A Surfeit Of Turnips
3891 words long
"N.O. Woman Tells of 60 Years of Visions"
Bares Her Life Secret To Members Of Dr. John Fletcher's Psychology Class. Says She Has Communicated With Spirits Of Other World Since She Was Five Years Old. Relates Her Shades Of Roosevelt, Gen. Grant, Mark Twain, Robert Ingersoll and Others Visited Her. Declares T. R. Urged Her To Inform World Of Her Experiences. She Was Once Governess To A Prince, She Says.The Williams Research Center is a quiet place of loveliness, from the front desk where the docent greets you and hands you the guest book to sign, to the beautfully-made lockers where things not allowed upstairs may stay securely for no extra charge, to the Acadian History exhibit with maps, paintings, and a glassed-in copy of Longfellow's Evangeline. And all of this is before you actually get into the records room.
The New Orleans Item-Tribune was a merging of the Morning Tribune and the Item, which I understand to have happened after my target date of January 19, 1930; but January 19 was a Sunday, and perhaps Sundays were different. In any case, once I had the JAN 1930 microfilm in the machine, I found that the heading on each page was indeed The Item-Tribune. I read, or skimmed, the January 19 edition from cover to cover.
It is very hard not to get distracted, browsing old newspapers of your home town. Everything is fascinating. Everything is recognizable. But the language of each story is almost fairy-tale alien, and I'm not just talking about the inevitable racist and xenophobic attitudes hard-wired into crime reports and population statistics. The details chosen to add color to a story, the adverbs and adjectives sprinkled over the top, the very choice of story material, these all reveal a very different world. I want to learn all about that world, because it gave birth by slow progressions to my world. I want to take the entire newspaper home with me and love it and hug it and give it cookies.
In any case, I thought I'd found something on the very first page, where a tenant's sudden death by, it is assumed, poison, is reported. The landlady heard him screaming in his room and called the ambulance. But the mention of this date in Gumbo Ya-Ya was supposed to be not another death, but "an account of this amazing instance of spectral assistance in making a financial success of a boarding house." So. Keep looking.
I think I struck gold on almost the last page of the January 19 edition, which was devoted in the main to the story whose headline I've titled this blog entry with. The woman in the story is "a 69-year-old French woman, who has lived in New Orleans for the past 10 years," and lives at 1429 St. Charles Avenue. Her name is Madame Marie Teresa Guizonnier. She "feels she is ready to tell about ... a strange double existence that she has kept secret for seven decades."
"Theodore Roosevelt has come and spoken to me. He has appeared in my room as I sat at my sewing; he has looked over my shoulder at the newspaper clippings and read them with me. He has told me things about the universe beyond that I think will startle the world," she says.Madame Guizonnier, a college-educated native of Alsace-Lorraine, first encountered spirits at the age of five. The description of her first visitation is reminiscent of Coraline's time behind the Other Mother's mirror. Seems she was punished for some transgression by being locked in a "chamber under the stairs."
"Houdini has stepped down to tell me of the unhappy time he is having adjusting himself in the spirit government. General Grant, always on his horse, has come riding from the clouds to encourage me in my messages with the spirits...."
"Suddenly I saw little girls sitting around me and holding dolls in their arms.Trying to link this up to the ghost story related in Gumbo Ya-Ya, however, is problematic. Here is the story's sole mention of Mark Twain:
I spoke to them and they answered. Soon I was able to carry on connected conversations with them, and I began to welcome the 'punishment' of being sent into the dark room. Later I could see the same children walking about the halls--even in daylight, and I talked with them too.
Mark Twain appears to her from time to time in a bed in which he continues to write, she says. He lies on his side and as he talks of his spiritual existence, he makes notes on paper placed on a little table beside his resting place.And as for "making a financial success of a boarding house," there is no mention in the story at all. In fact, her occupations are listed as "a nurse, a teacher, a governess to a Rumanian prince, a business woman, and a dressmaker." The occupation of landlady is mentioned not at all, though "business woman" might cover it. "Dressmaker" appears to be the current profession she practices at the time of the newspaper story, an occupation taken up to help her through a financial decline during her time in New York.
She moved to New Orleans in 1919 following the death of her husband, and was compelled to stay by her ghostly visitors.
