Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I've been thinking about endings lately. My middle grade novel RUN!!! will have a surprise at its close. The surprise has to be believable and right in the guts of it--the guts being the story.

A good ending has to pull together all the elements in the story in a satisfying way and end it, if not with a twist, with a punch. It has to be believable. It has to be told in the tone of the story and it has to extend the reader beyond the story--into the future.

Here are a couple of endings which fit those criteria. "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd about a teenage girl from the south fleeing the abusive T. Ray, looking for a mother in the desperate days just before blacks were given the vote.

"This is the autumn of wonders, yet every day, every single day, I go back to that burned afternoon in August when T. Ray left. I go back to that one moment when I stood in the driveway with small rocks and clumps of dirt around my feet and looked back at the porch. And there they were. All these mothers. I have more mothers than any girl off the street. They are the moons shining over me."

"The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro about a butler in a proper English household trying to shed a lifetime of rigidity which has denied him happiness. One of the symbols of this rigidity is his inability to "banter."

"It occurs to me, furthermore, that bantering is hardly an unreasonable duty for an employer to expect a professional to perform. I have of course already devoted much time to developing my bantering skills, but it is possible I have never previously approached the task with quite the commitment I might have done. Perhaps, then, when I return to Darlington Hall tomorrow--Mr. Farraday himself will not be back for a further week--I will begin practicing with renewed effort. I should hope, then, by the time of my employer's return, I shall be in a position to pleasantly surprise him."

Finally, "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte about the doomed love affair between Heathcliff and his beloved Cathy narrated by Heathcliff's tenant, Lockwood.

"My walk home was lengthened by a diversion in the direction of the kirk. When beneath its walls, I perceived decay had made progress, even in seven months--many a windows showed black gaps deprived of glass; and slates jutted off, here and there, beyond the right line of the roof, to be gradually worked off in coming autumn storms.

"I sought, and soon discovered, the three head-stones on the slope next the moor --the middle on grey, and half buried in the heath--Edgar Linton's only harmonized by the turf and moss, creeping up its foot--Heathliff's still bare.

"I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

What are your favorite endings and what makes them good and right?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


OK, guys, this is where it is these days: Glenn, exhausted, Theo on his chest, asleep in a chair. You can get a peak at our new patio out that window. New grandson could be born at any time and Glenn, like a good husband and Daddy, is taking our little dynamo places to try to wear him out and give Wendy a chance to rest.

I know--an overdose of cute. I just wish the picture was better!

We are pretty much finished with the landscaping but, sob, no picture does it justice! At least not yet. I'm still trying but all I'm able to come up with so far is a picture of a fortress and that won't do at all.

Glenn is now back to teaching in the community college. When new grandson, Nicholas, makes his appearance I'll be staying with them at Wild Horse and then I'll be the one asleep in a chair with Theo asleep on top of me!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I have found myself very emotional today as a friend of mine is dying. In doing something very mundane, I came across this poem, which has entered into my soul and given me comfort. May it do the same for others of you who are grieving.

The Blue Rim of Memory by Denise Levertov

The way sorrow enters the bone
is with stabs and hoverings.
From a torn page
a cabriolet
approaches over the crest of a hill,
first the nodding, straining head of the horse
then the blind lamps, peering;

the ladies within the insect eagerly
look from side to side awaiting the vista—
and quick as a knife
are vanished. Who were they? Where is the hill?
Or from stoked fires of nevermore
a warmth constant as breathing hovers out
to surround you, a cloud of mist
becomes rain, becomes cloak, then skin.

The way sorrow enters the bone
is the way fish sink through dense lakes
raising smoke from the depth
and flashing sideways in bevelled
It's the way the snow
drains the light from day but then,
covering boundaries of road and sidewalk,
widens wondering streets
and stains the sky yellow
to glow at midnight.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I get so caught up in my story I think I tend to forget my characters. I recently had one of my 4Corners buddies tell me my chapters were like short stories. They didn't tend to move the story forward which is an absolute no no to a writer.

I have had this criticism before, in fact it's the most frequent criticism I get. I've never really understood the criticism before but I think I finally do. My 4Corners buddy talked about something having to happen in each chapter to move the characters along to their final destination and some hint of the final destination has to be there. Even now I'm a little fuzzy as to how I manage that.

OK. Hypothesis. Let's say your final destination is a whole series of events that end with one of your characters getting arrested. This is my story RUN. There will be a trial. In the 1920's teenage runaways were routinely put into jail and younger siblings returned home. My characters have run from an abusive household and being returned home is not a good option.

