Sunday, May 19, 2013

Synopsis of One Writer's Life

Warning: This is a long posting. You may want to bypass it until you have a cup of tea and a scone in hand for leisurely reading!!!
         After leaving the convent on Christmas Eve 1966 at age 30, I collapsed in my parents’ home and simply stared into space. The next year, because of a friend’s graciousness, I was offered work as an editor at a Dayton, Ohio, publishing house that produced Catholic weekly readers called “messengers.” I worked as the religion editor for My Little Messenger, a publication for first and second graders.         
         For the next seventeen years I taught briefly in Dayton and in Claremont, New Hampshire, and studied for a master’s degree. The rest of the time I worked as an editor and writer, first for Pflaum in Dayton and then for Winston Press in Minneapolis.
         Beginning in 1973, I worked myself up from editor, to co-director of the Winston trade department, to director of its curriculum department. By 1984, I was working fourteen hour days: eight at the office and six each evening at home. Exhaustion finally took its toll, and in mid-July of 1984, I resigned from my position to become a freelance line editor, copy editor, and curriculum developer.
         I freelanced until my retirement in 2001. During those seventeen years, I completed projects for a number of Catholic publishers as well as small presses throughout the United States. I also began teaching professional editing in evening and Saturday classes at the University of Minnesota, the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, and Metropolitan University.
         During those seventeen freelance years, I set an hour aside each morning for my own creative writing. I’d begun writing, as all of us probably do, in grade school. The Sisters of Mercy taught me the basics and I became enamored of words and their power to paint pictures.
         In college, my mentor became Sister Scholastica—a Benedictine. She encouraged me to let my imagination soar, and I wrote short stories, fantasies, essays, and poetry before entering the convent in June 1958. However, for the next eight and a half years, the convent offered no time for writing and I lost any interest I had in expressing myself with words.
         That continued until I became a freelancer in 1984—so for twenty-six years I did no writing of my own stories. Then, when I became a freelancer, I suddenly got the idea for a romance. As I’ve posted before, I wrote two romances and they were “duds.” But when Dulcy, the cat with whom I’d lived for seventeen and a half years, died in 1989, she gave me the story of our life together and I began to write again. 

Dulcy and me. 
         For the past twenty-nine years, I began one thing after another, but that demon of perfectionism has kept me from completing much of anything—the words just never seemed to be anything more than mundane.
         And yet, as I sit here today I realize that I have finished a few things and I’m eager to work on others. Here’s what I’ve complete in final draft—edited and polished. The first three listings have been published.
·      A Cat’s Life (Dulcy’s memoir)
·      A Cat’s Legacy (Dulcy’s gift of twelve habits of highly successful cats)
·      Twenty children’s books for Capstone Press under the name Dee Ready and the pseudonym Anna O’Mara.
·      The Gift of Bastet Net (Book 1 of the Great God of Cats fantasy series)
·      The Reluctant Spy (a novel that takes place in first-century Palestine)
·      A Multitude of Angels (the text for a series of photographs by Judy King who did the art for Dulcy’s memoir and who is doing the art for The Gift of Bastet Net)
One of the sketches for The Gift of Bastet Net.
And here is the additional writing I’ve done, but not completed, during the past twenty-four years:
·      A first draft for the novel Winter Tapestry, about four ex-nuns.
·      A first draft of Three Roads Diverged. This is Book 1 of a trilogy I plan that takes place in Bronze-Age Greece.
·      Half of Book 2 of the Great God of Cats fantasy series—Warriors of Bastet-Net.
·      Half of Book 3 of the Great God of Cats fantasy series—Prayers to Bastet-Net.
·      Drafts for two picture books for children.
·      Several chapters for a memoir by the four cats with whom I lived after Dulcy died.
·      Two romances.
·      More than 200 postings that will become part of a single memoir or of a trilogy of memoires: early life, convent, post convent.
         So, on this day, when I woke up and felt a little down. A little blue. A little annoyed with myself for being so lazy and for getting so little done. On this day . . . I’m realizing that I have been true to the longing I have to write. Thank you for all the encouragement you’ve given me through the past months. No one could ask for better and more helpful support. Peace.

PS: Mount Saint Scholastica, the convent I joined, is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year. The nuns there have invited all of us who left the convent to come back for a celebration this coming weekend. I’m eager to go and to meet friends I haven’t seen in 47 years. Given this, I won’t be posting here next Sunday.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Novel about Four Ex-Nuns

For the past two days I’ve been stymied about what to write for today’s posting. Then this morning, as I sat at the computer, organizing my array of blogs as bookmarks, an idea came: Why not share something about my manuscript for a novel about four ex-nuns?
         An old adage is to “write what you know.” And I do know something about nuns and ex-nuns. Also, I know something about the thought process that can lead to suicide because in the 1970s I’d struggled with those thoughts.
         The story developed from my wanting to explore what a suicide does to the family and friends left bereft and angered by the self-inflicted death of a loved one. As the main characters, I envisioned four ex-nuns, the mother of one of them, and a priest.

