Friday, September 28, 2012

The Shell Keeper/Quote Outtakes: Chapters 4 & 5

I'm including chapter 4 for those of you who are following along with this series. I don't want you to think I've skipped a chapter, but chapter 4 has and never had a quote. It's a short and sweet chapter of the diary entries from Gwen, Del and Claire.

This chapter fleshes out each of my characters a little bit more, and in their own words. They don't need a quote from Anne to define where they stand--these gals can friggin' do that just fine for themselves, thank you very much! (channeling Claire there a bit!)

That brings us to chapter 5...

When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. We must re-learn to be alone. 
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I loved this quote and it is so dearly perfect for chapter 5. It is the first night that Del's children are spending at their father's home. The first night Del is home alone after her divorce. Even her beloved little miniature poodle, Sandy, has gone with them. Del is alone, truly abandoned in her own space and she's not sure how she feels about that.

As Del wanders around her home and her thoughts she is re-learning to be alone. We travel with her and learn about her children and Micky, her soon-to-be Ex. We discover how Del learned of her husbands infidelity and we see how she's handling the fall-out.

This was one of my favorite chapters to write. There is so much going on on the inside of Del that's masked by the naivete and insecurities of the outside. Del ends this chapter smoking one of her son's smuggled Camels, on her kids' swing-set, swaying in the cold mountain air beneath a deep black sky littered with stars. The reader has gone from wanting to comfort her to mentally cheering You Go Girl! A night that started with emptiness is now filling with promise, and Del is getting back the courage to dream big.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Short and Sweet Review: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

Years ago I read the biography of Louise Brooks, a fiesty young woman from Kansas, who lived in the early years of the last century. Louise pushed the boundaries of her day-she was politically inappropriate, and just flat out inappropriate in pretty much every way that could be unacceptable to the times she grew up in. In fact, her behavior wouldn't be so acceptable these days, either. She was damaged, and a user of people in her quest for personal gratification and success. So of course, she went to Hollywood.

The early years in the movie business, before talkies and before the censors really came to power, someone like Louise was tailor made for success. And ultimately, failure. It wasn't that she wasn't talented enough to make it, talkies and all, it was that she was born to rebel...and drink. It's a bad combination in any line of work, Hollywood just gave you the chance to do it in a big way.

So when I read the concept of Ms. Moriarty's book, The Chaperone, I was intrigued. Cora Calisle was a very traditional woman tasked with chaperoning 15 year-old Louise for a summer in New York City as she pursued her dreams with a dance troupe, hoping to never return to Kansas again.

It's been a while since I read that biography, so I can't say for certain how accurate the details of Louise's life may be (I'll assume the author did her homework and aimed for accuracy...for the most part). That's fine, I'm here for the fiction as well, and the story of our chaperone, Cora, as well.

Seemingly uptight Cora has some still water running deep along with a hidden past she's come to New York City to unearth. But she can't help worrying about Louise's virginity-though it's fairly clear to the reader that that's probably a done deal by the time Louise hits the big city.

Along the way we learn some sad truths about Cora's life, as well as Louise's. We find sympathy for both and wish them both well...though we rightly worry that Louise is a ball of fire blazing brightly on the path to burning up. Cora's life, however, takes some extremely surprising turns! I have to hand it to Ms. Moriarty for throwing some totally unexpected plot developments my way.

But the title of our book is The Chaperone, and about half way through I started to think that the chaperoning aspect-and the Louise storyline-were just a gimmick to bring in readers. In the end, Louise moves on and we spend the rest of the book following the results and continuing story arc for Cora, with only occassional glimpses of Louise's life.

At one point Cora finds an opportunity to guide Louise back onto a path that could hold happiness for her if she plays her cards right. Of course, Louise doesn't like to play by the rules of anyone's game but her own, so you know that's not likely to end up well. And the author can't rewrite history with this historical character-it's not a what-if kind of tale.

In the end the story is, of course, about Cora, the chaperone. That title leads you to believe that's the focus of the story-Cora's opportunities, seized or blown-to make a difference in her young charge's life. But it's not. The chaperone part is just a set up to tell you Cora's story-from beginning to end, and Louise is the collateral damage used to bring in readers.

