out of the ashes

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cathedral rewrite

In the first draft I rushed. After Isabella thrashes Matthew at chess, I rammed the request by Matthew for Isabella to help him write his book into the plot. She, of course, accepted. Mistake. The entire meeting and "falling" by the two of them was way rushed, and I sensed this long ago.
Now it's time to add chapters; extend Isabella's stay and her further shunning of his thinly-veiled overtures. Of course she will finally accept, but by that time they will have fallen quite hopelessly in love. Still, she will leave after reading his crappy first chapters, knowing she doesn't want to further complicate her already complicated life. Vis a vis Brad.
I rewrote the very first chapter which explains that she still DOES love Brad. Maybe. Sort of. Perhaps. She "buried' the letters, plural, she found several weeks ago.
Onward...From page 50 of the working draft...

“No, I’m serious. You hate my books, you’d be perfect!”
“I don’t think so. Thanks anyway. And I don’t hate them—just that one.”
“But you read a lot, right?” he asks with an excited edge to his voice. The faraway look that he had in his eyes a moment ago is gone. Matthew lifts the glass again and this time takes a healthy drink. Yes, he’s excited, but something tells me it’s not so much about my ability to help him as it is…
Still, the thought of participating in the writing of a book, of actually helping a famous author, is intriguing. I consider it, but only for the length of time it takes me to jump two moves ahead in my mind. He’s been writing for years. I’ve never written anything more profound than a grocery list. Checkmate, we both lose. Not only has he written another loser, he’ll probably stick my name on the acknowledgments page—or worse, alongside his on the cover.
“Isabella, you’re the first person I’ve ever met who’s had the courage to tell me what I honestly thought myself about ‘Saving Isabelle’. I know you can do it! Help me!”
“Please don’t use my name and the title of your book in the same sentence…”
“Please! I’m stuck.”
We met less than an hour ago. I mean, really met.
He doesn’t move a muscle; he’s like a statue, or a photograph that’s come to life that I find myself studying. I’m wise enough to the world; I’ve heard them all, still…
“I don’t know the first thing about…”
“That’s precisely my point. You don’t have to, and in a way it’s even better that you don’t.”
“Don’t your editors advise you what to leave and what to cut out after they’ve read what you’ve written? They’re your best shot I should think.”
“I have to get them a manuscript first. Even so, they’re not concerned with literature so much as the house’s bottom line. ” Matthew laughs at that in a mocking way. “You’re an intelligent female reader—about mid-thirties? You’re my market. You can show me immediately—at least from where I am right now—where I’ve fallen down and…I think…how to change course and get back on track again. Whatd’ya say? Just your opinion, nothing technical.”
Put in those terms, I believe he’s right. At least I can tell him that his story sucks, which, judging from ‘Saving Isabelle’, I’m betting it does. And then I think, what if…what if my suggestions actually enable him to…?
“I have to leave next week. That doesn’t give me much time to even read what you have, let alone suggest ways to fix it. Like I could anyway.”
“That’s plenty of time.”
“I have no experience, no qualifications…”
“Yes you do. You’re a great chess player. That’s an analytical thing. You can do it, Isabella.”
I think, in a way, he’s right. I want to think he’s right, anyway. He has leaned forward, elbows resting firmly on his side of the board, chessmen scattered as though the cavalry arrived during our conversation and ripped through their flanks. His hands are folded, resting on my side of the board, the sides of them barely touching my Queen. His smile is soft and genuine and despite the misgivings I have, my ego tells me to go for it. I can always walk away.
And as I consider the look behind the look in his eyes, I decide.
“No.” His countenance plummets immediately. Defeat number two. I feign a certain sadness and touch his hand with my fingertips. “I’m sorry Mr. Ash. I’m flattered, but what might be bad in your current book right now would only get worse if I supposed I could help you. If I tried.”
“But Isabella, I’m serious. You could do it!”
Oh, that puppy-dog look in his eyes. That wolf in his head.
“I think not. But thanks again.” I rise, smooth my dress a bit, and then I walk away. I’ll bet he’s already plotting a new assault. I’ll be ready.

(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


...a small magazine. Probably read by few. Still, the editors liked my piece enough to buy it and include it in the August issue. I got my contributor's copy yesterday in the mail, along with that small check. Which will be in a frame shortly :)

The results of the WD 79th Annual will be announced sometime next month. I have three pieces in that one. I'm confident at least one of them will place. High up, I hope. There is also an upcoming comp at WD with a deadline of December. Time to write something for that one.

A good summer, it was.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Book of Angelina

It's been a while. Sigh.
I'm editing Cathedral, and I'll finish it!

Here are pages 138-141. Matthew is alone at the Lodge. Isabella has gone home to Santa Monica. He is writing his finest novel; the one that will prove his worth to Isabella, to himself, and to the world.

