I’m back in the saddle. Laptop sited in my favorite location in my apartment. I gaze eastward out my windows toward the East Bay Hills from my place in San Francisco. My desk has on it two items. First, a freshly marked up manuscript from Teresa LeYung Ryan. I’ll take it down to the health club and study contents of her comments while on exercise machine. I’ll make some notes and take her mark ups to Vicki Weiland in the next few days and we’ll discuss Teresa’s ideas make whatever adjustments we feel wise and then………..move ahead. Looks like a signficant amount of work, but every passing now of the manuscript brings it that much closer.
Second, while on the road since September 17th I’ve been building the plot to the second novel. I’ve been working on this plot for about six months total. It is complete although it will go through revisions and refinement. It is a work in progress. Feels like I know more than enough to begin. Characters all have names and have been sketched out. Plotting is done. The timeline is complete. Everything I need to aim the story is in place. I’ll take my first swing today or tomorrow. Once underway it will be a relentless process of drafting without letting up. Unlike my last book this one will undergo editing as I proceed.
Pouilly-Fuissé is a famous wine grown in France. It is one small part of the region we know as Burgundy. This wine growing region is one hundred miles east of Paris and stretches another 225 miles south to Lyon. We landed in Geneva Friday morning and rented a car and plunged headlong into our journey! We had to decide quickly what we’d like to do. I had two regions on my list. First, was Pouilly-Fuissé and the other not too far north from there is Meursault. Meursault would likely induce sticker shock and so I opted to avoid the higher prices. Meursault is made of the same grape as Pouilly-Fuissé. In California we know the wine as chardonnay. The French decided to name wine by where it is grown, by the ground the grape comes from, and that’s just shorthand for a much more complex set of evaluations. “Terrior” is the French word that describes the mystical quality the ground has with the vine that in the end produces the grape. So, due to this insight into the interdependence the grape, the vine and its root system the French decided that where a grape is grown is the most important fact of the many involved. I find this all difficult. I have a hard time with all the things I have to remember in order to select a bottle of French wine. Enough!
I’ve been drinking Pouilly-Fuissé for years and never had the chance to look up the region or find out much about the place. From Geneva we drove west 90 miles to Mâcon, France and from there we left the well marked highways and began to fumble and stumble along the back roads that wind south and west of the city. There are just four of villages that make this wine: Chaintré, Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly and Vergisson. They are all much the same.
Immaculate, clean and well tended to. The buildings all ache of older times. Each village is surrounded by vineyards and on the crests of hills woodlands. Hardly a soul was seen in our walks in each of the villages. Mostly the infrequent French local practicing for the twenty-four hour of Leman was spotted flashing and dashing from place to place. Everywhere we went was solitude, peace and silence. Buying a few bottles along our trek required some guts and linguistic ingenuity. Armed with failing grades and a small French-English Dictionary we plunged headlong into the task. Most places that seemed to sell wine weren’t open. The few places that were open it was hard to find anyone around. When we did find someone things generally worked out. One fellow dashing along lost out on these back roads much the same as us stopped to ask for directions and when he heard our voices he closed his eyes and shook his head and said something in French and then looked up and smiled. He knew how odd we were, but I think he decided we must be exceptional since we had come to appreciate the genius that is the French winemaker.
It is hard to explain enchantment. You know when you are held under its spell and when you are not. I am rarely if ever enchanted in grocery stores, rush hour traffic or the voting booth. In the villages of Chaintré, Fuissé, Solutré-Pouilly and Vergisson enchantment is a constant condition. The doors, the shutters, the door knobs, the streetlights, the ancient rock walls, the clay tile roofs, the fountains, the narrow streets, the flower boxes under windows, and of course the churches, the bells and seemingly everything has been painted, patched, restored, or left weathered yet perfect. It was hard to find anything that didn’t make my heart beat stronger or imagination soar.
