There is an astonishing similarity between editing and spring gardening. In both, you can work happily for a couple hours and a disinterested observer, one’s partner for instance, may not see much difference. But you do. For instance:
- The weeds choking a perennial: adjectives and adverbs, most often weeds.
- And if that perennial is languishing: probably you need a stronger, active, more specific noun or verb.
- The Japanese fern, lovely, but growing too near the hosta: a scene that needs to be someplace else, or a word, a “said,” for example, that needs moving.
- Prune the rampant shrub: too many syllables in that phrase, or a “the” when there really needs to be “a.” Or if you’ve made your point in the dialogue line, don’t explain it in the tag. Or the sentence is just too long and floppy.
- Too many volunteer hellebore volunteers sprouting near the mother plant: useless echoes of a word you need sprouting up in subsequent lines.
- Cute little pansies around a scruffy, nowhere shrub, so fix the shrub and forget the pansies: make the scene stronger, more visual and cut out the fluffy adjectives, adverbs or explanatory narration.
- Wrong plant in the wrong place: oops, wrong character name, continuity error, fact error, or just a useless “see I did my research” fact that doesn’t add to the story.
- And so forth.
I went to graduate schools in Philadelphia (U of Penn in English literature and Temple U for radio-TV-film) and since my sister lives there, I return often. It’s a wonderful city, beautiful, wildly diverse neighborhoods, plenty of that history and culture stuff, affordable, and it’s got an essential weirdness that is just so great. Here are some examples. I will trust astute readers to match captions with the image: 1) a self-portrait in the Magic Garden on South Street, a wonderland of glass and found objects; 2) interior of the Garden; 3) shop window display on, maybe N. 3rd, promoting I don’t know what; 4) winter protection of a lamp post by a thoughtful Philadelphia citizen. Other examples coming soon.
I was recently cajoled, bamboozled, shanghaied, flattered into leading two Sunday morning studies of the Noah story. Not that I know much about the Old Testament, but my bamboozler presented as the ultimate argument: “We know you can tell stories.” Actually, I’m glad I agreed. I found out a lot.
Like anyone who ever brushed past Joseph Campbell, I knew, or rather suspected that many cultures have flood myths. Why not? These are dramatic, often terrifyingly sudden events, surely acts of an angry or inscrutable god, sparing some, destroying many. The mind screams “Why?” Then the sun comes out. The rainbow. The earth takes back her water.
But I had no idea, none, zilch of just how many cultures have a flood myth. With a slight bit of sleuthing, I came upon The Talk Origins Archive and quite literally, OMG. Here they are, divided by continents. I didn’t know there there this many cultures. Check out the list. Is it complete?
Greek, Arcadian, Samothrace
Lithuanian, Transylvanian Gypsy
Egypt, Babylonian, Assyrian, Chaldean, Hebrew, Islamic
Masai (East Africa), Komililo Nandi, Kwaya (Lake Victoria)
Southwest Tanzania, Pygmy, Ababua (northern Zaire), Kikuyu (Kenya), Bakongo (west Zaire), Bachokwe? (southern Zaire), Lower Congo, Basonge, Bena-Lulua (Congo River, southeast Zaire)
Yoruba (southwest Nigeria), Efik-Ibibio (Nigeria), Ekoi (Nigeria)
Mandingo (Ivory Coast)
Samoyed (north Siberia)
Yenisey-Ostyak (north central Siberia), Kamchadale (northeast Siberia)
Altaic (central Asia), Tuvinian (Soyot) (north of Mongolia)
Mongolia, Buryat (eastern Siberia)
Sagaiye (eastern Siberia)
Hindu, Bhil (central India), Kamar (Raipur District, Central India), Assam
Tamil (southern India)
Lepcha (Sikkim), Tibet, Singpho (Assam), Lushai (Assam), Lisu (northwest Yunnan, China), Lolo (southwestern China), Jino (southern Yunnan, China), Karen (Burma), Chingpaw (Upper Burma)
Munda (north-central India), Santal (Bengal), Ho (southwestern Bengal)
Bahnar (Cochin China), Kammu (northern Thailand)
Andaman Islands (Bay of Bengal)
Zhuang (China), Sui (southern Guizhou, China), Shan (Burma)
