The writer’s never-ending task

“No book can ever be finished. While working on it we learn just enough to find it immature the moment we turn away from it.”

― Karl R. Popper (1902-1994)

Nan: “When’s it going to be done?”
Me: “It’s never done.”

Ro’s Rage – Chapter One: After school Thursday, May 12, 1995

It was a typical mid-May Thursday afternoon in Lee’s Landing, Iowa; partly cloudy, low-sixties; just a couple of weeks before the end of Ro Delahanty’s seventh-grade year at John F. Kennedy Middle School, and four days before her thirteenth birthday. It was a day she would make a very unexpected and what would turn out to be both an alarming and, at the same time pivotal discovery about herself.

Ro had just three “friends” at school, two of which were relatives.

One relative/friend was her ninth-grade older brother Patrick, who she always referred to by her nickname for him, Tuck. Unlike many brothers and sisters, they were close, although there was still plenty of sibling teasing.

Tuck was like their mother, Kate, both in stature and personality. At five-five, he was about average height for a boy of his age, while at just short of five-five, Ro, who had inherited her height from their over six-foot father, was one of the tallest girls in her grade. Where Tuck was good looking and very social − he had loads of friends of both genders − Ro thought of herself as at best plain looking and had little time for the school’s social scene. While they lunched together in the school cafeteria at least a couple of times a week, she rarely saw him after school, as he always seemed to be busy with some club or activity.

The other relative/friend was her cousin Justin Newsome, although she tended to think of him more like a second brother, as they had pretty much grown up together. For one, Justin’s family, his mother was Kate’s sister, lived just across the street and a couple of doors over from the Delahantys. For another, they were literally the same age, having been born in the same hospital, with Ro as the senior of the two by twenty minutes.

Tuck, Justin and Ro were regular playmates as younger kids, roaming the neighborhood, climbing trees, riding their bikes, playing tag; while different kids from the neighborhood might join them for one activity or another, “the Delahantys” – and yes, even though he had a different last name they still tended to think of Justin as a Delahanty – were the constant.

As a child, Justin was to say the least nerdy; he wore glasses, was on the chunky side, his blond hair always seemed to be sticking out in all directions and he was socially inept, which was why he and his cousin/sister were so close. But last year his life changed. For one, he entered puberty and grew nearly two inches in one year, he leaned out, and his voice changed, dropping a couple of octaves.

And, thanks to Ro, he discovered drama. Late in their sixth-grade year, in a class they had together, they were required to give a speech. Justin was terrified at the idea of getting up in front of people, so Ro suggested that for his speech he read the Dr. Suess classic “The Cat in the Hat,” which because it was one of their favorite childhood stories he was very familiar with. But she took it a step further, also suggesting he go to the costume shop and rent a hat like the cat’s and wear it when he was speaking.

The prop transformed him. His “speech” became a dramatic reading of the book, with a smooth and confident delivery in a surprisingly deep baritone voice. To say the least, it was the hit of the speeches, and it became the motivation for him to start trying out for middle school plays − he would be appearing this coming weekend in the drama club’s production of “Grease.”

Like Tuck, Justin generally joined Ro for lunch in the school cafeteria, but was tied-up with his rehearsals and so didn’t see her after school.

Next: Atti, the friend that wasn’t a relative

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

Who are we writing for?

“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.”

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Yes, we want to sell copies of our books, hopefully lots of them… Yes, we like it when we can touch someone with our writing… Yes, we swell with pride when someone tells us they liked our book… But being a writer is ultimately a selfish act; first and last we have to satisfy ourselves with what we’ve written, in between can come the opinions of others.

Mike (five): Kate Rourke

At first, Mike lived with his dad in Allen, but after only a few months of making the nearly one hour drive one-way to Lee’s Landing, he decided to get an apartment closer to work. While he had a few hand-me-down items of furniture from his dad and others to get started, he also needed things like a couch for his living room, which is how he ended up stopping at Goodman’s Furniture in September 1977 and meeting Kate Rourke, who worked there as a sales rep and interior designer.

