New and Possibly Improved

I created this blog because while I have a million of them, none of them is really about me or what it takes to produce work. This place is meant to be a behind-the-scenes peek, mainly for friends, but also for anyone who likes seeing beneath the covers a bit. On my writing blog, I posted the rough 1st draft of the first instance of my trying to write my protagonist, Jeanne Dark. I’ve written 1st-person POV for women before, and frankly, I understand women well enough that it doesn’t stress me. But Dark is a complex character and hard to “get.” She’s open, through cryptic, intellectual, although accessible. She’s sultry even though she makes no attempt to even be sensuous. She’s also very much a synesthete, and I am not. It’s trying to present a view of the world that I will never see.

Not surprisingly, the 1st cut missed. That’s okay, and it’s part of the process I’m trying to reveal. Unless I’m really in a zone, and I’m usually not, first drafts are for laying out skeletons. Rarely is the writing smooth and its almost never lyrical. The exception is when I’m feeling emotional when I write. However, books require writing every day, and you don’t get emotional every day.

So here I am at the 2nd attempt at channeling Dark. It’s getting closer, and I’ll get her eventually. She’s my girl, and I’m a determined son of a bitch if nothing else. If you’re curious, the 1st excerpt was 661 words with the 2nd attempt ending  at 2,003 words (+203%). That’s because the real Dark would not start talking about the present without your understanding the past than runs alongside the present in her mind and which paints the emotional mood she takes to her first interview. It’s all about relationships, after all, isn’t it?

So, for those of you who are curious as to how writing evolves between drafts, you can read the 2nd take after the jump below. Draft #3 is certain to be shorter, but this is all of her head spilling out, which is what is needed. When the POV shifts away from Dark, you’ll have to guess what she’s thinking. Keep in mind this is still basically a 1st draft, and as such, it is full of FAIL. It sucks, but it’s getting there. That’s the process, like sculpting. Chip away at the FAIL. Chip away, chip away.

Foss woke me outside of the restaurant, which was quaintly named “Chennai Concourse.” Initially, I was nonplussed as to my whereabouts, as I had been dreaming I was back home. We were in my grand-père’s house, just south of Paris. It was raining, with the sound of a strong summer storm setting a percussive rhythm against the window. I always loved the rain – it had a brown sound that always calmed me, but this one was rife with rich thunder that painted the storm with booming waves the color of unripe apples. I recall many such nights when I was a little girl, wherein I would lay awake in bed unaware that everyone did not see colors at sound of raindrops nor could they smell the freshness of fruit at the sight of backlit globules streaming against the windowpane.

In my dream, as I swayed with the meringue rhythms of grand-père’s soprano saxophone, its taste bright and tart in my mind, I could hear his notes admonishing me to stop dancing, as Maman might be watching and would not approve. “It is not a dance,” I tried to explain to him. “My body is just singing the notes you play.”

Grand-père stopped playing, laughed, and said, “That is the definition of dancing, and you must stop if you want to heal.” I looked around to ensure Maman was not about, as mothers were the things of nightmares, meant only for battering free spirits into her concrete boxes of conformity. My grandfather and I were safe and alone, ensconced in his jazzy reverie, with the outside browns raining syncopation to his horn, and I could dance and twist without pain; my body could sing the notes, and for a moment I was free. When his solo was done, we laughed at the insanity of my seeing his notes in space about my head. It was a natural transmutation of the dream, since on many nights, we would argue about the precise location of notes, like A over C sharp on my guitar. I knew it was behind my right ear, but Grand-père was adamant it must sit on the left, since the nearest notes on the guitar to A over C sharp formed on my left. Although I knew he could not see my notes, I loved him for his belligerent insistence. It took me years to realize he was teaching me about music, but also about acceptance. From his welcoming of my “madness,” the only one who ever did, I learned to accept myself.

