Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Freedom from Fear

(Continuation of last Wednesday’s posting . . . )
 The three months of molestation ended on Thursday, November 28, 1946. Mom and Dad, my younger brother and I, and a young couple Mom had taken under her wing gathered that afternoon around the dining room table. When the couple spoke of leaving, Mom, knowing their pantry was usually bare, asked me to walk up to the road apiece and buy fruit and vegetables for them to take home.
         Mr. Jackson owned the produce stand where Mom wanted me to go. When I balked, she grew impatient because normally I was an obedient and willing child. But for five years, I thought my parents had abandoned me in kindergarten. I didn’t know why they’d left or why they returned. Because of this I feared they’d leave me again if I did something they didn’t like. Not knowing what that might be, I worried constantly about displeasing them.
         Did I laugh too loud? Cry too often? Wipe the dishes carelessly? Not make good enough grades? Twitch when I slept? Were my school stories too long?
         These questions were the reason I hadn’t told them about Mr. Jackson. I thought they’d be upset with me. I didn’t want them to abandon me because I was, as Nancygrayce said in her comment on last week’s posting, “a bad seed.”
         Mother insisted that I walk up to his produce stand and so I did. I put the money she’d given me in the side pocket of my new pale-blue trousers. They pleased me mightily because we seldom had money for new clothes.
         I walked up the hill to Mr. Jackson’s home where he and his family were eating Thanksgiving dinner. Getting up from the table, he ordered me to come with him to the produce barn.  
         As we walked through the orchard, he put his arm around my shoulders. Abruptly he rammed his large hand down my trousers and began to pinch my labia and clitoris. Stumbling, I cried out. Roughly, he pulled me upright and kept probing, pressing, fingering. Feelings cascaded through me. Feelings that confused me no matter how often he’d caused them in the past three months.
         I tried to turn aside and run back to his house, but he grabbed at me and ripped the zipper seam so that my trousers gaped wide on the left side.
         “Hold those pants together when you get home,” he growled. “Remember—this is a secret between me and you. And don’t you dare tell anyone. Your mom and dad will punish you if you do.”
         On both the trip to and from the produce barn, he kept up his monologue and his molestation. All the while, I searched desperately for a lie to tell Mom if she noticed that my trousers were ripped.

Norman Rockwell’s paintings of 
Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear

When I got back home, everyone was still seated at the dining-room table. I walked to its far end and handed mom the sack of vegetables and fruit. I stood sideways so she wouldn’t see the rip. But she had an eagle eye.
         “Dolores, how did you tear your pants?”
         “I . . . ”
         “You know we don’t have money for new things. You’re supposed to take back care of your clothes. How could you be so careless?”
         She looked so upset that I feared she’d abandon me again if I told her the truth. I began to stammer an implausible story.
         “The truth, Dolores,” she interrupted.
         “I . . . ” Then the words tumbled from my mouth as tears sprang from my eyes. I, who never cried for fear of being abandoned, stammered the whole dismal story of Mr. Jackson and what he’d done and what he’d been doing all those weeks.
         Amidst repeated pleas for forgiveness I wailed my fear: “I didn’t mean to do it, Mama. I don’t know what I did to make Mr. Jackson do that! Don’t leave me! Please don’t leave me!”
         At some point, Mom said, “John” to my father with a command that even I could hear. He quickly rose from his chair and the two of them went outside, got in the car, and drove away. The young couple encouraged me to take a nap and when I awoke, Mom and Dad had returned home.
         The following Monday, I caught the bus to school and did so throughout the rest of grade and high school. I never saw Mr. Jackson again until I was an adult and had already left the convent.
         Next week, in my final posting on this episode of my life, I’ll share that meeting with you. Peace. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Feeling Guilty for an Adult's Actions

It was on Wednesday, December 19, that I last posted a story from my life for this on-line-memoir blog. That posting was about two Christmas gifts I received in 1946 when I was ten and in fifth grade. The two gifts were a medallion and a rayon slip embellished with lace. I ended that posting with these words, “Always,” that slip “gave me confidence and I needed that in the fifth grade. In January I’ll explain why.”
         Today, I’m writing about events that shattered my sense of security between the opening of school in September 1946 and Thanksgiving. Here’s what happened:
         In grades one through four, I boarded a city bus each morning that delivered me to St. Mary’s in Independence, Missouri. A number of students who attended the Catholic grade school, my brother and I among them, lived out in the country and caught that bus into town.
         However, my father’s drinking left little money for bus fare, so when a neighbor with three children offered to drive my brother and me to school at the beginning of fifth grade, Mom took him up on his offer.
         The first day of school—Tuesday, September 3, 1946—set the pattern for the next three months. The neighbor—let’s call him Mr. Jackson—sat behind the steering wheel in the front seat. I sat next to him. To my right sat his daughter who was in first grade. My younger brother and the neighbor’s two sons sat in the back seat.

