Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

What I Did With My Hands in Eastport


Apart from this, of course…

Yes, I did paint my nails in ridiculous jellybean colours, for a laugh (the intent being mainly to amuse Emma when I got back, as I am SO not a nail-polish type of gal). But amid painting my nails and picking up countless chips and chocolate fudge Pop-Tarts, my hands also did some useful things in Eastport. They paged through my By the Rivers of Brooklyn manuscript looking for more places to cut words, and they also (somewhat unexpectedly) flew over the keys of my Neo creating an entirely unplanned new chapter for What You Want.

This came about because my friends Lori, Tina and Christine had all read the draft of What You Want, and I was of course jonesing for some feedback. They mostly had nice things to say, but Tina in particular was quite adamantly opposed to my ending. After a novel which tells the story of a three-week road trip in almost minute-by-minute detail, I attempted a final chapter that was sort of like an epilogue, summarizing what happens to the characters over the next few months and projecting into the future. I wasn’t sure it worked.

Tina was sure it didn’t. She told me it sounded like John-Boy at the end of a Waltons episode. To quote her exactly, she said (in a John-Boy voice), “…and Grampa never played his mouth-organ again after that day….”

OK, I got the point. Probably because, as I tell people in writing workshops and such, if a critique resonates with your own secret doubts and fears — like my fear that the summary/epilogue/last chapter wasn’t working — it’s probably true. Especially if one of your dearest friends compares you to John-Boy Walton.

In this summary epilogue chapter, there was a brief reference to two characters spending the night together — with no more detail than that. Lori said that was a cop-out and if they were going to Do The Deed, I should write about it. I said no, I could not possibly write that. Hot’n’steamy scenes are hard enough to write without sounding ridiculous, and this particular scene with these particular characters included some, um, logistical challenges, that made it even more difficult to write. And I wasn’t sure the reader needed that much information … I wanted much of the outcome of the book left up to the imagination.

But after some discussion, I got intrigued with the idea of the bedroom scene that was too difficult to write, and I decided to take it on as a challenge — not with the slightest intention of ever putting it in the book, but as background to tell me more about the characters, and as a useful writing exercise for me. Could it be done?

I tapped away at this scene on and off during Saturday night and Sunday, convinced that I was writing the most hokey, schlocky, cringe-worthy “romance” scene ever. Then on Sunday night, with much apology and self-abasement, I read it aloud to Lori and Tina (we were the only three Stridents left at the Eastport house by that time, the others having gone home earlier). They listened with rapt attention while I blushed my way through scenes with far more detail than anything I would willingly publish under my own name.

Then they told me the chapter was absolutely riveting and perfect and that THAT had to be the new ending of the book.

So what do I do now? Do I trust their judgement? Do I end my book with a steamy scene? (Note: Tina insists it is a “love scene” not a “sex scene” and is not explicit at all, but it is much more, um, detailed than anything I would usually attempt to get published). I believe now that the John-Boy ending was wrong for the book, but is this new ending right?

Decisions, decisions. If nothing else, this illustrates how hard it is to be an objective judge of your own work. But more importantly, it illustrates that having writer girlfriends who can offer honest criticism, enthusiastic praise, tough questions, support, and multiple colours of nail polish is the best thing a girl can have.

(Signing off, John-Boy-style voiceover)…Trudy never painted her nails OR wrote a sex scene again after that trip to Eastport. But she never forgot that weekend, because it changed her somehow…

(Hypergraffiti theme music rises over end credits).


15 thoughts on “What I Did With My Hands in Eastport

  1. Oh Trudy, you make me laugh! Sounds like you’re on a winner though…although I think I need to find a new group of friends (to add to my old ones of course) that include some writers. As for writing sex scenes…I ain’t even gonna go there – probably ever…(which is why I’ve decided to write for children…maybe. Sigh.) So what’s your pseudonym going to be?? Or are you just going to walk around with a little more colour to your cheeks than normal?!

  2. Karen, I honestly don’t know. I wouldn’t publish under a pseudonym … if I can’t publish it under my own name, I won’t. The end product will probably be a blend of the rather “earthy” scene I wrote at Eastport, and my own editing to make it a bit tamer.

    It is amazing to have good writer friends. I’m very blessed; it’s taken me a long time to stumble into this particular group of women and they are more precious than gold!

