Rough Drafts | Zoē and Polyphemus

I’m nearing the half way mark through Stopping by Autumn. Zoē is the novel’s main character and moves through a world very different from that of the other characters. Unlike my first novel, which only has elements of magical realism, the second novel (taking place in the same fictional region of Vermont) glides whole-heartedly through the genre. The following passage takes place after Zoē wanders into a little village called Sled Island. The El Camino has broken down again and rather than wait with her father at the garage, she explores. (Tue 22nd — Being a rough draft, a just updated this with some minor changes, including the addition of Homeric Epithets.)

Further inside the store the shelves were full of books, souvenirs, toys, clothes, used books and handmade quilts. Some of the shelves were carved into the shapes of vines swollen with wooden grapes. The thick vines seemed to coil and stretch from one shelf to the next, growing thicker and hiding more of the shelves the further she went. 

Hidden among their coils were owls, hawks and gulls with gaping  beaks—all carved from the same dark wood. And if she looked twice the hawk might have vanished or the owl turned its gaze. Zoē walked quietly. An old woman with a cane across her lap was sleeping in a chair in the corner. There was a wisp of a beard trailing from her chin and her gap-toothed mouth hung open as she snored. Next to her was a room with sawdust and shavings spilling out. Zoē went to look and found a workshop. There were no windows, a workbench was in the middle, and broken toys were piled on the floor and spilled from open closets. A large man, as old as the woman, was hunched over the workbench. He wore a leather apron and peered through an elaborate jeweler’s monocle. The man had piled toys at one end of the workbench. One by one, as Zoē watched, he took them and with a small mallet broke them.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m makin’ spare parts,” the man gruffly answered.

“But you’re ruining new toys.”

The giant man looked up, still stooped over the workbench, slope-shouldered. “And you never know when a good toy’s gonna need fixin’. So you can’t have too many spare parts.”

Zoē glanced behind her. “You’re just taking them from the store.”

“That’s right.”

“But then there won’t be any good toys to buy,” Zoē answered factually.

“You’re a strange one,” said the man. He flipped up a lens and squinted through his monocle. “You’re a little off aren’t you? Not quite right in the head. Any other girl would have run off by now.” He let that sit, then said, “Come in here.”

Zoē went in and stood at the workbench, hands in her coat pockets. The man picked up a broom that had been leaning behind him and pushed the door shut behind her.

“Why did you do that?”

“What’s that you’ve got round your neck?”

“A necklace.”

“I see that,” answered the giant man, wiping his nose with the back of his hand, “but what’s that you’ve got hanging from the necklace.”

“My mother gave it to me.”

“Give it to me.”

“No,” said Zoē, “you’ll just break it.”

The slope-shouldered man didn’t answer at first. He rubbed his stubbled chin with the palm of his hand as though considering what next. “If you won’t give it to me then let me see it.” Zoē pinched the necklace and lifted the pendant so that he could see it. The giant man studied it and rapped the workbench with his knuckles. “What’s your name, girl?”

Zoē hesitated, then said, “Eudid.”

“Eudid?” asked the man. “Is that a Greek name?”

“Yes,” Zoē answered. “Do you want to see the pendant?”

“Yes!”

“Then let me look through your monocle. If you let me look through your monocle, I’ll let you look at my pendant.”

The giant man stood and took a deep breath. His broad chest expanded and his sloped shoulders rolled. Then he went to Zoē, towering over her. He took off his monocle and gave it to her. Zoē at once saw that he couldn’t see without it—or not very well. She slipped out from between him and the closet, and went to the other side of the workshop. The man tried to see where she went, squinting, but seemed unable to see her. “What are you doing?” he asked.

Zoē went to the workbench. She put down the monocle and picked up the mallet that he’d left on the workbench. “I’m making spare parts,” she answered.

“For what?” he answered.

“For your monocle.”

“How will you do that?” he asked.

“Like this.” She smashed the monocle with one blow. The lenses and tiny gears burst across the workbench and fell to the floor.

 “No!” cried the man. “He swept his arms ahead of him.”

Zoē held onto her necklace, hunched low and scurried along the opposite side of the workbench. The giant man turned, eyes fiercely squinting. When he went behind the workbench, Zoē hurried to the door, opened it and ran back into the store’s displays.

“Eudid!” the man cried.

“Good lord. What’s all the alarm?” The old woman had woken, and was as unable to see as the slope-shouldered man. She clumsily pushed herself upright and swung her cane back and forth.

