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It’s Garbage



My therapist tells me that all things in the history of my scanner brain are bringing me to a confluence.  I’m a 5 on the Enneagram, and that means I’m great at pulling crazy things together and making something new out of it.  Up till now I’ve been mostly gathering.  Maybe I still am.

There have been many times in my life as an artist when I looked at the piece of art I was making and decided it was garbage and consigned it, literally, to the trash heap.

But they weren’t novels.

But there were other times, especially when I was painting oils, that my wonderful painting teacher told me it was okay to blot out that lovely perfect eye that was in the wrong place and paint over it.  She even took the paintbrush from me and painted over that perfect horse’s eye and told me “go again.”

Life is art.  Whoever told you there are no do-overs is totally wrong.

So yesterday, when I felt like the 37,000 words I’d written on my novel were absolute garbage that didn’t even care about, I already knew the answer to that problem:  Just Keep Swimming.  You can’t edit what you haven’t written.  Get to the end of the first draft, then go back and fix all the things that need fixing.  I really was getting discouraged.  I thought the whole project needed to go.

And then, I wrote Murphy into the story.  If I write the sequel to this novel, he will be a main character, but in this story you just get a glimpse of him.  And I love him.  He made me realize that all the other characters thus far are cardboard cutouts next to him, maybe (horrors) even my protagonist.

Here’s a glimpse, in which my intrepid protagonist is hiding in the closet hoping “Billy” doesn’t discover her and her mates:

“Mmn,” Murphy grunted. He never once looked in our direction. “You know, my shift doesn’t start for another six hours. And I beat Green at cards last night and he owes me a flask. Tell ye what, if you’ll go get it from him, I’ll share it with you.”
I heard the man’s bunk creak but I couldn’t see him. “Yeah?”
“Yeh,” Murphy said, reaching out and tapping his empty whiskey bottle. “I’m out, and that’s a thing I can’t stand. But it’s dark and I don’t feel like walking over there.”
There was a short silence. “You never share your whiskey.”
Murphy, whose voice had been soft through all of the conversations I’d heard from him thus far, thundered, “MAYBE I’M FEELIN GENEROUS!”
“Jesus,” the other man muttered. “Fuckin’ crazy Mick.”
Murphy shrugged. “Your choice.”
“Fine,” Billy grumbled. The bunk creaked again and I saw him get up and pull his boots on. Then he headed toward the closet. “Where you goin?” demanded Murphy.
“To get my coat. It’s cold out there.” I heard two other tiny sharp intakes of breath as all three of us in the closet caught ours, quietly.
“Ye fookin pansy,” Murphy muttered. “I’ll get yer damned coat.”
“What the hell have you got in the closet that I’m not supposed to see, Murphy?” I felt Emmanuel’s big hand clamp down on my arm and I felt him brace to fight, if he had to.
“Best ye doont know, Billy. Ye’d have to tell and then I’d have to kill ye.”
The door cracked open and he wisecracked, loudly, “Shoosh, love, don’t make a sound now, I’ll pay ye as soon as he’s gone.”
There was a hearty guffaw from the room. “I don’t know how you managed that, you bastard. Captain Briggs catches you, he’ll have your left nut.”
“Good thing he woont, then. Go along now, Pansy boy, the whiskey’s waitin.” He threw the man’s coat at him.
“And if I drink it before I get back?”
“I’ll shit in yer boots.”
“Filthy mouthed damned Mick,” the man muttered, and the door slammed.


The bad news is, I am definitely a character-first writer, so if my characters are crap, my novel is crap.  The good news is, I know how to go back and make them better.   Dory has it right.  The answer to art is the answer to life.

Just keep writing.

Just keep painting.

Just keep swimming.

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Once a Rebel

So here’s the big reveal… that’s the working title of my NaNoWriMo novel (which will probably not stick, because I’m not at all sure I like it).

It’s an alternate history steampunk story set at the tail end of a protracted Civil War and afterward.  Its heroine, “George” Arrington, is a southern belle turned airship owner and pilot after the death of her father, running the Union blockades and bucking every tradition she has ever known, in hopes of making enough money to dig her way out of the debt he accumulated.

Here’s a teaser from my first draft, set after George’s father dies and she announces her intent to assume his debt and pilot the airship across the blockades.  Emmanuel is the Creole servant who has been with her father for years, and who was freed in her father’s will.



