In previous blog entries, I have touched on the ephemeral, ethereal phenomenon that we refer to as “inspiration,” which the Oxford dictionary defines as “The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”
We know that inspiration can point its magic wand at the most unexpected times; still, I was taken by surprise when the recovery from my first total hip replacement last November transported me to a “place” that became the basis for the novel I am currently writing, entitled A Rocky Orchard. Currently recovering from my second hip replacement, I have a solid start on the novel, and am thrilled to be back at work on it.
You lean your head towards mine. You are going to kiss me. How many times have you kissed me, and my stomach still does a little leap. Your head jerks. “What was that?” you say. “What was what,” I say. I didn’t hear anything. “I definitely heard something,” you say. “You didn’t hear that? Sounds like someone is throwing something — balls or something like that — one after another. Listen, you say. I hear it. Sounds like it’s getting closer, you say. Sounds like it’s coming from the orchard. You hear it, right? You ask me. Yes, I hear it.
Stay here. I’ll check it out, you say. Probably some kid having a little fun, you say.
Don’t be silly. I’ll come, too, I say.
The short step down from the porch, my bare foot on the hot summer grass, I am hit by a wall of humidity. The full, fertile feel of the air that marks a Pennsylvania mountain summer. Thick, wet, ripe with a steaming, green life. “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.” That poem, the Pablo Neruda poem that you recited. The humidity reminds me. Down on one knee in an old-fashioned gesture I never would have guessed. Holding my hand and you said, “I love you as the plant that never blooms but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers.” The wall of humidity pushes against me. Your arm reaches out and you tell me to stay back. Please, you say. Please stay back. “Thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance, risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.”
I see him, you say.
Then I see him, too.
I wonder what in the world he is doing here.
Without thinking I start to call out to him. I want to laugh. I want to wave and ask him what in the world he is doing here.
“Barbara Monier’s breathtaking prose is put to full use in this story of intergenerational care and violence. A must-read for anyone who has ever been, or had, a mother.” —Molly Hales, author of Vital Ties
I AM OFFERING A FREE ADVANCED READER COPY to readers who will post a review on Amazon (and Goodreads, if you do the Goodreads thing) IN ADVANCE OF THE OCTOBER 9 PUBLICATION DATE.
In Barbara Monier’s third novel, a family crisis erupts when a fifteen-year-old becomes pregnant and decides to keep the baby.
Madeline serves as the primary protagonist of PUSHING THE RIVER, and the story is told largely through her eyes. As background and insight into her character – how she came to “push the river” – the unfolding action is interspersed with Madeline’s memories of her own mother.
As the book opens, Madeline describes her house as an empty shell inhabited by ghosts. She has been living alone for years, keeping to a few rooms, surrounded by the possessions of her ex-husband and grown children. Over the course of four months, (cont.) people accumulate in the household one by one — including Madeline’s new love interest, who unexpectedly shows up carrying grocery bags full of his clothes.
Mixing farce and fear in the equal measures that fill most lives, Monier follows her characters as they stumble through love, hope, and familial trust in pursuit of fruitful, fulfilled lives.
HERE’S SOME EARLY PRAISE FOR THE BOOK:
“A very powerful book about the cascading benefits and injuries of the relationships of women across generations. A great study of a character, and her efforts to hold things together amid constant chaos.” — John Manos, author of Dialogues of a Crime
“…with an eye for detail and a love of language, this is a novel about how women pass along wisdom, the relationship between mothers and daughters, the power of mothers to embarrass. The monstrous. The methodical.” — Jim Petersen, freelance journalist, writer, storyteller, author of The Century of Sex
“Like walking past a collection of fine impressionist art.” –— Clark Elliott, author of The Ghost in My Brain
“Beautifully written!Entertaining and innovative, a jewel of a tight story that unfolds powerfully in episodes. An embarrassment of riches. — Rita Dragonette, author of the upcoming The Fourteenth of September
“I couldn’t put it down. So many stories, so much emotion. Two-word review: loved it!” — Janis Post, Chicago artist
CONTACT ME FOR YOUR FREE COPY (send as a downloadable .pdf)
Those of you who have been following my blog closely – and have you two met, by the way 😉 – have witnessed the birth and development of my third novel, entitled “Pushing the River.” Over the course of the past three years, the novel has endured several structural changes, a complete change of narrator and voice, and the completion of an early rough draft just weeks ago.
