Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Return of The Quivering Pen (aka Son of Blog, aka QP 2.0), plus: A Sneak Peek at the Next Novel

Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth.  Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”
      John 11:43-44

As it turns out, this blog was not dead, merely dormant.  Or, in the words of The Princess Bride, it was only mostly dead.

The Last Word, exclaimed with the bell-clapper bang of decisive finality was--well, it would appear to have been The Next-to-Last Word.  Hitting the STOP button the blog was a press of the PAUSE button instead.  Resume PLAY.  Recommence blogging.


But on a limited, less-robust basis.

Yes, The Quivering Pen is back (gives shy, hesitant “hello” wave from across the crowded room), but on a reduced scale (or so I tell myself now).  Friday Freebie, Sunday Sentence, and the monthly Front Porch Books features will be here; and of course I’m always on the lookout for reader-contributed book reviews and My First Time accounts from published writers detailing their “virgin experiences” in writing and publishing.  Beyond that, I’m afraid I can’t allow the blog to ride shotgun in my life.  “Hop in the backseat, buddy.”  My creative writing--specifically, the novels and short stories “swimming in my head like aquarium fish”--must be at the steering wheel (gives a wink and a thumbs up to his agent and editor).

Ah yes, the novel, the novel--the spouse for whom I gave up this mistress of a blog four months ago.  What of that novel?  Was it the recipient of all that energy I formerly poured into The Quivering Pen?  Did I work maniacally on the manuscript?  Is that first draft finished and ready for polishing?  (Pause for embarrassed cough; agent and editor turn and walk away, shaking their heads sadly.)

Progress was made...but it was measured in inches, not feet or miles as I’d hoped.  What happened was--

Well, I could sit here and give you a bunch of excuses, a list which would unscroll and stretch the length of a football field, but that would be counterproductive, all water under the bridge, and contrary to my above-stated goal for maintaining the brevity of this 2.0 blog in my life.  Let’s just say I managed to fill the Quivering Pen vacuum with other things: reading books (more than 30 in three-and-a-half months), extra-long sessions on the treadmill (weight loss: 17 pounds in three-and-a-half months), and long bouts of staring vacantly out the window above my writing desk.  Oh, I got some work done--much of it writing I’m very proud of--but it wasn’t at the full-clip machine-gun pace of which I’d dreamt.

Since I was continuing to offer Friday Freebie giveaways at my Facebook page and was still posting Sunday Sentences on Twitter, and because I genuinely missed the contact with other like-minded readers which this blog fostered, I figured, “Why not pick up the Pen again?”  So, here we are.

