What? It’s not a book.

Very few people know about this, but I’m working on a…well, let’s just call it a “thing,” because I’m not sure what it’s going to be. I hate saying “I’m writing a book!” because

a) There’s always a 5% chance of me actually finishing it and being okay with the thing to the point that I’d want the public consuming it.
b) It just sounds kind of dopey when I hear myself say “I’m writing a book.” Like who the heck am I? Stephen King? That lady that wrote “The Help?” Certainly not.
c) I’ve started this same “bookything” probably four or five times and it always ends after two chapters – which, oddly enough is how far I’ve gotten into it this time before losing my way, getting distracted, and generally going “Um…what am I doing again?”

So you see, I’m not writing a book. But I have this thing I’m working on. For now, it’s called “A Cormorant Line.”

Right now, ACL (as it shall lovingly be referred to from here on) is in its infancy, and it pretty much reads like it. Like a babbling, aimless toddler who doesn’t know how to tie their own shoes or feed themselves. Okay, maybe not that bad, but when you’re a writer, your job is basically to hate everything you create until you finally get to something that is “Eh…good enough.” That’s usually when you have something on your hands that someone might want to read or – gasp! – might even like reading. But even then, the whole time you know someone has your work on their hands or before their eyes, you’re all sweaty palms and darty eyes and paranoia until they look at you and squeal “I loooooove it!” And when you don’t get that reaction, you’re apt to question everything about your writing, to go back and re-read everything you’ve ever written (starting with the really crappy elementary school exposition and high school lovelorn poetry and moving upward from that ridiculous low). You criticize and break yourself down, ask yourself “GOD, how did you get to be SUCH a crappy writer?!” and theorize that everyone you know is actually laughing at every period with which you punctuate the drivel that flows forth from your twisted and inept mind. For all my writer friends…amirite? Let’s all say a prayer for that meme, because I just killed it. Not in a good way.

I should also say that someone cautioned me against giving away too much of the story, lest someone steal my idea and run off into New York Times bestseller land with it. I don’t see that happening. It would be something akin to reaching into my underwear drawer and grabbing the dingiest, stretched-out, post-baby granny panties and then hanging them on your clothesline. Why would you ever want this mess?

So anyhow. This ACL thing has been kind of a work in progress and an impossibility all at once because here’s the premise in a few snippets – not in its entirety, because again, I’m really not that far into the thing and I’m still in that stage of going “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” (Stimpy, you eeeediot!) Did everyone get the 90s reference there? Moving on.

