Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Grab Bag

I have to admit to being an incurable optimist, a pie-eyed (why "pie-eyed"? Must look that up*) dreamer. Think "Cock-eyed Optimist" from South Pacific. Think "Could Be" from West Side Story. Conversely, I am daily be-deviled by a Sadistic Inner Critic (SIC) whose sole aim is is to persuade me that whatever original merit or originality I once brought to my writing vanished some years ago, and would anyway be out of fashion if I did find it again. It makes for an interesting life.

The reason for the previous paragraph is to explain the story I'm going to post today. Up till now, I've had a clear aim every time I've chosen a story to post here. Some of those aims still hold--I still believe that every story written wants to be read. I still accept that many of my stories may disappear without that happening, so that posting one here gives it one last chance to find a reader or two who may love it.

But today it's been hard to pick a story to post, because my stubborn dreamer looks at a possible selection and says, "Wait, don't give up on this one. It has some possibilities. Someone may publish it yet." (Don't forget, each story is my baby, and I am a fierce mother.)

Then I hear the snide voice of  SIC who peers down at the selection and says, "By all means, post that. Let people see how weak ( Or perhaps, because SIC has an extensive vocabulary, "trite, unoriginal, verbose, commonplace," etc.) your writing really is."

I'm stymied. I'm paralyzed. I decide not to blog anymore. Why am I doing it anyway? I start to close the file drawer, then stop. I close my eyes, reach in and pull out some paper-clipped pages. The dreamer in me says, "This story is loooking for someone. It wants out."

* Most dictionaries, as it turns out, indicate that the prime meaning of pie-eyed is intoxicated. (They vary in their assessments of how intoxicated, some saying "slightly," some saying "extremely.") That's not what I thought it meant when the word spilled from mind to fingers to keyboard. I must have been influenced by a subliminal association with the expression "pie in the sky" and by preparing to mention the "cock-eyed," (another intriguing phrase) optimist Mary Martin sang about. This conclusion is the result of a half-hour or so of happy, irresponsible web-dictionary wandering, and this is why tonight I'll go to bed wondering again how I managed to accomplish so few of the things on my to-do list. All I really meant to do was intensify the meaning of dreamer, but now I'm wondering if a glass of wine wouldn't help clarify my thoughts.

How weird. This isn't something I've given up on. It's just the short prologue of a middle grade novel I am still sending out. It's in this file because I have read articles that advise against prologues. (And of course it's common for a writer to be told that the first one or two chapters of his or her novel are actually unnecessary.) I may still include this prologue. But in case I don't, and in case the novel is never published, here it is--for some reason.

118 Pear Street
                        by Sally Derby
          Under the cloud-filled Maryland sky, Chesapeake Bay stretched into the distance.  An easterly wind whipped up the waves, and a gull wheeling above screeched angrily at the woman on the shore.  The woman had seemed to come from nowhere, emerging from the morning mist to stand at water’s edge with the wind wrapping her skirt around her ankles and fluttering the ribbons of her bonnet. She clutched her shawl tightly to her, then turned and walked slowly down the narrow strip of land between water and reeds, her head bent as if in thought. She waited.

          Maggie pushed through the reeds into the open, smiling at her first sight of the Bay.  The water was empty this morning, no freighters on the horizon, no crabbers close to shore, no sailboats riding the waves. Just what she’d hoped, she had the shore all to herself on this early Saturday morning with its threat of rain. The wind blew harder, and she shivered inside Gram’s  “Save the Bay” sweatshirt, glad that she’d decided on jeans rather than shorts. Raising her arms above her head, she stretched and smiled again, then began her solitary walk. Her eyes lit on rocks, on the tall reeds to her left where red-winged blackbirds hopped and chirped, on the white-flecked waves that reached toward her sneakers.

          If she had looked back, she might have seen the bonneted figure behind her, the shadowy woman who watched her appraisingly, the woman whose face bore an unmistakable resemblance to Maggie’s own.

          But she didn’t look behind, and as the day grew lighter the figure of the woman faded and dissolved. The hovering gull landed where the woman had stood and trod a suspicious circle before reclaiming his bit of beach.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Sometimes I Know

Sometimes I know why a story keeps getting rejections. Either every editor sends it back with similar comments, or one editor explains her reason for not accepting it in a clear way that I understand but either can't or don't want to correct. That's the case with this story. It's a story for children, or at least that's what I meant it to be, but it concerns two adults. And children's stories with only adult characters are hard to place.

