Tuesday, October 6, 2009


(Mt. Borradaile region, Arnhemland, Northern Territories, Australia; photo by Art Wolfe)

For the first time in months, I woke up today with Ginny Bates' voice in my head again. Hence, here's a very special treat, a conflation of two different novels: A scene I meant to put in Ginny Bates but never got around to, concerning Myra's writing Skene. This is all there'll be on this topic at this point in time. Still, it was delicious to step back into the house on Roy Street for an afternoon.

For those of you new to this blog, I'm referring to my Great American Lesbian Novel, Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up. You can do the same to read Skene.

Late December, 1994

(Margie is 6, Gillam will be 4 in another week)

David arrived two days before New Year's, planning to stay through Gillam's birthday. That Saturday, when Pat and Patty offered to take the children to a local street fair and David said he was going to the Temple for Havdallah, Myra asked Ginny to stay home with her.

"I've finished a fleshed-out first draft of Skene, complete with revisions. Before I start on draft two -- well, I need you to read it" said Myra. "It's over 300 pages now, a time commitment to get through." She looked anxious.

"I'll be honored" said Ginny. "What are you going to do? I need you not to hover."

"Cook, I guess. Get a head start on special dishes for New Year's Day" said Myra.

"Then I'll go upstairs and read on the deck with the heaters on" said Ginny, "because if I'm anywhere near the kitchen I'll feel your eyes on me."

Once the children were bundled into coats and caps, and David had shufled out the door in his tallis, Ginny took the manuscript held together by an industrial-looking binder clip, kissed Myra's cheek and said "I'll be back from your imaginary world whenever the power of phonics lets me finish."

Myra made a brine mixture in two different containers, one for goose and one for pork short ribs, and set tomorrow's meats soaking in the storeroom refrigerator. She picked crab meat, an activity she didn't much like, and carried the shells afterward to the platform bird feeder for the carnivores to squabble over. She made cornbread to eat and for stuffing, stopping to have a snack of one wedge crumbled into a glass with buttermilk poured over it. She then began trying to once again create a perfect barbecue sauce for the ribs, a puzzle which she never quite accomplished to her satisfaction.

Ginny came downstairs at one point too early to have finished, refilling her teapot and taking some of the cornbread back with her, a finger held up to her lips to stall any questions from Myra. Once the barbecue sauce was simmered and cooled, Myra gave up on cooking and went instead to her study, reorganizing her map drawers. She was on the floor, surrounded by a confusion of charts, using her giant magnifying glass to hunt for ice movements which might tell her where the tent with frozen bodies of Scott's expedition might have drifted to, when she heard footsteps in the kitchen. Juju was under her daybed and scrambled out with anticipation at Ginny's approach.

Myra caught only a glimpse of Ginny, however, before there was a heavy thud against the side of her rolltop desk, followed by a shower of pages as her hurled manuscript fell out of the binder and snowed everywhere. Juju scrambled back under the daybed with a scrabble of nails on wood. Myra gaped as Ginny shouted "You fucking moron! Infidelity on paper is not excused by creative license!"

She was clearly enraged, her fists doubled and held stiffly at her sides, her face flushed. Myra thought she could see Ginny's lips trembling. Feeling unsure of her own muscles, she got to her feet and sat in her desk chair, stepping carefully around her manuscript.

"I thought you'd be upset" she said in a tone she tried to keep from being wimpy.

"Oh did you now!" said Ginny. "What fun you've been having, writing all those sex scenes that are clearly about you and Allie fucking your brains out -- in a future world, where there's no consequence for it because hey, the character based on me is right there joining in the sticky action. You are NOT going to publish a book full of your fantasies about Allie, I won't have it. Not that Allie will stand for it either, but I'll leave you before I let you humiliate me this way."

Myra felt ice in her chest. "It's not me and Allie having sex. You're reading the characters wrong."

"Oh give me a fucking break, Myra. You're clearly the main character who writes verse, and I'm clearly the zaftig muralist who had to chase her down, and then there's the tall black hero whose name is almost identical to Allie's, tell me how I've read that wrong?" Ginny kicked a path through the pages nearest her to fling herself onto the daybed with an alarming creak of wood. Juju scooted out the foot and headed for the other end of the house.

"Well, yes, the first two are right. And there are some -- okay, a lot of elements in the third partner of their relationship that are based on Allie. But I always think of her as another aspect of me. She's -- well, it's that heroic thing, I can't make my character a hero, at least not so overtly. I mean, I'm already stretching it by making her writing so crucial to everyone else's existence, I'm sure some critics will snicker at that. But I'm also an activist, Ginny, and I long to save the world, feed the world, take bold action that everyone admires without question. So I put those parts of me into the third character. And they're all non-white, Ginny, you can't use skin color to tell who's what, this is a culture post-race and post-gender." The last sentence was in a didactic tone that Myra instantly regretted, sure it would set Ginny off further.

