Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Busy, busy, the novel’s done and I’m in the query letter process. Next on the agenda is creating an author’s bio which, given I’m unpublished, is proving to be a challenge. So far, the hardest part in all this has been taking care of myself. A couple weeks ago, my writing group fell apart because I objected to another member using the name of one of my characters. He refused to see it was a problem. I refused to let it go. This wasn’t the first time this sort of thing had come up but I’d never fought back. Baby steps, I took it as a sign to finally start pushing the novel. In the meantime, check out this response I got to a query I sent out last week. No deal as such but totally took the sting out of having a story rejected the day before.

“THIS, Ms. Donegal, is some of the most delightful stuff I have read in a very long time. 
(Thank you for sending it to me.)

I wish I could steal your attack for myself ('though don't worry, I'm incapable). 


The pace is somewhat frightening to me, but I'm a Jane Austen kinda reader and I think Damon Runyon is as close as I might get to your self-confident gait.


I'll be looking at it again, I'm sure, when I have more time and fewer worries (and so, who knows when that will be...)
Meanwhile, very interesting stuff. Pure entertainment.
(Who is your agent? Forgive me, I have not been following your career--and am too entangled in other thing to look into it right now-- who publishes it and is your work in print?  


I'd say your work is smart, delightful, clever and (I know I need a fourth, but can't quite put my finger on it).

Thank you again,
I am extremely pleased that you sent me this small piece of your very good work, about that I could not be more sincere,

richard mansfield, editor
EstuaryPublications”


Wednesday, January 13, 2016



So, Bowie. His loft is in the building where a friend of mine lived, although I never ran into him there. I did see him in Elephant Man, and because of his music and who he was, he’s probably part of my DNA now. But let’s talk about the living. I recently read Patti Smith’s M Train, which wasn’t as much fun as Just Kids, but realer. I’m not famous. There is no dearly departed husband, no children, no royalty checks. But her feelings about the past and her love of my favorite TV show detectives made perfect sense. My first in-the-flesh encounter with her was forty years ago, shortly after the release of Horses, which I listened to constantly. I was in a long-gone all-night diner off of Bleecker Street with the poet I lived with at the time and who I’d hesitate to call my lover. We were bickering over burgers because he’d flipped the insides of his watch so the gears whirled behind the glass instead of the face. It was around 2AM but we had no way of knowing. Suddenly, Patti rushed in and came to our table. She asked to see his watch instead of asking the time and he happily stuck out his wrist. Her confusion was obvious. She bent closer for a better look and glared at him before glancing at me to see who’d bother putting up with him, then bolted out of the door.

Thirty some odd years later, a young woman in very high heels fell as she ran by me while I headed west on Houston towards Sixth Avenue. She was more embarrassed than hurt, although her palms and knees were bleeding. I was helping her gather the things that had spilled out of her bag when Patti, who’d been drinking coffee on her stoop, came to help her too. The young woman didn’t recognize her. She only saw a strange old woman with straggly gray braids and recoiled at Patti’s gracious offer to use her house to clean up. I saw horror in the young woman’s eyes as she ran away. Patti smiled at me, another strange old lady as well as her neighbor. I miss crossing paths with celebrities in Soho, especially the ones who remembered my face from the hood. Surely Patti and Bowie knew each other. Two icons living a few blocks apart, the same age, both Capricorns. Perhaps they'd have tea and discuss their mutual friends Lou Reed and William Burroughs. Another stratosphere, the stars really do look very different, you know.





Wednesday, September 16, 2015


As is the Provincetown tradition, I’ve been working non-stop for the summer and only now finding the time to blog again. Not that I’ve got anything to show you yet, but I’m happy to announce I am now a founding member of Thorvald Road Writers and currently putting together our on-line presence.  We're a spin off from last winter’s workshop at the library except this group is writing novels.

So, no prompts, no poetry, just the difficult but very satisfying task of reading and revising and reading again in hopes of making it perfect. I’m still editing the same novel I was working on before but it’s getting better and better. One  member is self-publishing a book which is due out next week and has already begun working on the sequel. Another has started her first novel after writing short stories for years and it’s brilliant.

In fact, it was her idea we name the group after Thorvald, the son of Erik the Red and brother of Leif Erikson. He was the leader of a Viking expedition and spent some time in Provincetown around 1007AD when the keel of their boat was damaged and then repaired in our harbor. Local history tells of a stonewall discovered during the 1805 renovation of a house down the street from me that has Viking writing on it and is attributed to Thorvald. He is also said to be the first European to die in North America, perhaps by Native American hand, and thought to be buried near Boston.

We plan to do public readings together as a group and put out a collection of shorter pieces at some point in the future. But right now we’re just reading to each other and giving helpful feedback, the real work. Here’s a photo of mine that I’d like to use as our profile shot, stay tuned for further details!