The adults who have befriended them, Cecil and the Nuns and the old men from the hotel come to their rescue and spirit Kate and Pearl out of the courthouse. The brother, Ben, sees their plight in a newspaper and has come to the courthouse as well and he is also spirited away, with his friend Abel. There will be a surprise ending and I don't want to give that away but the upshot of that ending will be that Ben will join the girls on their next adventure. He will no longer be in Penn Station. Abel may join them; I'm not sure of that as yet.

How do I move my characters toward that series of events? Perhaps I have the girls see a mysterious stranger in the neighborhood of the hotel. Perhaps they worry about the nephew who remembered some runaways whose father would pay a mint to get them back and, when last seen, was running for the library to look them up.

I think both of these options would work to move the story forward. I think it would make sense for Pearl and Kate to worry about being found and what would happen if they were. The children's father is a lawyer and Kate has seen him in court and undoubtedly knows what would be in store for them if she and Pearl were found.

The key to this is my rendering of character. If I don't get a good hold on my characters the story takes over. I think that's what's happened here. I need to grab hold of my characters and not let go.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Why is it we find the unfamiliar so hard to digest? I didn't think about this too much, frankly, until Kerri, in a recent blog posting, brought up the amazing poem "The Love Life of j alfred prufrock.

I love T. S. Elliot's poetry and I love the aforementioned poem. To death. I mean, I really like it! But did I buy a book of his poetry? No. I don't think I loved that wonderful poem that much, when I first read it.

Why? That's what bothers me.

Which brings me to the poet August Kleinzahler. Can I move beyond the strangeness of his poetry and truly love it? It's not Robert Frost you're reading here. This is hard, city-bred boy speaking. But his poetry lives and breathes.

He recently won the National Book Critic's Circle Award. I find his poetry difficult, but when I read it (and I'll have to read it many times, I'm sure to truly get it) I have the feeling--just beginning, you understand--of being transported and isn't that what reading a good piece of writing is all about--being transported?

The Tartar Swept

The Tartar swept across the plain

In their furs and silk panties

Snub-nosed monkey men with cinders for eyes

Attached to their ponies like centaurs

Forcing the snowy passes of the Carpathians

Streaming from defiles like columns of ants

Arraying their host in a vasty wheel

White, gray, black and chestnut steeds

10,000 each to a quadrant

Turning, turning at the Jenuye's command

This terrible pinwheel

Gathering speed like a Bulgar dance

Faster and faster

Until it explodes, columns of horsemen

Peeling away in all the four directions

Hard across the puszta

Dust from their hooves darkening the sky

They fall upon village and town

Like raptors, like tigers, like wolves on the fold

Mauling the sza-szas

And leaving them senseless in puddles of goaty drool

Smashing balalaikas

Ripping the ears off hussars and pissing in the wounds

They for whom the back of a horse

Is their only country

For whom a roof and four walls is like unto a grave

And a city, ptuh, a city

A pullulating sore that exists to be scourged

Stinky dumb nomads with blood still caked

On shield and cuirass

And the yellow loess from the dunes of the Takla Makan

And the Corridor of Kansu

Between their toes and caught in their scalps

Like storm clouds in the distance

Fast approaching

With news of the steppes, the lagoons and Bitter Lakes

Edicts, torchings, infestation

The smoke of chronicles

Finding their way by the upper reaches

Of the Selinga and the Irtysh

To Issyk-Kul, the Aral, and then the Caspian

Vanquishing the Bashkirs and Alans

By their speed outstripping rumor

Tireless mounts, short-legged and strong

From whose backs arrows are expertly dispatched

As fast as they can be pulled from the quiver

Samarkand, Bukhara, Harat, Nishapur

More violent in every destruction

This race of men which had never before been seen

With their roving fierceness

Scarcely known to ancient documents

From beyond the edge of Scythia

From beyond the frozen ocean

Pouring out of the Caucasus

Surpassing every extreme of ferocity

From the Don to the Dniester

The Black Sea to the Pripet Marshes

Laying waste the Ostrogoth villages

Taking with them every last cookie

Then dicking the help

These wanton boys of nature

Who shot forward like a bolt from on high

Routing with great slaughter

All that they could come to grips with

In their wild career

Their beautiful shifting formations

Thousands advancing at the wave of a scarf

Then doubling back or making a turn

With their diabolical sallies and feints

Remorseless and in poor humor

So they arrived at the gates of Christendom

From The Strange Hours Travelers Keep, by August Kleinzahler
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