Writing Process: Conjuring a Scene

I am stuck on a scene in my book, Anori. There needs to be something there, but I don’t know what. It begins like this: Dee and Tommy are on the coast of Maine (with Dee’s exotic cat) where they talk about the end of their relationship. A park ranger arrives and tells Dee that exotic animals are not permitted in the state park. The exchange is cordial and the ranger leaves.

But then what? I have a tentative scene of three poachers appearing with a dead moose in the bed of their pickup. The ranger returns and says nothing. The contradiction is the aim. The ranger does nothing because he knows the poachers and will receive compensation. I like the premise of this but don’t know what should happen in the end. It seems that the stakes will have to be raised – Tommy proving himself with bravado or Dee challenging them – but I don’t want this scene to detract from the arc of the novel.

To put into context, the following scene is this: Dee and Tommy return to New York City the next day with Apollo. They spend another night together, and there are moments of hope. Dee begins to reconsider her perspective. But Tommy vanishes early the next morning. Dee is saddened and yet relieved. She returns to her work in Greenland.

Options include: a) Dee and Tommy see the poachers from a distance and leave. (Missed opportunity?) b) Tommy shoots one of them in the foot. And then…they race off to NYC? (Stakes too high?) c) Dee records their confrontation on her phone and threaten to expose the ranger’s corruption. (Convoluted and heavy handed?)

Presently, I am thinking a combination of b) & c). Tommy threatens the poachers and then he and Dee leave the park in a hurry. No one follows. I like the idea, but is it obtuse?

Dark Matter of the Writing Process

The thing about writing is that it draws from nebulous things that live in my head – memories, feelings, images and the words that put those together. But the real thing is they’re not actually things, but unthings, abstract nothing things swirled into a cloud of something, a story as it were, not building blocks but protons and ions, effervescence and frequencies, half like dark matter, a presence that can only be detected by its influence on other things.

My current project, Anori, has the following scene: Dee is driven by her ex-husband Tommy from Newfoundland back to NYC. The scene used to feature Dee’s Uncle Ralph; however the book needed less of Uncle Ralph and more of Tommy. The scene also requires a switch in scene, from California to Maine. The thematic elements will remain (distance from someone once loved) as well as key images, but the voice and setting need a 180 degree shift. And so the scene becomes a mangled corpse that has to be picked.

I could kill it all, wipe the slate clean, but I don’t want to do that. The dark matter of the old scene has an unthing I want to preserve. And scorched earth is stupid. Other things were hacked out. There is no more Dodgers game, no more sexy forest ranger, and no more porno shoot in the Hollywood Hills. (sigh)

I now have Dee and Tommy, still in love, but incompatible, stopping and starting in their conversation, exposing their history and feelings, afraid of saying anything to hurt the other but keen to let the other know what they still mean. There is much to mine from my own life here, long drives with things unsaid, guilt and pain and regret. This is the magic of the process, knowing the characters and direction and now searching out where it is they say what needs to be said.

Editing: Killing the Sexy Bits

You have to be in the right mindset to edit. A cruel focus is needed. No matter how great the scene, image or dialogue, if it’s not completely on point, it must go. They call it “killing the babies”, and I suppose it is something like that, even if that’s as self-centered as all hell.

Dee’s sexuality is key to her character, but it is a subtle thing in Anori, unlike My Bad Side, because it is more speculative fiction than psychological, and as much as sex might sell, her tryst with the Oregon Park Ranger is done, only to appear here.

The waves rolled up on the beach in a long rattling rush. She thought she could see someone in the distance and waited and then walked back along the path to the ranger’s cabin. There was a light. She went around the side and tried to look through the little window and then ducked through the underbrush, getting stuck for a minute and stood there stupidly like she had to go to the bathroom, and came around the corner.

The room was empty, just a brown fabric couch and a television left on. She waited. A truck came down the road and pulled up to the house. And then he was there, the Oregon Parks Ranger, his shirt undone. “You look lost. Can I get you a drink? I’ve got beer.

There was a bedroom at the end of the hall, strewn and cluttered, piles of books leaning against the walls, heaps of clothing in the middle. The bed had an old lacquered headboard and long faded wood down the sides. She took off his shirt and then his pants. She had a desperate burning inside, along her stomach and thighs and into her groin.

She wanted him to go faster but he pushed her hands back. He was naked, his penis at her breasts and held her shoulders. She looked up at his face and chest and the wooden beams and white ceiling above. She was rigid, arching her back, grabbing his legs. He moved in a long cycling motion, pushing up high, going too fast and then slow. She wanted that back and grabbed at him. He pressed down onto her stomach and held her neck. She pushed into him faster.