Ms. Moriarty deserves props for creating a life with lots of surprises. We find out that Cora can be, in her own very private way, equally outrageous as Louise in the eyes of her contemporaries-were they to ever find out. But the title and the concept of the book are misleading. I felt a little cheated in the end. I felt that, as chaperon, Cora dropped the ball in many opportunities to make a difference-or at least find a closer connection-with Louise. She freaked out one too many times for my tastes-after a while you expect some level headedness from the adult in the room.

Once Louise has served her plot purpose she's shipped off to Hollywood and out of the story, leaving the other half of the book to tell us a much longer story that has nothing to do with the title or the initial set-up. It's two books in one and two stories in one. That kinda bugged me. I'd have been happy to read either one separately, but together each story felt short shifted-particularly Louise's.

If you're curious about Louise Brooks there are plenty of books out there-including her own version, Lulu in Hollywood. If you want a period piece about an orphan who endures difficult life twists and finds happiness in unconventional ways, read The Chaperone. But don't read The Chaperone if you want both.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Shell Keeper/Quote Outtakes: Chapter 3

The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere.

This is the second of the series on quotes from Ms. Lindbergh's book that the brutal editing process forced me to eliminate...sniff....  This gem is the theme of The Shell Keeper/chapter 3 and is all the more illuminating when you consider the line that follows it in her book:

That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. I have shed my mask.

I can relate to that-and if you're being honest with yourself I bet you can, too. In general I think we all have a 'mask', a persona that we carry around on a day to day basis to present to the world as we go about our business. It makes life simpler.

It's why, when you hear of someone who 'wears their heart on their sleeve' you have a mix of sympathy tinged with both pity and regret. Why? Because it's just too much work to be ALL THERE all the time! But maybe part of us yearns to be there all the same. But we save those moments of personal exposure and illumination for our friends and family-if at all. Or, if you're a writer, for you books.

In chapter three Gwen and Claire do their best to stay out of the way as Del is interviewed by a female police officer. The same officer Del swears is having an affair with her soon-to-be ex-husband. Gwen and Claire don't want to intrude...but really, they can't help being curious about how that conversation is going.

Here we have three women who've been playing it close to the vest. They're accustomed to keeping their private issues private. Suddenly they are thrust into this odd and unexpected situation where they are torn between privacy and curiosity...and the temptation to let each other in is running smack up against the instinct to keep each other out.

It's a funny and touching scene, including a little white lie Del tells, with the help of Claire, to keep life simple. Even though all three of their lives are about to get pretty damn complicated!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Shell Keeper: Quote 'Out-Takes'/ Chapter 2

Any writer will tell you that what makes a novel great is as much what's taken out as what's left in. The editing process can be brutal. Tears may be shed. But if we're honest with ourselves we have to admit that the final product is usually much more what we wanted in the first place. In other words, that old maxim was right: Less is More.

For me, the More that needed to be yanked during the editing process of my women's fiction novel, The Shell Keeper, were quotes at the start of each chapter. The spirit of my book sprung, years ago, from the wisdom of Ann Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. This small tome is packed with gems that speak to women of all ages and, when writing The Shell Keeper, I found a treasure to mark each chapter. My scenes, my characters, my plot all found roots within Lindbergh's insights.

However, that arduous taskmaster that is the final editing process made it clear that the quotes, while inspiring  were detracting from the story and adding pages (very big no-no's) in publishing. They had to go. I grieved...sniff...but I cut! And in the end only two remained, one as the theme of the book, and the other, just as you begin chapter one. But there are so many others you missed out on.

So I'd like to start a series in my blog to tell you a little about the quotes from Ms. Lindbergh that didn't make it in and why, in a perfect world, they were just right for the chapters they headed.

Chapter 2: "How often in a large city, shaking hands with my friends, I have felt the wilderness stretching between us."

In chapter two Dell has just interrupted Gwen and Claire's conversation by rudely demolishing the massive flower pot in front of Gwen's bakery while distractedly driving her mini-van.

We are about to bring our three new friends together-under duress-and the moment will show glimpses not only of their true characters, but their individual wilderness experiences colliding and blending. There is caution, havoc, relief, wariness and hope and even budding friendship-all in one scene. Think of this chapter as a train wreck-with humor!