Monday, July 15, 2019

#065 Inside the Emotion of Fiction: BITTER WATER by Lori Baker Martin

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****Lori Baker Martin’s BITTER WATER is #65 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at
Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? Bitter Water. Yes—I also considered Set It on Fire. 
Fiction genre? Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella, romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy, movie script, screenplay, etc. And how many pages long? Literary fiction novel. It’s set in the past, which makes it historical, in a way, but it isn’t historical fiction (a different animal entirely). It’s also about relationships, but it isn’t a romance (another animal, too!). I’d also extend its genre a bit and say it might also land into the Gothic.

Has this been published? If yes, what publisher and what publication date? No—I’m just finishing it. I’ve had several stories and poems published in magazines, but this is very much on my mind as I’ve been working so closely to it recently.
What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I began it when I was getting my MFA (10 years ago) and am just now finishing it. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of life interruptions. Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? In the recliner in the TV room and in my office at my desk. 

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I usually drink water or tea while I’m writing. I write directly on the laptop. I used to work as a reporter, and the time restraints of a looming deadline taught me to cut out that middle step (writing on paper). Times vary. I write best in the morning, but I have a hard time settling in then (I also either have to go to work or am in the mindset of going to work). So often, I do my best writing in mid-afternoon or evening.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? Story begins in rural Missouri in a town called Arcady in 1857. Jubal Dupree’s mother has disappeared after an argument with his stepfather, Mister. To cheer up Mister, Jubal goes miles away to buy a mule that Mister has wanted. While on the trip, he meets and falls in love with Effie Morris. She has a child, and she isn’t married. Nonetheless, even though her brother warns Jubal about her, Jubal is determined to marry her. The union is problematic from the first, as Effie and Jubal both have secrets they aren’t willing to tell. Combine that with the missing mother, the oncoming Civil War, friendship with a neighboring family of freed slaves, a vengeful bounty hunter, active underground railroad, murder, and magic—and the whole place is set to blow up—burst into flames—and does.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? The five-year old daughter of a neighboring family is missing in the woods. The area is suffering from a severe drought, so the searchers are being very careful with their torches, but Jubal is frightened by a wild pig and runs, dropping the torch and setting the forest on fire, with tragic and permanent consequences.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

(From p. 212—about halfway through the novel)
Stand, stand, brandish the torch at it, that’s what Mister would say, he remembered. But he couldn’t stop his feet. He just kept running and running and time and again, in the darkness split only by the heaving light of his torch, he escaped running into trees by veering at the last moment. Eventually it happened. He dodged a tree limb only to run smack into a tree trunk.
His fingers were stiff anyway; he dropped the torch. The dry grass caught fire. Judging the fire more of an immediate threat than the pig, Jubal pulled off his jacket and beat at the burning ground. He looked around for the pig, but it had gone. Disappeared.
The wind caught the flames and urged them on, sent them flying up the trees, faster than Jubal could have even imagined. It climbed the trees like ladders and seemed to explode skyward into the neighboring trees. Jubal lost his jacket to the fire. It burst into flame before he could let go and when he did, it was nothing more than some shreds of cloth and flying ash.
He backed away. One of the men was certainly near enough to hear him, to see what was happening, to help. “Fire!” he yelled. Scorched branches began to fall, and also twigs and flaming leaves. He hadn’t noticed it before, but he did now—his hands were burnt. His right hand hurt worse than his left, but it felt like he was holding live coals in both of them. He ducked the falling branches and ran back toward the creek. If he was going to warn any of the men, that’s where they’d be, and besides, he had to cool his hands. The fire roared behind him, a living, breathing predator. The wind was wild, driving, pushing the fire. The trees were bending, conflagrant, and agonized.
Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? The excerpt is important to me because this is how Jubal has reacted to everything in his life—he’s run from it, not faced any truth head on. And afterward, he carries the physical and emotional damage from the fire. This whole section, with Jubal in the fire, goes on for around 10 pages or so, and writing it was intense because the fire becomes a character—and Jubal isn’t interacting with anyone but the fire and his own demons. It’s pure action in a way, but also, there’s a lot that’s happening to him on a deeper, emotional level.
Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. I usually correct as I go, and I write on a computer. So unfortunately, I don’t have deletions or a marked-up rough draft to show you. But, I can tell you that I have revised this book constantly—and the whole thing has probably been revised almost completely at least a half a dozen times.

Other works you have published? I have short stories and poems published in various literary magazines. This will be my first book.

Anything you would like to add? It took awhile for me to realize what this book was about. I’d finished it, actually, the first time and then realized that what I thought it was about wasn’t what it was actually about. I trashed the entire final third and rewrote it. So for me, writing is absolutely discovery. Don’t hold the line, don’t come in with some scripted idea of what it is you’re going to write and then hold onto that unyieldingly. You’ll get finished sooner, sure—but your work will be predictable and formulaic, holding no surprises, and probably not a lot of deeper truths. It’s letting go that makes the magic.
     I’m assistant professor of English at Pittsburg State University. I’ve had both poetry and fiction published in magazines like Prick of the Spindle, Room Magazine, Grass Limb, The Knicknackery, The Maine Review, and others. I’ve taught creative writing at the University of Iowa, Independence Community College, and Pittsburg State University. I’ve worked as a reader for both The Iowa Review and NPR. I’m poetry editor for The Midwest Quarterly and am currently finishing a novel set in pre-Civil War Missouri.


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