How to Write a Big House Novel: Learn from the Irish

courtesy Sisters of Science
Lillian Bland

Here’s a belated bit of Irish:

CASTLE RACKRENT, a short novel by Maria Edgeworth published in 1800, is often regarded as the first historical novel, the first regional novel in English, the first Anglo-Irish novel, the first Big House novel and the first saga novel.

POWER AND PRIVILEGE IN THE BIG HOUSES OF IRELAND (Fantastic pictures of landed gentry in Ireland).

LILLIAN BLAND: Anglo-Irish journalist and aviator who, in 1910–11, became one of the first women in the world to design, build, and fly an aircraft.

Writing Idols

“It is indeed a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest; and the sovereign source of melancholy is repletion. Need and struggle are what excite and inspire. Our hour of triumph is what brings the void.”
William James.

It is not my habit to live in the present. I either linger on past moments of tenderness or future dreams of glory. Suffering brings the present–the present as gift and challenge. Living life as a cup in need of filling (by other people, by success, by healthy foods and by writing) is a sad fiction with tragic consequences.

So often I strive (in search of what?). I don’t believe creative pursuits are meaningless or bad yet when I make idols I miss things. I hunger after food that does not satisfy. I forget others. I avoid others. They interfere with my goals (my declared and undeclared wants disguised as needs).

I’d like to write a better post this week yet winter lingers here at Middlemay Farm with a host of sufferings and difficulties. I confess that January felt laden with disappointment, boredom and wasted time. February was no better until one day when I’d gotten up especially early to get stuff done before having to wash staph-infected goats with lime sulfur (yes, it smells of rotten eggs) I stumbled upon a verse from the Bible.

“The Lord is peace.” Judges 6:24

Four simple words. Words almost cliche. Yet they struck me as the opposite of how I’d been living my life. After years of striving, yoga, green smoothies, tantrums, therapy and complaint, I suddenly saw that I’d bought into the lie that I was a cup “needing” to be filled. God led me to write novels. Some may scoff at such a notion but there are just some things that jump out at you in life. The mission placed on me, embedded in my DNA, is to write fiction for those of us who are terribly flawed. Those of us who believe we’ve taken things too far and are irredeemable. I once was there.

But missions can get corrupted as easily as anything else. A review comes in. A reader finds a book’s characters too damned flawed. For a moment, maybe even a day, I wander the farm wondering: Is it true that some people are just not lovable?

On an intellectual level I believe God loves us–all of us, but I fall prey to feelings, and feelings lie. I let my characters go through quite a lot of hardship. They grow that way. I love them and the people I write for. Fictional characters live in the past and future.

In the NOW there are real people who suffer minor slights and major catastrophes all around us. I find them insufferably flawed. I say to my husband things like: if this one goat I love does not get better soon I want her taken out back and shot. Do I mean it? Sometimes. Maybe? Not really.

It’s very easy for me to blind myself to the suffering of others when I’m stomping my feet and needing my cup filled.

So what is this peace?

I used to think it was an easy thing for the Lord to have peace. If I had complete control wouldn’t I have peace?

Honestly I’d have to say no. It’s obvious that none of us are gods, but I make idols of people and things all the time. Idols bring no peace. Striving brings no peace.

I think the point of the four words is that while there are lesser things to love, to struggle with and to mourn over God remains present. As in the moments. Right now. As writers we create characters, serenely aware of our deep love for them (would our characters know that as we allow their suffering?). Unlike us God isn’t scripting for an exciting dystopian young adult novel. His story is sadly not as well known as it should be.

At the end of our suffering there is peace–something we are only awake to on rare occasions in this life. Those times in suffering when a nurse stays with you all night or when a dog jumps into your sick bed. Those moments temporarily fill our perceived empty cups. But here is where we look at it wrong. God’s peace is for the givers more than the takers. To look at a creative pursuit or mission as a love offering to others instead of a way to pant after good reviews and limelight is to change everything.

I’m no saint. I hate kids, animals and the world for brief moments every day when I’m looking to be filled.

But there’s something better.

PEACE.