“Pushing the River” was inspired by the real-life event of a baby being born. During the fall of 2012, my house swelled from a population of 2 – if you count my dog – to an assemblage of seven people and four animals. Originally, the house itself intended to tell the story of the most astonishing four-month period in its 100-year history.
One time previously, I put this novel aside for a time; I paused, unsure how – or if – to proceed. Ultimately, I decided to change the narrator from the house’s boiler to a regular old third-person omniscient narrator. I heartily missed Merle the Boiler, and always wondered if he might return.
Alas, Merle will not be coming back.
It is with a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting mixed feelings that I have decided to put this novel to rest for good. The current situation with this now three-and-a-half year old child renders it impossible to continue a work of fiction based on his entry into the world.
There is much good work, and good writing in the would-be book, and the deep, unparalleled satisfaction of having put into words some things I had set out to say. What more, after all, can any writer hope for?
“I was trying to feel some kind of good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-bye or a bad good-bye, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t you feel even worse.”
What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
“Nope,” Madeline thought to herself. “Nope, nope, nope. Bathetic, mawkish, maudlin – that’s what I’m being. And, my personal favorite – lachrymose.” Sometimes Madeline was goddamn glad that she had spent part of one summer studying lists of words to expand her vocabulary. “Lachrymose,” she let the word swirl around inside her. It wasn’t every day that you could find a reason to use one of your very favorite words of all time, but when that opportunity was suddenly there, boy howdy, that was a banner day. That could turn a shit of day right around.
“I. Will. NOT. Be. Lachrymose. No sirree Bob.” Madeline marched up the staircase with intent, paused at the top to wiggle back and forth in a little dance, and two-stepped her way into her bedroom. Carefully moving aside the freshly laundered pile of clothes, she proceeded to rip the sheets off her bed with a vengeance, then crumple them into the smallest ball she could. She held the ball in front of her, arms fully extended, the entire length of two stair flights to the washing machine. “Ha. I knew I saved this for a reason,” she thought, ripping open a sample packet of laundry detergent that had arrived in the mail months ago. Tide with Febreze. Guaranteed to eliminate your toughest laundry odors, it said. “Well, then, my detergent friend, be true to your word. Eliminate, eliminate. When I lay my weary little head down on my pillow tonight – alone, in my own bed – I don’t want a single whiff, not one hint of a whiff, not a hair of a tinge of a mite of a pinch of a speck of a trace of a hint. Of Dan.”
The machine’s lid sang out as it snapped closed, making a slight symphony with the rushing water and the whistling of the hot water pipe.
Madeline decided to slam the lid again. It felt highly satisfying. But when the last reverberation fell silent, it was as if a little bit of the air had escaped from Madeline’s inner balloon. Her footfalls up the stairs sounded slow and shuffling. There was no dance.
Her intention was to put away the laundry. She swung open the side-by-side doors of the primitive armoir she used as her clothes cabinet. She ran her eyes up and down the stacks of clothes, back and forth across the three shelves. She left the doors agape, and went to lie down on the sheetless bed.
Her flat palm grazed across the mattress pad, and with the gesture, an image: Dan. Also lying on his back, the two of them facing the ceiling. Newborn Dylan, tightly swaddled and sound asleep between their two prone bodies. Their hands reaching toward one another, clasping.
Madeline leapt from the bed and threw open the door of the hall closet, tossing years’ worth of accumulated stuff around, searching for something she was certain had been stashed ever since Kate’s first big camping trip. Febreze. Spray. Mountain fresh scent.
Madeline bounded back into the bedroom and went to work on the pillows, nearly soaking them with spray. Then onto the mattress itself.
“Out damn spot!” She thought: “Wait a minute. Macbeth? Shakespeare?? I thinketh not. Waaayyyyy too literary. How about Ellmore Leonard? Get Shorty?? ‘FUCK YOU, FUCKBALL!!’”
When she thought of Dan, she thought of his shoulder. His right shoulder. The one she rested her head on when they lay in bed. Don’t ever get out of the pool Dan, she thought to herself; because that swimmer’s shoulder is worth dying for.
Madeline became deeply attached to bodies. To the body of her lover. The curve of the calf, line of the toes, rises and declivities of the chest, sprout of hairs on the lower abdomen – every bit of it became an imprint deep within her, just as a baby duck becomes imprinted on the first thing it sees, nothing forever after seeming right, or even possible.
