“Tickets, Please” and the Revision Process

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I read and enjoyed D. H. Lawrence’s story, “Tickets, Please.” It was a simple and straightforward story but one that captured some large and rather far reaching themes such as lust, jealousy, rejection, revenge and even (though the term is more modern than the story itself) sexual harassment in the workplace. It was, I think, also the perfect piece to read while contemplating the revision process.

While the introduction was long and loaded with description and back story, it felt necessary since we’re looking back at people from a foreign place and point in history. Lawrence took the time to patiently provide details, like the drivers usually being “cripples and hunchbacks” and the girls being “fearless young hussies… in their ugly blue uniforms, skirts up to their knees…”who “fear nobody—and everyone fears them.” Without these details, the story might have fallen short for me.

Lawrence really captured his characters and set them up in such a way that made the story relevant and timeless. I don’t need to know everything about the people, time period or environment a story is set in but I need enough detail to get me intrigued. Lawrence grabbed and held my attention by paying attention to the right things.

As I read this, my own story and thoughts on revision puttered around in my head. I wondered how many revisions Lawrence went through to write this story. Though I doubt he was overly concerned about readers in the distant future, like you and me, understanding it, it is clear that he wanted to make sure the readers of his day got it. This story felt to me like a sort of sneak peek into a world not many people knew existed or got to see. Plus, since this was written in the early 1900s, I can’t help but think Lawrence was breaking new ground with such gender empowering themes. But more so than anything else, I think he got it right (then and now) in the way he told this story.

He captures human emotion perfectly with lines like: “Then she wept with fury, indignation, desolation, and misery. Then she had a spasm of despair.” This is exactly how it feels to be dumped! Centuries may pass but that feeling will always remain the same. His descriptions are spot on.

And regarding the plight of women in this day and age and in particular the way these women bound together to revolt against this one man, it had, for me, a quality about it that was reminiscent of the children’s nursery rhyme The Little Engine (That Could): “I think I can… I think I can…” Not only do both stories talk about trains and have that “I think I can” message but both stories are also about something improbable taking place; the seemingly smaller, weaker characters (the women in Tickets, Please or the little engine in The Little Engine) conquer all because what they lack in size, speed and physical strength, they make up for in spirit.

I certainly see this as a sort of literary manifestation of the frustration and pain the women of this age must have felt.

Lawrence also landed on the perfect ending. It’s juicy and thrilling enough without ever going too far in any unrealistic or dissatisfying direction. It’s an ending that can withstand the test of time. I’ve always been a fan of the sort of girl power stories where the female protagonist succeeds in the end. I also love it when the bad guy (or girl) gets taught a lesson and the hero (or heroine) is victorious. While I’m not typically a fan of violence as a means to an end, I think Lawrence handled this well. It was shocking but the physicality was handled delicately and felt necessary. I’m glad Lawrence exhibited restraint by not taking the violent lesson to the next obvious level. I think it would have ruined the story.

I can’t help but wonder if his perfect descriptions came to him right away or if they were the effect of a few (or even several) overhauls. I also wonder if he got stuck on the ending. I can see so many different routes that could have been taken. For example, I wonder if any of his drafts included a version with the girls actually killing Coddy or turning him into a cripple to sort of bring the story full circle to that intro.

There was a time, before taking this class, when I might have assumed Lawrence got it right on his first try. Or maybe I wouldn’t have even thought twice about it. But now I think about it… a lot.

Even though on some level I knew better, I think I thought I was in the minority of obsessive revisers. I rarely picture other writers struggling through yet another revision. The thought of revising, though obviously necessary, is also taxing. It’s far more romantic to assume they got it right the first time. It’s every writer’s fantasy… isn’t it? Well I’m currently on my fourth try for one novel and my second try for another. As I write and revise (and continue to revise again and again) my manuscripts, they continue to get better and I continue to grow stronger. I become a better writer with each new draft.

Even though there have been times when I’ve questioned my sanity, some of my best work rises to the surface during the revision process. I never used to think about revising while I was writing. Now, thanks in large part to this class, I am constantly thinking about revising. Even as I was writing my chapter for workshop, I was already contemplating revising it and even overhauling it entirely. Now I totally get what Annie Dillard means when she says the process of writing and revision “are one and the same.”

Professor Hurt, my current workshop instructor, says to think of the revision process as re-seeing. I love (love love) this concept. In fact, I’ve been “re-seeing” quite a few things lately. For example, I’m re-seeing how I perceive other writers and their revision processes. I’m also re-seeing my own process as a writer. A couple of those 4AM Breakthroughs have even caused me to (re)see some of my stories in new ways. One in particular breathed an entirely new intro into one of my novels. And the constructive feedback I received for my workshop piece has opened my eyes on various levels, as well.

