Different Voices

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The Rocky Orchard will be my fourth novel; it will be the third one of those novels where I have re-written a large section by changing the narrative voice from the third person to the first person, or the other way around.  The voice — whether the story is told from the perspective of “I did this,” or whether it’s told from an outside perspective of an onlooker as “they did this,” is pivotal to everything about how the book unfolds and how the story gets told.  I thought it would be interesting to post the same section of The Rocky Orchard in two different voices.  Let me know your thoughts.

First person version:

It’s been a long time since I’ve stood on this porch.  One of my favorite places in the world.  I take two more steps to my left, and I am at the exact spot where I can see the farthest in three different directions.  Two whole sides of the old farmhouse and the wraparound porch that encircles them. On the front section of the porch the black wooden swing hangs from the ceiling, a few of my grandmother’s old throw pillows still strewn across the back.  The creaky single bed with its blue-and-white embroidered cover – both there since my parents bought this place – takes up the far corner, keeping its lookout into the cave created by the copse of towering pines.  The overflow bed, for times when we had more people visiting than would fit in the ten other sleeping places scattered throughout three of the house’s four rooms.  Or when it was so hot, so unbearably killingly humid, that Woo would opt to sleep on the porch.  I never slept well when he did this.  I missed him being in the other twin bed in our upstairs room.  I felt betrayed.

Beyond the porch itself, through the slight warbly dimming of the screen’s grid, a panoramic sweep of the land outside.  Not all the much to see to the left, as the stone pathway leading from the porch door up to the dirt road runs up a steep bank.  I have to stoop down to get a glimpse of the road itself; otherwise the view is of a vertical slope, covered by a motley assortment of ferns, and a couple of tenacious mountain laurel, clinging to the slope and struggling to keep their grip and survive.

The springhouse, off to the right in its own little valley, with its eternal smell – a pungent mixture of creosote and gasoline and a million leftover pieces and parts of a million abandoned projects that have been there forever.  Long before we got here. Useless tools, boxes of screws, cartons of nails, shell cases, gas cans, broken mouse traps, hoses, pipe sections, caulk.  We kept a combination lock on the rusty hasp on the springhouse door.  I used to test myself each spring, after a whole winter of not coming here had gone by, to see if I could still remember the combination.  But mostly, I was testing myself.  The springhouse was one of so many things I was terrified of.  I would open the combination lock, take off the old hasp, and see how many steps I could walk into the springhouse itself.  I would stand there, just breathing the acrid air, looking at the relics that covered most of the floor space anyway.  Sometimes I would touch a couple of things.  But mostly it was about standing there, forcing myself to face my own terror, maybe a few more seconds each year.

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Third person version:

“What a strange place to put an orchard,” Mazie thought to herself.  Mazie stood at the exact spot on the wrap-around porch — the one that covered two full sides of the old farm house – where she could see the farthest in three different directions. “I never could figure out why there.”

There was not all that much to see to her left, as the stone path leading from the porch door was steep enough that you had to stoop down just a tad to see the old dirt road at the path’s end.  The steep bank had always been covered with a motley assortment of ferns, with a couple of scrawny mountain laurel struggling to survive on the slope.  To her right sat the old shed, and beyond, the small, spring-fed lake her parents had dredged, and the wide expanse of field that abruptly ended at the edge of the thick woods.  In the spring, if you listened very carefully, you could hear the little creek that lay just beyond the farthest edge of the field, at the very beginning of the trail into the woods.  Full and ripe with the winter’s runoff, the freezing water tumbled over the rocks in rushing abandon.  You could hear it, even from such a distance, before it began its languishing journey from bursting its muddy banks, to flowing in a steady and patient stream, to trickling in ever-shifting paths between the mossy stones, to its eventual disappearance in the flush of summer.

Where Mazie came from, it was a point of contention whether the proper way to say the word was “creek” or “crick.”  Feelings ran strong about this.  Weekend people, people who did not live there full-time – like Mazie’s family – generally said “creek;” locals said “crick.”  But if you tried to say it like they did, to be nice when you were talking to them, they assumed you were making fun and immediately got quiet or mean.  It made Mazie tired to think about.