 

Novel Inspiration: A Deserted Girl

What if you’re the favorite child and grow up beautiful in a house of secrets? You’re a smart girl and learn quite young how to skirt your parents’ anger with a smile and outward compliance. Your rebellion comes late and turns in upon itself. Your admirers see a blue dress and a seductive impetuosity. Your brothers think you’re a fool.

It’s hard to protect an impetuous girl. Emotions can’t be bottled in a dress. Needing love trumps sticking to a plan. When the man you love loves something else another man will do. This other man will convince the first that you, Thankful Crenshaw, have worth beyond your curls and flirtatious giggle. You assumed William Weldon already knew that. You assumed he’d leave his new found badness in town and rescue you from your foolishness. You thought you’d eventually tell him  things about Buck and Fred and all you’ve kept to yourself for years.

But here you are alone.

Pretending, always pretending, in your blue dress that you know what you’re doing, that your heart isn’t torn. You have a pretty smile and curls that droop in the desert. Everyone admires the picture you present and that is all.

*****Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. Amazon review

ENTER TO WIN! (Final day for WEARY OF RUNNING!)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Weary of Running by Adrienne  Morris

Weary of Running

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends December 12, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

 

The Dew That Goes Early Away by Adrienne  Morris

 

The Dew That Goes Early Away

 

by Adrienne Morris

 

Giveaway ends December 30, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

 

 

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Novel Inspiration (3): The Scapegoat

INSPIRATION: Every addict needs a scapegoat.

Captain Simon McCullough’s motto: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die. This gets John Weldon’s goat. How unfair it is that Simon coasts through life suffering nary a scratch while drinking, womanizing and joking all the way?

Weldon fails to note the fatalism in Simon’s motto. He underestimates the friend he tries to hate.

There’s a type of 19th century military memoir tremendously fun to read. The accent is on the antics of  soldiers in downtime that almost trick one into believing war is quite a great time. I’ve always admired the way boys and men conduct friendship and briefly considered running away to be an intelligence officer in the Navy (to escape that first marriage and possibly  meet a naval officer–a weird twist of fate had me meet and marry a Navy man years later).

I often hear about those extroverts who skim the surface of life with little self-reflection. Simon McCullough only plays that role in his family. Never judge a book by its cover, they say.

“Have you read all these books, sir?” Weldon asked but regretted it.

Scott laughed tracing his fingers over the rim of his glass with a self-satisfied air. “These and more. A person is nothing without a mind for knowledge. I had high hopes for Simon and bought every book here for his education.” He sighed.

Simon took a drink, his expressionless face toward the fire.

“Well, when things turned sour, and we sent Simon off to military school…our Katherine kept reading for enjoyment sake, I suppose. She has a decent mind for a girl, but an education is wasted on women. And truth be told Simon was no scholar.”

Simon, with his light hair slicked back and his brawny shoulders pent up in fine summer linen, oozed a restlessness which annoyed his father and saddened Katherine who knew that Englewood was too small for him now. Simon poured another drink in the stifling silence. Katherine mourned over something lost in him. She went to a shelf and took out the scrapbook she had made since his first going away to West Point and then the war. She ran her fingers over the tintypes of Simon at war and the yellowing newsprint which had brought the battles home to her. The boy who used to bring her into his world had never come back as a man.            

Scott’s eyes fell upon Katherine with an air of sad disappointment.

Simon noticed and broke into story. “Father, you’d have been appalled at the antics of the soldiers away from home doing as they pleased. One officer even tended bar in a bawdy house in full uniform  . . . or so I hear.” Simon winked at Weldon. “And some of the girls were pretty . . . from a distance, anyway. Father, you know the Renner’s from English Neighborhood? Remember, Weldon, how we caught him out? It was a laugh. We were just walking through Murder Bay—for an evening stroll to round up the boys, Father, nothing more—and who do we come across after leaving a drinking establishment but Renner as tight as can be in an alley—how idiotic he looked with his trousers around his ankles and a Cyprian with her mouth around his . . .”     

 

Novel Inspirations: THE ADDICT

THE ENABLER

ENTER THE GOODREADS GIVEAWAY! (The winner gets the much prettier new cover)

tenafly10

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The House on Tenafly Road by Adrienne  Morris

The House on Tenafly Road

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends December 06, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Dog Rescue

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Malcolm in the Mud
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Cute, right?

