Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Nature of Writing with Saint


I've mentioned that I'm finally going to meet my co-author, Eugene Saint – the friend who, two years ago, gave me those Tennessean pups we affectionately call the “Pease Wees”.  Saint and I have an almost-completed full-length Tag novel that needs to be finished, edited, designed, etc. and we realized we could do it much easier and faster in person rather than online via emails or over the phone.  The internet takes too long and on the phone…well, that comes with its own complications.  See, Saint prefers to rattle my cage rather than concentrate on the task at hand.  I don’t believe he’s really ADD but he most certainly is “focus-challenged”.

Friends have asked me what it’s like to work with Saint.  That stranger.  That older person.  That guy ‘from away’.  

That MAN.

Frankly, it’s hell.

Perhaps you’ll understand what I mean.  Here are some typical exchanges between Saint and me.

** What Saint says:  “I was reading your stuff…when all of a sudden I slammed into the car dashboard/computer monitor/my desk.  Practically broke my neck!”

What Saint means:  “You use too many commas.”

** What Saint says: “Hidey Hole?  Hidey Hole?  What in God’s name is a Hidey Hole?  Are you gay, or what?”

What Saint means: “I don’t care for the term ‘Hidey Hole’.  Perhaps you can come up with something different, my dear?”

** What Saint says: “Whine, whine, whine…good stuff, good stuff, whine…”

What Saint means: “Your posts are all about feelings.  Too ‘girlie’.  Luckily, I write stuff people want to read.”

** What I say: “Well, Saint…I’ll let you go so I can grab some supper.”

What Saint says:  “That’s right.  Go fatten up.”

** What I say:  “I wondered if maybe you’d consider reducing the number of times that you indiscriminately use the ‘F-bomb’ in your posts.  I really don’t think it adds anything to the story.”

What Saint says: “(F-bomb), no!”

** What Saint says:  “So I was thinking… maybe I’ll do something enjoyable this afternoon.  Or, maybe I’ll read what you wrote last night.”

What Saint means: “I wonder if I can make her cry…”

What I think:  “When hell freezes over, old man.”

** What Saint says:  “That’s cool.”

What I say: “You’re kidding!  Are you kidding me?  You actually LIKE it?”

What Saint says: “Well, not now that you’ve pointed out how dumb it is…”

** What I say: “So… what happens if you don’t like me once you’ve met me in person?”

What Saint says:  “Who says I like you now?”

What Saint means: “I can’t wait to meet Kaz!”

** What I say: “So…will you still want to write with me if you don’t like the ‘real’ me?”

What Saint says: “Who says I want to write with you now?”

What Saint means: “I can’t believe how lucky I am to co-author a book with Kaz!”

** What I say: “Saint, you drive me NUTS!”

What Saint says: “Awww…bless your poor misshapen head.”

What Saint thinks: “This is too easy.”

What I think: “Man, is this old duffer in for a rude awakening!  Bring it on!”

No, Saint and I don’t have a tranquil partnership, and he's not the type of friend whom I'd consider to be a ‘soft place to fall’.  In fact, he says I won’t like him.  That he’s a miserable SOB.  

Heaven knows Saint likes to be right, so I won’t argue with his assumption or his self-assessment.  Too, there's that little 'side-benefit'.  If I don't argue with the old drives HIM nuts.  I've gotta keep him on his toes, or most likely his aging brain will atrophy and I'll be stuck pulling his dead weight.  So, just this once, I'll let him have the last word.

** What I mean: "I can't wait to meet Saint."

Tennessee With Saint

 Well, it looks like it might actually – finally! – happen.  In October, if all goes as planned, I’ll hop aboard a Delta jetliner and fly to Tennessee, where I will finally meet “Bee Dazzle’s” co-author – that bossy, know-it-all curmudgeon, Eugene Saint.

The reason for the anticipated trip is two-fold.  Saint and I have also co-authored a full-length Tag novel, titled ‘Following Seas’.  

The novel is almost complete.  Almost.  The old man has been holding up the works but I try not to crab about it.  At his age I suppose I should be grateful that he can still muster up the strength to toddle from recliner to computer desk. 

We wrote the original manuscript three years ago with several other authors who were participating in an online game of Writers’ Tag.  The site folded but Saint and I stayed in contact.  Our posts had proven we had some synergy.   Since each author on the site retained ownership of his or her own contributions, Saint and I deleted the posts written by the others and then read what remained.  To our delight, what remained had the makings of a terrific novel.

We decided to rework the plot to make it truly ‘ours’.  At night – after our families had gone to bed – Saint and I wrote.  Sometimes we’d talk on the phone when Saint needed to complain about something such as my overuse of commas, ellipses…or italics.  He’d gripe and I’d defend.  He’d grumble some more and I’d concede.  He’d crow in victory…and I’d get irritated.  It’s part and parcel of the experience of writing with Saint.   

