Removing the Dashes, Inserting the Quotation Marks, and Reconciling the Names: Getting Ready for the Betas

Three nights ago I wrote the last chapter—for now—of my novel. This is the full first draft of something I’d been working on, intermittently,  for two years, and for the past three months, every day except Christmas. It’s in need of a rigorous edit, the next stage of the project, but I felt an endorphin high for a day after I put the period at the end of the last sentence.

Congratulations, friends acquaintances, and relatives wrote on my social media pages. I heard from fellow writers, former students (including one man, who as a silly sixteen year old, was a student in the  creative writing class I taught decades ago, at Westhill High School in Stamford Connecticut), cousins, my former pastor, the respective fiancées of my two nephews, colleagues, and one of my grown children.

And I loved that.

But congratulating a writer who has merely produced the messy first draft is like congratulating a woman who has announced her pregnancy. Good news, but–

The truly hard work, the pain, the challenging process of finishing the work lies ahead.

I’m starting on all that today: the adding of quotation marks to replace the Joyce-esque dashes I used for dialogue when I began the draft months ago; the correction of typos, “form” for “from” and the like. The search for consistency in the names I gave minor characters. Was that guy called Charlie or Gene? Was the father’s business partner Dan or Dickie?

Did the bachelor uncle from Pittsburgh ever marry, or did he stay single?

Then I’ll print the 500 –plus word behemoth out, mail it to my beta readers, and work on other projects—a short story, a poetry collection—while I wait for their critiques. Then, the real work begins–tweaking the plot, rewriting whole sections, cutting extraneous things even though I loved them. Excision. Trashing. Pruning. Polishing.

Recalling my first pregnancy, I remember a friend who had two daughters saying, ”You’re going to like being pregnant a lot more than having the baby.” I liked it best after I had the baby, my dear, firstborn, now thirty-year old son.

I think this may be the case with my latest baby, my as-yet-untitled novel.

Now, for me, it’s back to inserting double quotation marks and deleting those Joycean dashes.

Gun Stories

This poem is reprinted from Damfino Press Journal, January 2016.


Outside the house the suitors line up,
a long queue of them, starting at dawn.
Each one with a gun.
I can see them from my bedroom window
—their handguns in holsters,
Or rifles slung over their shoulders
Like lawmen in my father’s tv westerns.

In town, the fire chief shot
His brains out with his service weapon.
It happened in his official car behind
The fire station on the main street.

I lost a friend over the guns her son
Brought back from the army, along with a crumpled
Marital history, and a taste for thebaine.

Once a black Luger was interposed
Between me and the hand that held it.
It was  pointed  at my father’s head, and then at me. The
Hand swept the gaze of the gun across the room.

The women have armed themselves, too.
Paper targets, then miscreants, then
intruders at the city gates
Overflowing into exurbia, the neighbors’ dogs–
Those go first, felled by your bullets. When there’s
No one left to shoot, your gun
Might be turned on you.

I know if I got my hands on one I’d drop
This embroidery, sneak out the back door,
go looking for a blacksmith.
I’d apprentice myself, I’d want
Nothing more than to hold the black gun
over the fire, pummel it.

You’d thank me for this.




Huge thanks to Danielle Georges, poet laureate of Boston, and the August 2015 poetry workshop participants, especially Martin Rodriguez, Francine Montemurro, Ellen Zelner and Chad Parenteau for critiquing an earlier version of this poem.  ~LV

New Year’s Day: Toward the Unknown


The year’s doors open
like those of language,
toward the unknown.
                                        ~ January First, Octavio Paz, trans. Elizabeth Bishop


This part of Cape Cod, past the elbow–but before the wrist joint—has yet to see a hard frost this winter. The arugula in our garden is green and edible, though most of it has bolted and  white flowers dot the tops of each green plant. Two intrepid calendula (pot marigold) bloom in the center of the garden—I find a tiny slug chewing away at one slender petal, flick him off, and bring the blooms inside to grace the dinner table. Leathery oak leaves the size of dinner plates line the crushed stone driveway and cluster around the stems of dead perennials: coreopsis, gaillardia,echinacea, rudbeckia. The pink heather blooms profusely on the hill behind the cottage. The calendar insists it’s early winter, but it looks more like early autumn on this  oddly warm year in new England. Continue reading “New Year’s Day: Toward the Unknown”