Tuesday, September 23, 2008
A publishing opportunity just for you
Damn, damn and double damn. My intention was to begin with a novel opener by the late John Fowles, a real master of writing. I had used the opening paragraph of his mastepiece, The Magus, I added much to it in comment-- and zap! my entire blog was snapped up into cyrberspace. Gone. An hour of work was gone....And I had so marvelled at the power of my computer to find that exact novel opener--and to have it taken from me just like that.
So like the old scribes of Alexandria, who could not make one mistake for the copy was final, almost chiselled in stone, I had to start again, for there was no room for error at all in the library of Alexandria.
So now I have to start all over again, though, of course, I am frustrated and annoyed. Here is how John Fowles begins his novel.
I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria. I was sent to a public school, I wasted two years doing my national service, I went to Oxford; and there I began to discover I was not the person I wanted to be.
I had long before made the discovery that I lacked the parents and ancestors I needed. My father was, through being the right age at the right time rather than through any great professional talent, a brigadier; and my mother was the very model of a would-be major general's wife. That is, she never argued with him and always behaved as if he were listening in the next room, even when he was thousands of miles away. I saw very little of my father during the war, and in his long absences I used to build up a more or less immaculate conception of him, which he generally — a bad but appropriate pun — shattered within the first forty-eight hours of his leave.
Well, how about you?
If you were to begin a an autobiographical novel, how would you start?
Give us a paragraph or two.
You migh be surprised at how quickly you will be able to clear any logjam in your first novel, if that is the kind of novel you intend to write.
A publishing opportunity.
We don't mess around here.
This is Island Grove Press, registered in Ottawa, and we have ISBN numbers.
So pull the bushel off your head and let her rip.
Your turn for a fresh start.
Ho-ho, here comes something from Donnetta Lee, about old things, old memorites and bones. A coming of age story. A maiden in a midden?
I had asked for a couple of chapters, but this piece by Donnetta is so good, I think Ill run it at some length.
It's untitled, so I'll provionally title it "Strange and Familiar Things in a Freshly- dug cellar.
It was early spring, 1944. The sun warmed the backs of the two men as they labored, sweating, even though the morning was cool. Oklahoma spring was like this: crisp and sunny with the light smell of honey suckle in the air. The cellar should have been completed a long time ago. Mr. Breeze was glad to be finishing it now.
"Jess," Mr. Breeze called to his brother. "Be sure to keep that dirt in one place under that tree." He motioned to a pile under the apple tree behind the house. His younger brother Jess was a good man but sometimes required direction to get things done right. Mr. Breeze didn't mind telling him what to do, and Jess didn't mind being told. Jess wanted to please his older brother since he would have little work without him. Jess lived in a room downtown over the drugstore. He did odd jobs for anybody in need of help and was grateful to get them.
Chloe watched the men from her back bedroom window of the new house. She sat in the middle of the oversized four poster bed, folding clean laundry as her mother had instructed her. She didn't mind folding laundry so much, as long as she could do it this way. It was better than doing some of the other household chores Mama often had in mind for her. It was peaceful in her room, surrounded by her own things. Things that had come from her home in Clinton.
Clinton, Oklahoma, was where she was born. Clinton was where she had been happy; that is, up until three years ago when Daddy died. Daddy was a lot older than Mama. He had become ill following what Mama called a stroke and passed on in his sleep in the hospital where Mama worked as a dietitian.
Everything changed after that. Mama worked longer hours at the hospital. When she was home, she stopped humming as she had done before..
Chloe spent more time in their apartment alone, usually passing the day by playing the upright piano that Daddy bought her. Although the piano lessons stopped after Daddy died, Chloe continued to play. Her piano teacher commented once that she played quite well for a nine year old. Daddy said she played like an angel.
Then, one day, about two years after Daddy died, Mr. Breeze appeared at the front door of the apartment, asking to see Mama. He had met Mama through friends. He was a railroad man, a depot agent, just like Daddy had been. From that time on, there was no looking back at any part of the old life. Things were never the same again.
Mr. Breeze married Mama. Mama was no longer Mrs. Morgan. She was now "Mrs. Breeze." All of this made Chloe really sad. But, for Mama's sake, she tried to smile, to be polite, and accept the life she found herself living. With Daddy gone, it was almost impossible to do.
She found herself, a year after Daddy died, away from Clinton and her friends smack dab in the middle of this family that wasn't her family. Mr. Breeze insisted that they bring the
piano along to the home in Willow. He said it looked nice in the living room and hoped Chloe would play it sometime, but she didn't have the heart to play it anymore. The piano reminded her too much of Daddy.
Chloe folded more clothes. Some of the clothes belonged to Mr. Breeze. Chloe found herself folding his clothes a bit carelessly. She thought he probably wouldn't notice anyway.
She gazed out the window through the lace curtains. Mr. Breeze and Jess worked steadily. The cellar had to be completed quickly before the spring weather had a chance to bring thunderstorms, hail storms, and tornadoes that Oklahoma was known to have.
The men secured the heavy cellar door and its counteracting cement weights. It was tricky, but it looked to Chloe they it neared completion.
"Chloe," Mama called from the kitchen. "Almost done with that laundry?" Her voice was happy
"Yes, Mama." Chloe folded the remaining items neatly and placed them on the very top of the laundry basket.
"Come in here and set the table for lunch when you're done."
