Tag Archives: reading to write

NaNo Nuh-Uh

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!!!

Whoa, boy. What’s going on. Has the Monkey finally lost it? Did she ever have it to begin with?

Never fear, my resounding guffaw is simply me laughing in the face of my past self who actually thought she’d be doing NaNoWriMo this year. What? Really? HAHAHAHAHAHAAA! Who did you think you were kidding, girl?

Sad but true, I had to opt out. Again. And it’s killin’ me. But editing duty calls, and I am fully realizing the curse that is the otherwise-blessing of being both a writer and editor. Were I still in finance, shifting from numbers to writing after the workday would’ve been an easy enough if not hugely therapeutic way to decompress (I wish I did write back then). Were I still a teacher, I would admittedly still struggle to balance writing with the day-job like I do now since that’s an occupation where the work never ends, even after that last-period bell has rung. But I still dappled in freewriting and such back then as, again, a therapeutic way to shift gears and do what I love.

But as an editor…I spend all day every day troubleshooting story issues and thinking through different ways to rephrase sentences for other people’s manuscripts, so it’s not exactly a welcome relief to then jump into troubleshooting and thinking through mine. I need a break. I need to get away from the computer. I need to not brainstorm story ideas and sort out developmental stumbling blocks. Often, I don’t even want to read an already-published book because the activity is still too similar to what I do all day—and as it is, what I curl up with at night is usually just another raw manuscript that I’m reading on the Kindle and taking notes on so I can brainstorm its future plan of attack. Yes, that, after working on another story at the computer all day. So the most writing I do these days is in my head while I’m doing something else. It’s just kinda how it has to be, at least for now when I’m up against dueling deadlines.

Anyway. I didn’t mean to make this whole post a primate pity party. I’m so, so lucky to have the work that I do and to still have the ideas and drive to write my own stuff. And if I haven’t been writing anything new, I’ve actually been making good progress revising my original Manuscript #1 this month. And editing other people’s work is always a great way to hedge against mine sucking. I can still live vicariously through other writers’ talent. 🙂

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, huzzah! Bravo! Keep it up! Don’t lose steam! You’re over halfway there, and crossing the finish line is so sweet. Good job, and write on.

 

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The Curious Case of the Missing Editor

OMG, the Monkey screeches again! (for those of you who are still left to hear it)

Though I’ve obviously been MIA, my title isn’t in reference to me. As an editor, I’m always at the ready—always on the job, in fact, even if it isn’t my own, apparently. You see, I mentioned before how I’ve been more in Reader than Writer mode lately, and I’ve got to say I’m gobsmacked by some of the poorly edited work I’ve read lately. And I’m talking traditionally published stuff by best-selling authors. Even the best indie authors know not to dare self-publish without consulting the expertise of an editor. At least they should know if they take their writing seriously and want others to as well. Repeat after me:

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor.

Everyone needs an editor.

We can be ever so proud of our book babies and earnestly believe in our talent, but it’s downright diva to think that any of us could possibly be above the need to have someone else edit our work (and neglectful of editors to let anyone slip through the cracks). I don’t just mean proofreading to clean up the spelling/grammatical bits; I mean deep copyediting, where, yes, you might have to let go of that sentimental scene or hack out some delightful description, no matter how poetic the prose. Anyone who wants to evolve from rookie status should understand the value of a fresh pair of eyes. None of us are perfect in any way, shape, or form.

Hats off to indie author Tahlia Newland, for instance, who in the last few months has published an imaginative suite of stories through Catapult Press. Having myself offered some input on a couple of her projects, I was just one of several beta readers Tahlia makes a point to share her pre-published work with before then employing the services of a professional editor. I’ve been following her blog for a while and, consequently, her journey to bring her short stories and soon-to-be-released Lethal Inheritance novel to readers, and her revision process has been nothing less than comprehensive, involving a team of critical eyes. She also runs the Awesome Indies website, which upholds a standard of quality for the independently published.

Some traditionally published authors, on the other hand…

Well, of the last several novels I’ve read, one that I enjoyed while reading but was quick to criticize in hindsight was The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht. Now, this is a bestseller that has had readers falling over themselves in absolute love with it, and I just have to say, “Eh.” NO QUESTION, Obreht is a debut author that will be a literary force to reckon with going forward. She has a spectacular if not intimidating command of the English language (which is not her first language and surpasses many of those for whom it is!), a maturity transcending her years, and her capacity to describe is absorbing. I’ll delve more into that last observation in a future post about 1st-person POV, but for now I just want to say that, while a tremendous and captivating storyteller, Obreht should have trimmed down a substantial amount of that description, along with secondary characters and story lines. A classic rookie case of wanting to keep in every great idea that crosses the mind, she was just too ambitious with all the folk stories of sorts that she chose to interweave—we’re introduced to an exhausting list of characters who are described in exhausting detail, only for them to fall off the planet with no lingering consequence. The tangle of tales, I felt, ultimately rendered none of them as effective as they could have been (standing alone as part of an anthology, maybe?) and, in the end, left the primary story thread underdeveloped. And her editor should have known this.