While I read and enjoyed “Tickets, Please,” I was aware that I was reading and enjoying it on a new level. I’ve been told that film students can never just “watch” a movie without thinking critically about production elements and cinematography. As a writing student, I am starting to think the same way.

I can’t wait to get started on my revision, though in a way I guess the process has already begun.

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Valerie Zane

If you’ve met him, then you know that my dad, Frank Zane, is the funniest guy on the planet. But that’s not all…

In addition to being hilarious, he’s also raw, honest and smart. He’s a natural storyteller. A hard worker. He’s never boring. Fun to be around. The life of the party. He’s strong yet sensitive. A family man. He loves with his whole heart. He can teach you a thing or two about everything. But you’d better listen carefully because when he gets to talking, he talks fast and his stories tend to go on for a while and they go off in many directions.

He reminds me of me. Or maybe I remind me of him?

When it comes to my dad, you either love being around him or you simply can’t stand him. I’ve found that if the latter describes you, then you’re probably pretty uptight…

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Valerie Zane

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK, Jr.

This is one of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes, of which there are many. But this one, to me, transcends all issues, big and small.

Even though tomorrow is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the Unites States, today is his birthday. As a tribute to an amazing man who worked hard to teach us so many amazing lessons, let’s continue spreading his message of light and love. And just like you make resolutions at the turn of the New Year; why not resolve right now to be the change you want to see in the world? We’ve all heard that saying. Well, it’s time to live it.

What can I say about MLK, Jr. that hasn’t already been…

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Destiny (Flash Fiction)

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We’re using the book The 4am Breakthrough by Brian Kitely in my MFA Advanced Creative Writing Workshop class. The book is a compilation of writing exercises.

This week I selected one called Self-Loathing.

Basically, the directions say to write an incomplete piece of narrative (500 words) in third person about a character who deeply despises herself but without letting on to the other character(s) in the scene that this is the case.

I chose the exercise because I thought it would be interesting to imagine a character’s internal conflict and pain born from a secret so awful that it carries over into her everyday life.

If this was complete, I’d love to include more backstory about Destiny’s past and how she came to be who she is. But even without all of that I like how this turned out. To me, it feels like a snapshot taken in what should have been a happy moment if not for such a sad life.


“So… what do you think?” Nina asked Destiny.

It was the final gown fitting. As the oldest of four girls, Destiny had been through two of these already, once for each of her other sisters’ weddings. There were no sisters left, thank God, so technically this was the final final fitting.

In just a few days, Nina, the baby of the family at 28, would walk down the aisle and marry her stockbroker boyfriend, Antonio, and once that happened then only Destiny would be left. She managed a smile, but wondered if she’d qualify automatically for some sort of society of spinsters, or if she’d have to officially apply.

“You look beautiful!” Destiny gushed.

“You really think so?” Nina said and twirled a full 360 degrees around in the mirror.

“Like a princess,” Destiny chimed, trying not to let on the pain she felt inside.

Nina was beaming from ear to ear and Destiny could tell by the expression on her face and the excitement in her voice that her sister thought she’d finally found the one.

But Destiny wasn’t so sure…

Nina and Antonio had only dated—a term Destiny had always used loosely—for three months when he popped the question. There’d been plenty of other contenders before Antonio. Destiny wished her little sister had chosen one of those instead. But Nina chose Antonio.

Destiny wanted to be happy for her sister but happiness never came easy for Destiny. In fact, she couldn’t quite remember if she’d ever been truly happy.

“We’re going to have a cake and sing Happy Birthday to you at the reception,” Nina said. “You know… as a thank you for all you’ve done for us.”

“Oh. That’s so… sweet,” Destiny said.

Destiny tried not to think about all she’d done. Instead she pictured a blaze of 39 candles. Guests would need to be evacuated and the whole thing would be her fault for getting so old. On the upside at least Destiny wouldn’t have to jump out of the cake and blow a train of groomsmen.

Destiny first started stripping with the clichéd intention of putting herself through med school but then she flunked out of school because she was stripping when she should have been studying. It was great money and such a rush. She never regretted her choices until the day she went and fucked her baby sister’s fiancé for five hundred bucks.

As the bridal consultant assisted Nina with her virgin white veil, Destiny looked past the blushing bride-to-be and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She touched her face and cringed—another wrinkle. She should have stayed in school, she thought.

“You’re next!” Nina teased, hoping to cure that familiar frown.

But Destiny didn’t want to be next.

“Fingers crossed,” she said anyway and forced a gracious smile through a hopeful sigh.

