Taking a hammer and chisel to those words on the page by Sheila Deeth

Sylvia’s story, titled Infinite Sum, will soon be released by Second Wind Publishing. If you’ve read Divide by Zero, you might remember Sylvia as a teen falling prey to the Paradise Predator in the woods. But now she’s grown up and married, with children of her own. Where will those memories of far-off days take her? And how do the wounded heal?

I wrote the first draft of Sylvia’s story quite some while ago, and even recorded the first page on YouTube:

Then I read, rewrote, reread, rewrote, and took my imaginary hammer and chisel to the words. Edited, re-edited, re-edited and more, this is the final version of that page. I’d love to know, did the hammer and chisel help? (And if they did, will you read the book — Infinite Sum, coming soon from Second Wind Publishing?)

“Don’t try to decide what you’re going to paint,” says the teacher. Then I wonder; if I don’t decide to dab my brush in paint, does he think some glorious image will appear unaided?

“Don’t restrict yourself.” But I’m bound by the page.

“Let inspiration arise from your subconscious. Set it free.”

The teacher’s voice rises skyward with his words. I watch him lift manicured hands, so very consciously and theatrically. But we’re working in a warehouse, under a lofty ceiling of snaking conduits and tangled wires. Around us, deliberately inspiring objects are artfully displayed—paintings, sculptures, a vase of flowers, a crooked pile of boxes covered in cloth. Distant spotlights splash the walls, while layers of gauze and canvas tumble down in wild abandon. In the midst of it all, we painters guard our easels, proudly wearing our different shapes and styles, eagerly devouring the teacher’s wondrous wisdom, and ready for art.

But my subconscious really doesn’t feel like inspiring anything. My hand holds the paintbrush, level with my eyes, as if I’m measuring angles or judging the shade for some curious tone, while I stare pointlessly at flowers. Yellow roses, tipped and veined with red; I mourn them as they dangle over the rim of a blue glass vase. Their feathered heads promise magic in that precious moment before falling. And then, in silence, one lonely petal drops. I let my paintbrush dip and stroke its sunset onto the page and think, yeah great; this is me, inspired by dying flowers.

Colors, shapes of blooms and stems; I add them to my canvas, and my hands are painting fast. Wash blue with white for the vase’s pure translucency.  Bite my tongue and feel my lungs expand as breath swells fiercely through my head. I dip and stroke, streak and lie, bend and rise until my kneecaps ache. Red clings to tipping tips of petals while darkness piles its urgency behind, and angles bend with a flower’s sharpening shot at eternity. Ruined lives are encased in the vase’s delicate glass, and my fingers flash with ease.

“Let inspiration arise from your subconscious,” the teacher repeats.

I’m in the zone. Then I wake and he’s announcing it’s time to go home.

The canvas in front of me is filled with red and black. Broken petals swell with decay, laid out on a layer of coal. Shattered flowers lie torn and dead and scattered, never to return. What did my subconscious have in mind?


Sheila Deeth is the author of Divide by Zero and the upcoming Infinite Sum, published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under Sheila Deeth, writing

5 responses to “Taking a hammer and chisel to those words on the page by Sheila Deeth

  1. Sheila, you hammered and chiseled beautifully. Your prose is almost musical and I must say, hearing your reading with an English accent made the experience even lovelier. Well done!

  2. Love the prose – and your voice! Best of luck with Infinite Sum!

  3. I don’t need to read the previous drafts to know marvelous work when I read it. Whenever a text pulls me in and I can set aside my editorial eye, whenever I can just sit back and not question word choices and poor structure, I know I’m in the hands of a gifted writer, Sheila.

    Many wonderful images. I was drawn particularly to “Ruined lives are encased in the vase’s delicate glass”, among others. Well done!

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