Driving the Frontage Road

Now, I know the story that I am writing.  I know it so intimately, that the original manuscript, weak as it read, neared 600 pages.  I then faced a Solomon-like decision to divide my baby in two.  And as difficult as that dissection felt, I soon recognized the virtue of that decision.  Simply stated, concentrating on one volume at a time made editing so much easier, first for me, then for my editor.  But now I am looking at the same task for volume two.

Again, I know the plot of this narrative, I know where the story ends.  But writing each sentence, crafting each paragraph, delineating each chapter is tremendously challenging.  The true events placed into the manuscript need special attention to convey the fresh, authentic feel of each episode.  Re-writing volume two, which is essential, feels like starting over.  Volume one reads easily, like the speeding down an interstate, while volume two reads more like detours onto a bumpy frontage road.

I read a portion of the manuscript, attempt to perk up the conversations, then I reread it again, to liven the descriptive language.  “Was,” as a verb lays flat.  I think I hate “was.”  I need to percolate more active language.  “She was frightened,” hardly raises an eyebrow.  “Curled into a shadowed corner, the desperate child’s fingers nearly scratched through the drywall,” says fear a reader can feel.

The scenario for me is to write, re-read, write again, re-read, write again, give up, come back, re-read . . . repeat.

So I know where I will end the trip, but these detours, by-passes, and frontage road slow downs are tough to weather.  I have to use my meandering method until it reads just right.  That means re-writing each sentence in River, until a shape emerges that does the story justice.

But I Had Other Plans!

I clearly remember the day my husband told me he had throat cancer.  The news was so impossible to believe that I honestly wanted to reply, “No, Chad, you don’t, we don’t have time for cancer.”  I tend to resist any emergency that I can’t package up and manage, or eliminate by a force of will.

As he stood in the kitchen, his hands resting on the sides of the sink, tears filled his eyes.  I read in those tears that he had given up and accepted his medical condition, and that made me mad.  We weren’t going to lay down and admit that the big scary C-word would take center stage in our lives.  It wasn’t convenient–medical procedures would be scheduled when I had to work, or had other commitments to fulfill.

I couldn’t see past the treatments, the financial burden, or the fear a cancer diagnosis leaves in its wake.  We had much better things to do with our time, like going to our cabin, feeding the deer, hiking.  Cancer would interfere with our plans.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed a model for accepting the unacceptable, in her five stages of grief.  1. Denial. (I resemble that remark) 2. Anger (Oh, yeah) 3. Bargaining (Huh?) 4. Depression (Medication for that) 5. Acceptance (Huh? Never!)

I am still pissed off that cancer darkened our door, and forced me to do things I hated doing.  Cancer compelled me to walk through my daily life frightened to my core.  Cancer physically shaped my husband into a skeletal invalid, restrained in a hospital bed, generally incoherent, bathed by CNA’s barely out of high school, and cancer made me a slave to beeping monitors and physicians who had no reassurances.

I never passed phase two in the Kubler-Ross schematic, however, somehow I converted that raw pain into a readable narrative that restored my sanity.