Coffee

With the third sip of heavily sweetened tea, Jordan reaches down and puts her hand on his thigh but it was not a gesture of closeness even though they’d made love a half hour before.

She’s supporting herself with that hand, she’s trying to stop the swaying. Her eyes are half-closed and words that mumble out of her slack mouth are half-formed, incoherent, and inaudible even to him sitting close.

He gently holds her wrist so he can catch her if she falls backwards. He doesn’t know what drug she’d decided to take before she met him that causes her to alternate between sexual mania and this catatonia.

Suddenly, Jordan inhales sharply and her eyes open wide, she focuses now on the coffee shop, aware of where she is and that she is with him.

“It’s so strange, scenes from my past just merge into this, bad things that happened in a place like this. But I’m glad to be here, with you. I’m just so tired,” she says.

Jordan fades out again, her head tips back and her eyes half close, but she returns more quickly. He can’t tell if it’s a heroin nod, or if very potent TCH is overwhelming her balance. She met him saying something was wrong with her contacts, so he suspects pot was her drug of choice but strains of pot are now so powerful.

Dinner had been exceptional. Chicken fried lamb neck on a bed of spiced grits and honey with spiced carrots and dill; a stuffed trout, roast chicken thighs with the fat crisped and served with potato gnocchi that puffed with flavor of butter, and squash and arugula. Each course was expertly served by a tall Eurasian beauty at a tiny restaurant Jordan had heard about and wanted to try.

It didn’t matter how the evening ended, if Jordan would spend the night, if they would make love again, if he just took her back downtown to her apartment. The meal itself, at a place Jordan really wanted to go but probably would not remember, was worth the visit to town.

*   *   *

Tommy is dressed in black leather. The long trench coat is supple and has a wide belt. Tall boots lace nearly to his knee, but for affect, yes, have four large silver buckles along each calf. The black leather vest is laced up the sides but open over a long-sleeved black T-shirt. The chain that hooks each end to his belt loops low along his thigh.

Tattoos splash up and out of the neck of his T-shirt, up his throat and neck but stop short of a face that is so handsome he might once have been on the cover of a trashy semi-porn romance novel. Now, long blond hair hangs in a pony-tail halfway down his back bedraggled from the incessant rain.

Tommy sits next to a couple whose first meeting was online. Now, finally, for the first time, over coffee, “what is” greets “what I imagined.” On the other side of him is an informal job interview, a man in a sport coat advises a younger man in a nice plaid shirt with a parka over the back of his chair. A brief case disgorges a resumé to be carried back through the rain and put on a pile.

Tommy is wearing his leather resumé, his eyes dart around the coffee shop, measuring and evaluating the rest of us, his CV is the backpack at his feet displaying a life story in scuffs and and patches that start conversations that end in strange bedrooms where his dangerous beauty is currency for whatever is offered: food, shelter, a few hundred bucks, maybe a watch or a broach lifted when his benefactor goes to the bathroom, to be pawned at one of the shops down on Third Street.

*   *   *

Chelan is very pretty and thin and her hair is a golden chestnut with streaks of gold and is shorter in back, it’s cut so it follows the angle of her fine jaw down below her chin  but not quite to the points of her collar bone, her hair is thick and shiny and hangs heavy, swaying when she changes expression so it is in constant motion.

Sarah is the same age but not as polished, thick black hair hangs loose on its own, not completely in control as it is pushed back over ears, strands constantly pushed back using fingertips as a comb.

They talk as if they were once fond but now nearly-forgotten acquaintances, maybe sorority sisters from five or ten years ago, roommates as college.

Sarah says words that bring a succession of dramatic facial expressions from Chelan, her fine jaw underlining perfect hair that stays intact for all these animated expressions, wide-eyed-wide-open-mouth surprise followed by deep frowns, everything expressed as if a text punctuated with exclamation points. OMG!

They stand to leave and Sarah pushes her hair back over her ear with her fingertips again and hands Chelan a card or a note. Chelan with her hair streaked with gold looks at it and then calls up an expression as if she is in great pain, as if the gesture itself is about to elicit tears if not sobs because she’s overwhelmed.

