New and improved

“Chalice” is getting another conclusion. A reader whose involvement in the story was deep and thorough pointed out a flaw that lessened the book. The ending felt rushed, he said, and he was exactly right. When that part was written, I was anxious to have the writing of it over.

Few things disappoint me more when reading than a book where the author copped out or “gave up” at the end. And some great authors have given me this feeling, as well as a lot of movies that went through a test market process and give “feel good” rather than significance. When talking about “art,” a solid ending is as important as the opening “hook,” though I don’t think it receives the same attention.

So I invited another reader who liked the original ending, and we met with the reader who raised objections. For an hour and a half we discussed the whys and why nots in what could only be called a story conference.

The final result was wonderfully positive beyond my expectations. The new ending ties everything together, gives the tale more impact, makes it more “real,” and better suits what I was trying to convey. Though it can initially feel like a slap, that’s the gift of thoughtful criticism.

The verdict is… mixed.

In so many ways I can’t imagine a better process for vetting a book.

I sent out nine hard copies and about nine electronic copies of Chalice. Some readers could not get past the “letters” style of the book and didn’t make it past page 30. Six readers finished the book, all of those enjoyed the writing, and four of those were were engaged in the story and  helpfully found some flaws that I can correct.

There were many deeply personal reactions, which both surprised and gratified me. A couple of readers did not like the female main character. Another said he was “in love with her by page 30.” That love later dissipated a bit. Another related to her but was a bit put off by the male main character.

Different sections of the book affected different readers. Most enjoyed the writing, though Larry Brooks of “StoryFix” called it “purple prose.” Others said Brooks simply did not get it and I am inclined to agree. The man always seemed rushed and he has a formula that focuses on commercial success, though I have found his structure quite helpful.

My take away from this is that Chalice is not an easy read nor a book likely for great commercial success, but is likely to find favor among a certain type of reader. My original target was college-educated women who belong to book clubs and actually read the books. I was wrong about that. Gender is not a determining factor. Education and a vivid life experience seem to be.

I can live with that.

Next step is to take the comments I’ve received from those who enjoyed the book as well as those who panned it and make the changes I feel will improve the final product. I’ve got a proof reader in my sights. Then it’s off to press.

More comments on “Chalice”

Comments are arriving from readers of “Chalice” as we approach the end of April. This continues to be a very valuable process.

There will be more rewriting than I’d hoped, and not at the ending, where I expected to put in the work. For the most part, readers  affirm the conclusion of the novel. I was worried it would feel contrived. While there is still some tweaking, I am satisfied and reader response has been rewarding.

But several thoughtful people were so put off by the beginning that they did not believe a relationship could develop between the two characters. The irony is that this was intentional on my part.

I created an immediate conflict between the two to get a reader to invest and to display a difference in values. That was the “hook.”  I  think it is possible to start a friendship with a disagreement that can move to deeper discussion as people get to know one another. We enter relationships for many reasons, which is a major theme of the book.

But several readers reacted to this in a visceral way. If I want them to get past the first 70 pages, they need reasons besides an intellectual exercise. Several suggestions have been made, from an opening external crisis to simply toning down the personality. Perhaps more description of the allure will work.

We’ll see what the bookseller has to say, and there are other comments still to come in.


The wind started blowing hard at about 2:30 a.m. My sleep is off anyway but the wind makes the steel barn groan; mountain-facing windows flex and distort reflection like disappointment of the self-absorbed; juniper and pine lean and twist to resist what feels like a threatening.

Can’t write. Too little sleep, current project too dry for the energy I can bring to the task, wind breaks flow of thought. Pay bills, I suppose, get taxes in the mail before I motor over the hill. Stop halfway at Rosie’s to get an oatmeal raisin cookie and refill the coffee. Daughter Sabitri made me stop at Rosie’s for the lemon poppy seed scone, daughter K.C. likes their hot chocolate and the macandcheese.

Portland if I can get a deal on a hotel, it’s the end of razor clam season at the coast and I’ll find a meal of them someplace downtown, then meander down to Powell’s for a browse.

Port Townsend to hunker down for a few days, real popcorn and digital projection with great sound at the small movie theater, stay at the lovingly restored Palace Hotel, see if I can get a solid draft done on the new project.

