Getting the Hawk off the Ground: editing a mystery

db exp:hatThis is the 4th in a series of posts about writing my mystery Hour of the Hawk. See links to the others.

https://115journals.com/2015/04/06/writer-unblocked/

https://115journals.com/2015/11/03/getting-the-hawk-off-the-ground-writing-a-mystery/

https://115journals.com/2015/11/07/getting-the-hawk-off-the-ground-editing-con/

At a certain point in the editing process, I began working on a more authentic voice. In Hour of the Hawk, I was using a first person narrator telling the story in the past tense. Past tense lends distance. First person doesn’t. Because my narrator, Joanna Hunter, had a history similar to mine, one of my first revisions had been aimed at eliminating quirks and ways of speaking that were more me than her because, of course, we were different people. I liked the new, sparer, less elliptical, more direct voice. Then I got the bad news. The voice was not authentic, which is to say, uninteresting. “A lot of it was only mediocre,” said Critic A.

So glad I keep my kitchen knives sharpened to a gleaming edge!

My authentic self was fascinating, she added, and so, therefore, was Joanna’s. Where was my effervescent personality, my wicked sense of humour? I needed to let things fly. Characters hooked readers and made them read on. And I needed to love all my characters, even the irresponsible guy who put honey in a tire swing to attract bears, and ended up getting killed by one.

I wrote the beginning again. I sent it off by email. “Not working yet,” replied Critic A. I went back to work. Several weeks later, I knew enough about Tom Braddock to write a book on him alone. He had a Chumash great grandmother and a college football career, as well as three kids, and an articulate, wife who worked at a Bakersfield hospital. Most of all, I liked him. He passed muster.

But Critic A had more to tell me. I needed to create a relationship with my reader. Joanna, for example, knew what it means to age. A person could be spiritual and loving but also skeptical and cynical. That reminded me of one of my favourite sayings: Samuel Beckett’s advice to a young writer, “Despair young and never look back.” I find that hilarious, especially with a glass of Guinness. (My biological grandfather was Irish, I have just discovered.) The notes I jotted down from that long distance conversation also include the words,”dangerously compassionate”. Don’t ask me.

So I went to see Phillipa C. on Dundas W. in Toronto and arranged for her to take a series of portraits. I brought along props. I thought I would be painfully self-conscious. I wasn’t. I have done enough acting to know how to slip into a character. When I saw them a few days later, I learned more about Joanna.

I knew she wore jeans and a cowboy hat. I’d forgotten the leather jacket. I knew she was the survivor of a dangerous family and had cop phobia. (Does knowing about a crime make you guilty?) I knew she had a rock and roll side, a toughness she could trot out driving on dark desert highways. She was capable of salty language and had once been taken to the principal by a senior student. Poor fellow had aggravated her while she was on top of a ladder adjusting a bulb high in a TV studio. Joanna also saw the world through the prism Shakespeare’s plays and the St. James Bible. Her heart had been broken more than once in a been down so long it looks like up to me sort of way. And she caught glimpses of the future from time to time, and could keep track of dead people. I went back and added this point of view in brief reflections throughout the action.

By now Critics C and D had finished reading the book. They were satisfied. Not about to sort through it again for such gems. Critic B plays golf a lot, and Critic A was now deeply into her own writing. I wait on tenterhooks. In December, we will be together in Pine Mountain Club, and we will sit down to sort our book out.

Meanwhile, Critic A/Writer B had a small breakdown on the phone because she couldn’t find her authentic voice. I thought of her horizontally stripped stockings and her three print  outfits. I thought of her exuberant dancing in hiking boots on the golf green. Only children dared enter her orbit. I said try zany. Then discovering that Roget regarded that as an insult, I came up with a list: joyful, full of life, eccentric, empathetic, outside the box, dangerously unpredictable, aggressive, digressive, diverting, out of left field, hippy, unexpected, nuclear powered love and empathy generator which heals on contact.

From what she’s read to me, she’s getting on better now.

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Welcome to Bangor: Thanksgiving 2014

Bangor International Airport without snow

Bangor International Airport without snow

“We won’t get home for Thanksgiving,” said the woman beside him.

“It’s not Thanksgiving,” said Rob.