She remembered when she first saw Michael – the previous body in her life — naked. He looked like one of the blue people in the movie “Avatar” – stretched to unreasonable tall leggy thinness. But in a short time, his body was the only one that made sense to her. Legs that were not as long, calf muscles that were less taught seemed…mildly distasteful to even consider.
Hands, most especially, stirred inside of her. If e e cummings carried her heart in his heart, Madeline carried his hands.
Madeline thought of Dan’s hands. The dense, ropey tendons across his palms from that disease she could never remember the name of. The blood-red tips of his fingers.
My problem, Madeline said to herself, is that I want someone at the receiving end of my thoughts. That voice inside of my head. The “me” voice. I like the idea that someone else might be hearing it. Otherwise it’s just me. Me me me. Seems a little overly self-involved. Seems a little pointless to be doing a running narration of my own life to myself, for myself.
That’s where the body comes in, she realized. That’s why I carry his body around inside of me. So he’s there, too.
Art, top to bottom: Judith Roth, Judith Roth, Leonardo Da Vinci
She glanced at Dan’s note, not reading the words, but taking in a general impression of the handwriting, the pattern of the markings on a torn page of paper. She sighed deeply, and inhaled the exhilarating, still-fresh aroma of the delicious Christmas tree. No question that Frasier Fir is the way to go, she thought: it smells as if it were chopped down yesterday. She pictured the Brawny Paper towel guy, axe slung over one shoulder, wearing nothing but his flannel shirt, ancient jeans and worn boots as he trudged through the powdery snow in search of their tree.
She would leave it up until after New Year’s. Maybe another week after. Taking down the Christmas tree struck Madeline as one of the saddest things in the world. Even when Dick had been around, she had always done it herself. He insisted that he couldn’t trust himself to stow away the ornaments handed down from her mother’s family, as well as those from her own childhood; although this was miraculously not an issue when he dove into the tissue-wrapped antiquities with childlike glee when they decorated the tree each year. So be it. Yet another year when she would do it alone. It allowed her a degree of ceremony she would not have otherwise. Time when she could hold the oldest ones – the ones her mother had painstakingly dated, going back to 1919 – and try to picture her long-dead mother as the gangly, sickly, big-eyed child that she had seen in photographs. Carrying an equally skinny, frightened-looking doll with her everywhere she went.
Taking down a Christmas tree was like a death. The death of another year. Pack up and put away whatever was special, or memorable, or lasting. Throw away the rest. Turkey feather. Christmas tree.
Perhaps, Madeline thought, perhaps I have lived long enough.
It seemed to her, quite suddenly, that she had seen a great many Christmases. That around the tree had gathered so many, many people whose lives had touched hers, and who were now gone. Like a long Dickens novel, where the sheer volume of characters who paraded through the pages was impossible to comprehend.
When she eventually dragged this perfect tree out to the curb, leaving a trail of needles she would find herself sweeping up well into the summer, Dan would be gone, too. I have had so many different lives, she thought. Different little universes, created one conversation cup of coffee glass of wine walk along the lake whispered tender words caresses orgasms at a time. One at a time, day after day, and a world is constructed. What was it Octavio Paz said?
if two kiss
the world changes, desires take flesh
thoughts take flesh, wings sprout
on the backs of the slave, the world is real–
Oh shit, she thought. I must be seriously fucking stressed. Quotes are popping into my head. Bad sign.
I am very pleased to present this guest blog by my friend and fellow author Michael Fedison. Mike is the author of the YA fantasy The Eye-Dancers. As you will read below, he does a magnificent job writing blog entries that tie in to his book.
Many thanks to Mike for organizing this TWELVE AUTHOR PROMOTION. Check out the varied works that are ALL BEING OFFERED FOR FREE OR REDUCED PRICE FOR THE NEXT TWELVE DAYS. My own novel, You, in Your Green Shirt, is FREE today through November 16.
In the first-season Twilight Zone episode titled “What You Need,” which aired on Christmas Day 1959, an old peddler named Pedott walks into a drinking establishment, carrying with him his sack of wares.
He approaches a young woman, seated alone at a table, and asks her, “Something for you, miss?”
She hands over a bill, asking for some matches, but the old man stares at her, looks into her eyes, and exclaims, “You don’t need matches, miss. I’ll tell you what you need.” And he hands her a small bottle of cleaning fluid, “guaranteed to remove spots of any and all kinds.”
