Thursday, January 26, 2012

Keyboard Creativity at Weymouth

Camellia garden at Weymouth.
Everything worth value takes time. Time to write, compose, paint, design, prepare, study. Practice. I left my home on Monday morning to join a group of three other authors for a writer's residency at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, North Carolina. I brought my work in progress, The Sword Swallower's Daughter, with intentions to find out why agents are turning down the manuscript. Some of the agents have written me notes saying how much they enjoyed my writing, that the premise intrigued them, the characters were endearing, but ultimately, they were unable to connect with the story in the 30 pages they read. As much as I've clung to the original opening, I realized that opening was blocking delivery, and I needed to cut deep in order to birth this book.

Monday night the group let me go first in our reading. After explaining the feedback I was getting from agents, I asked them to listen as I read the opening and then give me suggestions on how I could heighten the urgency and sharpen the stakes for my lead character, Sheila. As Billie, Dawn and Lela shared their impressions, lights went on in my head, confirming what I had already been suspecting about when to open the main storyline. Just before going to bed that night, I opened my email to find a letter from my friend Brian, who is now reading the manuscript. So close to what the other three writers said, his comments became a stamp of validation.

My sunny writing nook at Weymouth.
The next morning I awoke early and found a position in a sunny nook just under a window overlooking the camellias blooming in the gardens here at Weymouth. I opened the manuscript file and got to work moving sections, deleting whole paragraphs, and inserting new insights gleaned from the previous night. Sometime in the morning I became aware of vigorous classical piano music flowing down the hall of the old stately mansion. Thinking one of the other writers was playing something from their room, I swelled at what a wonderful group I'd been invited to join. Billie came down the hall a few minutes later and gestured toward the sound and told me the music was coming live from the Yamaha concert grand downstairs.

Live piano music is comfort food to my soul. My mother played piano while I was growing up and my daughter took piano lessons and studied for competitions and recitals all the way through elementary and into her senior year in high school. Her scales and repeats and fingering exercises filled the background of my writing. Now that she's moved on to her own life, I still beg her to play piano for me when she visits. You see, I was surrounded by piano, but never learned to play. As a child we were too poor for lessons and my mother was never able to defeat the demons of her past enough to teach us herself. I took lessons when my kids were young from my friend Barbara, but found the discipline of practice too demanding while trying to keep my toddler and preschooler clean, fed and intellectually stimulated.

Concert pianist Lynn Fonseca practicing for recital on the
Yamaha concert grand piano in the great room at Weymouth.
It's Thursday and I've had three productive days of writing. Each morning the pianist has been downstairs playing the Yamaha concert grand. Today I ventured downstairs to tell her how much I appreciated her playing. I snuck into the beautiful grand room of Weymouth and melted into a chair in the corner. When she lifted her hands from the last piece, I told her how much I enjoyed her music. She welcomed me over to her side at the piano and I couldn't resist donning my journalist's cap to ask questions. I learned her name is Lynn Fonseca and she is practicing for a recital she'll give at a luncheon here at Weymouth next Tuesday. She told me she's concerned, apprehensive even, because she hasn't played publicly for several years.

I thought, how like me. She's downstairs perfecting her music for a recital, while I'm upstairs perfecting my writing to get published. We're both using keyboards, each of us working to improve what we already know to do. She's full of music, yet must draw on the skill of reading music and expressing it through her fingers. I'm full of stories, but must apply the techniques of novel writing to bring the stories alive. Music must be heard to appreciate; novels must be read to be enjoyed. 

I hope she comes again tomorrow. Even if she doesn't I'll be up here, plunking away at my keyboard, practicing my craft and piecing together the life of Sheila, the sword swallower's daughter.

1 comment:

PJ said...

Lovely post, Carolyn - I am a pianist and have been realizing in recent weeks how much I miss playing. My kids would enjoy hearing me play, I'm sure, but I never seem to have the time for a little practice or a recital. My son is now taking piano lessons and his first recital is coming up in a couple of weeks. Maybe it will inspire me to get back to that *other* keyboard in my life ;-) Best wishes for your editing :-)