Saturday, June 13, 2015


It was a pickup truck, dirty blue, with a gash in the driver’s side door from some other angry episode. We pulled into the gas station right after he’d hit me harder than the usual. I heard a thunk inside my head, followed by stars and the weird hot metal smell of an iron heating up. There was a little whitewashed clapboard church across the road with yellow flowers in front. There was also a pool hall within running distance on my side of the truck, but those flowers got my attention. When he went to pay for the gas, I grabbed my bag out of the back and ran across the road to the church. I slipped inside and crawled under one of the front pews while two old ladies cleaned around me. I was only there a minute before he stormed in. One of the ladies, bucket and mop in hand, asked if he was looking for Jesus. Since even he wouldn’t hit an old lady in a house of God, he shuffled out, I wished I’d seen it, and soon enough I heard the pickup gurgle as he drove off away.

One of the ladies said I could come out, the other offered me ice tea. I climbed a ladder to wash the windows they couldn’t reach and that night a biker chick I met at the pool hall let me sleep on her sofa. In the morning, I hitched a ride home with a bug-eyed hillbilly driving a big truck who must have done 100 the whole time.

He was from the New Orleans crew who ate at the restaurant where I was the waitress. There was also a gang of Texans who looked like peace and love hippies. And a bunch of badass pot growers from Alabama who drove souped up Caddies that could out run any sheriff’s vehicle. These were not bumpkins, and I fit right in with my lipstick red hair and elaborate silver and turquoise jewelry. When I moved in with him, I hadn’t even started to unpack before he yelled at me. He ran hot or cold, I never knew which he'd be and I spent most of my time trying to stay one step ahead of him, it was exhausting. When he moved out, he left some of his furniture behind and stuck me with the bills. I pushed his stuff out on the porch; when he came to pick it up and saw what I had done, he shut off the utilities with a monkey wrench. Later, I was bad mouthing him at a bar saying I wished his new house would burn down when the woman next to me leaned back and there he was. The room froze, just like in an old western movie; we glared at each other for a cold moment before I walked out. That same night, his new place did burn to the ground along with his truck, which was filled with what he’d rescued earlier from the porch. He got out just in time, he swore I had cursed him and caused it. 

Odd, I dreamed about him hopping around barefoot in front of a bonfire when it was actually happening.

Early on, when things still looked good with him, he took me to Mardi Gras. He told me bayou ghost stories as we drove along the Mississippi with spooky Spanish moss swaying from the trees, and on the day of the big parade, he wrote the address of where we were staying on my arm in case I got lost. Which, of course, I did. We were dancing with the crowd and suddenly he was gone. I bobbed around trying to find him until I saw a cop and showed him the address on my arm; he walked me to the bus stop to make sure I caught the right one. I showed the address to the bus driver too and when I sat down, I realized my shoes were missing. I thought I loved him at the time, I do know he didn’t love me. Years later, I heard he was born-again and preaching to his own congregation. He was the first of the three blond Irish-American men I’ve been with who’ve tried to wreck my life; you’d think once would have been enough to learn my lesson.





Friday, June 5, 2015


During the summer break between my junior and senior years in college, when my parents were living on a US Army base in Germany, my mother took me on a bus tour of Italy. She had said it was the only thing left she wanted to do, see Italy, and the way she said it scared me. It went well, although she’d have kept me on a leash if there’d been one handy, especially in Venice. But by the time we reached Florence she calmed down and I managed to escape her clutches long enough to trance out in front of Botticelli’s Three Graces. We had heard a howling dog outside our hotel window the night before and she, a big fan of Barnabus Collins on the soap opera Dark Shadows, asked the breakfast waiter about vampires. Confused by the question, he stared blankly at her until she made fangs with her fingers. Shrinking back in horror, he sent another waiter with our coffee. Thinking this was hysterical, she told the story at dinner to our table mates on the tour. Then I talked about my theory that angels are really aliens. The other tourists on our bus avoided us from that point on.

After I was back at school, two months later, she killed herself.

Just before I returned to the States, she took me for a drive along the Rhine. We stopped at an ancient church at the top of a hill and sat on a wooden bench just inside the door while a wedding was going on. The bride insisted we eat with them afterwards at the banquet table they had set up in the courtyard. Later we parked beside the river to watch the barges go by. A family was playing ping-pong on one while their dog barked at the mother who, her hair pinned up in rollers, was hanging out laundry. The sister and daughter of sailors, my mother declared that living on the river would have been a perfect life. Still eating our sandwiches from the wedding banquet, we got out of the car as a pair of swans, so small and pretty on the water, swam towards us. My mother tore up her sandwich and tossed the pieces at the swans. Their shiny eyes locked on the food as they plucked it from the water. I handed the rest of my sandwich to my mother as the swans clamored ashore. Marching over to us, suddenly enormous, the male snatched the bread from her happy hand as the smaller female, she was as tall as me, studied my buttons before turning to her mate hissing and snapped at the food in his beak. Splashing back in the water without even a second glance, they glided off with the current. Speechless, my mother stood for a moment before driving us home as the green hills of the Rhine valley rushed by our car windows. Three days later, there was a terrible moment when my father demanded she and I say our goodbyes at the house because she might make a scene at the airport. He had his own agenda for wanting me alone, which led to an airport scene between the two of us much worse than one my mother would have ever caused; but as she waved goodbye from the kitchen doorway, I knew I’d never see her again.