To be honest, I think a lot of the readers who gave The Tiger’s Wife rave reviews did so because they didn’t get it and attributed that fact to some profound, intellectual meaning that was surely just going over their heads. That their comprehension simply and understandably fell short in the face of genius. And, hey, you can bet I originally gave benefit of the doubt that my own questioning was a product of me being dumb as rocks. But I don’t think we readers should be so quick to sell ourselves short. When I find myself discussing this book with a group of women on the same page, and all of us educated, well-read, and discerning yet equally baffled as to whether there’s indeed some grand overarching purpose unifying the excess, methinks it actually all boils down to, nah, it was just really crappy editing.

But by far the most abysmal absence of editing I’ve recently encountered was in Julian Fellowes’s Past Imperfect. Now, Fellowes is another brilliant storyteller. He’s brought us the Oscar-winning Gosford Park and hugely popular Downton Abbey. But after just finishing the aforementioned novel (as well as reading his book Snobs a few years ago), I’ve come to the conclusion that screenplays are clearly his forte. Why? Because there’s no doubt he knows his subject matter (rich people). No doubt that he conceives compelling stories, engaging dialogue, and settings that are a feast for the eyes. But he can’t write narration. Or, rather, he has a clumsy handling of it. He’s very good at description and development, but in Past Imperfect, he seems to have invented an entirely new narrative POV: 1st person omniscient

That’s right, his 1st-person narrator can read the minds of every other character in the novel:

A pink cloud of nostalgia hovered over him for a moment. “The library was one of the prettiest rooms I’ve ever seen, never mind lived in. But no.” He shook his head to loosen these disturbing, self-indulgent images. “I’m finished with all that.”

*

“What happened to her?”

“She died.”

“Oh.” She sighed, saddened by the inexorable process of life.

The narrator can also see what other people do while on the phone with him:

“And Terry.”

He was puzzled for a second, and then he nodded and smiled. “You’re right. I’d remembered it as being before we left.”

Unless this was a video-conference (which I assure you it wasn’t), seriously, WTF. Or should I say, WTE, as in “Where’s The Editor?”

Because he/she certainly wasn’t there to correct the error in “reaping what you sew.”

And certainly didn’t caution Fellowes against too much telling or constantly interrupting the flow of dialogue with needless narration:

“Are you on good terms these days?”

The question seemed to take him by surprise and return him to the present. My words had told him something beyond their content. “Why did you want to see me?” he asked.

*

“Which ‘some’?”

“Sorry?” The phrase sounded foreign. I couldn’t understand him.

*

He shrugged. “It was obvious she was talking about Damian.” He must have caught and mistaken my response to this news, and hurried to undo any possible hurt. “She was always very fond of you, but…” How was he to phrase it?

I helped him out. “She wasn’t interested in me.”

We both knew she wasn’t, so why should he argue? “Not like that,” he said, accepting my own verdict.

*thump*
*slam*
*swish-swish*
*bam-bam-bam*

Oh, sorry, that was just the sound of me tripping over narration, brushing myself off, then proceeding to deliberately bang my head against the wall. Back to what I was saying…

The long and short of it is, Writers: Each of you needs an editor. And Editors: Even if your authors are already best-selling superstars, don’t cut corners in polishing their work. Just as every writer should take pride in their writing, editors should take pride in their editing, whatever the constraints we face.

I like to think I do, and yet I still don’t claim to master the art on my own—for the work that I do for a small publisher, I have three other editors on my team for any given manuscript, and it’s always a learning process for me. I’m pleased to say, though, that two more guinea pigs I’ve developmentally edited on this publisher’s behalf are out in the world as of September, making five published novels in total, with three more on the way this winter. I also just finished editing a short-story prequel to one of those books, and a freelance manuscript that I’d proofread for the sake of querying has already found itself an agent. SO proud of my authors, and may we all continue to write, edit, and prosper.

See my related post: “Editing Out the Editor

Also, stay tuned for some reflection on use of 1st-person narration


No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” – Part III

Right. So, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t live up to my end of the bargain at the end of my previous post. I haven’t completed any creative writing since then, but I did get through another round of edits on someone else’s super-fun paranormal romance and am taking on some additional freelance work writing/editing commercial documents and web content for a couple small businesses. Hey, it pays the bills. I do find myself in a peaceful sort of limbo today, though, that should allow me a chance to crack open manuscript #2 and crank on its final chapters. But first things first: in getting psyched and inspired to write by those who’ve already done it so well, it’s time to wrap up my little literary miniseries here with some final quotations from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

On peer critique:

He liked the works of his friends, which is beautiful as loyalty but can be disastrous as judgment.
from “Ezra Pound and the Measuring Worm”

We still went under the system, then, that praise to the face was open disgrace.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

That fall of 1925 [Scott Fitzgerald] was upset because I would not show him the manuscript of the first draft of The Sun Also Rises. I explained to him that it would mean nothing until I had gone over it and rewritten it and that I did not want to discuss it or show it to anyone first.
from “Hawks Do Not Share”

Every writer is different, but hopefully we all understand the value of actively soliciting constructive criticism of our work. That said, I totally share the reluctance Hemingway had when it comes to handing over an early draft, the desire to give yourself the opportunity to critique it first before letting other eyes judge what is surely not yet your best. There does come the time, though, to fork it over, and I’m still steeling myself for this step…I do know a select few friends whose loyalty wouldn’t impair their judgment; they would tell it to me straight without fear of hurting my feelings, which is fortunate and terrifying all at once as I endeavor to shape what I do into something truly good by any measure…but what defines good writing?