“Holy fuck.” It was more of a wheezing, not words, and she started laughing as she crawled over the books, and he pulled her back and there was only a tightness, her skin blood-rich, trying to make it more, keep it like that, harder, everything stretching out, her head tilting back, peering into the chasm, ready to fall, and then nothing.

Pandemic Accomplishments: Month Eight

It’s eight months since this pandemic got going, and it looks like another few months (eight?) to go? Yikes! Anyway, I am still accomplishing things, still doing the rehab, getting safely out, breathing and still blogging.

Fearless Girl is hanging in there too

I have applied for a few jobs and, although I did not get the job at The Julliard, I had a solid interview for a job in Paris. No final decisions on that, but I did go to the airport to renew my Global On-Line card.

No one wanting in the waiting room at the Global On-Line JFK Office

I’ve made significant progress on my latest edit of the first part of Anori: “A lot to take in? Huh.” She sipped the drink. “First of all, I’m supposed to believe that you’re an interstellar pilot? Is that it? I’m having imaginary drinks in a galactic orb with an interstellar pilot? Is that it?” It’s a mentally taxing affair, but it should be complete in a month when I can take it to another editor and get slaughtered again.

I finished Brian Greene’s exhaustive opus Until the End of Time: Survival rests upon amassing information that accurately describes the world. And progress, in the conventional sense of increased control over our surroundings, requires a clear grasp of how these facts integrate into nature’s workings. Such are the raw materials for fashioning practical ends. They are the basis for what we label objective truth and often associate with scientific understanding. I understood about a third of the book, which is good for me.

I just attended Kate Hudson’s interview of Matthew McConaughey which failed to meet my exceedingly low expectations until Ms. Hudson started to get into her wine.

Mr. McConaughey was under the false pretense that I had tuned in to hear him wax philosophical when all I wanted was ribald tales and a modern-day rendering of his definitive “All right, all right, all right!” from Dazed and Confused. (Truth to be told, the best part of the interview was interpreter, Joe Lucas, just hanging in there.)

I continue to slog through Fishdom, having made it to Level 1821 and avoiding my first purchase (of $4.99), even though the ghost squid and bonus lives were incredibly tempting. I will maintain the purist route, diligently feeding my fish and cleaning my aquariums.

Last but not least, I did not answer this spam.

Writing Sex: Divine Sexuality

Apparently there is nothing harder to write than a sex scene. (Wink, wink.) It’s either Henry Miller’s sweat (“she commenced rubbing her pussy affectionately”) or Pablo Neruda’s honey (“I want to eat you like skin like a whole almond”). Nothing in between. And that’s where I aim to come in. (Say no more.)

Dee Sinclair is not just a sex worker; she is a performer. She is featured in my last four books – My Bad Side, Anori, Aqaara and Mina – and embodies what sex in literature should be. In the words of Nancy Qualls-Corbett, she is “the bringer of sexual joy and the vessel by which the raw animal instincts are transformed…and made sacred.” (The Scared Prostitute, Nancy Qualls-Corbett.)

As Dee puts it: You know what I’m good at? I’m very good at balancing at the tip, my orgasm looming, you know, on those tender little nerve endings. And just when I might slide off sideways, before I reach that moment, letting that go and pushing harder, I stop, all taut and stupid, clinging to this moment like it might go on forever and keep it like that, everything at the tip, holding my hips high.

I try to make it a long leisurely thing, really thinking like that, and then slide into my mania again, and all I can see is the sex, just the flesh, naked and depraved, everything like I’m a kid again, and I’m holding it, holding it, staring ahead, lost, my hands digging in, snapping ahead, missing the steps as I come out of a dream and finally give in.

Writing Process: Inappropriate Stories For Kids?

Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime, is thoughtful and entertaining. More than anything he paints a vivid picture of his relationship with his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. She is a fascinating character who defies societal expectations such as her willingness to tell stories of her life with her son: My mother would give me little bursts of her life, random details, stories of having to keep her wits about her to avoid getting raped by strange men in the village. She’d tell me these things, and I’d be like, Lady, clearly you do not know what kind of stories to be telling a ten-year-old. (64)

The Cx Trilogy

Neither does Dee Sinclair, the main character in my book, The Cx Trilogy, meet the norm when it comes to telling stories to her children: “The Obgum captured Space Enchantress Cx and took her to a metallic city above the jungle where she was stripped naked and put on display.” Dee sat on the floor between her daughters’ beds. “The Obgum grabbed her, touching all over her body, as they grunted horribly.”

Sally Forth by Wally Wood

“Why does every story have to have so much sex?” Calli, the eldest, protested. “You’re always talking about her breasts being fondled and getting penetrated, mother. We’re kids. You can’t say stuff like that to us.”

