Comments on Writing a Novel, Literary Influences, Works-In-Progress, and Chapter 42 from “Devil’s Revenge”

I wrote this blog entry last July.  Noticed that some were reading it this morning per my blog stats, and went to re-read it myself.

I had to laugh!  Not much changes in my life because I am writing a couple of novels, and Bill Penrose’s warning to FINISH A DAMN BOOK!  still stands true.   I did finish “Devil’s Revenge” and in posting parts on a website and on this blog  it had its supporters.  A lot of times I kept going because of the dedicated readers who pushed me with suggestions, questions, ideas…things I hadn’t considered myself in the writing.

The last 3 plus years has been productive.  I went through some diversions (D/s, bdsm, some scoundrels, a bit of a bad patch health-wise) but I never stopped writing. Even published two small books.  Sometimes I wondered where in hell all this was going.  And WHY was I continuing to write….blindly some days.

There are no pat answers to any of this…and with some other writers who have become dear and abiding friends, I can say this:  just keep writing.  Some days it seems  there are no ideas in the brain pan, and other days you are sprouting in all directions like a tree in spring.

Perhaps the key here is reading….and reading broadly.  For a couple of years I was involved in an erotica website, but I didn’t read much erotica except what was produced on that site.  Erotica can be a dead end I think.  Bill Penrose (“Ancestors of Star”, etc) has always maintained that my dipping my toes in this genre was slight.  I think he is right.  And frankly, I read such ponderous bdsm crap  I wanted to cry.  Some of it was horrifying and some just…boring.  Be careful of the influences you let into your life.  They could be worse writers than thou art.

I have a couple of friends who are serious writers.  We churn a lot of issues over together and I think one thing is proved:  You have to read broadly.  Not just the Iliad, some classics, some contemporary novels, but take some risks here: it’s only time and these efforts, regardless whether you finish something or not, will have an impact.   You will find bits and pieces sneaking into your writing and perhaps that will be all to the good.

I do remember some influences when I was writing “Devil”:  I had attempted “Tristram Shandy” (I hold no one can read that complete novel!), read for the third time (took 25 years, though) “Tom Jones” (I love this novel!!  It’s archaic but very, very valuable for so many things) “Pamela” and “Mists of Avalon”.  All these works found some resonance in this new (only my second) novel.  Perhaps uncomfortable places, but they settled in, sometimes in the dialogue, some times in the plots.

Since January I have been working on “The Kimono”.  This is a hard one to write because the research is paramount.  But! It’s going…slowly, and some days I could cry and tear my hair, but it’s going.

Recently I picked out an old book from my shelves:  “The English Spirit, Essays in History and Literature” by A.L. Rowse.  Good God! This is such a wonderful book!  It has absolutely nothing to do with what I am writing, but the lyricism of the writer is so good, and the essays are so involving,  I can’t help but learn something from this for future usage. Beyond that, though, it’s just a joy and pleasure to read, and I am hoping Rowse’s lyricism will rub off onto my own attempts.

Nothing more than the pure joy of reading and reading broadly. I am hoping my writer friends heed this, because I do believe we don’t live by our loins alone (that’s to the erotica writers…lol!) but there are worlds out there….that we pull in here….for our productions.

Lady Nyo

(below from July, 2009 blog entry)

Where are the directions for writing a novel?  As much as it’s discussed, apparently, there aren’t any. Well, there are suggestions and some guidelines, but  nothing in concrete.  It’s as individual as the author and has different approaches.  The key thing I am told is to keep going.

And that’s the rub.  I’ve been working on this quirky novel for over 3 years now, and it never seems to finish.  That is ‘normal’ from what I am told by those who HAVE finished novels.