The next day I spoke with the woman at the desk of the hotel we stayed at and had a pretty good idea of what might keep all of us from moving here and living out our lives in heaven on earth. It was the weather. Not the weather we experienced, not the blue skies and smattering of white clouds and shirt sleeve temperatures. No, it is the hard times that are about to descend upon the region. It will soon get cool. Then, the clouds will persist. Then, it will get colder and rain will fall and then snow. You will build fires. You will go outside and it will be wet. The vineyards will be barren. The leaves will have fallen. The cheer of a blue sky and green vineyards will be replaced with the gloom of gray overhead and the muck of mud and stiff thick roots and empty branches of the grapevines will be the only thing to greet the eye. In your solitude you will taste despair and long for a glimmer of hope.
That is as it should be. Here is a place for the vine. Here is a place for those certain souls who are constituted and suited well to the task of coaxing out of these Chardonnay grapes something that stirs the imagination of humans who have decided virtuosity and genius might well be found in the pleasures that come with taunting the palette.
To round off our adventures the evening we dined at Restaurant Pierre in Mâcon. Christian Gaulin is the chef and the Micheline Travel Guide honored his work with a two fork rating and then in 1997 came the “supreme distinction—a star in the Michelin!” It was a bit awkward. Between our splendid French speaking skills, jet lag, three hours of time required to dine, and a staff not inclined to my enthusiasms or my wife’s culinary preferences I’d say we had something less than a peak experience. On the particulars however I have to say that Gaulin’s Foie gras dish was more than sublime. It transcended all previous experiences I have had with this dish. Nothing else of the meal came close to this masterpiece, but then nothing else needed to be as good, and if it had been as good? Well, then we’d all likely be lined up in some little city in France, waiting patiently for a seat, standing upon cobblestones from centuries past. This could prove to be quite a problem.
We meandered back to Geneva today. Along the way stopped in Cerdon. There, they make a sparking wine. By chance we discovered there was a village event. They were pouring wines, serving food, and a French woman was thrilling the throng with song. We were taken with this woman’s voice. It was authentic, and to our ear utterly new. Nothing prepared us for the mix of her voice, the French songs she sang, and the unfamiliar music that accompanied her. As was our style we plunged headlong into the gathering of 50 or more souls in this thimble sized village.
I sat on a bench sipping this modest sparkling wine that the village is known for. It isn’t as famous as some of the other wines of France, but in the moment and under the circumstances its taste was exceptional. The French women of the village released their children to dance. Elders sat on benches and soaked in the sunlight. We drank in the moment…sun, song, wine, and our new French friends. It was simple, pure and pleasing. Trapped in the prison of our language barrier my wife and I exchanged glances again and again as we pleasured at the chance to witness how others make the most of being here. The moment had what we wished for. We just wanted to be with all those open hearts and honest efforts to make something that would serve their village well. It was unspoiled and authentic. That is what working with our senses can do for all of us… Fresh air, blue sky, sharp plow blade, happy children, small village locked in a seam of a valley and a simple sensual reminder that what we taste, what we see, who we share life with, and how well we do those things can matter most, and be the only real purpose of our being here.
I ran across this little nugget from a blog that is written by Pamela Slim who happened upon my act with her son while attending Tempe Festival of the Arts in December 2008. And I’ll quote and then try and untangle my intention from her own insight.
Quote from her posting… “Are creative people doomed to scraping out a miserable existance?”
“We went to the Tempe Arts Festival and a talented street performer named Dana Smith did a show in the middle of a huge crowd of people.
My three year old son watched with rapt attention. At the end of the show Dana asked for volunteers. My son waved his hand and stood up. After Josh’s “performance”, he told me he had to speak to the artist. “I want to work with you.” He said to Dana. Dana replied.
“If you want a life of driving around in a beat up pick up truck then come and join me. Otherwise, you might consider another job.”
It is so important to realize that we all are responsible to unblock and release others from our own limits, and to view our efforts as being boundless. Too many people, too often, approach while I am on the street and wonder about the income earning aspect of what I do. I move away from numbers and such and remind everyone that it isn’t a business that I operate, but rather a passion. If the motive is merely some earthbound craving of some kind then the work is much too hard and it would be wise to consider a vocation that compensates in some other way. Because the emotional efforts we make are not bound to tangible rewards, they are bound to an emotional journey and a life vision, and it is really the ride in that seat that is most interesting.
