The Next Big Thing Blog Hop is a chance for writers around the world to talk about what they’re working on.
When you’re tagged, you answer ten questions
about your next book or story, link to the person who tagged you, then tag 3-5
I was tagged by one of my dearest friends from graduate school: Sarah Layden.
I have always respected her talent, her keen sense of observation, and her formidable intellect. She has raised two beautiful sons while publishing, interviewing, teaching, etc.
Her humor is unmatched. You can find her blog at: http://www.sarahlayden.com/
She is a continual inspiration to me!
Here are the questions:
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Due to my mother's interests, I watched A LOT of murder mysteries when I was younger: Sherlock Holmes (with Jeremy Brett), Murder, She Wrote, all things Agatha Christie (And Then There Were None is my personal favorite), Remington Steele, Hart to Hart, Magnum, P.I., Riptide, Simon And Simon, Jake and the Fatman, Perry Mason, Matlock, and the list goes on and on...
Perhaps because of this background with the genre, I have developed an interest in mystery novels. Whenever I hear the word "misdemeanor," I couldn't help but hear the double meaning in my head---"missed demeanors." It seems like the sort of word play Agatha Christie might've appreciated.
What genre does your book fall under?
It will be a mystery...not necessarily a "murder" mystery, but there will be things that need solved.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Actually, Angelia Jolie would be great for my lead. I also the British actresses--Justine Waddell (Wives and Daughters), Rosamond Pike (Pride and Prejudice), and Jennifer Ehle...In the end, I might even go with a slight older Rooney Mara. Or, the grand prize--Noomi Rapace.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Blind ex-professor of Abnormal Psychology helps to solve a perplexing puzzle.
Do you have a publisher for your book yet? Who? Was the book agented?
No, much too early yet.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It's still in progress, but I think it will take a year or so from genesis to actual product.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Anything Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie...even my favorites Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Beloved contain elements of mystery...
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Rainy Saturday afternoons...and tea.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I want to play with the conventions of the genre, hook a reader in and keep them reading...I hope to use plot twists (as expected of the genre) and offer peeks into the characters themselves....As the movie Shadowlands states: "We read to know we're not alone." We all love a good mystery, but even more, we all love a character who does what we wish we could, is who we wish we were, makes us feel good about our own identities...
Friday, February 1, 2013
I got a later start in life than most when it came to love. As a young person, I was reserved, a little aloof to rituals of dating, much more focused on writing and my studies. A gawky teenager with thick glasses, I preferred to read about romance than bother with the mess of actually experiencing it in real life. That's not to say that I didn't go on my share of first dates, even second dates, but I shied away from hand holding or anything more than conversation and a few laughs.
In 2000, when I was 26, one of my friends provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a chance to go with her to Egypt. I had enough money in the bank, and she wanted a companion to go with her to Egypt to visit members of her family. Her aunt lived with her Egyptian husband and two children near Heliopolis. This was a rare chance to visit Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, the pyramids, the Spinx, and a host of other marvels. Whenever I flip over a dollar bill and see the symbol of the pyramid, I still have to remind myself that I actually climbed around inside the Great Pyramid at Giza. I stared the Spinx in the face.
Still, Egypt would make an even deeper impression upon my life. My friend and I scheduled a ten day cruise on the Nile. It would take us to many ancient sites. We would travel with other tourists from a host of other countries--Ireland, Slovenia, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands. They provided each group with a guide who spoke the language of their choice: French, German, or English. Joseph was our tour guide. A handsome man probably in his late 20's. He wore a gold band on the ring finger of his right hand. An older woman, Truus, in her early 60's said that he was likely married, that in this part of the world some men wore their wedding rings on their right hand, but Joseph never spoke of a wife, only a sister. He was complimentary and flattering. He had a job to do and wanted to be paid well. He talked about being a Coptic Christian and having strong moral values. His stories about attempted seductions by previous guests of the ship seemed to indicate that he might've had other things on his mind.
