Welcome to my monthly update and thank you for your interest in my writing activities. Here are the February 2016 highlights:
Welcome New Readers – I’m thrilled to have you join us. I do hope you find these monthly e-mail updates interesting and useful.
A Time for Reflection
As I shared in my last couple e-mails, between some personal health issues, the holidays, publishing issues with Amanda’s Room, and a death in the family, my author activities have slowed considerably in the past couple months. While I appreciated the many notes of support I received, this has also been a very positive time for reflection and assessment. Out of that process, I will not be doing much marketing, publicity or public appearance activities for Amanda’s Room right now, but I have finally resumed the re-writing of my upcoming novel, Injured Angels.
After several months of trying to coordinate my needs as an author with California Times Publishing’s (CTP) business model for providing services, it became apparent that we could not achieve our differing goals at this time and so, by mutual agreement, we have decided to terminate our contract. Over the next several weeks, CTP will unpublish their editions of Amanda’s Room and I will replace them with the previous, Hitchcock Lake editions. This process is necessarily a slow one in order not to lose the ratings and reviews the book has accumulated over time, but hopefully, it will all be sorted out by the beginning of March. I have also been in discussions about a complete revision of the audio book version. More on this to come.
Injured Angels has undergone many transformations since I began it and has languished for a long time as I tried to figure out what type of story it really should be and how I should tell it. I realize now that I have known the direction I should take for some time, but I was too intimidated to continue. Let me explain.
Injured Angels traces three distinct phases in the life of Maureen Russo. The first phase chronicles her high-school romance, marriage, trials, and ultimately fulfilling life with her husband Frank. Phase 2 occurs when Maureen loses Frank after more than 50 years and in the process, loses her own reason for living. It is only through her odd friendship with the abrasive and socially inept Doris Cantrell, that Maureen is able to piece back together the fragments of her own life. In phase 3, when Sal Verona enters Maureen’s life, she must choose between a deep, fulfilling friendship and a second chance at love.
While I have had the story line in place for some time and have written most of the relevant parts, something essential has been missing. As I said earlier, I have actually known what for some time but have been too intimidated to act on it. That element is the voice.
The author’s “voice” is one of the most difficult parts of a book to accomplish or even to explain. It is apart from the story, plot, settings or characters, yet it can make the difference between a blockbuster or a bust. Essentially, the voice is the manner in which the author tells the story. It is the choice of words and vocabulary and the pace, dialect and rhythm with which they are delivered.
I realized that, in Injured Angels, the voice was flat because I was trying to tell this women’s story from the sidelines, as an observer, when what I really needed to do was to get into her skin and tell her story from the inside out: in other words, to become her.
Fortunately, I just began a wonderful inter-generational writing program at UCONN, which has helped me to clarify what I need to do and motivated me to get back to work. The UCONN Waterbury Creativity Workshop, led by acclaimed writer, Professor Thomas Dulack and his daughter, actress, teacher and filmmaker, Ilvi Dulack, is an intensive workshop concentrated on writing, sharing, giving and receiving feedback and furthering the works of the participants. During our first session, I realized that I have known for some time that to tell Maureen’s story effectively, I had to become Maureen, but I have been procrastinating because of the daunting challenge of being a male author telling a women’s story in the first person.
Following the workshop session, I came home and rewrote the first chapter in Maureen’s own voice and I am excited at the outcome. I have now gone on to insert a new second chapter, one which I have wanted to include, but could not envision how to until now.
I don’t know how the marketplace or my readers will react to this strategy, and I might wind up publishing Injured Angels under a female or asexual pseudonym, if necessary, to avoid the inherent conflict, but those are decisions best left for the future. For now, I will just enjoy the process of writing and discovering who Maureen Russo really is.
Miner’s Lament (poem)
I had planned on finding a publication for publishing Miner’s Lament, but once again, that would take time away from my writing, and right now, that is more important to me than adding to my writing resume, so here, for your enjoyment, is my award-winning poem, Miner’s Lament.
A few hints before you read should add to your understanding and appreciation of the poem.
- My father was a coal miner in Pennsylvania.
- He was pulled out of school in the 4th grade to work in the mines because the family needed the money.
- A “cage” in an elevator car used to hoist men and supplies in and out of the mines.
- Coalmines can run deep underground, in many cases 600 feet down or more.
- Mules were used to pull mine cars filled with coal and were kept in the mines all their lives. Because of the constant darkness, they eventually became blind.
- Miners would often share their lunch with the rats, because if miners saw rats running, it usually meant danger and the miners would quickly follow the rats.
- Miners often kept canaries with them because the birds were more sensitive to poison gases. If the bird died, it was time for the miner to leave.
- One of the jobs for children in the mines was to open and close huge doors for the mules that were pulling the mine cars. The doors regulated the flow of air in the mines. Without them, the miners could suffocate.
- The breakers were huge crushers mounted in tall towers that broke coal into different sizes for the various markets. Coal mixed with stone would empty into chutes on their way into the breaker. Trucks would pull under the towers to transport the coal away. “Breaker Boys” were children that sorted out the stones from the coal. The constant crushing of the breaker would produce clouds of black dust all day. If a boy lost his footing and fell into the breaker, he would be crushed to death.
- Early coal cars were not equipped with breaks. A sprag is a wooden wedge that a boy would sandwich between the wheel and wheel housing of the coal car to stop the car.
- Black damp and white damp are names for explosive or poisonous gases found underground.
- When a loose piece of rock fell from the roof of a mine, it often had the shape of a bell, which could range in size from a basketball to a car.
- Timbers in a deep mine were not there to keep the mine from collapsing. The weight would be too much for them. But prior to a cave in, the rock would often shift. When it did, the “singing” of the cracking timbers would warn miners to clear out quickly.
- My father died of the “black lung” diseases: an emphysema-like condition from years of breathing in coal dust.
Pink: the color of sky,
Pink, the day education ended
and heaven faded to black
in a cage dropping six hundred feet.
Pink, invisible in the darkness
save the lamps lighting the way
of blind mules, fat rats and sacrificial birds.
Dark pink after a year,
waiting in the blackness for each mule,
opening , closing, salvaging precious air.
Light grey after three years,
straddling chutes in the breaker’s deafening roar,
sifting stones in the black clouds.
Grey after seven years,
racing alongside two-tons of runaway coal car
with only sprags to stop them.
Dark gray after twenty years,
surviving black damp, white damp,
falling bells and singing timbers.
Black after thirty years,
wheezing up blood
and never smoked a damn day in my life.
Chuck Miceli 5/1/2015
Thanks and Good Reading