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Above Us, Only Sky.

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Above the clouds, where the air is as pure as the sunlight, she floats with her arms by her sides, looking out at the sky around her. She can sense that her physical body waits on the earth beneath her, that this is a matter of perception, afforded her by virtue of an education at her mother’s knee.

She looked at the sky around her, endured the bone deep ache of being in the presence of beauty such as the world around her. Her soul trembled at what she had to do, but when she spoke, her voice rang out across the sky.

‘I am Esperanza, daughter of Dona Maria, I am curandera and I come to find something that has not been lost.’

Her voice echoed, but nothing moved or responded. A chill wind blew across her shoulders, wracking her with shivers. Was this the response? Mama had said that they would speak to her. Esperanza took that to mean a conversation, but this was a chil breeze.

She felt it then, a tugging sensation to her left, like a child pulling at the hem of mother’s skirt and she followed it.

Downwards.

She plummeted, too fast to scream and blacked out for a second with it’s terrible velocity.

2.

Beneath her, the soft damp bed of moss laid damp against her cheek. She got up, wrapping her arms around herself as she looked out at a sea of trees, tall enough to pierce the low hanging clouds above her. So thick was the cloud that it made her strain to see the details. She shut her eyes, and listened.

The gentle trickle of running water, and she smiled to herself.

There is the Rio Abjao Rio, the river beneath the river. If you hear it, in the air, the spaces when you hear your true love’s voice, then you must follow it. She got to her feet and began to walk. Her steps were tentative, but she took a deep breath and carried on into the forest.

The noise of the water gained presence and volume as she drew nearer. The air was cool, damp in her nostrils and on her lips. She raked her hair away from her face, and wriggled her bare toes into the moss beneath her feet. She drew courage from herself, and kept moving.

Which was when she heard the roar, not of the river this time. She felt the thump of motion gathering pace as it came towards her, knocking back undergrowth and branches with no more care than you would walk through a column of smoke.

She looked into the bear’s eyes. The warmth of corn liquor, caramelised and liquid. Beautiful, and all the more so, for the grizzled ferocity of it’s expression. It roared and she put her hands up.

‘Stop.’

The bear reared back on it’s legs, blocked out the light with it’s size.

Which was when it began to chuckle.

Esperanza suffered fools all her life, but she had been unprepared for such mockery to arise in a place as pure as thought. Pure as sky.

‘You do not laugh at me without cause, spirit.’

It guffawed as it licked his left paw with his thick, pink tongue, watching her with an expression equal parts hunger and amusement. It thrilled her to be looked at in such a way, but frightened too.

‘No, it appears that I do not. What do you search for?’

She took a deep breath.

‘I come to surrender.’

The bear shook it’s head and lowered it’s eyes as it moved onto all fours.

‘To me, is it that simple?’

Her stomach grew hot and sour, the bear’s voice was gruff but smooth, burnished by endless experience and beneath it, a warmth like a good shot of tequila began to smoothe out her fears. She shook her head.

‘No, it is not. My mother taught me that.’

The bear looked around and grinned before returning it’s gaze to her.

‘And, what is that lesson? Humour a big old bear, would you.’

Esperanza closed her eyes, took a deep breath and spoke, not from memory but from heart.

‘A woman’s surrender is a gift, a demonstration of power and not defeat. We surrender to the cycles of life and death, the release of purest ecstacy and the duties of the flesh. To surrender such power is a gift and it is done not in the spirit of looking backwards.’

The bear padded over to her, sniffed and hummed deep in it’s throat, it’s massive chest reverberating the air around it with it’s vibration.

It licked along the line of her neck, the tongue was soft, but rough like a washcloth and it tickled her sending delighted shivers of sensation down her spine.

‘I accept, Esperanza.’

It lowered it’s shoulders to the ground then looked upwards at her.

‘What are you doing, Bear?’

‘I will take you to the rio abjao rio, Esperanza. I know the way.’

She walked around the bear, reaching forward to take purchase in the thick, brown fur on it’s back. She lifted her leg over, until she was astride. It’s heartbeat thumped like a drum and the hot engine of it’s breath moved her like the tides. It was frightening and exciting all at once.