The smell of fried okra and fried chicken teased Chloe. She was certain Mama would make mashed potatoes and chicken gravy. Mama might bake angel biscuits today. They were called "angel" biscuits because they were so light they could float. And they really did melt plumb away in your mouth without hardly chewing. Chloe's mouth watered just thinking about them.
The biscuits were one of the few things Chloe liked to eat. Mama made them often in an effort to encourage Chloe to eat more. She sometimes fussed at Chloe saying if she didn't eat more she would "dry up and blow away." Mama said she looked like a sapling tree with spindly arms and legs resembling twigs.
The men come in the back door straight into the kitchen.
"George," Mama scolded, "don't you dare track that red dirt on my clean kitchen floor."
Mr. Breeze said something to Mama to tease her, but he and Jess went back into the yard where the water spigot was in front of the new cellar and knocked the dirt off their boots and washed their hands. They wouldn't risk missing out on one of Mama's home cooked meals.
As the men trod back into the kitchen, Mr. Breeze instructed Chloe, "Be careful of the
things on the table on the porch. Every thing's old and falling apart." He used that voice like a teacher uses, telling her what to do. Daddy never used that voice and she didn't like it much now.
Chloe muttered, "Okay." She wondered what could be so important that it had to be displayed on the table on the porch. The porch was actually a small room added on to the back of the house. It had a twin bed in it, a chair, and a table. Sometimes, when Jess was in town working with Mr. Breeze, he stayed the night out there. Other than that, it was hardly ever used.
Mama served up dinner as everyone took a seat in the dining room. "What all have you put on that table anyway, George?"
Bones," Mr. Breeze grinned a big old toothy grin. He enjoyed teasing Mama, and Chloe wasn't sure how to take that. Her daddy never teased the way Mr. Breeze did.
Mama's eyes widened as she rubbed her hands dry on her cotton apron. "Bones? What kind of bones?"
"I'm not too sure. But I think they're human bones. And there are pieces of an old blanket. Looks to be an Indian blanket of some kind."
Jess filled his plate generously. "You know, Maggie," he added, "I think there are a few animal bones, too. Looks like maybe horse bones to me."
Mama made a face. She didn't like the idea of old bones being inside her house.
"Oh, mercy," she fussed. "What are those bones doing in my house?"
Jess grinned. He knew she was fussing playfully at his brother. "Why, those are special bones, Maggie. Might be real old."
"Special bones?" Mama's voice went up in pitch. "What in the world could be special about a pile of old bones?"
Mr. Breeze opened his napkin and set it across his knees. "I'm gonna send some of those bones off to the college up in Stillwater and see what they think. Meantime, just let 'em be."
The men ate, discussing where those bones might have come from and why they were there. Then, the talk turned back to the cellar and how it would be done by the evening with the weighted door in place, ready for use when a storm blew up.
They finished it just in time.
The wind blew all day long. At first, in the early morning, it started as a warm breeze. Mama hung the clean laundry on the clothesline behind the house early that morning. Good thing, she thought, as it would have been whipped to death later in the day with the wind gaining momentum. Chloe sat on the edge of the new cellar keeping Mama company as she hung out the clothes.
By ten that morning, the laundry dried and Mama took it in the house The wind's force kept growing. By noon, it was hot and stung when it slapped your face.
Off toward the south, the sky had a purple cast to it. It was the sign of an approaching storm. By late afternoon, clouds gathered ominously and a few sprinkles had set in. The wind now came in strong, short gusts and the air grew cooler by the minute. The sky took on a greenish cast as an ominous feeling settled over everything.
Mr. Breeze came home as usual from the depot at four in the afternoon. A strong gust blew him in the front door of the house. He clutched the screen door, locking it behind him as he came in. Laying his wet grey rainjacket on the floor, he wiped the moisture from his face.
"Maggie," he said. "It's blowin' up a big one. Best get ready. Is the lantern in the cellar?"
"Yes and blankets, too." Mama tried to sound matter of fact. Knowing how Chloe was afraid of storms, she didn't want to alarm her any more than need be.
The cellar had been completed for a week. It was clean, dry, and didn't have a musty odor like cellars do when they get old. Chloe hoped it wouldn't be too dark down there if they had to go. Mr. Breeze hoped the walls would be sound and not leak. Mama wanted everyone to be safe.
The house shuddered as the wind was increased in force. Chloe peaked out the living room window, parting the venetian blinds with her fingers. The green sky deepened and black clouds began to swirl in a circular pattern. The air was heavy.
Mama and Mr. Breeze went from one room to other, securing the windows. "Chloe," Mr. Breeze used the teacher's voice again. "Get your rain slicker on. We're going to the cellar."
The heavy rain hurled erratically applauded by great claps of thunder. Lightning lit up the sky in spurts serving as a spotlight showing off the tumultuous sky. Mr. Breeze held the cellar door open while Mama and Chloe ran from the back door of the house. He closed the cellar just as the hail commenced to pelt. The ice balls sounded like stones hitting the tin of the cellar door. Chloe was relieved that they made it safe and sound below.
The cellar was outfitted with a small square table and two chairs, a bench against against the west wall. Mama outfitted it further with a wooden box containing blankets. A kerosene lantern sat on the table as the only source of light with the cellar door closed. It smelled like rain and dirt.
...to be continued (a work in progresss)