And it keeps changing before my eyes.  Some days the characters gang up on me and take over the action, and other days they are as glum and silent as stones.  They take me down dead ends  and plot twists where I am blind as a bat, but for some reason,  they usually throw me a bone and with the breadcrumbs of design, I can work my way back into the light. (All this begs who is in control of the novel? Not exactly an easy question….it’s a weird partnership)

Bill Penrose has been a great influence and encourager on my writing this novel and other pieces.  He has always stood at my side when I was really lost in space on this novel (and other things) and given me the wisdom and experience of his own efforts.  Bill Penrose is a writer and a terrifically polished one at that.  Many decades writing does that to one who is open to learning and change.  Three years ago, Bill and Nick Nicholson, a fine Aussie writer, grabbed me from the lists of ERWA and put me in a private group and gave me lots of advice and guidance.  They continued to do so in another group for serious writers:  Not Dead Yet.  They worked over my beginning attempts and I learned.  Not enough, but I did learn some important and elemental things about writing.  I still have a lot to learn.  But they both stuck with me and believed in the characters.  Bill taught me how to critically ‘love’ my characters, and my imagination was fired by his own.

All this is to say that Bill gave me a good kick in the fanny very recently and told me that I owed it to him and my other readers to finish ’some’ novel.  (I have about 3 others more than 1/2 way through)  He’s right, and I was distancing myself from the hard work of finishing it.  I’ve been warned.

This is a quirky novel.  This is also a rough draft.  It’s been serialized a bit on this blog, and elsewhere….and the readership has been consistent.  I have a good ‘dedicated reader’ for this one, and I am listening hard to her opinions.  Every author needs this, and it helps a lot.  Thank you, M.

This is a bit unfair to new readers, to bring you into the action towards the end of a novel, but if interested, you can go back through the year’s blog and pick up the threads.

Bess: the narrator, is a 21st century  writer who is zapped through dimensions to the 19th century, and further to 8th century Wales, and  ‘home’ again to the 19th.

Madame Gormosy:  A Devil, a shapeshifter.  She can appear male or female at will.  She is a crucial character in most of the novel and one of my favorites.

M. Abigor:  A very powerful and nasty Demon, an Arch Duke of Hell, and also a Healer.  Go figure.  He’s the main ally of the next character, and pulling the strings and planning the final action.

M. le Devil, or aka:  Garrett Cortelyou.  Tall, handsome, dangerous and funny, Garrett is half human, but also half Demon.  He is locked (for centuries) in battle with Obadiah, a particularly demented demon.  Bess seems like a prize, but she is just a pawn  between these two.

Lady Nyo

Chapter 42.


We came home.  How this happened isn’t clear.  Perhaps we flew out of that castle, off that island, out of that century like cannon shot and soared through the universe into the present.  Perhaps we tumbled like meteors over and over until we crashed into the earth.  I have no idea, but I would suppose it had to do with the mythical ley lines .

Garrett explained before what he knew about them. Some mystical,  magical spirit markers where the astral body could easily move.  He called it a ‘rip in the fabric of time’.  A portal to other dimensions.  I think Devils use this frequently to hop and jump from century to century, to show up when they are least wanted.

I read a while ago about this new mathematical “String Theory”, where scientists were theorizing extra dimensions more strange than anything we could conceive (ha! I could tell them some things…)  where we could pass from one dimension to another.  Certain  places the Earth’s energy increased and perhaps these were the portals.

But I just don’t remember how it happened to us, to return to the early 19th century. I must have had my eyes closed.

No, that’s not quite true. I do remember something.

I was lost in the darkness, with pinpoints of light travelling above, and small hills far under my feet. Those lights must be whirls of distant galaxies, stars and all that occupy the heavens, and those hills?  I remember Garrett talking about mole hills, the nurseries of different creatures, things beyond our imagination, things only a mother could love.

I seemed enormous, crossing great distances with only the breath of the cosmic wind to blow me afar, yet at the same time the universe was too vast, there were no breadcrumbs to follow.  I couldn’t see Garrett at all, I seemed to be alone.  Perhaps this was Death.  But I knew it wasn’t because I still worried, there was no peace.  Death would bring peace unless I was a ghost.

