Breathing Water moves from Richmond to Miami to Havana, tracing the mysterious reconnection between a daughter estranged from her Cuban immigrant mother after her father’s death. The daughter’s fear of her mother’s supposed mental illness dissolves into fascination with the mother’s art, as the mother’s lyrical descriptions of her paintings reveal clues to secrets she has kept of her family history. Seemingly disconnected from this is the growing tension among the mother’s friends, affected in various ways by the shoot-down in 1996 of 2 American civilian planes over international waters by Cuban MiGs. As was true for so many at the time, the individual histories of friends come to honor the secrets in each other’s past, and this ultimately collides in an illicit trip to the house in Cuba where the mother was born.
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Current work in progress (often nicknamed “Wake” in posts on this site), about a woman caught raising a child conceived in a spontaneous relationship spurred on a trip to Ireland, and the assumed death of the child’s father. An unexpected story for me, this came to explore the ways that some of the most life-defining choices — including those made by historic figures, that might later come to define whole trends in socio-political philosophy — often arise out of the most personal and sometimes short-lived desires. As the fleeting love story is retraced and the father relocated, his involvement in a seeming paramilitary operation spins out to reveal a series of flawed perceptions and the broken relationships behind them.
“What do you do?” She had asked Roonan, the father, when they first met. She had thought he worked in the hotel gardens that spread for acres, for all the time he spent there, only it had slowly dawned on her that he did not. She thought perhaps in the neighboring stable, as he had heard she wanted to go for a ride and had met her one morning with two saddled horses at the foot of the fairy hill at the hotel gates, and taken her on rides through the hillside, through a secret hidden tunnel to a cliffside waterfall on one of the highest hills where you could see for miles around, that he could certainly only have known of had he worked there many years.
“What do I do?” Roonan had repeated with his ironic timing.
It was evening, last light angling golden beyond the trees outside, lights coming on in the old pub where she sat with him. At her question, eyes around the table had fallen on him like hands linked in understanding and she saw instantly, even with her tourist’s naïveté, that it was a question not to be asked. And in this, a sort of answer: he was no gardener.
He answered all the same, not in fact but a storyteller’s riddle giving nod to the soil clogged in the tread of his boots: “Sometimes I dig graves.”
In his heavy Irish accent, it had come out “grieves.”
In 2012 & 2013, I often blog about writing Wake, discussing internal and external conflict, writing challenges to address character, and more. Here are links to some related posts:
Sharing a Bit of Today’s Writing (1.12.13 – excerpted scene from drafting Wake)
- October Fiction Challenge 3: Raising the Stakes on Character Motivation
- October Fiction Challenge 2: Reflections on Writing Character & Place
- Novel Writing: Grace Paley – How Internal & External Conflict Build Story
- Writing Character: Sometimes the Work is Messy
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A raw draft, backburnered by other work, that plays with the Ramayana myth in tracing a family’s missteps in returning to run a family business.
“The general sees Rajeed sleeping in the bushes. His duty would have him walking to direct guards to roust the man or to report it to the Secretary — but his body defies duty and stands its ground, observing the broken, uncomfortable angle the doctor sleeps in, almost wondering if he is not asleep but fallen from the sky.
After dark, he directs guards to a different station and settles in to watch the doctor scale the face of the palace wall — nearly falling when a loose stone gives way beneath his hand, barely grunting with the shock and effort of regaining his foothold. The doctor will fall, it is certain. The wall cannot be climbed. With this, he can dismiss a duty to draw weapons on the man: he cannot succeed. Yet he finds himself wishing it, the nearer he gets to the top.
It is as if watching an apparition, merely the image of hope, when the man’s body actually throws itself over the rampart, collapsing for some time with the effort like a pile of rags in shadow. The general does not advance. The head rises finally, panting with fatigue and stumbling like a dying animal as it rises on the dark palace roof.
It is a moonless night, the sky high and wide and pierced with an infinite mist of stars. The doctor’s shape disappears in darkness but the general can smell the fresh blood on his hands and feet as he passes, a lowslung wolf canvassing the empty rooftop terrace, his efforts in vain. The wife is not here.”
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