Summer Earth and Fire

djembe drum

Small but adorable

Let’s pause in the headlong rush through all these fabulous blog entries to touch on some of the wondrous glories of the writing life. But before we do, let’s pause in the pausing, to admire my djembe drum, a type of drum from west Africa. This past Sunday evening I went to a house that was filled with drums, and with about ten other people, I had the first of four drum lessons.

I learned a number of things, such as how to make the three different sounds common to a djembe or how to strike the drum. I also learned that the djembe I bought is just a little one, that I should have a larger drum. I have a little drum? Now I have drum envy. I feel djilted.

With that percussionary pause behind us, I’ll talk about writing. Lately my enthusiam for working on the latest novel is high. I think about it frequently and often wish I was sitting doing it. After two, or maybe three, years of thrashing around in the swamp of trial and error, I feel like I’ve found the voice for the book. I’ve finally forced myself to focus on the two characters I most care about, a 45-year-old woman (Carmen) now in a wheelchair and her 16-year-old niece (Leola).

For Carmen, I’m writing in third person, with a style that is inspired by various other writers, beginning (consciously, at least) with Isabelle Allende, but then others along the way since I was reading her. I’m trying to use a very literary style, consciously using the language in a creative way. Here’s an example: “Smoked peppers was the secret, in Carmen’s view, to salsa that sang like a choir of spices. She opened a jar she had made a month before, with Leola helping cut up the tomatoes, then she held the open jar before her nose, eyes closed, and breathed in. A slight moaning sigh hummed through her throat. The jar carried the smell of summer earth and fire, transformed by autumn air and water.” OK, it’s a first draft. Stop judging me.

For Leola, I’m using first person, which has turned out to be a perfect decision, as it allows me to vary the style radically (making the book more fun to write) and it also gives me a chance to develop Leola’s voice. I love that. This idea also came from another novel I read. Here’s Leola speaking: “Aunt Carmen talked to Mom about whether she should temporarily rent out our house in Rockville, but I just went out in the hall while they were talking about that. I didn’t want to know how much I was permanently stuck there forever like somebody had dug a giant pit and put everything dull they they could find down at the bottom and then threw me in on top of it.”

As much as I love the writing, the ironic thing is that I almost never get to it until late at night, like 10:00 even. You know how it is when you first get home, all the crap you have to do. Take a nap, exercise, cook dinner, iron a shirt, whatever. So it turns out that just as I’m thinking ahead to bedtime, I’m finally into the novel, my mind engages, and for the first time all day, I’m doing the one thing I most want to do, life feels bright, it has meaning… And then it’s time to go brush teeth blah blah blah damn it to hell, bedtime.

So that’s writing. I could try to describe the magical feeling that comes when it’s really working, like a feeling that I know why I’m on the earth. But maybe you have to have that feeling for yourself to know how it is.

In addition to slowly creating future world literature, I’m occasionally doing the things I can think of to push the business part of this along, networking and so on. I’ve been writing book reviews for the website Arts Atlanta, and it’s not like I just decided to do that. The editor had to approve me, so it took some doing to get to this point. Writing the reviews is general networking, slowly doing the little things that may (or may not) someday add up. I’ve done two reviews, I’m finishing a third, and I’ve started reading a fourth book the editor asked me to review. An extra good thing about it is that she pays $100 for each review.

I’ve also submitted my own novel The Illusion of Being Here to a literary festival in a town nearby for 2016. Somehow I think they’ll say yes, but that’s just me. And I’ve had a literary agent request the full manuscript of the second novel I want to publish. She has the book now, reading (one assumes), increasingly astonished and delighted (one hopes), preparing to offer to represent the book (one prays). Then again, who knows?

So I fill my days with medical editing, considering whether oligoarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis is spelled correctly, and evenings (from 10:00 on) trying to use words to capture on a page how it feels to be human.

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Filed under Giving Birth to a Book (That's Why I'm Screaming), Writing While Living

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