I’ll keep my mouth shut today, Destiny thought. Then she peeked down at her watch sensing it was time for another Zoloft.

“The Writing Life”

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Annie Dillard’s book, The Writing Life, and many of its messages have stayed with me these past few weeks as I continue to read and write, and a few in particular have even carried over, playing like background music, as I live.

There’s no denying the fact that Dillard hits the nail on the head when she describes what it’s like to be a writer. I mean, wow. I felt this way in the early chapters when Dillard spoke of the pain and importance of rewriting, chopping, developing the “courage to tie off the umbilical cord” of first drafts, pushing through mistakes, and even as she touched upon writing habits like drinking too much coffee. So many times, I saw myself in Dillard’s stories and explanations.

Honestly though, I could do without so many personal anecdotes. While a few have been spot on and managed to open my eyes wider and make me think, there were those, too, that left me scratching my head. Some of Annie’s stories missed quirky and landed on mundane. I still don’t understand the points in sharing the coffee pot story, the butterfly mating story or the dream in chapter four. I found those to be confusing in general and, at times, even a little boring. That’s not to say I won’t have some sort of eureka moment later and suddenly understand.

Still, I love when writers share with us these types of personal insights into their own lives and explain why and how they write. I love the sneak peek into their writing processes, methods, thoughts, fears and quirks.

That said; when I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast or King’s On Writing, I got the feeling that these writers lived and wrote. They ate, drank, traveled, experienced different cultures and people… they lived (and in King’s case continue to live) full, satisfying and interesting lives. But I don’t get that same message from Dillard. Dillard says “Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world.” By her own description, she locked herself away and missed the fireworks (literally). I find that sad. I also think that feeling comes across in her writing. While I think Dillard writes beautifully and intelligently, I wish her stories came from living rather than from hibernating. She’s such a strong writer, I’d be curious to know how much more wonderful her stories might have been if she allowed herself to live more.

I want to live and write. In fact, I put off writing (full time anyway) for a long time so that I could live. Rather than pursue a writing career straight out of college, like I always thought I’d do, I chose another route—a fun, scary and far more adventurous route. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a conscious choice to collect stories and experiences to later write about. I simply craved knowledge and experience. Looking back, I know my writing is a product of my experiences, old and new, and my relationships, those I’ve nurtured along the way. If I don’t live my life, I’m not sure what I’d write about. And while I, too, lock myself away these days to write (and though Dillard hates the idea of “trancelike” writing that’s often what I do) and, in doing so, I ignore and shut out the rest of the world, I still take breaks from writing to live, love, laugh and learn.

For my own writing, specifically the novel I’m currently overhauling (for the fourth time), Dillard’s many messages are both poignant and practical. Dillard gives me perspective and a welcome shot in the arm when she says things like “what would you write if you knew you were going to die soon?” but she also gives me hope with things like “it takes between two and ten years” to write a book and “it is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion.”

Sure I’m obsessive and completely bullheaded, dreamily optimistic and borderline nuts, but those qualities are normal for a writer with a dream. Those qualities, I believe, eventually pay off and take us where we want to go.

In this week’s lecture, Professor Hurt selected the quote: “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book; or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things will fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.”

That quote really spoke to me, as well. In fact, I typed it up, printed it out and taped it to my laptop. I need to read this message every day. I also made it my Facebook status. I wanted to share it with other writers and even non-writers. I want to remember it as I write this draft, as I try my best to “give it all” this time. And while it’s a lesson on writing it’s also a metaphor for life—another twist on the classic “live life to the fullest.” Not only is this a theme throughout Dillard’s book but it’s also an important life lesson. Isn’t living life what we all want to do? Writers are no different except we need to live life and write about it to the fullest, too.

Over the break, I finished reading Miss Hempel Chronicles. The novel turned out to be wildly different from what I expected after reading that first chapter. The book is a compilation (or chronicle) of multiple stories and that chapter was just one of them. It didn’t take long for my quirky, fun and funny middle school adventure to morph into a wacky, strange, sometimes sad and heavy flashback of this woman’s soured life and disappointing youth. I wasn’t expecting any of that. Without revealing too much and ruining the literary experience, which really was a good one, the book was really two stories—two completely different stories—in one. But this works perfectly because, in a nutshell, Miss Hempel Chronicles is a story (or two stories, really) about a woman who lives two different lives. Circling back to Dillard and her message, Miss Hempel Chronicles captures Miss Hempel’s whole life, not just her life as an elementary school teacher. It succeeds because it doesn’t save the good stuff. It leaves nothing out.

In my writing and in my life, I plan to do the same.