Layers of story

Sunday. Coffee and classical time. We’re listening to Max Richter, because I have the control of the music. Otherwise the Sunday classical would be Mozart or Beethoven. I am the more exploratory of the two of us, but I’ve actually gotten Richard to tolerate Philip Glass. 

I want to write today. I need some earth-shaking ideas to motivate me. Right now, I’m plowing through potential plot difficulties that require some research and thought. I want to be thinking more fancifully; I feel that’s what I’m missing lately in the book. I’m frustrated with this book, because it’s like the inspiration and development is coming in layers, and I keep having to go back and review and add. 

I thought the romance rewrite of this book was going to be so easy! Gaia’s Hands proves again to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever written and there’s no reason for it to be so. 

Once again, writers’ block

I’m making progress on Gaia’s Hands, BUT. I just got to the second half, and inspiration is not sitting over my shoulder and whispering ideas in my ear. I am currently in search of a muse, because I bid the last one farewell (it was time). 

I know why the block is happening. I’m writing a romance novel, and this is the part of the book where everything goes south and … I have trouble writing breakups, even if I assure myself they’ll get together three chapters later (there’s actually a formula for romance novels. But there is also a formula for all good novels, supposedly. Google “Save the Cat” for details). 

It’s the weekend, and I’m alone most of the day, so I want to write. I’ll set a modest goal — 1000 words and/or at least 2 hours editing a day. I think I’ll need to lay down some backbone notes to get this going.

Wish me luck.

A excerpt of my WIP

An excerpt from my work in progress:

Across the floor of the café, Jeanne wrestled with the program with which she laid out her permaculture gardens. In particular, the app balked at selecting a single clump of plants in a permaculture guild, and instead she lifted the entire 2-acre garden diagram off ground level and into the impossibly blue sky. She needed a better computer, one which could handle the graphics better. She sighed and turned back to her computer. When she glanced up after a few more painstaking minutes of moving the clumps of greenery, she spied a young man sitting across from her. She knew his face: the unruly straight black hair, brown almond-shaped eyes, a sensuous mouth. The slam poet. The man who had looked over at her earlier.

 “I’m Josh Young,” he announced in a light, dry tenor. “I’ve seen you around here. I hope I’m not interrupting you.” He grimaced; she chuckled when she saw his rueful expression. “Was that as awkward as it sounded?”

She silently applauded his straightforwardness. “I’m Jeanne Beaumont,” she replied, extending her hand. He gripped her hand firmly, which she appreciated. His grip fitted with his graceful movement. “But I think you know that, for some reason.” She caught his eyes; he grinned.

“Green Things and Felicitations,” Josh chuckled. “The episode with the Jeannie Beans.”

“I remember you. You went to my Thursday Night Lecture — ” Jeanne scrutinized the young man, trying to discern his motives for meeting her. 

“Three years ago,” Josh responded. “My senior year. I went to grad school from here to get a double Master’s — MFA and MS in English. Then I came back here. I’m in the Writing and Languages Department. I teach Composition and wrangle the Slam Poets Society.” 

Jeanne calculated in her head — Josh had to be 25 or 26. Twenty years younger. So, are you waiting for someone? Or are you here to talk to me? she wondered to herself, thinking how unlikely the latter would be. Reflexively, she swiveled around to check whether a cluster of young, ragged poets stood in the background laughing behind their hands at the scene. To her relief, she saw none.

“No, actually, I came here alone — I felt restless, so I came out here to check out the scene.”  Josh looked up at her, his mouth quirked. “Am I disturbing you?”

 Only as much as darling young men usually do, Jeanne reflected. “Not at all. Would you like to join me for the music tonight? We can drink coffee together.” 

She thought she heard the answer in his grin. Illogical, she thought. Just like the whiff of apple blossom that wafted by.

This story has no flow

 I am really balking on Gaia’s Hands again. Enough that I would rather work putting together my spring semester classes today than write on it.

I think the real problem is that it’s not writing from scratch; it’s working in already written parts to the story. In other words, it’s not a flow activity. And flow activities are where it’s at, according to positive psychology.

As I’ve discussed in the pages previously, flow is a concept that’s related to happiness. Flow is the experience of satisfaction, challenge, and timelessness one feels when one is in the “zone”, which happens when performing a task where one can focus and where one has the optimal level of challenge and engagement. Too simple a task, and one gets bored; too difficult a task, and one gets frustrated.

When I was writing Kringle in the Dark, writing was a flow activity. I could write 2000 words at a sitting; it was even more of a flow activity when I went on word sprints (timed writing activities) — 20 minutes at a time of just writing. 

Gaia’s Hands is just work right now — the old plot warring with what might be the new plot, old parts needing to be revised, etc. The story has been a problem child since I wrote it, and I hope that this iteration will be the winner. But it’s hard, which is the enemy of flow.

Maybe I’ll write on my class sites after all. 