Should check movie schedules and music venues before I go but I just want to go, I’ve denned up here for too long, growling at the door. The week after would work too but I want to go, wanted to for some time.

The proprietor of Phoenix Rising Book Store in Port Townsend, flashbacks from San Francisco of decades ago, is back from India. Her large poodle Sumadhur is recently gone and I could hear sadness tussle with acceptance in even her written words, something of each we can share.

She is New York direct, she owns a bookstore, had offered to read my manuscript and is about halfway through. She does not know me nor owe me so I want to sit there for a couple of hours and find out what she thinks about it.

Friend of a friend knows Somebody

Chalice may be sitting on the desk of a big-deal publisher’s Somebody. I’d sent a copy to a “friend of a friend who knows Somebody,” because friend’s friend did preliminary reading for Somebody and said she would look at it.

Like the other 10 hard copies I sent off for feedback (with about 10 in electronic form), the spiral binding was for reader convenience and it was printed two pages on each side of each sheet to save paper.

Yesterday my friend got a call from his friend that she had sent it on to Somebody who said the submission was not even formatted to standards available online, but Somebody would read the first ¼ and give it to one of her readers who would read the whole thing.

Chagrin mixed with appreciation mixed with a modicum of “…but if I had known…” tempered by “… should I have assumed…?” I guess work pushed even in the direction of traditional publishing channels should have been formatted to traditional standards.

As we were walking his dogs through the manzanita near the river talking mostly about his divorce, my friend asked how I will feel if Somebody says Chalice is crap. My answer was sloppy, involving art and ego and opinions and the market place. All true, but only pointing at the nexus.

Which is that Chalice is not crap and knowing this gives me serenity. It is vastly improved from where it started and there is room for improvement still. I am doing my best and soon it will be done.

Chalice may not be for everybody, but it is not crap. And the opinion of one Somebody doesn’t change that, though of course I hope she likes it. 

Reader Feedback

Choosing the style “epistolary novel” for Chalice brings some interesting responses, some positive, some negative. They may break down by age and sex and whether a reader has done any online dating.

One reader, who I respect very much, said he kept trying to read the letters as if they were dialogue and wanted to say “people don’t talk like this.”

While on the phone as we discussed this, I pointed out that his original letter to me about the book was quite well crafted. “I spent a lot of time on that,” he said, and immediately conceded that I “had him.” (He then went on to make some excellent points, with examples, of language he would change.)

Another reader, also male and my age, very much likes the direct exposure to the characters granted by using their own words and delusions to describe who they are (and are not!).

Two different women have said the early and easy intimacy is much more common and believable in the current world of electronic dating, email, etc. and they like the structure if not the characters.

It may turn out that Chalice is not for everybody, obvious a long time ago. It may require a different type of attention. I do hope it has value for readers who don’t know the story.

In the mean time, it is fascinating and rewarding to watch the direction of the final draft drop into focus.

Walking away

From hereRan into somebody who had read the short verse I wrote in January about a relationship that had just ended with a wonderful woman because our paths were not converging. That’s a hazard of falling in love later in life. I had forgotten I posted those personal emotions but was grateful this person enjoyed the “poem” and was moved by it. Had even read it.

Sometimes it is too easy in moods of “terminal uniqueness” to forget we share so many of these emotions and experiences. A friend, also a writer, talks of the universal nature of what brings us joy and heartbreak. That is part of the value in art, that ability to share experience. And to feel not quite so alone.

It took me a while to understand that, plus words from a friend going through a tough time who has recognized that “letting go,” while exquisitely painful, is sometimes the only path toward fulfillment if not self preservation.

That is one of the themes in Chalice and something I am trying to convey in It’s Nobody’s Fault. Sometimes one has to walk, or let our love walk. Because after enough break-ups and make-ups we know the pattern if not the causes, and we have to make a cold calculation that it is what it is.

That’s not to say there isn’t hope, only that change sometimes requires that … we make a change.

On Ice
holding only in my heart whom I’ve held in my arms,
distance great, time short, this is life’ sorting,
souls skate near to brush fingertips to lips,
momentum’s past push/pulls us apart,
your cashmere warmth my memory.