But thankfully this passes and is replaced easily with a smile as warm as the January sun, followed by a quick kiss on the cheek as she looks at her watch and affirms her need to say good-bye.

*   *   *

William struggles to climb out of the Town Car, as if his hair is dyed so black to hide that he is many years older than most would choose as a driver. But he can’t hide the stiffness of his tendons, the brittleness of his bones, as he takes the bag from the pilot with three stripes on his sleeve.

The small bag does not go over the lip with the first effort and the airline captain winces as William puts more effort into the second swing so the bag tumbles into the trunk. The captain gives a small shake of his head he knows William can’t see. Co-captain easily puts his bag beside the first with one hand while carrying a briefcase with the other and walks around the car to get in while William reaches up stiffly to close the lid.

William turns about so the left side of his face is now visible. It is offset from the right, it hangs slack, inches below where once it had been. He might have suffered a stroke, given his age, but as he continues the turn it’s apparent that the black stem of his glasses going back grasps only his head, and the too-black hair ends in a ragged line above where his ear would have been if he’d had an ear.

The droop of his face is not from a stroke but flesh and skin are no longer supported by a cheek bone, now missing, or a jaw, destroyed and removed. Flesh droops like theater bunting down the side of his face.

It was a ferocious impact when his previous Town Car was hit on the driver’s side door by a pick-up jacked so high the bumper cleared the door bracing and came right through the window as it sped through the red light in an effort to get home two minutes earlier and before traffic piled up at the bridge.

It’s real

About seven minutes ago, I sent off the final draft of my new book to a publisher in Seattle.

They like this book, they wanted this book, they are going to pay for editing and proofreading and printing and will do all the things publishers do to a book before they try to sell it. They are very enthusiastic.

It’s hard to describe how wonderful this feels. Not loud and boisterous wonderful, but quietly fulfilling wonderful. Like seeing my daughters graduate, or holding their own in an adult conversation. Having the apple trees thrive.

According to our contract, they want to have the book available to readers on August 15. That’s a pretty tight time frame, and that’s pretty cool, too. In fact, there’s only one thing that isn’t amazingly wonderful about all this.

I had to write it under a pseudonym. That’s just how it played out. It’s going to be a while before anyone can know that it’s mine.

 

 

How this works

When I started writing last month in Costa Rica, I had no clue what I was writing about, why I was writing, whether it was or would be anything. I wrote because that’s what I do. If you’re curious, it begins here.

I said as much to Dick about halfway through the trip when he said he thought it should be a book: Books need to be about something.

All I had were verbal snapshots. But after a while, I noticed the snapshots were really of people, in this kind of interesting environment. After a little while longer, I sensed that there was coherence to it, even if I still didn’t know what the unifying principle was. Yes, it really does work like that.

I was sending it out to people I thought might be interested, and the response back was incredibly supportive. Not only was that favorable response a significant reason why I kept on, it forced me — you forced me — to include important visual details.

If you had not been there and I had waited, those details would have been lost, because I would have waited and then had only ideas, and the imagery, the environment that was so important, would have begun to fade.

But it still wasn’t about anything. It did not have a theme.

Two days after I got back I was trying to figure out a title for what was basically a collection. I think I’d written about the plane trip. Well, I know I had, because that one was actually written by hand on a yellow note pad when I could not connect to the internet in San Jose. I don’t know if I had transcribed it, though.

About that particular piece: I  told “Valerie,” and also “Olivia” and “Alycia” while I was in Bocas, that I’d just realized I was going to have to subject myself to the same process. Not to do so would have been unfair, dishonest. Later I would tell one of my favorite readers, “I could not ask of them what I was not willing to give.” That’s all I knew, so I did it.

After I got to Oregon, I was trying to think of a title for the collection. I went through several possibilities while sitting in my chair and letting my unintentional chew on the problem while I looked at the mountains.

Journey? No color. Slide Show? No again, similar reason but closer, maybe.

Then all of a sudden, I got a huge shove right in the middle of my chest. It almost took the wind out of me.  “Butterflies.” Of course. What an idiot. Obviously, I was writing about butterflies. These wonderful, incredible, occasionally tragic people were butterflies; delicate, resilient, often but not always beautiful, very different individuals with similar needs and desires.

With that came the answer to the problem posed by Dick  when he said it should be a book. What’s it about? It’s about the life cycle: seeking, struggling, transition. Butterflies do it. We do it.

Is that original? Not even close; butterflies have been used as metaphors since long before we knew there were things such as metaphors. Are we butterflies? Of course not.

It would work.

I will reorganize things. I will probably take people from one place and put them in another to create “story,” an emotional beginning middle and end. I will flesh out some places where I left things too sparse.

I’ll do more research on butterflies themselves, so I can make the metaphor solid. I’ll add these sparingly — I’m not going to hammer readers with science. A paragraph or two in each “chapter” to illustrate how it fits into the whole.

Then, “Butterflies” will will be a book. Like a butterfly, it will have gone from being one thing to being something else, very different. It will hopefully retain the bright colors of the previous generation — which would not be there were it not for those of you who allowed me to send you what I was seeing and feeling as I was seeing and feeling it.

I won’t do much of anything for a month. It has to sit for a while, undisturbed, while I get some distance from it. Then I’ll tear into it again, change it, fix it, redo that a few times, and then it will be done. It will be a very small book that will hopefully cause readers to feel reading it was worthwhile.

I can’t thank you enough. All of you.

~Erik

Butterflies

He turned sideways in the aisle to move past passengers still struggling to jam slightly too-large carry-ons into the overhead compartment. I groaned inwardly, because I knew exactly where he was going to sit.

It had been a long couple of nights in San Jose. My room was right next to the bar, and synthesized music pounded incessantly on the wall above my head. It was cold and the blanket inadequate. Each night I huddled with my hands between my thighs to keep them warm.

I drifted off not long after I sat down on the plane, and dreamt I was Chuang Tzu dreaming he was me. I’d been looking forward to leaning up against the window and sleeping my way through the entire flight, maybe use the footwell of the empty seat next to me to stretch out.

That wasn’t going to happen. I knew it as soon as I saw him.

He was wearing greenish cargo shorts of some sort, with too many pockets full of too much stuff so they bulged in too many places; flip flops, and a shirt that might have been white once, a long while ago, but was so wrinkled it looked like it had been wadded up and tied with tight rubber bands. He was three days away from his last shave, and his hair, though clean, looked like he combed it with his fingers.

“Hi,” he said as he sat down. He dropped the small day pack he carried to the floor, shoved it under the seat in front of him with his feet.

“Hi. I wondered if I wouldn’t run into you on this flight. I was hoping for a nap.”

“Yeah, well…” his voice trailed off into a smile. “It’s good to see you again. I didn’t know if you noticed me hanging back there.”

“Not at first,” I said. “Have you been behind me the whole trip, or just since Quepos?”

“For longer than you know. Let’s leave it at that for now.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Why have I been behind you, or why are we leaving it at that?” he responded.

“Yes,” I said. His clothes had the slightest odor, I can’t say that it was unpleasant, but I could not identify it. It might have been food, or perhaps just the dense muskiness of being stored without air in his backpack.

“It seemed like you were doing some sort of research that might be of interest, we decided to find out.”

“Of interest to whom? Are you with the government? U.S. or Costa Rican?”

“Not really,” he said. “I work for more of a development agency, of sorts. Let’s leave it at that for a moment. Want a Coke?”

“They’re not serving. We’re barely off the ground.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s right.”

“So, is your development agency a non governmental organization? Private company?” I asked.

“Stubborn, aren’t you? No wonder all those people spilled their lives out to you.”

“You know about that?”

“I thought that’s what we were talking about.”

“Is there an echo in here?”

“No,” he said. “I think it’s just the drop in cabin pressure.”

“So, somebody you work for or are involved with thinks that what I’ve been doing is of some interest from a development point of view?” I asked.

“Something like that.”

“Thats why you’ve been following me around?”

“No, I was following you, though that’s not the right term for it, to see if you were being honest or just out to exploit others.”

