Sunday, February 9, 2014

My latest distraction

I have written four or five chapters of my “Jacqueline” novel, my story about a French military doctor who gets orders to investigate her own family. She’s an OB/GYN by education and left the field for the Army Health Services. She discovered that growing babies and even labor fascinate her, but the run of the mill gynecological care and actual birth… not so much. 

Her oldest sister, Basilie Saint-Ebène d’Amille, at the opening of the story, is unexpectedly eight-and-a-half months pregnant after a troubled reproductive history. Basilie has a debilitating stroke at the same time Jacqueline is asked by the military to see if Basilie’s famous ex-husband, Étienne d’Amille, displays any adverse effects from an accident in the Djibouti desert during his conscription twenty-five years ago. As pregnancy is Jacqueline’s medical specialty and her sister has a serious condition, the army sends Jacqueline to Basilie’s side. The army suspects Basilie may be impacted by Étienne’s issues. 

I’m four chapters in and events are brewing. I’ve stirred trouble between Jacqueline and her boyfriend, threatened Étienne and thought out the clues that Jacqueline will eventually connect. But there’s this looming baby. And he has to join the world.

And for the last week? Two? I can’t stop plotting out every moment of his debut. It is outlined as the next chapter in the manuscript: “Jacqueline delivers Basilie’s baby.” But I keep writing and writing until I know every second of how that transpires.I have written more than 6,000 words and she isn’t even pushing yet. 

Most of these words will be wasted. But the effort will not. I know I will reduce this whole section down to at most 2,500 words. I can even see as I’m writing which elements are boring and which have the zing to survive the final cut. I recognize the key facts and moments that will build the story. Yet, somewhere in the archives and excess section of my laptop and backup drive, I will keep the entire record. I will know every moment of this labor. 

Normally when I do this, the excess information I have drafted will influence the characters in subtle ways. Maybe Jacqueline and Basilie will grow closer. (I already know that the baby will gain a new middle name from the experience, good thing he’s French and can have a string of them.) Maybe Étienne and Basilie will reconnect and realize how important they are to each other. I also know that the circumstances around the birth will drive Jacqueline and her current partner apart, but I wonder if she will indulge in break-up sex after the emotional and physical effort of her nephew’s birth.

Of course, it also screws with my head as I research obstetrics and dream of babies. But it’s something I write just for me and it becomes a memory for all of the imaginary people involved. 

But then… The scary thing is that I may finish writing this from Jacqueline’s perspective and then write some of it over from Basilie’s perspective and Étienne’s. Excessive, but I need to know.  

Artwork from a tarot deck based on my characters, designed by Darrell Parry,

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: The Art of Falling

I have waited for Kathryn Craft’s The Art of Falling for almost a decade. I have watched her score rejection after rejection, keep trying, keep editing and keep pitching. Kathryn is the reason I took on a leadership role in the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Group and she’s also a model of diplomacy and character that I emulate.

Plus, I think we have similar standards for our writing.

So I have patiently waited for Sourcebooks to release her first novel, represented by Katie Shea of the Donald Maass agency. 

My husband and daughter attended her Lehigh Valley Launch Party at Moravian Book Shop in Bethlehem, Pa. I was home with a cold. But they brought me the book! Signed, pristine and new… And I read it in two sittings.

It was a lighter and easier read than I expected. I’m not sure I ever liked the protagonist/heroine Penelope Sparrow but I felt she was real, her actions, situations and reactions true to what a woman in her place would do. It wasn’t as dynamic as I expected. Changes weren’t huge and scenes weren’t big, but this is also part of the reality.

The connection Kathryn explores between body image and self-esteem is an important one to me. I write about the high fashion industry and I have a supermodel character (Adelaide) slightly younger than Penelope Sparrow who also struggles with these body issues. Although I must say, I applaud Penelope Sparrow for overcoming hers. My character doesn’t fare so well.

I adore Kathryn’s use of secondary characters and how she weaves them into her story to the point where they become inextricable. That, to me, is the gauge of a well-crafted story. Nothing extra or just there.