Wednesday, August 21, 2019

#73 Inside the Emotion of Fiction: "THE ART OF REMEMBERING" by Alison Ragsdale

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****Alison Ragsdale’s THE ART OF REMEMBERING is  #73 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 the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? My latest novel is titled THE ART OF REMEMBERING. When I started writing it, many moons ago, I called it A Dent in the Universe. It was pretty attached to the name, so when my agent told me she didn’t like it and that it didn’t encapsulate the spirit of the book, I had to take a deep breath and let it go. As it turns out, she was spot on, and I’m much happier with the new title.
Has this been published? If yes, what publisher and what publication date? I am a hybrid author, both published by Lake Union and self-published. I self-published this novel on July 16th, 2019 and the Audible version will be released at the end of September, 2019.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I had to really think about this. This book took the longest of all of them, and I ended up working on it while writing two others. I started it mid 2015 and it went through various iterations, and editors. It was finally finished in November, 2018. (Right:  Alison with her dog in December of 2015)
Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. I write in various spots throughout my house. It depends on the weather, and where my sweet dog Maddie, who is my shadow, wants to be. (Left:  December 2018) In summer I write in my office upstairs (Below Right). It used to be a sleeping-porch and has a lovely view of the garden. In winter, I’m found at the kitchen island with a roaring fire behind me, or snuggled on the sofa with Maddie. (Below Left)

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 always have hot tea next to me when I write and sometimes salty snacks, like crackers or peanuts. I’m not super regimented as regards time of day, so I write when it feels good and natural, and I don’t pressure myself into writing every day. When I do write, I can be working for 8 to 10 hours straight, for days on end, then I’ll take a step back and maybe not write at all, for a day, or even a week or more. I enjoy this work pattern and feel that the breaks give me time to reflect and to maintain perspective, otherwise I can sometimes write myself down a rabbit hole and have to reel myself in to get back to the original track. I write on my laptop and I need as close to silence as I can find, as for me music or being in a coffee shop, or public place, is too distracting.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? Professional ballerina, Ailsa MacIntyre, is at the peak of her career when her world is shattered by a shocking diagnosis. Life-saving surgery leaves her with a fractured memory, little recollection of her husband, Evan, and none of her career as a principal dancer.
     While recuperating at home, Ailsa hears beautiful music coming from the apartment upstairs, and the sound of the grand piano at the hands of a talented new neighbor sparks her muscle memory. As her recovery progresses, the broken pieces of her past gradually re-emerge, a picture not quite as idyllic as Evan would have her remember. Ailsa must navigate the conflicting visions of her past, and potential future, as they collide.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? Our protagonist, Ailsa MacIntyre, is on stage at New York’s Lincoln Center. Being on stage is where she has felt most in control of her life over the past few years, but tonight she is suffering with another terrible headache that’s affecting her ability to perform. As she struggles through the first part of her solo, she is suddenly struck by such excruciating pain, and the eerie distortion of the music she’s hearing, that she misses her cue then has to use the Corps de ballet as a screen so that she can slip off stage before collapsing.