Finding Josh

I’m finally making progress on Gaia’s Hands. I’m at the beginning where I’m supposed to show a glimpse of my protagonists’ lives, and I struggled to write the closeup on Josh, without which the book may well not exist.

I have a better feel of Josh now, finally. He’s quiet and serious with a droll sense of humor. He sees visions and keeps them to himself, because people would think he was crazy if he mentioned it. He’s very involved with his writing and his aikido, but there’s a loneliness about him. And then, in the next chapter he sees his former crush, a professor 20 years older than him, and has a vision about her. Everything turns upside down for him.

This is a romantic fantasy, and I need to be able to punch up the romance without losing the fantasy. This should be a challenge, and I hope I’m up to it.

I wish I had someone who could draw my characters for me. All the artistic people I know don’t do commissions. Oh, well, here’s hoping I learn how to visualize my characters. 

P.S.: Chloe’s upstairs in my room recovering from her spay surgery; she’s moving a bit gingerly, but she seems to have forgiven me. 

My male protagonist scares me

Josh Young, my male protagonist in Gaia’s Hands, is my worthy adversary.

He scares me because he is a younger man in love with an older woman (He’s 25, she’s 45). It’s still taboo in this day and age, more so than an older man with a younger woman. In the latter case, people turn their heads away with distaste (and, for older men, envy). For women who would date younger men, the outrage raises to a pitchfork-wielding pitch.

A lot of this is based on outdated gender roles. According to these, men aren’t even marriageable till 30, when they’re well on their way to conquering the world, according to dominant culture and romance novels. Women, on the other hand, can’t be as accomplished as the men and their basic commodity is their youth and childbearing ability. Relationships are based on this exchange, which is hypothesized to result from the biological imperative of reproduction of the species.

But at the same time people adhere to the cynical, commoditized view of the above paragraph, we believe in a true love that transcends all barriers. And people write romance about transcending those barriers. Except for an older woman and a younger man.

The barriers assume that all twenty-something males are the same, that they are at a specific (and one may say arrested) state of development that includes a societally-endorsed mix of partying with the guys, living in apartments crawling in garbage and dirty dishes until their mother comes and cleans up the place, and gaming unbathed for days on their PlayStation. 

I want to assume differently. Josh Young is 25, with a Masters in Fine Arts and a job as instructor at his alma mater. He has a best friend who he met years ago at aikido lessons, and he himself is ranked 2nd Dan in aikido. Because this is a fantasy novel, he keeps a secret — visions that guide his life, and one of his visions brings him to the side of a woman twenty years older. And he resists, not because she’s too old, but because he’s too young.

I’m bathed enough in dominant culture that this is hard to write, but at the same time I’m compelled to write him as significantly younger, if a bit wiser for his age than typical. 

Wish me luck. 

PS: There are apparently older woman/younger man romance novels. Maybe I can pull this off!

PPS: Apparently there is a whole genre of Korean drama that features older women/younger men. Woo hoo!

I need a good bit of luck to get through this novel.

I seem to be writing slow, but at least I’m writing under the current method. The method is to free write, then transcribe with editing to tighten the writing. 

I feel overwhelmed by words, though, and wonder if the meaning is there. I’m really stymied by writing lately; I surely didn’t go through this self-guessing the first time I wrote this novel. To be honest, I didn’t go through self-guessing at all, which is why I’ve edited and re-edited this book over the past five years.

This book is a beast, and there’s no reason it should be, except now it’s a romance novel in addition to a fantasy, and I don’t know what I’m doing there. I need all the wishes for good luck I can manage.

Learning about my Characters: Jeanne and Josh

 I’m what’s known as a plantser — I start a bare outline and fill it in as I write. I’m finding out more about Josh and Jeanne as I write, and they’re turning out to be quite the couple.

Josh is afraid of an intimate relationship, but not for the usual reasons. He believes in another world, a world of spirits, hidden (as he puts it) in plain sight. He feels these spirits, sees visions, dances among the unseen in aikido. If he opens up, he reveals that world inside him.

Jeanne, meanwhile, is afraid of herself. She has been repressing her own relationship to the hidden world, because it wars with her adoption of the logical world of research. What happens, then, if she finds out — or remembers — her true connection to the world of the plants she nurtures?

I’ve gotten to the point where Josh has spoken of the hidden world as a theoretical, a source of poetry, and Jeanne begins to examine the imagination that she left behind in her chemistry labs. It’s exciting to see them launch into the second part of the book, the part of mysteries. 

An Excerpt from Gaia’s Hands

This is early on in the novel — Chapter 3 or 4. In this chapter, Josh’s tendency to watch Jeanne from afar gets challenged.


By Sunday, Josh’s migraine had luckily subsided with the help of a prescription a doctor had written him. But he hadn’t figured out the vision, of course. Or what to do about Jeanne. Josh threw on coat, hat, and gloves, and walked to his friend Eric’s house in the crisp cold of the afternoon.