Before I go (brevity, brevity!), I thought I’d leave you with a short sip from the novel-in-progress--you know, so this particular blog post doesn’t totally lack in content.  Here are a few paragraphs from the book whose current title is Braver Deeds (previously known at times as FOB Sorrow and Crossing Baghdad).  This new novel, set during Operation Iraqi Freedom, tells the story of a squad of U.S. soldiers walking on foot across Baghdad to attend the memorial service of their platoon sergeant, killed the week before in a roadside bomb attack.  This is a selection from one of the chapters I worked on during the blog’s hiatus, so it’s still very raw and unpolished--very much subject to change before it sees print (if it ever sees print)--but it gives you a general idea of the book’s flavor:
     We pass a soccer field: open ground, a vacant lot choked with weeds and paper trash on one side, low-lying buildings on the other. Ahead of us the street looms large with spears of buildings and mosque turrets. A stone arch, dating back to ancient Persia, rises out of the billboards and laundry, defying its centuries of steady crumble.
     We enter the business district and spread out along the street. We hug the walls of the shops, gratefully slipping into the shade, but not allowing the five-degree difference to distract us. We walk with our rifles at the ready, trigger fingers poised for action. We stir a haze of dust as we advance through the thickening crowd of Iraqis. They’re out in full force. The market is black with abayas, white with dishdashas. The air gurgles with tongues, voices that sound more like singing than talking.
     “Jesus,” says Drew. “Look at all of them. There’s too many.”
     “Easy, easy,” says Arrow. “Let’s just play it cool here.”
     “We’re cool, we’re cool,” says Drew.
     Park goes, “Too cool for school.” Which is odd, because Park rarely speaks unless spoken to. So even he is freaked the fuck out.
     Men, women and children watch our approach. The dust sparkles in the hot bright light and makes the locals appear fuzzy, a little out of focus. The older Iraqis, those who spent decades in Saddam’s “correctional” facilities, smile at us, exposing stumps of rotten teeth. They sip their hard coffee and sweet chai and nudge each other. When they lift their hands to wave, we notice many of the hands (if they aren’t outright missing) have only three or four fingers. The women keep their eyes averted and go on with their shopping, chatter-singing at the men selling meat and vegetables. The younger men—military-age males, the MAMs we’re always targeting—stare with undisguised hatred at us, the intruding infidels. This is Sunni territory and most of them have already grown weary of the American presence and, in the cases where relatives had been killed by soldiers firing at cars which approached checkpoints too quickly, have lately felt the slow simmer of anger come to a rapid boil. The children, as usual, skip along beside us chanting, “Mister! Mister!” waiting for that golden moment when one of us reaches into his ammo pouch and comes out with a ziplock baggie of Jolly Ranchers.
     We ignore the wavers, the haters, the beggars. We sweep our eyes over the crowd, darting into every nook and cranny and rolling upward to the top-floor windows, a visual circle which clicks like a checklist inside our heads. We are focused, laser-intent on the mission. Get through the marketplace like a shaft launched from a taut bowstring. Out of our way, motherfuckers, we’re coming through! America Big Boots will stomp you flat if you get in our way. We wait for no kid, we pause for no mister.
     We pass a beauty salon. Some of us, our knees go weak when we slow long enough to stare through the large plate-glass window. There, under Hollywood-bright fluorescent lights, stands a bride being primped for her wedding. Her veil, her dress, her gloves—they’re so dazzling, some of us have to squint to keep from going blind. The salon is brighter than the sun on the street.
     This bride, this vision, stands in the middle of the beauty salon, surrounded by a half-dozen other women in black abayas. These ladies-in-waiting, these dark bridesmaids, they’re moving around the bride—checking the hem of the dress, fluffing the veil, nipping, tucking, smoothing.
     We can’t hear anything through the window, but we guess the beauty salon is full of chatter, and the whining hiss of a hairdryer, and the rhythmic scratch of a rusty fan in the corner. We do know one thing for certain, the bride is laughing. We can see that; in our minds, we can hear the coin-jingle of her throat, we can feel the warm breath coming from her lipsticked mouth, the fire-engine-red lips we want to press against ours, the mouth we want to taste and by which, in turn, we want to be swallowed. It is beauty, it is light, and we are stunned right down to our rubber knees.
     We remember something Hoover, the chaplain’s assistant, once said in passing not too long ago: “Did you know the number of marriage licenses issued in Baghdad is double this year over what it was last year?”
     “No shit?” we said (we always took every opportunity to swear around chaplain’s assistants—even though they usually gave as good as they got).
     “It’s all due to the collapse of the Baath Party,” Hoover said. “For years, they controlled who did and didn’t get married, but now that they’re gone—” He made a crumbling motion with his left hand. “—it’s a free-for-all out there. A real fucking party of joy.”
     We don’t have time to do much more than crane our necks and slow to a giddy wobble, before pushing past the beauty salon. Arrow is moving out at a rapid pace. He hasn’t seen—or hasn’t wanted to see—the bride. His neck is stiff, his eyes are straight ahead.
     We want to call out, “Hey, Arrow, wait up, will ya?” But our voices die to a croak on the “Hey.”
     It’s no good. Arrow won’t wait. This is no party of joy for him today.
Painting: Raising of Lazarus by Guercino, c. 1619


  1. Chilling. Vivid. Haunting. ... I'm excited to see the whole thing. Hopefully you'll come read at Elk River when it's out.

  2. I love it! Keep going!
    I want to