“You’re Canadian,” she guessed. “It’s Thanksgiving here.” They were sitting in an unheated room in a hangar at the Bangor airport. Their empty plane sat in the runway, its chute deployed. She had studied the group and sized my truck driving brother as the likeliest.

“Let’s rent a car,” she said. “We can drive me to Ithaca and you can go on to Toronto.”

He paused. “It’s getting dark. It’s snowing. I don’t know you and besides, I’ve seen that movie.” Which of course reduced him to laughter.

He withdrew to a quiet corner and called me on his Belgian mobile phone. “First, they said we were running out of fuel,” he told me, “but as we landed the whole plane started shaking. “I knew I was going to die. I thought I should hold the hand of the woman across the aisle, but she was too ugly. Then I thought, I’m here at the bulk head next to business class. I’m likely the only who will survive. Shoot, I thought.” They hit the ground. “Now,” he said to himself. Then they hit again and with a terrible whining, grinding and howling came to a stop.

The chute deployed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please keep your seats.” People were struggling desperately to get up and out. They had been told the plane was out of fuel. “There is a problem with the door,” the captain admitted.

Mayhem erupted.”I could have died,” was the universal cry. “I almost died.”

Me too, thought Rob. You’re not the only one here. You didn’t die. We didn’t fall out over the Atlantic. We are on a lucky flight!

Turned out once the door was opened that there was a problem getting the steps up to meet it, but that had been resolved and now Rob sat on a cold cement floor, his winter coat and boots safe in his checked luggage, catching laryngitis and talking to me.

Four hours later,  little had changed, except he had gone out for a smoke and set off all manner of alarms on his way back from the hardware in his joints. He was patted down, wand-ed and dog-sniffed, a hair raising experience given what he had smoked the night before. The promised plane from Philly had not arrived, would arrive despite the snow in half an hour, would not arrive if it snowed six more inches. But snow plows ground up and down the single runway, keeping it open. Finally, snow in Philly would prevent the plane’s departure from that city.

By now, he had called me four times and I was at Georgia’s place which is nearer the airport. “They’re sending us to a hotel,” he said.

“Yes, I can see it right next to the airport,” I said. I could also see the U.S. Airways flight status on another screen. The path led from Brussels to Philly, but the little plane was stuck in Bangor, Maine. “Don’t forget your meds,” I said.

“Oh, thank you, thank you,”he said.

“You put your meds in your checked luggage?” Oh he was rattled.”It’s okay, Rob. You’re safe now. You’re going to stay in a cozy snow-bound hotel.” Family history tends to send us off the deep end in urgent situations.

He made out all right of course. He spent the evening in the bar ordering rounds of drinks for everyone there and talking.

Two younger women told him of the way, troops are welcomed back at the airport. They are never greeted by “Welcome home” or “Welcome to the United States” that way lies emotional breakdown and mass chaos. They are greeted simply, “”Welcome to Bangor.”

At closing, his credit card wouldn’t swipe. No chip readers there. So the wealthy Belgian couple paid his bill and refused compensation next day, “Are you trying to insult me?”

I woke up in the guest bedroom to hear my phone ringing. The plane from Philly would arrive in Bangor, momentarily, read an hour and a half. His flight back north would be at 4:30 on Air Canada and he would arrive in YYZ at 6:06.”Wherever that is,” he said.

Then there was silence for 4 hours. I understood that. No worries. At 3:45, just as I was about to call him, he called me. The flight was delayed until 5:30 and he was going back to Brussels.

“Have you eaten lately?” I demanded.

Well no.

“Go. Eat. Have a drink. Relax. You’re almost here.”

“Okay,” he said. I was his big sister after all.

At 7:30 Georgia and I were on the road to YYZ, Pearson International Airport, trying to catch the right lane in the dark and snow. She insisted on driving her new car.

“Am I going to have to put you in the back seat?” she demanded.

I could have driven, but I was too tense to be driven.

“The car is dark blue,” I tell him on my cell phone.

“I don’t care what colour it is, just so long as it picks me up. I’m waiting at P,” he says.

There is no P of course, so I duck out of the car at C and run him down. He’s still clad in just a cotton sweater. We run for the car, half hugging. Georgia springs out to load the big bag, even though we are blocking a thru lane.