         Why ex-nuns?
          Because most people expect them to be women of deep faith.
         But what if the suicide of a beloved adult child of one of them tests that faith? What will moor them? How will the death affect their relationships? Who else, beyond the four of them, will be affected by death and by the changes within these women and their history with one another?
         I began working on this manuscript in the late 1980s, after I became a freelance line editor, copy editor, and curriculum developer. In 1984, at the age of forty-eight, I’d resigned from a well-paying and demanding position as the manager of the curriculum department at Winston Press. One of the reasons for my resignation was that I wanted time to write my own manuscripts.
         My freelance days were full-time busy with projects and with teaching evening courses on professional editing at several different junior colleges and universities in the metropolitan area of the Twin Cities. Nevertheless, each morning after breakfast, I’d enter my home office and write creatively for an hour. That led to two romances that never saw publication because, after all, what did I know of romance?

         Then the idea for the ex-nun story came to me. I wrote the first draft in a year, but laid it aside because the writing seemed uninspired. However, the manuscript taught me a great deal about writing. Its most important lesson was to let characters take hold of a story and direct it to its end.
         I hadn’t known that could happen until one morning when I came, unwillingly, to my Apple computer to write a new chapter with a new voice. Each chapter of the draft was in the voice of one of the ex-nuns. Three of them had already moved the story forward, but the fourth—Ruth—had been given no chapters of her own. The truth was that I’d developed an antipathy toward her because of what the other characters had said about her.
         Here's what happened that day:
         Reluctantly, I began Ruth’s chapter with her arrival at the protagonist’s home. An awkward conversation ensued between them. Ruth started to say something, and I suddenly realized what she was going to reveal. Her whole background—the story of a childhood tyrannized by abuse—flooded my mind.
         I heard myself say, out loud, “Ruth, you’re not going to tell her that are you? Please, Ruth, you’ll be hurt!”
         I began to cry at the pain and agony Ruth had endured. Tears trickled down my face and fell on my clenched hands.
         I felt the overwhelming disappointment of her life—a life that explained her barbed replies to those who tried to get too close to her.
         Then Ruth’s resolve coursed through me.
         I lifted my hands to the keyboard, and her story unfolded with its own grace and graciousness.
         My tears accompanied it.
         When Ruth ended her story, she, too, cried.
         And I?
         I embraced her. 
        Truly, to understand all is to forgive all. 
        From then on I counted Ruth as an aspect of myself that I now understood and loved.
         Writing, as you can see, is healing.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Novel, Cat Fantasy, and Letter

Hello All, on this rainy Sunday here in the Midwest. The two-year drought has ended with waterlogged soil. Forecasters predict two sunny days this week, so while farmers plow, I’ll weed the shrub garden. Before doing that, however, I’d like to share three things about my writing life.
         In March, I read the draft of the Bronze-Age Greece manuscript Three Roads Diverged, which I began to write back in 1994 after a three-week trip to Greece, financed by my earning from A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. This draft used up nearly 70, 000 words and yet represented only a third of the story.  Given that, a completed first draft might comprise 210,000 words. That’s twice as long as most presses want to publish for a first-time novelist.            
        Considering that, I’ve decided to write three shorter books. By this time next year, I hope to have completed the ending to Book 1 and to have edited, rewritten, and polished it.  

A 1996 photograph of my cousin Mary Ann (right)
and myself by the flower garden
behind my home in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Note the T-shirt I’m wearing.

I’ve completed Book 1 of a cat-fantasy trilogy and have half of both Book 2 and Book 3 done. Fortunately, Judy King—the gifted artist who captured Dulcy’s sweetness in A Cat’s Life—had the time to do the art for Book 1. Each of the seventeen pencil sketches she sent me yesterday displays her creative wit. And the cover she’s designed is as inviting as the one she did for A Cat’s Life.
Last week, Judy Healey, the twice-published historical novelist and friend who is reading The Reluctant Spy, sent me an e-mail that made my day. As I’ve explained before, I started the Palestine novel thirteen years ago and Judy read an early draft. After reading the first few chapters of the present draft, here’s what she had to say:

 At long last I'm reading your book...about 40 pages in.
          It is very engaging and I'm hooked. It is slow going because I am making notes on pages . . . all pretty minor stuff. But the writing is very good and I think the book has improved 100% from an earlier version I read some years ago.
          I'm going to do the first 100 pages and mail them to you. At the end I'll also have a short memo on overview stuff. . . . It will be into next week when I mail the first set. But congratulations.
          We can talk publishing strategies later. Love, Judy

You can appreciate why I’m pleased. Judy is an accomplished historical novelist. If she sees some worth to this draft then I’m content that I’m growing as a writer. That doesn’t mean of course that any agent will want to represent it or any publisher publish it. However, the fact that Judy praises it helps me know that my writing does have some merit.
For most of my adult life, I’ve considered myself a hack. My writing seemed so prosaic next to the writers I read. To my surprise, many of you have complimented my writing as seen in my on-line memoir blog. So because of you, I’ve stopped comparing myself to the fine writers I read and simply accepted that I am a storyteller and that my stories speak to others. I thank you all for this gift you’ve given me. Peace.