out of the ashes

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Morning

This morning the weak blue sky is inhabited by tufts of clouds rolling northwest. It's cool, but not frigid. I think back on the years in Denver. The gray landscape, the same sky--a deeper blue, though. Frozen. I'm thankful I live here in southern California where a hoodie replaces an overcoat.
I'm writing, trying to place myself in the scene, my mind's eye fixed on moving the plot forward with interest, now. I can do this. I think I can. I want to, anyway.

I rewrote the opening of Thirty-three. What do you think? John Delilah will be arriving soon, Amy at his side. That meeting--the meeting of the key players--is the thrust of the chapter. Hail Mary...
It's an unedited first draft. Rough, I know. But, what do you think? What do you think?


Maribeth arrived at the loft every morning at nine to check on him, to nurse Marvin back to some semblance of health and mental stability. Along with shopping bags filled with wholesome food that she prepared in John’s kitchen, she brought him clean clothing, and she laundered that which was dirty. She brought him books—the remainder of those left behind—and she brought him his old blackboard wiped clean for a fresh start, a box of white chalk, and his computer.
Without the debilitating effects of alcohol, and with his friend’s constant care, Marvin began to recover within days. The fog and confusion lifted, slowly at first, but then exponentially as the days slipped by and his drive to continue solving the riddle of his genes resurfaced.
Maribeth stood at the sink after breakfast one afternoon, humming a popular song, rinsing the plates and silver from lunch. Marvin sat quietly on the sofa, hands resting in his lap, in front of the west-facing cathedral of glass. He stared blankly at the folds in the sheers, deep in thought, mentally closing the gaps for the hundredth time in the sequence of centromeres in his own body. He visualized them, watched as they danced into view and then as quickly flew away into the thick fog, taking the proteins along with them. But he had finally identified the thousands of proteins attached to the chromosomes, or so he was certain. Or so he hoped. Now it came down to the proper mix. Easier to specify than the individual make up of each grain of sand on a long beach.
He blinked and shook the fog away.
“I’ve got it, Mare,” he said.
She dropped the silver in her hand into the basket of the dishwasher and turned her head to look across the room at her revived genius. Beyond the sofa at the window it seemed a shadowy figure stood, facing Marvin, and then it disappeared into the translucent material of the curtains, waving a cloudy hand across the room as it did.
“Got what?” she asked.
Marvin left his place on the sofa and walked across the room to the kitchen. He placed a hand into the pocket of his sport coat as he walked toward her, a contented smile on his face. His hair lay brushed and neat, still, except for a small patch above his ear that had been raked through by his fingers during his storm of thinking moments earlier.
He stopped inches away from her and gazed into her eyes, flickering thoughts of gratitude mixed with a strange adoration suddenly bombarding him. Where would he be right now had she not sought him out and lifted him back to life? Out of jail, certainly. Alone. Drunk or dead, rotting beneath the dock in his pit. But alone, and a complete failure.
“I love you, Maribeth,” he almost whispered.
The comment shocked her visibly. She very slowly raised a hand and pushed a strand of hair back behind her ear. This didn’t sound like the statement of a beloved friend to her, more like an admission by someone overcome with the seizure of a romantic notion. She did not respond. She did not blink. She didn’t move, save for a barely noticeable tremble. She waited.
Marvin placed his hands on her cheeks, tilted his weathered, wrinkled face a tiny bit as he surveyed the fineness of her features. His eyes flicked right and left, up and down.
“Where would I be without you? I owe you my life and my sanity.” He stopped for a moment, gathering the words he wanted to say. “It’s as though fate threw you into my path…or me into yours, and because of it I’m there. I have succeeded! What thousands of others have only dreamed of, I have accomplished. You made it all possible. You did, you know. I love you so.” He drew her forward and kissed her forehead. “Thank you, dear Maribeth.”
Maribeth breathed a sigh of tentative relief. Opening her eyes and looking up into his face she saw someone quite different than the crazy old man, however—a glimmer of youthfulness smiling down at her. The ageless soul inside every living creature. His wrinkles and aged skin were there, but…She wondered about fate, and for the first time wondered, too, about her real place in all of this.
“What do you mean, you’ve succeeded?” she said at last.
“Come! Come see what I have,” he said, taking her by the hand and leading her into the bedroom.