For Mike it was love at first sight − as far as he was concerned, he had never seen anyone so beautiful. After much stammering and nervousness, he ended up buying a sofa from her. But, over the next several months found excuse after excuse to visit Goodman’s − he needed a living room lamp, he needed a bedside lamp, he needed an end table − always insisting on working with Kate.

It quickly became obvious to Kate that Mike was more interested in the sales person than he was in the furniture. Unlike the smooth − or, at least, playing-at-smooth − operators she was used to, Kate found Mike “charming” in his honesty and innocent genuineness. When in December 1977 he finally worked up the nerve to ask her out, she said yes.

For their first “date,” Mike picked her up at Goodman’s at 5 o’clock on a Friday night, drove her to the multiplex theater, took her inside and pointed to the schedule of movies, saying, “You pick a movie and a time, I’ll buy the tickets, then I’ll take you to dinner. What’s your favorite restaurant?”

She chose “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” because she liked “Jaws” − which had starred Richard Dreyfus and was directed by Steven Spielberg − and Big Tony’s Pizza because she loved their tortellinis. The fact that he was so willing to let her be in charge, which, again, was so different from the all-about-macho-me guys she’d dated before, was her first hint that this big Irishman was going to be something special.

They dated for another year; he bought her an engagement ring for Christmas, 1978, and they were married in June 1979.

Next: I’ll begin a series of posts called “Ros’ Rage”

© 2018 Dave Lager

The empty page really is a taunt to a writer

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

– Jodi Picoult (1966- )

Say something, say anything, say it even if it’s nonsense… Start by scribbling out all the excuses for why you can’t come up with anything to say; you might be surprised at what happens!

(C) 2018 Dave Lager

“The Berlin Riddle” now in the hands of beta readers

The manuscript for the second Ro Delahanty novel, “The Berlin Riddle,” is done. It has forty-nine chapters and is a bit over seventy-two thousand words long.

The only hint I’ll share about the plot at this point is that this time Ro faces a truly implacable enemy – and yes, I chose “implacable” specifically for its particular shade of meaning.

The manuscript is now in the hands of several beta readers, fellow writers who read it and look for…

• Run-on sentences – I have a tendency (well, maybe a penchant is more like it) to overwrite.

• Left out words – I’ve only read this ten times, I KNOW that word was there! The computer must have eaten it!

• Unnecessary or confusing em dashes – but I think they’re pretty, so I drop ‘em in whenever I can.

And, of course, serious writer stuff like…

…does the plot unfold smoothly and logically?

…do the character’s actions and reactions fit with who they are?

…are there any plot twists that seem to just come out of nowhere or that depend on implausible coincidences?

…is the final denouement satisfactory?

As beta readers they are supposed to be relentless and unmerciful in pointing out a manuscript’s shortcomings – it’s the only way it becomes a better manuscript.

So, my sincere thanks in advance to my beta readers!

© 2018 Dave Lager

Big Mike (four) – Mike grows up

Red Delahanty was very involved in his son’s life. When Mike was an infant, Red cared for him virtually every night. When Mike was a toddler, Red took his son with him everywhere and involved him in all of his activities, which is how Mike first learned how to fish and hunt.

Eventually Red began dating, with most relationships lasting for only a few weeks, others for several months. But Red never remarried, partly because he didn’t want to, seeing marriage as a potential infringement on his independence and as a distraction from raising his son, and partly because most of his girlfriends weren’t that excited about marrying into a ready-made family anyway.

Mike graduated from Allen District High School in 1973. He joined the Navy and served aboard the carrier U.S.S. Enterprise in the Pacific from 1974 to 1976. Because of his size he had played lineman for his high school football team, but in the Navy got interested in inter-ship boxing. He ended up his carrier group heavyweight champion during his last year in the service, eventually losing the Pacific Fleet overall championship on points. Aboard the Enterprise, Mike was a crew lead for loading and unloading ordinance from the newly deployed F-14 Tomcats, which is where he learned how to handle loaders (forklifts).

