I decided on a title for my second novel, the story of a British officer of World War I with amnesia who returns to England to face an aristocratic life he can’t remember and the Romani wife he doesn’t know. I decided to call it AFTER THE BELLS. Bells of victory, you know, bells.
And now I have this stuck in my head:
But the bells we generally associate with June are wedding bells. My parents would have been married 70 years this year. My father was going to college on the G.I. Bill when they met. They set up housekeeping in a house he had built for her, a classic little just-like-the-neighbors bungalow, and they proceeded to have five children, just like the neighbors.
My father had a girlfriend before the war. She wrote him every day. He received her letters, usually more than one at a time, during calm interludes between horrific storms. After the war, he couldn’t bring himself to see her because he associated her with his terrible combat experiences.
Before World War I, she could have sued him for breach of promise. An engagement was a serious contract in those days, a delicate dance of etiquette performed to conceal the nitty-gritty negotiations going on behind the scenes. When the suitor asked her father for her hand in marriage, he was talking about money, or status, or some other quantifiable thing. Even for the Edwardians, romance was a nice extra.
Like so much else, those conventions were blown out the door by the war. Nobody wanted to wait six months to get married — in six months, the groom might well be dead. Many young men popped the question, said, “I do,” and had at least one night of honeymoon all during one leave. Who knew when he’d have leave again? Who knew whether he would come back? At least she’d have a soldier’s pay, and there might be a baby, the ultimate reminder that life goes forward even if we don’t.
But no matter how practical their thinking, they still got dreamy! The British newspaper the Telegraph reported in 2013 the results of a study by Genes Reunited, a family history website, that reviewed contemporaneous news reports related to romance and marriage, including the trend of courtships carried out via the mail and resulting in weddings of complete strangers.
I’m still reading poetry from WWI, specifically from the poets who died in the fighting. Among them is Wilfred Owen, probably now the most-read of the war poets. He wrote about the horrors of the trenches and the futility of the war. He was killed Nov. 4, 1918, just seven days before the Armistice that ended the war. He was 25.
I’ve read and read aloud … and realized from the docudrama “Anthem for Doomed Youth: The War Poets” (Britbox) that there’s a huge difference between my little voice and a man’s bigger, deeper voice.
Here is “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen, though his more popular work is “Dulce Et Decorum Est.” This is my favorite line from “Anthem.”
I worked on TIN SOLDIERS for two hours the other night. If an agent asks for a full manuscript, I can send near-perfection. Although, I always have it in the far back of my mind, and when it’s published, I might be seen rushing after buyers in a bookstore, shouting, “I just want to make a little change on page 147!”
In the interest of finding a title for my Romani novel, I have been reading WWI poets. The book I began with was a collection of works from the soldier poets who were killed in the fighting. You would think none of them had ever lived in a city, the way they go on about sheep on the hill and thrush in the hedges, but those represented England to them, and everyone on the battlefields was homesick, and living in horror.
My favorite is Lt. Ewart Alan Mackintosh M.C. (The Military Cross is equal to the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Cross.) He served in the 4th and 5th battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders. He wrote a parody of the comic song “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers” that goes “Sniper Sandy’s slaying Saxon soldiers.”
He also wrote the poem “In Memoriam: Pvt. D. Sutherland Killed in Action in the German Trench May 16th 1916 and the Others who Died.” Here’s part of it.
Oh, never will I forget you, / My men that trusted me, / More my sons than your fathers’, / For they could only see / The little helpless babies / And the young men in their pride. / They could not see you dying / And hold you while you died.
Happy and young and gallant / They saw their first born go, / But not the strong limbs broken / And the beautiful men brought low, / The piteous writhing bodies, / They screamed, “Don’t leave me, Sir,” / For they were only your fathers / But I was your officer.
My hero did something that completely astonished me. How could he?!? How do we writers think these things up, these bits of story that seem to come out of nowhere? Is it just our subconciouses at work, or is there some font of imagination that we tap into?
However, it happens, it happened to me, and now I have to deal with the consequences. What comes next, what, what?
I am trying that technique where you write down a question — “What happens between this event and the next? What fills that gap?” You write the question on paper: tactile sense, visual sense. You read it aloud: visual sense, auditory sense. I suppose you could lick the paper or smell the ink, but that seems kind of silly. Read it to other people, type it on your keyboard. Read it aloud to yourself just before you go to bed. And when you wake up, you have the answer.