On good writing:

[Fitzgerald’s] talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think. He was flying again and I was lucky to meet him just after a good time in his writing if not a good one in his life.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

He spoke slightingly but without bitterness of everything he had written, and I knew his new book must be very good for him to speak, without bitterness, of the faults of past books. He wanted me to read the new book, The Great Gatsby, as soon as he could get his last and only copy back from someone he had loaned it to. To hear him talk of it, you would never know how very good it was, except that he had the shyness about it that all non-conceited writers have when they have done something very fine, and I hoped he would get the book quickly so that I might read it.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

When you first start writing stories in the first person, if the stories are made so real that people believe them, the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. […] If you do this successfully enough, you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for, which is to make something that will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory. There must be things that he did not notice when he read the story or the novel which, without his knowing it, enter into his memory and experience so that they are a part of his life. This is not easy to do.
from “On Writing in the First Person”

Then I started to think in Lipp’s about when I had first been able to write a story after losing everything. […] It was a very simple story called “Out of Season” and I had omitted the real end of it which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood. […] And as long as they do not understand it you are ahead of them. Oh sure, I thought, I’m so far ahead of them now that I can’t afford to eat regularly. It would not be bad if they caught up a little.
from “Hunger was Good Discipline”

I feel the strong need to emoticon that last one, but will do it here so it doesn’t look like Hemingway stooped to my level. Here it is: 🙂 I think that observation speaks (to an extent) to the debate in my first post in this series about writing to the market…I think sometimes you do have to throw the reader a bone and hand-hold just a little if you want them running along with you and cheering you on—rather than giving up on you because you’re trying to be a profound and abstract literary genius, sitting up there on-high in your little turret all alone but for the company of a story only you could love. 🙂 (There, I emoticoned again! It’s a modern disease!) But to continue…

In writing there are many secrets too. Nothing is ever lost no matter how it seems at the time and what is left out will always show and make the strength of what is left in. Some say that in writing you can never possess anything until you have given it away or, if you are in a hurry, you may have to throw it away. […] They say other things too but do not pay them too much attention. They are the secrets that we have that are made by alchemy and much is written about them by people who do not know the secrets or the alchemy. There are many more explainers now than there are good writers. You need much luck in addition to all other things and you do not always have it. This is regrettable but nothing to complain about as you should not complain of those explainers who tell you how you do it and why, if you do not agree with them. […] Good writing does not destroy easily…
from “Nada y Pues Nada”

I must say, I’m touched by Fitzgerald’s humility regarding The Great Gatsby, as well as the esteem he was held in by his contemporary Hemingway (even when other aspects of Fitzgerald’s life hardly impressed him). What a fascinating time to be a writer back then, when there was still uncharted territory—hell, when there was still un-agented submissions!—and classic American literature was given new voice. So many pioneering and influential artists, right there in Paris at the same time and toasting cocktails to one another…no wonder Woody Allen wanted to pay homage with his recent film Midnight in Paris. An era idealized in nostalgia? Sure. But there’s no questioning the contribution that those people at that time made to what so many of us continue to aspire to today; it was a recipe for greatness whether they knew it themselves yet or not…a wonderful alchemy of talent and ambition that not even the explainers can explain.

In closing:

“Hem, you won’t forget about the writing?”

“No,” I said. “I won’t forget about the writing.”

I went out to the telephone. No, I thought. I would not forget about the writing. That was what I was born to do and had done and would do again. Anything they said about them, the novels or the stories or about who wrote them was all right by me.

from “Nada y Pues Nada”

PART I

PART II


No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” – Part II

Yikes, have I taken long enough to follow up on this? Busy days, folks, busy days, and I clearly lack Hemingway’s discipline…for writing anyway. His discipline seemed to stray when it came to women…

Right, moving on. I left off last time with commentary on how Hemingway’s autobiographical yet “fictional” book A Moveable Feast might have been called The Early Eye and The Ear had its author let himself live to see its publication. To continue:

The Early Eye and The Ear gets at the need to hone your craft, something Hemingway truly believed in and worked at all his life. It implies talent, for you must have a good eye and a good ear to begin with if you are to be successful, but it also suggests that you need experience to develop your abilities as a writer, and Paris at that time was for Ernest Hemingway the perfect place to do this.

Indeed, I imagine Paris isn’t too shabby a place to do it. Especially back then when being an expatriate really would have felt exotic as opposed to today’s globally minded society that shuffles the likes of us in and out the door with more frequency. Not that moving to London wasn’t a massive inspiration for me and my own writing, but I probably hear North American accents here as often as any, and the likes of Starbucks is everywhere (which I’m at peace with because I very specifically love their chai lattes and granola bars).