She was right. Ginny pounded on the wall, screaming "Don't you dare act like I'm the middle-class dummy who can't get what's really going on with regard to race! Not right now, not when the issue is about you writing porn involving you and our best friend!"

"You need to stop going off the deep end, Ginny. I set it up so we'd have private time to talk. Why don't you call your healer or whatever you call her?" said Myra. She was stinging from the description of her hard-to-write sex scenes as pornography.

"Has Allie read this?" demanded Ginny.

"No. You're the only person who's read this draft in its current form" said Myra.

"But Chris has read something more recent than the last version I saw, right? Did she read any of these fuck fantasies?"

Myra hesitated. "One or two, yes."

"Oh boy, I bet she ate that up with a fucking spoon!" said Ginny, back to scream level.

Myra stood, closing her throat against the nausea in her gut, and began slowly picking up sheets of paper. Ginny watched her incredulously for half a minute, then stomped through the kitchen to their bedroom and slammed the door. A short while later, Myra saw the red light on her desk phone light up, meaning someone was making a call out. She kept stacking pages on her desk, stopping to go empty her bowels at one point, washing her face with cold water, then returning to rescue her manuscript.

She decided to put away her maps before trying to reassemble the pages in correct order. She had just finished this chore when the front door opened and she heard Margie shouting "We're home! I made a poodle from balloons, where are you?" The two children skidded into view seconds later, followed by Truitt and Carly. Gillam was wearing a crown made of slender blue and red balloons. Myra looked over their creations and said hello to Patty, thanking her for the afternoon off in a voice that sounded hollow to her own ears.

"Where's Ginny?" asked Patty.

"In the bedroom on the phone -- no, Margie, don't interrupt, she'll come out when she's done. Patty, I'd offer you tea or something, but I'm in the middle of something here..."

Patty looked closely at her face and said "Well, we should be heading home. Do you need help with anything?"

"Nope. Got it under control." Myra waited for a lightning bolt to strike her, but Patty simply rounded up her overexcited children and left. Less than a minute later, Margie lunged her poodle at Juju under the dining table. Juju lunged back and the balloon popped. Margie began shrieking and tried to kick Juju, who strategically kept chair legs between her and Margie.

"You don't get to hurt the dog!" yelled Myra over Margie's racket, pulling her to the stairs for a time-out, then sitting down beside her because she didn't know what else to do. Gillam stood in the hall, looking at them with wide eyes, pulling at his lip with his fingers.

Margie had wound herself down to only sniffling when David came in the front door and she realized afresh that she had nothing to show her grandfather. She flew at Gillam, Myra suspected not to steal his crown but to pop it as well, and Myra had to pull her back by one arm at Margie's outrage ratcheted back to explosion. David picked her up and sat with her in the easy chair. Myra started to tell Gillam to go put his crown in a safe place, before feeling a surge of anger herself at having to tiptoe around the messy emotional indulgences of others.

She went into the kitchen, Gillam at her heels, and asked him "What did you have to eat at the street fair?"

"Cotton candy" he said instantly. "A hot dog, and a soda."

Myra saw Juju from the corner of her eye, swallowing the last fragments of Margie's shattered balloon. She turned her mind away from a late-night rush to the vet for an obstructed canine colon, and instead asked Gillam "Are you hungry now?"

"Is that cornbread? Could I have some with honey butter?" Gillam asked, climbing onto a breakfast stool.

"No honey, but lots of butter. And a glass of milk. I don't know yet what we're having for dinner" said Myra, looking at the clock.

"I want to go get some more balloons!" she heard Margie sob from the living room, then a click from the bedroom door. Ginny said to David "What happened, is she hurt?"

Margie launched herself into Ginny's arms as David tried to explain what he didn't really understand. Myra came out from the kitchen to give a clearer account, adding "Juju ate the balloon pieces", which sent Margie into new umbrage. Over Margie's shouts at Juju, Myra said "They've had sugar and junk food, but I haven't started anything for dinner."

Ginny looked at her coldly, then turned back to David and said "Daddy, we're in the middle of a major fight. Would you be willing to take the kids out to eat, somewhere with vegetables and no more sugar today?"

The phrase "major fight" penetrated through Margie's tantrum. "Who's fighting?" she demanded.

"Me and Mama" said Ginny with a tight jaw. Margie leaned over to look at Myra with interest. "No hitting" she said with a near sneer.

"Of course no hitting" replied Myra. "I'm not a narcissistic toddler, I use my words."

"You certainly do use words" said Ginny in a venomous tone. David stood and said "Let's go, children. I think the cafeteria would be fun, and we can beat the crowds if we hurry."

"I don't want just vegetables" said Gillam, starting for the door. Myra pulled the crown from his head and said "I'll keep this for you on my desk. Put on your wool cap, it's getting cold out there."

As soon as the front door closed, Myra said "I'm not changing my book, Ginny. Read those scenes again, you won't find a single thing that isn't based on how we make love. That's all I have to go on inside me, that's all I ever imagine. If you don't believe me, say so now."

