One day you are in. The next, you are out.

I feel like Heidi Klum has stepped into my book and started eliminating characters and plotlines as if they were contestants on Project Runway.

63 pages into Chapter 5, I have decided to change the story completely.

As Heidi would say, “Chapter 5, you are out.”

It’s a little scary to think that I am throwing an entire chapter out and starting from scratch, especially since it’s the last chapter of the book, but I think it’s the right thing to do. The chapter just wasn’t sexy. I was up last night trying to create an outline and it started to unfold a little, but I realized that it wasn’t a story that I wanted to read. No wonder I didn’t want to write it. So this morning, as I was making chicken taquitoes for breakfast (the breakfast of champions by the way), a new storyline came to me. This was a story that I wanted to read – a story I found interesting. I could write this.

And so I shall.

I really should stop resisting the outlining process. It’s helpful, even if the outline simply tells me what I don’t want to write about.

In my best Heidi Klum voice, “Outlining, you are in. You may leave the runway.”

Chapter 5, you are out.
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The Shoemaker’s Wife

Cover art for Trigiani’s novel.

Writers are readers, and I love a good book. I decided to read Adriana Trigiani’s latest novel The Shoemaker’s Wife simply because it is historical fiction, and (ta-da) I’m writing an historical fiction novel as well. The book is the love story of two young Italians – Ciro, a poor orphan boy raised by nuns, and Enza, a young girl determined to keep her family together.

As I sit here writing about this blog, I’m finding myself at a loss for words (which hardly ever happens to me!) I liked the book. I read it as a tool to sharpen my own writing, which I think it did. Usually, when I read for that purpose, I find myself lost in the story and the emotion of being invited into the lives of the characters. I can’t say that happened too often in this book. By all means, Trigiani is a talented writer and a deft storyteller. The characters were likable, and the setting, both in Italy and America, proved to be ripe with opportunity and adventure. In fact, I wish I could say that I loved this book, and not just because I paid full hard cover price to receive it the day it came out, but I didn’t . I liked it.

What was most valuable about the book, though, was feeling a kinship with Trigiani. She appeared on a morning show to publicize the book and spoke about the process of writing it, and how long it took her. After reading the book, and seeing all the detail she poured into it, I understand why it took her so long. Everything has to be researched. What were the fashions then? How did one travel? What technology existed? What edifices? What medical treatments were available? What streets existed? What was the nature of industry then? So often I spend my days researching even the smallest thing. Can my character say that? How do they travel? What were the politics of that time? Is it a phrase based on something that came about much later. I think about my friend’s mother who wrote a story that took place during slavery. Her publisher immediately sent back the manuscript and told her to take out every “okay” because that phrase wouldn’t come about until much, much later.

I came away from this book with a healthy respect for Trigiani’s work, and a reassurance that my novel, though slow-going, can be completed with historical accuracy.

Literary License

I have posted on more than one occasion how much I hate Chapter 2 of my book. The fact that I am still posting about this particular chapter after many, many, many months speaks to my unique level of aversion. I’m aware that I shouldn’t feel like this about any chapter I’m writing, and in fact, seriously considered throwing it out all together. I brainstormed on creating different characters and pushing them through different trials, but inevitably, the truth came out. It wasn’t about the characters.

It was about me. I don’t hate myself. Not today anyway.

I was uncomfortable with the character because he is Judas. I have a pretty staunch religious background, and while I am not currently practicing, it still made me uncomfortable to play around with religious cannon.

I called my mentor to ask him about it, and he joked that I was going to hell. But in the end, it comes down to literary license. What that means in the eyes of God, who knows. I’m not turning Judas into a saint, but I’m not painting him as unforgivable either. I want to humanize him.

This chapter is indicative of much of the reconciliation I have had to make in my life. Gay and Christian (and Democrat). Do the three have to be mutually exclusive? This chapter became a symbol of my struggles over the last decade. (And here I thought I was just writing a novel.)

I had a productive conversation with a friend, and she made me feel much more comfortable with the chapter, which I hope will help me to move through it more smoothly. Opening up my black and white perception of individuals in the Bible, including Judas, and allowing for their humanity to be seen (or my interpretation of their humanity) has only helped me to understand myself better. I know that sounds cheesy, but with everything we write, we should learn a little bit more about ourselves. After all, we can only write what we know – even when it’s fiction – so seeing a piece of me in this character I’m creating is not wholly evil.

The point is, I am working on the chapter now, and hopefully it will be a little easier.

A Few Things About Love – Part 5: 1+1=1

The posts about love have been as much for me as they have been for my writing and my characters. So, what have I learned?

Well, to sum it up, 1+1=1. When one emotionally whole person unites with another emotionally whole person, they can create one loving, healthy, happy, bonded unit. It seems so simple, but we have so many poor models of relationships today. I can’t speak to any one person’s experience, but with a 50% divorce rate in the U.S., many of us are watching relationships fall apart before our very eyes. While there are a cornucopia of reasons why relationships end, how many of those reasons are preventable, and of those, how many do we repeat simply because we don’t know any better?

What does all this have to do with my writing? My goal was to show my characters grow in maturity over the course of the novel. In the beginning, the main love interests cannot be together because they aren’t ready to handle the responsibility of a relationship with their soul mate. But now, nearing the end of the book, they have to be ready to be together. While I don’t want everything to be wrapped up in a bow, I want to depict a romantic, functional, productive, and lasting relationship between two healthy people.

I guess that’s what I learned. And I guess that’s what I need to write. And I guess, now I feel more pressure than I did before. Great… The one difference, though, I feel prepared to write again.

A Few Things About Love – Part 4: Pablo Neruda #17

A dear friend shared this poem with me. Essentially, this is what I am trying to capture. How amazing that Pablo Neruda can capture this sentiment in a short sonnet, and I am struggling to depict this feeling in an entire chapter…

Sonnet 17

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

in which there is no I or you
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand
so intimate that when you fall asleep it is my eyes that close

A Few Things About Love – Part 3: “At Last”

At Last by Etta James is a classic. In fact, in many ways it is an anthem – a beacon of hope that one day, we will all be rescued from our lonely days. This is the perspective from which many a love story is written. In fact, this is the perspective from which Chapter 5 of my book is written. The main character, a striking, attractive, and successful man, meets a woman who is unhappy in her job, has a chronic illness, and struggles with her weight. Here comes this man, ready to rescue her from her dismal situation. Her lonely days are over.

Ok, the story is not that simplistic, and neither is the song by Etta James, but I am struggling with creating depth. What does it look like when two healthy people get together and fall in love with each other?

my heart was wrapped up in clover
The night I looked at you
I found a dream that I can speak to
A dream that I could call my own
I found a thrill to press my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known
You smiled, and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
And you are mine at last