"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe" ~ Neil Gaiman (A Game of You)


The Persian Pickle Club

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas is the book chosen for my Book Club this month. Since my health precludes me from attending Book Club these days (pout), here are the fascinating insights I would have shared:

I initially found the homespun, country-girl voice of the book to be a little much for me. At first, I thought the story would have been better told if the voice weren't so thick. I realized, however, that it made me feel immediately more sympathetic with Rita. I, too, was a city girl, an outsider. As I grew to know the other characters, the tone felt much more natural. It faded into the background as the story commanded my attention. I also noticed that as I grew to care more for the members of the Persian Pickle Club, I started to like Rita less and less.

I loved Queenie when she "accidentally" made a rhubarb pie with Swiss chard. I loved Blue Massie for showing up in the nick of time. I loved Grover when he cried once he realized Queenie was unharmed. I loved Agnes for sacrificing her happiness to take care of her parents. I loved all those women who showed up armed with cakes and puddings and casseroles and scones whenever there was trouble.

It's easy to daydream and think, "Wouldn't it be nice to have a group of friends like that?" Alas, I just don't think it's possible these days. Those women led very simple, very connected lives. What else did they have going on that would keep them from spending hours every week quilting? We have cell phones and car pools and sports and music and Scouts and church and PTA and clubs and meetings... We don't have time for each other any more. We're content with a passing hello, a moment on the curb as we drop kids off or pick them up. We don't share our personal lives. Yet, I'm sure most of us yearn for that kind of friendship. How do you get beyond the superficial?

And finally -- do we really know who killed Ben Crook?


Fun Friday -- The Beast

“Shhh… did you hear that?”

"What?" my son's eyes grew as round as the full moon outside.

"I thought I heard a scratching noise, did you?"

"Maybe..." He seemed a little hesitant. "You don't think it's the Beast, do you, Dad?"

"I don't know. Do you think he could have tracked us down all the way back home? I thought we'd left him back in the woods."

My son fidgeted, his breathing quickening.

"I imagine he's got a pretty good nose on him, though. I bet he could track anything for a hundred mile or so. And he did seem pretty mad."

"Well, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll grab ourselves some baseball bats out of your room. Then we'll just have to show the old guy who's boss, won't we?"

He glanced down the long, dark hall that lead to his room.

"All right, Dad, but you'll come with me, won't you?"

"Of course. Let's go."

Armed with two aluminum heavy hitters, and wishing we had some old fashioned wooden bats, we tip-toed together towards the back door.

"Do you want to go first?" I asked.

"Nah, you do it." He pushed me ahead of him.

I yanked the door open quickly, hoping the element of surprise would be on our side. We rushed outside, my son screaming a banshee yell. The raccoons scavenging through our trash cans startled and made a dash for the woods behind the house.

"Hah! I knew he was too scared to come after us!" my son said. He carried the bat over his shoulder as he swaggered back to the house.

"Good thing, too," I said. "We would have finished him off, once and for all."

Prompt from Write Anything [Fiction] Friday.


I Yam What I Yam

"A monk asked Koyo Seijo, 'Daitsu Chisho Buddha sat in zazen for ten kalpas and could not attain Buddhahood. He did not become a Buddha. How could this be?' Seijo said, 'Your question is quite self-explanatory.' The monk asked, 'He meditates so long, why could he not attain Buddhahood?' Seijo said, 'Because he did not become a Buddha.'"

"Daitsu Chisho Buddha is the Buddha of Great Penetration and Perfect Wisdom. Kalpa is a measure of time, hundreds of thousands of years long. It stretches between the creation and recreation of a universe. Sitting in zazen for ten kalpas is a metaphor to show that in the state of absolute samadhi there is no time. In the state of samdhi there is no enlightenment, no realization, no Buddhahood; there is just this samadhi. Therefore, Daitsu Chisho Buddha did not become a Buddha because he was a Buddha from the beginning." -- From the Little Book of Zen


Lover's Quarrel

(aka How Far Can I Take This Analogy)

A story idea caught my attention. I flirted with it, not really taking it seriously at first. Then I noticed it began creeping into my mind more and more often. It was just so appealing. I realized there could be something special here. I finally made the commitment and put pen to paper.

The honeymoon was wonderful! Every word was magical. It was new, it was exciting, and I was so in love with this story! It seemed almost effortless, the words flowed so easily.

We settled into the hard work of writing a story. Things weren't so easy anymore. Sometimes I just wasn't in the mood. And I did have a headache that day, I swear! I began noticing flaws that were probably always there, but overshadowed by my enthusiasm.

Then the fighting started. I had no idea this story could be so stubborn! I wanted to take it in one direction, but it seemed to go in another completely on its own. I had to take back more than a few words. Do I even like this story anymore? Sometimes, I wonder what I ever saw in it in the first place.