“Sex isn’t a bad thing, Calli.”

“It shouldn’t be in stories for me and Ashe. Ashe is eight years old. You’re not supposed to be talking about sex like it’s a super power.”

“Why not?” Ashe curled up into a ball and was almost standing on her head. “I think it’s fun.”

“Sex is procreation, Ashe.” Calli insisted. “It’s what adults do, not kids. Not kids.”

“Kids aren’t having sex in my stories,” Dee replied.

Brothers Grimm “The Goose Girl”

The Brothers Grimm produced a collection of folklore from the Germanic culture, featuring frequent violence, such as in the end of The Goose Girl: She deserves no better fate than to be stripped entirely naked, and put in a barrel which is studded inside with pointed nails, and two white horses should be harnessed to it, which will drag her along through one street after another, till she is dead.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales For Adults (Rolf Thiele, 1969)

Children’s stories have only recently been made sweet and clean, a by-product of American Puritanism, much of that led by Disney. Ironically enough, this is the same culture that has developed a morbid fascination with violence and sex. Repression is the darnedest thing.

A Fridge magnet which is currently unavailable.

My Small Quest for Immortality

In Until the End of Time, Brian Greene states that our only possibility of eternal life is through The creative mind, able to roam freely through imagined worlds, exploring the immortal, meandering through eternity, and meditating on why we might seek or disdain or fear endless time. (380)

God knows that I have striven for immortality in my writing. (I might even settle on one published work!) I have rummaged through my head and flailed away with anything I could find. My family’s distant interest in me has been a source of bitter inspiration. My father’s certitude of always doing the right thing has been a touchstone and albatross. I have pissed off many a person with my righteous thoughts. My terror of the darkness and deep waters has held me back as has my reticence and distrust of people.

I have channeled much of this into Dee Sinclair, a 30-something former sex worker who owns an exotic pet and who appears in four of my books, including My Bad Side and The Cx Trilogy.

Her mother was dead. Her sister was dead. Nani was dead. Everyone was gone. And she was alone. That was how she was used to it being. Alone. She just wanted this corner, Apollo with her, just Apollo, a place she could pull her knees into her chest and be quiet. That’s all she wanted. (Anori)

I deeply admire Dee for her courage and singular focus, for her intense devotion and fury, for her willingness to carry on, knowing that life is only there to disappoint. I desperately need to get her out into the world, to have her thoughts published, so that an audience might understand and care. She must be heard. She is my one and true child.

Anori: Draft Five

Given the scathing feedback from my (former) editor, it took me some time to get back at the first book of The Cx Trilogy, Anori. I’ve made it at last and begun the long toil. The current plan is to work on this concurrently with Fuck Pedagogy and see how their orbits might move the tides. Here are the opening pages at present. (Criticisms welcome!)

Dee held hard to the balcony railing as she looked down to Battery Park, all but empty now, neat rows of sandbags banked up against the grates alongside the Custom House, a single police car, its blue lights mute and slow, moving slowly away. They had stopped broadcasting the evacuation order hours ago. Zone A was closed.

The curtains lulled back as Dee slid the balcony door closed. There was a rocket ship on television. Great shards of curved ice calved off its sides, dissolving into a torrent of smoke and steam, as it slowly rose. The cameras cut to a distance perch across the valley, where the rocket could be seen rising from the barren landscape on a halo of brilliant white, a vibrating candle.

She went into the bathroom and turned off the faucet, Apollo lurching after her, his black-striped tail snaking over her shoulder, as he peered into the tub, now full of water. She grabbed at Apollo’s paw. “Want a bath?”

Apollo slid wildly on the tiles, slamming into the door frame as he bound into the living room. She didn’t know why she would even need the water. The storm had been too long hyped, like the one before, Irene. People had talked and tweeted, hoping for the disaster to get worse so they could make money pretending they cared. She watched the spectacle, the cameras now inside the capsule, giving a fish-eye view of the flight instruments, the oblong window to the pilot’s right and the blue-grey glow of her helmet at the bottom of the screen, the ubiquitous Infinity logo on everything. The vanishing rocket rose atop its teetering plume, transforming into a dot, the smoke, once thick, drifted into emptiness.

She changed the channel to the local news. This morning’s high tide was at 8:30 am. That tide surged over the walls into the city this morning, eleven hours ago. That tide has already been here. This tide is a full-moon high tide, just like Irene, only worse; it’s much worse. The weather guy was earnest, his sleeves rolled up, his square jaw pushed out for this soap opera apocalypse announcement. This is the one we have to watch. This one could be anywhere from 12 feet up to 14, 15, 16 feet. 16 feet! Think about that. In just 15 minutes. This is it. The surge is almost here.