The new project, which bears the unfortunate name of that Gypsy thing, is going well. I’m at the stage where research is so much fun, it takes over my writing time. I have no idea where this story is going, or even what it’s about, but I keep writing, one scene at a time, and trusting that the answers will come organically and any meaning I try to force on it now will only distort the work.
I’m keeping a chart: date, scene(s), word count, time of writing, and how I feel. So far, my predominant feeling is “What is this about?” and my hot time of day is late afternoon, during what I have always thought of as the dead time. 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. is the dead time. If you don’t get something going, you will sit in a meaningless state for two hours that can linger into the evening. It’s the loneliest time of day. Maybe it goes back to Marion — I can remember feeling this way when I was 6 — and the time between getting home from school and supper, when I was waiting for my daddy to come home from work.
We always had supper at 6 p.m., always. After I left for college, I would look at the clock at 6 and feel so homesick. I was lonely after I left home, even when I lived in the sorority house. No one was ever around during the dead time there.
I miss my mother.
Photo: I don’t think this guy needs to do any research. National Library of Scotland.
Maureen has a new group going that is supposed to trigger imagination and help the writer begin a new project. I am so stuck, it isn’t even funny. I have three choices:
The story Mike and I worked on while lying on inflatable mattresses in Traverse Bay, about the girl who lives at a lifesaving station in 1911 and gets involved with spies, including a British intelligence agent disguised as a Russian countess. It would require a lot of research and possibly a road trip.
The novel I wrote about Esther and Carol and me, about their search for love and my efforts to stop Alix from getting married. It was supposed to be comical. I remember parts of it as being funny. That’s the query I sent to Ms. Snark. She wrote back, pointing out that there was nothing at stake. What would happen if my characters didn’t get what they wanted? Good question.
The novel I wrote in high school about Gypsies and a soldier just returning from World War I to his home on a horse farm in Ohio. I know nothing about horse farms. That one was mostly about sex. Thrilling when you’re 15, less so when you grow up.
I feel left out. Everyone else is scribbling away with their new ideas, and there I sit trying every technique Maureen suggests to spark imagination. Clustering. Asking the Universe for help, or whatever it is when you write down your question, go to bed and wake up with an answer, messing around with index cards. I got nothing.
Too bad I already wrote a memoir. I used myself up.
My mother has a brain tumor. She can no longer open her eyes or swallow easily, and she has trouble talking so that she can easily be understood. She’s in hospice care. It’s breaking my heart.
A west-side family suffered a night of near-tragedy Saturday when their daughter fell ill and doctors feared for her life.
The drama began when Little Cinderella could be not awakened, despite it being Pancake Day and the pancakes being chocolate chip. Her mother, Queen Elsa, took the child to see Dr. Barbie, who performed a complete checkup and pronounced the girl to be healthy. However, Barbie was called to Little Cinderella’s side after the child returned home. Barbie had her admitted to Hayloft in the Playskool Barn Hospital, where she was attended by Nurse Olaf.
After being discharged, she was admitted twice more before the night was over. She was treated with new medicine from Mexico in the shape of greenery from a train set and had open-heart surgery, during which a broken piece of her heart was replaced with a good piece.
At lat Little Cinderella recovered in time to celebrated her birthday with her relieved family. She marked the occasion by eating chocolate cake and rolling in the buttercream.
Have you guessed yet that Nana was babysitting? As well as directing the health care drama, I guessed that Prince Wednesday in her Daniel Tiger book would be appearing in the Halloween Parade dressed as spinach (no), a rabbit (no), or a clump of mud, the funnest thing I have ever said in her life of three years.
She’s a cutie.
Bad night last night, but I feel fine now. I’m going to the gym later — that should help. I had hoped to start Chapter 2. I just need a first sentence…
This coming weekend, my children will celebrate their 36th birthday. Where have all those years gone? I wish Mike were here. It’s always hardest on holidays. He’s been gone seven years now.
Buster continues to cause trouble, although Alix did follow my suggestion and rearrange the living room to make it more inclusive. He spent my babysitting night playing video games with his friends. If he played alone, I would worry more, but he is interacting with his pals. There was no fighting — at least, none that I had to witness — Saturday night.