A dog rescue was not part of the plan when two of my daughters and I took a bike ride along the dirt road at the back of our property. Just the day before a neighbor  hung a FREE sign on a retro-styled Huffy and I had to have it–my old bike having been stolen years ago in NJ. I rode the Ford pick-up back to the bike (the tires were too soft to ride on) and after my husband spruced it up I snapped this pic:

As we took the turn on the dirt road two of our neighbors’ Labrador Retrievers ran into the road to bark at us covered in mud. We’re dog people so we had to pet them and coax them back to their fenced in yard since the neighbors, who we affectionately call “the girls”  were obviously not home. After closing the gate we heard plaintive whining from the woods.

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The other lab re-escaped from the yard to help his friend.

My daughter Amanda and I live for this stuff and our new tag along daughter-to-be fed off our excitement. Poison Ivy be damned, we were going in! At the bottom of a deep ravine we saw what looked like a fat bear with a white nose (dried mud). We went to Malcolm at once, noting his hindquarters were weak. He had completely given up trying to climb out of the six inch deep mud. We later learned Malcolm weighed 100lbs which explained our trouble trying to hoist him to dry ground. Amanda raced home and came back with supplies–leashes, collars and iPhone–and the rescue began in earnest.

Malcolm’s weight and our laughter made it tough going for a while and if we hadn’t finally summoned all our strength the construction workers banging away in a nearby field would have been called in. Upper arm strength being in short supply, we still somehow managed to finally right the muddy ship of flesh and drag him out of the woods.

Amanda and foster kid (who for now has to remain anonymous) found the loose plank on the picket fence, ran for a hammer and nails and repaired the fence while I watered the dogs and wrote a note explaining why the girls’ dogs were covered in mud.

I’d planned a short bike ride and a bit of editing for the afternoon, but laughing in the woods with muddy dogs got the better of the day.

Writing, especially in the summer when animals and bicycles beckon, is especially tricky!

NANCY CHRISTIE at One on One–Insights into the Writer’s Life talked to me recently and the first part of a four part interview is featured here: ONE ON ONE WITH AUTHOR ADRIENNE MORRIS.

I hope you take a moment to read it!

Happy 4th of July!

Adrienne

 

The Writer’s Path

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My Hakuro-nishiki Dappled Willow Path

“Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. …

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It’s the streaming reason for living.

To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing,

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to cherish the oddities,

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to let nothing go down the drain,

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to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
—Enid Bagnold

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Infamy in a Small Town

In a small town there may be one (at most two) people who are impressed with you because you’ve written NOVELS. Fair enough. Why should they be impressed? After all you did get the Donkey Basketball  fundraiser cancelled when you wrote that thoughtful letter to the school superintendent questioning the idea of people humiliating donkeys who probably would rather not be laughed at and kicked up and down a slippery gym floor. You think it a bit much that the teacher who organized the event called you a bitch to her high school class (she doesn’t even know you and your step-daughter was in the classroom at the time and almost died), but you forgive the teacher–the event in past years made a lot of money and it was her claim to fame.

No one cares if you’re a writer when you are the second wife of a Navy man in a small town because the first wife is a native daughter with a, let’s say, talkative way about her and a talent for spinning sad stories of her own. At the bank they called you “the second wife” in derisive whispers, but they’ve warmed up to you a little since they see how often you make banking mistakes.

025And they all know about the time you were in a hurry to attend a parent/teacher meeting, swung into a parking spot and barely touched the car next to yours (a teacher’s car). You panicked, went home to bring a child back to ask this child if he saw any marks on the teacher’s car, went home again to get cleaning fluid, came back to leave a note, took away the note and never even considered just going into the school to tell what happened. A few days later the school called and you gave a tearful apology. Luckily there really was no damage to either car, but still, things like that–and the fact that you drive a white minivan with a CUBS license plate–stick with people.

