The Literary Life

Location: Elk Grove, California, United States

I asked God to show me the truth, and He showed me Jesus.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Catching Up

Wow! It's been a long time since I've posted anything to my blog. Shame on me! And I call myself a writer? Actually, writing is the reason that I've been absent in this forum. That NaNoWriMo contest I entered back in November gave birth to my novel, Born For Adversity. I finished the novel in January (and yes, I met the word count goal on time). Now I'm trying to figure out what to do next.

I just returned from my second time attending the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's conference. It was wonderful, of course. If only I could spend my life with other Christian writers. It would be a taste of heaven. My mind is spinning with the wealth of information from the workshops, and I've written my first book proposal. I think it's pretty bad, though. But it's on the page, so that's the first step. The highlight of my time at the conference was when my friend won the Writer of the Year award. (Waving to Donna!) It was such an emotional moment, and well deserved, regardless of what she thinks.

I tried shampooing my hair with shaving cream today. My mind was still on my book proposal, so it wasn't on purpose. But it's still funny.

I've grown as a writer this year. I can tell by looking back at my posts. I'm more comfortable with myself and less concerned with making my post read like an article. I can spend my life trying to impress a readership of zero (like this blog) or I can focus on obeying God, my only reader who gave His life to save me. Even if I had a million readers, it wouldn't matter. There's only one reader who ever matters. The really cool thing is that my experience at the conference was shared with a bunch of other writers who feel the same way. My roommate and I spent five minutes trying to spell commoradery for the evaluation form we filled out on the last day. Who knows if it's spelled right, but it's the right word to describe the connection between Christian writers. We're not in competition because we're all writing for an audience of One. The One who created us. The only One who matters. Our Lord Jesus.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

The Pendulum Swings

I've been working for over six months now at applying the rules of writing to my work. So what's the result? I've lost the flow and emotion that I once had. Rules are great, and I need to learn them, but now I need to find what I've lost.

My husband was reading through the latest chapter of my novel last night. He's been reading each chapter as I finish. Each time I ask him what he thinks, he says, "It's good. I like it." Woopie. Well, last night was different. He sat in front of the computer, looking contemplatingly at the screen. Finally, he said, "Something's missing." Ba-bing! Finally an opinion I can do something with! So we discussed and pondered the question. That's when he told me that my writing didn't flow and I wasn't getting him right into the scene with my characters.

Yes! That's exactly what I've noticed. As I read my novel, I feel uninspired. I figured I was just too close to the subject, like how can I get excited when I already know the ending? I asked Dave why he never said anything to me before. This was his response: "Well, you're the writer. I figured you know what you're doing." Hello!!! It's not about me! It's about the reader. If you, the reader, can't get into the story, I've failed. I can be as technically accurate as humanly possible and lose the humanness in my writing. I don't even know if "humanness" is a word. That's okay. Like I've titled this little blurb, the pendulum is beginning to swing.

I'm throwing out all the rules and writing whatever I feel like writing, the way I feel like writing it. If I can't recapture the passion of telling a really great story, I might as well give up...and I'm not going to do that.

I signed up for a competition called NaNoWriMo. November is National Novel Writers Month. This competition has only one rule. To win, you must write a 50,000 word novel. Not just one word 50 thousand times, but 50,000 words of various sorts. Hopefully, they will have some sort of meaning. Who knows? I'll be writing so fast, I won't be able to judge the quality of my work. That's the point. It's like letting your hair down in a novelist's sense, letting the pen flow freely, or my fingers on the keyboard. Whatever the 21st Century equivalent, that's what I'm gonna do.

What's my goal? Fifty-thousand words! No rules. Forget worrying about strong nouns and verbs. I get to use all the adjectives and adverbs I want. Who cares about Point of View. In fact, I think I'll head-hop on purpose. Ha! Take that! I will start sentences with "and." AND I'll also start sentences with "but", "or," or whatever word I feel like using. I'm looking forward to floating body parts and dangling modifiers. And to top it all off, I'm gonna end the whole thing with a preposition! I may even copy non-fiction writers and actually use a semi-colon. Ahhh! What a great feeling.

I'm already running through a meadow on a bright, sunny day, hair flowing down my back, barefoot, of course. I'm not sure why the barefoot image works, though. I've been in meadows before and most of them have rocks and sharp little weedy-type plants. So in my mind, anyone who runs through a meadow barefoot will be bleeding and sore. That's no way to enjoy the freedom of a beautiful day. So, I'm not going to use that imagery. It just doesn't work for me. Back the tape up!

