The new book: Whisker

Watercolor by Andrea Penovac

Watercolor and Ink by Endre Penovac

My writing life has been taking a back seat to my gardening life for awhile but it’s still alive. The final edit for Leona the Part-Time Fairy is complete–the story re-read and last edits made to hard copy. Those edits are now being incorporated into a final Scrivener word document. I do believe Leona will FiNALLY be on-line by May.

But editing isn’t exactly a writing life, is it? It’s an important part of writing, but it isn’t the part that goes exploring in the cave that is the mind: the most important part. Only interior exploration keeps new words and new thoughts coming to life, alchemizing them into new characters and new stories. Early mornings I’ve turned my mind to writing a little book about a small cat. I’m calling the book WHISKER.

Whisker will be illustrated, I think, although it’s not exactly a picture book. It will be too long for that–about 10K. It’s about a kitten who doesn’t have an easy start in life. Here is Chapter One.

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WHISKER – by M L S Baisch © 2016

CHAPTER ONE

At the end of a long narrow alley, boxed in on both sides by very tall brick buildings towering so high above that when you finally saw the sky it was only as big as an envelope you might find in your mailbox, behind a garbage can sitting close by a green door, there was a kitten. It was huddled close to the ground trying to stay dry, as it was pouring rain. The wind raced down the alley in a hurry until it hit the brick wall, ricocheted off it, and was redirected back again—but not before it found its way behind the garbage can where the kitten crouched. It was a very small, and very gray kitten. And it was shivering, probably because it was frightened as well as because it was cold. The day was very gray and the cold was very harsh, and the shivering kitten was in a very bad place. This was no neighborhood for a small kitten, even on a good day, and so far this hadn’t been a good day at all.

Yesterday, was a better day. In fact it was a delightful day full of good things like a warm bed with the warm bodies of his brothers and sisters snuggled close, and warm milk, and sunshine coming in through the window, and his mother’s warm tongue washing his ears. Then, this morning, while the brothers and sisters still slept, his mother hissed quietly that he was to follow her. One thing led to another until here he was abandoned in this terrible circumstance.

“I’m sorry,” Mama had said, “but you are an embarrassment. You don’t fit in to the family. I’ve waited, hoping that you would change. But you are two months old now and still just as strange as the day you were born.”

Hearing that didn’t make the kitten feel very good. In fact, he hung his head feeling terrible. His mother was ashamed of him. He didn’t really understand why, and so he asked her, “But, what have I done? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I fit in?”

“Done?” she repeated. “I don’t imagine you’ve done anything at all, son. It’s just what you are. I don’t suppose you can help it.”

“If I can’t help it, how can it be so terrible?”

“It just is, that’s all,” Mama said. “And I can’t have it. When you’re older and can’t be kept out of sight, people will laugh at you, and they will make fun of you, and it will be very hard for your brothers and sisters.”

“I can see that it will be hard for me,” the kitten said, “but why will it be hard for my brothers and sisters?”

“And me,” said Mama.

“You, too?”

“Yes. Me too.”

“I don’t want anyone to have a problem because of me, but I don’t understand why they would. Why you would.”

“Have you looked in a mirror, my son?”

Well, the kitten didn’t have any idea what mirrors were, and he hadn’t looked into one. If he had, perhaps he would have understood what his mother was talking about. After all, he knew what his brothers and sisters looked like, and his mother. If he had seen his own face, he would have noticed. He had only one whisker. It was rather high on his right cheek, closer to his ear than his nose. He knew it was there: how could he not know? In fact, he liked to stroke it, especially when he was going to sleep. But he had no idea that it was strange to have just one whisker or that anyone would be ashamed to know him because of it. Now that he did know it, he was feeling very low. All he could think of to say, once he understood the problem, was, “Oh.”

Mama cat wasn’t feeling very happy either, but she had to do what she felt was in the best interest of the family. Still, she didn’t want to leave her strange son without a few words of comfort and advice.

“You will be fine if you just don’t draw a lot of attention to yourself. Cats like the nighttime, anyway. In the dark, no one will see that you only have one whisker. It would be a good idea for you to stay out of sight in the daytime.”

“I think I will be lonely,” the kitten said. “I’m already lonely. I like to play with my brothers and sisters. And I like warm milk and the sunshine coming through the window.”

Not wanting her son to be completely demoralized, Mama said, “I’m sure you will find a nice life and many comforts. It will just take some time.”

The kitten felt a little better hearing those words.

“Now, I have to be going. It’s starting to rain.”

It was starting to rain, but Mama gave her little son one last fond lick and told him to be a good kitten.

“Wait!” the kitten called as Mama turned tail to go. “Who am I?”