Tsuwo (Formosa interior), Bunun (Formosa interior), Ami (eastern Taiwan)
Benua-Jakun (Malay Peninsula), Kelantan (Malay Peninsula), Ifugao (Philippines), Kiangan Ifugao, Atá (Philippines), Mandaya (Philippines), Tinguian (Luzon, Philippines)
Batak (Sumatra), Nias (an island west of Sumatra), Engano (another island west of Sumatra), Dusun (British North Borneo), Dyak (Borneo), Ot-Danom (Dutch Borneo), Toradja (central Celebes), Alfoor (between Celebes and New Guinea), Rotti (southwest of Timor), Nage (Flores)
Arnhem Land (northern Northern Territory)
Maung (Goulburn Islands, Arnhem Land), Gunwinggu (northern Arnhem Land)
Gumaidj (Arnhem Land)
Manger (Arnhem Land)
Fitzroy River area (Western Australia)
Australian, Mount Elliot (coastal Queensland), Western Australia, Andingari (South Australia), Wiranggu (South Australia), Narrinyeri (South Australia), Victoria, Lake Tyres (Victoria), Kurnai (Gippsland, Victoria), southeast Australian
Maori (New Zealand)
Kabadi (New Guinea), Valman (northern New Guinea), Mamberao River (Irian Jaya), Samo-Kubo (western Papua New Guinea), Papua New Guinea
Palau Islands (Micronesia), western Carolines
New Hebrides, Lifou (one of the Loyalty Islands), Fiji
Samoa, Nanumanga (Tuvalu, South Pacific), Mangaia (Cook Islands), Rakaanga (Cook Islands), Raiatea (Leeward Group, French Polynesia), Tahiti, Hawaii
Innuit, Eskimo (Orowignarak, Alaska), Norton Sound Eskimo, Central Eskimo, Tchiglit Eskimo (Arctic Ocean), Herschel Island Eskimo, Netsilik Eskimo, Greenlander
Tlingit (southern Alaska coast), Hareskin (Alaska), Tinneh (Alaska and south), Loucheux (Dindjie) (Alaska), Dogrib and Slave (Tinneh tribes), Kaska (northern inland British Columbia), Thompson Indians (British Columbia), Sarcee (Alberta), Tsetsaut
Haida (Queen Charlotte Is., British Columbia), Tsimshian (British Columbia)
Kwakiutl (British Columbia)
Kootenay (southeast British Columbia), Squamish (British Columbia), Bella Coola (British Columbia), Lillooet (Green River, British Columbia), Makah (Cape Flattery, Washington), Klallam (northwest Washington), Skokomish (Washington), Skagit (Washington), Quillayute (Washington), Nisqually (Washington), Twana (Puget Sound, Washington), Kathlamet
Spokana, Nez Perce, Cayuse (eastern Washington), Yakima (Washington), Warm Springs (Oregon), Joshua (southern Oregon), Smith River (northern California coast), Wintu (north central California), Maidu (central California), Northern Miwok (central California), Tuleyome Miwok (near Clear Lake, California), Olamentko Miwok (Bodega Bay, California) Ohlone (San Francisco to Monterey, California)
Kato (Mendocino County, California)
Shasta (northern California interior), Pomo (north central California), Salinan (California), Yuma (western Arizona, southern California), Havasupai (lower Colorado River)
Yurok (north California coast), Blackfoot (Alberta and Montana), Cree (Canada), Timagami Ojibway (Canada), Chippewa (Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin), Ottawa, Menomini (Wisconsin-Michigan border), Cheyenne (Minnesota), Yellowstone, Montagnais (northern Gulf of St. Lawrence), Micmac (eastern Maritime Canada), Algonquin (upper Ottowa River), Lenape (Delaware) (Delaware to New York)
Cherokee (Great Lakes area; eastern Tennessee)
Mandan (North Dakota), Lakota
Choctaw (Mississippi), Natchez (Lower Mississippi)
Chitimacha (Southern Louisiana)
Caddo (Oklahoma, Arkansas), Pawnee (Nebraska)
Navajo (Four Corners area), Jicarilla Apache (northeastern New Mexico)
Sia (northeast Arizona)
Acagchemem (near San Juan Capistrano, California), Luiseño (Southern California), Pima (southwest Arizona), Papago (Arizona), Hopi (northeast Arizona), Zuni (New Mexico)
Tarascan (northern Michoacan, Mexico), Michoacan (Mexico)
Yaqui (Sonoran, Northern Mexico), Tarahumara (Northern Mexico), Huichol (western Mexico), Cora (east of the Huichols), Tepecano (southeast of the Huichols), Tepehua (eastern Mexico), Toltec (Mexico), Nahua (central Mexico), Tlaxcalan (central Mexico)
Tlapanec (south central Mexico), Mixtec (northern Oaxaca, Mexico), Zapotec (Oaxaca, southern Mexico), Trique (Oaxaca, southern Mexico)
