Post-Croup & Regroup

Happy to say I’m feeling better. My health restored, my will to rewrite invigorated — however briefly. Not that it’s been easy. I’m on Word Document REWRITES.v3. But I’m sucking it up, plugging away without too much whining.

Hey, what happened here? I’m still not sure. I’m thinking that the sick bay gave me plenty of time to think, or prewrite, as I like to call my procrastination. That plus, a thousand thanks to the 77th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., I’ve had the luxury of three unvarnished days to sit with the piece. Which means, of course, that my social life is null and void. But my best buddies and I have been here before.

It also didn’t hurt that my friend and MFA advisor at USF, Karl Soehnlein, mentioned in an email that he prefers rewriting over the birthing process. Karl’s new novel, “You Can Say You Knew Me When,” came out late last year to wild acclaim. Buy it and see for yourself if it isn’t a great read, funny, lyrical, with the steamiest sex ever. After two published novels he should know from rewrites. But, oh, my sweet baby lord, enjoying it? What a concept.

Made me think, though, that maybe there are plenty of writers out there who actually look forward to reworking their books? I’m canvassing writers I know and inviting them to leave comments here. It could be very interesting what they have to say. But don’t hold your breath, now. Folks reading and responding to something in yet another blog? Not so much. (Please feel free to leave your comments here. I’m honestly very interested in your experience with rewriting.)

I’m also hoping they’ll help me with my sub-fears that after I’ve slashed and patched the novel, it will have a new set of weaknesses. That it’ll have continuity problems. That my strongest character will get degraded. That the new pieces will majorly suck. Like that.

In the meantime, my monkey brain has me up at 5 am. And, lo, I’m enjoying getting to the computer. It’s me, the tired moon, the thin, fresh, still morning darkness, the lowing of a fog horn. It’s magic, truly.
[tags] USF, Karl Soehnlein, rewrites[/tags]


This is how I procrastinated this week and didn’t start the rewrites on my new novel, “Grace Notes:”

Went to bed on Monday evening, perfectly fine. Kissed the Sweetie goodnight, turned over. From the dark comes an ugly, raging flu. Fever, snot, pounding headache, wimpy legs. Despite a prophylactic flu shot last November. I’ve just come back from Asia. Bird flu. We’re just going to pack that thought away.

Is this my admitted soma flaring? (Not for nothin’ psychosomatic has soma at its roots.) I have white-coat hypertension in every doctor’s/dentist’s office; if my sweet doctor’s stethoscope should linger on me for more than a beat, I’m sure I’m in for grim news. I ate apples successfully before the allergist casually tagged it on the end of my little list of allergens. Now apples (and every piece of stone fruit) has me hacking, sneezin’ and wheezin’. A touch of apple core to my skin sometimes welts me. It’s wild.

I’m just going to put it out there: I loathe re-writing. And now my body has joined me in postponing the inevitable. To me, rewriting is like having finished knitting the entire back portion of a sweater while watching a movie, say, and in casting off, found to my horror that I’ve dropped a number of stitches way down at the ribbing, in the middle, all over.

It’s not that I think every word comes out of me in pearls. Not by any, any long stretch. Even though I do agonize over every word, worry every image, work and rework dialogue. God knows sometimes one paragraph has taken me a whole week to polish, to squeeze double meanings from words. Words that, when all is said and done, only I care about. People are looking for a good story, mostly. Many times I’ll convince myself the sentences are too ripe, the skin sheen way too purple. I cut and save them anyway. Just in case.

This was my darkest secret for a while, not rewriting much, until Marilynne Robinson answered a question by revealing — OUT IN THE OPEN — that she doesn’t do much rewriting. Marilynne! My girl. Incidentally, you can hear my friend, Roseanne Pereira, interview her here.

But, yo, I’m no Marilynne Robinson. My novel has major holes, the end’s rushed and unbelievable. There are whole sections that need the brutal pollarding the city of San Francisco gives its London Plane trees. I know this.

But, I so CRAVE the new. I cannot bear to revisit a book, a movie, a country, a dead relationship, the sameness of breakfast. I’m bored with my own work. Sick of my style, as I imagine a singer might sometimes be of her voice. I have, what we call derisively in my household, “an insatiable need to know.” Which has me saving unread newspapers. Which has me secretly planning to watch junk shows like Cops on the Fox Saturday night TV lineup. What? Like John Updike and Nicholson Baker haven’t written about watching that show? I know; I couldn’t carry the water for either of those two guys. I’m just sayin’.