I begged off my little job today, because of my lack of sleep, and then overslept, which is the reason I got the job in the first place. I need more working out! And more reasons to haul my butt out of bed. I dreamed I was wearing leggings, but could’t figure out what top to wear.
The dog needs to go to the groomer, as do I. I’m getting my hair done Wednesday, thank God.
Yesterday I ate a blueberry muffin, some popcorn (a lot of popcorn) and some tomato soup. Campbell’s Slow Kettle Tomato and Sweet Basil Bisque. I love that stuff. I don’t know what was up with that eating, though. I did drink a lot of water.
Also yesterday, I met with my trainer. We discussed my terrible shoulder, then did a lot of lower body-core work. I can do a lot of things I would never have tried. including Downward Dog and then you raise one leg behind you — I’m sure there’s a name for this in yoga, but I don’t know any yoga names beyond Dog and Lotus. We did some yoga stretching, too. It felt pretty good, and again, I was surprised I could do it. I underestimate my strength and flexibility, especially my flexibility. We are also working on balance, to prevent, I hope, my little habit of keeling over. I rarely hurt myself, but’s unnerving.
Wednesday I spent hours at my “job” writing the foreword Our Founding Director posts on the website each month. Obviously, she doesn’t do the actual posting — that’s what students are for! — and she doesn’t write the Words from Our Founding Director posts, either (I did not write this one for March). I put words into her mouth for May, June, July and August, and fixed April up a little. It was fun, although it was so quiet in that room that I thought crunching my salad must sound like machine gun fire. I said so, breaking the apparent no-talking rule. Everyone laughed. They were probably astonished that I could be amusing. I otherwise have all the personality of recessed lighting. It’s a weird place to work, but it was fun to do all that writing.
And speaking of writing, I FINISHED CHAPTER 1! I wrote about 15 pages on Tuesday. There’s so much more to the story now. It’s deeper, not moving faster. I got her to her big decision, to run off pretending to be her dead sister. Chap. 2 starts, in a little while here, I hope, with her getting to the train. I think the train ride will take a lot longer than it did in the first draft. I know more, and I just can see how to up the tension in several layers at once.
I think it’s better, but can’t really tell. Maybe it will just be a bigger flop than before. It’s hard for me to make things sufficiently creepy, but maybe that’s because I haven’t really tried to imagine finding yourself face to face with someone who has no face.
Whoops, I just got distracted by considering where Emmy and the other VADs and nurses live and how she could hear the ambulances so clearly. It’s hard to sleep, can be hard to sleep, when I’m writing. I get started planning a scene, then I act it out in my head, then it won’t let me alone for another hour.
Yesterday I spent the day at HIGH (Helping Individuals Go Higher), a program at Wayne State founded to help homeless college students. The office is in an incredible mansion, beautiful woodwork and a grand staircase. At first I was OK, even though I had to watch umpteen videos about making videos. I got signed up to follow most of the program’s social media platforms, except Instagram. I got bored when I got to Instagram. Then a little chica led me around the office demonstrating the copier, the laminator, the binder (but not the coffee machine, which would have been helpful) and gave me a scolding because I declined to be checked out on the various cameras. She said, very seriously, that if the official videographer weren’t in the office and something came up, I might be sent to make a video.
Maybe if the zombie apocalypse came — no, I’d be too busy running away. But she was cute.
Anyway, after that I started to hate the job. I knew that would happen: I’ve hated and wanted to go home from every job I’ve ever started. Probably going back to my Burger King experience. There’s always a point during the day when I want to leave.
Then in the afternoon I was asked to check one of the students’ writing. I felt like myself again. Constant mistakes. I actually had to stop and ask her what one word meant. (She was trying to write “co-align,” which I don’t think is a word.) I did a lot of work on two pieces of writing and could have done a lot more. I don’t know, was I meant to rewrite the entire thing? I opted not to.
None of the social media posts were recent. Maybe they use Instagram for most of their posting, because there isn’t much anywhere else, not even the blog. I wonder what the kids are doing. It’s important for the program to spread its news as far as possible. I’ll look into it a little more tomorrow.
It’s what I wanted: a nice office where I can wear my office clothes and never work nights, weekends or holidays. I work 9-5, which means rush hour, but you be patient (and pee before you leave). I JUST WISH THEY WERE PAYING ME!!!
This is not the job I want.