The bear lifted it’s shoulders and turned it’s head.

‘Are you ready, Esperanza? I know that this frightens you, but the truth of a situation often does. ‘

She gripped the fur and smiled at the bear before her. Beneath her.

‘Then you must show me, Bear.’

It began to move, slow at fast but then faster.

It never quite matched the rapid pace of her heart though. Nothing was faster than that.

 

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Two Pages (30/10/16)

 

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This morning, with the new book, I worked on a little exposition, telling rather than showing, but that can be reshaped and parsed out. Sometimes it is good to get out on paper where you are going, and allows me to foreshadow as well. Not that it was a negative thing to do, you understand but it was what was in me at the time, so I went along with it. There’s a lot of story, something came up in the writing that will hopefully give me the setting I need to really punch up the third act climax and getting the internal conflict into play will allow me some breathing room when I need to take the pace down.

The voice is there, I’ve found the rhythm, I just keep going until it’s done.

I have been reading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, but ended up finishing Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman last night, for some relief. Pynchon is enjoyable, but it’s dense and complex writing, a playful genius but still daunting at points. Not that this is a negative reflection on Gaiman at all, I love his writing. It’s so smooth and conversational, he communicates myth and magic really well, so it was a delightful way to finish the evening. I will resume Gravity’s Rainbow this morning, I think. It’s a masterclass and a wonderful, lusty, entertaining story dressed in some exquisite writing.

I will be posting some more writing here later today. A drabble and another piece, both for the writing group. Then out with the dog and some more reading. Thank you for reading this.

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Two Pages (28/10/16)

 

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I am making good progress on the new book. It took a little adjustment but the changes in setting and language have allowed me to develop in ways that surprised me this morning. It is a balance between serving the story, avoiding cliche and not doing service to the culture that I am using to give colour and texture to the story.

Fortunately, I know where I am going with this, and although there is room for exploration, which I always allow myself in order to give a maximum amount of expression to the work, the path is clear and I walk it each day, two pages at a time. I know that I am wilfully vague about the details, but it’s been my experience, that if I tell you what it’s about, then I lose the incentive to write it.

It is important that the work I do, reflects the influences and person that I am at that particular point. The amount of reading I do influences the quality of it. I do not plagiarise, because it is pointless and too easy. I feed off the reading that I do, see how a particular writer goes about achieving an effect or works out a sequence and then look at it in the context of my own writing. The old maxim of ‘write what you know’ is oft-discussed and misinterpreted, it can be an effective block of the creative impulse but I think that it’s a nuanced discussion.  I write whatever is in me at the time, about the things that can sustain interest for an entire book. I know who I write for, and that allows me to focus on the simple act of turning up each day and doing it.

Thank you for reading.

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Two Pages (27/10/16)

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I wrote another two pages of the new book this morning. Yesterday, I worked on the structure of it, using Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid so I know where the beats and obligatory scenes are. I also did quite a bit of reading for research purposes. It’s not historically accurate but I like to work in some nods to the culture, and where it doesn’t work, I just make it up. I’m aiming for plausibility rather than accuracy with this, atmosphere and also working in an entirely different setting without some of the touchstones that have informed earlier books.

Technology, essentially. Although, as Arthur C Clarke said, any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, so it’s all the same thing, just portrayed in different ways. The language I am using is different, still english, still hopefully in my voice but it’s meant to evoke different effects and another sort of atmosphere.  I am making overtures towards finishing off The Ogden Review, as we’re deep into the third act and it’s a bittersweet experience because I’ve enjoyed writing them.

I finished a couple of books yesterday in addition to the research material, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which was gorgeous and moving, Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook, which was a different experience on the page versus the (very enjoyable) film, which is always present with adaptations. I also finished Spark by John Twelve Hawks and Night Music by John Connolly. I also took a lovely long walk with the dog as well, went out into the marshes and just took everything in.

Thank you for reading.

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Two Pages (26/10/16)

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I started writing a new piece in longhand, having finished editing She’s Here. I won’t start on Lawful Evil in 2nd draft until enough time has elapsed that I can go back into it with a new perspective, transcribing and editing as I go. The work continues for me, always.

