Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Collective (2 versions)

These things I hear:
woman is spherical
and permeable
man is warrior spear
we are blood and blood
alike with earth
maiden fern
and bleeding heart
formed in our rituals
dated in our cave paintings
our soul a layered thing
apparent but untouched

In spoken touch
such abstracts warm
we live and live again
recreate creations
my words yours and yours
permeable man
or spearing woman
shedding skin to muscle,
muscle to bone,
bone to ash and air

This is how I hear--
in your salon
your institute
your lounge chair
on the pampa, now
and one hundred years ago--
you speaking


Bend to the bowl
rounded and deep
open down and bent
Shear the grain, the wood
the steel, pick the harvest
and prod the bridging street
Earth the maiden fern
the bleeding heart, ashphalt
bowed in steaming sun
Learn the bison roaming caves
the virgin crippled on her candle row
the fairy in her flower fold
Shed skin to muscle, muscle
to bone, bone to ash and air

What touch is spoken
What word touched

In the bowl where your taste
lingers, in the scythe
that whistles your call
in bedrooms or institutes
churches or streets
or lounge chairs in suburban sun--now
and one hundred years ago--
you're speaking.


With reading glasses tipped
between the page before me
and the prospects beyond,

my eyes flicker to passing
cars in the school’s lot of rampant
and distracted energy.

The sun sets on their release
from debate teams and football
and orchestral dream-duties.

And I wait for the spindly legs
of my teen daughter, bold in step,
ripping the sidewalk beneath.

Ten minutes, twenty, the sun fat
on the blue roof, the red brick weakening
to pink--an old energy stirs in me.

It must peak in my eyes just then,
as the boys drift by in their lazy Buick
arms out the window, heads to the breeze.

Because over glasses my blurry eyes
find startled focus, as his eyes lock-click
on mine, trapped in what’s lost,

his grin dangling like a glittering key.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Complicating the Old Rule: Show, Don't Tell

Good writing isn't as easy as following a list of ten rules. All writers have heard the importance of learning the technique "show, don't tell." But in too many blog tips and how-to lists, I think the concept has become oversimplified to a quick-and-easy fix, as if changing an adverb to an action fulfills the quest for reader involvement.

I recently came across a writing handbook that suggested showing rather than telling a story and gave a short example:

Telling: "No, I won't go," Ron said angrily
Showing: "No, I won't go." Ron slammed down the phone.

Within the context of a story, this might work. As readers, we might have been feeling Ron's anger building for three paragraphs and the phone slamming is exactly what we would do too. But as an example of learning to show and not tell, I think it fails. And I see lessons like this too often. If the reader isn't feeling the same anger, the action of slamming the phone will be as ineffective as "Ron said, angrily." So what?

"Show, don't tell" isn't simply replacing a stated emotion with a physical action (Jillian felt sad/Jillian wiped a tear). It's the writer becoming so involved in the story that he or she stops telling it. The story begins happening around the writer; the story's world reflects the feelings and governs the actions. The reader is then involved in that world because the writer is involved.

I came across a passage from Elizabeth Chadwick's novel The Summer Queen. I would present this as a superb example of an author showing us the story as the character lives it rather than telling us what the author thinks the character feels about the story. By its close, I feel my breath tight, suffocating on the news.

      William broke the seal, read what was written, and turned to Alienor. “Madam, perhaps you should sit down,” he said, gesturing to a carved bench near the wall.
      She stared at him. Dear God, Louis was dead, she thought. She did as he suggested. Roses overhung the seat, heavy and red, their perfume filling each breath she took.
      A frown clouded William’s smooth brow. “Madam,” he said gently, “I grieve to tell you that Raymond, Prince of Antioch, has been killed in battle against the Saracens.”
      Alienor continued to stare at him. The smell of the roses intensified and the air grew so thick that she could barely breathe, and what air she did inhale was drenched with the syrupy sweet scent of flowers on the edge of corruption.
       She felt his hand on her shoulder, but it was a flimsy anchor.

I would suggest delving deeper into "show, don't tell" by reading good, respected writers who have proven their skills over time. I would look at passages in which you, as a reader, have felt the emotions deeply, have experienced a setting and become lost in it.

To show and not tell isn't as simple as phrase replacement. When I'm editing my work, I sometimes come across pages in which the story feels distant to me. I'm not involved. Nowhere in them do I necessarily find a pointless dialogue tag or have a narrator say, "Samuel felt confused." Yet, something is missing. Despite steering clear of what appears to be "telling," the story isn't immediate; it's not "showing" the world in an authentic, immediate way that makes me feel without thinking and know without being told.