"I did not intend to stay here when I first arrived. I have no further interest in the city. But whenever I attempt to leave, I find they will not let me. They demand that I continue to communicate with them."It's probable that the authors of Gumbo Ya-Ya conflated Madam Guizonnier's story with that of someone else, creating one narrative from a patchwork of dubious historical accounts. But I have time to read through a year and some of the newspaper every morning for the next week. And whatever I do find, there's story in it.
Hey, at least now my character has a name!
Quick Update From NOLA
Now we'll see whether anyone reads my blog I don't know about. Because I'm rather guilty of telling nobody in the area--including, with one exception, family--that my next stop after Chicago would be New Orleans.
Yes. Sneaky stealth French Quarter stay. John and I had a week with Interval International to use up, and John was out of vacation days, so it was up to me. I plugged a likely looking week into The Quarter House and called it an extended writing retreat. (It just happened to line up well with the annual Chicago crawfish outing.) Also a preview homecoming, given that I'm hell-bent on moving back to New Orleans someday, at least part-time. I mean, it's home, dangit. I ought to spend more time actually living there.
So why haven't I told anyone about it? Because... well, a week and a half can go by really quick if it fills up with visiting obligations and other unforeseen restrictions. And I just want this week and a half to myself, right? I'm allowed, right? Right?
So. If I get a phone call tomorrow afternoon with disappointed family members scolding me for this (or even saying "hey, it's all right, enjoy your vacation, just promise to visit next time"), that will be an interesting and possibly scary way to find out that Mom and Dad (or friends of theirs, or other family members) are reading my blog. If they are, I must beg them not to get mad at my brother, who mixed me this lovely, lovely Bloody Mary I am drinking. I swore him to secrecy on pain of pain. Blame me, not him! I'm the older one, right? I'm a bad influence, clearly!
OK, well, you can blame him for any typos. He mixes a non-trivially strong Bloody Mary. Vodka makes me insanely uncoordinated as far as fine motor control goes. I'm fixing the fat-finger fuxxups as I go, but I may miss a few.
Don't worry, gross motor control should remain trouble-free. This is important. I'm on my bike. Woo, Riverbend to French Quarter. Woo, past midnight.
This update is not turning out to be so quick. On with it.
1) Got here. Pleasant train ride. Interesting scenery, among which I will count the guy who was shouting at everyone who would listen that "They Blew The [17th Street Canal] Levee!!!" because "They" wanted to shut down the Lower Ninth Ward and needed a Cat. 5 Hurricane for cover. I think this particular theory has been around since before Camille, actually. Most of the times I hear it, it's attached to, I dunno, a canal with less proximity to multi-million-dollar neighborhoods like Lakeview. But whatever. He says he heard a BOOM, and Gods know there's nothing but dynamite can cause a boom, right? Like I said - interesting scenery on my train.
1)b. No free wi-fi in the W, and I refuse to pay when any number of fine establishments like Z'otz and Bruno's will give me what I want. Also the Royal Cafe, if I'm not feeling all that "woo" about biking to the Riverbend and I'd rather just walk about 4 blocks instead.
2) Nibbled at the short story WIP. Really, only nibbled. And not until I got into town and was having dinner at this little Vietnamese place two doors down from Camillia Grill. My nibbling gave me an ending, and it gave me an unforeseen backstory complication. I'm so proud of my little 650-word story! It's developing a back-story!
3) Will probably do more nibbling tomorrow, as well as a visit to the Williams Research Center for microfiche reading to buttress the verisimilitude of "A Surfeit of Turnips" (which will probably get a new title before it goes out again). Hey, when Gumbo Ya-Ya tantalizingly mentions a 1930 story in the New Orleans Item Tribune referencing the most bizarre ghost story I have ever heard, who am I to resist?
And that's it for now. Laters!
A Bit of Self-Examination Upon Finishing A Story
Saturday morning I finally finished a complete draft of this story and emailed it to my writing group. Well, not so much Saturday morning as Saturday afternoon. It was 12:30. It was laaaaaate. I had promised to distribute it Wednesday, October 15th. I'd thought, "Tuesday's my nothing-but-writing day! Tuesday I'll finish it for sure!"