Friday, January 29, 2010


It was a busy week. Work was physically taxing. I managed to write two whole paragraphs in my new chapter--pretty sure I'll wind up deleting them. Most likely the entire chapter. Something is missing, or just wrong.
It hit me this morning. Instead of "scene-in-motion" (thank you), I drifted into that old habit that kills a story and marks an amateur. Exposition.
Sol Stein: "One of the chief reasons novels are rejected is that a writer, consciously or not, is reporting a story instead of showing it."
Further: "What a character sees, hears, smells, touches, and tastes can be shown through actions rather than described."
I'm well aware of that, but still something in me wants to tell you. A pitfall I continually encounter. I sometimes feel I'm working in a void.
But, here are the pages of the offending chapter. Save the introduction, I'll be getting rid of them tonight. See what you think (I think it's terrible!).


Without the debilitating effects of alcohol Marvin began to recover within days. The fog and confusion lifted, slowly at first, but then exponentially as the days slipped by and his drive to continue solving the riddle of his genes resurfaced.
There was no Robert, no Consuela, or any other of the staff of servants at John Delilah’s home, and so Marvin was forced to fend for himself during those hours between visits by Maribeth. She thought it better not to inflame her father by moving into the loft where the couch in the living room would necessarily become her bed. She arrived, though, every morning at nine to check on him, to nurse Marvin back to some semblance of health and mental stability. Along with shopping bags filled with wholesome food that she prepared in John’s kitchen, she brought him clean clothing, and she laundered that which was dirty. She brought him books—the remainder of those left behind—and she brought him his old blackboard wiped clean for a fresh start, a box of white chalk, and his computer.
His sallow complexion began to fade, alongside the flushing of the alcohol from his cells, and this, he was certain, was due to a renewed passion to live, and a healthy diet filled with slaughtered animals’ flesh, extremes of butter and whole milk, masses of chocolate cookies, mountains of mashed potatoes, more cookies; all of the beneficial foods once provided by the mansion staff. Following an instinctual drive to preserve himself coupled with a spirit of exploration, he eventually ventured into the galley kitchen to test the waters of cooking. He only became proficient at boiling water, incinerating meat, and burning toast. Had it not been for Maribeth, he would have been relegated to survival on unheated soup from the can, and cold cereal. And of course cookies.
Now John was fond of Raspberry yogurt splattered with Grape Nuts, Papaya juice, and whole wheat toast—at least four grams of fiber, no butter—for breakfast. Watching him eat, Marvin quickly ascertained that the gangly attorney was not getting a proper dosage of protein, but if he wanted to ruin his health by not eating intelligently, that was his business. Still, being the nutritional authority, if not Julia Childs, Marvin suggested he add a slice or two of ham to his plate, or at least several pieces of bacon—even an Oscar Mayer wiener. John merely looked across the island and smiled. No further mention of diet was made after day four.
Setting up a new office with Amy consumed a great number of hours each day for John. There were files to be organized, furniture and d├ęcor to be purchased and brought in, clients to be contacted; in short, all the things required of a start-up firm. As such, he was out of his home for a many more hours than he would normally be, but pleasantly so in the wonderful glow and golden shadow of Amy.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Can't Forget This

I began...

"I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge--myth is more potent than history--dreams are more powerful than facts--hope always triumphs over experience--laughter is the cure for grief--love is stronger than death."

Robert Fulghum

It is such a beautiful statement. I mustn't ever forget this. It says everything. It defines Marvin.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thoughts again

Thinking out loud, Part II

And then again...maybe not. Stick to the plan.