Our celebration dinner is smoked salmon pasta, thrice-cooked of necessity by niece/daughter. There are 5 of us, together at last.

“You are here,” I say in wonder, “And my daughter is still alive.”

(This apparent non-sequitor is explained in previous posts.)

Saving a Life: losing a friend

jim and IMon Frère et moi en Bruxelle

I feel like Dante after his epic journey through hell, purgatory and paradise. True I got to see the face of Grace and then to return home. But I’ve been spoiled. The paradise bit was full of light and love and joy. Once I got there, I was able to lift my eyes and love the pine-clad mountains and the pure light and air again. Home in TO sees a couple of hours daylight under gloomy skies. Something is always falling from the sky and the streets are slick with decaying leaves.

That’s not the worst of it. Two of the people I had counted on to welcome me home, to rejoice in our triumph and to console me for our ordeal are no-shows.

One is my son, whose sister’s life was just saved and who is on her way to being able to live a reasonably good life, if not to being cured. What we accomplished, in spite of MediCal and general incompetence, was a miracle, something to be celebrated. But this half of the family in Toronto is hived off into individual units. It begrudgingly pulls itself together for a funeral, if the relative is close enough, not apparently, for a good, boozy party of celebration.

The other is my friend, Sophie. Sophie is given to observing that she is glad she had cats instead of children, particularly since mine are so troublesome. What can anyone say to that? A cat can’t be Shakespeare. No, but listen, those children are unique and beautiful creations. They have made themselves who they are over decades. They have made many people’s lives better for knowing them. I don’t say any of that to her. I sympathize when an elderly cat has to be put down, as if it were an actual person. I inquire about the surviving feline, which drags its hind quarters.

In the midst of the worst or hellish part, Sophie suggested on the phone that it would be better for our patient if we let her go. A slip of the tongue I thought. But then she discovered that I had taken psychotropic drugs to survive the ordeal. “I wouldn’t speak to you, if I’d known,” she said. I’m still taking them of course. She has read a stupid book that maintains they don’t actually work and, despite her education, she believes it.

So she hasn’t called me back and that makes me sad.

Tomorrow, my brother, Rob, arrives from Brussels. “I thought I needed to come and cheer  you up and help you get back to your life,” he told me on the phone. I will pick him up at terminal 3 and take him to Georgia’s, where we will all have a sleep-over, along with two of my nieces. He will call me his little sister, even though I am older and make me laugh. The two of us have a reputation in Brussels for our comic routine. All we have to do is be in the same room and we’re off.

On Thursday, back on the mountain in Kern County, California, my son-in-law will turn chef again and make Thanksgiving dinner. Besides his recovering wife, my erstwhile house-mate Clara, my grandson Leo, his father -that would be an ex- and a friend will be there to raise a glass in glad thanksgiving that she lived, that she is thriving, that some doctors really are brilliant, that faith and dogged persistence and the odd temper tantrum can save a life.

PMC

 

A Change Would Do You Good

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikjmz_SlGh
Cheryl Crow’s song of the same name
black &white wallI flew back to Toronto on Monday and met my sister Georgia for dinner on Wednesday. I ordered Guinness. She had never known me to order beer. I felt like saying, “It’s not beer. It’s Guinness.” She had not expected that change, but she liked my new hair cut.

Blake, my ex-husband, took me out for dinner Friday. He made no comment when I ordered Honker’s Ale from Goose Island, but he did tell me I looked younger. True, I was tanned from 150 days of sun at 5,500 ft in California, where darkness and silence led me to sleep 10 or 11 hours a night. And I had spent hours sitting beside our patient reading while someone else made dinner. The last seven weeks as recovery proceeded were particularly relaxing.

On Friday, I decided that I hated my minimalist decor and began hanging all the pictures in storage, including a wall devoted to the family and another of Georgia’s colorful paintings of houses. This means that I am giving up on feng shui. I’m not supposed to have red, a  fire element, in my living room during the year of the horse. Georgia’s paintings are full of red. Besides feng shui wasn’t doing  any good. My year has had a deal of bad luck. Our patient had also used feng shui which did not protect her from recession, loss or extremely grave illness. Be that as it may, I prefer now to be creative and bask in the warmth of family fire.