“What do you mean? You are a kitten.”

“But what is my name?”

“You want to have a name?” Mama cat had to stop and think about that. Names were given to kittens by people, not by mother cats. She didn’t have the heart to tell her little son that he didn’t have a name. His life was going to be hard enough. She said, “Why your name, of course, is Whisker.”

2016 © M L S Baisch
This book will be published by shooflyranchpress

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I have no graphics for WHISKER yet. But I love this series of watercolor and ink cats by Endre Penovac. There are more of them than I’m including here. These Penovac cats prove how effective simple can be. To achieve simplicity is actually very difficult.

Watercolor by Andrea Penovac

Watercolor and Ink by Endre Penovac

andreaPenovac-cat9 andreaPenovac-cat12

I Often Find Myself Quoting Musicians

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell

“An artist needs a certain amount of turmoil and confusion.” — Joni Mitchell

I often find myself quoting musicians. Music, it seems to me, is akin to writing in many ways. Both do, or should, access deeper layers of the soul. Putting words to those layers is difficult; but I imagine that finding the notes for them is equally challenging. Except, of course, when they flow from the puddled middle where they lie in wait for the exact moment. So, tell me someone, why it is that I prefer silence to music most of the time.

M L S Baisch

Do you write to leave yourself on the page?

Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho

 

 

 

 

I’ve been intensely interested, lately, in what and why writers write, and in the resulting product

Truth is, many writers are writing primarily for a commercial purpose. Nothing wrong with that. I like a good story as much as the next person. And, of course, even writing with a commercial intention will leave a bit of the writer’s shadow on the page.

There is another sort of writing that is more involved with the writer’s personality: Autobiography, of course; literary fiction; poetry and fantasy, which come direct from the subconscious; some of the great classic novels; and, harder to identify, some modern and emerging authors. What they all have in common is that they all drown in their rivers–what a great metaphor.

I have a preference for writing of this sort. I read as much to meet the writer on the page as I do to read the story. Naturally, that is also how I write.

Have you given any thought to how you write?

Mona L S Baisch

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons Why Writers Write + 1 — Number 6. To Know Myself

To not explore this inner space is to go though life as if blind.

To not explore this inner space is to go though life as if blind.

I enjoyed reading  Wordplay: The Writing Life of K.M. Weiland this morning

Whether of not it’s true  that writers write for only 5 reasons, the 5 reasons given seemed fairly inclusive (and I’m quoting from Weiland’s blog here):

1. To Overcome

We can’t choose what life throws at us, but some of us are spurred by obstacles and opposition. Writers with this motivation love to take on the ignorant publishers who reject them and the mean one-star reviewers. They get immense satisfaction from proving the doubters wrong.

2. To Achieve the Goal

Do you like to have a clear goal to aim for? A lot of writers thrive on specific challenges like “500 words a day,” or National Novel Writing Month. They get their deepest sense of accomplishment from knowing they’ve fulfilled their goal or completed the task.

3. To Win

Few of us would turn down praise and prizes, but for some writers, beating the competition is the chief motivation. They’re motivated by a need to be the best, to stand out from the crowd, to gather accolades. They know their sales figures and Amazon rankings exactly!

4. To Create

Some writers get their chief satisfaction from the process of writing. The means matters more than the end. They spend hours if not years perfecting their prose and are avid users of writing how-to books and sites, which help them keep improving.

5. To Have an Impact

Writers with this motivation want above all to leave their mark. They’re focused on getting a response from readers or inspiring change. Sometimes the greatest satisfaction comes from seeing the impact being a writer has on their own lives.

 There is one more reason and, for me, it’s the main reason. I write to know myself. It always amazes me what I know and what I actually think.

6. To Know Myself

There may be writers who plan, outline and plot. I do that as well. What I really do when I write, however, it to trance-in and connect with an otherwise inaccessible inner space. That’s why I write. And so, I’m adding number 6 to the list of why writers write. To not explore this inner space is to go though life as if blind.

 Mona L S Baisch

Swimmers swim and writers write. Right?

There’s a push on now, in a writer’s group I like, to write furiously and do it every day. A ten thousand word a day challenge: just sit down and write! While I appreciate the idea of breaking though resistance and getting words on the page, I have to wonder about the resulting product. To me, to write like that seems not about writing as much as it is about typing.

I’ve been doing the National November writing challenge the past two years — which is to write 50,000 words in the month. That’s about 1650 words/day. I would guess that’s about my usual minimum production rate when I add up all my writing products. The question is: If writing 50,000 words in one month is a good thing, is it a good thing to do it every month? That would be churning out a small book every month. Of course, it’s a personal choice, but when does a writer edit? I can’t believe writing even 1600 words a day results in anything ready for print.