Yyyyeah right. Since when have I managed to do anything more productive with a Tuesday than sleep until noon (unless I went to the rock-climbing gym with John for 8:30 or so, and went back to sleep when I got home), crawl out of bed to do maybe half-an-hour of work of some sort, then crawl back into bed all disproportionately pleased with myself and feeling due a break? Yeah. Tuesday the 14th went much like that, only, no half-hour of work. And then, y'know, Wednesday through Friday were Wednesday through Friday. Full of stuff and things.
For what it's work, very soon the rest of the week will look like Tuesday. October 31st will be my last day on the clock at my part-time job. I'm gonna be an honest-to-garsh full-time writer finally. I mean, being a full-time writer was my plan back when I quit my full-time corporate web design job back in April 2004, but soon after I did that, the director of the non-profit I volunteer for asked me if I could spare ten to twenty hours a week to come in and fix their web page and do other miscellaneous tasks. And here I am four and a half years later. You'd think I wouldn't have any trouble staying productive on my own terms when I only work Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--and volunteer Thursdays at a local farm--and continue volunteering some four hours a week for the non-profit that is now also my employer--but by the time I bike home from the office I'm feeling like I ought to be allowed some play-time. And by the time I finish playing, it's bedtime. Apparently my self-discipline and time management skills are a bit more, say, non-existent than I like to admit.
So, starting November 1st, I'm a free agent again. Which is good news for for me on the NaNoWriMo front; I will have more time to go to write-ins and to organize stuff. However, Nov. 1 comes too late to help me out with current projects, so I need to dig up some self-discipline from somewhere or other and get things done. (About that, more later.)
Anyway. I finished this story Saturday. It has this is common with its origins: there's still a magically manipulative sweater involved. However, it's no longer set in and around a New Age store in north-west Denver. Its antagonist is no longer an individually acting eccentric employee. Instead, it's set in a fictitious community it unincorporated Adams County, east of Brighton. The antagonist is the central figure and namesake of the not-quite-town, and the whole town is in on her schemes. Which is to say, the magic involved in the sweater happens to be part and parcel of the community's way of life. And the protagonist walks right in thinking nothing's out of the ordinary. Think Wicker Man, only without the outsider's investigative motive. Think, if I've done this right, Shadows Over Insmouth.
Only I probably haven't done it right yet, which is why I volunteered it for Wednesday's critique session. Aside from one email bounce due to the recipient's mailbox being full, email did what email should and now several people whom I see twice a month and respect quite a lot will be reading it. Cringe! Nervousness and fright! I mean, given the last-minute nature of this story's composition, it's rather rough. It's probably a bit rushed at the end, even though the end came about a lot more organically and easily than I feared it would back when laying down scenes felt like a fractally infinite task. It's probably got copy-paste errors you could blow up a fictional neighborhood with.
And then there's knowing that I haven't exactly been the most gentle contributor to my writing group. I have been prone to Thinking Myself Right when commenting, rather than humbly offering "if it were my story I would" suggestions and "this might be just me, but" observations. And, being the prickly and temper-prone creature that I am, I've been guilty of causing a bit of... well, social tension. Which is the nice way of saying I've been kind of a bitch lately. I'm not proud of it. And I'm not under any illusion that people are going to be any kinder to me than I've been to them--not that I think anyone would be deliberately unkind out of some impulse towards vigilante justice; just that my effect on the tone of this group's discussions has not been for the better. I have to live in the environment I've helped create. So. Having given others a hard time, I don't expect to be given a particularly easy time myself. So I'm living on a steady diet of stomach lining and belated good intentions at the moment.
Um. Hi, y'all! I love y'all bunches! I promise to be good! (Please don't kill me.)