Roberta's wallAt my desk, I rounded up all the receipts I have assiduously saved my entire life and trashed them. I have lived altogether too carefully. During the five months I was away, I didn’t get my mail, of course. I didn’t even listen to the messages on my land line until a month before I left and I couldn’t receive calls because my cell phone got no reception. There was absolutely nothing in the mail or in the messages that was important. Well, there was a thank you note for funeral flowers, pretty much a dead issue.

During my mountain sojourn, I talked about the cold as fall drew on and I adapted to cabins heated in the old way by wood or more modern pellet stoves, both of which meant cold mornings. I have hated being cold all my life. For years, I have included the weather at the top of my daily journal entries. Now I have stopped. At first, I glanced at the thermometer outside my kitchen window. But I’ve stopped doing that as well. I assume that for the foreseeable future it will be below freezing. Snow, ice and wind will be apparent when I open the curtains. What difference does it make? I am going to wear thermal underwear, a heavy sweater, a sheepskin hat and a long down coat whenever I go out. I don’t need to hear a forecaster scaring me silly.

Georgia and her friend, the people upstairs, Blake, my brother on the line from Belgium and others who have called have eased me back into life in Toronto. Not everyone has answered my “I’m-home call”. I am sad, but by their deeds, ye shall etc.

So out of a traumatic and potentially tragic situation, has come new life. As Aunt Mae would say, “Ain’t that grand?”

 

 

 

Home After Five Months Away

Georgia's idea of homeGeorgia’s idea of home

http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/home-after-three-months-away

My title is taken from Robert Lowell’s poem, Home After Three Months Away in which he observes his toddler daughter and himself after his stay in a psychiatric hospital. His central image is one of shrunken dried out toast, hung as bird feed by the tyrannical ex-nurse. I like the title, but my own experience is quite different. I wasn’t in re-hab. I wasn’t even a patient, but I returned after a long absence to find myself much changed and for the better.

I was surprised by change, rather than dried out sameness. Wow, I have a new kitchen tap. I have new phones. True I had bought them, but I had forgotten. I stood for a long time, trying to figure out where I kept my mugs. I knew where they were in both houses in Pine Mountain Club, California. Now, logically, where would they be in my house. I took a chance they were near the glasses and there they were. What did I used to use to carry dirty clothes to the laundry room. Not a basket. I know I used something; otherwise socks escape all the way down stairs. Ahhh, a plastic bin, stored in the closet.

I came into the apartment to be met by heat and the sound of electric fans. It was very hot. “I turned on all your air filters,” Georgia had told me on the phone. That puzzled me. I have only one. She had turned on that and two small heaters that I had been using on cold spring days, once the furnace was turned off.

There were vegetables, bread and cookies in the fridge. I could actually have a chicken sandwich for dinner. All of the clocks except the one on the PVR were an hour out. The audio unit was doing a light show – the power had gone out.

But the place was dust free, it had been aired and the sheets changed. The mail had been sorted and discreetly placed so I could ignore it. The one letter that might cause me angst, opened and summarized for me. An old friend still didn’t want to speak to me, but Revenue Canada had given me back $200. Armed with this information, I ignore it.

True, I also met my terror at receiving the call that led me to leap on a plane to L.A. reassured it that all was well and moved on.

I ran the water filter a few minutes and had a long drink of familiar water to quell the dehydration of the flight home.

I called Georgia to anchor myself in Toronto and then I called Pine Mountain Club because I needed to extend my long-distance love connection and get the latest medical report.

I vowed in early June that I absolutely would not leave until I felt our patient was stable and unlikely to relapse. I vowed it fiercely. I put up with major inconveniences, like living two months in a hotel and two more with Clara. I put up with no car, no internet and no phone of my own. I found ways to cope – a hot wire, Skype and a golf cart. I put up with the occasional hint that now it was time to leave. I was adamant. When I decided to leave, I booked three weeks in advance. Even that three weeks showed significant health improvement.

Phone calls over, I went out to discover my almost new car was full of gas and it started right up. I drove to my favourite restaurant, where the dining room was closed. At 9:30????? (Oh right, I’m back in Kansas.) The bar was open, so I ordered a dark beer and the most expensive item on the menu, lobster jambalaya. I pulled out my iPad, turned on night vision and dived back into the 6th Outlander book, Snow and Ashes.