I was young, in possession of an athletic body from my years of playing tennis and exercising. I had long black hair and tried to comport myself with intelligence and awareness. Joseph was attractive, like you might imagine the Joseph of the Bible looking like. He was attentive to all of us in his tour group, but he did seem to favor spending time with my friend, another American around our age, and me.
How I ended up alone with him on the opposite deck from everyone else eludes me. I think we three girls were probably sipping some Stella and playing ping pong after a hot day of sightseeing. It was becoming dark as our ship slipped through the placid waters of the Nile.
I think he asked me to accompany him to the quieter side of the ship. I felt no threat or reason not to. I was on vacation and across the globe from my home. I was out in the world to experience the world. He gave me a scarab beetle necklace, a modest trinket that I still have in my jewelry box. We were sitting next to each other in the wicker deck chairs. I was nervous. I could sense that something was required in exchanged for the necklace.
So, there, at the age of 26, on the Nile under the moonlight, I received my first kiss, more a kiss on the teeth than anything else. I was laughing when he suddenly moved forward and pressed his soft, warm lips to mine. That was all. Nothing more. I sat a little stunned, still with my giggling. I couldn't wait to tell my friend and the other American girl who had both grown close to.
I came late to many experiences in life. Many people tell stories about kisses behind trees with childhood crushes, fumbling and bumbling in the backseat of a car or in the dark of a movie theater or under the bleachers at a football game.
That kiss from Joseph was the best souvenir I brought back from Egypt, just a quick moment, a milestone met. Life has a funny way of exceeding all expectations, sometimes. A bookish young woman had to travel across the global to finally experience something so simple as a first kiss. I couldn't have imagined it, let alone written, any better myself.
Friday, January 11, 2013
On May 6, 1956, a newspaper printed these words: "The death of Mrs. Allie W. White, 80, the former Nellie May Rudd, a long time and highly respected resident of Bennington [VT] who was a charter member and past president of the American Legion Auxiliary, occurred at Warner Nursing Home Sunday."
It's hard to say how many people noted the obituary, or the name of the woman mentioned. She was an old woman, after all, who died in a nursing home--one of millions each day. They didn't know the true story behind this simple sentence: " Mr. White and three children are deceased."
The former Nellie May Rudd interests me because she is my great-great grandmother, a woman who shares my birthday of May 16th, almost 100 years to the day. She was born in 1875; I was born in 1974.
Also, Mrs. Allie W. White kept a family Bible, a treasure that has been passed down from my grandfather, the oldest child of her oldest living son, to his widow, my grandmother. These days it sets on the shelf of the only living male on my father's side of the family.
Through her own scrawling cursive, I learned the heart of the former Nellie May Rudd. She outlived her husband, who died at the early age of 58, and all three of her sons. By her own accounts, she was present at each death.
She sat beside the bed of her youngest son George H. White for 26 days and watched helplessly as he starved to death from a "paralyzed throat". A young boy at school had jumped on the eight-year-old's back and "dislocated [George's] spine." The result sounded like a mother's worst nightmare. She had to watch as her young son die slowly and painfully.
This would be only the first death she recorded in the family Bible.
The second was that of her second born--Ernest Warren White. Sometimes, it is hard to read Nellie's writing, but she seems to say that "we were all with Ernest at the last." He was shot in the stomach and liver at work on Dec. 8th, died on Dec. 10th, and was finally laid to rest on Dec. 12th.
Though Nellie only hints at the cause of the shooting, family lore has always suggested that Ernest (at age 26) was shot by a jealous husband. Since philanderers seem especially prevalent on those branches of the family, it is possible to assume that Ernest found himself "fooling about" with the wrong woman.
In any case, Nellie found herself once again at the death of bed of one of her sons.
The next death she endured was that of her husband. There is only one picture of Nellie and Allie White that I know. It used to hang in our living room when I was growing up. They were a handsome pair. Allie looked classic, aristocratic, possessing that rare form of male elegance. Nellie was more sturdy in appearance, no less handsome, a classic image of a formidable New England woman at the turn of the century.
Allie was a school janitor who suffered some sort of "shock," according to his obituary. My great-grandfather Rudd found him and took him home. Within an hour, Allie White--a man of rare integrity--was dead.