At any rate, any place is fitting for a writer—or human being in general—that can introduce you to new perspectives, cultures, aesthetics, interesting, worldly if not quirky people, and allow you to expand into a sense of self you might not have realized you could be back home. I’ve learned firsthand how moving away helps you see that home with sharper clarity; as Hemingway said, “Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.” Let’s hear more of what he had to say about those days when he first endeavored to become a novelist…

On starting to write a novel:

I knew I must write a novel. But it seemed an impossible thing to do when I had been trying with great difficulty to write paragraphs that would be the distillation of what made a novel. It was necessary to write longer stories now as you would train for a longer race. When I had written a novel before, the one that had been lost in the bag stolen at the Gare de Lyon, I still had the lyric facility of boyhood that was as perishable and as deceptive as youth was. I knew it was probably a good thing that it was lost, but I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it. I was damned if I would write one because it was what I should do if we were to eat regularly. When I had to write it, then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice. Let the pressure build. In the meantime I would write a long story about whatever I knew best.
~ from “Hunger was Good Discipline”

Since I had started to break all my writing down and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do. But it was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything as long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

Now, as he alluded to in that first quotation, Hemingway had lost not only the entire manuscript of his first attempt at a novel but also the majority of anything else he had written, and he didn’t have any copies. He then went on to write The Sun Also Rises. Talk about rallying! That must have taken tremendous drive, patience, and discipline to simply sit down with pencil and notebook and start writing again. Fortunately, he was seated in the midst of life, buzzing around him with inspiration…

On writing from life:

In the early days writing in Paris I would invent not only from my own experience but from the experiences and knowledge of my friends and all the people I had known, or met since I could remember, who were not writers. I was very lucky always that my best friends were not writers and to have known many intelligent people who were articulate. In Italy when I was at the war there, for one thing that I had seen or that had happened to me, I knew many hundreds of things that had happened to other people who had been in the war in all of its phases. My own small experiences gave me a touchstone by which I could tell whether stories were true or false and being wounded was a password.
from “On Writing in the First Person”

A girl came in the café and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair black as a crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek. / I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere […]. The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. […] I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.
from “A Good Café on the Place St.-Michel”

So, it seems Hemingway had found a sweet spot in a café where his writing could flourish. I had to laugh, then (but with as much pity as humor), at his agitation when other people disrupted that peace…

On less-than-ideal writing conditions:

The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of café crèmes, the smell of early morning sweeping out and mopping and luck were all you needed. […] Some days it went so well that you could make the country so that you could walk into it through the timber to come out into the clearing and onto the high ground and see the hills beyond the arm of the lake. A pencil-lead might break off in the conical nose of the pencil sharpener and you would […] sharpen the pencil carefully with the sharp blade and then slip your arm through the sweat-salted leather of your pack strap to lift the pack again, get the other arm through and feel the weight settle on your back and feel the pine needles under your moccasins as you started down for the lake. / Then you would hear someone say, “Hi, Hem. What are you trying to do? Write in a café?” / Your luck had run out and you shut the notebook. This was the worst thing that could happen. […] Now you could get out and hope it was an accidental visit and that the visitor had only come in by chance and there was not going to be an infestation. There were other good cafés to work in but they were a long walk away and this was your home café. It was bad to be driven out of the Closerie des Lilas. You had to make a stand or move.
~ from “Birth of a New School”

It appears he made a stand. It wasn’t pretty. But he made his point. Then there’s that friendly chap F. Scott Fitzgerald, fellow member of the Parisian literati who invited Hemingway and his wife Hadley to join them in the French Riviera.

It was a nice villa and Scott had a very fine house not far away and I was very happy to see my wife who had the villa running beautifully, and our friends, and the single aperitif before lunch was very good and we had several more. That night there was a party to welcome us at the Casino […]. No one drank anything stronger than champagne and it was very gay and obviously a splendid place to write. There was going to be everything that a man needed to write except to be alone.
~ from “Hawks Do Not Share”

I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the literary life that I was leading, and already I missed not working and I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

Not that Ernest couldn’t whoop it up on his own terms, but, when he wore the writing hat, it was all about productivity.

On the discipline of writing:

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it. Going down the stairs when you had worked well, and that needed luck as well as discipline, was a wonderful feeling and I was free then to walk anywhere in Paris.
~ from “Miss Stein Instructs”

And now that Hemingway has made me feel thoroughly guilty, it’s time to go get some work done. You should, too. Let’s say we write ourselves proud for a while and meet back here when I post the last installment of this series. Deal? Good. Now keep those eyes and ears open…

PART I

PART III


No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” on Writing – Part I

“It is not that things should be published. But I believe now that it is important that they exist.”

Ah, and that quotation wasn’t even Hemingway; it was his friend Evan Shipman. But I figured it made a good segue from my previous post about “When Not Being Published Doesn’t Feel Too  Shabby,” no? Who was Evan Shipman? Alas, perhaps if he hadn’t held the views on publishing he did, his name would be as household as Ernest Hemingway’s by now.

Evan Shipman, who was a very fine poet and who truly did not care if his poems were ever published, felt that it should remain a mystery.

“We need more true mystery in our lives, Hem,” he once said to me. “The completely unambitious writer and the really good unpublished poem are the things we lack most at this time. There is, of course, the problem of sustenance.”
~ from “An Agent of Evil”

Ah, sustenance. Indeed. Well, it doesn’t seem  even the published can necessarily count on that anymore. But this is how F. Scott Fitzgerald did:

He had told me at the Closerie des Lilas how he wrote what he thought were good stories, and which really were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them into salable magazine stories. I had been shocked at this and I said I thought it was whoreing. He said it was whoreing but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books. I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best they could write without destroying their talent. He said he had learned to write the stories for the Post so that they did him no harm at all. He wrote the real story first, he said, and the destruction and changing did him no harm. I could not believe this and I wanted to argue him out of it but I needed a novel to back up my faith and to show him and convince him, and I had not yet written any such novel.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

[After Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby:]

I was trying to get him to write his stories as well as he could and not trick them to conform to any formula, as he had explained that he did.