A 1941 Plymouth fastback sedan from Wikipedia.

         As he steered the car that first day, Mr. Jackson abruptly shoved his hand under my uniform skirt, roughly pushed aside my panties, and stuck his fingers into my vaginal opening. He moved his fingers around, plunging them deeper and deeper and then withdrawing them and pinching the labia. Over and over he did this throughout the three-mile drive to school. No one had ever touched that part of my body before then and I felt not only surprised but also uncomfortable with what was happening.
         “Please don’t do that Mr. Jackson,” I said.
         “You like this. I know you do.”
         “I don’t. It feels bad.”
         Giving my labia one final pinch, he removed his right hand from under my skirt and slid his right arm behind my back. Then he began to squeeze my right breast. That hurt and I cried out.        
         “Shut up!” he said. And I did. For the next three months, Mr. Jackson did this on the trip to and from school each day.
         During each school day, I’d try to figure out how I could get into the back seat of his car. When he came to pick us up at the end of the school day, I’d say something like, “Mr. Jackson, I need to sit in the back seat so that I can start on my homework.”
         He’d laugh and say, “The back seat belongs to the boys! You’ll sit in front with me.”
         Always I had to accept being wedged between him and his young daughter who stared out the window as we drove home. Even today I do not like to think about what her life must have been like living with her father.
         And so the days passed, with Mr. Jackson thrusting his fingers into my vagina opening or squeezing my breast all the way to and from school.
I never told my mom or dad about this because I thought that I’d done something that made our neighbor do this. I was at fault.
         All this ended on Thursday, November 28, 1946—Thanksgiving Day. In my next posting, I’ll tell you about the final scene and the epilogue of this event in my life.
Postscript: Those of you who don’t follow my blog on writing may want to click here to discover the concluding posting I did on my entry into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Pitch Isn't a Synopsis

The Amazon/CreateSpace deadline looms, and I’m still polishing the manuscript and crafting a pitch. This past Sunday, in my writing blog, I detailed the “winnowing” that takes place during the five months of the contest. If that process interests you, please click here.
         Today, I’m updating you on how I’m proceeding toward the entry gate of January 14 from my late start on Wednesday January 2.
         Because I hadn’t read the manuscript for many months, I remembered only its highlights and the story’s thrust. Given that, writing the pitch immediately would have been best. Why? Because a pitch isn’t a synopsis. It’s the trail of delicious tidbits that capture the browser’s attention, luring her or him into reading a book.
         Instead of starting the pitch immediately, however, I began to polish the manuscript by ruthlessly scouring it for descriptions and dialogue that delayed the forward thrust of the story. Unfortunately, that work ensnared me in the manuscript’s intricacies.        
         A week has passed, and I’m two-thirds of the way through the manuscript’s forty-nine chapters. It was 494 pages long; now it’s 475.   It was 130,979 words long. Now it’s 123,050. Given that, I may be able to get it down to 120,000 by the 12:00:01 U.S.EST entry opening on January 14.
         The problem now is that having immersed myself in the manuscript, I’m unable to see the forest for the trees. So when I began writing my 300-word pitch this past Monday, I ended up with a synopsis.
         I sent that pitch to two friends—one who’s read the manuscript and one who’s an accomplished novelist. Last night the latter e-mailed me the following:

There are so many names, so much going on, I don't know what the story is about. Is Ephraim your main character? A Pharisaic scribe is confusing. Who is Hashem, the Holy One? Then comes Daniel and someone who wades in the Jordan. Now Herod Antipas. The Galilee and the exorcist Yeshua. Too much for a pitch.   
         Try this. Who is your central character? Write about him. Try the old “who, what, when, where, why” to settle your thinking. What is the conflict that he's engaged in without getting into all the characters. . . . The pitch as it now stands is too scrupulous. It tells everything. If you have a chance, get in the mood by reading dust-jacket copy of a few novels. Tease the reader into wanting to read your novel. 
            As a suggestion, introduce your character in the first sentence. Begin the second sentence with "but," which will state the conflict.  

