Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
Bots and Spammers are routinely purged.
Sent to me on FB by my cousin (who is not Regina Kelly).
Article from last year.
I haven't written anything creative in weeks. BookLikes has pissed me off, and the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and Forgotten Magic has just languished. I know where it's going, and I just haven't been able to find the enthusiasm for it.
What prompted me today to pick up another old book idea is beyond my understanding. I'm not sure where I'm going with it, but so far this afternoon I've written 1532 words.
There's a history, however, that maybe needs to be explained.
I wrote my first adult novel when I was 15. It's not very good. I don't think I had any idea at all what a character arc was, and I didn't know a whole lot about plotting, but it did have a beginning, middle, and end. And a murder mystery. And a romance. And some sex. The writing style -- the voice, if you will -- is recognizably mine. Yes, I still have it, or at least most of it. A few odd pages are missing. The total is about 115,000 words.
There were certain elements of the story that continued to appeal to me through the years, but I never really had enough ambition to try to rework it into something reasonably coherent. I knew it would need major editing, a virtual overhaul from start to finish. But there were those few elements that held some promise.
I've come to recognize that those elements I'm most attracted to are the gothic ones. A rural, isolated setting. An abandoned house. A death that's not quite explained. People who aren't quite what they seem to be.
So this afternoon, for whatever reason, I picked up some of those idea, along with the original title that I always kind of liked, and started to put . . . something . . . together.
A Party of Ghosts
The circumstances of my departure from Tamarack Lake were common knowledge. The reasons for my return were far less obvious, and I intended to keep them to myself as long as possible. In fact, if I had had my way, no one would ever have known I'd come back and no one would ever know I'd left again . . . for good.
One radio station after another warned of the blizzard heading for northern Wisconsin. The first flurries began shortly after noon that Saturday of Thanksgiving week-end, but the temperature remained well below freezing and a strong, gusty breeze out of the west kept the road swept clear and dry as I made my way steadily north. The back roads carried far less traffic and allowed me to drive slower, with far less urgency and anxiety than if I'd taken the major highways. All of this was familiar territory, so familiar I felt as if I could have driven with my eyes closed.
My eyes hardly blinked, however. Despite my reluctance to return to the tiny community where I'd been born, raised, and lived almost every day of the first fifteen years of my life, I couldn't resist the flow of memories. As small as Tamarack Lake was, there were other wide spots on the road that didn't even merit a name on the map, clusters of four or five houses, maybe a gas station and a little country store or a church with a tiny cemetery. I didn't need roadside signs to tell me when I passed through Woodkey Junction, Corinth Chapel, Lomax Corners. Some places had changed. Argo Springs now boasted a flashy RV park, mostly vacant this time of the year, and it looked like the old wooden church at Varseyville had suffered a fire and not been repaired. Most of these minuscule places, however, appeared to have been frozen in time for two decades.
I could have sped through them, but I didn't. There were few signs of life, though I did see Christmas lights already strung across the fronts of a few houses, and a battered old pick-up truck was waiting to turn out of a driveway after I passed. The few cars I saw had their headlights on as the flurries grew heavier and the cloud cover brought darkness earlier.
That darkness couldn't come too soon. The closer I got to Tamarack Lake, the more I wanted nightfall. It was an irrational desire, but still a very real one. I knew no one would take note of my vehicle as anything out of the ordinary, and it was even less likely that anyone in town would recognize me as the driver. But though I reached the edge of town – Tamarack Lake had no outskirts as such – long before sunset, the leading edge of the blizzard had arrived and obscured anyone's vision almost as completely as dark would have.
I paid more attention driving through town than I had on the country roads. The pavement was still dry, not slick, but I knew people would be hurrying to get to shelter before the body of the storm hit. To all intents and purposes, I was one of them. I knew ahead of time that a new shopping center had been built at the far end of town where I could have stocked up on supplies, but I had done my shopping hours ago, so I sped past the bright lights of Tamarack Centre and entered the deepening gloom of the countryside once again.
My SUV with its New Jersey license plates had never been on these roads, and I had never actually driven on them, but those ancient memories guided my hands as I steered unerringly down one twisting road after another. Where the woods closed in, the snow and wind lessened, but the dark intensified. A right turn, a right turn, then a left. Past the long row of mailboxes on the right, past the gated driveway to the left. Around a curve, down a hill. There were no lights here, no holiday decorations. Now and then I caught a glimpse of a lake through the trees, the water steely grey like the sky, but rough with whitecaps. I drove by instinct.