One has to wonder what Nellie thought. When she turned back the covers on her cold bed at night, only one of her three sons remaining, what were her hopes for the future.
At the end of thirteen years, Rudd Lyman White, my great-grandfather, would be dead from a heart attack, "a bad heart attack," as Nellie wrote.
Her choice of words were these: "I was up all night with him & he died Sunday at 7:30 am. I was alone."
She does not give much of her thoughts and feelings. The Bible only records the events in her occasionally awkward scrawl. Still, one cannot help but be moved by her simple choice of words: "I was alone."
She would be laid to rest fifteen years later, having outlived all of the most important men in her life. The former Nellie May Rudd whose own obituary recorded her as Mrs. Allie White had been stronger than the White she married and the Whites she bore.
With a strength and forbearance that could only be matched by Mary, my great-great grandmother watched each of her sons struggle for life, sat by each of their agonizing deathbeds, undoubtedly clutched their limp, lifeless hands and prayed for them. Did she do so with typical New England stoicism? Did she cry and shout and plead? Mostly likely, she kept a silent vigil, her heart swelling with a grief and pain that she would never voice.
We live and we die, and until we die, we cry and continue to live.
Mrs. Allie White died May 6, 1956. She died ten days short of her own birthday on May 16th.
Thanks to her family Bible, I have met one of the strongest hearts I will ever know, a birthday kindred, my beautiful great-great grandmother who might've gone to bed one cold, lonely night and imagined a woman who would read her words, who would appreciate her heart, who would share that same blood, and who would someday dream of Mrs. Allie White and know her finally as Nellie May Rudd White.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
This is my wailing wall...
I slip prayers into the spaces between the lines, each word a brick, laden with a lament for too many children . There are too many children sleeping in heaven from starvation, war, the madness diseasing the thoughts of too many young men.
Our soul sickness spreads through our veins, pumps through the holes in our hearts, floats like a contagion from our sighs. We wail and wail and wail. But, we're losing our poets, too; the minstrels of our generation slip from our world too quickly, their words the stones engraved with our own epitaphs. Poets, children, and angels crowd the invisible world we seek for a comfort to the pain of being left behind.
And, we wail, give these walls our prayers and tears, too many tears...
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
I didn't know her first name. Everybody called her Mrs. Hudson.
Still, I knew her more intimately than many of my closest friends. I saw her at her most vulnerable. An elderly woman of 88, her body failing quickly from aggressive breast cancer. I lifted her failing body, smelled the humiliating odors of age, touched the skin behind her thighs when I helped move her.
I only met Mrs. Hudson twice before. We'd been neighbors for four years. Once, when the power went out during a violent thunderstorm and the tornado sirens wailed, everybody on our floor gathered in the hallway. Her daughter, a woman in her sixties, brought out a chair so her mother could sit.
"This is Sarah," her daughter said to her mother.
The elderly woman, already 87-years-old, smiled and nodded. "God bless you. God bless all of you neighbors. You're all such wonderful people."
The second time I met Mrs. Hudson was just after I brought my puppy home. Her daughter said that when she was younger, her mother had a little Chihuahua. I took Edgar over to meet this mysterious woman, and her face lit up. She pet him with her crooked fingers and smiled.
"Cute doggy," she mumbled, talking wasn't easy for her.
I never thought I would become so intimately involved with Mrs. Hudson. I knew she was in poor health. I knew that when her daughter worked some of the neighbors would make sure she had her lunch. I knew that stayed in the second window of three in the apartment next to me. She rarely left the building.
As I went about my day, absorbed in my own thoughts and challenges, I never thought that my life would intersect with Mrs. Hudson's.
The first time was a gentle knock. My neighbor stood outside my apartment in her pajamas.
"Can you help me, Sarah?" she asked. "My mother fell, and I need help lifting her up."
"Of course," I said.