“You’ve written a fine novel now,” I told him. “And you mustn’t write slop.”

“The novel isn’t selling,” he said. “I must write stories and they have to be stories that will sell.”

“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”

“I”m going to.” he said.
from “Hawks Do Not Share”

Hm, and did he? Was Scott a sell-out? Or was he just doing what he needed to do to make a livelihood of his craft? It raises the question that hits me time and again—to what extent do writers need to write to the market if they ever want to be published? Just at the start of their careers to get a foot in the door? Throughout their careers to keep earning a living? Is there a happy medium? And could writing to the market harm your writing if it’s any less than your best? Questions I don’t feel the need to answer at this time. (But see my post “To Market, To Market” if you want to further chew on it.)

Moving on, the bits that I’m quoting here are from one of my latest reads, Hemingway’s posthumously published book, A Moveable Feast. The title, though chosen by his wife after his death, bears Hemingway’s stamp, taking liberties as he did with spelling and punctuation out of an innate grammatical logic of his own—in this case, the “ea” in “Moveable.” In any case, I used to read so much Hemingway in my teens and twenties and had neglected him for a while until recently reading Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife about his days in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife Hadley. This led to reading A Moveable Feast, his own accounts of what transpired in those ol’ Paris days, and then re-reading The Sun Also Rises, which is essentially autobiographical of a group trip at that time to Pamplona, Spain. It’s funny how we readers bring so much to a story’s meaning depending on our evolving frame of reference, because first reading that novel a decade or two ago was a different experience for me than reading it now as a fellow American expat in Europe—especially different after attending a bull fight in Madrid last year (and sobbing like an infant, I might add. I’m not going to run out and join PETA or anything, but I’ll say this: Never. Again.)

Anyway, that’s the side of literature I’ve been embracing again: being a reader. Nonetheless, as I won’t be entirely foregoing the trials and tribulations of being a writer (as implied in my last post), I thought I’d share some insights on writing Hemingway gave throughout his Paris memoirs—Paris being where he was still cutting his teeth on his pencil. I’ll break it up into separate posts as this is already getting long, but before I close up shop today, I’ll share this from Seán Hemingway’s introduction to the book. Regarding how A Moveable Feast was originally going to be titled The Early Eye and The Ear:

The eye, a term usually used in the connoisseurship of fine art, draws an interesting comparison between writing and painting […] Hemingway first developed his eye, his ability to discern the gold from the dross and turn his observations into prose, in Paris in the twenties. The ear, which we think of as more pertinent to musical composition, is clearly important to creative writing. Hemingway’s writing typically reads well when spoken aloud. When complete, his writing is so tight that every word is integral, like notes in a musical composition.

Hemingway’s writing isn’t for everyone. I, too, fluctuate in my response to it sometimes. But I’ll never question my overall love for his storytelling if only for For Whom the Bell Tolls. He brought something different to the table, and even if it isn’t the style other writers or readers want to embrace, the discipline and the principles he abided by were universally sound. Until next time, when we’ll hear more of what Ernest has to say!

PART II

PART III


Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part IV

Alas, today we shall conclude our long walks on the beach with our gal Daphne. If you joined me for Parts III, and III of this series, I hope it’s been worth your while and that you’ll indulge me for one last post full of odds-n-ends on du Maurier’s corner of Cornwall. We’ve covered some key real-life settings of her novels Rebecca, The King’s General, The House on the Strand, and My Cousin Rachel, as well her novella The Birds, and today a few more tales have a chance to make their appearance, along with other sites significant to the area’s notable inhabitants.

To start, if we backtrack a bit from Menabilly and Gribbin Head to look out on St. Austell Bay, we’re amidst the stretch of coast where Daphne du Maurier walked her dogs daily:

This last one I have to throw in as my beloved “Goonies shot.” Tell me it doesn’t totally look like the end of the movie! Sing it, Cyndi: “Good enough…for me, it’s…good enough…for you…it’s good, good enough…”

The views over the bay from these cliffs are described in The House on the Strand and Rule Britannia.

Retracing our steps along the coastal path toward Polridmouth beach and beyond, we wind our way through more farmland (and might have to dodge some horned cattle like it’s Pamplona) until the town of Polruan comes into view on the hilltop as we approach the Fowey estuary. Before descending all the way into Fowey, though, let’s cut over to where St. Catherine’s Castle keeps watch over the sea:

This fortress was commissioned by King Henry VIII as part of his south coast defenses, and it was utilized yet again during Victorian times and WWII. It is here that Janet Coombe frequently climbs in du Maurier’s debut novel, The Loving Spirit, to look out to sea, watching the ships and seeking freedom—for it’s here that she feels “Nearer to something for which there was no name, escaping from the world and losing herself, mingling with things that have no reckoning of time, where there is no today and no tomorrow“…