Well, needless to say, I'm pretty excited about this journey I'm about to take. I'm going to chase down my creativity and bring it back home. Hopefully, I'll be a less uptight writer when it's over. Not so much worried about the rules, but the feeling of my work. That's got to be an improvement. It's pretty bad when I'm boring myself even. Maybe after all this is over, I'll actually enjoy my own story even though I already know the ending.

And guess what? I'm not going to end this article with a catchy tie-it-all-together sentence. I'm just going to leave it hanging to fend for itself.

Friday, July 02, 2004

From the Perspective of Vanity

Following is the first two parts of a fiction series I'm writing for the First Baptist Church of Elk Grove Women's Ministry newsletter.

My memory swirls around those years, the years after The Prize, when money was in endless supply and my nights were filled with extravagant Hollywood parties. In smoke-filled suites, plates piled with caviar and smoked salmon bobbed above my head. Delicate notes from the piano serenaded the dancing of those actors fortunate enough to be invited. They all loved me. “You will be a star one day, Vanity.” Directors silently sparred for time with my father, vying for his trust in their vision. Each was certain they were the only one who could bring my father’s brilliance to the big screen. My father, a perfect gentleman, would humor them all, knowing already whom he would choose. Mother, draped in the latest fashion, was always at his side. Her laughter seemed too loud, her body swaying to the music, eyes glazed, glass in hand. My father would reach over and squeeze her elbow, never skipping a beat in his conversation. His movie premieres were the highlight. On those days, I was famous, walking the red carpet, hand nestled on the warm arm of my father.

Since I married 15 years ago, I’ve been Vanity Porter. I never regretted my first name, but my last name is common, an ironic fit with my marriage. I was born in Berkeley, 1966, Vanity Spring Bell. For most, the mention of my father, Theodore Bell, brings a distant, perplexing look, as if they should know him. For me, the epiphany of his life seems like yesterday. My early childhood was filled with backstage Broadway, New York. I had the future tied up, daughter of the city’s most talented playwright. But my dream was modest compared to the good fortune that followed once the entire country recognized my father’s gift.

Columbia University, Low Memorial Library, May 1975
Clasping the fragile hand of my mother, I cautiously ascended into the temple-like building, Zeus and Apollo welcoming us as we entered. The signs of the Zodiac circled above and a bodiless Athena caught my eyes as I surveyed the green marble columns and granite rotunda. My eight-year-old mind was dazed with the conflicting chill of cold stone and the warm aromas of roasted chicken and yeast rolls. My father was waiting, his strong shoulders held back, scholarly wrinkles around his smiling eyes. Men gathered from around the country, in an atmosphere charged with unsuppressed excitement, to be honored for their achievements. No one was more important than my father was and I clapped and giggled when the university president handed him the certificate called the Pulitzer Prize. Moments later anger and jealously seared through my small body as I watched another man receive a gold medal. My mother leaned over and laid her hand on my knee. “Paper can be much more valuable than gold. Remember that, Vanity.” Her face beamed reassurance and my mind settled back into a more subdued celebration. The other man walked by and I lifted my chin and looked away.

The Pulitzer Prize was the cannon that catapulted my father, Theodore Bell, from Broadway into Hollywood. Before long, the name Vanity Bell began to appear in movie credits. I was mostly given minor parts, but I would soon be a star. Being with my father was a whirlwind of movie stars, galas and glamor with one exception.

Matthias Levy was like a dripping faucet in the marble ensconced mansion of my childhood. Since the Korean War, he was my father=s best friend. Our monthly Sunday at his house rivaled a visit to the dentist. We'd pile into our Piper Seneca in the early afternoon and land at the Phoenix airport, greeted with bear hugs and rounds of Shalom. Their bungalow at the edge of town usually smelled of Smoked Salmon and leftover Arroz de Sabato warming in the oven. Sinking into twenty-year-old couches and nibbling on Apple Kugel for dessert, we listened as the two men caught up on news and relived the past. The topic would always turn to God and Jesus before the night was through. Father would tease Uncle Matt for turning in his tallit for a tambourine when he converted to Christianity. Uncle Matt's lips would curl up and reply, "I was a withered branch. Now I am made whole, attached to the vine, my source of life." Drifting into sleep despite the animated religious debate, I'd observe Mother's yawn and sense that she would like to sleep as well.

Beverly Hills, California, November 28, 1979
The day was quiet. My father was flying to New Zealand to research a new story. Downstairs, Mother and her friends were having brunch before a day of shopping. During my father's trips, I was often consigned to my room. Resenting my imprisonment, I tiptoed to the landing that overlooked our vast marble entryway. Through closed mahogany doors, I could hear the voice of my mother in the dining room. Her laughter had that too familiar tone of intoxication. Hopefully, Father would call when she was gone and I could ask to be set free.