In broad daylight, the driveway might have been mistaken for a side road, but now it was all but invisible. I slowed and put on my blinker out of habit, though I hadn't seen a single car or truck since leaving the main road through town. Then I turned, and the crunch of gravel under the tires altered my entire perception. More twists and turns, and twice I saw shadows at the edge of the headlight beams that might have been deer in the woods that crowded close upon the driveway.
Then the trees opened up and I drove into the fading light.
Once, years ago, there had been a sign welcoming guests to the Timbercrest Lodge, but all that remained now were two broken upright posts, one maybe five feet high, the other twice that. Just beyond the sign, the gravel expanded into a crude parking lot large enough to accommodate maybe a dozen cars. And at the far edge of the parking area, a flagstone path led to the main lodge building.
I parked but did not turn off the engine. I knew it would be bitter cold walking to the lodge, and I was naturally reluctant to leave the comfort of the car. More important at that moment, however, was my need to make a first visual inspection.
The dashboard clock read 3:30, so sunset and full dark were still more than an hour away even with the storm clouds. The front elevation of the two-story log building faced the lake, a wide veranda on the ground floor sheltered by the balcony of the second floor. All the windows were dark, soulless, but from what I could tell in the illumination from the headlights, none of the glass had been broken. The white-painted wicker furniture with its bright cushions was gone, but that was expected. Also missing were the terra cotta planters from which zinnias and marigolds and petunias and pansies had spilled all summer.
Other than that, the place didn't seem to have changed in twenty years.
I cut the engine, plunging the vista before me into a grey fog of overcast, wind, and snow. Slowly, as my eyes adjusted to the weaker light, I made out the shadowy bulk of the building against the slightly lighter sky behind it. The woods that had been cleared to build the lodge had not begun to encroach on the clearing, at least not yet.
With the keys in my hand, I took a deep breath and braced myself for the blast of cold. I knew it would cut through me, through the heavy parka I had worn even while driving in a heated car, through the heavy wool slacks and calf-high boots. Without a hat, my hair took the full force of the wind, long strands blowing up and around, into my face and away from it. I blinked the icy flakes of snow from my eyes, then tucked my head down and slammed the car door shut. There was no reason to lock it, not yet.
Another deep breath, involuntarily pulling frigid air into my lungs. I took the first step on the gravel, feeling the uneven stones through the soles of my boots. I had forgotten my gloves, so I shoved my hands into my pockets, only to have the keys catch on the edge and almost get jerked from my fingers. Clutching at the cold metal, I leaned into the wind and picked up my pace, onto the flagstones where snow was filling in the spaces between them, then up the half dozen wide wooden steps to the porch. By then my fingers were nearly numb from the cold, my eyes nearly blinded by the wind and snow.
But I managed to fit the right key into the lock and turn it with an audible click. The heavy door swung inward, and I followed it into the much deeper darkness. There was no warmth here, only a shelter from the wind, a respite from the snow. I pushed the door closed, shutting out the weather, though the sound of the wind in the pines and around the corners of the building still hummed in my ears.
I stood in the dark and the cold and the almost silence long enough to recover from that brief assault. Tensed muscles relaxed a little, and the heart I hadn't known was racing gradually slowed. I switched the icy keys from my right hand to my left and brushed the tangled hair from my face so I could see without obstruction.
Despite the lack of bright light, I could tell nothing had changed. Nothing of substance anyway. The great gathering room with its massive stone fireplace and hand-built furniture and terrifying bearskin rug was exactly the same as it had been on the night I killed my sister.
I was going to thank everyone who posted on my flounce post, but I no longer have the ability to comment.
I know that some of you have blocked me from commenting, as that's your right, but now it appears BL is blocking me as well.
So here I am to say thank you anyway, and to pass along what may be rumor and may be words of wisdom.
I was lamenting about this to a friend who has rather extensive background in data base management. His response was "That looks like someone trying to boost the number of the site's users in preparation for a sale."
Over 200 new followers were added to my account overnight.
I'm done with BookLikes.
This makes me incredibly sad. I love all of you. But I see too much risk in allowing this to continue. WE the users are responsible, too.
I first read this book around 20 years ago, and I loved it then. Reading it now, and knowing the ending, I enjoyed it even more.
But . . . .