However frank and even merciless Wednesday's critique turns out to be, I think I'm going to need it. My head is an echo chamber, and when I last turned in a story (cf. "Turnips"), I was careless. The manuscript still had the blank template page header, for goodness's sake! It said "LeBoeuf / TITLE" in every upper-left-hand corner. And I mean, literally, "TITLE". Dammit. When Ellen Datlow lamented that so many manuscript submissions she had received revealed a lack of concern for manuscript submission format, she may well have been talking about me (if, that is, Nick Mamatas actually did think my story worth passing on to her, which I doubt). Beyond that, the story had stupidity in it, structural stupidity as well as line-by-line dumbness. Which is not to diminish the awesome assistance of my friend from VPX who did read it and gave me some great feedback on it, and then took the time to read the rewrite and confirm whether I'd fixed what he'd pointed out before as broken. Without his time and effort, the story would have sucked harder. It would have sucked great big granite boulders until the feldspar was striated. However, there's still a great deal of work to do. I printed out that story a couple weeks ago and began marking it up, and by the time I got to page five I understood that revisions wouldn't be a matter of a quick hour's gloss. Oh no. They'd begun to look like a good couple of afternoons' worth of work.
Which I would have taken care of by now. Really! Except, well, this story. Which I am sure will also get marked up thickly before the week is out. Or at least before the end of the month. Maybe. I hope. In any case, this story I have no illusions that is ready for prime time.
Ain't No Rumpelstiltskin
Well, and I did go spin yarn. For several hours. I now have all three singles of my Cloud City "Primrose" (some dyed merino I picked up at the wool market) all spun and ready to ply. (If you're on Ravelry, I'm NicoleJLeBoeuf and it's in my Stash. Link will probably only work if you're logged in.)
These several hours at the spinning wheel did wonders for unwinding my naturally high-strung temperment, but did not work any weird supernatural charm on certain anthology editors. I mean, not that I expected it to--I'm superstitious, sure, but not that superstitious--but it didn't. "A Surfeit of Turnips" will not grace the pages of the Haunted Legends collection. Ah well.
So I'll give the story a gentle once-over (I can't believe I turned it in with "momento" where "memento" should have been! also, some lumps remain) and then send it Right Back Out Again.
You know the adage: "Never let a manuscript sleep over!" Because, I swear, you let 'em sleep over, they take over the couch, throw trash in the floor, and, before you work up the guts to evict them, they've burned cigarette holes in the carpet and uphostery. And you never know when and where you'll find their discarded underclothes a year later. So. Best not to go there.
After that, I think I have a date with some knitting. I mean, fictional knitting. With demons or something. No, of course I didn't mean real-life knitting--the singles aren't even plied yet. Duh. And, unlike the characters in this story I'm thinking of, I always bind off before summoning.
(I know, I know. But I only put that joke here to prevent myself giving in to the temptation to put it in my story.)
Markets I Should Be Submitting Stories To, Part 1.WIN
I do believe this is my first professional submission in mumble mumble ahem months. Also my first professional fiction submission in somewhat longer. Man, where's my head been? It's been up... something. Obviously.
Anyway, I've now written, rewritten, and submitted a story to the aforementioned Haunted Legends anthology. I used the ghost story that I demonstrate pulling my hair out over here. Briefly, the memory of it popped into my head while I was, I think, half asleep on the bus home after working my weekly 5-hour volunteer shift at the local Community Supported Agriculture-style farm--never underestimate the power of exhaustion to bring back-burner content quite suddenly to the fore apropos of nothing. I spent the next week trying to find that story and/or remember where I'd read it. Once I found it, I started writing.
...Sorta. Actually, I kept procrastinating. "Hey, I've still got 5... no, 4... no, 3 days left until deadline. I'm a genius under deadline. I have time."
Then a fellow Viable Paradise X alumnus got a-hold of me via IM and cackled madly. "Ahahahaha! I have finished my story for Haunted Legends!" He also complained of the loss of objectivity and sanity that come of spending many consecutive hours thrashing about on the printed page.
Oh, it was so on. I admitted to not being... ahem ...quite done yet, and suggested that he email me his story for beta reading; I would email him my story along with comments on his. By the next morning.
Yay! In one fell swoop I got a beta reader and insane pressure to finish the story, like, NAO!
So I did (although only for values of "next morning" that equal noon). And he did. And I rewrote today (after another 5 hours at the farm and a little bit of running around town interviewing people for the currently assigned StyleCareer.com eGuide). And I submitted it.
I really, honestly, at least for right now this moment, am totally unconcerned as to whether the story gets rejected or accepted. Ask me again tomorrow and that will probably have changed.
But right now, today, I am a writer.