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Magda and Me*

My manuscript is 5 years old.

I have been living with the story and its characters for a long time.

Magda, the wayward artist turned iconographer, came to me in a dream, in the fall of 2001. “Find my voice,” she whispered. “Share my journey,” she pleaded.

The first incarnation/iteration, the “Language of Dreams”, tumbled onto paper over a 72 hour period. Fifty-five pages of what, I realize now, was an extended outline. It took an entire year for the chapters to start taking shape. In that one year, while attending the Writer’s Studio, I played with form and structure. Chapters became extended poems and poems became journal entries.

While Magda learned how to paint icons, I delved into the lives of early Christian saints:

There was Mary of Egypt, the redeemed harlot, who spent her life as a hermit in the desert, wearing only a camel-hair tunic and subsisting on what she could find in the wilderness.

There was Barbara, the martyr for Christ, whose father in a fit of anger, in a final act of degradation and violence, beheaded her.

There was the young beauty Catherine of Alexandria who stood up to a Roman Emperor, converted his wife to Christianity and died being tortured on a spiked wheel.

While Magda recovered from her lover (Stephen’s) betrayal, I travelled to Greece with my mother and began dismantling my parents’ dreams.

My father’s death, from cancer, forever altered our trajectory.

Saints, I learned, can smoke cigarettes on their road to redemption. And the first full draft of my novel took shape.

“Saints and Cigarettes” remained hidden, forgotten in a drawer, until my mother’s death from Alzheimer’s last November.

Yes, my manuscript is 5 (almost 6) years old.

How do I revise, edit and move the story toward its completion?

• By being a ruthless editor and removing any unnecessary words.
• By rediscovering the main cast of characters and not taking them (or myself) too seriously.
• By letting go of control.
• By trusting the process.
• By committing to the novel.
• By finding a home for my (other) writing through chicken-scratch.

* A response for Thomma-Lyn.

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Wow, what a moving post -- and your story sounds absolutely fascinating. Five years old -- it's had a lot of time to develop like a fine wine -- stories mature beautifully with time and thought and seasoning. I bet "Saints and Cigarettes" is wonderful!

I enjoyed reading your items about editing and revision, too. I was especially fond of "By rediscovering the main cast of characters and not taking them (or myself) too seriously." What a wise and refreshing attitude -- one I need to keep uppermost in my mind as my stories and characters develop over time.

Thanks so much for sharing!