It wasn't as perfect this time around as the first. The diminution of my enjoyment wasn't due to knowing the ending but rather to knowing more -- much more -- about late 20th century literary criticism, especially late 20th century feminist literary criticism.
My undergraduate degree is in Women's Studies. I had just gone back to college in 1998, and bought this book in the fall of that year or the spring of 1999. At that point, I knew only enough about fem lit crit to be dangerous, but not enough to understand a lot of the nuances in Possession.
The writing is magnificent, and the plot intriguing. Major spoilers ahead.
Scholar Roland Michell discovers a hitherto unknown draft of a letter by [fictitious] Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash to an unknown woman. Michell's research leads him to believe the letter was intended to go to another [fictitious] Victorian poet, Christabel LaMotte. Roland enlists the aid of Maud Bailey, another scholar of Victorian poets whose specialty is LaMotte. They embark on a quest to find out if Ash and LaMotte had any connection, literary or otherwise.
Despite their best efforts at secrecy, they can't keep all their knowledge from the outside world, particularly the very close world of scholars whose specialties are Ash and LaMotte.
Mortimer Cropper is the very wealthy, very arrogant American who keeps buying up everything related to Ash he can get his hands on, legally or otherwise, to stash in his precious Stant Collection at [fictitious] Robert Dale Owen University in Harmony City, New Mexico. (For some fun, see https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Trivia/Possession)
Leonora Stern is another American, flamboyant, blatantly sexual, but sincerely interested in Christabel LaMotte. Stern is more or less friends with Maud Bailey.
Beatrice Nest is a kind of pathetic, put-upon, insecure creature, who jealously guards her speciality, which is the diary of Randolph Ash's wife, Ellen. Nest has been editing the diary/diaries her entire academic career. She's nowhere near done.
Fergus Wolff is the handsome, sexy scholar who is a kind of rival, kind of friend to Roland. Wolff once had an affair with Maud Bailey; she withdrew emotionally afterward.
James Blackadder is Roland's boss. Blackadder is a foremost authority on Randolph Henry Ash in England; he just wishes he had Cropper's money to acquire all the goodies and keep them on their native soil.
Val (I've forgotten her last name!) is Roland's long-time girlfriend, flatmate, fuck buddy, and financial support, since he doesn't make much as a part-time tutor and researcher. They sort of love each other, but they sort of don't, but both of them have a sense of obligation to each other.
Those are the main characters, and there are a few others who play important roles.
Most authors can give their various characters distinctive voices and personalities, but Byatt has taken it one gigantic step further. She has included scads and scads of [fictitious] source material: Ash's poetry, LaMotte's poetry, their letters, Ellen Ash's diary, Blanche Glover's suicide note, LaMotte's cousin's diary (though not in the original French), excerpts from Cropper's published works, excerpts from discarded drafts of Blackadder's academic work, and more.
As Roland and Maud make one discovery after another, taking protective possession of their new-found knowledge, this reader was usually half a step ahead of them, sometimes more.
Despite their best attempts at secrecy, Roland and Maud know that they and their discoveries going to be . . . discovered. Sure enough, Mortimer Cropper is hot on their trail in his big black Mercedes and his fat wad of cash.
And that's where Possession lost its perfect rating.
There are references to a box that Ellen Ash buried with Randolph, a box that may contain documents relative to the "mystery" of Randolph and Christabel. The box wasn't opened when Ellen herself was buried a few years later, but now Cropper wants to know what's in it. He petitions to have the grave opened, but there are legal difficulties, so he arranges to dig up the grave, in a remote country churchyard, in dead (pun intended) of night and steal the box. He utilizes Randolph Henry Ash's heir (via another branch of the family, as Randolph and Ellen had no children) to provide some dubious legal cover.
And that's what I meant by the resemblance to It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. All these main characters, and a few minor ones, converge on the country churchyard. Cropper is foiled, the box is recovered and opened, and a few more secrets are revealed.
But it seemed so silly. It seemed there could have been a more believable method of obtaining the box than anyone thinking they could dig up an almost 100-year-old grave, remove the box, then put everything back the way it was and no one would notice. It was just too eye-rollingly dumb.
There was another reason why I just can't give this book a perfect rating: Byatt too often broke the fourth wall and did it too clumsily.