"I'm ready to talk" said Ginny, heading for Myra's study. Myra paused long enough to pour herself a glass of orange juice and put a wedge of cheese on a plate, next to a square of cornbread. She turned off the ringer on the house phone and followed Ginny to the study.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


liza said...

it was so nice to reconnect with the family. And as ususal, I'm sooo glad I'm not in a relationship.

Are you editing? What's the next step for Ginny?

Jesse Wendel said...

*laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs*

Gads. What Liza said. I am SO glad I'm not in my 30s. I wouldn't mind being in a relationship, say in another five years, so long as it was with another full be-dammed ADULT. Just reading these protracted teenagers fight is enough to give me a headache, and I'm not speaking metaphorically.

No teens for me, and no young adults or even almost adults. I need a full grown absolutely certain of their own dignity adult for me. *smiles* No one whom I'd need to coach into becoming a grown-up; someone whom without any question, not just in their own view, but in the view of their family and the entire world they live and come into contact with, is clearly and unmistakeably already an adult.

In the meantime, I'm quite happy to laugh at the messes these two get into (along with their kids and friends.) Wonderful to see them again.

I'm glad to see you're not editing them yet. I'd recommend you wait another oh, at least three and probably six months before starting. Give the current version time to vanish in a major way from your working memory, so that when you go to work on Draft 2, which necessarily (in my view anyway) needs to tighten everything up, you won't be nearly as attached to your babies. There's a famous quote in screenwriting, "In good screenwriting, it is necessary to kill your babies." This goes along with the necessity -- because in a typical screenplay of 120 minutes at one page per minute -- one must work rigorously to stick to the spine of one's story (whatever the spine may be), of throwing out everything that doesn't fit the core, that is the spine of the story.

Jesse Wendel said...

For example, in my first screenplay, the second scene I envisioned and wrote, what I planned to be the third scene in the movie, the first scene coming out of credits and thus THE scene which would truly introduce my "world" to everyone, my "baby..." I had to throw the entire damn thing out. Why? Because it took two and a half pages of script, would take five days to film (it was an INTENSE scene), and I knew that no matter what, in the very end, it was going to be left on the cutting room floor. It was off the love-story spine of the movie. Great footage, beautiful introduction to the world, my baby. And it would have cost an extra $2-3 million dollars in production costs for something that would NEVER be used. Plus my page count was running long and for a first screenplay, I absolutely could NOT turn in anything over 120 pages. I ended up at 119... if I'd left it in, I'd have been at 122 with a scene that cost too much, was off the spine, didn't make sense to my readers (people who didn't already understand the movie) on first reading, and I KNEW wouldn't make the cut.

So I cut the god-damn thing. Took me two weeks to do something I knew in the first minute of thinking about it, I was going to have to do.

Ever since then, if I knew I was going to have to cut something, I just went ahead and cut it. I have all my drafts saved. I could always go back and restore it. And maybe once out of 20-30 times I did. Especially if I screwed up the cut/paste. But mostly I just let it go and a week later (or a month later) I couldn't tell what was missing. Oh, sometimes I remembered something had been there. But I just kept slicing away, committed to get my page count down, looking for ways to make the work cleaner and tighter and say more with less.

Eventually it DID say more with less. I'd find a way to kill an entire scene. Or two scenes. Or even a character. Once I added a scene, but that let me take out a whole bunch over there. And so on.

But first I had to let the draft SIT, so I was no longer attached to the damn thing.

I suspect Maggie's doing the same thing. I could be wrong of course. Could be she's just working on the new book, and then she's going to go back through GB and not only fill in all the parts she didn't write last time, but expand on everything she's already written, to the point this becomes a 6,000 page 10 book feast. Which, well, might not be such a bad thing, speaking commercially. *grins*

Anyway, enough.

C. Diva said...

I'm sitting here wondering what it must be like in your mind, writing the Skene novels for Myra's sake...
Is Myra dictating, or are her novels necessarily different than yours? I realize this is probably all too meta, but I do find the interplay, as you insert your second novel (and its completely different universe) into your first rather fascinating to watch.
Setting the stories to each comment on the other is an great way to add depth, I think, especially to the sociological aspects of the Skenic worldview. In other words, is this a late 20th century American feminist lesbian's view of utopia*, or a working through of the familial issues that arise in the life of a late-20th-century-American-feminist-lesbian? Or both? If it's both, how does the creation of a utopia create a safe space for hashing out present-day social problems?

Hmmph. Maybe I should stop here, because now I'm thinking about the incipient Riesig crowding, environmental balance (leviathan and island culture both), return to late 19th century southeast/midwest American sense of extended family and lifestyle; what kind of commentary are you trying to make anyway, or am I reading far too much into some kind of potboiler? It sure as hell doesn't feel like a potboiler from where I sit.

*Assuming I can use the term utopia, of course...