General, Upcoming Book

Resurrecting my rejected manuscript

Hippy Bus
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”
                  — Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet
The button every writer should wear

If you, like me, have stories you are dying to tell, you can appreciate the irony of this button I keep on my desk. But irony is only part of it, right? The art of writing may also be suggested by the perfectly calibrated words of Mary Oliver reminding me every time I sit down to write that I am heading for that room  where I will be able to call up and name the unimaginable.


For example, years ago I started what became a 400 page novel manuscript called Pillow Prayers based on my horrified response when a friend committed suicide after her pillow stitchery business failed.

Summer of Love

How could she do that? The question tortured me.

After almost ten years of writing the manuscript, I decided it was finished and sent it out to agents, publishing houses, and  few published writers including a famous crime novelist who wrote back that he “didn’t know what to do with it”.

There was little interest and so, feeling despondent and rejected myself, I put Pillow Prayers away. Fast forward to 2015 when I had just finished and published Spiral. a novel of magic realism set in the ancient Southwest. Now what? I asked myself as I gritted my teeth and pulled the Pillow Prayers manuscript out of the closet. Yes, I expected those metaphorical drops of blood on the button to soon be dripping from my forehead.

But that doesn’t happen. Instead, to my own amazement, I plunge into a deep, dark tale of love ruined and love reborn. I am suddenly in a room I could not have imagined where I’m seeing how to resurrect my three main characters: Beth, the Stitchery owner; Ruth, the scholar turned hippy artist; and Lonnie, the naive psychology student. I eagerly begin rewriting.

Hippy Bus

Daily I enter the room of the unimaginable. I cut out Beth, Ruth and Lonnie’s least understandable traits, editing, pasting in, enhancing and creating new juicy ones. In the process I relive Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus and experience the folk, rock and soul music emerging from the Summer of Love. I feel the excitement posing as a flower child, the menace of the Civil Rights backlash, the horror and fallout from the Vietnam War, the allure of drugs, and the call of what was for me an exotic Buddhism. Most of all I bask in the sunlight of that rare and short-lived freedom I felt when we all first came to San Francisco.


Dear Diary, General, Journal

Dear Diary #5—Dying for Approval

Dear Diary,

The Scull of Persistence by Charr Crail
The Scull of Persistence by Charr Crail


It’s beyond imagining. You would never believe it. I just received an email from my favorite high school teacher praising my novel, Dreamers.

Sister Mary ___ (Alas, she hasn’t yet given me permission to use her actual name) is a nun in the Sisters of Charity religious order. She was only twenty five or so when she became my English teacher. She was funny, smart, and even prettier than the character Amy Adams played in that telling movie, Doubt.

Sister Mary loved literature like I did.  Once I found her after school sitting at her desk next to the window looking out on Sacred Heart Church. She was reading Shakespeare’s MacBeth, in another world, transfixed. I hated to interrupt her but of course I did. I remember she used to pound the floor with her little black shoe as she recited the poetry of Langston Hughes. Yes, Sr. Mary was both wonderful and frightening.

Her email of a week ago flows over me like honey. How thankful am I that she has had the persistence to stay in touch. What a different young woman I would have become back in 1962 if I had carried Sr. Mary’s words in my pocket. At seventeen I would have done anything for her approval. That small Irish-faced nun with twinkly eyes framed by her black Sisters of Charity bonnet held the keys to my fragile self-worth.

Writer with closed mouth
Stitched Mouth by Charr Crail

No, you won’t find anything about Sr. Mary in this diary. By the time I left high school, I had relegated her to the dustbin with all my other memories like old dolls turned ragged, ignored. I desperately wanted to leave everything connected with childhood behind.

Entering college, I put on a dark mask of disillusioned doom, the pose I thought I needed to become a serious author. I spent entire days attending classes without saying a word,  my mouth stitched tight with fear and resistance.  I remember the sensation of walking from class to the streetcar stop on a cold November day and not being able to breathe. By my sophomore year, I was literally dying for approval.

But things change. In my junior year, I signed up for Creative Writing, Playwriting, Poetry, English History and China & the Far East, classes that I found I loved.  Even better, I started to write. A September 1964 entry describes my first attempt at writing a novel.

“The excitement of writing is nerveless; my words are suspended. I have never felt so peace-like. Everything is warm and deeply comfortable to me.”

Hobbyhorse was the title of my first “book”, a florid stream-of-consciousness describing the up and downs of two young lovers told from alternating points of view, a style I just realize I duplicated in Dreamers. In Hobbyhorse, each chapter seesawed back and forth, the characters sifted like fool’s gold from the sluice box of my first experience falling in love.

Suddenly I felt joyful, happy to be alive. My diary for November 12, 1963 reads,  “I don’t even try to deaden my joy. It is slow-moving, calm.

The writer in me
Pondering by Charr Crail

And then another miracle! I found a teacher willing and eager to read my work. Dr. John Hart, English professor from Yale, was a small, thin man with a pronounced limp. Walking across the Tech campus, I’d stop to greet him, He’d be dragging his leg, his jacket blowing in the wind. He had a pale Irish face with a big squashy red nose. A few strands of light hair fell across his brow as he answered my questions in a quiet dreamy way. Each week I’d give him my chapters, typed double-spaced and folded lengthwise. He’d put them in his coat pocket. Oh! how eagerly I pondered his response.


Excerpt from Sr. Mary’s email:

Congratulations on your beautiful novel, Dreamers!  I love it!  You’ve caught so well the mood of the Sixties—the glories as well as the mistakes, the feelings, the actions, the many causes, and, yes, the dreams.  Your work is excellent, as you must know from the many descriptions on the book cover.  I especially like that by Vicki Weiland.  Your writing is indeed “taut, nuanced, sophisticated, and multi-layered.”  I’m sending your novel to my oldest niece, a psychologist who will understand well the beauty and the anguish of the sixties. I’ll let you know how she reacts.  Meanwhile, I just want you to know how proud I am of you and your work.  You’re in my prayers, now and always.  God bless you—and all those dear to you.

Artwork by Charr Crail