It's one thing to have an omniscient third-person viewpoint. It's another thing entirely for the third-person narrator to even indirectly address the reader. "But So-and-so didn't know that yet and wouldn't learn the truth for some time to come." That sort of thing. There were only a couple instances, but they were a couple too many. Byatt had created this almost flawless world of Victorian literature and culture and history as well as its 20th century scholars, then destroyed it with these odd little stage asides.
The worst, however, was
Possession is a terrific novel, definitely worthy of the 1990 Booker Prize. But it's not an easy novel to fully appreciate.
According to Wikipedia --
Fowles has said that the nineteenth-century narrator was assuming the omniscience of a god. I think rather the opposite is the case—this kind of fictive narrator can creep closer to the feelings and inner life of characters—as well as providing a Greek chorus—than any first-person mimicry. In 'Possession' I used this kind of narrator deliberately three times in the historical narrative—always to tell what the historians and biographers of my fiction never discovered, always to heighten the reader's imaginative entry into the world of the text.
While her intention may have been to heighten the reader's imaginative entry into the text, I found it just the opposite. It reminded me even more firmly that I as a reader was completely outside the text, outside the action, outside the characters' whose stories were being told -- Randolph and Christabel, Roland and Maud.
Also for that reason, I took exception to the plot point that Ash never knew of Christabel's child.
Ellen knew -- because Christabel's companion and unconfirmed lover Blanche Glover had told her so. And Christabel herself had given Ellen a letter to give to Ash with all the particulars, though Ellen never did so. The one encounter between Ash and LaMotte after the affair and after the child's birth -- at a seance that Ash disrupted -- revealed to him that there had been a child, though not whether it still lived or not.
The final scene of the book(show spoiler)
Though it's already been established that Maud Bailey is herself the descendant of that child, the assumption remains that Ash himself never knew.
I think he did.
I finished this last night but need a day or so to put all my thoughts in order. Many, many layers to this one.
Although I give it five stars, it's more like 4.75.
The pieces are falling into place. The race is on.
And for some reason I'm reminded of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
As it turned out, there were two quotes I wanted to make note of.
He saw, or thought he saw, how those qualities had been disguised or overlaid by more conventional casts of expression --- an assumed modesty, an expedient patience, a disdain masking itself as calm. At her worst -- oh, he saw her clearly, despite her possession of him --- at her worst she would look down and sideways and smile demurely, and this smile would come near a mechanical simper, for it was an untruth, it was a convention, it was her brief, constricted acknowledgement of the world's expectations.
He would change all that. He could change all that, he was tolerably certain. He knew her, he believed. He would teach her that she was not his possession, he would show her she was free, he would see her flash her wings.
Because there is a quote on page 302 I want to copy but not while I'm on the kindle with its crappy keyboard.
My time the past several days has been taken up with rocks, as I try to take advantage of spring weather before it gets too hot, so I've usually fallen into bed, read a few pages, and succumbed quickly to exhaustion. But I persist because this book is so wonderful.
What makes it such a tour de force, I think, is that it's written by so many different characters, each with their own voice, each with their own secrets.
Though I know how the book ends, I don't remember exactly how all the little pieces fit together. So far, there are two big questions I'm looking for the answers to.
So we'll see what happens. It's raining today, which means no time on the rock saw, but I think my back is telling me it needs a rest anyway. I do NOT need a return of the screaming muscle spasms that are threatening again.
UPDATE AT THE END
I'll post pics as I get them.
It was 2-2 at the end of regulation, but Morris Knolls still had to kill 3:19 of major roughing penalty going into overtime.
Overtime, per info from reporter at nj.com, is sudden death five on five (less any penalties remaining from regulation) for 15 minutes, then if still tied drops to 7.5 minutes of four on four.
Morris Knolls killed the rest of the penalty, then scored the winning goal maybe a minute or so after returning to full strength.
I still don't have any reaction from my daughter.
Will get more details from her and from nj.com as they're available.
When I talked to Rachel, she still hadn't talked to Elliot because he was still with the team. They would go back to the school on the team bus, then be met at the school by fire trucks to escort them . . . wherever.
Elliot (#29) on the right congratulating team-mates at the win.
(All photos from nj.com)
Team photo with trophy, Elliot is the kid on the far right with the crown.
Rachel said at one point during the game the students from Morris Knolls Hills (the team is combined from two schools) were chanting "He's a freshman, he's a freshman," because Elliot is in his first year at Morris Hills.
Will post more updates as I get them.
Interview on Twitter: