Endings to Beginnings
Well, they’re done.
That’s probably not the most exciting intro you’ve ever read for any blog essay, but for Mel, it’s a Very Good Thing.
Mel complained the other day that my previous entries misled you. “They’re going to think I never finish anything!” As much as I wanted to say, “If the shoe fits…”, I realized I wasn’t giving her enough credit. While Mel has many ongoing and unfinished writing projects, it may surprise you that she’s actually finished several over the past couple of years. Believe me, I’m stunned, too, and I’m her assistant.
The majority of Mel’s writing has been on a volunteer basis for her church’s children’s ministry, mainly three projects. She’s the first to admit that it has been a difficult blessing—there’s no money involved, and yet, she has a ready audience.
For her first project, she’s written several puppet skits for VBS, Lads to Leaders (their team won third place this year for their division), and some that were just meant to be enjoyed either at her home congregation or in the mission field. Ironically, one thing that is not well-known about Mel is that puppets give her the creeps. They’re okay during a performance, and she loved The Muppets and Fraggle Rock, but whenever she goes into the puppet storage room for meetings, she tries to avoid eye contact as much as possible. It’s probably for the best that someone else is writing the puppet skits at the moment.
Her second project has been adapting Sunday School curriculum for the past few years, as one of the writers for the curriculum committee. Mel has been amazed at the quality of work, written and visual, her fellow curriculum committee members have put forth. The lesson plans should be completed by early July, and the visual aids and other odds and ends by September (she thinks). She’s proud of the work she and the others have done, but she also appreciates the gravity of influencing young souls. I was always concerned that the other members would kick her out of the committee for having to miss meetings and running behind on lesson plans, but instead they embraced the craziness that is Mel, and memorized her order for their lunches at Demos’. My fears that she would accidentally harm herself using the laminating machines and paper cutter were also never realized, although the old copier nearly gave her a nervous breakdown.
Mel’s third project involves live-action VBS skits. She did a handful last year, and she was excited to get asked again. Two weeks ago, she finished four of them, two short, two long. Mel tried to make them funny and poignant and scripturally sound; appealing to children and adults. The last one she finished was The Good Samaritan, and reading over the live-action one, and the one she did for a puppet skit last year, she and I were amazed at how completely different they were. We edited those four skits, rewrote entire sections, and emailed them as each one was completed.
Mel will probably not see those skits performed. Last year she was busy in one of the nurseries, and this year her son, Logan, is having his tonsils out, so she’ll probably miss these, too. I think it’s odd that she’s only ever seen three skits, puppet or otherwise, that she’s written. Something always happens. I asked her if it bothers her that she doesn’t get to see the finished project, since inevitably things have been changed from the last draft to the performance. She said that it didn’t. It was important to her that her work got out there, and that the kids enjoyed it. It was just that simple.
I don’t quite believe her. There’s something magical about seeing something you wrote coming to life, even though there may be enough improvisation and editing that you frantically start looking back at your sheets to see if the actors at least kept the best parts. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t mind not seeing the performance: she can pretend that it went exactly the way she wrote it.
So the skits are done. The lesson plans are almost finished. What’s next?
As long as they want Mel, she’ll write for different ministries at her church. However, I’m glad she can now focus on manuscripts she keeps putting off. She has no more excuses. I mean, I’ve been writing these essays for her since she’s been so busy.
Mel and I are currently editing Is This Seat Taken?, the short story I’ve mentioned before. I (as well as all of her friends who were nice enough to promise to read the latest draft) can hardly believe it—it’s nearly done. Part of the problem is that the manuscript keeps getting longer, which pleases Mel’s daughter to no end, since she has always loved the story. “Make it a full-length novel,” she demanded a couple of months ago. Mel tried to explain it was really meant to be a short story. “Fine,” Lizzie said. “I’ll just write the sequel myself.”
“Come up with your own idea!” I told her. Really, I can’t decide if Mel should be flattered or infuriated that her own children want to write fanfiction about her stuff.
(I should note that Logan and Lizzie are pseudonyms that Mel’s offspring picked for themselves. They stressed under no circumstances was I to write their real names because their mother embarrassed them enough and they didn’t need me to do it as well.)