“What’s the verdict?”

“Nobody’s perfect.”

“Ouch.”

“You did okay,” he said, trying to soften the impact.

“Ouch.”

He got a tired expression on his face, and I swear he rolled his eyes, but caught himself and looked at me as directly as he could, given we were seated side-by-side in cramped airplane seats.

“Alright. You were as honest as you could be, and while you did stray a little close to the line at times, exploitation is hard to define when it comes to art. Do painters exploit their models?”

“Nice analogy,” I said.

“I’ve picked up a few pointers. The main thing is that you didn’t exploit for cheap or easy reasons. And you were honest. Those are high marks where I come from. Accept it and let it go.”

“Why sit next to me now, when you’ve tried so hard to stay out of sight?” I asked.

“Because we’re about done. You’re going home, and I needed to ask you some questions.”

“I’ll want to ask you some in turn,” I said.

“Fair enough, but do you mind if I go first?” he said.

“I suppose not. Go.”

“Do you have a favorite?”

I laughed out loud, because his question hit right in the middle of the bullseye. That was the very question I’d been asking myself. I looked out the window while I assembled my thoughts. He was able to stop the attendant and he even reached over and dropped my tray table. It took me until the two Cokes had arrived to give him an answer.

“I thought I would. I figured it would be Rebecca, of course, then thought it would be Olivia, how her potential was tempered by vulnerability. Alycia for her faith and serenity. Valerie’s blend of intelligence, wisdom and passion was stunning, and Avi’s innocence, honesty, and strength made him  “amazing,” to use his favorite word. Ed made me sad and of course, so did Pantalones, but that was no reason to reject them. So I don’t know. I didn’t get quite deep enough into the others, I suppose, or deep enough into myself where they would resonate.”

“Did you learn anything?”

“I learned I can live small and still feel fulfilled, as long as I have art. Rebecca, Valerie and Olivia made me realize how selfish I can be.”

“Why?” he asked, actually looked confused.

“By how much they give, are willing to give, the extent of their sacrifice. It may be a female thing,” and then I immediately regretted saying that. But by the way he smiled, I think he saw the regret and let it drop.

“What else did you learn?”

“How thin are the differences.”

“What do you mean?”

“We focus on the differences between us, between people or between people and animals, even between people and the ocean. But at so many levels, we are really all the same, at least have the same rhythms, and it is the rhythms that unify. I don’t have better words for it than that.”

It was his turn to look away and think for a while.

“What was your favorite place?” he asked.

“Bocas del Toro.”

“Because of Olivia and Alycia, Avi and Valerie? You know they won’t still be there if you ever go back,” this he said with a real look of compassion in his eyes. “Would you want to live there?”

“Probably not,” I said. “I think it was the water. I like Bocas, I will go back and maybe for a longer period of time, but I don’t want to die there. The Pacific Northwest is my home.”

“Okay. Last question. Why did you go? What were you looking for?”

“That’s two questions,” I said.

“And there will be followups. But humor me.”

“Adventure. Connection. Love, maybe.” I don’t think I’d admitted that even to myself before he asked.

“Did you find it?”

“No.”

“Really? What about the story of Olivia and Alycia? What about Avi and Valerie?”

“Well, yes, I saw their love, how they loved and how they were loved. I meant something else.”

“Something more personal?

“Something more my own,” I admitted.

“Let me ask you this. Do you believe you can perceive an emotion you don’t experience?” He was looking at me intently as he asked this, so I was a bit wary, careful with my answer.

“No, my guess is that perceiving the emotion is experiencing it.”

“Hah!” this exploded out of him, was so loud it startled me and caused the man on the aisle seat to look over, even though he was wearing headphones and watching a movie. “Good boy! So if perceiving emotions and experiencing them are the same, can we agree that by perceiving love, you experienced it?”

“That was a trap. Yes, I’ll agree I experienced a form of love and connection, but not the way I want to be loved and connected.”

“Well, let’s get to that. My guess is that if you have this capacity for love, you have been loved. Correct?”

“Okay.”

“What happened?”

“Different things at different times.”