In my previous version of Marvin I had him being arrested outside the mansion the morning after his arrival (kidnapping and terrorism). At the jail he met Anton Stump and the idiot caricature, John Delilah, at the sumptuous dinner in the cafeteria. There he learned of Amy's existence in real life, and her whereabouts.
John Delilah fell asleep; Anton took Marvin to see Cellblock Three--The Sistine chapel. Thus the whole history of the Chapel, along with LaVerne "Buddy" Budd who painted the ceiling, Warden Marsten Dick, who conceived the idea of an enlightenment-type jail, Spatso Clem (the bad, bad guy), Mikey Lee (my real-life brother who keeps getting himself locked outside the jail). In a way it was all too unreal and too wonderful.

Thinking out loud...

WHAT IF...instead of Marvin being snatched from arrest as I have it now, and being taken in by a more-real Delilah, I have him being arrested that morning for drunk in public and assault on an officer? Insert the edited jail chapters. Once again, Maribeth can spring him, and then take him, not back to the mansion, but to John Delilah's ultra-hip, industrial loft? THERE he can learn of Amy's existence when she drops by to visit her boss, John Delilah!
I still have the issue of what to do with Sampson...he is integral to the plot, and I must re-introduce him soon, as the cause of Delilah's death (Spatso and company did it in the first version, inside the jail).
This is a fantasy, a romantic fantasy just as it was when I first wrote it. I've lost much of that humor, though; lost much of Marvin's off-the-wall zaniness and the lightheartedness of the story. But I had to make Delilah...even Sampson...more real, and I've done that, but at the cost of scrapping my Chapel chapters, and Anton.

Laughing. So, I wind up with 500+ manuscript pages.

As it is...

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Apologies

I got an email this morning. The author said a comment had been made. For some reason my settings are not allowing them to be posted on the blog. I have to go to the help forum to see if anyone knows why this happens. I appreciate any comments, still. They show up on my dashboard.
Thanks to all.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Down the back stair, glancing back every other step, expecting to see the poisoned face of Robert appear at the top of the landing. Her right hand slid onto the volute of the rail and she swung in an arc off the last step. She entered the kitchen at a sprint, stopped to spirit a handful of crisp carrots from the refrigerator, and then she dashed down the rear hall to the garage.
Her first stop was the Salvation Army building on Tenth Avenue where reason and hope told her he might be. The matronly figure behind the desk checked the log of entries, running a finger down the list of scrawled signatures. No one by the name of Fuster had signed in over the past five days.
“Let me see, maybe Monday,” she offered, flipping the page back.
“No, no. He left Tuesday evening. Thank you anyway.”
She turned to leave but was stopped by a voice that sounded as if it had been dragged through a pool of tar. “ I know ‘im.” The figure to whom the voice belonged stood tilted and unsteady in the shadows of a doorway ten feet away. He wore a beard of tangled gray beneath a crooked boxer’s nose and vacant eyes. When Maribeth approached him he cocked his bald head as though he’d raised a carbine and was peering into the sight.
“Marvin?” she asked.
“Marvin Fuster. You said you know him?”
The dessicated figure clothed in the gloom of the hallway seemed to come alive. He smiled catlike when she stopped two feet away from him.
“Yeah. I know Fuster, but I don’t know that Marvin fella’.”
“Do you know where he is?” Maribeth asked against all reason of hearing a rational answer. He twisted his head a little more and she could see that he was focusing on her left hand. He moved the spindly fingers of his own right hand to those of his left, rubbing the ring finger almost absently.
“Are you his…WIFE?”
“No, just a friend. Where is he? Do you know?”
“Mar…Oh Jesus.” She left him standing there in his fog of delirium and made her way back down the dreary hall to the entrance.
“I know him! He saved me! You say he’s your husband?” she heard as the door swung outward to the racket of crickets chirping at one another in the evening air.
The feeble-minded man at the Salvation Army turned out to be the most agreeable, if not the most lucid person she encountered that evening. She traveled through the district north of the downtown area scouring every seedy bar she came upon, calling out his name one single quick and cautious step inside of each. After a moment of surprised shock followed by an outbreak of predatory smiles, the drunks answered for him with catcalls and invitations.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

And So...