“My monocle!” roared the man in the doorway.

“What about it?” asked the old woman.

“She broke it!”

“Who did?”

“Eudid!” he roared.

“I did not!” the old woman answered. “I had nothing to do with you or your precious monocle.”

“Eudid!” he roared again. “Eudid!”

Zoē crouched beneath the swinging cane, then ran to a door that was in the center of the store and under a staircase. “I hear the little beast!”

“Where?” answered the old woman, turning and swinging the cane in Zoē’s direction.

“Eudid!” snarled the giant man.

“I did not you old fool!” cried the woman.

Zoē quietly opened the door, stepped down to a little landing, then noiselessly closed the door behind her.

upinVermont | March 21st 2022

Rough Drafts | Sidewalk Poems

The history behind these two poems is interesting. Middlebury, Vermont invited local poets to send in poems for a sidewalk project in which the poems would be imprinted in the sidewalk’s concrete—part of a poetry project. The poems came with strict line length and word limits. I don’t remember them now. But why not? Middlebury is one of my favorite Vermont towns and Brookway, the fictional town of my novels, is loosely based on it. I submitted the poems and—never heard anything again. Story of my literary life. Since they were written for a very particular location—a sidewalk—I was never sure what to do with them. Now I know. If they can’t be in Middlebury’s sidewalks, then they’ll be in Brookway’s sidewalks—a sidewalk of the imagination. They have a home again.

If despite your hurry
You pause just long enough
To momentarily query
The verses here and there,
You next may ask yourself
If poems aren’t everywhere?—
If maybe all along
(And even by a sidewalk)
There wasn’t always song?
And though that may be true,
It’s true because all poetry
Is truthfully in you.
You mostly needn’t guess
(Or second guess) the season,
You know it more or less:
You know it by the spider
Fattened on the addled flies.
They crowd September’s cider.
And if the weather’s terse
And fitful then it’s likely
April; yet suppose this verse
Is buried under snow?
Your guess is good as mine.
Vermont. You never know.
Every year it’s touch and go.

upinVermont | March 6th 2022

Rough Drafts | Broken

  • As I wrote before, while describing my new novel, Stopping by Autumn, the deceased mother of the main character left behind some sketchbooks and loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry—and wrote poems in Dickinson’s style. To that effect, each chapter is headed with a poem like Dickinson’s—the Ballad Meter, the off-rhymes, the flexible meter.
          Each element best mends itself
          When human beings have erred—
          Metal is with metal welded
          And clay with clay repaired

          But tell me when the last word's spoken—
          If this is how we end it—
          Tell me when the heart is broken
          What element will mend it?

upinVermont | March 5th 2022

Rough Drafts | Ariella & her Shadow

I’ve been able to keep to my schedule. I’m just shy of a quarter way through my novel, having just begun Chapter 3. Thought I’d share another passage. This comes straight from Chapter 2. Soot is a character from my first novel, Tiny House, Big Mountain, and one of my favorite characters. The second novel takes place in the same Vermont town—Brookway, which is a sort of amalgamation of all my favorite parts of Vermont.

Soot came by that evening, invited to dinner by Fiona. Her clothes were a cataclysm of color. She wore a purple, paisley scarf whose ends reached her knees and a red felt hat that reminded Zoē of a garden gnome’s, but the tip fell to the small of her back. There were colorful patches on her scarf, hat and leggings.

“Why do you dress like that?” Zoē asked, sitting opposite Soot. She had already carefully arranged her knife, fork and spoon.

“So I’m easy to find,” Soot answered.

“By who?”

“By me.”

Zoē gazed at Soot in that way she had, as if she had been told that a bird might recite the alphabet at any moment.

“Do you have any grapes?” Soot asked Fiona, but Fiona was already putting a bowl of grapes on the table. She took one and gave Zoē a confiding smile. “Have you never lost yourself?”

“No.”

“Do you know,” asked Soot, “what casts your shadow?”

“Light.”

“Is that what you think?” Soot ate another grape.

“What is it then?” Zoē straightened.

“You think you can’t see your soul, but of course you can. Your soul is what casts your shadow,” Soot leaned forward. “And your soul is easiest to see in the light. And everything has a soul, from a tree to the fencepost. If you see the fencepost’s shadow, then that’s because the fencepost and its soul are in agreement. But if the fencepost forgets to be a fencepost then it’s as though it forgets its soul; and one day its shadow will disappear.”

“Do you know anybody who’s lost their shadow?” Millie asked.

