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September 21, 2017

Finished the Book!

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When I was a child I often wailed “What can I do?”

My father wailed back at me “The perpetual cry of youth: what can I do?”

Irritated me no end but there you are.

I am feeling a little of that angst this month because I am between quarters so no choirs to direct or watercolor classes to teach. I have my private students but without the classes and choirs I feel on vacation except I can’t go anywhere because I’m working. But there you are again.

I was up on Whidbey Island the first part of the month to work on my novel and I finished it!  I have been going up to my retreat on Whidbey four times a year, ten days at a time for two years. This trip was to be routine. I wasn’t expecting to come home with a completed novel. My hair-dresser (Ross) said he could tell by the way I talked when I got my complimentary trim that I was going to finish my book. (They are uncanny, aren’t they, hairdressers? Maybe it’s because they work so close to the brain.)

Anyway I started this book in 1997. That’s right. Last millennium. It began as a short story about a spirituality group that imploded from recriminations and hurt feelings.  It sat for a long time because I didn’t know how to finish it.

I went for years whining that I couldn’t think of a plot. I learned something about plot when I wrote my memoir because a memoir has a built-in plot. Or at least mine did: I was a mess, my parents died, I got better. Have you ever heard someone say, “You know what that child’s biggest problem is? Her parents.” Well, then.

I started writing my blog in 2011 and through that I’ve learned something about creating characters: Gwen my neighbor who knows something about just about everything. Putzer, the Attorney. Nina, rhymes with Dinah. Chris, the unclassifiable except she’s a tenor.  None of these people are in the book but their presence in various blog posts helped me think about characters, especially quirky ones. We’re all pretty quirky once we start paying attention. I feel like the biggest quirk of all and every character in my book is a part of my psyche. When you think about it, how could it be otherwise?

I worked with an editor (Jennifer D. Munro) and learned some basics about Point of View—something I never had to think about with a memoir or with a blog, for that matter. Jennifer was gracious, cheerful, constructive and fun. She had a lot to do with the book’s final acceleration.

Through it all, though, I have had the great encouragement (and periodic annoying prodding) from my friend and former Whitman College roommate and fellow English major who might call this a run-on sentence and who still lives in Walla Walla, Debi. She has cheerfully read all my pitiful attempts and all my prep work. The book is dedicated to her.

It’s called Advancing the Retreat. It takes place in my little area of Crown Hill and refers to Seattle places and landmarks. I imagined my house and neighborhood as the setting because it was easy for me to keep track of directions and distances. You know, for verisimilitude and consistency. It’s narrated by four different women plus one omniscient narrator.

April March wants nothing more than to be left alone to putter in her garden but her husband has joined the church across the street and April gets pulled into the machinations of the congregation. The minister’s wife has a secret, the minister has a different secret. Down the street is a new friend of April’s who knows both their secrets.

Meanwhile there’s a squirrel loose in the church, a loan to pay off, and a fund raiser of a sacrilegious calendar that outrages the minister’s wife. The minister fancies himself a musician and pushes his ideas on the choir director who in turn impinges on his turf by creating a spirituality group that she calls Ouroboros, the snake that eats its tail. April annoys the minister by creating a magnificent labyrinth in her yard to rival his plastic one, which he hopes will attract rental groups to the new wing of the church, which has yet to be paid for.

That’s probably enough. I’ve basically given you my query letter. That’s the new time suck. Writing to 200 plus literary agencies and publishers so that I can get a bunch of rejections for Christmas.

I’m back to why I started writing this post. It’s hard for a self-employed person to do nothing.  The Ouroboros is chomping away. The end of one thing is the beginning of another. Writing this novel has been so creatively satisfying that there’s a big hole right now. Not a hole I want to fill up with rejection notices, but there you are.

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