Yet. The damn rewrite is due. In the meantime, my body has taken over. I’ve been out of work sick four days. This never happens. I’m so unaccustomed to being sick that I often have to give myself the sick test. Do you still feel bad after a shower? Are you whimpering? Is the bed calling?

Yes, yes, and yes. The doctor said I could feel bad for another week or two. My cough may worsen, she says. Well, c’mon, let’s just pile that on the load of guilt I’m shouldering.

The novel is waiting. I’ll try again to read the stuff tomorrow. My fever will flare, my cheeks will burn, I’m guessing; my head will pound with my pulse just like it’s doing right this minute. But, um, look how easy for me to be at the computer. Of course, it’s easy. I’m writing something neeewwwwww!

[tags]Grace Notes, rewrites, John Updike, Nicholson Baker, Marilynne Robinson, Cops, pollarding, San Francisco trees, stone fruit allergies[/tags]


Singapore is clean and green. A relief from Bangkok. The road from the airport is a boulevard, an allee with mature flame trees, flowerless now, to be sure, in this rainy season. Palm trees line the median. Everywhere it is rainforest lush. It is also the season of frequent afternoon and early-evening thunderstorms.

The city itself is clean and orderly and efficient. In Bangkok getting through immigration took 45 minutes. In Singapore, 5. This is the Singapore where the immigration form issued on the plane reads: “Warning: Death for drug traffickers under Singapore law.” Here there are steep fines for littering, for jaywalking. Chewing gum is prohibited; (we looked – they don’t even sell it in the 7/11.) People stand behind designated lines on the subway platform and allow disembarking passengers to, well, disembark without pushing.

I feel like I have to tiptoe here. And it gladdens my heart to find, in an underground passageway, a place where clots of teenagers hang out. They practice intricate hip hop moves to beats from tinny boom boxes. They yell and laugh; the melancholy play guitars cross-legged and watch. They ignore the no-skateboarding signs. They leave food wrappers about. But absolutely no graffiti tattoos any wall. Above ground, the only other sign of slight disorder is the drying wash hung like banners from poles from the balconies of the deliberately- integrated, clean, and ugly-hued public housing buildings.

Interesting how this polyglot city comes together easily. Signage comes by government mandate in a quatrain of English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. On the subway, I eavesdrop on adolescent gossip that dips in and out of English. When I turn around to see their faces, I’m surprised that one of the girls is Chinese, another Malaysian, the other Eurasian.

Sign in Malay, Tamil, English, Mandarin

We cram our 3 days here. We visit the historic Raffles Hotel where the Singapore Sling was invented. I don’t knock one back — too sugary, I assume. But, I genuflect in the Writers Bar where Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling allegedly hung out. In the evening we hop on a tram and cruise through the dark on a night safari accompanied by a Disney-chirpy narrator. The exotic animals ignore us, really. The lions, the tigers barely looked up, deer, aloof giraffes look past us, hyenas put on a fightfest for us, bullfrogs give stereod bass choruses.

Next day we visit the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple in the heart of a pristine Chinatown (yes, Chinatown.) We buy beautifully embroidered linens in Little India, we eat Turkish food a pebble’s throw away from the spectacular Sultan Mosque on Arab Street. We sweat through the extraordinarily lovely National Orchid Garden. We go to Sentosa Island by cable car way too damn high over forest and water. We admire giant species of butterflies; we walk through an acrylic tunnel and watch sharks, stingrays, thick-lipped fishes swim overhead. We endure the cartoony Musical Fountain – Dance of Fire and Water Show, while we get soaked by a sudden hard rain.

The next day we cruise and try to photograph the colorful shophouses built by early Chinese immigrants on the south side of the River because it resembled the concaved belly of a carp – a guarantee of wealth and prosperity. Comfortable on the boat, we admired the contrast of the restored godowns with the towering skyscrapers, lazed briefly. For, mercy, there’s so much more to see, to do. We visit the financial center; we admire an outdoor Botero, an unexpected Dali sculpture in a courtyard. We walk and walk.

And through it all, my feet are pieces of raw meat. My camera hisses, Woman, put me down. The waist of my loose slacks? Not so loose anymore. Way different for me, too, that I could actually be looking forward to resting on the marathon flight home. We leave Singapore at 8 AM and arrive in San Francisco at 9 AM on the same day. Yaaay, for business class. Our first.

[Click on photos to enlarge]

Grand Palace

14-ct Gold at Grand Palace

Close-up of a Chapel

Monkly advice at Wat Phra Kaew Wat

Another Close-up View

We Rode one of These Elephants!

Nectar Drips from This Coconut Bud

Boiling Coconut Sugar

Floating Market