Street performing is a form that can remind people to reflect upon the aim of their lives. Because street is so ordinary, so not the big time, that it throws people back on their own ambitions and forces them to wonder about what they really want to do with their lives.
My journey is the same as that little boys with regard to publishing my book. It doesn’t matter how spartan or bare or rough or tough things might appear. All that matters is doing the work, writing the book, and being willing to ask the world to make a place out there for it somewhere. The world will decide how this fits and where. I’ll write another book and see where the next one might fit. The journey could be in a brand new pickup truck or an old worn out rig, the destination remains much the same, and enjoying the ride? Isn’t that a matter between you and your dreams? I couldn’t be happier with things…
“That half truth/half joke stuck with me.” end quote from Pamela Slim.
Dream on dreamers, big fat ambitions, sky is the limit, heck why put a cap on it, make it as big as the entire universe…. and remember to bend down and lend a hand to those little dreamers in your midst, our world needs every one of those leaps of faith…it’s how it all gets done.
Best not to sit idle and play the waiting game, write another book while trying to sell the first one. So, I’ve been on the road for the last week and will be on the road until October 9th… Today near Orlando at the Omni Resort about 10 miles west of Disneyworld. On my bed during the day I’ve taken to spreading out the plot of the next book. Large sheets of paper represent scenes/chapters and those little sheets of paper the sub-plot points. I can see the flow of each scene visually this way and don’t have to scroll up and down on the screen to “feel the flow” of the plan.
I have figured out the story. I can explain that in a few minutes and have it written down. However that isn’t a scene by scene decision of exactly what happens and in what order. And what is interesting about this part of the process is that it is one of the most difficult parts of the working toward another book. Why is that? What is hard about this? Writing a scene is kind of an answer to a problem. Deciding what problems to solve requires the author to access another entirely different part of your brain. The part that dreams and writes and flows is one part, and the part the plans and plots is an entirely different part. I can feel this and so I’ve taken to this method. Little sheets of paper with a scene written down on it. I include the action to take place, the time line, and the emotion I want the reader to feel, then I’ll hang on these sheets lots of post it notes of various specific details that are part of the story…
So, here I have a few pages written that tell the story. The outline of each scene and its sequence is happening now. Character sketches are being drawn up of each of the main characters. I write about what they look like, where they came from, what age and education and work they do. And keep it relatively compact, about one page.
All of this material once complete allows me to aim from the start toward the finish and knowing what and where everyone and everything is going, its why sometimes we feel the book is already written before we ever write it… But, once again surprise of surprises, when you actually get down into the detail and fabric of a characters situation we often discover fine details and the story takes us in its own direction, the circumstances dictate their own truth, and while we aim in one direction we can be hijacked and pulled into another…
And the photographs of clouds? At sunset in Florida? This is where I cast my eyes while walking and pondering the days plotting and imagining all kinds of possible twists and turns. Those illuminations in the clouds of sunlight’s golden twilight energize me, remind me of the spirit of the thing… that in these wisps of vapor are grand visions, if only you will look and see.
Chicago this last weekend with my wife and daughter. We went to the Ravinia Festival to see Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Companies world premier of Fondly Do We Hope/Fervently Do We Pray… My daughter got to dance Sunday morning at the Joffrey Ballet School too. We attended the gala dinner prior to the concert and the champagne reception for the company after the concert.
My daughter Alana Rose Smith is almost 18. She’s danced all her life. We had the chance at the reception to talk with Lamichael Leonard who now dances with Bill T’s company, but had been with Martha Graham’s company prior to coming to Bill’s company in 2007. So, there we were standing and talking to a dancer who said he was 29 years old. Just eleven years older than Alana and suddenly the distance between where she actually was and where she could actually be was right there in front of her. Getting to where you want to go in your life requires many things, and of all those things we need to help is get to where we are going, the secret that matters most in my view is to realize that it isn’t something impossible whatsoever, that it is quite literally right there in front of you, all you have to do is be willing to see where you are going, and then work to that end, give it everything you’ve got, doesn’t mean you’ll get there, but it does mean you know how to aim and you know how to sustain your effort. That matters…
I’m trying to sort out my recording devices and get some of my book on MP3’s/podcasts and then I’ll put some of my book on my website for downloading if……..if you’ll leave me your email address. I’m working on that…it will happen soon enough…free samples of some of the first part of the book, and if you like that we’ll provide you a way to download the whole thing for a fee. And if you’ll play that game you’ll love a copy of the first edition… That’s one way to go from nowhere to somewhere… not the only way, there are many ways… remember the magic is in the effort! And the pizza too….