“I know a story,” said Soot.

“I wanna hear it.”

“Do you have any wine?” Soot asked Fiona, and a moment later Fiona returned with a glass. Soot liked a glass when the storytelling mood came over her and Fiona knew her Aunt well enough to know. She slipped it across the table, a glass of red wine in a bordeaux. 

“Do you remember Ariella Pease?” she asked Fiona. “No, I don’t suppose you would. Sweet as syrup when she was a little girl. Then, a little older and all that changed. There was always a streak of jealousy in Ariella. And as she grew older, her jealousy grew with her.

“She coveted trifles.

“Whenever she had the chance, she would take what wasn’t hers. Little things: a pencil became a hair clip, became a ring, became a pearl necklace. Her soul, because the soul is confused by deceit and dishonesty, forgot how to recognize her and, one day, was gone. And Ariella had no more shadow.

Soot leaned back, glancing first at Millie, then at Zoē. “What happens when your soul can’t find you? Do you know? The world turns gray. Your thoughts turn black and white. You miss the beautiful things of the world because your soul no longer whispers in your ear saying: ‘Look! There! Isn’t that beautiful?’” Soot adjusted her eye patch and sipped a little more of the wine.

“Well?” Millie knelt on her chair now, elbows on the table. “What happened?”

“That’s it,” said Soot, glass lifted beside her, one knee crossed over the other. “Her shadow was gone. Poof!”

“Is not,” said Millie.

“She didn’t notice at first. Whoever checks to make sure their shadow is with them? She went out and at first there were whispers, then pointing, then she saw what wasn’t there. She didn’t dare go out again. Some said she bartered with the devil  but in exchange for what? Wealth? Eternal youth?

“At first she was angry.

“She raged at the mailman for being late. She raged at the noisy children. Her tea was too cold, her soup too hot. She would find her shadow and stitch it to her heels. A shadow must be like a long scarf. If it’s not tied round one’s shoulders then perhaps it can blow away.

“She needed a seamstress and so she went looking. She went when others weren’t as likely to see her. She wore a shawl and skirted from house to house, but then she noticed a timid shadow following her. Ariella was on the left side of the road and the shadow was on the right. When she moved, the shadow moved. When she stood still, the shadow stood still.

“Ariella meant to catch her shadow and chased it up the porch-stairs of the nearest house. She almost cried out when she saw a strange girl swinging on a porch-bench. The girl smiled mischievously and put her finger to her lips. ‘Come closer,’ she said, whispering so that only Ariella would hear her, ‘I know why you’re here. Give me the pearl necklace and I’ll give you what you need. Ariella frowned, proud of the necklace she had stolen, but took it off and gave it to the girl.”

“Look on your stoop tomorrow morning.”

“Ariella thought she should recognize the strange girl. The next morning there appeared a short spool of white thread. Surely this wasn’t all that Ariella needed. She went back out late in the evening, hiding from the moon, the lights from the windows and the street lights. Once again she saw her shadow and chased it under a bridge and once again was startled by the strange girl in the shawl. She crouched under the bridge as if hiding there. ‘I know what you want. Give me the ring that you stole and I’ll give you what you need. Ariella frowned but gave it to her.

“Look on your stoop tomorrow morning.”

“The strange girl seemed ever more familiar to Ariella. The next morning there appeared a spool of fine red thread. Each night Ariella gave the giggling girl something she had stolen. Each night Ariella was more sure she recognized the girl. Each morning a spool of thread more valuable and beautiful than the last appeared on Ariella’s stoop. Each day Ariella felt happier and her step was lighter. 

“At last there was only the pencil.

“The next evening her shadow led her to a neighboring farmhouse where Ariella found the strange girl swinging under an apple tree. ‘Now,’ she the girl, ‘you must promise never to steal anything again. The girl jumped off the swing and gave Ariella a piece of paper. She turned around so that Ariella could sign the paper on her back. ‘This is your promise to never steal anything again,’ she said, looking over her shoulder. ‘Then give me the pencil and I will return it to who you stole it from.’

“Ariella signed and gave the girl the paper.

“As soon as the girl turned around Ariella saw who she was. It was her soul! Ariella finally recognized herself. She reached but her soul was too quick. ‘No!’ her soul smiled and wagged her finger. ‘You have been very bad.’

“‘Will you come back?’ Ariella begged.