“Who am I?” he queried himself. An introvert, an observer of human nature, a practitioner of aikido, a writer, an instructor, only son, half-Asian. He dug deeper: a dabbler in Shinto, a pacifist, a former problem child. He felt heart and gut, ai and ki. And now, something bigger than himself — a holder of a vision, a mystery. He would not tell that last part to Eric.

Josh arrived at Eric’s apartment and knocked on the door. At 1 PM on a weekend, Eric would be awake, unless he wasn’t. One never knew with Eric, who kept programmers’ hours and drank copious amounts of caffeinated drinks. 

After a plodding pause, Eric answered the door in black sweats and a t-shirt that read “No, I won’t fix your computer”. His sandy blond hair had been combed recently, by a real comb, and his deep-set blue eyes shone clear. A good sign.  

“Eric, I need to talk to you. Do you have time right now?” How do I even begin? Josh wondered. 

Eric opened the door to chaos. “Pull up a piece of couch –” he pointed to a decrepit beige couch covered in books and papers, one leg propped up by other books and papers. 

“Where do I put the papers?” Josh swiveled around for an obvious spot.

“Drop them on the floor,” Eric shrugged.

Josh dropped them on the floor. Eric moved a couple piles of books and folded his bearlike bulk onto a spot across from the couch. Josh paused, gathered his words. After a long silence he spoke. “This will sound insane, but there’s this woman, and I think I’m in love.” Josh studied his hands, felt Eric’s eyes on him.

“It’s about time. Do I know her?” Eric grimaced with his first sip of energy drink.

“I don’t know. You don’t hang out at the café much.” Josh closed his eyes and envisioned Jeanne on one of many Fridays, packing her computer away to listen to the music with an enigmatic smile. He caught himself smiling despite his moment of misery.

“Hate coffee, hate the music scene.” Eric pondered for a moment, then scowled. “You don’t mean Zoe with the dreadlocks who works there, do you? She has a boyfriend already.”

“No, and how do you know these things if you don’t go there?” Josh queried.

“Don’t ask me that.” Eric shook his head with a snort. 

“Okay, I won’t. Do you know Jeanne Beaumont?” Josh closed his eyes and sighed out a deep breath.

“Not personally.” Eric raised his brows.  “Isn’t she old enough to be your mother?”

Josh groaned inwardly. “Yes, and it strangely doesn’t matter to me. I really want to get to know her better.” He felt less sure of whether he meant Jeanne the woman or Jeanne the vision, which concerned him. “I’m also pretty sure it’s hopeless.”

“Does she know you exist?” Eric propped his legs on the seat cushion opposite Josh.

“I don’t know.” Josh sighed unhappily. “She looked right at me yesterday at the cafe, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

“You want me to tell you it’s hopeless, right?” Eric growled, but he often did, so it didn’t mean anything. 

“Right. Because it is.”

Eric looked over at Josh. “It’s absolutely illogical that Jeanne Beaumont would be interested in someone twenty-some years younger, but I hear these things don’t always follow logic. What’s the worst that happens? You suffer, and you have a lot of material to write poetry about. Sounds good to me.”

Josh felt the blues settle down on him like a blanket of snow. Rejection was a pretty bad ‘worst that could happen’. “Thanks. I guess.”

Excerpt from Gaia’s Hands Rewrite

There is something about her, Josh wrote, letting words flow onto the page. Lush and bountiful. Cool and deep, like a forest. Like the plants she tends. He remembered the lecture he had crept into, feeling again like a stalker, even though it was open to the public. He had no reason to be there except to see her, but he remembered her speaking about permaculture guilds, plants living in mutual relationships. Jeanne and the plants …

His vision blurred. He saw a green mound where the room had been, lit by a brilliant shaft of pure sunlight. Fruit trees and vines surrounded the hill and climbed up it, glowing in the light. And under the tallest trees, two intertwined apples bearing impossibly large fruit, Jeanne stood offering one of each apple.

Jeanne, he didn’t fail to notice, was naked.

The vision dissipated as quickly as it had come. Josh found himself again in the busy room, surrounded by the murmur of voices, the people in sweaters and snowboots, winter coats hanging off chairs. 
 I’m still not used to seeing things, Josh thought. I’m not sure I’ll ever be.  He steeled himself for the repercussions of his vision, because he never saw visions without consequences. He knew the migraine would come in a few hours, but the vision dared him to press on.

The dreadlocked waitress set down his order — a red-eye — the better to try to forestall the migraine. “I don’t know your name,” she addressed him. “I’m Zoe.”

“Josh Young. I teach at the college. Instructor in English.” He surreptitiously shut his notebook to obscure the subject of the evening’s musings. 

“This is your regular order, right?” Zoe appeared to be doing some mental arithmetic in her head, Josh noticed.

“Yes. I’ll be a regular here. It’s a good place to write.” He felt himself saying the words despite his more fearful self wanting to run out and never see Jeanne Beaumont again. He thought he could feel his fate seal with those words.