Think back to when you were a kid playing pretend. Your parents call you for dinner and you suddenly realize that you have been gone from this world, lost in something else as true. Think of those day or night fantasies, those moments when we imagine a scenario and forget we're driving or become startled as someone speaks. I think writing requires that same state of being lost to one world and alive in another. When we pretend, we don't tell. We are doing. And in a good story, that doing is shown to a reader.

So, to those quick-and-easy writing tips, I would add just a little more: Don't simply slam down the phone. Be there to know the phone and the table it's on, to know the clipped, tense language that surrounds you, to know if the air is thin or heavy, to know the history of the relationship happening over the phone. Be in that place and time with that character so that what happens is inevitable.

Show the reader what you saw when you were there, so that they can be there too, without instruction, without clear guidance, but inevitably as they follow your character, as they read the next words.


Patricia J. Esposito is author of the novel Beside the Darker Shore

Reviews of Beside the Darker Shore:  
GLBT Bookshelf
Two Lips Review
Goodreads/Thomas Olbert

Thursday, January 8, 2015

An Affair with Trust

Two people fall in love on a cruise and agree to meet at the Empire State Building on New Year’s Eve if they dissolve their current relationships and believe their new love is true. The woman gets in a car accident and is paralyzed. She doesn't want the man to be burdened with this and so doesn't make the New Year's Eve rendezvous (nor does she call). The man thinks she changed her mind, believing the love on her part proved false.

When I saw the An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, I cried and cried. That’s what I was supposed to do. I was also angry that something seemingly easy to rectify might have kept these two lovers apart forever. Maybe it was because I cried so much that I began to approach with skepticism each romance plot based on miscommunication or fear of communication.

I became impatient, although, really, it seems the plot worked well and continues to work in many novels and movies. After all, like most storylines, romances are usually based on conflict and resolution, and what better conflict than two people in love being kept apart? Yet the ways in which characters are kept apart are more than miscommunication. Wars, duties, career choices, natural disasters, commitment fears, all keep characters from fulfilling their romance.

Are these reasons less frustrating? Possibly they are to me. Possibly I’m at war with people’s inability to communicate because too often pain can be avoided with a little step over the line, a whisper of truth, swallowed pride, a risk of vulnerability, a trust and belief that the other person will care.

Is that what we learn in many of these romances? That it would have been okay to tell the truth? That it would have been okay to show interest, to say, “Hey, where were you? I was waiting”? Is pride at the root of failed communication?

I wrote the story “A Penny Trust” to see what might happen if communication was thwarted but without pride and fear aiding in love’s destruction. It's the story of a college senior, Ian, who buries himself in books of poetry and romantic notions of love. When a dark, exquisitely beautiful classmate begins eyeing him in the school courtyard, Ian finds his books flat open on his knees, words not living up to the sight of the daring boy, Polo. One day Polo hides something in the stone wall of the courtyard, glancing back at Ian as he leaves. What Ian finds beneath the stone he takes and keeps as a secret gift. In return, he tucks his first love poem to Polo beneath the stone in the wall.

But Polo never receives this poem, nor the others Ian leaves. Someone else has intruded on their space, and although their attraction runs high, the deception leaves each boy confused. Will the intruder thwart their chance at love? Or will Ian discover that real romance might not lie in mystery but in something better?

For me, this story became an exercise in how to build tension without the two lovers acting on the broken communication, because whatever the professor did, the two boys would not doubt each other's attraction and honest interest. I didn't want either to be governed by pride or be afraid to trust the other. Their affair moved forward despite the hindered communication. Instead, tension had to come in the pursuit of love regardless.

Is it a failed story because there are no tearful scenes of misunderstanding? No angry scenes of false assumptions? No months and years of anguish in doubting? I hope not. For me the story was a rebellion against the perpetuation of fear and pride in relationships. This doesn't mean thwarted love stories shouldn't be written. In our real lives it seems to be a little harder to swallow that pride, to just ask the simple question, "Hey, what happened?"

But what would it mean to give up the romantic conceit of love thwarted, not by war or disease or careers or family responsibilities, but by simple lack of communication?  What if we saw character after character, saying, "Fuck this wondering; I'm going to call"? A na├»ve idea? We're a sad little bunch of humanity, afraid to appear love-struck, afraid of rejection, and I've no idea why. Pride? Pain comes regardless. I believe I'd rather face it quickly and move on.

Ah, here, someone passed me another novel to read, and as I try to begin, I see the character all bundled up in pride, refusing to say, "It hurt me when you did that," instead steeling herself against communication, and I put the book down. Another goes unread. No tolerance. Life's short, we discover as we get older. Or maybe romance just needs to be a little more about fun.

"A Penny Trust" $0.99 ebook available at Amazon and other major venues.