Mel is also working on her other manuscripts, the Vampire Romantic Comedy that Logan enjoys, simply because he loves what half-blood fire demons are capable of when they don’t wear their gloves; and another, The Siren’s Daughter, that Lizzie insists she doesn’t like. At all. When I asked her why, she said that it was boring.
I will have you know that it is not boring, not at all. The Siren’s Daughter is quite exciting, and my personal favorite out of everything Mel has ever written. Lizzie has no idea of what she’s talking about. She’s a teenager, after all. What do they know????
Mel, surprisingly the voice of reason in this scenario, reminds me that I must not get overwrought, and to consider a few things: First, The Siren’s Daughter is a YA (Young Adult) novel. Lizzie is a young adult. She reads young adult books. Second, Lizzie is a teenager. Teenagers typically like the opposite of what their parents want them to. Maybe Lizzie would like the book better if someone else had written it. Third, and it’s totally a lie, the book could be boring. Mel hopes not. I have assured her that it is a fun read, and once she cleans out all those tangents that can be found in her previous drafts, then it will work a lot better. Plus, those tangents have already led to two other partial manuscripts, so maybe those little side trips were for the best.
Mel says that she appreciates my defense of her, but that I may be protesting a little too much. I told her to get busy writing. She’s got a lot of work to do.
Anyway, thanks for following along with this meandering tale of the recent past, present, and future of Mel, whose goal is to be published and paid.
Which reminds me, she owes me dinner.
Until next time,
CHRISTIAN ROMANCES: HEAVEN OR HELL?
This is not what I had intended to write. I had a rather nice piece about the rejection Mel has faced in her supposed publishing career. The ups, the downs—especially the downs—of not getting her work in print and paid for it. It was almost complete; I was simply trying to edit it. However, Mel has been exceptionally grouchy because of a week-long illness on her part, strep throat for both children, numerous meetings, and appointments for doctors and physical therapists. The only thing that cheered her up was seeing Robert Pattinson dirty and tanned at the movies earlier this week. I just wanted his character to turn into a vampire and eat the villain. Or the lions. I wasn’t picky.
I know how Mel has felt, so that is why I simply bit my tongue Tuesday night when she looked over my work and said, “That’s so depressing. I thought you were going to write something funny.” I wanted to say, “Right back at you,” but I refrained. I mean, the woman still hasn’t finished the short story she’s been working on for the past couple of months. What does she do with her time?
I took a deep breath. I asked her, quite snippily, I might add, “What do you suggest?”
“Tell them about yourself. Let the readers get to know you better. Things you like, things you don’t like. That sort of thing.”
“You mean like how I sometimes like to watch the Twilight movies just so I can yell at them?”
I should note that Mel has a differing opinion of the Twilight movies. Not only is she blushing and giggling whenever Edward Cullen strides into a scene with indie rock music swelling in the background, but then a few scenes later she’s screaming, “Put on a shirt! Pull up your pants! Don’t you even own a belt?” I think Mel would make a horrible cougar, even though she did have that great-great aunt of hers that was a looker whose third husband was a couple of decades younger than her. For those of you who skimmed the previous sentence, I said “looker”, not “hooker.”
Just wanted to be clear.
Anyway, back to what I’m supposed to write about. Mel said that she was thinking more along the lines of reading tastes.
Fine. Here goes.
I have a love/hate relationship with Christian romances, also known as inspirational romances.
As much as I would like to say how glad I am to have that off my chest, I do need to explain. Mel and I read across the board, from Christian to erotic romances, but mostly stay within the middle. Sex scenes make Mel blush, and writing them, well, that’s another post I’m working on. Fade-to-black is perfectly fine, but graphic can be, too, as long as it flows with the story. I like the fact that when I read a Christian romance, I can expect that it’s going to be a story dealing with one or both of the main characters struggling with his/her/their faith(s), a sweet romance, and they’re planning on waiting until marriage to consummate their relationship. When it’s done right, it’s a keeper, and gets recommended to everybody and their brother.
However, I get really tired of Christian romances where the people are perfect Christians, those goody-goody people who never step wrong, who don’t make mistakes, who really are holier-than-thou. No flaws to speak of. Let’s face it, Christians are people, and because of that, they’re flawed. Also, I’ve noticed a trend that at least one of the main characters has to run an after-school program for disadvantaged youths. A worthy endeavor, but after a while it’s like authors are worried we’ll dislike the hero or heroine if the only volunteer work he/she does is teaching Sunday School because he/she has an actual job to pay those pesky bills.
What about scenarios that make your eyebrows rise in disbelief? I’m not talking any deus ex machina here, because I can accept miracles in Christian stories, as long as they aren’t contrived. I’m talking about when a woman is being stalked and her house broken into. Where the hero leaves her at her house that night and says he’ll pray for her safety, before going home. You see, they’re worried what the neighbors will think if he spends the night.
How about this? Who cares?
If I were the one being stalked and terrorized, and somehow or another, the police weren’t going to do anything (really?), at the very least I’d have the hero no more than two feet away from me. If I could Velcro myself to him, I would. I’d worry about saving my life first before Nosy Neighbor Lady’s opinions on the matter. The rumors could fly with abandon, but I WOULD STILL BE ALIVE. Needless to say, the book’s ending with the heroine’s response to the villain finally made me throw the book against the wall.
How about this scenario? The heroine is stuck on an island due to bad winter weather with an old flame, and his aunt who lives next door. The aunt whose every breath begins with quoting scripture. I was ready to scream after the fifth or sixth time she did this, and it happened constantly, because THE GIRL WAS STUCK ON THE ISLAND! If I were the one stuck with that annoying creature, I would have been tempted to go all Rambo on her, or begged to at least have gotten voted off before I did some damage. When the inevitable happily-ever-after came, I wanted to ask the heroine if she was sure she wanted to marry into that annoying family.
Look, I totally get that this doesn’t bother some readers; some seek out these types of stories on purpose, and that’s fine. What annoys me doesn’t annoy others, and vice versa. It’s the same as with any other genre/subgenre. I may love something, and someone else may detest that very same thing. Unfortunately, in my limited experience with Christian romances, I’ve discovered more things that have irritated me than pleased me. However, like I mentioned earlier, there are some keepers: Allie Pleiter – I will forever associate rugby with gorgeous British bankers; Carolyne Aarsen – one of her books I was screaming in mortified laughter when the heroine and I realized who the guy on the horse really was; and Deeanne Gist – her characters are flawed, scenes are realistic, and historical detail is second-to-none. There are others, but these three immediately come to mind. They are also why I keep going back to Christian romances.
A fun fact for Mel: Deeanne Gist’s aunt and Mel’s mother-in-law are friends. Ms. Gist has no idea that Mel exists, but Mel has begged Polly to mention what a fan girl she is the next time Polly’s friend is in town and they have lunch. I begged Polly to do so before I throw Mel against the wall. Believe me, it’s coming.
Until next time,
WHEN THEY WERE HUMAN
Mel and I were recently going through old drafts of manuscripts she’s currently working on, namely a romantic vampire comedy (RVC) and a superhero story. What’s in common with these two? They’ve got (mostly) non-human characters, whether vampire, fire demon, or someone who might have some super powers because of exposure to alien rocks, genetically altered mosquitoes, or because he inherited them.
However, these stories actually got their start by the characters being human. Emma, the heroine for the RVC, started out as a legal secretary in love with her boss’ best friend for a short story contest (that Mel obviously did not win). By the third draft, she was an overworked business consultant who was in love with her best friend’s brother. Her flighty best friend was named Sam. More about her a little later on.
Even though Mel enjoyed writing the now-unfinished draft, it didn’t really work. Then there was a submissions call for a supernatural creatures anthology for an online publisher. Mel dusted off the old manuscript, and said, “Why couldn’t Emma be a vampire?” and “She should be the black sheep of the family, have trouble with really, really bad dates, and not be able to keep a job. I could have fun with this.” I asked her if she was seriously considering chick lit, considering it was at the tail-end of its popularity, and for goodness’ sake, the vampire market was saturated. She shrugged. “It’s a story. People can think it’s chick lit if they want to. I have nothing to lose.” Against my better judgment, that’s what she did.
It should be noted that Mel found out about the anthology about two weeks before submissions were due. (I am going with her figure, even though remember it being almost a month, and I am rarely wrong. Mel said her timeline made the story more dramatic, but whatever.) She rose to the occasion, forgot to eat, ate unhealthy food when she did; avoided housework, but scrubbed like mad when she was trying to figure out why a character was acting the way he was; the result was a finished manuscript. As Julie can attest, Mel takes forever to write, so this was a miraculous feat. I attempted to help her with the synopsis, which neither of us had ever done, but at 2:30 in the morning, we were just hoping it made sense. Mel and I were incredibly shaky from caffeine, lack of sleep, and sheer nerves. At the time, she was satisfied with that hot mess. I wasn’t, but did she listen to me? Of course not. It wasn’t ready, and I did enough cringing for both of us. The online publisher sent her a very polite “no thanks”, and while Mel was disappointed, she knew better than to get her hopes up. I had been trying to make her see a realistic picture. Mel claims I’m a pessimist—I just don’t want to see her get hurt. Since then, she’s been rewriting it, stopping, and rewriting some more.
But let’s see what happened to Sam. Mel grew up collecting comic books, and imagining herself as Diana Prince and Wonder Woman. She watched the Superfriends religiously on Saturday mornings, along with every other super hero cartoon or live-action show and movie that appeared. She even made up her own superheroes and sidekicks and gave them adventures that worked around their college classes. Needless to say, they didn’t get much time in the spandex and glossy boots. Plus, the hero was majoring in biochemistry, and after little research (she was only 12 with no internet—it was the 80’s, after all), she decided she was in over her head. Three years later, she met a woman who did artwork for an underground comic book starring a gay superhero and they had a nice long discussion during a plane ride. Mel was impressed, but filed it away.
Skip forward about two decades. She started to play with the idea of what it would really be like to be a superhero’s girlfriend, or even better, his ex. Sam, who would always be human, started hanging out with a bunch of superheroes. She was no longer flighty, but instead but was a bit jaded, and conversely wanted that superhero idealism. What if her boyfriend came from a superhero lineage? Would his family approve? What if their public personas were very different from her experiences with them? After all, Miss Ultimate might be beloved by the world, but still treat Sam like she was going to obliterate her during a family dinner.
Mel has always maintained that regardless if they were supernatural or just super, these characters are people, with all the things that would normally make them human: they love, they hate, they worry about pleasing families, etc. In other words, they live. These characters rattle around in her head. I mean, they never seem to shut up. It’s really, really annoying. The woman only has so much room in that brain of hers.
It’s always interesting to see how characters develop, the journey from where they began to where they end up. Sometimes they are pretty much the same as when they started. Sometimes they are complete opposites: The villain after numerous drafts and tangents ends up as the hero. An adult novel might turn into junior fiction. Time travels end up as real world vs. fantasy world. Kill off a beloved character? He or she might be saved in a later draft. Characters’ names can change, as you try to find just the right fit. Titles are in flux. Outlines and character synopses are laughed at down the road. Filing cabinets and thumb drives are crammed full with edited manuscripts that document these changes that take place over weeks, months, and sometimes years.
I’ve noticed that writers are a curious bunch. They try to see why people act the way they do; wonder about strangers’ stories. Most importantly, they ask that magical phrase that gives birth to fiction: “What if?” In that moment, anything is possible. After all, writers are first and foremost dreamers. And as we all know, sometimes dreams change.
A postscript of sort about my name, since this whole essay has been about change: I was named for Cordelia because Anne Shirley loved it, and my last name is derived from Mel’s self-appointed nickname, The Black Humor Fairy. I was born Cordelia Black-Faire as a way for Mel to cope with writing stresses. I later became Lucinda Blackfaire, and then finally, I was Cordelia Blackfaire again. I have warned Mel to leave me well enough alone because I’ve grown comfortable with my name. I may have also mentioned that I know where she lives, and she has to sleep sometime.
Until next time,
Julie was gracious enough to allow me, Cordelia Blackfaire, a chance to share some of my limited experience with the writing world with you. Please know I am not in any way upset or jealous that her first choice, Mel, was unavailable. I am above that sort of thing.
What qualifies me? I’m an assistant to a currently unpublished writer, the above-mentioned Mel. I’m her first reader, the one who tries to make sense of the mess she makes of her manuscripts. Although grammar and punctuation aren’t my strengths, I’m still better than Mel.
I would like it noted on record that I am severely overworked, when the muse hits her, and dreadfully underpaid (nothing). Mel says she appreciates me (ha!) and that I should help her out of friendship and love. I’ve been promised something chocolate, preferably expensive, if I complete this essay, as she is busy with several different projects. I told her I expected a nice dinner out whenever she gets one of her little stories published.
I really should look for other work. My hours are erratic, at best. Either Mel is furiously writing, or she’s moaning that she can’t manipulate the words to make sense. I mean, really. When she cries, I just feel like shaking her. “Suck it up,” I tell her. “You wanted to pursue this passion of yours. Your husband supports you and tells you you’re at the beginning of your career. Your children enjoy listening to your stories about fire demons, unwilling sirens, and sweet romantic heroes. Your friends generously give you feedback when you ask.”
After a few tissues, Mel gets back on track. I mean, seriously, I should buy the stuff in bulk. She complains that I am not sympathetic to her plight, but the woman needs to put on her big girl panties and either stay the course or else quit. Mel is of course horrified when I mention quitting. “I can’t quit! I’ve tried. You know that,” she tells me.
I do know that. Unlike Mel, I have an excellent memory, of which I like to remind her at every opportunity. I know that she got so frustrated that she wanted to lug a tub full of manuscripts down her driveway, and then dump the whole thing in the street. She hoped it would get hit by a semi. When I pointed out the facts that semis never traveled her quiet street and more importantly, she had a bad back, she screamed in frustration.
She’s such a drama queen.
I admit I was a bit worried when she told a close friend that she would burn every piece of paper she ever wrote in a large bonfire if she could “get relief from the madness.” I reminded her that she almost burned the kitchen down on several different occasions when she got distracted as she cooked, and asked her if she had indeed changed out the batteries for the smoke detector.
Some people are fortunate to write because they enjoy it. Mel isn’t like that. She writes because she is driven to it. Words and thoughts and characters consume her until she writes just to let them burst out of her. Enjoying the process? Sometimes, if she’s lucky. However, there is nothing she likes better than when the words come together exactly the way they’re supposed to. The way they were meant to be, or some other such nonsense.
Do you see what I put up with on a continual basis? If I didn’t love Mel like I do, I wouldn’t even bother. I admit I do enjoy her characters and their exploits. But if you say a word to her about it, I will vehemently deny it. She would be insufferable.
I hope to give you some more insight into Mel’s pursuit of publishing her work. Sometimes it’s mundane and heartbreaking, but it’s usually hilarious. She is known for her dark side; after all, she didn’t give herself the nickname The Black Humor Fairy for nothing.
Until next time,
REVIEW FOR THE WOMAN HE MARRIED
Before I begin the review, a bit of housekeeping: Julie N. Ford, the author of The Woman He Married, is a good friend of mine. You probably already knew that, since Cordelia’s Corner is a part of her blog, but I wanted to have that disclosure. In addition, while the majority of the review is spoiler-free, watch out for the last three or so paragraphs.
You have been warned. Continue at your own risk. Watch out for falling rocks and assassin squirrels. But that’s a tale of humiliation for another time…
Josie Bearden’s life hasn’t turned out the way she expected. After eleven years of a marriage that’s on the rocks, three young children, and unfulfilled dreams, the Alabama native is at a crossroads. Josie was once a free-spirited activist and promising law student. She’s finally a lawyer after a ten-year break between graduating law school and taking the exam, a wife to a man who wants to be elected as a judge and her political opposite, and mother of three. She volunteers, something she hates, and allows her husband to bully her. She has lost herself, her dreams, and expectations. She has gained children, crappy in-laws, a taste for alcohol, and an ex as a boss that she’s still in love with.
I enjoyed The Woman He Married. It gives an honest look at how a marriage can easily unravel, and the choices that a wife must make when she finds out her husband has been unfaithful. Can she forgive John, her husband? Or is this fate’s way of sending her back to her ex-lover, Brian’s arms? Regardless of her choice, she has to become the woman she was meant to be.
In my role as Mel’s assistant, she asked me to write down a few of my thoughts of The Woman He Married, which turned into this review. I read it twice, not only because I really enjoyed the book, but because this is my first full-length review and I wanted to make sure I got it right. Then there’s the real reason: I loathed John Bearden before I even read the first chapter. Annihilation was too good for the cheater.