The door chime interrupted my thoughts. Our housemaid, Rosa, opened the door to policemen asking to see Felicia Bell. Hope sprung at the thought that my mother might be arrested for drinking so early in the day. Just as quickly, it sunk as I admitted there was no law against drinking before noon. Mother came to the door.

"Come in, officers." Her voice was garish. "Is there a problem?"

The taller man glanced at his partner. "Yes, ma'am. Your husband was on Air New Zealand Flight 901 en route to Auckland?"

Mother nodded her head. Her proud carriage began to slump.

The officer's expression was ominous. "I'm sorry ma'am. His plane went down somewhere in the Pacific about 150 miles from the airport. The airline hasn't reported any survivors."

My mind screamed against those evil words. My body flew down the stairs, leaped over my unconscious mother, and slammed into the monster officer. Fists pounding his chest, I was determined to throw this wicked liar out of my father's house.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

In His Death He Proves Us Wrong

I joined America last week in mourning the death of our 40th president, Ronald Reagan. Through television, I was able to relive the life of a man who gave our country hope and filled us with optimism. The commentators who were following the week's events spent hours sharing memories of a man who represents so much of what this country believes. He was a man of great integrity and virtue. His marriage to Nancy was presented as a model for the country, an inspiration for all married people in the land. I watched and cried as Nancy kissed his coffin and laid her head on its hard surface, trying to get one inch closer to the man she loved, the man she must bury.

Last week provided more than just a memorial of a great president. Every comment made about the integrity of Ronald Reagan was a glaring reminder that we were wrong in the 1990's. There was a time, not long ago, that Americans were shouting from the rooftops, "Personal integrity doesn't matter!"

I hold up last week's ceremonies as defense exhibit A. Personal integrity matters. Faithfulness in marriage matters. This is the legacy that Ronald Reagan left. When it came down to the end of his life, politics came secondary to morality. And those in our nation who sang the song of the "presidential private life" during the last decade changed their tune last week. Of course, it won't last.

But for one week, American's gathered from around the country for a bi-partisan celebration of personal integrity. We've slapped our own faces, branded ourselves as hypocrits, and shed tears in honor of a man whose death proves us wrong. And like the man who we honor, our memory will be short lived. Next week, many of us will be back on our rooftops shouting that same old lie, "Integrity doesn't matter!"

The Freedom and Restrictions of Writing

Venturing into the world of writing, I'm learning more every day. When I first imagined myself as a writer, I was young and inexperienced in life. I chose a path that would bring me more security, but it also brought discontent. Almost twenty years later, I have finally come full circle to follow my dream, a more experienced person, covered with the scars of life's wounds. Each scar contributes to who I am and what type of writer I will be.

My literary adventure began earlier this year, believing that gift and desire were the only tools needed to be successful in my new endeavor. Writing is freedom, isn't it? The imagination can soar into the clouds, crawl through dark caverns, or roll gleefully down a hill covered with spring grass and wildflowers. There is no end to where the mind of a great writer can take a reader. I can create new worlds of which no other living being has dreamed, capture my reader in the grasp of fantasies that take them out of their dreary existence and into a world of expectation. That's the freedom that draws me to my computer each day.

But there's a flip side to every coin. I hate cliche's, but sometimes there's no better way of getting a point across. Maybe I'll even recreate an old cliche'--there's a dark cloud inside every silver lining. That dark cloud is the stack of books sitting in my To Be Read pile. Not the fiction pile. The How To pile. All those books that other authors have told me I must read if I ever hope to publish a syllable. I'm back in school. Writing 101. Where gift and desire are pushed aside to make way for technical elements of the craft. I thought I'd figured out how to use a comma--back in grammar school. And I've joined an online writer's group and a critique group. To put it bluntly, I've pasted a target on my torso and screamed, "Rip apart my soul!" As the darts hit center, I flinch in pain. I've poured my creative heart into my work and someone has just told me it needs to be rewritten. So I slip into my dark corner and pout, clasping my beloved prose to my chest, willing to protect it with my life.

I've learned that life as a writer is like any other profession. We imagine the joys and downplay the pain. But the pain will come eventually. And when it comes, I'll embrace it. As I reflect on the scars of my life, I see how they have molded me into a person I couldn't have imagined becoming. As a writer, I choose to take the darts, feel the pain, then heal and become stronger. A better writer. Because those throwing the darts have been where I am. They know what it takes to forge ahead down my chosen path.

So today I am a writer. Tomorrow I will be a better writer. Maybe someday I will be a great writer. My imagination will traverse the corridors of unknown adventures, propelling me forward in search of those darts that will bring pain. And each time I heal, I am one step closer to realizing my dream.