At my writing group last night, we discussed NaNoWriMo and one of our members is doing it this year. I did try it once, and came away with a graphic novel script called Ghost Limb Palm but it was not an experience that I felt benefited me personally or professionally to any degree. My work routine is constant, and it allows me to write to a constant degree, to detach the process from the achievement and to still achieve.

Every month for me is NaNoWriMo because I don’t stop working. I am either editing or working on something new, and that’s when I am not working on short stories or poetry. I am not disdainful of it in the slightest and I applaud anyone who takes it on. It’s important to know what you don’t benefit from, as much as what you do.

I went to the library as well yesterday, picked up a book called Spark by John Twelve Hawks which was a techno-thriller, with a lot of pulp energy that I finished this morning and I am now reading Night Music by John Connolly, which is lovely and perfect for the time of year.

Thank you for reading. I continue to grow and thrive, as I always have. Writing gives me courage, to see the worth in those who do not see it within themselves and to take flight without forgetting where you start from. I wish that for everyone.

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Image: http://www.kentrogowski.com/projects/bears/

It was about momentum, trying to lift the weight of my process against the resistance of anxiety and depression. These times are when all the bland, fat days of getting it done reap their reward.

It isn’t about external validation, or money in the bank a lot of the time. You do things that you would rather not do, in order to make it through testing times and write. I hit the 270 page mark this morning, after ten pages yesterday. I am close to the end now of Lawful Evil, two sequences or perhaps three, and it’s followed the story grid pretty closely. Once that is done, it will go away for a while whilst I continue editing on She’s Here, possibly Nothing Keeps Me Anywhere, and developing two new projects, both of which I’ve pitched to my agent.

I finished reading A History of Seven Killings yesterday, Marlon James’ award winning book about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and the intercession of the CIA in the country at that time. Nowadays, Marley is a meme, a signal of virtue that never captures the purity of the man and his music still carries that rawboned elegance. No Woman, No Cry is Dylan with a joint on the go.

I started Perfidia by James Ellroy yesterday, which has a thematic relation to James’ book in that it uses the swirling undercurrents of personal ambition, corruption and politics to show us a point in the past and teach us that history shows who we are, not who we say we are. I’ve been reading Ellroy for a long time, enough to see how his work has influenced later authors. Lawful Evil probably bears some of his ideas, because he has found the corruption in Los Angeles and found the poetry, the humanity within it.

Reading and writing help, and even the sentences that bring tears to my eyes, do so in the spirit of healing.  Same with the poetry too, they’re all tools I use to build an idea bigger than can be contained within me. I am not at peace anywhere, but on the page, there are moments where it calls to me and offers that hope. It’s a long slog, isolating and polarizing sometimes, but the feeling of being done is always good.

She’s Here is benefiting from a solid line edit. There is less to change thus far than I expected, but am still reading and editing it like I hate it, looking for the bits that would stick out, that feel like affectations or moments of ‘hey look’ which survived the first draft. The pain and the grief are there, and I am now into the haunting sections which represent my first attempts at the genre and hopefully don’t suck too badly. Chewing through the rind of time, sucking the bitterness away and hoping there’s enough nutrition to keep you moving for another moment, another hour, another day.

So I keep breathing, meditation to alleviate the worst of the symptoms and working on myself to find my centre again. Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Pages (19/10/16)

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I wrote two pages of Lawful Evil, the second section of background exposition narrated in first person. These pieces don’t go always go into later drafts verbatim because sometimes I cut them into pieces and seed them throughout the work. With these, and an earlier section, I like the voices that I used here. It’s a perspective that I have seen done in other books and it lends weight to the different textures of the book.

Editing She’s Here was productive this morning, cut some extraneous details and tidied up some of the language. I tend to work to a rule of cutting around 10% but sometimes it has been more, and that gives me an opportunity to put forward the intention of the scene. I am putting more narrative colour in terms of talking about Tommy’s emotions and relationships. Finding where the pain and emotion within me lives and putting it onto the page.

