I’ve just cut to pieces, reassembled, re-read and edited my next novel which still doesn’t have a title and if things go as they have been, perhaps not even a life.
What happened to this story that I had created at my computer and in bed at my usual wake-up hour of 3:00 a.m. is that I couldn’t decide at first from which viewpoint I’d tell the story: the fifteen-year-old girl who was in the middle of escaping an abusive relationship at a homeless camp under a local viaduct or that of the seventy-year-old childless woman at whose door the girl appears one night saying, “Hello, Grandma.”
An early morning inspiration decreed that I’d tell this story from both viewpoints, alternate the chapters, and one would be told in present tense, the other in past tense. A kind of challenge to me, the writer.  All went pretty well. I had to keep track of what was happening two chapters before the one I was writing and somehow keep the timeline the same for each viewpoint version. When the girl opens the door and sees her abuser sitting on the porch (her POV), the old lady will hear the conversation and call the police (her POV), one chapter later. 
I somehow did this for two hundred pages. Then I read what I had written. The opening chapter had no hook, the story had an arc but it arced weakly in two places and the tension I had hoped for dissipated into ho- hum. The story might have been interesting, but the telling wasn’t.
So I did what I’ve done before with at least one other first draft. I cut it into pieces and laid them out on our bed. I pushed the pieces around, moving the third chapter (one that caught even my attention) to the opening chapter of the book, and combined the two arcs into one big arc involving both my characters. Then I gathered up the results of the efforts on the bed, stapled the piles all together, and realized when I looked them  over that I’d lost what I wanted to establish when I started, POV and tenses. Plus, the story read as if I’d put it together in a Sunbeam Mix Master
I have bandaged this sad wounded story with edits and re-writes for more than two weeks now. It’s not healed yet. I’m almost sure its condition is terminal.
Sometime this early morning I remembered a book written by William Styron, I believe, describing his bout with depression during the writing of a novel that just wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what he tried.  He, or a writer like him, sat one evening, silent, at a table as guests talked and laughed around him. Suddenly, the writer got up from the table, went into his study, picked up his manuscript, grabbed a shovel in the back hall, went outside, dug a hole, and buried the sucker in the vegetable garden.
I guess my novel is lucky I live in a condo with four small pots of geraniums on the terrace and no shovel.


As the final pages of the first draft of my next novel fell out of the printer and were punch-holed into submission, it became time for me to tackle the next challenge: the recalcitrant toilet paper holder problem.
            Its downward slant seemed designed on purpose to send the roll of toilet paper off itself and onto the floor, out of the reach of the seated roll-ee. Dangerous. I found an Allen wrench, the place where a tiny screw was not screwing well, and I crawled along the foot of the toilet bowl towards the culprit .
After few minutes of fiddling with the wrench, I got good at “righty tighty, lefty loosie,” and I worked the screw loose. About the size of a comma, it, now liberated, dropped to the floor behind the toilet, not once but thrice, and I was forced, on my knees, to feel my way to its resting places. Each time, the wrench slid under the rug or the counter or under an aching knee. I gave up, limped away.
            So, that evening, over a glass of wine and his latest manuscript, I coerced my carpenter/writer buddy to help me. It would be an Even Steven deal. I was willing to assist him in placing his commas. He would get my toilet paper thingy level. He agreed.
 I noted that he straddled the toilet, rather than crawling behind it as I did. His approach, aggressive, male, however, led to him dropping the screw, the wrench, and then, with a deep inhale, a mutter of the same words I’d used. The bar went on slumping. My friend wondered out loud if commas were worth the effort.
            “Would super glue work?”
            “Haven’t a clue. Any Malbec left?” he asked and we went on to commas.
This evening, undaunted, I discovered a tube of super glue in our weird-tubes cabinet.  I can do this, I told myself. I straddled the toilet, loosened the screw, dropped it but didn’t swear, squeezed the glue into the hole and when I found it, onto the screw, wrenched it one more time, and wiped the overflow off with my fingers.
Within minutes the holder was solidly parallel to the floor, no longer a threat to the rolls that trusted it. And within the same minutes my fingers had become a mass of bone and flesh, no longer fingers. No longer possible were attempts to poke at keys on my computer. No longer did the corkscrew fit into my paw. No longer could I avoid noticing the irony of believing that one can be good at anything she tries, when her fingers are glued together.
I still believe. But sometimes it takes time, a very hot shower and a bottle-opening husband to affirm that belief.
Scroll to Top