“Ah! She is coming back to life, she is awakening.”

I heard the voice of Madame Gormosy and I came conscious like a drowning woman, gasping and gulping air.

I blinked my eyes, trying to focus and there was Garrett and sweet Madame looking worried.  I still felt the effects of whatever drug was used for the time travel, but moaned with joy to see that troublesome Madame. I passed my tongue over my dried lips and tried to speak.

“Don’t labor yourself, ma cherie.   Here, drink this water, don’t gulp.”

She held a glass to my lips as Garrett slipped behind and pulled me up to a sitting position.  Of course I gulped and spilled more down the front of my nightdress.

“She will make it.”  I heard Garrett’s voice and turned my head to look at him over my shoulder.

I could have spit at him.  I was angry, and didn’t know why.   I felt disconnected and wondered if my atoms had been so disarranged as to warp my body, perhaps my mind? I pinched myself, as I would do over and over in the days to come, just to feel that small pain, to know I was alive.

I recovered after two days, felt more ‘normal’.  Something had changed though and it wasn’t just me.

Madame was always present. She hardly left me alone.  I didn’t say much, too distanced somehow to talk, or even play faro.  Madame was patient.  She didn’t push me in her usual fashion.  At times I glanced at her and she seemed worried, preoccupied in some way.  But then her expression would clear and though her eyes did not sparkle as before, she gave me encouraging little smiles as if to reassure everything would be fine.

It became clear things really had changed, would not return to whatever appeared before as normal. If I thought our coming ‘home’ would have allowed us more time together, I was very mistaken.  Garrett was mostly absent from the house.  When he arrived, I was asleep.

One evening after Madame had lit candles and found me sitting in the window seat, she came and sat down.  Smoothing her skirts across her thighs with her wrinkled and spotted hands, she sighed and looked out at the gathering darkness.

“Can you talk a little about your troubles, ma cherie?  You are so silent now, no laughter, no lightness.  I worry about you, dear child, but you seem none the worse for wear.”

I looked at Madame, the powdered gray hair, skin a lead white and those familiar moue on her face.  Suddenly I felt a sob rise in my throat and great tears began to fall.  I looked at her dear face and realized I had missed Madame Gormosy more than I could bear and here she was, before me, her own pain creasing her aged face.

“Oh, Madame!  I have missed you so much.”

I sobbed out my fear and loneliness and blindly pushed forth my hands towards her, feeling her catch me and draw me to her bosom.  Her hands went around my back, patting me firmly as I heaved great gulping sobs into her breasts, washing the lead powder from her skin and soaking her bodice.

“Ah, ma cherie, I have missed you, too! Who can I play my beloved faro with?  Once I told you how stupid other devils were.  Who can cheat like you? They are bumblers and no fun. They never tip their cards towards me, the solemn devils, they never kick their shoes off under the table, never let me read their deepest thoughts.  Ah! They are no amusement at all!”

I had to laugh.  Madame was very vain about her winnings, and kept them in a lacquered box.  But when I had no more coin to play with her, she would dump the box out and divide the coin equally. Well, perhaps I give her too much credit and have to remember she is a tricky devil, so I would suppose she would rake a bit of coin into her lap.  But all in all, she entertained me, and took great pains to do so.

She snapped her fingers and produced two rather large bowls of tea for us.  So much better than the stout Garrett would snap for.  Madame understood women, even though she was half male, and knew a crying jag would not be comforted by a tankard of ale.

I sipped the hot tea and wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, and heard her ‘tut, tut’, as she leaned over and attempted to dry my tears with a large linen handkerchief. I started to laugh, a rather forlorn and empty attempt at laughter, but Madame was predictable.  So was I, apparently.

“What is now to happen, Madame?”  I looked at where my tears had made her white powder run and her wrinkled, old bosom exposed over the top of her plum, velvet gown.  She smelled a little like boiled cabbage.