When I stepped into the apartment and down the hallway, I saw Mrs. Hudson in a nightgown, sitting on the floor. She had fallen from the toilet. She was suffering from terminal breast cancer, was placed on pain pills stronger than Morphine. I ignored the embarrassing bodily smells and helped lift Mrs. Hudson into bed.
I would help on several more occasions, leaving Mrs. Hudson with a pat on the arm, or tender touch to her thigh. These were her most vulnerable moments. She was helpless, no longer in control of her own body, and I came into her private space, her bedroom, a virtual stranger.
Why do we feel so compelled to offer a reassuring touch to the dying? To transfer our energy to them? To translate through the warmth of our hands what words can never express--someday, I will be you. I will lay in my death bed. I will be wracked by mortality. I will depend upon the kindness of strangers.
Each time I stepped into that small bedroom, I couldn't help notice the details of Mrs. Hudson's life. On the wall, directly opposite her pillow was a caricature of Obama, Michelle, and their daughters, on the other wall was a picture of an African angel guarding two children on a bridge. Her television was always turned to a praise network where a black Baptist minister preached to a chorus of "amens" and "preach it." She had framed pictures of her many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all around her to the point of near clutter.
A person could tell that what mattered the most to Mrs. Hudson were her God, her family, and her country.
I didn't learn Mrs. Hudson's name until I read her obituary, but by then, it did not matter.
She'd already touched me with a reassuring touch.
When the time comes, she seemed to say, you will not be alone.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Every afternoon, right before supper, she would appear. It was the early 80's, so her cat-eye glasses and sandy-colored (does she, or doesn't she?) beehive did not seem uncommon. Her lips curled downward into a scowl, and she stared straight ahead.
I called her the Chihuahua Lady. She walked her tiny Chihuahua Taco down our street every day, a well-known fixture in our neighborhood. A few times we would stop our play and rush over to see Taco, a fawn Chihuahua with a long tongue that wagged with his bouncy gait. Neither of them were especially interested in children, but her route must've been routine, children be damned.
I wouldn't say the Chihuahua Lady was rude, but she wasn't overly friendly either. Just polite enough. She and Taco had a job to do, and sweaty, eager children weren't going to slow them down.
Still, she was a familiar sight. When I saw her turn the corner and walk down my street, the leash out in front, Taco obscured by the brick walls in front of each of our homes, there was a sense of comfort in it.
We felt the same way whenever we heard the Ding-a-Ling Lady. I have few talents in life, but one of them seems to be the ability to give nicknames. It wasn't long before Chihuahua Lady and Ding-a-Ling Lady were household names.
Ching, ching, ching--the Ding-a-Ling Lady was a weathered woman with frizzy grey hair. She usually wore a white sunhat, white t-shirt and jean shorts and rode a bike with a giant freezer attached to the front. On the handlebars, she had attached a little brass bell that jangled whenever she pulled the long string. She would sell you a red, white, and blue bomb pop, fudgesicle, creamsicle, strawberry shortcake popsicle, or ice cream sandwich. The most expensive item was a dime, some could be purchased for a nickel. I remember one time, feeling particularly rich, I "tipped" her and gave her a dollar for a couple of my items and told her to keep the change. She protested, but I insisted. I felt good about myself that day. It was the first time I had tipped anyone.
Another familiar stranger was Startrucker. He wore a London Fog trench coat, looked a bit like Charles Manson with his long black hair and long black beard, and he mumbled incoherently to himself as he rambled down the sidewalks of our small town. The theories abounded. Since I grew up in a college town, it was no great leap to say he was professor who had fried his brain on LSD. Everybody claimed that he was rich, came from rich parents, but that he had a mental disorder. I never remember being frightened of him. We probably all should've been. We were children. But, it was the early 80's and we didn't think that way yet. So, if we passed him on the street, in our traditional Midwestern way, we nodded and smiled, "Hello." He may or may not have replied. But, at least we maintained our cultural heritage and friendly politeness to strangers.