If you didn’t already know the digital revolution has come to publishing. One of my favorite bookstores in Berkeley, California…Black Oak Books is gone from the scene now. Amazon is pushing its electronic publishing. I was reading a story in the Financial Times about the biggest French publishing company suggesting that the digital publishers should restrain their rushing new books into ebook formats and allow the industry to still run hardcover first editions. Isn’t that kind of okay to allow a publisher to get a crack at folk who’d like a hardcover first edition before saturating the ebook market with copies at discount?
I have owned a few hardcover books that I prize. East of Eden is one. It is a first run as best I can tell. I love the whole experience of the book in my hands. I like the smell of the book. I like the size font and the texture of the paper and its color and sense of richness. I don’t need all my books to come in this way, but for favorites, the really grand books that have moved us and send us back sometimes to remember them by exploring favorite chapters…. And now its almost as if we hold them and wonder how long we’ll be able to continue to buy a book in this format.
We shall see what the world brings. I haven’t been part of the past and I’m jumping into the arena in the present. Alan Rinzler mentioned at a talk this summer what enormous pressure publishers are under. Every season, every four months, there are three in publishing, he needs new books and new offerings to bring to the market place. From his point of view he can’t wait to have manuscripts that tempt him come across his desk. From the writers point of view? Well, I don’t know about other writers, but I’m going to relish every moment of every day along this journey.
After working on a longer book over the long time horizon and bringing this thing in for a landing on the creative side, it is a relief in a sense to finally turn toward the industry and begin to introduce this new work to them. Everyone is so frantic and so jacked up and tense and stressed, but really a book is an experience and journey that requires time and attention from each individual reader. It doesn’t matter if they are a professional reader or not. There are all these time compression techniques and super fast pitches they want you to make. Everything turns into this odd terse, clipped experience, and we are lost in the frenzy of the mindless moment.
I’m going to take my time…I’m going to watch each part of this journey unfold and appreciate every part. Even the part where the person I’m submitting to is expressing a sense of burden, of being overwhelmed, that there time is short, and attention brief, and I’ve given it some thought, and the answer is? It is like love, only one person needs to say yes….I will love you, I appreciate who you are, and what you are doing. That one takes their time with you….why not? When it is love it is indeed something we never want to come to an end.
Dana in Chicago on a beautiful end of summer weekend
Teresa LeYung Ryan, an author and editing consultant has just been mailed the first fifty page manuscript. I included the synopsis which is a bit more revealing than the description on the website. You have about 500 words to explain what you have written in 160k words! Lovely little exercise I must say. She’ll read the first 50 pages and make her comments and edits. Those edits and comments will fuel discussions and any revisions we might make between myself and my editor Vicki Weiland.
The manuscript is off my desk now for a few weeks. I’ll turn my attention to my other novel that I am just getting started. I’ve still got a few more steps with this first novel to work out, but they are relatively simple. Teresa promises a 14 day turnaround on her evaluation. Once we digest those comments, react, adjust any elements we deem wise we’ll begin plowing ahead with submissions.
Yesterday I spent most of the day going over the first fifty pages one sentence at a time. It was a very granular examination of the text, so slow and in such detail it was hard to really make much sense of the thing. As an unpublished author I have no alternatives. I have to give every buyer every chance to say yes, and not a single reason to say no. Maybe a few books from now I’ll face a different circumstance, but for now? I am still looking for someone to open the gate and invite me into the game. It is fun to be standing at the edge of the unknown…