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Middle painting: Cathleen Rehfeld

Bottom painting: Frederic Belaubre

The Purest Water


The Rocky Orchard, the novel that I am currently writing, has a multitude of underlying themes.  In terms of the tone, however, it is meant to have the feel of a long, rambling, wondrous walk through the woods.  I hope the following section engenders that spirit:

“The first trip Eddie and I took together, we went to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We’d only been dating a couple of months.  Eddie planned it.  He wanted to make me happy, and knew that being outside and hiking and immersed in the mountains would be perfect.  We found an adorable little inn – equal parts cute and kitsch – with a remote-control fireplace in the room and our own jacuzzi on the private outdoor deck.  We arrived at night, popped open the bottle of wine Eddie had arranged to be waiting for us in the room.  We couldn’t stop playing with the remote, turning the fireplace on and off, cracking up so much we spilled red wine all over our clothes, so we ripped them off and ran naked out to the hot tub.  That was when I learned that Eddie had a thing about water.  Hot tub, shower, ocean – whatever – something took hold of him the second he got wet.  He had an immediate and overpowering need to make love.  So we did.  In our own little hot tub on our own little deck of the room in Estes Park.

“The next morning was one of those Colorado days you remember your whole life.  The sky so vast and blue that the whole world seems to be in sharper focus.  We took this amazing hike – straight up, like pretty much all hikes in the mountains; and when we got to the topmost point, we kicked off our shoes and waded in a stream not so much bigger than this one.  I took a picture of Eddie standing in the middle of that creek, right about the time he was saying to me, ‘This may be the purest water we taste in our entire lives, baby.  Drink up before we head down.’

“In a heartbeat, that blue sky darkened to a menacing, steely gray.  The temperature dropped probably twenty degrees, and hail the size of marbles slammed us with such force it seemed like it must be trying to hurt us.  We started running as fast as we could, and since it was a steep downhill, it felt like we must be flying.  Flying and freezing and getting pelted.  And laughing.  Laughing so hard.

“Right about the time we could spot our car in the parking lot at the trail head, the hail stopped and the skies cleared.  Poof.  The same stunningly beautiful, warm day as before.  Like the universe just wanted to play a funny little trick on us.  Know what else, Lula?  That ‘purest water we ever taste in our entire lives?’  I got a parasite from drinking it.  Was sick as a dog for months.  That is, I believe, an outstanding example of the concept of irony.  Eddie was fine, by the way.”

Mazie couched down at the creek’s edge and submerged both her hands in the cool water.  She spread her fingers wide, letting the creek’s slow current flow over and around and between them.  She turned her hands palm-side-up, raised them out of the creek, and let the water run between her fingers.

With a great effort, Lula knelt beside Mazie.

Neither woman said a word for quite a while.

“Is Eddie fine now, Lula?” Mazie asked.  “Is he all right?”

painting: Megan Gibbons

new writing, new newsletter

swing

Let’s start out with a new tidbit from my novel-in-progress, The Rocky Orchard:

Swing

I am barefoot.  My absolute favorite thing.  I reach down with one toe, just my big toe, to give us the barest little push to keep the swing going.  I feel tiny grains of dirt on the porch floor as my toe kisses against them.  The extra length of the swing’s chain clanks against the section of chain that’s holding the swing from the porch ceiling.  How long has this swing been here?  We have never once had to fix it, or adjust it, or anything. Not like the old wooden swing outside, with its absurdly long ropes hanging from the giant pine.  We have had to fix that swing a million times, it seems; but the porch one, never.  I toss my head back and look up at the ceiling bolt that holds the porch swing in place, ancient and rusty and painted over so many times. The thought of its strength, its endurance, amaze me. And makes me tired, exhausted. The strain of years upon years of holding up the weight of human beings. I twirl the extra chain through my fingers, I clunk it against the taut chain that is doing the work of holding us up.  I look over at you. My Eddie. 

            A line of sweat is just beginning to break out in the crease of your neck. I want to capture the expression on your face and put it in a jar.  I want to carry the jar around with me like precious fireflies from a summer night.  I have never seen you so relaxed, so contented. As if you know what I’m thinking, you reach for my hand and you kiss it.  I am staring at you and you know that I am staring at you, and I tear up, and you laugh.  You kiss my hand again.  You have that shy-but-formidable look, the one you had on our first date, our real first date.  The look that makes you one dimple sing out.  The look that made me think that maybe, just maybe, we might end up right here someday, swinging on this swing.

            Your hand in mine is sweaty.  The cool moistness of your palm against mine sends a ripple through my body, a shudder of feeling. I reach across your body to trace the line of sweat on your neck with the index finger of my other hand.  I taste it.  The salt of you.  I cannot get enough of you. 

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