Now, of course, there are ways to get around this. If the adult characters act in a way that children can identify with or understand, sometimes that will win over the editor. And if the adults happen to be adult animals, you will have a much easier time marketing the story. (Unless the editor doesn't like anthropomorphized animals.)

If your characters can't be morphed into animals, and the situation they are in is not one children are likely to encounter, your story is headed for the inactive file. (Which is in essence just a temporary resting spot on the way to the wastebasket.)

And this brings me to the story I'm posting today. I don't know how to change it, and I still have a fondness for it. Who knows why? It makes me smile, and on one more drab, cold, and sunless day I need all the smiles I can get. I hope it brings a smile to you.

Sophie and Hugo
Once upon a time there was a housewife named Sophie whose cooking was beyond compare. One day Sophie was preparing dinner. She opened the cupboard and looked inside. Then she said to her husband, who was reading the paper, “Go to the market, Hugo, and buy me a yellow onion.”
“All right, Sophie,” said her husband, putting his paper down. “I’ll get you a yellow onion.”
By the time Hugo had walked the mile to the market and the mile back, he felt a powerful hunger. “I’ve brought the onion, Sophie,” he said. “I hope it’s not long till dinner.”
Sophie took the onion, and Hugo went back to his paper. But soon she called to him, “Go back to the market, please, Hugo, and get me a bunch of carrots.”
Hugo sighed. Why hadn’t she asked for carrots the first time? He might have complained, but the kitchen was beginning to fill with delicious smells, and he didn’t want to interfere with the cooking, so he just said, “All right, Sophie, a bunch of carrots. Would you be needing some broccoli too?”
“No, all I need is the carrots,” Sophie answered, “So hurry along to the market.”
This time Hugo was gone a little longer, because his legs were getting tired, but after a bit he came into the house. “Here you are, then,” Hugo said. “I’ve brought a bunch of carrots, Sophie.”
Sophie took the carrots from his hand. “Go back to the market, Hugo, and buy me a sack of potatoes.”
“But it smells so good in here,” Hugo said. “Can’t we eat now and buy the potatoes later?”
Sophie put her hands on her hips. “It’s pot roast you’re smelling,” she said. “And pot roast is your favorite, but whoever heard of pot roast without potatoes?”
“All right, Sophie, a sack of potatoes. Is it just the potatoes you need, not peas or lima beans?”
“Peas or lima beans? You don’t put them in pot roast. No, Hugo, potatoes are all I need.”
“Need, need, need,” Hugo mumbled as he walked to the store. “Need, need, need,” he grumbled as he walked back. This time he came only to the front gate. He set the potatoes on the gate post and called into the house, “I’ve brought you the sack of potatoes, Sophie.”
Sure enough, just as he had begun to fear, Sophie said, “Hand me the potatoes, Hugo, and then go back to the market and buy a pound of coffee.”
Hugo was too tired to argue. He merely sighed and said, “All right, Sophie, a pound of coffee. How about some tea, will you be needing tea?
“Now, why would I want tea, when I could have a good cup of coffee? Hurry along there, Hugo dear. Hurry to the market.”
By now, Hugo’s stomach was growling. He was so hungry he could have eaten a raw eggplant, if one were handy, and he hated eggplant. He trudged along the road to the market, and as he walked, an idea occurred to him.
“Is it a good idea?” he asked himself. “Yes, it’s a good idea,” he answered, and he walked a little faster.  
“Can I afford it?” he asked.
“You’ve been saving for years,” he told himself. “What is money for but to spend?” He was walking so fast now the grasshoppers on the path hardly had time to jump out of his way.
“Can I do it?” he asked, and the answer came back, “You can do it!” He broke into a run.
In less time than it takes to tell, Hugo was back on the road, headed for home. This time he was seated in the driver’s seat of a large wagon drawn by a team of oxen. Behind him on the wagon was a gigantic box sort of thing, covered by a sheet.
“She needed an onion and I brought her an onion,” he thought. “She needed carrots and I brought her carrots. Then she needed potatoes, then coffee. Well, this time she won’t be able to send me back to the market.”
He stopped the oxen in front of the house and called loudly, “Here’s your coffee, Sophie.”
Sophie came to the door. “Hurry and --“ she began, and stopped short. “Whatever do you have there, Hugo?” she asked.
Hugo whipped off the sheet. “I’ve brought the market to you, Sophie,” he said. There in the wagon stood a wooden shack with a counter in front and bins along the sides and shelves full of groceries in back. “Now, what were you going to say you need?” he asked.
“I need you to wash up. Your dinner’s ready,” Sophie told him with a smile.
But as Hugo started up the path, she looked again at the market. “It needs a new sign, Hugo,” she said.