“It’s what you need,” he assures her, and she takes it, no doubt baffled by the display.
Pedott approaches the bar, where a man referred to as “Lefty” is drinking liberally.
“Whaddaya got, pop?” Lefty asks between drinks.
“Many things,” the old peddler answers. “Many odds and ends. Things you need.”
Lefty tells him there’s no chance he has what he needs in his bag full of merchandise–a new left arm.
The bartender breaks in, explaining that Lefty used to be “quite a pitcher in his time.” He even pitched a couple of years for the Chicago Cubs. But then “his arm went sour.” Now Lefty comes into the bar each night, “looking for a baseball career at the bottom of a bottle.”
Pedott tells Lefty there are other opportunities, new career paths he can pursue. Pitching isn’t the only way he can earn a living. Lefty scoffs at this, his demeanor downcast, bereft of hope.
Suddenly the old man has a brainstorm. “I think I know what it is you need,” he says, reaching into his bag and fishing out a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Lefty laughs. “Now, what’s in Scranton, Pennsylvania, old man?”
But then the phone rings. It’s for Lefty–a job offer from one of Lefty’s old managers to coach for a minor league baseball team in Scranton. He tells Lefty to take a bus to Scranton and meet the GM to interview for the job.
Lefty of course wants to know how Pedott knew he’d get a call from Scranton, but the old man has quietly departed the scene, exiting the bar. Oh well. Lefty isn’t about to stress over the details. He finally has an opportunity. He just wishes he had nicer clothes.
“I sure wish I could get this out,” he gripes, pointing at a stain on his jacket. “I’d like to look halfway decent when I meet the GM.”
The woman with the just-procured cleaning fluid walks up to him, shyly saying she couldn’t help but overhear, and that she has just the thing.
She tries it on the spot, applying the fluid to Lefty’s jacket stain. “When this dries, you won’t even know you had a spot there,” she says.
As she applies the cleaning fluid, their eyes meet. There is an unmistakable attraction.
The old peddler certainly knew what each of them needed . . .
I am especially fortunate to be a part of a multi-author, cross-genre promotion that, just maybe, can give old Pedott a run for his money. The talented wordsmiths taking part in this promo offer a wide assortment of stories and styles–there is something here for everyone.
The details of the promo are straightforward. Each of the authors involved will run their own special promo on their books, beginning today and ending on November 22. What titles are they featuring in the promo and what, exactly, does their promo entail? Where can you find and download their books? I invite you to click on each of the links below to discover the answers.
I hope you enjoy this eclectic literary smorgasbord!
As for The Eye-Dancers, as part of this joint promotion that includes authors from around the globe, I am discounting the e-book version to 99 cents, straight through to November 22. You can find it at the following online retail locations . . .
“That was when you taught me about sex, Marie, remember?”
That’s what emerged from Savannah’s mouth just as Madeline entered the room. Savannah laughed a hearty, open-mouthed laugh. Her great round belly bounced up and down, requiring her to arrange it. “We were just talking about that time Marie told me all about SEX. Don’t you remember, Marie?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. This is nonsense,” Marie countered.
“No. It’s true. We’d been waiting for Mom for so long, don’t you remember? It was, like, hours and hours,” Savannah said.
“Waiting for her where?” Madeline asked.
“At the casino,” Marie said.
“What do you mean?” Madeline asked.
“Well, wait, let’s get back to the story here,” Savannah said. “I can’t even believe you don’t remember this, Marie. We were sitting on the curb, cause we’d already played in the car and taken turns playing taxi driver, and then you went all through your purse trying to find all the little crayon stubs, and you let me draw pictures on all the little scraps of paper you picked off the floor of the car and from the glove box, and you made a story up about every picture, and still we were waiting. So we went outside and sat on the curb, and you had me drawing pictures using just my toes in the dirt, and you’d guess what they were. And you were being silly and making me laugh, guessing that the pictures were crazy things like a bunch of angels gathered around a brand new baby elelphant singing it lullabies so it could sleep through the roars of the angry lions. I mean, I drew something like a circle, and that’s what you’d guess.”
“Angels singing to a baby elephant?” Madeline arched her brow.
“Whatever. Shut up.” Savannah said.