“You fucked it up.” He managed to say that with compassion but I don’t know how.

“Mostly. Yes.”

“Why?”

“Different reasons in different relationships.”

“Really?” he asked, now in the same tone of voice people use when they say “seriously?” indicating a level of stupidity hard to believe.

“My exwife said I let go of what I want to reach for what I can’t have.”

“Sounds like a wise woman.”

“Yes, and your point would be…?”

“Oh, don’t get that way. I’m on your side,” he said.

“That remains to be seen,” I replied.

“Fair enough. So why did you fuck up your relationships?”

“Short version?”

“Please. For now.”

“I’m going to have to see you again?”

“Let’s stick to our topic for now, Evasive Boy.”

“The short version is that I didn’t find a partner to play in my playground.”

“Really? No one wanted to commit?” He said that “really” with the same tone of disbelief.

“There were some important differences.”

“I’m sure there were. Who focused on them?”

“I think I wasn’t ready to sacrifice my core values.”

“Values?”

“Okay. Desires. Wants. Aspirations.”

“So you sacrificed companionship instead? So you could live the life you wanted?”

“That seems a little harsh,” I said.

“The truth can be,” he threw back quickly. “But we’re not done. You may appreciate the outcome. What have people said about your little stories?”

“I would say for the most part readers have been very receptive.”

“Good Lord. ‘Very receptive?’ What in Hell are you hiding from?”

It was my turn to sigh. I don’t like talking about myself, and compliments make me uncomfortable. Especially when I am forced to recount them.

“Feedback has been very positive,” I said at last.

“Why?”

“Oh, Christ, I don’t know.”

“Bullshit.” He spat that word out like he had a mouthful.

“Because I shared something that I was seeing.”

“That you were seeing?” Now the sarcasm was thick as sour cream. “You were acting out your lifelong ambition of being a video camera? A seismograph? No editing involved, just recording?”

“Of course not. What I saw, what I felt, how it impacted me.”

“And readers liked this? Why?

“Because I engaged with them.”

“Engaged with readers, or with your subjects, with your butterflies?”

“Both, I guess.”

“Why did these people talk to you?”

“Why am I talking to you?” I shot back.

“Exactly. But let’s answer my question first.”

“Because I asked them questions?”

“Would they have opened their hearts to just anyone the way they opened them to you?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“You suppose not? Let me repeat: What in Hell are you hiding from?”

“They opened their hearts to me because… I cared about them. But they couldn’t know that so…”

He waved his hand in preemptive dismissal of my argument.

“Didn’t you once say that much of our personal communication is not verbal?”

“Yes.”

“So, let’s assume they knew that, in your own way, you loved them.”

“That’s a little strong.”

“Granted. But I’m not prepared to say that love is just one thing, and nothing else qualifies.”

“Me either,” I said, mildly offended at the implication.

“Then stop doing it.”

“You are a pain in the ass. What is it you do again?”

“I’m in the development business. So if the people you talked to knew, in some way, that you loved them, and you shared that experience with readers, you shared love, right?”

“You have stretched this far past the breaking point,” I said.

“I don’t think so. And I’m willing to bet that if you were able to summon the courage, that’s exactly what your readers would say if you asked them.”

“I thought they loved the writing.”

“There’s lots of wordsmith’s out there. I’m going to repeat the question: What were you looking for?”

“Answer’s the same. Adventure. Connection. Love.”

“Did you find it?

“In a way, I suppose. I perceived it, and by your definition, experienced it.”

“More than that. You showed love, received love, shared love.”

“But I didn’t hold love in my arms.”

“To say you have nothing because you don’t have everything seems a little selfish and small, especially coming from you: you who can love the father of a girl he abandoned for a principle; who can love an armored up tough girl trying to find fairness in a world where it’s in short supply; who can find love for a drug and alcohol addled cripple who can’t keep his pants above his knees, an old surfer chasing the future as if the past did not exist. I’m leaving out your daughters and all the others because they are too obvious. All that love, and you want to hold it in your arms?”

“I want to be held.”

“You are a writer. You need to hold yourself. That’s what we do.”

“We?” I asked.

