Eagle dance

Raptors regularly fly over my ridge, but I was startled yesterday when a mature Bald Eagle flew about 20 feet over the peak of my tree house. I ran from one room to the next to keep it in sight.

I love the way pelicans skim waves, gulls maneuver in their scavenging, startled owls silently glide away, crows play in a breeze. But the effortlessness of a Bald Eagle is a wonder all its own; the huge bird floats with intention as if gravity has been conquered by an act of sheer will.

Then that eagle was joined by another.

I don’t remember ever having seen two bald eagles dance, weaving their separate flights into a single waltz on the wind. It lasted for about five minutes, until I lost them in the distance. There is significance there, but at the moment, to use it or even find it would lessen the experience.

 

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.

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.

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. 

Choosing our choices*

Sometimes we’re lucky and get to choose between two good alternatives. Sometimes we’re unlucky and have to choose the better of two bad ones. We can probably figure these out, given our values and enough time.

But there is a trap in this seeming simplicity: What if the values of our choices change as soon as we make them? Experiments have proven humans fear losing something about twice as much as we desire getting the same thing. We value what we might lose at $10, though we’d be willing to pay only $5 to acquire it. A great explanation is detailed in Thinking, Fast and Slow by Dr. Daniel Kahneman.

Baby arrived and Parent, a very successful Lawyer, took a year away from Firm to raise Baby. But Firm wants Lawyer back, or will find a replacement. So Parent faces a dilemma: Return to work and become Great Provider, or stay at home and be Great Parent? That’s a choice between two good alternatives, but we could also state it as the better of two bad ones: Losing Career or Losing Baby.

These are equal in fact but not to our emotions, where Losing Career costs twice the value of being a Great Provider, and Losing Baby costs twice the benefit of being Great Parent. And as soon as a decision is made, the path not taken becomes a loss.

Lawyer decides to be a Great Parent. As soon as that decision is made, the positive alternative of being a Great Provider is instantly viewed as Losing Career, and the cost doubles. What seemed to be the right decision seems very wrong. “I just wasted law school! I made a mistake!

“Okay, I haven’t told the Firm to flush my career. I will keep the job, buy the greatest nanny, and we’ll take great enriching vacations.” But the moment Parent makes that decision, not being Great Parent is suddenly seen as Losing Baby, with twice the cost. “Baby won’t bond! What if the Nanny is abusive!? I made a mistake!

“Okay, I haven’t hired the nanny. I will be a Great Parent.” But immediately the Good Provider alternative not chosen snaps into Losing Career. Cost doubles. “Wait! Where will the money come from for…?” And the dance goes on.

I imagine the doorway out of this maze is faith: we did the best we could, it will all work out, nothing is perfect, or for those so inclined, God will provide. But that kind of faith may be learned before language, and very hard to acquire.

And some will always find an interpretation, whatever the outcome of whatever choice, that validates their fear. Making it even worse next time trying to grapple with the uncertainty of doing the right thing or choosing the best of bad choices.

*(Thank you Shawn Coyne, writing at Steven Pressfield Online, for the inspiration).