Your husband counts down the years until his almost grown children will no longer sing in school chorus programs, but you quite enjoy the band and some of the songs (though not the theme songs from Disney movies). The Navy guy always sits way in the back of the auditorium so he doesn’t have to see his ex-wife. On this night you have along with you a lovely though fragile foster kid. She’s excited. She wants to feel grown-up and sits a few seats down. When the auditorium gets crowded and a student on stage asks for quiet you whisper to the girl to move closer. She pretends  not to hear you so you whisper louder and more imploringly. This triggers a secret horrible memory of her abusive mother who had a fondness for electrical tape. The girl whispers your name with big eyes and confesses she’s scared. Before you can do a thing and as the first nervous notes of a student soloist hit the air the foster girl screams your name–at least three times as you head for the door.

The show is stopped. The room is silent. Everyone recovers their senses. The show begins again, but you’re outside trying to calm the kid down. She’s having none of it and runs away. The Navy guy says let her run or she’ll keep stealing the show. It gets dark. The concert ends, and we’ve been searching for over an hour–with the police. Each car that leaves the show is stopped to be shown a picture of the little girl. The drivers glance over to see the Navy man answering questions about the girl in the squad car. What must they think? Someone says what they think: I saw that girl being kidnapped from the concert!

037You drive towards home but turn around thinking she couldn’t have made it this far. You turn around again because you really have no idea what to do and 8 miles from the school, nearly at your front door you see a small girl running in the distance with a coat over her head for safety. She’s run in flip flops along a highway and made it over a narrow unlit bridge spanning the Hudson. It boggles the mind. The cops are notified and everyone is relieved–or embarrassed. The Navy kids’ phones are blowing up with chatter and sympathy. Some EMS workers are a little disappointed they didn’t get to do a full-scale search through the fields surrounding the town.

You thought junking the minivan and buying a black SUV would allow you some anonymity, but no. Your name though hardly known for a novel you wrote will live in infamy at the school auditorium.

PS~I actually love my small town life and the people I meet, most of whom would give the shirts off their backs to help in times of trouble. I found the entire run away episode really funny–especially since unlike me my husband is a very private soul. Seeing him in the squad car will be a priceless memory for our family, and once the little girl was found we all laughed a lot. BTW, the policemen were wonderfully supportive, too!

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A Fun Challenge: Having your character sell your book!

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Let’s hope Buck Crenshaw can convince you!  🙂

Of course I remember tricking Willy Weldon at the spelling bee my father organized at 1st Presbyterian, and I don’t feel bad about it. Not really, anyway. Everyone fawned over that little headachy cripple. It made me and my twin brother Fred sick. And it was years ago anyway. Willy acts all mournful–like we’re supposed to feel sorry his father is a morphine eater.  There’s even a book about all their trials and such called The House on Tenafly Road.

I’d never tell my brother, but I kind of admired Willy’s father, John Weldon, for fighting the South. But Willy. I just couldn’t stand the sight of him, so I convinced him I’d teach him the spelling words properly. The big joke was teaching him lieutenant wrong. Willy insisted he knew the spelling of his father’s rank, but his head was foggy after that fall from a horse out West (some say he was fleeing from a brothel at age 12). Only Willy’d end up in a house of ill repute so young. It’s just the way the Weldons are. Mama beat the skin right off my feet that night when she found out we taught Willy every word wrong, but it was worth it.

Personally I don’t think books should be written about morphine-eaters (even if they’re war heroes). Willy will only humiliate his family like his father before him. Mark my words. When people write about my life it’s going to be different.

I’m off to West Point. I’ll enter the military as a lieutenant, and I’ll spell it right. My brother Fred says, “It’s 1884 and times are changing.”  Some colored boys are trying to get into the academy. I say let them try, but I’ll be damned if I let anyone– black or white– beat me to the top of my class. So long, Willy and Englewood and Mama. Go and have your sorry little lives. One day I’ll show you all that I was worth something.

My name is Buck Crenshaw. BUY THE BOOK ABOUT ME: Weary of Running by Adrienne Morris.

PS~ That book about the Weldon family, well, it’s listed in a Goodreads giveaway so I guess you can read it if you want to.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The House on Tenafly Road by Adrienne  Morris

The House on Tenafly Road

by Adrienne Morris

Giveaway ends April 19, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

 

weary of running