick with my cousins. There’s a lot of us here and family has to stick together. That’s what she says.”

“Did you stick together when you were in Mexico?” Norman asks.

“I think so,” Jesus says, “but it’s different here.”

“I suppose that’s right.” It’s all the cousins and aunts and uncles and the closeness that Norman likes most about Jesus’s family. “But how would you know? You were born in America, Jesus.”

“I know.”

“One thing’s for sure.” Norman decides to change the subject. “Both of our mothers are all for us being purple penguins.” Norman starts to hoot again. “P-p-p-penguins,” he howls.

“P-p-p-purple,” Jesus chimes in.

When the two boys leave the park they’ve agreed on several things. One, the club will be a secret. Two, it has to have a name, and the name has to be more original than the Purple Penguin Club. Three, Jesus will borrow a couple of skirts from his sister—she never wears them anyway—and they will put them on before they go to school on Monday. Four, since this is Friday, they have a lot of work to do to talk a bunch of the guys into joining their club.

 

by M. S. B. Baisch

copyright © 2104 M. L. S. Baisch

All rights reserved. No part of this post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. This is an excerpt from an unpublished book-in-progress

For inquiries, please contact: M.L. S. Baisch, mona@shooflyranchpress.com

 

Looky! Looky! Great books about writing.

alkennedy-onwriting

Those of us who write, like just about anyone who’s fascinated by what they do, are always on the look-out for people, places, and things that take us into our passion: that certainly includes books.

I just have to share my enthusiasm, and give my encomium, to two books; they’re both wonderful for different reasons; and they’re both about writing, written by people who write.

The first is On Writing by A. L. Kennedy. (I recently critiqued another of her books here: Original Bliss). Kennedy, herself, uses language like a lark sings. I would read anything she wrote just to have her words roll off my tongue and trickle through my mind. On Writing is a well-written book, but not a book that uses language in the same manner as her fictional prose; it is more straight-forward–which is not to condemn it at all. This is a book that takes you ‘back-stage’ in a successful writer’s life, makes you think about what it means to be a successful writer–that thing most writers seek; it also talks about the nuts-and-bolts of researching (yes, for fiction), re-writing, tweaking–the process; the place where good writing occurs. While you read, you also get to know Ms. Kennedy, which is a thing worth doing. You learn what she thinks about writing workshops and writing groups (generally, not much–though she, herself, is a writer who gives workshops). Loved this book. If I were to summarize the message it’s “trust yourself” and “be careful what you wish for.” (Of course, it assumes that the writer already writes with authority.) It is a cautionary tale.

Jauss-onwritingfiction

The second is On Writing Fiction by David Jauss. Love, love, love, love this book.  For one thing, it took me straight to the heart of what I most like about reading and writing–language. It explores the notion of flow, which for some writers comes naturally. To have an ‘ear’ for the way words flow is likened to having an ear for music: it’s the rhythm, the structure of sentences, the exploration of thoughts through the presentation of words. Changing the presentation changes the meaning changes the emotional response of the reader. There is a section on short-stories that I enjoyed; a section on point-of-view; and, perhaps most interesting to me, and timely, a section on writing in present tense. This book takes you to the heart of the heart of the country of writing.

Read both these books. You won’t be sorry. If you’re like me, you’ll want them on your bookshelf and not in your e-library.

 

How many books are on your nightstand?

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie © 1937, Great Ormand Street Hospital for Children, London

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
© 1937, Great Ormand Street Hospital for Children, London

Although I sometimes do read a book straight through from cover to cover–as I just did with A. L. Kennedy’s Original Bliss–I tend to read several books at a time. Generally I read two or three of the same fictional genre, and another that is non-fiction.

Right now, I’m reading The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit; the Annotated Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, edited by Maria Tatar; Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué; and the biography of Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee.

It’s helpful to read two or three books in the same genre for structural comparisons, and I always like to read non-fiction–generally biography, literary critique or memoir–as it broadens my sense of authorial voice, literary associations and period.

For about a year, I’ve been reading widely in the genre I’m writing: fantasy of the fabulous sort. But I like to read popular fiction as well. And I love to read through all, or the important works, of authors I fall in love with: I feel that way about Truman Capote, but I also feel that way about Larry McMurtry  and Sherman Alexie. And I ALWAYS find time to dip into Proust; he is never off my reading list; he is so much a part of my life that you’ll notice I didn’t even mention him when I listed my current reading.

I’ve had people ask me why I read several books at a time, and how I keep them straight. My answer is: why not? As for how I keep them straight: Students read many things all the time. I suppose I’ve never stopped being a student.

Mona L S Baisch

 

Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe?

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

“A self that goes on changing, is a self that goes on living.”

— Virginia Woolf

 

After you read awhile in Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf, you begin to understand why one might, indeed, be afraid of Virginia Woolf.

 

Mona L S Baisch

A. L. Kennedy’s Original Bliss – both a delightful and a disgusting read.

A. L. Kennedy

A. L. Kennedy

I just finished reading Original Bliss by  A . L. Kennedy. Kennedy is a Scottish writer who uses language in a manner that can only be called Kennedian. I imagine she is one of a handful of contemporary writers whose work can be identified simply by the way she uses words–reachy, twisty; they pop from an unexpected place and tickle your fancy.

Kennedy’s opening sentence, for instance: “Mrs.  Brindle lay on her living room floor, watching her ceiling billow and blink with the cold, cold colours and the shadows of the British Broadcast light.” I’m not sure, right off the top of my head, who, besides Kennedy, would have a ceiling billowing and blinking except Proust. And Kennedy isn’t what you would call Proustian.

This was a book I enjoyed reading for the delightful language.

That said, it wasn’t a book I enjoyed. Thematically it was quite disgusting. The best that can be said for it thematically is that it is high-minded trash. Poor Mrs. Brindle is an abused housewife; in the end one who seems to agree to being killed by her husband–though he fails to be successful; she falls prey to a sexual deviate who objectifies her: awful stuff. The plot resolves in an unlikely way–unbelievable, really: Edward (the sexual deviate) reforms himself for Helen (Mrs. Brindle); or, perhaps, it was Helen who cured Edward: six of one half-dozen of the other.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with writers writing about whatever they want to write about. My issue is with stories that resolve unrealistically–assuming the book isn’t intended to be a fantasy. If everything turns out well when, in reality, it’s very unlikely that a similar situation would turn out well, it’s just misleading; an author should be truthful to the reader in the same way that a journalist should be truthful. It’s often said that the artist portrays life and makes it accessible to the reader, makes it understandable. Ms. Kennedy is an artist who, in my opinion, leads her reader astray in Original Bliss. This plot resolution is unlikely in life and it doesn’t ring true in fiction, either. It does romanticize both sexual deviancy and domestic violence.

Original Bliss has serious reviews as a serious book of fiction: it is that.

This is the second book I’ve read recently where a plot spinning on sexual deviancy resolved in an unlikely manner. I get it that sexual deviancy is one of the au courant themes that publishers want, but it simply gives the wrong message that, somehow, these stories are going to end well. (The other book  is the young adult novel Ostrich Eye (also an award winner) by Beth Cooley.