What’s clear from this is that my first friend and myself are too close to the action/story/plot of the novel. I need to back away and remember what prompted its birth. Here’s what I mean by that: In a novelist’s mind, a story usually begins with a simple question about a character, a setting, or an event. For instance: “What happens when an envious man, who collects women as trophies, discovers his best friend has committed adultery?”
Given that one line, a novelist can craft compelling fiction.
Or a novelist might ask, “What are the consequences of letting others define us?”
Or “If the polar ice cap melts and the ocean level along the Atlantic Seaboard rises, how far will insurance companies go to make a profit?”
Consider the tale of “Hansel and Gretel,”
as illustrated by Arthur Rackham in this 1909 cover.
What question might have prompted the telling of this classic folk tale?

The writer who sent the above e-mail got through two of the five eliminations in the 2010 Amazon/CreateSpace contest. Because of that and because he’s had more than ten books published, I take his comments seriously. So today, I’m back at the computer, trying to remember what question prompted me to begin this manuscript thirteen years ago.
As I write, I’ll remember what Yoda said in Episode V of Star Wars: “No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
The writing friend who’d read the manuscript e-mailed me an article last night on writing query letters, which are pitches to agents. If you’d like to read its short six-point suggestions, click here.
As soon as I post these words today, I begin to work on crafting an enticing pitch. Contentment camps around me because I’m getting to do my most favorite activity—writing. I hope your day is also a contented one. Peace.

Postscript: Many of you left comments here last Wednesday and on my other blog this past Sunday assuring me of your good wishes. So please don’t feel that you need to comment again if time is precious today. Just know that I can feel your good wishes and thoughts, prayers and visualizations. Thank you for them, ever and always.

Photograph Rackham cover from Wikipedia 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The 2013 CreateSpace Writing Contest

Hello All, thanks for stopping by today. A week ago, on Wednesday, December 26, 2012, I posted my thoughts about the new year and my resolutions for how I'm choosing to live my life in 2013. Blogging will be part of that life, but today I've decided to take a two- to three-week hiatus from posting and possibly from visiting other blogs.
          The reason? I've decided to enter the CreateSpace novel contest. For those of you who may not know, CreateSpace is the publishing arm of Amazon. Each year the organization sponsors a contest for writers of adult and young-adult novels.
          This year the submission date begins on Monday, January 14. Because CreateSpace accepts only a certain number of submissions, getting the manuscript uploaded on the 14th is important.
          I've decided to submit the historical novel The Reluctant Spy on which I've worked for about thirteen years. It takes place in first-century Palestine and is about 127,000 words in length. I've blogged several times about this manuscript on my other blog--the one on writing.

          Recently, a fellow writer read the manuscript and made suggestions as to how I might strengthen the tension and create a less lengthy book. Her comments make a good deal of sense to me. So in the next two weeks, I'll be deleting sentences, paragraphs, and whole episodes from the manuscript.
         In addition, I will be reading for typos. Also, CreateSpace requires a writer to submit a "Pitch" that will pique the interest of the judge reading it. The pitch must immediately capture the attention of that judge. Only then, will she or he want to read the "Excerpt" of the novel to take the submission into the second round of judging.
         So I have a lot of do to get ready for uploading on the 14th. I know all of you will wish me luck. I entered back in 2010, but my work was eliminated in the first-round of the contest. I'm hoping to establish a better track record in 2013!!!
        Fortunately for me, a blogging friend is visiting from the 14th to the 17th and she will be able to help me upload the pitch, excerpt of 5,000 words, and completed manuscript.
       The upshot of all this is that my next posting on this blog will be Wednesday, January 23. See you then!
         First Postscript: For those of you who might have some interest in this contest, please click here to read the contest rules posted on CreateSpace.
         Second Postscript: On Sunday, December 30, 2012, a fellow writer posted an interview with me about my life as someone who delights in crafting a good sentence!!! If you'd like to read the interview, please click here. 

Artistic rendering of the Prodigal Son from Wikipedia.