The writing makes me feel pretty. There are a lot of times in life that you need that place where you are kind to yourself, especially when circumstances deny you that opportunity and my writing allows me to do that. It’s keeping me upright a lot of the time, and allowing me to function at points when I otherwise would not.

It does not mean that I put anything less than my all into it. I focus on making the story sing and mine whatever quality is within me.

I am reading A History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. It is the first Booker Prize winning book I’ve read. Awards attract my interest but my passion for reading is too inclusive, I know what i like but I am always willing to give different genres and stories a chance. We all have our favourites, but I enjoy trying, failing, succeeding with different authors. The book itself is intense, challenging but it moves at a breakneck pace, moving in all sorts of different directions before returning with a controlled mastery of history and setting. I am reminded of James Ellroy, who has always combined history, crime and the ambitions of others into blistering, exhausting stories with a similar amount of skill.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Two Pages (16/10/16)

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Today’s date almost looks like a palindrome.

I’ve finished the last draft of Until She Sings. I have also started editing She’s Here. Lawful Evil is going well, and am now some 250 pages into the first draft.  I’ve been doing a lot more reading the last few days, and have ploughed through quite a few books inbetween chores and general day to day stuff. There’s been a lot to think about and certainly my reading has had a stoic focus on the work of Joyce Carol Oates, with three of her books devoured in a weekend when it was too wet to be out amongst nature.

I also got stung by a dead bee but that’s a story for another time.

I am also now on Facebook. So please feel free to add me on there.

I hope this finds you all well, appreciating the beauty and sadness of everything around us and within us. There is a lot of both, and sometimes the latter drowns out the former, but it’s there.

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Two Pages(13/10/16)

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The two pages this morning were solid, the back and forth of the relationship between the protagonist and her mother has been a quiet source of pride for me in capturing both the narcissism and it’s impact. I know a few narcissists, and I hope that I have done them proud. It also allowed me to go and revisit the earlier part of the book for reference, which is something that always makes me feel especially competent. I love it when I read it, a reference to something that you experienced as a different person but now seen in an entirely different light. What was text becomes subtext, and what was subtext becomes text again.

I used the quote above, because so often, strong emotion is seen as impediment as much as inspiration. Either in using your art to resist it, or explore it, in the same way that you would handle fissionable material with proper protective materials. All emotion is energy trapped by a thought, and our emotions are layered, they form traps and barriers as well as they do weapons. If I have said hurtful, dismissive things then it has been because I have felt hurt and dismissed and in it’s own way, it’s to continue a severed connection, usually to something that felt real but turned out to be illusory. James Baldwin once said –

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However, and this is where I lose the literary cachet and respect that the last paragraph might have garnered from you, I like to use emotion in much the same way as the subway scene in Ghost shows. All your love, your hate and focus it to the tip of your finger and then push. Sometimes it’s exhausting, like pushing a penny uphill with your nose and I am well aware that I am touching on ‘woo’ here but stay with me. If you can get it out of your body, then that energy goes into a page.

A sentence.

Three words.

I love you. Sometimes from the same person, that can lift you up like taking flight, then in a different context, you no longer believe them and it feels like a date stamp, a meaningless gesture and you feel betrayed that they would use that. Now you can say that word in any number of ways, and have it mean any number of things. Words have a utility beyond imagining, it’s why I love them so much. It’s why I built a blanket fort out of them to hide inside when the world is too much to bear.  It’s not the same as throwing yourself into your work, because no spreadsheet can ever comfort you. It’s a distraction but art/writing etc is where you can take what is useful and discard the unnecessary parts.

People do that to one another all the time, and artists are above all else, people.

In other news, I am now free to finish editing the rest of Until She Sings. After a tangential introduction from a former acquaintance, I am going to bite the bullet and invest in Pro Writing Aid, as a nifty bit of software on annual subscription which illuminates my flaws and sends me into spasms of fearful anguish at my appalling grammar. It’s an investment I will make in myself, part of an ongoing reinvention in order to keep pursuing my goals. There are no more notes coming from the agent now, as they said that it would be repetition of points already sent and fortunately, I have already done a solid run through so it’s more pruning and weeding than digging for the last part of the book. If this is to be my first published book, and I cannot say, because as much work as I’ve put it into it, it doesn’t guarantee me of anything at all. The work is what will last long after I have gone. I am not afraid of rejection,  just don’t enjoy it and having experienced it, professionally and personally, I would rather focus on the professional rejection because I can do something about that. Art harder, as Chuck Wendig said.