Aunt Miranda was absolutely silent on the carriage ride back to Arrington House. Seething? I don’t know, there might have been something else there. I think she was utterly shocked that anyone at all had dared to countermand her wishes. From what I’ve seen at Chadwycke Manor during the two summers I spent there, no one dares. Ever. I think that surprised her as much as my proclamation.
There would be no more public spectacle, though. She wanted to avoid that at all costs.      So we went back home, and the moment we walked in the door, she exploded.
“Are you out of your mind?”
I folded my arms. “Maybe. I have nothing to lose.”
“You have everything to lose! Everything that is left to you! Here I am offering you a chance to go to England and find yourself a decent match and you are throwing it away on some whim?” She was getting positively apoplectic and the boys came running wondering what on earth was going on. Her hat was even crooked.
“Aunt Miranda,” I said patiently. “I do very much appreciate your kindness and your offer. Come, let’s go into the parlor, shall we?” I gave the boys a wink once she’d turned and stormed that way to let them know everything was going to be all right. It was, wasn’t it? Once we were there I said, “As I said, I do appreciate your kindness and your offer. In fact you have always showed us nothing but kindness. But I am an adult, and I am now responsible for these two boys, and everything else Papa left, and I mean to see it through and not abandon any of it.”
“What’s going on?” Charles finally gathered the courage to pipe up.
“Your sister is talking crazy, that is what is going on,” she said. “Even if you want to pick up where your father left off, you have more debt than you can deal with, you haven’t the faintest clue how to pilot an airship, and you’re a woman. Women don’t do things like that, they get married and behave themselves.”
I laughed. “Like you did?”
“That—” her mouth snapped closed and she looked at me with her head cocked a little, and maybe she saw me for the first time, not as someone to drag around in her wake, but someone who was maybe a little bit like her.
I sat, marshaling all the calmness I could, though I was not at all sure I could pull this mad scheme off. “I’ve been thinking about it. You need your American cotton. Hank needs to go to military school. Charles needs to stay here and grow up to be whomever he’s going to be. I need…” I trailed off. I need that airship, I was thinking, but how do you explain that to someone like her? “I… how can I explain this to you? This was Papas dream. I don’t know where he went wrong. If I throw it all to the winds and sail off to England with you, it feels like I’m letting everything he worked for die. Every dream he had. He’s… I want to keep his dream alive, Aunt Miranda.” My chin was quivering now, damn it all.
She softened. “Oh, my dear,” she murmured, and heaved a sigh. “You cannot keep him alive.”
“I can’t abandon him, either,” I said, staring hard at the clock that was suddenly ticking very loudly in my head to stave off the tears that were threatening.
“My dear, how can you even think to be an airship pilot?” she said, earnest now.
“Mr. Wilcot will teach me,” I said.
She tsk’d. “Do you even know what it is like? What ship’s crews are like? You’ll lose your… respectability….” She didn’t mean just being an airship pilot and acting inappropriate for a woman, she meant that someone on the crew would rape me and then I’d be worthless as a bride.
A rich, deep voice rumbled from the corner. “I’ll not let that happen,” Emmanuel said in his thick Creole accent. “I will go anywhere she goes. I’m a free man.” I turned around and stared at him. He was free, but he would follow me…? I stood up, and walked slowly over to him, and I hugged him. “Thank you,” I whispered. Because it meant he believed in me, and whatever crazy schemes I was hatching.  He patted me a little awkwardly.
That was scandalous enough, me hugging a colored servant. Well, I was done playing by the rules. They didn’t apply to me anymore. Another, quieter tsk from Aunt Miranda. I figured she’d get used to it. Eventually.
Poor Hank and Charles. I went to them, and I knelt, my stays cutting into me, taking one of each of their hands in mine. “What do the two of you want?”
“I just want to stay here with you and Hank and Elsie and Emmanuel,” Charles said.
“I want to go to school,” Hank said. “I’m ready.” Ready to kill him some Yankees, he meant. Poor boy. His shoulders were squared, and he did look terribly grown up in that moment. He was right, he was ready.
So I stood, and I faced Aunt Miranda, and I said, “Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to buy Elsie and Benjamin and Sarah from the estate, so that they are not part of the inheritance. If this scheme of mine fails I don’t want them getting sold off to someone who won’t treat them right. Charles needs them, he’s had enough change and more to come.” I took my hat and my gloves off because I was working up steam. A lady is not supposed to take her hat off. “And, if you can find it in your heart to help Hank go to school for the first couple of semesters, I will pay you back once I start making a bit of money. I will run your cotton from Charleston to Liverpool, blockade be damned,” oh my… how many times could I shock her in one day? “And I will make this work. I will.” I must have looked like I was ready to fight this 85-year-old woman. Her head was cocked and she was appraising me, and maybe she saw another warrior. I know she saw someone who wasn’t going to take no for an answer, and after all, it was all mine to do with as I wished, except the house. Which basically meant, the airship. That was all I really wanted, anyway.
There was silence, into which the clock’s ticking roared. Finally, after an eternity, Aunt Miranda said, “Very well.”

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NaNoWriMo is Here!



I went to Mad Writers’ Club meetings thinking, I want to write and illustrate children’s books.  I still want to do that.  But doing the writing prompts, and hearing local author Kelly Martin talk about her experiences with NaNoWriMo, and then hearing that several of my mad writer compatriots were doing it….

Well, shoot, I’ve been saying I’m going to write a novel since I was born, practically.  I do some pretty sparkling characterization.  I can wrangle description and dialogue.  But I’ve always told myself, I’m not that great at plot.

And when I met my husband, who has entire worlds in his head and epic stories to go with them that we play out weekly in RPG stories, I kept telling him we needed to write a  novel together, because that dude can PLOT.  And invent worlds, which I’m only okay at.  It never panned out, I don’t know why.  I tried once to follow his story in an RPG with a novel, and got stuck in the endless rewriting chapter one loop.

Anyway along comes Kelly with NaNoWriMo, which I had heard of before, but not with that much interest.  A novel in a month, seriously?  And when she came to speak to the mad writers I was still thinking children’s books.

But then last Wednesday at the meeting, on the way home, I thought about one of Russ’s RPG worlds and how much I LOVED the character I played.  There’s no proprietary stuff in the world, it’s an entirely original concept (not Star Wars or D&D, which we often play).  So I thought, I’m going to take that character and run with her, and let her play in the world he devised and see what happens.

I’M GOING TO DO THIS.  The thing I’ve been saying I should do, forever.  Write a book!  No, really!

I am such a Renaissance girl that I don’t think Russ took me too seriously but I’m on fire and I’m rocking it.  Day three, I’ve got 7,193 words written out of the final 50,000 goal for the month.  I’m sure I’ll hit a snag (with plot, probably) but that feels pretty awesome.

By the way if you’re also a WriMo my super secret code name on the site is chyvalrie, look me up and I’ll cheer you on.

So NaNoWriMo, here I come!  Let’s do it!