  • ACL is based upon/inspired by a series of poems and letters written by my late grandfather while he was in Europe during World War II and for years thereafter. I have the originals now and they are kept under lock and key in a lead-lined basement 40 feet below ground. Okay, that’s kind of a lie. Let’s just say I’m really protective of them, though. I find the grammatical errors in them kind of charming, but more than that, the stories behind them pulled me in and I wanted to know more. I never knew the man, but let’s just say he is my writerly kindred soul. His words reveal a very emotional and sometimes irrational (but still deeply good) person. I didn’t have to craft this character. He did it all for me, from beyond the grave even. Did I mention I never knew him? Never knew him. He survived D-Day only to suffer a massive heart attack that ended in his death sometime during a September night in 1971.
  • ACL is written from an alternating first-person point of view, but always in present tense. It skips around decades. Which is stupid in a way, I know (or at least, could read “stupid” to a lot of folks whom I’d prefer found the darn thing “brilliant”). Like I know some people would read this and be like “WHAT IS SHE DOING?!” I get that, I really do. I’m not sure how I’m going to line them up – it might or might not be in actual chronological order. I need to at least get into a bit more and see how things “flow.” And let’s face it: I’m weird, and this thing is going to be weird. But then again, aren’t most books weird in a way? Isn’t that what lets us relate to them? Except I’ve already said it: this isn’t a book. This isn’t a book (but it could be…). 
  • So chronologically, what you end up with is sort of a bounce-around of several narrators, across several lifetimes – myself and my grandfather included, as well as my late uncle Ric/Rick (more on that later), who passed in 2006. Some of it is based in the years during which my grandfather wrote the pieces which I mentioned before. Some of it is based on the years in which my uncle and my dad were still on good terms, during the last few years of my grandmother’s life (the late 80s), going through Hurricane Hugo, etc, and on into my adult years and how these various things have affected me in the way memories so often do.
  • You find out a lot of new things you feel idiotic for not already having known when you decide to write a book about people in your family – like that my Uncle Rick always spelled his name “Ric.” Who am I to question this? Nobody, that’s who. But still, I’m kind of like “Why the opposition to the K, Ric?” Just a funny thing I’ve picked up thus far. Probably not funny to anyone but me.
  • One challenge I can already see myself having to deal with is that this is a book written by a South Carolinian which will probably appeal greatly to a lot of South Carolinians. Which is weird (oh, more of that!) because I’m not one of the South Carolinians who plasters everything I own in Palmetto trees and state flag stickers and…for the love of God…confederate flags (Bleh! Barf! Meeeeh). A tangent: one of the main reasons I dumped my high school sweet heart was this disgusting, slutty confederate flag bikini that he gave me – no really, to wear, on my person – when I was about 18. I made up some lie about it being too big (because what’s worse than a confederate flag bikini? A confederate flag bikini that is too small) and trashed it. I dumped him shortly after because I just could never, ever get over it. So gross. Couldn’t he have just settled for a Budweiser bikini? A bikini plastered in Playboy Bunnies, even? But anyway, there’s a lot of imagery, locations, events, historical features to the story (what measly amount of it I’ve ill-conceived thus far) that I hope will really appeal to people native to this weird insane asylum/state. Which leads to another issue…
  • I feel the same way about imagery that Charlie Sheen feels about prostitutes and cocaine. Which is to say, I really, really like imagery and I use a lot of it. Like I can get so caught up in these descriptions that suddenly I go back, re-read it, and I’m just flat embarrassed by how heavy the stupid thing gets. The narrative can get clunky, if that makes sense, and I have to stop doing that crap. I have to get picky. I don’t want to treat this thing like the Pittsburgh Steelers fans do with the teams from the 70s and 80s, always recounting “How good the old one was!” and thus getting bogged down in these ornate descriptions of beautiful places that I love, or beautiful people whose tics and eccentricities basically have crafted a lot of these characters for me. I mean, so much of the work is already done in that regard. Which probably makes you go “Sounds like this book is gonna suck!” To which I would say “Why yes, most likely! But it’s not a book yet. But it will probably suck. Go read one of those Twilight books or some Harry Potter or something less weird and with far more commercial appeal, and spare yourself this pain.”
So that’s pretty much all I can say at this point. Or I could post for you this snippet of one of the early chapters, and you can tell me yourself how much work it needs. I won’t disagree with you, for once – scout’s honor.

***

The surface of the lake doesn’t look like a lake, but rather a sea. Too choppy, too grey.

If you couldn’t see the houses in the distance, the smoke plumes coming from the Santee stacks , or the lapping waves at the edge of the dam, then that’s where you’d think you were. Lost at sea. But it’s a shallow sea, dotted with rolling catfish exposing their yellow bellies. They tease avid fisherman who venture out here before the dawn, with thermoses full of coffee, zipper bags of sandwiches, buckets of cut bait, and wire baskets loaded with chirping crickets. By the end of the day, all you have left is the rolling lake-sea, the sunburned skin, the putrid scent of rotting cut bait, empty bags and stomachs, and the symphony of the crickets that escaped the cage.

It’s a sea that sparkles blue-grey in the morning, black before sunset. It’s surface is broken by a thousand jutting tree trunks, with a few old telephone poles that seem to ask the question of whether anyone from the first World War is even still alive here in Clarendon County. Anyone from my grandfather’s generation. This was land he walked before the New Deal, not water. These facts lie a mere 40 feet or so under the water – deep enough to keep them well-hidden, but shallow enough that anyone who really wanted to look could find something. Farmland. Road beds. Graveyards.

And that’s how we came to be here.

***
I can jabber on this stupid blog all day long, but when it comes to writing something that really means this much to me, I feel simultaneously like a wimp and a fraud. Who am I to tell this story? Who am I to speak for voices silenced by time? All I can do it offer this up to the God who gave me a pen (err…laptop) and too much imagination and say to him “God, please help this not suck. And if you could, get my grandad to send me some inspiration.” I think it might work out, but I won’t know any time soon.

2 thoughts on “What? It’s not a book.

  1. You are the perfect person to tell this story – one that needs to be told.
    There is a reason you have his poems and letters in hand. It is no accident that you came across them.
    Don't let the enemy put doubt in your mind. You are a brilliant writer (I still have your senior capstone packet…it is on my bookshelf.)
    So just put pen to paper…or fingers to keyboard and it will happen organically. It is a story meant to be told…and it will happen.

    Like

  2. Hey there! Thanks so much! I cannot tell you how much it means to me that you still have that silly chapbook – that's incredible. I know you're right and that I just have to have some faith in the creative process. I see a lot of late nights and napkin notes in my future. 🙂 Thanks for your vote of confidence…it means the world.

    Like

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