About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

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.

Need for speed

The decision is made. No racing this year. The money is going into getting Chalice out, printed and on Amazon, on the street. That’s final. No. No way, not going to happen.

But Jake’s my Number One Fan. He was pretty important in my being out there last year when money was tight. When you have a fan like Jake, you take the question of hanging up the helmet pretty seriously. I’m looking right now at the model of Yellow Jacket he and his dad built together.

Yellow Jacket gave me everything she had in that last race, probably down 30 percent on power at the end, the mechanic said. She felt “soft” when I drove back to the pits and would not have lasted one more lap the way we were working to put away that Mustang.

The engine is trashed. The valves quibble about in guides worn like morals of the cynical; oil starvation burnt the main bearings here, and here and … here. Cylinder walls are scratched from pieces of rocker that became one with the oiling system.

Brake pads wore to steel on one edge and calipers leaked fluid to the trailer floor all the way home. Rotors, riddled with heat stress, will make a good door stops.

So, no racing this year. That’s final.

I probably should not have even gone to the races in Seattle a few weeks ago. I went up to see friends, introduce myself to a couple of readers of Chalice. Pacific Raceways was on the way to talk to another Chalice reader in Port Townsend. The trip  gave me a chance to see my daughter. All very safe.

Until I got to the track. For me and for those I play with, combining the perfume of high octane gas, scorched oil and burning rubber with the  howl of compression at the edge of control creates a compulsion that can not be described. I wavered.

Then Jake sent me a note that it would be really great if I showed up with Yellow Jacket at the Portland race at the end of June, he understood about the problems and all but they’re featuring the Corvette, it would sure be great…

There isn’t nearly enough time, Jake. I just can’t do it. Tell you what, I’ll get us pit passes and we’ll sit together in the stands.

New pistons arrive in two days.

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.

Living inside it

The research for “It’s Nobody’s Fault” kicks over a lot of rocks. While I really dislike it when somebody says with the best of intent, “It sounds like you are working through a lot of issues,” there is truth to that. Still, most of my life has been intensely private. It is horribly uncomfortable putting any of this out there.

But my goal is not personal. The goal is to provide a key for those with Adult Attachment Disorder, or those in a relationship with that person, to unlock the door or just create a window, so the oppressive neediness, the chaos of “crazy-making” is lessened,  the serenity of Jeff’s “it lasts as long as it lasts” visible, if not within reach. Because that makes all of life better.

“…because healthy functioning of the attachment system facilitates relaxed and confident engagement in non-attachment activities, it contributes to the broadening of a person’s perspectives and skills, as well as the actualization of his or her unique potentialities.” (Mikulincer, Mario (2007-05-14). Attachment in Adulthood (Kindle Locations 887-888). Guilford Press. Kindle Edition.)

The opposite is also true. My friend Greg would describe his unhealthy attachment system as causing anxiety, making it hard to engage in non-attachment activities, limiting his perspectives and skills, and difficult to actualize his unique potentialities.

I talked a day or so ago to a woman who is an Anxious, one of the first I have met since starting this project. She has had a very, very difficult time with serious consequences from her attachment behaviors.

AAD is not trivial, it impact is not limited to the realm of romantic relationships. It spreads like a stain through everything. But I have to be very careful not to look at too much through this lens, nor let this small project get out of control.

Stupid love songs

My friend Greg does not like it when I say relationships between certain types of people can be “toxic;” some people may never have the person of their “dreams;” there isn’t always enough time to “fix” something; it might not be worth the effort.

“I want to believe that with enough work, enough understanding, enough knowledge, we can overcome problems in any relationship if there is love,” he said.

I would like to believe that too. But I have come to accept that sometimes the effort is counterproductive. When my tendency is to chase and resolve, my partner may just want a damn break. It is her right to have that break. Even if she is avoiding. Even if avoiding makes me want to try harder. Which makes her want to run faster. Etc.

What I was trying to say was not that it is always hopeless, but trying harder at what has not worked (except temporarily) in the past is unlikely to get us where we want to be.

We can’t change the response pattern of our partner through an act of our own will. All we can do is communicate. If she doesn’t see a problem in the relationship except how I behave, she gets to feel that way, regardless of how it makes me feel. Even if she doesn’t want to talk about it. She isn’t “wrong.”

“ ‘This isn’t working for me’ is different than saying ‘You’re not doing your part,’ ” an acquaintance pointed out the other day.

I was also trying to say to Greg there is a woman out there who may be “accessible, responsive, and engaged.” A partner as he defines it. Wanting that is not wrong, either.

It might be we have to look for her rather than think we can, or have the right to, make the one we want to be with want to want us. We have to be realistic about how much we put into it, how much time we have, what we expect in return.

We have to stop doing things because we are afraid of losing what we are driving away.

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.

Losers in a new world

There are always losers. That’s what the uncle of the two boys who set bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon called them: “losers.”

The uncle, also from Chechnya, also a Muslim, is a winner, and a man who loves the opportunity that America has given him and his family. His is ashamed of his nephews, what they have done to Americans, to Muslims, to Chechens.

The two boys were also very different. It is hard to understand how the younger one followed his older brother into terrorism. The last few months had been tough on him, too, but we don’t yet have a good idea of cause and effect, whether his implosion as a student and citizen was the cause or result of his taking the path to hell.

Their father, too, who returned to Chechnya, who says his boys didn’t do this, who says they were framed: How did that father contribute to the tragedy of lives lost, those of his own sons and of those they murdered and maimed? Or is he yet another victim?

This was not an act by Muslims, not an act by Chechens. This was an act by misguided young men like Timothy McVey, who blew up that building in Oklahoma. And there may be no cure for that in a free society, in any society. It may be biology, genes programmed to create cannon fodder; it may be chaos. But we should not rush to fix something that may have no fix, especially when the solution destroys what we are trying to protect.

Hopefully the man in the cowboy hat who saved the life of the young man who helped solve the crime will find meaning… the loss of his own two sons lessened by what his heroism accomplished. Nothing can bring peace, but perhaps his pain can be reduced for  a few minutes each day.

There is much to think about the amazing accomplishment for law enforcement, too, in a world that is changing faster than anyone could have imagined.

Wind

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.