July 28-August 23, 2012:

Almost a month shot by while I struggled with Centaur Field. Quite a struggle it was for a short (37,000 words) middle grade novel that was already a published short story with a plot and characters intact. It taught me two lessons I already knew, having made novels out of short stories before and two things that I learned the hard way and for the first time. Oh, my stars and garters, I was not happy.

1. A short story is not a novel. Its compression and singular focus, its lyricism and leaps as dazzling as Margot Fontaine’s jetes can’t be counted to work a novel length. Even short novel length.

2. What can be suggested in a short story needs spelling out in a novel and that can change everything, including pacing, plot, characterization, and even necessitates new characters.

Fine, I knew those things already. I was prepared. I was sailing along and had gotten all the way to the end of the book, one (or two) chapters and a coda left to do. I even knew how it was supposed to finish and. . .

Spit happens! as a grandchild’s bib put it.

3. I learned not to count chickens or books till they were completely hatched, in the chicken house, and busy laying their own eggs. In other words, the rooster crowed before the fat lady sang. I was wrong. But I wouldn’t admit it and kept on going. And going. And going. Showed it to my beta reader, Debby, when I could not longer keep the knowledge that there was something radically wrong with the book, and she went through it and pointed out every single thing I already knew deep in my heart was a problem. Yep I had to start from scratch. And the novel’s due date was less than a month away.

Debby suggested NOT killing off the baby brother in the first chapter but letting him live and grow up, disabled as he would have been which solved one of he biggest problems in the book–the older sister had no other kids talk to or interact with, not in school and not at their horse farm. Only adults. (It had been the biggest problem that I would admit to. . . at first.) I resisted. It was too  big a change not to resist it. After all, much of the book hinged on the child being dead and the suggestion that the father–who ran off soon after–might have had a hand in his death.

The other big problem was the there is a major secret at the heart of the book–that a centaur has been born in a modern Massachusetts riding stables the girl’s mother owns. Now when I published the original story, some fifteen-twenty  years or so ago, we didn’t have twitter and tweeter and all these internet social groups or cameras in our cell phones, etc. That secret could be held then by the few folks who knew it. But not now. I said to Debby that I had to move the entire story back in time.

4. The jigsaw worked. I should have trusted the magic. The minute I decided (as I was talking with Debby) to move everything back to 1965, everything fell into place. I’d been pregnant in 1965 with my first child. My husband and I were wandering around Europe and the Middle East in a VW bus. (Of course!) And when I found out I was pregnant, I was terrified to take any pills the European and Middle Eastern doctors were offering because this was just at the tail end of the big and horrible international thalidomide scandal where doctors had prescribed the drug for women with morning sickness (as I was having) and it crossed what was considered the “placental barrier” (which it turns out is no barrier at all!) and some 20,000 babies in 46 countries were born deformed, disabled, and maimed. It became the reason in my book the father leaves, and why the boy (now 6-8 in the book) bonds so immediately with the centaur child because thalidomide children were known as “seal children” because so many of them were born with hands and/or feet that were flipper-like. It gives him the chance to be the one his sister talks to, and the one who is the first to become part of their horse therapy program. It all works. Also, I love the kid–he’s smart, sassy, writes instant songs (as I do) and the dual nature of both kids (and the wolfish nature of the father who returns smelling money to do with selling the ponyboy into the entertainment business) all dovetail together.

But oy! Getting there was tough, and I should have remembered I can do this. I can. Only–guess what. I never do remember!

 

Oh yes, lots of other stuff occurred this last month: two starred reviews for Last Laughs–PW and Booklist–I saw “Brave” which I liked a lot, and “Captain America” ditto, and re-saw “John Carter of Mars” and again wonder why it wasn’t a hit. I read three Michael Morpurgo books including War Horse and marveled how such a simple, straightforward stylist is so extraordinarily popular with kids, but then he is a grand storyteller.

I managed to also complete a poem a day since the beginning of the year, did a first draft of one of the two major speeches  I’m giving in October and November. Heidi and I finished up the draft of First Day at Monster K, a picture book Dan Yaccarino wants to illustrate. Got to see the first copies of The Emily Sonnets and the jacket for The Hostage Prince Book 1 of The Seelie Wars.

I spent 3 days in Aberdeenshire with my friends Mike and Susan, a bit fraught because of some serious medical issues they were wrestling with, went to the St Andrews Highland games with Debby and antiquing on another day with her, had lunch with Eleanor Livingston head of STanza the big poetry fest in St Andrews, a lunch with friend Marianna, lunch several times with Christine, did two days a the Edinburgh Fringe with friends Elizabeth and Steven, staying over at their house which is a ten minute train ride from the city (and included a Neil Gaiman/Amanda Palmer concert, and an Alan Reid/Rob Van Sante gig and several other things including some street performers. So I was not neglecting fun.

But mostly it was about the novel. And as of this morning it is DONE. (Unless Debby hates it anew at which point I shall simply shoot myself. Oh wait–I don’t own a gun and hate pain.)

Two poems in celebration:

 

Thought

Sometimes a verse, like a coat, needs refining–

reworking, rezippered, re-buttoned, relining.

 

The Trials

 

Seven bens and seven glens and seven mountain moors,

the Scottish storyteller counts his hero’s trials.

I write that way, crossing the fevered landscape,

sometimes stuck where the peat hags reign,

I am not pulled down easily. I will not fail.

 

Seven bens and seven glens and seven mountain moors,

the hero does not blanch, staunch his wounds,

nor stop to eat or drink. He moves over bogs, through forests.

He has no map, no outline, contract, editor, or plan,

only his horse, his  hawk, his sword,  his heart, his hand.

 

Seven bens and seven glens and seven mountain moors,

Seven visions, seven revisions, seven opening doors.

 

Both poems © 2012 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

 

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