To write 10-12 books a year seems to me to be a mind-set oriented to self-publishing. Even Stephen King doesn’t keep that sort of production schedule. If one were to do it successfully, it would require a support team: editors, researchers . . . and good ones, not just the average Beta reader.

My personal preference (excepting the occasional challenge like NaNoWriMo) is to write well the first time, and to edit the previous day’s work when I begin a new day. At the end of each day, I like to have an idea where I’ll begin the next day. Generally, I only work on a single project once a day. It isn’t a ‘rule,’ just the way things seem to happen. I often work on edits more than once a day. I like to set myself to a prose-ful sort of writing in the morning, and a more poetic sort late at night: I suppose it has to do with an idiosyncratic biorhythm.

It’s true that to be a writer is to write. It’s also true that most successful writers don’t write manically every day. Of course it all depends on the definition of  the word ‘successful.’

Are you successful when you:

  1. find your way into print?
  2. complete a short novel every month?
  3. write every day?
  4. write well?

These points all have their merit but, I think, any writer hopes to write well first; then to find time to write regularly; then to finish a project; then, hopefully, to publish.

It’s interesting to me that many of the writers I most admire were not published in their lifetimes. Commercial success isn’t a universal motivation.

Our commercial society expects instant gratification–instant everything. There is another way of thinking about life, including writing:

  1. Enjoy the process.
  2. Don’t practice failure.

If someone undertakes to write 50,000 words a day, or even 5,000, and do it as a way of a writing life, it may be counter-productive. Very few people write well enough to churn out words at that pace and also string them together in a way anyone would want to read. The edit process for such a voluminous output would be onerous. More important, to write as if on a production line is to write without thought and, perhaps, to reinforce bad writing habits–I mean the kind of bad habits that end up on the page, not the kind of bad habits that keep a person from writing.

Good writing is actually hard. It involves thoughtful choices. Although what makes a writer good is an imprecise question, in the end, good writing feels good to the writer.

So, I’m back to the beginning: Some writers may feel good about spectacular production; then there are people like me who agree that it’s important to write but just as important to write as well as I can. God knows, that’s never good enough.

Mona L S Baisch

 

 

 

 

Writer vs. Artist

Truman Capote circa 1930

Truman Capote circa 1930

Last night I read an excerpt from Truman Capote’s ‘A Tree of Night,’ and then I started to read Belva Plain’s ‘The Golden Cup.’

The latter is a charming story and easily read, but not what I would call ‘pulp fiction.’ The writing is good and the story engaging; just the thing to read oneself to sleep. Capote’s work, though, is the memorable story. Plain’s story began to leave my mind when I put the book down, while Capote’s story stayed in my mind and worked its way into my dreams.

I found myself reading Capote out loud. Not to read him out loud was to find myself reaching forward for a plot line, and Capote’s writing isn’t just about plot, or even mostly about plot. It begins simply–single words, descriptive words from a simple place: A young woman returns to school after attending her uncle’s funeral. Then it becomes the stuff of the unconscious mind, and it does it word by word.

Both Plain and Capote are good writers but only one, I think, is an artist. And, interestingly enough, it isn’t the one who will be most widely read. — Mona L S Baisch

Belva Plain

Belva Plain

 

Note:  Belva Plain died in 2010 at the age of 95. Born Belva Offenberg, Plain grew up an only child on the upper East Side of Manhattan, the daughter of a successful real estate developer. Her father’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Germany; her mom’s ancestors were Irish Catholics. She graduated Barnard College and had a writing career spanning three decades.   Ms. Plain came late to writing; she had raised her three children before beginning to write her first novel ‘Evergreen.’ Most things about her life were normal, although the tragedy of her heritage must have impressed her life. From all accounts, Ms. Plain, who died quietly in her sleep, was a comfortable, pleasant person. It is interesting that she never achieved another success equal to her first book.

Truman Capote died in 1984 at the age of 60. Capote was the only son of 17-year-old Lillie Mae Faulk and salesman Archulus Persons, who divorced when he was 4 years old. Capote attended a number of schools graduating from the Upper West Side private school (now the Dwight School) in 1943; that was the end of his education. He began writing at the age of 12. Many things about his life were unusual. Not many people can be said to have angered Robert Frost; an interesting but not isolated instance of personality clashes. Capote befriended Pulitzer prize novelists, was himself one, was out-of-the-closet when it wasn’t particularly fashionable. He died from liver cancer, complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication. It is interesting that his last book was his crowing achievement, and he never completed another book after ‘In Cold Blood.’