I finished the manuscript on Friday!
Now for six or seven deep edits, pen in hand...
I have some lovely days ahead of me. Now to the porch, with pen, pipe & pages...
"-And this?” I stroked the arrowhead she wore on her finger. Smooth as ice, instantly warm to my touch. She sank back against the tree, holding my hand.
(O heavenly softness of girls! Their necks sweet as candle wax—their weeping hair—!)
“Once,” she said, “a long time ago, there were two women. One white and one black, like the two sides of a chess board, but they were lovers. They lived a lie, a charade of master and slave. But when they were alone, it was the white who was slave and the black who was queen. They loved so deeply that their love created a wild and separate thing: a child who existed only in dreams.
And in their dreams the women would go to the child, and care for it. And the child grew strong. But the white woman began to wonder. Could such a child be truly real? She began to talk of it, in their waking hours, with her lover. Her lover, who better understood such things, warned her never to speak of it. To never speak of their blessings lest the gods overheard, and became envious. But the white woman was obsessed, she had to know. One night, she brought a knife with her into dreams, to see if the child would bleed—”
“Always with the knives, your stories.”
“Hush. So she pricked their child, and it did bleed. Skeins of blood rained down around them. The heaven of their love fell to earth, and the baby with it. This is the last of her. This was her heart. The heart of a love that was darker than onyx.”
“Their love couldn’t survive the world?”
“Their love couldn’t survive her uncertainty. She needed to believe, but ultimately, she couldn’t. So she killed it.”
“People really kill what they don’t understand.”
“People kill what frightens them. Ideas, lovers. Or they try to. But I think the essence of a thing matters more than the thing itself. Things can’t ever be truly, finally real. Because things can be disassembled, consumed. But an essence is eternal.”
“So somewhere they love each other still, is that what you mean?”
“If their love was real.” Ada looked thoughtfully up at the tree. “Ask me something else.” The air was violet against her neck, making shadows beneath her lips, her eyes. Her fur coat rustling, like late summer hay, golden in its last days before winter reaps all harvest. I felt the chill humans have felt since the beginning of time. Perhaps winter won’t come. Perhaps these days will go on forever...
But the prickling air answered, wrapping its chill around my heart.
But your winter will come.
I squeezed Ada’s hand. It was slippery, cooler now— or else mine was— and frantically said, “This one, tell me this one.” The bracelet was silver, so delicately made it appeared to be woven, of cold flowers, of bones and claws.
“In another part of this world, there was a girl who fell in love with a wolf. The wolf was bigger than a man, with hair the color of honey.
Ooo, I neglect this blog! I really don't have the blogging temperament at all....
Anyway- the above passage is from a section where Ada has begun to realize her powers, and she has a dalliance with a friend who isn't at all what she seems...
I realized the other day that I've reached 53,438 words. My goal is to round things off at about 66,000, so I'm close. Close-ish. And it wasn't that long ago that I deleted roughly 100 pages... so it's early to count chickens.
I recently finished Joyce Carol Oates' masterful Bellefleur- which would have been even better if she'd nixed a couple chapters in the middle, when the book sags just a tiny bit.
Not much new. It's been cold, great for writing. My new favorite spots are City Lights and Twenty Six Divine. We visited Savannah & Nashville.
Savannah: a little gritty, full of art and booze. Gorgeous. We met up with dear friends from Tucson who were staying nearby, visiting family.
Nashville was fantastic. Andrew's beloved childhood buddy, John, got us a great deal on our flights. We all stayed in a hotel within walking distance of downtown- we ate at Monell's famous family style chicken mansion, checked out some honky-tonks. A happy whirlwind.
Earlier this week had an awesome photoshoot with the darling Mariah Channing, restaging an Old Masters painting. Super fun, as always. I'll keep you posted.
I think the rest of today is going to be a writing in Magnolia Cemetary kind of day. Off with me.
James Brendan Williams' show opens at Redux tomorrow evening- wine, music, artists in the wild. It'll be fun, and you should come.
In other news, here's a little excerpt...
“Don’t scream,” it said. It was an enormous animal, with palms softer than a man’s. They lay face to face, their bodies touching under the quilt.
His breath was sweet and pleasantly dusty, like hay, and Ada was not afraid.