Today I had a guy come and finish the bookshelves. It turns out that Buster and I could never have finished them ourselves. They had to be glued and hammered together. Anyway, now I can clean up some of the piles of books that are presently on the floor and the dining room chairs. The living room should look positively airy without all these books.
My writing group meets tonight, my Meetup group. I submitted the first half of “Wendy.” The first comment I got came from a guy who didn’t understand the structure or the setting and suggested that the story come with an explanation in the form of an introduction. Thanks, dude, but it has to stand or fall on its own. And you just didn’t get it. Hopefully someone else will. They are all very bad writers, but that doesn’t meant they won’t be helpful critiquers.
I sort of wish I weren’t going there.
Next week I start working out with my new trainers Tues. and Thurs. So, that makes four days I have a reason to get out of bed. On Fridays, I will have to make up something. Buster was coming here every two weekends. We agreed that once a month would be good enough, but that means another Sat.-Sun. I have to find something to do. I will miss him terribly. Last Sunday I wrote seven pages of “Tin Soldiers.” I sent my critique group — the good one — the original 2-1/2 pages of what, apparently, was a second draft. I don’t remember writing a second draft. I think I should print out the entire version I gave to the novel seminar I went to, the one where my poor novel was shredded. And deservedly so, which is why it hurts so much.
The central questions remain: Why does Emmy run off? That’s obvious to me. She has nowhere else to go. She can stay and be a servant at her present landlady’s, or she can go into the convent and take the veil. Why does she pretend to be Edwina? Because she’s not old enough to go to be a VAD as herself. WHY DOES SHE WANT TO BE A VAD??
And what hospital does she go to? That $150 book I ordered got canceled. Turns out they didn’t have it in stock… The things are rare as hen’s teeth, so they just plain sold the single copy they ever laid their hands on. I can get one for $300 — do I dare? Is this novel worth that amount of money? If I don’t get a job, I will be living on a dime. No money for tickets, no money to travel. Right now I have that money, though I would be smarter to save all the extra. I am saving some. But I want this book very badly.
If only I could find a job. I’m hoping that I make enough of an impression on the president’s wife who founded HIGH that she will find me a campus job… Well, it could happen! Meanwhile, the ineffectual hunt goes on. When I get back from Roanoke, I will throw myself into the hunt more vigorously, and maybe I will even dare to try for a copy writing job. Go to Kelly Services. Anywhere.
I read the first three pages of “Tin Soldiers” to my critique group last night and got raves! I was so excited and proud. It’s a completely different beginning from the first draft — instead of being told that her sister has drowned, Emmy jumps into the river and tries to save her. There was a little choreography that puzzled everybody, but I’ll try to fix it. Otherwise, I got lots of positive feedback, and I’m very happy.
One negative thing: I missed brunch with my best friend Esther, because I couldn’t wake up. I got up at 12:30, in time to go to the gym (where I found that my new trainer was absent). I do get to see Esther on Saturday, so all is not lost.
I wish I didn’t have to sleep so much. I try to time my night meds to put me to sleep at a decent hour and wear off at a decent hour, but that’s not how it works out sometimes. I hate being a person who needs so much sleep.
Right now I need to eat, but that’s another story. I actually threw away some chocolate. It didn’t taste that good and I knew I would eat it, anyway, and be disappointed, so I just pitched it. I have never done such a thing before: I have enough chocolate in the house to withstand a nuclear winter, but I could never have imagined that I would discard any of it. I’m actually sort of proud of myself. I’m trying to clear the house of things someone else would want and I never use. I’m following the Tidying Up rules: If it doesn’t give you joy, get rid of it. If it does give you joy, keep it no matter what it is. I threw away half my clothes when I first read “The Life-Changing Magic.” After clothes comes books, and I have plenty I could get rid of, but where? My library doesn’t want them. The last time I gave them any, they were very rude. I actually didn’t set foot in the place for YEARS, not till I got outsourced and needed someplace bright to go. Someplace where I wouldn’t spend money — I could sit for hours in a coffeehouse.
Anyway, I discovered that some of the books I’ve saved for years because I love the authors are books I don’t really want to keep. I wonder what proportion of my library would disappear if I got rid of everything I no longer want… I used to keep a list of what I read at LibraryThing.com, but I fell behind when I started bringing home mysteries — like, every book an author wrote, all in a big stack. I suppose I should enter my books at Goodreads.com, and write little reviews of them so clever that I would build up a following, but I swallow books so fast, that would only annoy me.