“We’d been waiting a really, really long time. I just remember being so sleepy. It was dark already. And then I said: ‘Marie, this girl in my school said her older sister is gonna have a baby. And my friend asked her sister where the baby came from, and her sister said that her husband stuck his wee-wee inside of her and went pee pee, and that’s where the baby came from. And I said, is that true, Marie? Is that where babies come from? Is that where I came from?’ And you said, I swear to God you said: ‘Well, that’s close enough.’” Savannah wrinkled up her nose and laughed loud.
“Nonsense,” Marie said. “Never happened.”
“Oh my God, you’re the worst,” Savannah said, picking up the sofa pillow and tossing it at her sister. Both of them burst into unfettered laughter.
“That’s what I thought for years, Marie. Years!”
“You were a little kid! What was I supposed to say?” Marie said.
“Like, how old?” Madeline asked.
“I don’t know.” Marie considered. “Probably 4 or so by then. This kind of went on for a long time.”
“This what went on for a long time?” Madeline asked.
“We’d all be out running errands, or getting food, or whatever, and my mother would just sort of…drive over to the casino and say that she’d be right back. And she’d leave us there. In the car.”
Marie’s tone was strangely untroubled, but her voice became softer. She shrugged one shoulder. “She was basically bringing me along to watch after Savannah. Savannah was pretty little when this started.”
“Little…like…?” Madeline asked.
“Oh, one and a half? At least one,” Marie said.
“So you were taking care of a baby inside of a car in the parking lot of a casino. By yourself,”
“Uh-huh,” said Marie.
“It was fun!” Savannah said. “Marie made it really fun.”
“How long would she be gone? In the casino?” Madeline asked.
“Sometimes not very long. You know, an hour. Sometimes…pretty long. That time Savannah’s remembering is probably the longest. I think my mom drove us there right after lunch. It was dark when we left.”
Savannah laughed. “It’s all your fault, Marie,” she pointed to her enormous belly. “You ruined me with that story.”
Everything changed the year that I was 13, and before my 14th birthday I had tossed out my last jar of Dippity-Do, deep-sixed my hair curlers, and thrown away a large number of white and pink-white and nearly-white tubes of frosted lipstick. Even though I was slightly late to the party, I considered myself A Hippie, and pared my wardrobe down to one pair of jeans that were long enough to abrade the bottoms in an artful fashion, a pair of moccasins that I wore in all weather conditions, 4 identical mock turtleneck sweaters in different colors for winter, and four men’s T-shirts for summer.
Suddenly everyone who had been desperately trying to get their hair to hold a curl was straightening it! I grew my hair to my waist and beamed when people asked me regularly if I ironed it to get it so straight! I was a Natural Woman. I told my mother she had given me her last Toni home permanent, thank you very much, and gathered up my bras for a ritual burning. My mother was actually quite accepting of the changes in My Look, never getting especially excited when I came home with frozen feet from wearing moccasins in mid-winter, or put the same pair of jeans in the laundry time after time (though jeans were not meant to look clean at this time – we doodled on them with ink pens, and if we didn’t smoke ourselves, we co-opted friends’ cigarettes any chance we got, so we could grind the ashes into our jeans to create a look that was just so.)
My mother drew the line at the bra thing, however. She commenced in giving me anatomical lectures about the Cooper’s ligament, and how I was putting myself and my 14-year-old breasts in danger of developing a ghastly condition known as “Cooper’s Droop,” due to my poor, unsupported B-size breasts being unable to support their own massive weight, the ligaments stretching under the immense strain, and ending up with – Cooper’s Droop. Her own mother had suffered this fate, she told me. Being a fashion victim of the 1920’s, the “flapper era” when women’s ideal appearance was flat-chested, my grandmother had bound up her ample bosom, resulting in – Cooper’s Droop. My mother alleged that things degenerated to the point where my grandmother had to lift her breasts out of the way in order to fasten her belt. My mother attempted to horrify me even further by saying that at least it was easier for grandmother to see the breast lumps she kept developing.
I was unfazed. Cooper’s Droop be damned. My girls were set free.
My mother thought of herself as a beautiful woman. I’m not sure how I knew this, but I was sure of it: she went through each day of her life with the confident certainty that her beauty was a given. She never spoke of this, and referred to it only once that I can remember. When I was a mid-range adolescent, maybe 14 or 15, and boys had begun to sniff and circle around our house, my mother said one day, out of the blue: “You definitely have the better body, but I believe that I have the prettier face.”
Even then, in my dewy youth, I thought: what a weird ass thing to say.
photos by Garry Winogrand, from his book “Women Are Beautiful”