I was home after five months away, a more solid and whole person, an easier person to be. I knew when I left that our patient was better and so was I. Two heal faster than one.

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum. Come to the Cabaret

Cabarethttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moOamKxW844

Georgia celebrated her birthday this week. I had bought tickets to Cabaret at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada. I told her where to find them in my apartment in Toronto. They weren’t where I thought they were, but she called me on my land line and I told her to look under the paper weight and there they were. I had invited Blake to go with us. He had agreed to drive. And Georgia asked her daughter to go with them on my ticket.

When I bought the tickets in May, I thought to myself that it would be a treat to compensate me for the end of summer, as well as a good way to celebrate my younger sister’s birthday. Blake, my ex-husband, has known us since we were 16 and 10 respectively and we three always enjoy each others’ company.

Only problem – I am here where summer seems never to end and a typical morning greeting is “another beautiful day in paradise”. You hear that a lot in Southern California, but never more than here high in the mountains, a place which the  Chumash called the Center of the World. It is a town built around a golf club and its sole industry is leisure. Some people actually set out at 5 a.m. to drive down to work in the cities, even as far as Los Angeles, but many more do not. They get up early to play a round of golf and only then do they eat breakfast at the club house. They are resolutely friendly, waving as they pass you in their golf carts.

Others are economic refugees, here because you can buy a house for less than a hundred thousand or rent one for less than a thousand. There are many musicians and many free musical events. They will insist on playing without as much as free beer for their reward. There are talented writers and artists as well and festivals and events that showcase their work.

There are weekenders with big houses, executives, movie people, we suppose. We don’t meet them really.

And yet I missed Cabaret.

Georgia reported that it was wonderful, the set amazing. Blake took them to a good, untouristy restaurant for lunch.

I am suddenly struck by homesickness.

The maple tree across the street from the duplex where I live will have turned red by now. The one in front will soon turn yellow. The swallows will have left on or about August 28th. The geranium on the front porch -did anyone water it?- will be dying back even if they did. Tall grasses beside the bike path will be dead. Crows will be calling more than usual. Perhaps like the swallows, they are coming south.

It goes down below 60 F here at night. The cool air comes down from the heights above as soon as the sun goes down. I close the window before dawn. But by the time I go out the door, it is beginning to get hot, reaching the upper 80s by afternoon. And it is dusty. That’s the nature of a desert climate, even a high desert with pine forest. It’s rained once in the three months I’ve been here. A short trip on the golf cart leaves me, the cart and whatever I have with me -groceries, my laptop, my laundry caked in dust. In Bakersfield, an hour north, the valley floor kicks up so much dust that the mountains beyond look misty.

My Grandpa Munn couldn’t bear to leave his home, a farm in the mountains in Quebec. He would pine away when he did, growing more silent and pale as time wore on. The longest he was ever away was a week, but to him it felt like eternity. I’m not that homesick. I didn’t even notice it until I missed Cabaret. And these mountains are very like his mountains,so they are like that early home of mine.

Besides I’ve had the good fortune of having to be here amidst such beauty and in the middle of my family. Why complain?

The north seems to built into my bones. I miss the quickening of fall.

The Septuagenarian Hobbit Gets a Parking Lesson

Oh, stop trying to make me hate you, Toronto. You’ve already got sub-zero temperatures, vicious storms and week-long power outages going for you. Why did you have send the SUV woman to give me parking advice?

I was in the under-ground parking garage at Mountain Equipment Co-op, still jet-lagged from my return from Brussels, but putting a good face on it and taking advantage of a break in the weather to return a faulty product. I had already paid for parking at the wonderfully old-fashioned booth. The attendant was happily gossiping with a friend. There were many empty spaces. I was taking the opportunity to change the carpet floor mats to the rubber winter ones, when a woman in a beige SUV pulled up behind me.

“I realize it’s hard to see the lines,” she said, “but you are parked so that no-one can use the next spot.”

I could just barely discern a yellow line when I looked down. It was covered with salt and dirt.

“Thank you so much for telling me,” I replied. “But try not to get hysterical. I’m leaving immediately.”