“Ah, M. le Devil should have many plans by now.  Since you both have returned, he has met everyday with some creature or other.”

Her eyes glittered as she dipped her face into her bowl. The old devil knew something!

“Have you seen who he meets?  Is M. Abigor a visitor?”

“Ah, my curious girl, I only get a glimpse of a tail or a hoof, not much to go on.  Perhaps a slight smell of brimstone, nothing much to identify. These queer devils are all the same, n’est ce pas?”

Madame Gormosy was lying. We both knew they didn’t have tails or hooves, they would look like respectable gentlemen, even though their danger did not come from the swords that dangled at their sides.

Madame cocked her head and narrowed her eyes.  “Perhaps we apply some powder and rouge, get you into a tight corset, do your hair and you will feel like facing life again?  No one can face the future in their nightgown.  We women have our own power, neh?”

I sighed. I was back amongst devils, and at least they were familiar. Their magic I knew, at least some of it.  No tattooed snakes travelling the length of arms, nor Warrior Queens speaking in tongues.   Just Madame Gormosy with her transvestite ability and snapping her fingers for bowls of tea.  There was still this issue of Garrett disappearing and it seemed that coming ‘home’ had done little to change that.  I needed some answers and the only way was to do as Madame demanded.  I shook off my suspicions and gathered myself.  I was still very much a part of this puzzle.  Dark forces were gathering and I still was just a pawn on a demented chessboard.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2009

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4 Responses to “Comments on Writing a Novel, Literary Influences, Works-In-Progress, and Chapter 42 from “Devil’s Revenge””

  1. Malcolm Miller Says:

    At last! A new episode of this fascinating tale. Like the protagonist, I have lots of questions about the devils and what they are up to, but slowly the curtain is being raised. I wish you the best of luck with your progress towards the completion of the story.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Me, too! I wish the best of luck with my progress because this summer, I’m going to rewrite the whole thing….

    I’ll need luck and a lot more breathing space….

    And peace and quiet!

    Thanks, Malcolm….sometimes I have tunnel vision about this story….it is growing on me, though.


  3. Berowne Says:

    > Where are the directions for writing a novel?

    “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Yep….that’s an old one but remains true.

    However, as many novelists as I do know….as opposed to short story writers…there seems to be a few commonalities.

    Many make outlines of the novel…from where they start to what they think is the projection to finish. I think most of us have a ‘plan’ as to the overall of a novel, but in the writing that always gets trashed. Most of us are constantly surprised at what plot twists and changes come up.

    And I think this is good and proper. I believe what keeps many of us writing is that we want to be entertained as much as our readers…..we thrive on that excitement and surprise.

    Some plot chapter to chapter….some have a long distanced view of this task and divide the novel (idea) into sections….

    I think what is more interesting, provocative, is what our characters ‘teach’ us. There is NO WAY I could come up with the imagination and dialogue of my characters…they bloom and seem to have their own lives….and there are times I just feel like the scribe…scribbling fast to get what they do down.

    Of course, I know this isn’t apart from me…but many times just suspending your head on a shelf and allowing the full run of your characters to talk and move….writes the scenes.

    When I am in a fix….when I realize what I am writing is mundane, humdrum, just putting words down and hoping for something interesting to happen…well, this is when I hope my characters come in and surprise me. Many times they do.

    I realized the rush of this in “Devil’s Revenge” mainly with the character Garrett Cortelyou and the the transvestite Demon, Madame/Monsieur Gormosy. There is no way in Hell I could have come up with their dialogue. Especially Madame Gormosy.

    And when we fall in love with the antics and personalities of our characters, this is what I believe propels us to continue to write to the finish.

    But it’s never a straight line shot. Only a couple of times has this happened to me where the story unfolded before me from start to finish….and that was only in short story form.

    You live with a novel…for years, and what happens sometimes is that they populate your life even more than ‘real folk’.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Berowne.

    Lady Nyo


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