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

Prologue – Pages 1-4

The curtain rose, and the stage at New York’s Lincoln Center was in total darkness, as the tightness of Ailsa MacIntyre’s pointe shoes cut off the circulation to her toes. The hard soles ran like familiar tightropes under each of her arches as she pulled her weight up through her supporting leg and into her core. She could defy gravity, ignore the crushing of her toe joints, and work through the throbbing pain that had been plaguing her for months, heavy above her left ear. She could float, ethereal and transcendent. She could do this.
Ailsa waited for the first violin to cut into the silence and the spotlight to split the blackness around her. Just as she released the breath she had been holding, the first high C slid across the soundless stage and the light snapped on. Its brightness instantly intensified her headache and she blinked several times to clear her vision.
Arms still at her sides, she lifted her head slowly and looked above the orchestra pit, high up behind the audiences’ heads, letting her focus settle on a small red light in the control box.
The second and third violins picked up their line in the score and the fine hairs on her arms stood to attention, as always happened with Prokofiev. On cue, her right arm released and lifted away from her side as she slid her left foot out, pushing through the floor and extending the ankle and toes. It had begun.
The music began to fill her head, pushing down the drum of pain throbbing in her temple. Layer by layer of instrument, the orchestra built a platform for her interpretation. Each beat filled her, running through every vein, muscle and tendon like syrup, connecting her to the ground and yet blurring her own edges against the atmosphere.
As she moved around the stage turning, balancing, gathering momentum and controlling her breathing Ailsa knew, deep within her being, precisely where she needed to be at every pause and crescendo. Her body moved on autopilot and yet was not unmanned—the steps a familiar map that she had followed many times—moving the choreography forward and filling the space around her with shape, form, energy and emotion.
Her muscles propelled her reliably through her solo and as the audience applauded she felt the familiar rush of heat, and joy at the sound of their appreciation.
As her sides heaved, the oboe sang out—a thin note of introduction, teasing the other woodwind instruments as it lilted away toward the ceiling. As had been happening frequently over the past few weeks, the familiar notes sounded different tonight, as if the tones were being stretched on a wire, distorting as they sent a hot needle into her left eardrum. She blinked through the pain, ignoring the pattering under her breastbone, and tried to home in on the guiding melody.
The Corps de Ballet filtered onto the stage around her just as another stab to her head made Ailsa gasp, the pain now excruciating as it seared above her ear, flashing angrily up into her temple. Dragging her focus back to the next movement, she bent her knees to prepare for a series of fouetté turns.
Time instantly became suspended and she could no longer see the red light she used for spotting, the music now so distorted it was almost unrecognizable. As she struggled to locate the melody that would lead her through her next variation, the stage before her became smudged against the darkness of the audience.
The moment it took her to search again for the spotting light was a moment too many, and the screeching music moved on without her.
Three of the Corps passed across the front apron of the stage. Among them, her best friend, Amanda, turned her head, wide eyed as she looked back at Ailsa, who remained stationery.
Her breathing ragged, Ailsa locked on Amanda’s eyes and shook her head. With an imperceptible nod, Amanda executed a series of châinés turns, her head whipping around as she stepped out onto each alternate foot, carving a full circle back to the middle of the stage. When she finally stopped, the line of her body and the long courtly skirt she wore created a blessed eclipse, sheltering Ailsa from the glare of the lights and the view of the expectant audience.
Squinting into the darkness, she tasted salt on her upper lip and as panic filled her chest, she turned her head toward the stabbing pain and scanned the wings. The company’s Artistic Director, Mark Chambers, was beckoning her off stage, so, with all her strength, she slid her foot out to the side trying not to lose her balance. The floor seemed to be undulating under her shoe and she felt bile rising into her throat.
Amanda and the rest of the Corps had filled the stage in front of her, Capulets and Montagues in groups of three and five, their weaving lines and meticulously aligned Arabesques creating a curtain that Ailsa could hide behind as she slipped away from the last, unfulfilled bars of the movement.
She slid into the wing and Mark gathered her under her arms, barking at a stagehand to fetch water as she dissolved into his grip, her face slick and her throat constricted.
“What’s wrong, darling?” Mark, acting as a crutch, maneuvered her toward the dressing rooms. “Talk to me.”
“My head’s going to explode.” She pressed her palm over her ear and leaned on Mark’s arm. “The music sounded wrong and I can’t…I can’t…”
Mark’s hands dug into her armpits as she felt herself falling, then all faded to black.

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? I think this is very emotional for me because it brought back the deep-seated nerves of my own experience of performing on stage, and also of struggling with the devastating effects of a brain tumor. That sense of having all eyes on you, and the fear of failing, letting people down, when all you want to do is hide under a blanket took me back to my own illness. Writing about Ailsa’s experience was cathartic, to some extent.
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. There were several iterations of this prologue because it actually started as a short story that I wrote for my writing group. The word we were assigned was ‘eclipse’ and that short piece evolved into the full-length novel. I don’t have a marked up draft to share as it was so long ago.

Other works you have published? TUESDAY’S SOCKS was my debut novel, published in March, 2014. THE FATHER-DAUGHTER CLUB came next in December, 2014. FINDING HEATHER was published in October, 2016 and A LIFE UEXPECTED in February, 2018.
Anything you would like to add? Thanks so much for having me. Focusing on the emotion in fiction really resonates with me, as I love to read, and therefore write, emotionally driven books.
     Writing full time now is a privilege I never take for granted. I’m so fortunate to be able to focus on my passion, every single day, and that readers enjoy and give me feedback on my books makes it even more priceless. I’m so grateful to everyone who supports me on this adventure. It really does take a village.

A former professional dancer, and marketing executive, originally from Edinburgh, Alison now lives near Washington DC with her husband and dog. She was educated in England and holds an MBA from Leicester University.

          All five of Alison’s books are Amazon Best Sellers. THE FATHER-DAUGHTER CLUB was also awarded the IPPY 2016 Bronze Medal for Best Regional Fiction - Europe. A LIFE UNEXPECTED, won a 2018 IPPY Bronze Medal in the Popular Fiction category.

Connect with Alison:
Instagram: alisonragsdalewrites
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