Mel and I discussed my issue with John, and she felt that I wasn’t giving him an actual chance. Even though she preferred Brian also, she still said, “But in real life, things like this do happen. Unfortunately, sometimes husbands and wives cheat. Stop trying to look at him like some noble romance hero. He isn’t one. And Josie’s certainly not an angel.”
I read it again. Once I released John from the constraints I’d put on him, I could see his side, too. It was still difficult for me, because I truly believe that Josie and Brian would have been happy together if John had never entered the picture. However, John and I came to an understanding. He was willing to change his ways, and realized just how close he came to losing his wife, and all the things she gave up for him. He wasn’t ideal; he never would be. I had to trust that Josie saw something in him to make her fall in love with him despite her relationship with Brian.
Josie is a combination of strengths and weaknesses. She works part-time as an attorney, pretty much single-handedly raises three young children, keeps a perfect house, and drinks to escape the pain of a husband who never spends time with their family because he’s so focused on his campaign and his affair. She chooses to bury her head in the sand for so long, and I felt her misery. She is a shadow of her former self. John has no respect for this brilliant woman he married, but she lets him treat her that way. Brian, the man Josie cheated on with John, still loves her and grieves over the woman she’s allowed herself to become. He encourages her to better herself, and wants her back with him permanently, no matter that she pretty much destroyed him eleven years prior. He is willing to risk heartbreak at her hands again.
Adultery leaves scars on a marriage that manages to survive. If she chooses to work things out, Josie will always know that her husband cheated on her. John will remember the experiences, will always feel moments of regret and guilt. Josie also has reminders of her love with Brian that will stay with her and John forever. The tattoo that matches Brian’s was during their time together in China, and it means “love.” Unless she removes the tattoo, she and John will both know it’s there, under her clothing, and out in the open when they make love. Even if Josie chooses her husband over Brian twice, it cannot be an easy thing, this permanent reminder. But perhaps it evens the playing field.
Should Josie save her marriage? The first thought is that she should divorce John, and no one would blame her. After all, it is the expected thing to do under the circumstances. I suspect that the majority of readers would be thrilled for her to then marry Brian and live happily ever after with him. John broke his vows, not even just once, but over a year’s time, with the woman he originally wanted to marry. Josie was holding on because of her children, and before anyone fusses about not saving a marriage simply to provide a home for children, why not? That won’t be the popular answer, I’m sure. But just as there are different reasons for getting married and different types of marriage, there are different reasons for saving them. Trying to keep your soon-to-be four children in a stable home life is a big one. Should that be the only reason? No, but it’s an important start. Can you forgive your spouse for being unfaithful? Can you love him enough to work through the horrible season of your life? At the end of the day, Josie has to ask herself if she is better with her husband, or without him.
Was the book perfect? No. There are some editing issues that the publisher should have handled better. Unfortunately, I think this is a growing trend for traditional and non-traditional publishers. In the story itself, I wanted to see more groveling from John, and more backbone from Josie at the end. It would have been great to see them a little further down the road working things out. Let’s face it: this couple needs marriage counseling like nobody’s business. Oh, and I really, really hate Andy. I felt the need to scrub my body with lye soap and a wire brush anytime he spoke.
The good stuff? There was plenty. I loved those kids. They give the reader hope that Josie and John’s marriage will become strong, and that Jack, Bobbie, Beth and the coming baby will break the Bearden adultery curse. Jack standing up for his mother was fantastic. That fifth grader filled his father’s role as man of the house. The trip to Costco, the play catastrophe, and John’s afternoon carpooling the kids were hysterical. I was glad to have read the book for the humor alone. I also appreciated how I could feel Josie and John’s misery and regret, and the hurt they could both give and receive.
Julie shows a lot of promise with this first novel. She has two more coming out this year, one of which is the sequel. I’m looking forward to Brian’s story this fall, because if anyone deserves a happily ever after, it’s him. I just wanted to give him a hug several times. Mmm, Brian.
Oh, sorry. Mel said I had to share.
Please leave a comment for a chance to win a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card from Julie, and then check out her contest for a second chance to win. It has to do with voting for your favorite guy: Brian or John. Come on, you know you want to.
Until next time,
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