After leaving the Navy early in 1977, his Navy experience, along with that his father also worked for Daring, then led to Big Mike’s first job after the service, working as a forklift operator at the recently opened Jacob Daring National Parts Distribution Center near Lee’s Landing, adjacent to I-82. By 1990 he had become day shift supervisor of ground logistics.

At first, Mike lived with his dad in Allen, but after only a few months of making the nearly one-hour one-way drive to the north side of Lee’s Landing, Mike decided to get an apartment closer to work. While he had a few hand-me-down items of furniture from his dad and others to get started, he also needed things, like a couch for his living room, which is how he ended up going to Goodman’s Furniture in September 1977 and meeting Kate Rourke.

Next: Mike falls in love

© 2018 Dave Lager

Big Mike (three) – Love for classical music

What Mike also got through – though not necessarily from − his father was his love of classical music.

In the early 60s the band instructor at Allen High School had figured out his band kids lost much of their edge during summer vacations, so devised what he thought of as a scheme to keep his band members playing and practicing over the break.

In 1963 he started a local community band, scheduling a couple of free concerts in the town’s bandshell. About half members were from the high school, the others were adult community players, some from as far away as The Cities, which is what locals called Grand Island, Stephenson and Lees’ Landing, and a few were even members of the Illowa Symphony Orchestra – all were volunteers, including the conductor.

When Mike was a kid, Red would regularly take him to the summer evening band concerts, usually as part of a date with one of the town’s divorcees or widows. Red’s easy charm with women pretty much skipped his son Mike, but then fell on his grandson, Patrick.

The specific piece that turned out to be the spark for Mike’s interest in “classical” music was an arrangement for brass band of the “Victory at Sea Suite” by Richard Rodgers.

Mike soon discovered he especially liked the band’s versions of well-known classical works, like Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” or themes from Beethoven symphonies. Red and Mike would then go to a record store in The Cities and buy an album of the full version that Mike would listen to in his room at night.

By the time he and Kate were married and moved into the York Ridge Lane split-level, Mike’s collection of classical vinyl albums – CDs would come later – all neatly arranged by composer on two-by-twelve shelves in his den, numbered over a hundred.

Next: Mike grows up and goes to work for Jacob Daring

© 2018 Dave Lager

Before writing the first sentence

“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”

Joyce Carol Oates (1938- )

Question: Do you have the end – or at least some kind of end − in mind before you ever start writing? I know I do…

Big Mike (two) – His three “mothers”

Mike Delahanty’s mother, Helen, passed away in 1956, within a few days of his birth from complications with high blood pressure. In effect, growing up Mike had three “mothers.”

The first was his aunt Ellie, short for Ellen, his mother’s younger sister. She got married right after high school in 1955 and had her first baby, a son named Preston, early in 1956.

After Helen died, Ellie, who lived a block away from Red Delahanty, cared for the infant Mike right alongside her son. Although Pres was officially a cousin, he and Mike grew up more like brothers.

Red would drop Mike off early in the morning and pick him up after work, although as often as not they would stay for dinner. While Red did not pay his sister-in-law for taking care of his son − she actually refused his offer − he would often go to the store for her and load up on groceries that he paid for.

The other two “mothers” were Nana Graf, his maternal grandmother, and Gramma D, his paternal grandmother. Sometimes as an infant, but more frequently as a toddler, Red would take his son to one of the two grandmothers. Nana Graf lived on a farm a mile outside of town; Gramma D lived in town. When Mike started school, he would usually go to Gramma D’s or to Auntie Ellie’s, but sometimes would be picked up by Papa Graf and be taken out to the farm.

All three “mothers” provided lots of love for young Mike. And each had their own special something that made it fun to visit − Ellie had his cousin Preston, a built-in playmate; Nana Graf had dogs to play with, horses to ride and farm chores to help with; Gramma D had a TV to watch, she liked to play games with him and was the one who started Mike learning how to cook.

Next: Mike’s childhood

© 2018 Dave Lager

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