“I’m not hysterical…”

No, just really, really annoyingly self-righteous and hidebound and so very, very puritanical, typically Torontonian, indeed typically North American.

While I was thanking her again for rendering my day more pleasant, I was remembering how cars on my brother’s one-way street in Brussels were often parked facing the wrong direction. No tickets. No outraged neigbours. Oh, carry me back!

I’ll hate myself for saying this later, but at least our mayor is a little looser.

(I know that’s an allusion, but I figure you’ve all heard about Rob Ford.)

Toronto’s Mayor, Rob Ford: view from Etobicoke

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAIllustration by Richard Johnson on front page of National Post, Sat. Nov. 9, 2013

I live in Etobicoke (sounds like Etobicoe), Mayor Ford’s home territory, one of the suburbs of Toronto that were unceremoniously mashed together some years ago by the reigning provincial government. Etobicoke is the west end of the mega city and Scarborough, where I brought up my children, lies in the east end. To the north lies North York, wouldn’t you know. There are diverse other subdivisions and tucked up in the south and centre, right against the lake is the old city of Toronto.

It is easy enough to find its centre, Queen and Yonge, the old city hall, red, Victorian with its tall clock tower, where certain courts hold forth and across the way, the present city hall with its clam shell and two curving towers of unequal height.

When it comes to Etobicoke, there is no there there. I mean there is no centre, I can see, but I do not see it as Mayor Ford sees it. I’ve heard rumours that there is a town hall where Etobicoke used to actually determine its own fate, but in the seven years I’ve lived here, I’ve never figured out where it is. I haven’t needed to.

Herein lies the rub. The people here are alienated I hear. They are sick of being pushed around by those uppity “elites” (please tell me it isn’t true that some say e-lights), those gravy train wasters from the city centre. That’s why they embraced their native son, Rob Ford, who had pledged to stop the gravy train, reduce spending, privatize garbage collection and put a subway in every burg.

Unhappily, he was unable to discover enough waste to trim the spending significantly, although he has put some of the waste management in private hands. His project to extend subways into hinterlands, which very likely cannot produce ridership to support it, will entail a tax rise.

But that’s not why you know about him.

You know him as our crack smoking, gangster associating, drunk driving, lewd talking mayor. You may have heard about him first last May when Gawker reported that it had  seen a video of him smoking crack. Our Toronto Star reported that it had also seen the video, which was for sale.  The entire summer was taken up with speculation, along with jokes on late shows and denial by the mayor. Meanwhile one of the guys the mayor was pictured arm in arm with was shot and killed. A police investigation ensued. Houses were raided in Operation Traveller. Arrests were made. Gradually, these arrests moved into Mayor Ford’s circle and heavily redacted documents were released. Media outlets went to court and this week a judge released a much fuller version of the documents.

Mayor Ford, who stubbornly denied all allegations, has taken to public admissions that get worse and worse. Yes, he may have smoked crack once while in a drunken stupour. Yes, he may have been badly inebriated at a street festival and on St Patrick’s Day. Yes, he may have driven drunk once in a while. Yes, he has bought illegal drugs in the last two years. Today he may have reached a nadir -let us hope- when he used sexual explicit language while refuting a claim a woman had made. But wait, he was back out there at the media scrum apologizing for that, wifey by his side.

No, he will not resign. No, he will not take a leave of absence. He charged at Councillor Minan-Wong, yesterday during a council meeting, with evident intent, only to be stopped by brother, Doug Ford, also a councillor and, ordinarily, as rude as the mayor.

Oh, make it stop! Make it stop!

Apparently, Ford’s policies still have the support of 40% of voters, but candidates with the same platform are already lining up for the mayor’s race in 2014. Only 20% still support Rob Ford himself. They are probably my neighbours. They are decent, forgiving folk who are careful with their garbage.

I didn’t vote for him. I’m one of those “elites” in his mind. I dislike many things about him personally and our politics are different. Initially, I felt a good deal of schadenfruede and even laughed. I’m not concerned about Toronto being mocked and vilified on the world stage. It’s a big city, all grown up. It can take care of itself. And I love a Greek tragedy as much as anyone, but NOT IN SLOW MOTION.