He buried her at the military cemetery in Arlington even though she’d always said she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered over water. He also lied to her brothers, saying it had been a car accident. She did, in fact, die in the car, after locking herself in and washing a bottle of pills down with some of his gin before turning on the exhaust. He remarried a few months later and tried to bribe me into keeping his secret from the rest of the family. I choose not to speak to him now, but I know he has two grown sons I’ve never met because that’s the way I want it.

Shortly before I left New York for Cape Cod, I visited an old college friend in DC and we spent a couple of hours at the Arlington Cemetery. After a search of the records, we found my mother across from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I tucked my AA anniversary coin, it was for 21 years, which is how old I was when she died, into the dirt that edged her stone where nobody would see it. I’d like to have her exhumed once my father’s gone and honor her request to be cremated and scattered across water. There are lots of ponds here, or maybe Herring Cove.

Do swans ever swim in the Provincetown harbor?

          

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Haven’t written lately, life keeps getting in the way – at the moment I’m sitting in a cold dark store while an electrician works next door with the power off as I wait for FedEx to deliver a shipment. Luckily I brought my notebook since I’ve been waiting for five hours now.  So far, I’ve done both the New York Times and Boston Globe Sunday crossword puzzles and today’s LA Times Suduko. Too bad I forgot the tedious Elizabeth of York biography I’ve been trudging through, but it'd probably make me sleepy. So I’m stuck with my workshop assignment. The past few weeks our facilitator has been sick and we’ve been writing on our own, although last week instead of a prompt we read from our various projects and ended up having a conversation about our processes. We all do it differently, and the conversation led to this week’s prompt.

I’m a pen to paper kind of girl because of my painting background; I’m all about mark making. I’m also big on layers and will write something repeatedly until I feel like I’m done before I type a draft that will get revised until I’m satisfied. If it’s for this blog, I’ll copy and paste it to the site and then fiddle with it so it sits nicely between the margins. On the other hand, the novel I am currently, and hopefully, in the final edit of, has been rewritten multiple times. Originally it was told by the main character and done by hand in the grid paper notebooks I’m partial to. Then, and this is the process, I went back through that version and rewrote each page on the one facing it, the back of the previous page, and made whatever changes I felt necessary. Then I transcribed it into a fresh new notebook. Often this involved literal cutting and pasting, or more accurately, taping, whole sections in other locations until I had a version without anything scribbled on it. Then and only then did I type it into the computer starting with the opening of the story straight to the end. Once it was done and spell checked, I sent it to a friend for proofing. But before I got it back from her, I decided the three other characters should also speak, which meant writing the story over in each of their identifiable voice, and in their own individual notebooks, with a complex outline to keep the timeline moving naturally. We’re talking stacks of grid paper notebooks, several rolls of tape, and an entire box of the micro-ball pens I like. This all got typed up too, and revised of course, until eventually I was ready to have people look at it. Which was also about the time I joined the workshop and started reading it out loud to the group. 

And yes, revising it even some more based on the feedback that I found helpful. Sometimes this feedback was about the structure, but usually it had to do with distractions or flow. Both of the people who’ve finished this version have said not to make any big changes because they like it the way it is. Because, really, the book is finished, I just need to tweak the typos and get better at presenting it to the public. Nit picky, just like the way I paint, but I don’t understand going with a first draft. I want perfection; and since it’s me, I’ll copy this again before I type it.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


The assignment at this week’s writer’s workshop was to compose a letter to a contemporary of the same age and gender with a similar background who lives in Afghanistan. This was for a possible book the group might put together, Greetings From Provincetown, that sort of thing, but alas, after some Internet research that only confirmed what I already knew, I simply would not exist in Afghanistan. I am older than the life expectancy for women there, it’s sixty-one, although the average age of death for them is closer to fifty given the high childbirth mortality rate and the undisclosed number of honor killings.

I never had children, but I did get divorced and earned a college degree. I’m also an artist and obviously a writer, and have supported myself for over forty years. None of which would bode well for me in Kabul, but what most certainly would have done me in was my sexual behavior as a younger woman. I’d surely have been stoned in my promiscuous twenties, or perhaps later for shaming my family or community by being the victim of a felony assault that involved both a knife and a gun. And if I survived into my forties, my brush with cancer at forty-three could have killed me since I wouldn’t have received treatment or seen a doctor in the first place.

More likely, I’d have been forced into marriage at twelve and promptly beaten to a pulp or thrown myself off a cliff. Instead I was lucky enough to grow up a white girl American with the privileges and luxury problems attached to that status. I may not make as much money as my male counterparts, but I can vote and choose to live alone or how to dress regardless of what other people may feel about my choices. 

So. No Afghani contemporary to correspond with; no letter written, addressed or sent. But not an exercise in futility either, it was more one of gratitude, because I am grateful for my health, my opportunities and my life. Which was probably, wink wink, the point of the assignment to begin with.