I'm at a crossroads. Maybe we just weren't right for each other, and it's time to move on. I have to admit I've been flirting with other ideas lately -- not seriously, of course, because that would be wrong. But I know there are other fish in the sea.

Yet, how can I let go of everything we've been through, everything that I've put into this? Do I really think the next story is going to be any different? Or, when things get rough, am I going to give up on it like I did this one? I don't want to be the Elizabeth Taylor of the literary world.

Maybe I'm like a military wife. The kind that learns that it's OK to spend some time apart now and then because you'll appreciate it all the more when you're back together again. Or maybe I can convince my manuscript that a polygamous relationship is really OK, and I can juggle more than one commitment at a time. But do I really want more than one taskmaster nagging at me all the time?

I think it's time for a marriage counselor. I'm calling on all of you who have had successful relationships with your manuscripts and have actually finished ... and perhaps published ... your masterpiece. How did you get through the tough spots? What worked for you?

See, what I'd really like is a long, meaningful relationship with each one of my stories until it reaches its normal surmise, is published, and sent off into the great Hereafter. Yes, I'd like to be the Black Widow of the literary world.

(There. That's where the analogy falls apart.)


Aspiring Authors!

Blog Contest! Laurie LC Lewis is having a few giveaways during the weeks leading up to the release of her new book. If you're an aspiring author, you may be interested in her current giveaway -- Book in a Month: the fool-proof system for writing a novel in 30 days. Take a look here:

Laurie LC Lewis: A View from the Other Side of the Hill


The Mermaid Chair

I read differently now that I've decided to BE a writer, instead of just writing. No longer do I just pick something up and skim through it for pleasure, tossing it aside if it annoys me. Now I'm looking as much at the craft as I am the story. It makes the good books so much better, and dang it, I can't even put a bad book down now!

I picked up The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd earlier this year when I was in San Diego for my anniversary. I had loved The Secret Life of Bees, and I was looking forward to reading it. Sadly, it did not live up to my expectations. But I learned a heck of a lot! For instance ...

1. Skip the prologue. I've heard this advice before; now I have it perfectly illustrated. I'm not one who likes to be told what you're going to tell me. I like the journey -- let it unfold on its own. Also, her very first sentence annoyed me. "In the middle of my marriage, when I was above all Hugh's wife and Dee's mother, one of those unambiguous women with no desire to disturb the universe, I fell in love with a Benedictine monk." She follows it with "It happened during the winter and spring of 1988, though I'm only now, a year later, ready to speak of it."

How can she claim to be "in the middle" of her marriage, but it's only been a year since her affair? Isn't that a bit presumptuous? It introduced me to the Big Lie of the novel, that her affair had seemingly no affect on her marriage. But I'll get to that later.

2. Choose your format carefully. This really should have been a short story. I mean, I understood the first time she told me that Jessie's father's death was really important to her. Then she told me again. And again. And again... I also thought the mystery behind Jessie's mother's amputating her finger was way too dragged out. This would have been way more effective if it had been tightened up.

3. Watch your point of view. Most of the story is told from the main character's point of view. There were also a few chapters that switched to Brother Thomas's point of view. We knew that because she wrote Brother Thomas at the beginning of the chapter. The main character readily admitted that she didn't really know Brother Thomas, she just felt like she had known him all her life. Why did we need to learn so much about him that she wasn't even interested in discovering?

4. I'm a theme person. I admit it. I love themes. My favorite theme is redemption. I'm a real sucker for a good redemption story. This book had so many possibilities with all the religious symbolism and the complicated relationships. Alas, nothing was ever developed, and it left the story shattered into pieces of different puzzles.

5. Be TRUE. This is the biggest problem I had with the book. I could have overlooked all the other problems if there was a hint of reality to be found. But it never rang true. Jessie says she "fell in love" with Father Thomas. No, she didn't. She was infatuated with him and acted out of boredom. Father Thomas not only gave in to their illicit relationship, he pursued it from the beginning. Really? Can't we expect a little more restraint from a Benedictine monk? Lynnette from "Desperate Housewives" showed more moral fortitude than he did. Finally, after her summer fling, Jessie goes right back to her marriage without any consequences. Sure, she plays lip service by saying the marriage "wasn't quite like it was," and that Hugh forgave her in"precious sips" and "spoonfuls" (all described in less than two pages), but we get no indication that anyone actually suffered from her indiscretion.

6. The gauntlet is thrown. My current work in progress begins with the same theme. I personally believe that all good wives and mothers at some point in their lives realize that they have lost their identity in their roles. Sue Monk Kidd's solution is to run out and have an affair with a Benedictine monk and then get back to your life. I need to see if I can offer better than that. So, thank you, Sue Monk Kidd. I love themes, and I think you've given me a pretty clear vision of where I want to go next.

(And in case you think I've been too mean, I recognize that Sue Monk Kidd's revenge is quite simply that she has been published -- and sold over 3 million copies of her first book -- and I have not.)