It's Saturday morning, early.  I'm listening to iTunes.   I'm on cup four of coffee.  It's cold out here.  Lakme is elegantly beautiful.  I'm wondering if I can redo Thirty-one. There's only one way to find out.

I finished Life of Pi last night.  Gosh, why didn't I read it long ago? A marvelous book! My question at the end: which version of the tale was true? I prefer to think Pi's adventure with Richard Parker was what really happened. Even the island with acid algae. We want to believe the fantastic. I want to, anyway.

Which begs the question, can Marvin really have lived this incredible dream? Or was it merely a dream that he will awaken out of at the end, and will he be better for it?

I completed Thirty-one within an hour or two.  On to Thirty-two and Marvin's recovery at Delilah's loft.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One Step forward...Two Steps Back

Yes, that's how it goes sometimes.
I finished Thirty-one last week (I think...maybe it was last month). Sat on it. I was about to send it off to see what C thought. I re-read what I'd written, and it sounded sooooo much like an earlier chapter.  Massive fabrications by Maribeth to the officers about to arrest happy-go-lucky Marvin outside the mansion for drunkenness. A mental oops! So, I cut the offending pages from the doc and pasted them into my Cut Pages doc. My narrative is getting too clipped, too, like I've forgotten how to paint scene all of the sudden. So, now I get to go back into the Working Draft and start the scene all over. How, I ask myself constantly, do the really good writers do it? Make it all flow so seamlessly, as though I'm walking through the trees and down the paths, under the stormy skies with the narrator?  Gosh, sometimes this seems impossible.
C sent me her first 116 pages along with a chapter outline.  I'm going to try to analyze the plot, the flow, the language, her voice--is it fresh? Intriguing? That's a lot of work, and I'm not even sure I'm capable anymore. 
Yes, I am. I am. You have to wake up sometime.
I can do it, just the same as I can finish Thirty-one and make it sing as it moves the story onward.
Work. Living. I'm buried. Clients to meet with, design the new rooms, draw the plans. Duh...sub out the cabinetry to other shops. Co-ordinate. Manage.
Write again.
Write again.
The magic happens when I force my fingers down onto the keys and watch as the words pop up on the screen. Consistently.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A good friend sent me several emails around Christmas that I failed to respond to in a timely manner.  I apologized, explaining how busy I was around the holidays. Not true, precisely.  I just went into a funk; kind of lockjawed myself.  She's an artist.  I designed and built her studio last year.  I mentioned that aside from writing I once upon a time had aspirations to become a great artist, but that I gave up when a major gallery in Santa Monica asked me to bring some pieces up there for their review.  Which I did.  Which they dissed.  I quit painting shortly thereafter, but swore a few years later when I began writing Marvin I'd never, ever quit this dream. Anyway, Sue asked to see a few of my pieces.  This is one I did in about '94 called "Bob and Ted".  Bob has a little moustache.  See it beneath his nose?  Ted is not quite sure of Bob's intentions.  I did another, which photo I've lost; a painted sculpture.  Inside its "M"-like structure I printed an entire story about how Nathaniel Watt electrocuted himself while setting up his first gallery show.  The name of the piece was, "The Passing of Nathaniel Watt."  It was funny to see patrons practically standing on their heads to read the story.  Some came away rubbing sore necks--I think the word count was around 1,500!  In still another work, on Arches paper, I got the idea to tell a story about young Marvin Fuster in script, in the painting itself.  He was addicted to arson even as little Marvin--burned down the orphanage and ran away delighted and laughing...and free.
Happy New Year to all of you!