*sigh* I confess that I myself tucked into a hidden, grassy spot here to sit and rest my weary feet as I, too, felt the freedom of seeing nothing but the water’s expanse, hearing nothing but the wind and waves. Ahhh…but it’s time to hit the trail again, so join me as I return to the path and descend into Fowey. At this point, it leads us right into Readymoney Cove—from the looks of the homes here, you might assume the name has something to do with the seeming affluence of this joint. But, actually, “readymoney” derives from a Cornish word meaning “pebbly ford”:

The cove was historically a landing place for goods shipped to Fowey and is where Lady Dona flees in Frenchman’s Creek. Directly inland from the cove is the Readymoney cottage where du Maurier lived with her children in the early 1940s prior to moving into the Rashleigh family’s Menabilly estate:

Isn’t it so cute? It was here that du Maurier wrote Hungry Hill. And if we venture into Fowey along the Esplanade that begins here, we’ll ultimately pass the lovely Fowey Hotel (a favorite of du Maurier’s with a stunning view from its tea garden) with the house of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (a Cambridge professor of English Literature known as “Q”) just across the street:

It was here that du Maurier established a good friendship with Q after Sunday tea, and, when Q passed away in 1944 having left his novel Castle Dor unfinished, his daughter asked du Maurier to complete it. The real Castle Dor is also located in this area around the River Fowey.

Before I conclude this literary journey of Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall, I would be remiss not acknowledge, with the utmost of reverence, two special sites also to be found in the vicinity of the coastal path we’ve followed. The first is located not too far from where we’re standing in Fowey—if you’ll kindly backtrack with me to Readymoney cove, up the hill toward St. Catherine’s Castle, and just up a little further, I’ll show you a little, easily-overlooked trail heading steeply uphill into the thick of the trees and brush here…bringing us to the quiet, rather hidden resting place of the Rashleigh family who once owned all this land and each house that du Maurier occupied here:

And if we walk further back along the coastal path, it’s not too far inland from the inlet of Polkerris (which we explored in Part II) where, behind a rusted gate and along a short wooded trail, we’ll chance upon Tregaminion Church. This was the Rashleigh family chapel (originally part of the Menabilly estate) and where Daphne du Maurier’s family held a private memorial to mark her passing in 1989:

As seems so fitting in light of how much we’ve seen this area meant to the author and her life’s work, du Maurier’s ashes were scattered on the cliffs near her Kilmarth home.

If you’re a writer, I hope that this series has inspired you to look around your own stomping grounds more closely in case you’ve taken them for granted as a valid setting for your stories. Your local environment has perhaps not struck you as enthralling or inspiring, but try digging into its history more deeply, looking at it through a different lens as you evaluate what about it makes it home in your heart (or what could make it a heaven or hell for someone else). You never know what story-worlds could be built upon the foundations of your real one.

Or, at the very least, hopefully I’ve inspired you to visit Cornwall. 😉

I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Encounter Cornwall for providing the self-guided walking tour that led me not only through this fascinating Cornish terrain, but the dynamic landscape of Daphne du Maurier’s imagination.

PART I

PART II

PART III


Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part III

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Ah, the famous first line that lured me into the Hitchcock film, then to the novel it originally came from and had me dreaming of going to Manderley…

Well, I got pretty darn close.

As you may already know from Part I and Part II of this series, I’m playing unofficial-cyber-tour guide through Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall this week. Yesterday, we hiked through the old marshland and priory of du Maurier’s novel The House on the Strand. Today, we’ll venture uphill and onward into Rebecca and The King’s General territory.

Our tour picks up from where we left off in Tywardreath. Hoist that backpack and make sure you have plenty of drinking water and something healthy to snack on as we climb this hill to venture into those in the distance…

Once we make it out there and follow the coastal path a ways, we’ll again pass beneath du Maurier’s Kilmarth home, from which all this gorgeous rolling farmland dips down into the sea.

For a while it appears it’ll just be the grass, dirt, livestock, sweet air, and sea keeping you company, until eventually you round a bend and lo and behold: Polkerris.

Polkerris goes by “Kerrith” in Rebecca and makes for a lovely little beach spot (and bathroom break because this is your last chance for a while…). The Rashleigh Inn there is named for the family that owned all this surrounding land as of the 16th century and who had originally utilized Polkerris to house old pilchard cellars and the fishing fleet. In The King’s General, this is the site of Richard Grenville’s escape to France on a boat, only to return ashore to be with Honor Harris.

Continuing south on the coastal path, some ups and downs and twists and turns will bring the Gribbin Head tower into site (built in 1832 for the safety of mariners). Standing below it, if you turn your back on the sea, you can take in the vast expanse of land surrounding Menabilly:

Now, what’s the big deal about Menabilly that I strained my eyes close to popping trying to find that large Elizabethan manor hiding in the trees? To start, Menabilly is the main Rashleigh family estate where du Maurier lived for about 25 years. She adored the home and raised her children there, but, alas, had only been able to lease the property, as the Rashleigh descendants never put it up for sale. I believe it wasn’t too long after du Maurier’s husband passed away that she likewise received the heart-breaking news she had to vacate Menabilly so the Rashleighs could reclaim it. It was then, in 1969, that du Maurier moved to nearby Kilmarth.

Walking from the Gribbin Head tower toward Menabilly and Polridmouth beach.