“Look on your stoop tomorrow morning

“The next morning there was a golden needle on Ariella’s stoop and then she saw her shadow, already attached to her heel, and kneeling just like her. But Ariella knew what she needed to do. She took the golden needle and she took all the most beautiful clothes and cut them up. She made patches and sowed her clothes back together so that every time she saw them she would be reminded that the most beautiful thing she had in the world was herself.”

Soot finished her tale, finished her wine, gazed at both girls and then at Sean.

“Wait,” said Millie. “Was that story about you?”

“Millie!” said Soot. “I’m surprised at you!”

upinVermont | March 4th 2022

Rough Drafts | Horace & the Dowsing Horse

  • As part of posting I want to acknowledge the tragedy unfolding in the Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is a thug and war criminal. If he ever steps foot from Russian soil he should be arrested and tried for mass murder. I write that as an American and EU Passport holder, whose parents live in Europe and whose daughter is studying in Europe. I worry about all of them. Life goes on for those of us lucky enough to live in a Democracy, flawed though it may be, but the behavior of Russia, and China, is a reminder of what we stand to lose if we become complacent.

Short of that, the best we can do is try to bring a little more light into the world. I thought I might share a little of my novel, in its rough draft state, as I write it. The following is a little tale from my next novel—”Stopping by Autumn“. I continue to write 888 words a day and by the end of each day still feel a touch of disbelief at having done it. I’m currently midway through Chapter 2.

Convivia Peacham was the granddaughter of Goddard J. Peacham, manufacturer of ball bearings in St Johnsbury, Vermont. When Convivia Peachham’s parents died, falling through the ice of the Connecticut River, it wasn’t long afterward that Convivia Peacham inherited her grandfather’s fortune. She sold the factory and built an ample Federal just on the edge of Brookway.

She was mean. Give her milk to look at, they’d say, and she’d sour it. Praise the weather and she’d say it takes more than one Robin to make a summer. She disdained all but her horse, Delilah, a Morgan whose color was as rich as Solomon’s cedar. How she loved that horse! To this day you can still see her black touring carriage and white silk muff she wore whenever she went out riding with Delilah. She kept her hands in her muff even in the dead of summer.

Her hands were always cold.

After a few years living in Brookway she met Horace Abernathy, a man as mean as she was, and despite all, a man she fell madly in love with. Some tried to warn her but most decided it wasn’t their business. ’Let’s see how the cat jumps,’ was all they’d say. It wasn’t long before Horace and Convivia married and in less time than that Horace was frittering away Convivia’s wealth. That began the long fights that started early in the evenings and carried on well into the night. Neighbors had to close their shutters.

One night, after they had all but finished off the cellar’s wine, all the noise stopped. It seemed to the neighbors that peace had broken out. If Convivia had all but disappeared, that was no reason to look the gift horse in the mouth. She’s taken to bed, is all that Horace would say. All the while, Horace spent Convivia’s wealth until he was forced into old habits. One day he let it be known that Convivia’s belovèd Delilah possessed the miraculous ability to dowse for water. Dowsers were common as horseflies but no one had ever heard of a horse that could dowse. Horace cornered the market. He took Delilah into a field and would ask if there was water. The horse would paw twice if there was and once if there wasn’t. And Delilah was never wrong.

Soon enough, Horace began to wonder what else Delilah could find and sure enough: she found silverware, tools and even coins fallen out of pockets. Horace eagerly whipped Delilah from farmhouse to farmhouse, taking a cut of everything she found. He schemed for more and it occurred to him that if Delilah could find silver, then she could find gold. He called up the local paper and declared that his horse, Delilah, could find gold and he was so confident that he intended to demonstrate her miraculous ability before the press.

That very evening a contingent of reporters arrived, bringing notebooks, cameras and even one of the new movie cameras. Horace paraded Delilah before the reporters then announced that Delilah would guide them to all such veins of gold as lay beneath his property. Delilah led Horace and the crowding reporters to a little place between the house and barn and under the thornapple tree that Convivia had always disliked. Delilah pawed the ground twice.

“Dig here!” said Horace.

And they did. They dug for five, ten, twenty minutes with their cuffs drawn back and wiping their brows. Then they saw it, the glint of gold! It was the editor-in-chief himself, Ned Corrigan, of the Brookway Mirror, who stooped and picked up the gold. Reporters scribbled, photographers snapped their photos and the filmographer cranked the old ‘Ernemenn E’. There in Ned Corrigan’s hand was Convivia’s wedding ring, and inside it the cold white bone of her finger.

bird-block-print-desaturated

upinVermont | February 25th 2022