“Just a second. Let me track down the attendant. I need a Coke.”

Of course, he never came back. The plane was full. I walked the aisle back to the bathrooms, saw people come and go out of each. I looked into first class until the attendant chased me out. I asked if a man had come up and asked her for Cokes, and she said no one had, besides me.

I know he didn’t get off the plane before I did. I thought once I caught a glimpse of him, but I was mistaken. But my guess is that I will bump into him again, somewhere out on the road, probably chasing butterflies.

End

On hearing “no.”

In hearing “no,” I think we also succumb to “what if.”
What if he/she/they had said “yes?”
Then I would be rich/validated/happy.
And would not have to feel the pain of “no” anymore.

You’re right. Those very things often go through my head. Finding happiness ourselves is easier said than done…

Easier said than done, because we’ve been taught to look in the wrong places.

“This moment” is woven, on a loom of evolved wiring, from strands of bird song, thanking me for the seed, tragic news of a typhoon and a shooting, from the zing of this morning’s coffee and lull of last night’s chamomile, the slight pain of a sprain from yesterday’s run, echos of childhood loss, all etc.

Our brain does this weaving, always, but often with yarn that is too thin, of the wrong dye, sometimes of the wrong wool. But weave it does, constantly, because it is Weaver, and the cloth is “me.”

To protect us, Weaver learned to double the knots of fear and pain, to twice the count of hoped-for gain, even when loss is of something only imagined. So “NOs,” when they come, pack twice the wallop as the “Maybe?” pushed across the table by Weaver, with a shy smile.

The trick?  You’ve said it so many times: Be real, let go of the knots, be kind, breathe, do what you love and for the right reasons, be honest, have faith. Repeat. It’s not easy getting past Weaver to the barrels of yarn. In fact, it’s damn hard, because Weaver weaves even that effort into patterns it already knows. But, it can be done.

Chalice is available

Late last night, I received notice that “Chalice” is now available on Amazon, Apple’s iBook store (go to iTunes and search on “Erik Dolson”), Barnes and Noble (not quite yet), and the Vook Store.

I should have a hard copy in my hands next Tuesday, with the first print run available soon after.

What an odd mix of emotions. Fear, elation, pride, anxiety. Chalice was close to two years in the writing, some of that the hardest work I have ever undertaken. After four or so hours, I would stagger from my table and run the river trail, lift weights, get the mail, or just vegetate away from where I work, unable to string two sentences together.

“Chalice” is not perfect. Every time I opened the file, I would find things that just had to be changed. So I finally “locked down” the file. After 20 or so readers reviewed writes and rewrites, after endless edits, after the second round of proofreading by a professional, I had to let it go and be what it is. And it is not perfect.

But it is the best I can do, at this moment, on this book. And I am proud of it. “Chalice” is an exploration of ideas that are significant to me and many of you. It is a sharing of my playground, an intersection of language, passion, and reflections on what’s real and what’s important.

“Chalice” is not for everyone. As an exchange of emails, “Chalice” is in a format that some  may find difficult to follow. The characters are flawed, and many might find their exchanges  unpleasant. There is a sex scene that was called gratuitous by one reader. It’s not, but it is graphic. If that’s going to disturb you, please don’t read. Another was put off by the fact that I dipped deeply into my personal experience to give the text “life.” Yes, I did, but “Chalice” is still a work of fiction.

But about a third of those who read early drafts found value in “Chalice.” Some said that value was significant for them. This validates the effort.

A word on pricing: I finally came to the conclusion that I had to be my own guide on this. I priced the ebook at $4.95 because I think “Chalice” is worth the price of two cups of coffee, even for readers who don’t like it.

I initially set the price of the paperback at $14.95, then learned I would receive 3¢ for each book sold. Three cents. At the print distributor’s suggestion, and his noting that the book would be discounted by book sellers anyway, I repriced at $19.95 and will receive about $2.30 of that.

If enough sell so we can go to offset printing, I hope the price will come down.

Thank you, friends, family, and readers I’ve never met but feel I know fairly well: You are the reason this book was written. I hope you think it was worth it.

~Erik

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.

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.