Eventually the manuscript began to resemble a completed novel.  My nerves, in the meanwhile, began to resemble a frayed rope.  One thing about Saint?  The man is never wrong.  Ever.   It’s useless to offer even the mildest criticism of anything he’s written because before the end of the conversation I’ve somehow turned into that lowest-of-the-low: a “girl”. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Saint’s not ‘macho’ nor is he a misogynist – but he IS a survivor.  When backed into a corner he comes out swinging.  And if he lacks an original or worthy argument, he falls back on his old stand-by: the argument that I “don’t get it” because I’m a “girl”.   I have to admire his use of that accusation because – to his way of thinking – there’s little to be said against that argument.  And because he knows I get cranked when he says that, he uses it every chance he gets.   If it wasn’t for the fact that I have great respect for senior citizens in their dotage, he and I would have engaged in more than the occasional tussle.

But now we’re almost finished with this undertaking.  If we can polish Following Seas to a point where we’re ready to sit down together and give it a word-by-word edit, I’ll fly down to Tennessee and we’ll do exactly that:  Finish the book, design and create a cover and synopsis, write the dedications and acknowledgements…and be done with the project.  That’s the main purpose for the trip.

The other reason I hope to go to Tennessee is quite simple.  I’m curious.  Incredibly so!  I’ve written parts and pieces of several novels with this man who is – in essence – a stranger.  I want to see and know the ‘real’ Saint.  The guy who is a husband and the father of eight, a musician, artist, veteran, teacher, sailor, writer… and more – or so he claims!  I want to find out if he’s really an irascible old goat… or just a grumpy old fart.  I want to know if he’s as smart as he sounds… or if he’s just good at sounding smart. 

I mean, think about it!  The only details I know about this author are those he’s allowed me to know.  A few photos and a voice on the other end of the phone line are the extent of my knowledge.  In reality, he might not be an irascible old goat!  He might be a young woman with a deep voice (a smoker perhaps?) who has been sending me photos of her grandfather.  He could be a vagrant.  A politician.  An oral hygienist.  The possibilities are endless.  Heck, he might even be a Republican! 

The fact of the matter is that I want to know. As a woman who always picks up strays on the side of the road, it was natural that Saint would become one of my closest friends.  I want to see him with my own eyes.   
I suppose it’s only fair that Saint sees the real ‘me’ too. I just hope he’ll be able to come up with a suitable defense strategy when he finds out I’m not a ‘girl’.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dark Heart -- Exciting Enough to Make Even Me Turn Red

Nine months ago I received Tony Park’s Dark Heart as a Christmas gift from two of my Australian friends, Grahame and KK.

Since reading my first Park novel in 2009, I’ve been an enthusiastic fan of his tales of adventure set in the heart of Africa.  Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana…the author has traveled extensively in these countries, as well as much further afield.  In fact, Park spends half of each year on the Dark Continent, researching his novels and learning first-hand about the culture, traditions, geography and the wildlife of each region he travels to or writes about.
Author Tony Park with his mother Kathy 
The first rule a successful author learns is “Write what you know.” It’s obvious that Tony Park knows his stuff.  It’s not often that I read stories which make me feel a part of the setting but Park’s novels do exactly that.  I’ve rarely journeyed further than Maine’s borders but when engrossed in a tale by Tony Park, I feel as if I’m right there – on the veld, in the bush, in the jungle…or in a small African village, the city of Joberg or Kruger National Park.  

Dark Heart is well-named, for it is a dark tale.  There are few light or bright moments but then, there’s little to smile about when you find out you’ve been targeted for assassination. 

The story revolves around three characters who are bound by the events of their past.  In Rwanda during that country’s horrific civil war and subsequent genocide, Dr. Richard Dunlop, attorney Carmel Chang and photojournalist Liesl Nel are unknowingly caught up in one of that country’s biggest mysteries: Who was responsible for the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s aircraft?  That single act of terror was long thought to be the spark that ignited one of the world’s most vicious attempts to exterminate a populace.  Seventeen years later, a clue emerges which could very well solve the mystery… if the trio can stay alive long enough to follow the evidence to the guilty party.

The three work at cross-purposes, however.  After witnessing the horror of the battlefield in 1994, Richard and Liesl had succumbed to a night of ‘survivor sex’.  What was meaningless to them was a life-changing event for Carmel, who – as the woman in love with Richard – was devastated upon discovering the two together.

After Rwanda the three went their separate ways, battling personal demons and stockpiling guilt and blame for almost two decades.  When thrown together after surviving almost simultaneous murder attempts, cooperation is the last thing on their minds.  But without it, the odds of them surviving are practically non-existent.

Dark Heart is spellbinding.  It might sound hypocritical to say that, since I began reading the book almost nine months ago and have just finished it today…but that is the nature of the beast that is my life, right now.  I have only read ONE novel in the past year and this is it.  I took this unscheduled ‘day off’ and treated myself to a few hours of pleasure…sitting outside under blue skies with a gentle autumn breeze tickling the hair at my neck…and I read.  I was so engrossed in Park’s latest tale that I didn’t even notice as my Irish skin got only its second sunburn of the season –the first having made itself painfully apparent after a weekend at the wood splitter in August.

Dark Heart is well worth the read, as are all Park’s novels – from Far Horizon right up through to African Dawn.  Not only are the stories entertaining, they are educational and deliciously descriptive.  Take the time to immerse yourself in another world – an exciting one – and share my guilty pleasure.

Just…don’t forget your sun-block when you do. I recommend SPF15, at a minimum….