These fields and valleys between Gribbin Head and Menabilly feature in du Maurier’s Rebecca, The King’s General, and My Cousin Rachel. The farmland to the left is where du Maurier was inspired to write The Birds when she saw a flock of birds swarming around a farmer on his tractor. Menabilly itself inspired and featured in The King’s General as a Royalist stronghold during the 17th-century English Civil War. It was centuries later in 1824 that renovations commissioned by then-owner William Rashleigh uncovered a skeleton in Cavalier clothing of the Civil War period; it was the remains of a young man who had evidently been in hiding in a chamber at the base of a buttress. This is the skeleton I mentioned yesterday that’s buried in the Tywardreath churchyard (where there’s also a memorial to the real-life Honor Harris) and gave du Maurier the idea for her novel’s dramatic ending.

But also…Menabilly is Rebecca’s “Manderley“! And it’s back there somewhere in that cluster of trees, but I’ll be damned if I could find it; it’s just as concealed as Manderley is described in the book, though not nearly as large and extravagant as depicted in Hitchcock’s film:

What I could get right up close to, however, was further along the coastal path, which leads down to Polridmouth beach. It was at the boathouse here that the infamous Rebecca of the novel of same name carried on her infidelities and ultimately met her death (not a total spoiler there—you know she’s dead from the beginning). The shipwreck where Rebecca’s body was found was also in this bay:

Polridmouth beach (left) and Rebecca’s boathouse (right).

View of the bay from Polridmouth, with Gribbon Head in the distance.

An actual shipwreck that can be seen at Polridmouth at low tide.

Polridmouth is also the beach at which the Roundhead foot soldiers amass and await rescue in The King’s General. Alas, they are left at the mercy of locals, including those from the Cornish town of Fowey, where we’ll travel onward to in my next post.

In the meantime, sit for a spell at the beach, perhaps fix yourself a lovely picnic, forget the darkness of our dear Daphne’s tales, and just enjoy the breezes and waves. Ahhh…

PART I

PART II

PART IV


Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part II

If you were so kind as to join me yesterday for Part I of this “My Date with Daphne” series, lace up those hiking boots for a literal and literary journey through Daphne du Maurier’s old stomping grounds in Cornwall. Today we’re hitting the trail for her novel The House on the Strand.

Our tour begins in Tywardreath. Tywardreath—pronounced tower-dreth—derives from a Celtic word that originally meant “house on the sand”:

The Benedictine Priory of St. Andrew was founded in Tywardreath in the 12th century, and the parish church (pictured below) was dedicated in the 14th century. The church/priory accounts for much of The House on the Strand’s early description and is the stopping point for one of protagonist Dick Young’s drug-induced travels in time. While his consciousness is exploring the old priory back in the 14th century, his body is physically wandering the 20th-century churchyard, where the Vicar taps Dick on the shoulder and wakes him to the present.

This church also figures into du Maurier’s novel The King’s General—in the book, its graveyard serves as a cache for weapons during the Cornish revolt against Parliament, and it’s the actual burial site of a skeleton discovered in du Maurier’s Menabilly home, which in turn inspired The King’s General’s ending.

For those of you who haven’t read The House on the Strand, its main character Dick and his friend Professor Lane frequently take an experimental drug that causes the mind to time-travel, if not the body. It consistently takes the men about 600 years back in time, and their 14th-century wanderings lead them into awkward if not dangerous circumstances in 20th-century places. In addition to the churchyard, below are a couple more such locations:

The house on Polpey Lane where Dick (soaking wet from wandering through the marshes in his drug-induced state) awakes to a very confused modern-day postman.

Treesmill Farm, where Dick frequently returns trying to find the lovely 14th-century Isolda where she lives in the House on the Strand. Once an old ford when the original southern Cornish coastline extended much further inland, Dick crosses the water only to wake up in the middle of a modern-day road, where he’s almost hit by a car.

The train tracks just down the road from Treesmill where Professor Lane’s “time traveling” inadvertently leads him into the path of an approaching train.

The changing coastline and landscape over the centuries was a fascination for du Maurier, so The House on the Strand gave her ideal opportunity to research this and play up the contrast as her main character travels between two time periods. The locations below are examples of areas that were once underwater:

The old marshland has left behind a residual creek, which you cross when following the Saint’s Way path north out of Tywardreath.

Following the creek-side trail west toward Par leads you to the vicinity of the 14th-century shoreline where Dick Young witnesses Oliver Carminowe’s ambush and murder of Otto, Isolda’s love interest.

Par Beach, located just below Tywardreath and which was once part of a broad estuary. It since clogged up with silt from mining waste to create this barrier against the sea that helped reclaim much land from the seabed.

From Par Beach, we continue south along the coastal path to pass below Kilmarth, where Daphne du Maurier and her character Dick Young lived at the top of the hill. Dating back to the 14th century, the house’s original owner (Roger Kylmerth) and the occupant just prior to du Maurier (a scientist, who left behind a basement full of odd jars containing things like embryos) provided key inspiration for The House on the Strand. Roger is fictionalized as Dick’s “guide” through the past, and Professor Lane is the fictional present-day owner of house who allows his friend Dick to holiday there and whose experiments in the basement include the time-travel drug in question.

Kilmarth, as viewed from the road high above the coastal path.

Time to depart The House on the Strand and continue along the coastal path to the real-life influences of Daphne du Maurier’s other works…if you’ve stuck with me this far and are keen for more, see ya tomorrow!