Earlier this year, I bought a puppy, a Chihuahua. I walk him several times a day around my apartment complex. Some of my neighbors look for him. When he was gone for a few days, they all asked about him. Where's Edgar? One of my neighbors is in his 80's, has a heart condition, but he smiles and waves every time I see him. When Edgar returned from his time away, I swear this man bounded down the stairs to pet and scratch my tiny puppy. Children race out of sliding patio doors and rush to chase him and romp with him. They don't know my name, but they know his. Just like I knew Taco's name but not his owner's.
The other day, a woman came out of her apartment as Edgar and I walked by. She smiled and fawned over Edgar and his unique brindle coat.
"Can I pet him?" she asked.
"Absolutely," I replied.
"I've seen you walking him every day. He's so adorable."
I smiled. When I was a child, I found comfort in those familiar strangers. I never thought that one day I would be one. Knowing this changed my walks with Edgar. We are familiars. The sight of us makes people remember their own childhoods, transforms the isolation of an apartment complex into a neighborhood with smiles and friendly nods.
If only Edgar could've known Taco.
Friday, July 13, 2012
Nighttime, after the locusts hushed, and the only summer sounds were crickets singing love songs, the rustling of scavengers scratching through scorched leaves...we would lay back in the pokey grass and lose ourselves in the blackened night sky. Why was it such a thrill to find the Big and Little Dippers? I remember the night my parents pointed them out to me, a curiosity rite of passage, the ability to see and know and discern, to follow your father's forefinger as he traced the image in the sky.
Last night, outside of my apartment, my heart leapt a little at seeing the Big Dipper, like an old friend, scooping away infinity and time and letting a middle-aged woman stare a little girl in the eyes. We met together under the stars. For a moment, I was in my childhood backyard, seeing the Dipper above the roof of our house, where it always seemed to stay.
I hadn't looked for the Dipper in years, but there it was last night, twinkling through the darkness of space as if with a wink and a smile. Such a crazy, almost cartoonish (non)constellation, and, yet, utterly unreachable, light years away and apart, a friendly piece of eternity.
The Plough, The Butcher's Cleaver, The Big Bear, The Drinking Gourd to freedom...how many of us throughout history have converged under these very stars?
If I find the Dipper again in ten years, will I find myself again last night? This point of reference, this moment where I will see myself staring at myself staring at the Dipper. Time is a stranger to the stars. They are the gravestones, touch stones of all who dare to stare into the spaces between.
Friday, June 29, 2012
...I'd be smiling, laughing even. I might even smoke a cigar, kick my feet up on my brimstone desk, and sip a hot toddy. Another job well done.I learned way back in Sunday school that even Satan can quote Scripture. He knows what the Bible says. That's just good Rhetoric 101--know your target audience's values, beliefs, and be able to articulate your persuasive ideas from their point of view without seeming combative. After all, this is that same old snake who beguiled Eve into eating the forbidden fruit she already craved.
What a genius move, then, to have "Christians" openly spewing hatred from the pulpit because they so fervently want to believe that it matters to God--ministers advocating concentrate camps for gays, young children damning "homos" and singing that "there ain't gonna be no homos in Heaven" to a standing ovation, another minister telling parents to slap a boy's limp wrist and have the child "man up" (well, not a female child. She needs to wear skirts, lest she become, gasp, too butch). There are more instances and stories. Just mention Westboro, and most folks will get the idea.As we all know by now, Jesus never mentioned homosexuality (Oh, sure, people can talk about implied meaning in his statements about marriage, but this is an omniscient deity, God made flesh. He knew that 2000 years into the future, this would become a major issue in the US--if we start from the premise that God knows everything. If it mattered to Him, he wouldn't have implied anything. Period.). Let's add some commonsense and simplify the conversation. Jesus did not like adultery, and he said so. He did not like greed, and he said so. He did not like hypocrisy, and he said so.
Sure, Paul and John had some things to say about homosexual behaviors, but they commented on a lot of other things, too. Frankly, if we're so concerned with "protecting" marriage, then we need a divorce amendment. The Bible mentions that one quite a bit, along with how it relates to adultery, but you rarely hear preachers suggesting concentrate-style camps for divorcees...