  3. Sex is the dilemma of art. On the one hand, art is about revealing humanity, and as such no aspect of humanity is beyond its scope. On the other hand, sex is such a deeply intimate act that the revealing of it threatens to destroy the humanity the artist is attempting to portray.

    [I assume the questions in your second to last paragraph were not rhetorical; if they were, please forgive me.]

    My flip answer, as a Christian minister, would be that if God can put Song of Songs in the Bible, then you can put the sex (or love) scene in your novel. Of course, that raises more questions than answers because you’re writing a novel and not ancient Hebrew poetry. Too many poetic lines comparing a woman’s body to the geographic features of Newfoundland come to mind here.

    But why not go to Song of Songs and try to capture the spirit of the canonical poem? To me, it portrays a community wide celebration of the pleasures that love and intimacy bring to the mind and body of two lovers. It’s exuberant, energetic, energetic, erotic, and even a bit earthy without being titillating, shameful, secretive, nor dirty. Unfortunately, all the sex scenes I’ve read in novels have the qualities Song of Songs avoids.

    But that means there’s space for you to do something innovative with your final chapter. I’d be interested to see what you come up with. Perhaps I could use your work to write a paper at seminary on the ethics of writing a sex scene. 😉

  4. Thanks for those thoughts, David — I am intrigued by thinking of the Song of Songs!!

  5. That makes me sound mean. Wahhh. Seriously, I think it is a love scene because it is a very loving scene. That is what stands out to me: the love, not the “sex”. And in this case I don’t think the scene will be as loving sans sex but maybe you could make it tamer. I’m not sure it will be as powerful, though.

  6. I also said it was a love scene, not a sex scene. And there’s nothing in it that’s so explicit that you need to be embarrassed about it. It has just enough detail. Now give it up and listen(snapping my hands like Christine). Dilema solved.

    And, for the record, I helped with the nails! And they’re awesome if I do say so!.

  7. You also forgot to mention the drinking game you made us play ;]

  8. Neither of you were mean; you were both wonderful. And if I rewrite the scene it definitely won’t be “sans sex” … just a bit less explicit about body parts and such.

    We need to copyright the Christine hand-snap. And the Rivers of Brooklyn drinking game (to be imposed by non-drinking writers on their drinking friends) will have to be saved for another post…

    I have further thoughts on David’s comment too, but those might have to wait.

  9. The thing I wanted to add … David, I doubt there’s much in my work that would contribute to a seminary paper, but I’ve always been very interested in the way Catholic writer Andrew Greeley writes about sex. He sees it as an illustration of God’s grace, much as many Biblical commentators saw the Song of Songs. I think the scene I wrote for the ending of “What You Want” is, in fact, a scene about grace. But since it involves physical intimacy between two characters who aren’t married (or even engaged!) I’m sure a lot of Christian readers would not be comfortable reading it that way.

  10. Song of Solomon not titillating?! It was to me (when I was about 12 or 13!).

    Even though I haven’t read it, I’d say keep it in as is. But maybe that’s just because I’d rather read it that way than tamed down (I think).

  11. I’ve had a third thumbs-up on the new ending now, from the third person who read it (my friend Kerry), although the version she read was very slightly toned down from the one I read at Eastport. I think the universe is telling me that one way or another, that book has to end in the bedroom…

  12. Trudy:

    The paper comment was more tongue in cheek, but I never say never. Sex as grace–that’s been my experience. And that sort of goes along with writing scenes where unwed couples have sex, because grace must happen in a less than ideal situation. We Christians have to face the reality that even though sex isn’t always done as ‘perfectly’ as we’d like, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s absolutely no value in it (e.g. the Esther story–which requires no explanation with you).


    My reaction to Song of Songs at that age was ROTFL, especially when breasts came up. It was a handy source of entertainment in our 6th grade church school classroom. At that age, art museums were the (embarrassing) source of titillation to me.

  13. How many friends are you letting have a sneek peak? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

  14. There’s a sneak peek for you if you want it!

  15. You know, this is the first blog I ever read! Interesting. Wait, it’s the second blog……I actually looked very briefly at a blog of a writer in the Downhome popular KITCHEN. But that was a long time ago. Anyway, I like people with passion….you have it here. Mine is my music….and you know what???…I don’t mind promoting our web site at http://www.thesharecroppers.net…..although it is really out of date….but you can read the guest book and hear a few clips.
    I’ll drop into your blog again. Enjoylife…you seem to!
    Cheers….Mikein Pasadena Nfld

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