Totonac (eastern Mexico)
Chol (southern Mexico), Tzeltal (Chiapas, southern Mexico), Quiché (Guatemala), Maya (southern Mexico and Guatemala)
Popoluca (Veracruz, Mexico)
Acawai (Orinoco), Arekuna (Guyana), Makiritare (Venezuela), Macusi (British Guyana)
Muysca (Colombia), Yaruro (southern Venezuela)
Yanomamö (southern Venezuela)
Tamanaque (Orinoco), Arawak (Guyana), Pamary, Abedery, and Kataushy (Purus R., Brazil), Ipurina (Upper Amazon)
Jivaro (eastern Ecuador), Shuar (Andes)
Murato (eastern Ecuador)
Cañari (Quito, Ecuador)
Guanca and Chiquito (Peru)
Ancasmarca (near Cuzco, Peru), Canelos Quechua, Quechua, Inca (Peru), Colla (high Andes)
Chiriguano (southeast Bolivia)
Chorote (Eastern Paraguay)
Eastern Brazil (Rio de Janiero region), Eastern Brazil (Cape Frio region), Caraya (Araguaia River, central Brazil), Coroado (south Brazil)
Araucania (coastal Chile)
Toba (northern Argentina)
Selk’nam (southern tip of Argentina)
Yamana (Tierra del Fuego)
I’ve done a treatment for my third novel, more than 1000 words, done research (many pages, multiple documents), a character sketch, a “plot sequence.” Even sketched out the first chapter and have a first line. So . . . let’s begin, no?
But starting a project this big has its terrors. Therefore this morning I’ve also done some gardening, walked the dog, neatened a book case, looked on Craig’s List, considered menu for Easter. What’s so scary? Where to begin?
Is the topic/character even interesting?
Is there enough challenge for the character there?
A credible crisis?
Is the main character going to change? How?
Jeepers, a lot of research. Can I do it?
Maybe I just don’t even know what I don’t know so how can I research?
I’ve done two other novels but suppose . . .
Shouldn’t it be more like the last novel?
Should it be less like the last novel?
Once you start, your options narrow with each page. Why not spend another month or so with sketches.
Should it be way more like the last novel I read and loved?
Should I straighten another bookcase?
Could I just jump to the scenes I want to write?
And so forth.
This is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
Ever have that thought?
“So long as I confine my activities to social service and the blind, they compliment me extravagantly, calling me ‘arch priestess of the sightless,’ ‘wonder woman,’ and a ‘modern miracle.’
But when it comes to a discussion of poverty, and I maintain that it is the result of wrong economics — that the industrial system under which we live is at the root of much of the physical deafness and blindness in the world — that is a different matter!
It is laudable to give aid to the handicapped.Superficial charities make smooth the way of the prosperous; but to advocate that all human beings should have leisure and comfort, the decencies and refinements of life, is a Utopian dream, and one who seriously contemplates its realization indeed must be deaf, dumb, and blind.” — Helen Keller (letter to Senator Robert La Follette, 1924)
One of the pleasures of promoting your book is meeting book clubs. Many have remarkable histories. For example, the Six and Twenty Club of Wilmington, Ohio, has been meeting regularly since 1898. Here is a photograph of the club in its first year (1899). Why the name? Because they meet every other week (26 weeks/year) and there are always 26 regular members. Some in the current group have been “Six and Twentyers” for 50 years.
I discovered this club when I presented When We Were Strangers at Hiram College (my alma mater) this fall and had the pleasure of speaking with a lively journalism class orchestrated by Audrey Wagstaff Cunningham, whose mother (master quilter and reader) Marsha Wagstaff is one of the current 26. I signed a book for Marsha, the club read it and sent me a photograph of their photogenic selves along with permission to “publish.”
I think of all that has happened since 1898 and every two weeks, a slowly evolving group of women has been living their lives, sharing triumphs and challenges, and reading together into their third century. To be part of this passage is an honor and a joy.