Wednesday, January 28, 2015


At some point, one must say, “It’s finished.” I have punched the Publish button at Amazon.  Edith going to have to go it on her own from now on.

I’ve edited, re-read line-for-line and had friends point out typos. I’ve done some new formatting, centered the little trees at the beginning of chapters, and consistently double-spaced when the scenes change.

 I’ve researched the large number of anachronisms that snuck into the first drafts.  AIDs in 1974? Bubble tea in the early 90’s? All gone.  Jake’s Crawfish is still in the book. Actually, so is bubble tea, inaccurate but fun to read about. Tarantino has replaced HBO as an incentive for Edith to say a certain uncouth word a few times, after research indicated he didn’t shrink at using the word over one hundred times in an early 1990’s film.

I reviewed the timeline of my story and changed my characters’ ages by two years so that Edith could get through high school before she had to get married, which made her son as little younger than I wanted, but I changed that, too.

The most shocking changes I had to make were to words that over the almost- three hundred pages of the book I had repeated so often I wondered if a cog were loose  somewhere in my brain. When I noticed a repetition of the word “swallow,” (several of my characters like their wine), I typed it into the “Search in Document” space on the Word page.  A side column appeared and told me that I had used the word thirty-some times, once or twice a chapter.  Not always drinking.  Edith swallowed her words; the noise in the room swallowed her; she couldn’t swallow a story being told her, a fog swallowed the neighborhood.  Of course, a certain amount of wine and alcohol also got swallowed.  I asked for synonyms from my wordy husband:  “gulped, sipped, filled his mouth, drained,” he advised.  “And maybe you should change the whole sentence to some other action, ‘like closed his eyes.’” I knew I had used that phrase pretty often too.  It took me a day to get down to about ten irreplaceable swallows. 

Several other verbs made themselves known for the same reason. “Touch,” for one; “turned,” for another. Then I was relieved to realize this writing flaw was not senility–related. I recalled that in my first unpublished novel, a teenager shrugged at least twice in each chapter and I could come up with no other description of that action. And the little grade school kids in the same book smiled so often their cheeks quivered all day. Same kind of problem in the next two novels.

I apparently have some sort of repetition tic that emerges when I’m at my computer trying to make a story go into words.

I wonder if Annie Dillard or Alice Munro or Cheryl Strayed spend much time with the “Search in Document” space.  Or, perhaps they hire a good editor, like all of the books on writing advise us would-be authors.  I will too, maybe, on the next story, now that I’m finished with Edith.

Jo Barney Writes

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Today I am eighty.  Physically, I don’t feel eighty, maybe seventy-two, when my knee didn’t bother me at night. Mentally. . .at the moment I'd like to be be closer to my mother’s one hundred-years-and-still-going-state. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff any more, except when she wonders what Fred will think about the way their money flying out the door, paying so much for rent.  Dad has been dead for five years and I tell her he doesn’t care any more. Nor should she.  Her daughters are doing the worrying, but I don’t tell her that.  She spends much of  her time quietly TV watching and listening to music at her adult foster home.
And my sister and I have livened things up with a fine birthday party for her. Mom has two grandchildren, a few step grands, three greats, two aging children of her own, their several husbands whose names she still remembers despite the fact that those names have changed over the years.  Also invited was Lorie, her one remaining friend.  The party in its lovely private room seated athirteen celebrants and a few ghosts all singing along with the 1930’s ballads Mom used to play on her piano.

Lorie is precious. Lorie contains the best times in my mother’s life. When they talk, it’s about fishing on the Deschutes, the big one Helen caught, the men bringing in strings of steelhead, the evenings playing poker at a table next to a camp fire if the night is warm, or inside the RV if it isn’t.  As they reminisce, Lorie holds Mom’s hand. They laugh.  They gossip over small scandals that arose more than sixty years before, when they partied and weren’t fishing.  “Remember when. . .”  they say.

My friends, the old ones, are also eighty.  Eighty is the step over the curb to old age, and we are taking it cautiously.  For the first time, we understand what this means. It means walking instead of running, eating one meal a day and cutting back on the sweets; it means rubbing ointment into  aching joints, or replacing them with metal; stuffing a plug into an ear in order to talk at lunch; turning the phone onto speaker mode to hear our grandchildren. Too many adjustments it seems, until we understand  that we may also miss the adulthood of our children’s children, the bat mitzvahs, the graduations, the weddings, the cries of new babies that look a little like us. We will try to adjust.

This uncharted path beyond the curb may also mean that we lose ourselves. This will be tragic to those who love us. They will believe that we are absent, like my mother’s husband, dead, who still worries about the money. Like my mother when she wonders what he’ll say when he finds it is almost gone.

Perhaps not so tragic if they can understand that we will still feel the love swirling about us, even when we can’t always remember the name of the lover.

Jo Barney Writes