Okay, I’ve been writing for longer than I care to remember, but I still can convince myself (arrogant? yes!) that I don’t need feedback from other writers. This attitude tends to take over when I’ve spent considerable time working on something, as I had with a memoir I’ve written. After all, it’s my story I’m telling. How could someone else help me to improve it? I don’t usually take this approach to fiction I’ve created; I assume it can be made better. But I had persuaded myself that this material was ready to be published.
When I recently sent parts of it to my on-line critique group (I’ve only met a couple of these lovely people face-to-face since we started working together several years ago), I didn’t expect I’d need to change much. (Have you ever heard that voice before? This draft is perfect as is?) So when one of the group members commented that it seemed to be an early draft, I felt offended. I’d been working on this collection for some time, and it had gone through several revisions. The remark sounded patronizing to me, like one-upmanship. Then the others in the group began pointing out things that I hadn’t thought about or hadn’t gone far enough with. I had a defense against all of their suggestions. Sound familiar?
Fortunately, after a few days, my senior inner editor gained control and suggested I review the emails I’d received. I took the advice and looked over the draft with the recommendations in mind. Some I didn’t act on. (I’m familiar enough with these readers’ perspective that I know which things to ignore.) But as I began to re-read my piece, line by line, I could see many places that could be improved. I may not have followed some of my critiquers’ suggestions, but just the act of re-entering the material with a critical eye opened it in ways I hadn’t expected. And that’s one great value of having expert readers look over our drafts. As writers (and readers), they were able to notice things I couldn’t because of my myopia. Their varied perspectives gave me several different angles from which to view what I’d written. The process is invaluable.
So here I am, humbled once again by how challenging revising can be. I’m also reminded that even the most experienced writers resist being told their prose can be improved.
Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.
My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing. I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all. I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week. We are so fortunate here at the Lake now. The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript. Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.
Here is a synopsis:
Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.
A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.
Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.
In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.
Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.
But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.
Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.