The Lodge-October 4

From: The Book of Angelina

In Paradisum.
I float on the wings of music; on a ballet of staccato strings, pings of a harp, and a chorale of exquisite soprano voices—tenors and baritones, and rich basses.
I dream that God has taken hold of my hand and flown with me across a land of green meadows, of streams and woodlands, and to mountains so high that ascending them hand in hand with Him, my breath leaves me. Rushing upward we leave my earth, my home, bound for heaven.
The voices, I discover, so far away from where we started, are Him. The violins and the harp are part of His soul that is so lovely I cannot do without hearing it. Again and again it emanates like suns and clouds and planets—omniscient peace. It is absolute rest. A moving rest that is not an agent of reinvigoration but invigoration itself.
In my dream God is a melody, with mists of robes and a face that never frowns. In my dream He has an ancient white beard that is buffeted by the starry winds of notes we sail through, and His eyes are diamonds and still pools of blackness, like space itself. They draw me, and hold me as surely as His strong, infinite hand.
“She is waiting,” He says, and we soar through endless space and dimensions of time.
I am wonderfully warm, and I wonder if I’ve died. I laugh at myself and realize that I have not because I feel my feet and my toes, and I know ghosts do not have feet.
In my dream God extends His arms outward like mighty wings, and at the end of His right hand I am suddenly shot through the dust of planets, the gas of stars a trillion light years beyond Him. Oh, and the music heightens as though every atom in the universe becomes a part of His glorious symphony as we pass by! I am smiling and unafraid, now…and looking across the cosmic ocean of His body I see Angelina in His other hand. Her sparkling jet hair, so far away, courses behind her and throws pricks of dazzling light upward and outward, like stellar fireworks, like stars being born. She turns her head and smiles at me, and I am gloriously happy.
In my dream I use the power of celestial strings and the choir voices as my pen, writing with them on comets that stream in endless arcs to hesitate momentarily in the void at my fingertips. I move my free hand in its own arc and watch as melody transformed into script imprints on them, and then one after another they whisk away, across their Creator’s beautiful face to Angelina.
In my dream Angelina longs for me, wants to fly across the space dividing us and join my soul. I believe in her love, as surely as I believe in this God whose hand holds me.
And finally… in my dream there is no hell, nor are there demons or condemnation, only a contentment and the sure knowledge that as I sail through this dimension given to me, I am safe and cared for. I join the chorus, and I am filled with joy. My words are stars. My stars are Angelina, and she is singing, too. We have found each other again, and we are going home.
I awaken and feel the hand and fingers of Angelina in my hand, and excitement grips me; my heart races for the split second it takes for me to realize she is not beside me. The sensation of her warm hand lingers, though, an afterimage, the clinging of the subconscious to things that are buried deep inside. I turn my head on the pillow in a useless gesture to make certain I am not mistaken, knowing, of course, that I am back in solid, distressing reality. God has gone home and left me here, and Angelina has also disappeared. I was safe in the dream, but now I am only in a home of brick and mortar, floating away from her, dying inside . Such are the endings of dreams. Vain hopes, and the refusal of the mind to follow the death of the heart and soul.
Since returning to the parish, she has haunted my thoughts. I rise and dress and leave the rectory every morning to say Mass but I feel the overwhelming shroud of loneliness that covers me. My lips perform the duty solemnly, without error, and also without reverence.

It is Saturday morning and a winter blizzard that rushed over the front range like a horde of invaders yesterday afternoon continues. Wild winds hurling shards of ice rise violently, subside, then begin the attack again. The pavement of the street in front of the church is black, still, because the ice has no cleft or ridge to cling to, and so the bitter snow piles up against the edge of the gutter instead, growing at the whim of the wind, beaten down again and again as chunks of it are ripped free and taken along to other barriers. I raise the collar of my winter overcoat up to cover the exposed side of my face, bend forward and to the left against the gale, and hop-run to the rear sanctuary door. I will say mid-morning Mass, visit Mr. Hernandez who is dying of liver cancer afterward, then return to the warmth of the rectory. This afternoon Father Gregory and I will hear confessions, if any parishioner penitent enough to brave the fury of the storm comes to the cathedral.
Though we priests cannot forgive a sin we are party to, Angelina confessed to me anyway. Asked my forgiveness for our sin. I didn’t know how to absolve her. Absolve her of what? That day I sat across the desk in my office watching her cry, certain in her heart that we’d committed some sin beyond adultery—and I suppose we had; we parted. I dutifully made the sign of the cross with my hand and whispered as I held back my own tears, “Ego te absolvo de peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris…”.
I watched her leave quietly, not looking back, her sad, radiant head bent forward. I struggled to speak. “Goodbye, Angelina. I will always…” She raised her hand as she descended the steps, as though casting a backward blessing, but I knew it was really her plea for me not to finish. I could see that she was still crying.
I haven’t seen her since, and I want badly to leave this earth.