So, I rode in the taxi with Foster, asleep, cloistered in remembrances of the few joys of my early life. In the real world, I was also moved to dance with Grand-père’s music. As he played, I would stand, crutches under each arm, and begin. But before he could complete a single song, Maman would come; she would always come, pull my crutches from me, and I would fall, from grace to despair. If I was lucky, my chair was close by and I would sag glumly into it. On most days, however, luck was an unwelcome stranger in our household, and I would crawl to my wheelchair, promising to behave so that she would give me back the supports and free me from my rolling prison. But she never did, not until I had succumbed again to yellow despair. She would sit in the sun, her blond hair gleaming, and lecture me that each of her abuses was for my own good – to heal my body, to strengthen my resolve, to sharpen my wit, and to focus my concentration. Mostly, she wished only to remake what the universe and my accident had created. And God help me if I cried.

“Emotion is the devil’s mistress,” she would say and hit me until I stopped crying. The irony of her abusive stupidity was not lost on me, but I would stop. My grand-père would watch from his seat and say nothing. He could not speak or she would send him away. But when she left, he would play again, and the song would be hot with tears and twist to the left where she couldn’t reach the notes. I would cry blues and sixes and left-hand turns, and all in my mind, where no one could find me. No one could reach inside but my grand-père and his battered saxophone – its curved bell, like me damaged, but refusing to bend from playing the notes. And as soon as she left the room, I would stand again, barely able to move without the support of my crutches, but I would dance, again, in my mind.

It was from this mental state that Foss shook me to consciousness. I remember calling him by Grand-père’s name and seeing the puzzled look he gave me before I realized where I was. I needed his assistance to exit the car, as the chilly autumn rain had stiffened my hip. Initially, I thought to have more coffee to ease my pain. This late at night, however, it would likely end in another long, fruitless battle against insomnia. After my brief, but pleasant dream, I was anxious to see if I could again conjure up my grandfather once we returned to the hotel. I pushed off the seat, and must have tinted my face with pain, as Foss lifted me from the taxi. Had I not objected, I believe he would have carried me into the building. Such intimacy is private, however, even though the smooth warmth of his skin and the chocolate cologne that he evoked in my mind made me want to dip into him like a mocha pot de crème. But, I fear, my dear, sweet Foss would lose focus were I to relent.

Reluctantly, I pushed the trigger my sister designed, which released a dosage of my medication. There was the white, cool surge of relief, followed by the dizzying unfocusing of my senses. I waited for it to pass, as the colors in the room waned and then waxed to more normal levels. The small dose would be enough to get me through the evening’s activity, at least until we reached the hotel. I could manage the interview we’d planned without being fully alert. I had Foss to worry about the minor details of the room and our witness. I would be focused on channeling her feelings, and that required only that I be awake.

Gathering myself, when the hostess arrived to lead us to our seats, I began a slow crossing to get my bearings on the room. To my dismay, my disloyal hip still throbbed a low, brown-orange pain, and now, my knees began to stiffen as well. If the pain continued, I hoped that perhaps Foss would give me the massage he promised me the day we met. I had waited, but it never materialized. Tonight, if he refused … well, there was always Gershwin to help influence him.

We’d come to the restaurant directly from the Institute in order to meet Mr. Rao’s wife, Helen, before the police could intrude and question her. Our contract with the U.S. government required us to cooperate with all legal authorities, but there was nothing in our contracts preventing us from staying ahead of them. Grand-père used to always say the best way to avoid becoming a sheep was to assume the role of shepherd. Likewise, I had found the easiest way to gain cooperation from those in authority was to have information they want. Fortunately, being ahead took no great effort. The Metropolitan Police is a formidable force, but it is not hard for a swallow to outmaneuver an albatross. Interviewing Helen in the restaurant would be risky, as the crowd could interfere with my abilities, their voices buzzing in my gut like worrisome bees. However, I had Foss for backup should the unlikely happen and I could gain no information. I had never failed before, but I’d rarely attempted readings under the influence of medication.

Surprisingly, we found the restaurant doing a robust business. Judging by the bustle and the jovial, ordered chaos of the wait staff, it was clear that no one from the police or the Institute had thought to tell Helen about her husband. Foss insisted that we do not, saying, “The police likely have a protocol they’re following,” which dictated in which order they revealed information. When I inquired as to why they would have such an insensitive policy, he said, “Well, they obviously consider her to be a person of interest.”