“Hurry up.” She grabbed the cat’s leash and opened the door. “Before it’s too late.”

Apollo bolted ahead of her and turned tight circles until the elevator opened, and then pinned himself against Dee’s legs, his head against the silver wall until the doors opened and he could escape to the lobby.

“Apollo!” Hector, large against the glass doors at the front, bent down to Apollo. “My man.”

“Keeping the storm at bay?

“You shouldn’t have taken the elevator.” He scratched Apollo vigorously down his side. ““They’re going to shut off the power, Miss Sinclair.”

“It’s 28 floors, Hector.”

“The eye of the storm just hit Atlantic City. That just happened.”

She leashed Apollo. “They keep talking about the tide.”

“You see the market. You see that?” He pointed out to the green awning that had flipped around on its moorings, its rusted metal ribs exposed, swelling in and out with the wind, a dying animal against the corner of the building. “You sure you should be going out?”

She thought about telling him how she wanted to see the wall of water coming down the narrows, the boats curled up into its majestic belly, the Verrazano Bridge hidden from view, the Statue of Liberty dwarfed in the shadow of the blue-black water as it rose higher and higher, even if she knew it wouldn’t really be like that. “We’ll be back in a few minutes.”

He stretched his arm against the door, his jacket binding at his giant shoulders and pushed open the door. “Be careful, Miss Sinclair. Lady was killed by a tree today in Queens.”

Dee’s Back Story

When I look back on the jobs I’ve done, performance sex was the hardest. I don’t mean how I was judged, and even judged myself, because none of that means anything, or even the unpleasantness at times. Some people really do stink. It was more about making it real. It was rare when I could lose that control, not just have that half open mouth, and give what I knew was expected.

It was when I broke from that, that I got frantic, balancing at the tip, and felt like I might slide sideways, barely hanging on. I would push hard and then stop, do that again and again, all taut and stupid, clinging to this good side of the moment, and keep it like that.

And then I would right into like a mania, straight ahead, nothing else but plowing straight for that full-on orgasm, so much that it was almost I’m made me get mad and crazy, like I was a kid and wanted what I wanted, and would not let go, and skip ahead, my feet barely touching the ground, until I was in it and nothing else. It was really hard work, but there were those moments.

Impossible Character: Dee Sinclair

Sex sells. And Dee Sinclair is all about sex. Not just a sex worker, she is a sex performer, taking high-paying jobs to perform for exclusively perverted clients in remote locations such as French Polynesia, Greece and Qatar.

She is an orphan girl, her only sister dead, an alcoholic, drowned. But she won’t talk about that. She won’t talk about anything except her exotic cat, a serval, named Apollo.

Photo credit: Michael Nichols (National Geographic)

She doesn’t actually talk about Apollo either. She doesn’t talk about anything to anyone. She feels herself as distinctly separate, an adjunct, an afterthought, a second thing. She feels like she doesn’t belonged anywhere, except sitting alone on the fire escape. She knows that no one who really cares, that no one who would miss her. She just wants to be left alone.

Dee makes her first appearance in My Bad Side and then in Anori, the first book of The Cx Trilogy. She spends much of her time in the ice-choked emptiness of Greenland, a place she treasures because of its mind-numbing isolation.

And then she is suddenly being chased: Dee watched her hands flash up in front of her face, first one and then the other, fists clenched, just her pinkie out on her left hand. She had heard the helicopter come over the glacier, the rotors reverberating off the ice, sharp and then suddenly faded. She heard nothing now. She was mute. Not her footsteps on the hard ground, not her gasping for breath, not the truck door swinging wildly open, not the engine starting, nothing. Dust swirled up ahead, other trucks going to the launch tower. She couldn’t get the truck to go fast enough. The tunnel took forever. She heard something on the other side, helicopters again, as she headed to the tower. But she couldn’t see. There was only the dust and then Valerie on the edge of the first platform.

As the protagonist, Dee operates as the reader’s stubborn vehicle entering the impossible parameters of science fiction – the space ships, three dimensional internet, artificial skin, and most of all, the idea of leaving Earth for another planet. She doesn’t buy any of it. And neither does the reader. Until it is there and there is no denying it. As much as she (we) can’t accept it, it is there.

Dee works especially well for this book because of her personality. As hard as she tries to separate herself from everyone in the world, she becomes more drawn into a mission that aims to do just that – leave the planet altogether. The irony is that, in her efforts to be apart, she of course becomes deeply committed to the others on the journey into the emptiness.

Thematically, the book is a challenge, as it focuses on abandoning, and ultimately rejecting, our society for something else, and the impossibility of doing that. After all, wherever we go, we are still what we are. And so as impossible as Dee might be to access, it is because of that that she works as an excellent conduit for the book.