Sunday, August 20, 2006

Red Shoes Time

Journal notebook atop manuscript pages, tweaked.

When I saw what she was doing, as I watched her with my jaw hitting the floor and tears in my eyes, I was convinced Pirandello had it backwards. The characters aren't in search of their author. On the contrary; mine have blessed me....

I don't have real red shoes because I live in sneakers. (Though there were some folks in Massachusetts years ago called "Composers in Red Sneakers" who produced some pretty cool music. But I digress.)

"Red shoes time" refers to the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Red Shoes", whose heroine slips a magic pair of red shoes on and can't stop dancing. In fact, she dances herself almost to death. It's a great metaphor for creative obsession. There's also the phenomenal 1948 movie that takes its cue from the fairy tale.

I'm not possessed quite that much. Though when I was last in fullblown red shoes time I had driven off to a meeting and gone about 10 miles before I realized I'd left my fanny pack at home, complete with my driver's license, wallet, and every scrap of ID I had. Even though Mary was home I was thankful my house keys and car key were on the same ring.

Red shoes time means I can pull an all-nighter writing and still have the energy to dance -- literally dance -- afterwards. It means I wake up with visions in my head: in the morning, in the middle of the night; it means the visions are playing as I fall asleep. When I'm not working directly on the draft I'm scribbling madly in my journal notebook, getting the visions down in outline before they fade from me like forgotten dreams. It's the time when I sit on the couch staring into space and Mary says things to me like, "I can tell you're having book thoughts. Daisy's the one reading the newspaper."

My Muse and I are like the cats, especially when they were younger and Mary and I lived in a shotgun apartment with a 50-foot-long hallway. Day and night one cat would chase the other down that stretch. Then they'd whirl around and the pursued would become the pursuer. "Engine and caboose," Mary calls it.

At some point in my current, scattershot writing, not aiming for any kind of linearity but just getting down the scenes as they come to me -- keeping to my commitment of adding to the book daily no matter how disorganized and "drafty" the draft -- my Muse turned around and became the caboose, at once careening toward my engine and shoveling fuel into my firebox.

I felt the turning point three nights ago. I'd been struggling with a scene I knew was important, but I just couldn't get a handle on it. It was too device-driven. The characters were like little black boxes whose true emotions I couldn't reach. I was merely smearing their actions on the page and wondering what the hell I was doing as I watched layers of crap multiply from one rewrite to the next.

The aftermath of that scene started nagging at me, so I jumped ahead. The characters let me in there and I breathed easier. I knew what I wanted to accomplish, the role of the scene in the story line, and they were being accommodating.

Then one of them suddenly went ahead and did something so unexpected and profound it took my breath away. I sat at the computer with tears in my eyes and my jaw hitting the floor. In an instant I understood what the preceding scene that was giving me so much trouble was really all about, and why it is more important even than I had imagined. Everything made sense. I knew what emotional tone I needed to use and the events that would later predispose this character to do what she did, setting in motion her contribution to the crux of the story line.

I finished setting the stage for this character and others to get into the deep doodoo I've got planned for them. Last night I started work on the scene that had been giving me problems. This time the characters came alive and I could lead (and follow) them through their paces -- not rushing through, not writing blindly. In contrast to some of the scenes I'd written before this current daily commitment, which I'll have to slash and burn later on because they're too front-end loaded with recap, I'm drawing this one out and giving it the space and time it requires. I wrote another section early this afternoon, so might fit another one in before the day is out. What was giving me so much trouble before flows "like buttah."

The now-22 consecutive days of writing have produced 26,511 words of draft and 5,423 words of notes.

Morning glory mandala. Click on this image and the ones below (and click the magnifying glass) for the large views.

I'm still workshopping the trilogy at a group called Inverness Writers, which meets twice a month at the library in our county seat. (I'd been driving to an IW meeting the day I left my fanny pack at home.) This past Friday I handed out chapter 12 of Book #3, which has 15 chapters in all. Once that critique is complete, depending on what shape Book #4 is in, I may hold off until I can get it better organized and ply the group with some shorter pieces. If nothing else, so that they know I actually do write shorter pieces.

I'd arrived early at the library, partly to sit by the stacks and scribble down more notes, when I noticed morning glories sitting pretty enough to be photographed.

But the flowers weren't what drew my attention first.

Pipevine Swallowtail. Battus philenor, Family Papilionidae (Swallowtails). I also managed to take a brief video, which I'll post the next time I'm at a DSL-enabled computer.

The Pipevine is one of several swallowtail butterflies that look very much alike and that include the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (female, dark phase), Black Swallowtail (female), Spicebush Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple, and Diana Fritillary. Bugguide.Net has a good guide on telling the species apart. I think this is a female, given the thickness of its body. The lookalike markings are part of the Batesian mimicry complex, a protective mechanism whereby several different species get to look like one or more that taste bad to predators.

This is also called the Blue Swallowtail and the Philenor, according to Bugguide. Like some other swallowtails (including the Palamedes I'd photographed back in April) it flutters its wings constantly. "Flies all year in tropical Mexico," says Bugguide. "Overwinters as chrysalis in temperate areas."


Blogger Brenda Clews said...

Love those red dancing shoes! Sounds like you are dancing up a great muse-driven writing festival! Beautiful...

7:21 PM  

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