I eyed him though the warm glare of the candle at our table, but could find no sign of irony. Confident that he intended to comply with the police’s protocol, I nodded my understanding and excused myself.

“Why do women always go to the restroom when they get to a restaurant?” He asked.

“Men love a mystery,” I answered.

“What does that mean?”

“Exactly,” I said. I left him to his puzzle then found our waitress and asked her to take me to the newly widowed Helen. I have found two sets of rules worth following when I am on a case: what ever my instincts tell me and whatever rule is imposed on me at gunpoint. Foss was not armed, as far as I knew.

The restaurant was dim enough that I could see clearly while wearing only my lightest sunglasses, so I had little trouble navigating through the crowded space. However, it was not as easy traversing the pockets of emotive turmoil in the room. I quickly spotted its epicenter – a woman in her early twenties whose dull expression masked tension so raw that I found my own stress level rising. She was cloistered with two other members of the wait staff whom I read as being her emotional support – no more than that. The girl stood as a young lioness, head of her small pride. The other wait staff, some men and some women, stood by her, spoke softly, and awaited direction. They tried to mask their watching me, but it was obvious. Seeing that I was watching her in return, the girl turned away and the group scattered in concentric rings like ripples in a pool, but not before I caught the barest flash of hot anger. They would require further examination, but not this night. Beyond them, and directing the operations in the kitchen, was my target, Helen.

Helen was a small woman of mixed Australian and Chinese descent, judging by her accent. her physical traits, and the particular sense of touch they elicited. With some visuals, for instance human faces, I feel a tactile sense that varies according to, I suppose, the response they elicit in me. A few, for whom I have a powerful emotional response, I may see in terms of colors or on rare occasions, smells. A tactual response is more normal for me. It makes walking though crowds difficult, as I am bombarded not only with powerful emotional signals but visual and physical ones as well. Imagine surfing through a crowd of people whom you can feel, both in your emotional core as well as along your body. It is no wonder that I cherish my partner’s calm demeanor, no?

Difficult though it may be for others to accept, my synesthesia is an asset I treasure. For example, I can remember faces based on the sense memory that goes with them. People with typical Chinese features evoke a feeling that I have been touched along my left arm, whereas with Koreans, for instance, the feeling tends to be along my left shoulder. It is an instantaneous response, like a greeting that quickly passes. Of course, there is great variability among people and so this is hardly infallible. Helen, for instance had lovely, Asian eyes and dark hair, but almost bronze skin more characteristic of other regions than China. Still, I was certain in her case that I was correct.

5 thoughts on “New and Possibly Improved

  1. Marvelous! This, THIS is what I imagined Dark would be like. I think her Grand-pere is fantastic. It seems he’s the one who encouraged her to embrace her differences and possibly even pursue them. Perhaps he is as responsible as anyone for her emerging as an investigator employing synethesia as a handy tool. When she argues that the A note resides behind her left her, it just makes my mind tingle. Such descriptions are what makes Dark a fascinating character.

    And now I wonder what is the issue with her hip and knees. Apparently she’s had this from an early age. I’m curious to learn about that. I see Dark maturing as a character now, and that happens I begin to care more and more about her. You’ve got me on my toes now, wondering why she’s investigating Helen, and precisely how the synesthetic clues emerge and play into the story.

    The lyrical language you so often employ is back. Describing the departure of the wait staff as concentric rings like a ripple, is so apt, it is palpable. I felt like I was there, witnessing the scene. This is rockin’ now, Bill. I can’t wait to see more.


    • Thanks so much for your comments, and especially for not being afraid to poke me when the writing wasn’t up to par. If I could write novels as clearly and vividly as your comment, I could finally quit my day job.

      I will keep plugging away at this. Dark is a complex character, but hopefully, it’ll pay off in the end.

      Thanks again.


  2. What it takes to produce work gets lost, not many hit a home run right off the bat. I think it is a good thing to see beneath the covers and that’s a great way to reveal the layers of work whether it be writing, photography, drawing, sculpture or whatever.


    • Rufus, thanks for your comment. That’s what I’m hoping people see here, at the risk of seeming like too much “look at me.” I find it encouraging to see that work I like is a process, and to the artist, often a continual one. I hope people are likewise encouraged.


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