“Smart girl,” the wolf said, stretching out comfortably “We can have a conversation if you don’t scream. After all, it’s only a dream.” His eyes were like velvet buttons. “And what is at stake in a dream?”
I've been working on a section where Ada is lost, almost at bottom, and turns to Patrick for comfort. Bumped into the perfect song. I can't turn off the album, either: The National: Trouble Will Find Me.
"A young artist opens a door between the land of the living and the dead. As Ada walks the divide, she falls in love with a dead man and becomes tangled into a Southern blood cult of lies and erotic ritual..."
The updated logline for my work-in-progress.
I'm in New Orleans through the weekend, visiting my dear buddy. Drinking juice outside a cafe on Magazine Street, stitching words into pages. A perfect October afternoon: sunny, and sharpened with caffeine.
Thank you, Hey Cafe, for reminding me of my favorite old coffee haunt in Tucson, where I wrote much of Astra!
Interviewed a lovely new jazz artist in Charleston earlier this week, at one of the most sincere and super cozy coffeehouses I've ever been in. Distillation (of interview) coming soon.
“I’ll help.” Jo curled after her, like a snake grasping through tree branches. “Patrick?”
“I’m all yours,” he said.
Remember the post On Writing: Descriptions? I've been working on describing characters by their gestures, and one of the descriptions I came up with for that post was:
"She was a curled woman, everything about her sinuous and unwinding. Standing near her you always felt a little as though she might wrap around you, like a vine or a constricting snake..."
It's good to continue to free write even when you're working on a larger piece. I didn't do this when I was writing Astra. Wish I had! Since it hasn't been formally released yet, I'll have a chance to do another pass over it for Stu after finishing up the initial draft of this novel.
Anyway, a little more on Jo, a member of the cabal that befriends Mary:
"...a slight woman with fluffy dark hair. The woman had a sympathetic, fading prettiness. Her nose was a perfectly burnished fin between large, spaniel-like eyes that had just begun to droop with age, and her harmless face, now puffy from wine, was pale as a bee sting."
I haven't been posting lately because the work lately has too explicit to share here. Suffice to say- dude, I am packing some heat into this little ol' Southern Gothic.
The writing's still going pretty well, although more slowly than I'd like, at least these past couple days. It's interesting how that works- one or two weeks 'on', and then one or two weeks 'off'. I was on a long walk this evening, looking for new cubbies to write in around town. Tomorrow morning I'll shake things up and see what that does for the day's work.
Meanwhile. Here's a pretty thing.
"In her bedroom Ada dressed slowly, with ritual care, her skin buzzing as though the walls watched. She liked her room. The walls smelled like vanilla and old books in the sun. But when it rained, the house became strange and dark, as though it kept a secret. The oaks and magnolias unfurling alongside the house seemed to claw towards it like a nightmare row of hands.
The day was warm, though; the wooden boards had not forgotten their months of wildness and were no longer asleep. Under the touch of birds and sneaking rain, their surface had faded as pale as a fawn's..."
(the house was abandoned after a grisly incident, hence the months of wildness)
The more otherworldly your writing, the more important it is for you to ground your words with concrete images: walls, books, trees, floorboards.
Close your eyes and imagine your page as if it were a scene in a movie; what do you see?
What would you feel if you were there?
Smells, sensations, emotions... just a little bit of symbolism and foreshadowing... if you work this stuff into every scene, your story will feel like a world unto itself.
Try to hit every sense on every page if you can.
"Ada's dreams smelled like fire. They floated away like Chinese paper lanterns if she didn't write them down. She had to trap them with a pen. That was how it started. Not a journal, exactly, but a deck of index cards, scribbled over with encounters..."
I've been getting up before the sun lately. It's a different world when almost everyone else is still asleep. And words are different, too, closer to dreams. A good time for pages.
Pauline West's first novel, EVENING’S LAND, is winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award and recipient of the Carol Marie Smith Memorial Scholarship for the NOEPE Center of Literary Arts.
Pauline West's books on Goodreads
Candlemoth: A Holy City Romance
ratings: 27 (avg rating 4.04)
ratings: 24 (avg rating 3.46)
Candlemoth Volume 2: How To Spend It
ratings: 10 (avg rating 4.40)
Candlemoth Book 3: A Twist of Fate
ratings: 6 (avg rating 4.17)
Stalker: A Gothic Thriller
ratings: 4 (avg rating 4.25)