Works In Progress

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Outside the Café Pastichque

She sits down across from me at a café table in the courtyard. The courtyard’s a big place and there are plenty of other tables. Tables where no one’s sitting. Tables where I’m not sitting.

She’s pretty. Sitcom second best friend pretty. Straight shoulder-length chestnut brown hair, one thin braid with a green pony bead at the end dangling over her left eyebrow. Blonde roots. Brown eyes.

Probably a college kid, probably read in Sociology 5A that in Europe it’s customary to sit at a café table opposite a complete stranger. Apparently missed the day it was mentioned that the University of Oregon isn’t in Europe.

She’s wearing a Cold Stone Creamery apron. Nametag says Yew. Not likely she’s paying out-of-state tuition with a name like that. She’s brought a scoop of ice cream in a cup with her. Pistachio or mint; coming from Cold Stone, maybe both.

I return to my composition notebook and the ninth printout of Chapter Fifteen (wherein a mysterious benefactor is named). I read a paragraph. Change a couple words. Make a note in the margin to consider a different p.o.v.

Yew takes a bite of ice cream.

I start to get a headache.

“Can I help you?” I ask.

She giggles. Glances over at the Cold Stone shop at the far end of the plaza. “That’s my line.”

A giggling college girl. I’m so too old for this.

“Whatcha doin?”

“Working on a story.”

“Yeah? Why?”

“What why—I’m a writer. That’s what we do.”

Yew licks the back of her spoon. “We? You have multiple personalities.”

It’s not quite a question. It’s not quite wrong. But it’s beside the point nonetheless.

“Writers in general. They tend to write, every now and again.”

“So is it now or again”—her braid swings from side to side as she speaks—“that you’re writing?”

Both. Yes. How do you answer that?

“And you put too much stock in what other writers do, y’know.”

Finally the coin drops. “It’s YOU!”

People in suits and upscale casualwear turn toward us. Then they remember their goat cheese salads and bruschetta and lose interest in our little floor show.

“No,” she says, Vanna-Whiting a hand beneath her nametag, “it’s Yew. And haven’t you heard it’s impolite to write in all caps? It’s like shouting.”

“I was shouting. What are you doing here and why are you a woman?”

“It was more of a bellow; you need to work on your verb choices. Vanna-Whiting? And I’m here and a woman because what is, is.”

“But you appeared as a man for Mark and Jules and Mike and—Linda? You appeared for Linda, didn’t you?”

“Might’ve been Michelle. Don’t know, I get around. First, you need practice developing female characters. And, like I said, you put way too much stock in what other writers are doing.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with using people? Did you miss that day in Ethics 50B?”

“I never took Ethics. And how am I using them?”

“Inspiration. Validation. Couple other –ations, too, but let’s start with those.”

“What’s wrong with finding inspiration in what other people are doing?”

“If other people were inspired to jump off the DeFazio Pedestrian Bridge and into the Willamette, you would too, wouldn’t you?”

“No. I’m not that strong a swimmer.”

“But you’d want to, wish you were—and points off for running Martin Short/SNL lines.”

“Well, points off for cribbing Jeanne’s whole ‘points’ thing.”

We glare at each other.

“We’re glowering,” she says. “It’s a combination glare and scowl. Work on your verbs.”

More glowering.

“And Jeanne didn’t invent that whole ‘points’ thing, either. So there.”

“Now who’s defensive about what other people ‘do’ or ‘do not’ do?”

Yew spoons at the mostly melted ice cream. Mumbles. “do or do not do. doo doo. spoons at isn’t a verb. and writing in all lower-case to indicate sotto voce isn’t clever.”


She leaves the plastic spoon in the cup and pushes her chair away from the table, metal chairlegs grating across the pebbled concrete. The successful-looking people glance over at us again. “Why are you on your ninth printout? Because you’ve revised it eight times? Or because you’ve been dabbling in side markets to match what your internet buddies have done and consequently misplaced several copies you already printed out?”

I glower solo.

“And why have you been pursuing those markets? Do they advance what you’re working on there or is it so you’ll have something new to crow about and maybe someone will throw you a congratulatory Scooby Snack?”

I melt her ice cream with my glare-slash-scowl.

“Look, break time’s over.” Yew picks up the Styrofoam cup and chugs the goo. “Stop chasing. Stop feeding off your friends. You’ve got four, maybe five chapters left on a revision you began a year ago. And at least one more rewrite after that. So enough with the flash and the shorts, enough with damning yourself with the approbation of your friends (sincere and well-intentioned as it may be, they’re great folks after all). Quit finding reasons not to work on your novel. Finish the book. Now.”

I look down at my composition notebook and the third actual revision of Chapter Fifteen (wherein Emil Kennedy makes a terrible discovery). Has it been a year on this rewrite, five weeks on this chapter alone?

The Styrofoam cup is all that remains across the table from me when I look back up. The scent of limes and Yew’s voice float on the breeze through the courtyard.

“‘Chugs the goo.’ He’s hopeless.”

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Just got word this afternoon that the Wittenburg Door's editorial board liked the short I sent them. Tentatively titled: "2007 Concert Forecast: Increasing Wackiness."

My first Door submission was accepted about this time last year; it ran in the Nov/Dec edition.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Surprise News

There's more detail over on my other blog, but it turns out the local daily ran with the press release I sent. I appeared on page B-4 of this last Sunday's "Oregon Life" section. [scan]


Monday, July 17, 2006

Interview Update

No call on Friday, but talked to the editor of the regional weekly this evening. No time to make the issue they're currently working on, but we're looking to connect this Wednesday to set things up for the next issue.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


At long last I've finished another chapter in my novel-in-progress. Chapter Fourteen begins the final day of the story and had me hung up for months. Finally overcame (I hope) the challenge of getting my main character going without it being a "he woke up and brushed his teeth" kinda deal.

It opens with pain (always popular) and then a series of flashbacks as he reconstructs the night before. Anyone have a good suggestion for a book that handles mini-flashbacks well? Or shows how to integrate a summary scene into a story during the straight-ahead sequence of events? It's been brought to my attention I have a habit of switching to flashback mode while characters do mundane tasks like sitting in a waiting room (I finally read your feedback, Angie; thanks!) or, in this case, ironing. Seems to me the guy's got to do something, but if this is poor technique someone point me to a master craftsman to get me some schoolin'.

Still, the chapter is done (crit partners, brace yourselves). And I'm pumped about the next one. And the one after that. And then things are gonna get messy. Heh, heh, heh.