PART I

PART III

PART IV


Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part I

Young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930) Русский: ...

Daphne du Maurier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, it’s April, and the Monkey has climbed back up its tree. The branches up here are budding, and I’m likewise hoping to turn a new leaf and make this spring a productive one of blogging and creative writing. Until now, travels, hosting, and craploads of editing have derailed me; I recently finished my first freelance edit and am presently juggling two simultaneous manuscripts for the publisher. Having to donate my eyes and brain to others’ work makes it difficult to write my own stuff, but it’s always a learning process and always satisfying to at least be working on something that’s getting published.

In any case, last August when I’d found myself in a similar predicament, I’d whisked myself away to Cornwall for a solitary writer’s retreat (“A Cage of One’s Own“). I found myself doing more hiking there than writing, but even that activity was steeped with literary inspiration. I was walking in the footsteps of British author Daphne du Maurier and her characters, you see, and learning a great deal about how a writer’s environment can effectively influence the settings of his/her stories. I’d promised way-back-when to blog about this and totally flaked out, but now I really have no excuse considering I just returned from an Easter holiday weekend spent at the very same location in the very same room-with-a-view! I brought my husband this time so he could also hike the trails and find much-needed respite after completing one hell of an intense graduate program. Thus, ’twas a time of needed togetherness, not for me to go all reclusive-artsy-fartsy and climb into my turret to write.

Yet the breezes off that dynamic coastal landscape still carried the sweet inspiration of Daphne, so, starting this week, I’ll finally share with you my summer photo-journey of the real-life settings featuring in so much of her work. du Maurier lived in three homes between Par and Fowey (Menabilly, Kilmarth, and Readymoney) that were not only the places where she wrote, but also where she wrote about. Menabilly and Kilmarth housed her characters as well, which I find really validating considering my own two manuscripts are set in actual apartments I’ve lived in. I at first viewed that as a rookie comfort-zone, writing-what-you-know in the extreme, but the fact is, my stories are set in these places because these places—their distinctive features and histories—are what initially inspired my stories. So, why not? Daphne did it.

I’ve admittedly only read three of du Maurier’s novels, but her writing resonates with me. Weaving dark tales with beautifully crafted language, she managed to write commercially appealing plots with literary merit—which, in my opinion, is the ideal to aim for. Of the novels I’ve read, my hands-down favorite is Rebecca, which I first experienced through Alfred Hitchcock’s faithful screen adaptation of same name (du Maurier’s novella The Birds was likewise adapted into another not-as-faithful Hitchcock film of same name). A few years ago, a random stroll through Daunt Books in London resulted in leaving with Jamaica Inn in my hands (which takes place at the actual inn in England’s Bodmin Moor), and my return to Daunt soon after for The House on the Strand is what ultimately led me to choose the wee village of Tywardreath (the book’s setting) for my Cornish holiday.

And Tywardreath is where we’ll begin tomorrow as we travel a bit of southern Cornwall to view the inspiration behind du Maurier’s The House on the Strand. Dress warm, pack light, and wear some comfortable walking shoes. 🙂

PART II

PART III

PART IV


Is the Baby Still in the Bathtub?

I heard once at a writing seminar that every time we read, it’s an investment in our writing. So in light of that, we shouldn’t feel guilty when we spend our time reading someone else’s writing instead of working on our own.

When I do read someone else’s story, on one level of consciousness I’m processing how they’ve approached its construction and shaped its language, which helps me likewise reflect on my own projects. I still lose myself in the experience of the book, yet today was one of those when I did snap out of someone else’s story-world to reenter my own—because it had just smacked me upside the head, somewhere in the middle of the book I was reading, that I needed to work more on the beginning of the book I am writing. Seemingly out of nowhere, but I think my subconscious has known all along and something I read must have finally dislodged that. Not merely the revelation of what I probably need to do, but my acceptance of it. I think I’ve known for a long while what I should do but have been nurturing my precious poopsies, running the warm water over them and adding more bubble bath.

I’ve only done some cursory restructuring so far, but looks like my manuscript needs to be run like a conveyor belt in reverse again, backing it up another couple chapters to start at even later one. If I do this, I must be mindful of what had happened last time and ensure the babies of characterization and exposition don’t get thrown out with the bath water in the interest of moving plot forward a bit faster. And it really isn’t so much that I’m trying to get a move-on with the story line; the more I look at those opening chapters, the more I realize that I was still finding my way into the story with them; it doesn’t all have to be scratched, but it needs to be tightened through rearranging. So as I try to look at the story elements in those chapters more strategically right now—isolating the “need to haves” from the “nice to haves”—it’s like they’re all lined up before me, beads of sweat glistening at their brows and sweaty palms wringing behind their backs as they try to stand tall, stand proud with chins up but lips quivering, and some surely wetting their pants.

I shall place the little dears in the foster care of my archives and keep faith they’ll find a good home in a short story or other novel some day. Until that time of weaning, I’m letting them push their little rubber duckies through the suds, scrubbing them extra clean behind the ears before tucking them into bed for the night all clean and sweet-smelling and raisin-fingered…who knows, perhaps after I sleep on it, too, I’ll change my mind.

I’m curious to hear about YOUR babies—it’s inevitable that some of them get chucked out the window, but have you actually had success reusing them elsewhere? How so?


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