I also pitched Lawful Evil and the new untitled book, which will be a personal work expressed through metaphor, names changed to protect the guilty and all that but outlined and informed enough that I can talk to the agent about it’s veracity. Things are moving faster, my cultivated self image and ambition is reaching escape velocity and good things are happening.

Ten thousand joys, ten thousand sorrows.

Thank you for reading.

 

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Two Pages (12/10/16)

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Between scenes in Lawful Evil, I enjoy taking breaths on the page, respites from the tension that I have built and I look to avoid taking away from that entirely. It also allows me to show the changes in the characters as the story has continued. If your characters have not fundamentally changed by the end of whatever you are writing, then you have problems that require fixing before it goes out. In truth, it’s unlikely to go out because any editor or publisher will struggle to see how such a work can find an audience.

They do, though, especially literary fiction. Genre fiction is seen as the dishevelled relative, the kind who shows up at Christmas without a present and eats all the stuffing, but in truth, there’s a robustness, a pragmatism to genre fiction that shows up some of the literary fiction, that is seen as superior. I say that, as someone who enjoys both, and has developed a passion for nuance and ambiguity in the reading that I enjoy.

Genre fiction has it’s flaws too, but to dismay it as merely entertainment in comparison to literature denies it’s power. Entertainment is tough work, I’ve read a lot of literature and a lot of genre fiction, and the genre fiction moves because it has to. Some genre fiction has little more to distinguish it than a strong conceit, or a steroidal macguffin but it can pass a train journey. Literary fiction, can be beautiful but empty and afterwards, you’re left dismayed. It’s also prone to plotholes and characterisation that have led me to want to throw the book across the room. I love ambiguity in endings, but god when it’s done poorly, it’s really irritating. Susan Choi’s My Education was a perfect example of that. It also has a tendency to communicate elitism and disdain without offering a more substantial alternative.

Genre fiction has a bit of a self-esteem problem, self conscious at times because it may feature orcs, elves, vampires, werehamsters and robots made of cheese. Yet, remember that it is as entirely fictional as middle aged professor facing a midlife crisis and his waning libido. Real life, there is the latter but on the page, all bets are off. If you come to the page, do not do so lightly. The best work I’ve read combines literary and genre elements – Red Moon by Benjamin Percy, The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin combine elements of both, Gun Machine and Normal by Warren Ellis all combine fantastical and political/socio-economic elements into dizzying displays of fury.

You could class Gabriel Garcia Marquez as genre fiction, festooned as it is with beautiful language. There is good and bad, and that depends on your preference and point of view. So long as you are reading, and mindful about it, like what you like.

As Shaky Kane, the cartoonist said, don’t be cool, like everything.

I can read Austen then pick up Stephen King and feel the same rush of pleasure. I can move from King to Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Franzen. I don’t bring my politics to the page, in that I am ruthlessly egalitarian. A good book is a good book and sometimes a bad book can be entertaining in the way a bad movie can be, but the time invested in a bad movie can be collaborative joy whereas we seldom read together, unless it’s to our children. Or a book club but that’s in retrospect.

So, at the moment I have finished My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates which was stunning and biting in it’s pain and satire, a fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsay case, which has come to attention after the recent documentary. It combines different textures, ramps the unreliable narrator volume up to full and ends on a note of hopeful redemption that unmanned me a little bit but you read at 0400, you deal with what hits you. I’ve now started Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong, who’s been a genre author that has a snappy, smart style that amuses and entertains me.

In other news, editing on Until She Sings is going well, it’s humbling to see where you were and where you are on the page. Much like going through a photo album and seeing that the light in your eyes hasn’t changed all that much.

Thank you for reading.