Jesus did mention love many times. He told his disciples, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another..." I know that God isn't just about love; He is also about judgment and truth. I'm sure this is why Jesus expressly told people not to judge one another, to watch out for planks in our own eyes, and to only throw stones when we were "without sin."
Sure are a lot of rocks whizzing through the air these days.
What about those dirty Sodomites who died so famously at Sodom and Gomorrah? They wanted to "know" those angels, so Lot did the only "respectable" thing--he offered the mob of men his virgin daughters. Maybe because I'm a girl, but that part always bothered me more than the interpreted homosexuality. Those young, vulnerable girls left to the whims of a mob of men? I honestly still shudder at the thought.
Later, in the book of Ezekiel, though, we learn this: "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen..."
Oops, maybe more of us are Sodomites than we thought, especially if being a Sodomite means being "arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned" and not helping "the poor and needy." Sounds a little too familiar. I know I'm overfed. We're an overfed and wasteful nation that lets people die in hospital waiting rooms, on the streets, and cold and alone in their own homes, and we just step over them, hoard our own precious resources, and thank God for our blessings. Materialistic? No, no, just blessed.
If I were the Devil, I would be congratulating myself. Many American Christians seem so preoccupied with throwing stones at homosexuals that loving a neighbor and helping the poor and needy are ignored in favor of self-righteousness and hypocrisy.
But, you know, the Devil's done this job before. Just tempt people with the things they are already crave, and they'll bite.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
If you speak to God, is it like singing? Like a cantor or priest, do we pronounce our praise in soulful cadences? Or, do we speak at all? There are wordless prayers prayed everday. Our hearts beat, souls throb, blood pulses with the prayer, "God, let me live one more day." In silence, in darkness, we sit and meditate, ruminate, contemplate feelings that no tongue could twist into sound. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. A memory is worth a million. My silent prayer is worth the billion of years it took a creature to slog from the primordial soup and taste a tongue it does not need...
Sunday, May 6, 2012
I am the woman you might've called mother, mom, mama, mommy. I carry you inside me, the unmade memories of our life together, little traditions--decorating the Christmas tree together, baking cookies, teaching you to read and write, holding your hand. Your skin woven from the DNA of my skin, our fingers tangled like our bloodlines, like our lives might've been. I would brush your hair on humid summer nights after a cooling bath, braid the strands, or make them into pigtails. I picture you as my daughter. Perhaps you are my son. Your hair is black or maybe red, freckles on your pale cheeks, a dimple in your chin. I've stared into your dark brown eyes (or maybe blue or hazel) more lately than I ever did before.
When I was younger, I did not dream of you like some women do of their children. I was in no rush to bring you into this world.
Should I tell you? Once I left a doll out in the rain. I hated dolls unless they came with lightsabers or little plastic guns.You'd be such a great mom, people tell me. You're cold, others have said to me when I confessed that children weren't a priority for me. All women are supposed to want to be mothers. I carry this around inside me, next to you, this expectation...
Should I have wanted to see you face to face? Am I less of a woman, less of a person because I chose to keep you safe inside, away from the burden of living, the weight that comes with choices? You are a part of me, even though I never gave birth to you. I've known you in each breath I take, in each time I watch clouds drift the sky or visit the cemeteries of your uncle, your great-grandparents, the people you probably know better than I ever could. Your soul never took flight from Heaven.
Being a mother changes you. Being a mother puts the world into perspective. Being a mother completes the cycle of life--you are born, you give birth. But, not being a mother changes you, too, in ways only those of us on this path can understand. People think I'm selfish. I am selfish. Too selfish to let you go, to push you into a fleshly cage of weaknesses and frailty. Ever since I was a teen, I preferred the idea of adoption. Someday, I might be a mother to another child, my own in spirit if not by blood, and you--the one to which I never gave birth either--will be the absent sibling, part of the love I will feel inside. I teach college, meet young people from different backgrounds, share what can with those I can.
Forgive me, but I will always be your mother and you will be my child, like the moon births the tides, the way the sun conjures seedlings from the soil, the way my heart understands that some are born to be mothers and others are mothers who are born for the sake of many children not their own.