Writing in Books with Boys

So I wrote a book with a guy. You may be wondering how that happened. Many of my friends are. Actually, they’re just wondering how he survived; I think they thought I’d lose it midway, bite his head off, and lay eggs in his neck. Which is odd because, really, I’m a cupcake to work with.

So here’s the story.

A long time ago, I worked on a dissertation on the differences in the way men and women tell stories, or to put it in academese, the impact of gender on narrative strategies. As part of the research, I read one hundred romance novels, which is what made me switch my diss to romance, and then shortly after that begin writing romance. But I really loved that diss topic, and the stuff I discovered was great: men tell stories in linear plots and women tell them in patterns, men privilege action and women privilege relationship (not only between people but also between things and events), men are about getting to the goal and women are about the journey, men want to tell the big picture and women want to tell the detail . . . really, it was fascinating. And of course these are all gross generalities because there are men who like detail and women who want the big picture, but still from what I observed and what I read, the differences were real and had a huge impact on not only publishing but also TV, film, video games, you name it.

But then I sold a romance novel and went into the MFA program and wrote two more novels and then I teamed up with a fellow MFA student, Jeff MacGregor, who’s a terrific essayist and short story writer, to write a novel in which I’d do the woman’s POV and he’d do the guy’s because I wanted to see what would happen with two different gender voices in a text. I don’t know why he agreed, I probably had my knee on his neck and he wanted to breathe. We came up with a premise and I wrote the first scene, which was stellar. Then he wrote the second scene, which was funny as all hell. Then I wrote the third scene and turned it back over to him, and he said, “You know, I think I’m done.” Moral: Do not ask a short story writer to write a novel. (Although in Jeff’s defense, he did write a great non-fiction book on NASCAR called Sunday Money, in your bookstores now.)

I went on to finish the MFA and fifteen novels and then, ten years after my first book was published, I stalled. Flat out hit the wall. I got 60,000 words into a book called You Again and could not find my way out. Which did not mean I didn’t keep pitching, boy, I even took it with me to the Maui Writer’s conference last August (2004) and that’s where, while the surf lapped the sand, I realized that I was Finished. Over. Done with. Kaput. Fifteen books is a career, I told myself. Fifteen damn good books, too, if I do say so myself. Nothing to be ashamed of. Everything must end. Nothing to see here. Move it along.

Wait, you’re saying. That’s not funny. Isn’t this blog supposed to be funny? No. Get over that, okay? Sometimes I feel like making fun of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and sometimes I don’t.

Basically, I was deep in a menopausal depression and didn’t realize it. Well, I knew I wasn’t tap-dancing down the road of life, but I thought it was business as usual. I should have recognized something was wrong when I got up one morning, went out onto the balcony, looked at the sun sparkling on the Pacific from a sky so blue it hurt my eyes, and thought, “Another fucking day in paradise,” but no, I just thought I was grumpy.

So that night I went up to the presenters lounge which was full of some of the best people you could ever meet–I love the Maui Writers faculty, those people know how to party–and tried to be Positive and Upbeat while sucking down white wine like a sump pump. If there’d been an IV there, I’d have jammed it in. Which is when Bob Mayer sat down beside me and said, “We should collaborate.” And I looked at him and thought, “This is the guy who’s been gaslighting me all week but he’s written thirty novels so he knows how to get to the end of one.” And then I remembered the reality of my life and realized there was no way I could be that lucky and he had to be gaslighting me again, so I laughed and said, “Good one, Bob.”

Then later Mollie said, “That was kind of mean,” and I said, “What? He was kidding,” and she said, “No, he was serious,” and I thought, “Damn,” and the next day I hunted him down and said,” Save me.” Okay, I wasn’t quite that blatant, but I think he could tell I needed somebody to throw me a rope, and he was a Green Beret so that’s pretty much what he does. Or as Karen Harbaugh said after meeting him, “He’s a German Shepherd.” Except not as chatty. And thank you, Jesus, he barked, “Yes.”

And then because I’m me, I told him how we were going to do it. Because I was still hooked on that failed MFA project, I said, “Two points of view. You write the hero’s and I write the heroine’s and we’ll do a romantic thriller in which the characters are true to gender.” And he said, “Oh-kay,” which I have since come to recognize as BobSpeak for, “Not what I had in mind, but let’s see how it works.” Then I said, “So we probably write really different books, right?” and he said, “I don’t know, what do you write?” And he wasn’t kidding.

I know, you’re thinking, how arrogant are you, Crusie, you’re not famous, but I figured he must have read something of mine because he was asking me to collaborate, right? But no. He liked the way I talked. Which was damn smart of him because it turned out that we have the same speech rhythms which is why the people who have read the book can’t tell that two different people wrote it, but at the time I was just dumbfounded. Except I’d never read anything he’d written either. Self-centered R Us.

So he got a copy of Faking It in the bookstore and handed me an ARC of Bodyguard of Lies, the hardcover he had coming out next (published March of 2005). And we retired to our respective corners and got our rude awakenings. Well, not that rude. I really liked Bodyguard of Lies–the guy is one hell of a writer, his action crackles on the page, plus it was about a kickass FEMALE adventure hero, and I loved her–but it was omniscient and violent and had a lot of infodump and a very high body count. Plus no shoes and no dogs. So we met again at a table in the lanai, and I held up Bodyguard and said, “Lotta infodump,” and he held up Faking It and said, “Lotta dialogue,” and we looked at each other. And then I said, “What the hell, I’m in,” and he said, “Yep,” and we got started on Don’t Look Down.

So I have many stories about this collaboration which I will probably be writing later–there was the struggle over infodump, the jacket debacle, the time we discussed his character’s behavior during a sex scene (that one will live in infamy)–but we wrote an outstanding book, I think maybe the best one I’ve ever done, and I am happy again. And Mollie is going to put up a PDF of the promos for it with the first chapter tomorrow night (Tuesday) so people can see what happened when Bob met Jenny, although DLD is not going to be out until May of 2006. (Look in the blue box on the home page on the website for the link. Oh, and if you’ve read the chapter on the mini-CD or the chapter that used to be on Bob’s website, you have not read the current first chapter. We changed it. A lot. Although you might want to go to Bob’s website just to read the story of the collaboration from his point of view. Warning: His blog is terse. (Click on the Updates link on www.bobmayer.org.)

Mostly this blog entry is just to say: I owe Bob Mayer. The guy’s a hero, a real German Shepherd, he saved my literary butt, and I’m grateful because I not only finished a great book, I FINALLY got to test out my diss thesis and I was dead on right. I love it when that happens.

And now we’re writing Agnes and the Hitman. Or as Bob likes to call it, Shane and the Food Columnist. She cooks, he kills, they have great sex. And the shoes are to die for. Literally.

I am having SUCH a good time.

So thank you very much, Bob Mayer.
And I’m sorry about last week when I told you that you had the sensitivity of a warthog. That was wrong of me.