Trudy 1: Ice Station Zebra, Not

So today was the day I was supposed to outline Trudy. I spent the morning with Val on the deck discussing Battlestar Galactica, tattoos, and general gossip, but then she went home and I spent six hours on business stuff, phone and e-mail. Then I crashed for two hours. Then I went to work on the outline.

It’s twelve scenes broken into four acts with turning points:
Three scenes, then a turning point where the heroine cautiously trusts somebody a little.
Three more scenes, then a turning point where the heroine trusts somebody a lot.
Two scenes and then a turning point where the heroine is betrayed.
Three scenes ending with the climax and a fourth scene for resolution.
(Yes, Act Three seems a little light, but the Act Four scenes are short. I still have to graph out the motifs and subplots and figure out how the tension escalates and where to run the romance plot, so I’ll probably figure out Act Three then.)

Then I sent it to Bob for butching up. I was hoping for pointers on the fight scenes but he got distracted by the end where he wants the heroine to save the planet. I said, “No, Bob, it’s a Christmas romance, she restores a little boy’s faith in Christmas and her own faith in men.” He said, “OK, fine, but I really think you need the Ice Station Zebra Ending with your heroine playing Rock Hudson.” I’ve never seen Ice Station Zebra, and I’m not going to any time soon because I’m pretty sure it has nothing that I can use for a romance heroine in a Christmas novella. Which I told Bob. And he wrote: “The key is [The Good Guy in the novella] makes the decision to protect her over getting the X. He loses the X, the Bad Guys lose the X, but he gets the girl and there’s peace on earth because she kept either side from gaining an advantage. You really need to watch Ice Station Zebra– very smart ending.” [I’m using X to protect the real deal here in case some of you read this novella fifteen months from now.]

If you look closely at Bob’s e-mail, you’ll see our main cognitive disconnect: I always assume Our Girl is the protagonist and he always assumes The Guy is. Except this time, we’re not collaborating, and there’s only one POV in the novella and it’s Our Girl Trudy’s. So Bob’s “He decides, he loses, he gets the girl” has this basic flaw. OTOH, I need him to make sure The Guy’s POV makes sense, so it’s good he keeps thinking of this as The Guy’s story. But I’m still not watching Ice Station Zebra. Which I said. Well actually, I wrote, “Get over Ice Station Zebra.” And he wrote back, “I’m just trying to give your girl the most important role. But she can stand around and cheerlead.”

He knows how much I hate cheerleader heroines, so I had to respond. Yes, I know I asked him for help, but I wanted to know how to beat up the Bad Guy and his Minions in a Christmas-y way, not how to have Our Girl save humanity. I was thinking of bashing them with fake reindeer antlers (listen, there’s a reason I need Bob), but he’s fixated on Ice Station Zebra. So I wrote back, “How does nobody getting the X give her the most important role? Especially since her goal is to get a toy to her nephew by Christmas morning?” And he wrote back, “But my way she saves the world.”

There you have it. He thinks globally, I think locally. Well, he was a Green Beret and I was a small town school teacher, so that makes sense. What I wrote back was straight out of that old dissertation: “This is classic male vs female stuff. You want the global win. I want the intimate connection.” And he wrote, “Good, she can be a cheerleader.” That was just trying to start a fight, so I wrote, “It’s a Christmas romance novella. Globally significant irony is not appropriate.” And he wrote, “OK, she saves Xmas. Woo-hoo.” And I wrote, “Still global. She saves a little kid’s faith in Santa. Or something. The personal, not the political, Bob.”

And then he wandered off since I wasn’t going to blow up a major city or fight back on the cheerleader thing. So I’ll go back to him tomorrow or the next day to get the violent stuff I need because he won’t remember any of this. He says twenty years in the service used up his adrenalin for life; I think it might have used up his short term memory, too. And anyway, he should like doing Christmas violence. Maybe strangling bad guys with a light string. That’s Christmas-y.

In other news, I have had no sugar today in spite of the birthday cake sitting on my stove. It helps that it’s the ugliest cake in the history of cakes. I tried that new microwave icing that you heat and then pour over the cake. Every time Val walked past it last night, she said, “Your cake is still seeping.” So we pigged out on cookies and popcorn. But I have been good all day, no refined sugar at all, so I’m going to go hit the treadclimber for an hour and then come back and analyze this outline again for motifs and subplot, answer several more e-mails about covers and the next anthology, and then I’ll probably crash.

Tomorrow, I have to dig out the Christmas music, throw the cake away, and start to write. There will be no Ice Station Zebra.

It’s a plan.

I Have A Plan

It’s time to make resolutions for the new year. Yes, I know it’s not January first, but I don’t like making resolutions in January. It feels wrong. As somebody who was a student and a teacher interchangeably for forty-five years, I start my new year in September. There are limitless possibilities in September, so much change is in the air, whereas January is just cold and bleak and depressing, heading into February, the Month of the Dead. So this is my new year. And today is my New Year’s Day because it’s my birthday. I’m 56. I know, I don’t look a day over 55. It’s the plastic surgery.

Where was I?

Right, new year’s resolutions. Well, I’ve had a very interesting year, so my big resolution is to continue that and not screw it up. And part of that is getting my writing process together. Basically, I don’t have a writing process, I just flail around, a fact that became abundantly clear when I did Don’t Look Down with Bob. At one point he accused me of deliberately sabotaging myself because I kept ripping up what we’d done and starting over, but it’s actually just what I do. (My parents just called to wish me a happy birthday. Such nice people. I should get up there to visit them more often. Such a lousy daughter. They sent me a birthday card and asked about it and I realized that it’s somewhere in the stack of mail that piled up while I was in Maui. REALLY lousy daughter. I will do better in the new year.)

Where was I?

Right, I should get more organized. Or at least give organization a shot. And as it happens, I just signed to do a novella for a Christmas anthology for 2006. Twenty thousand words about a woman named Trudy who’s mad as hell (that’s not the assignment, that’s who turned up when I was thinking about the novella). Twenty thousand words is short. And a craft loop I’m on is talking about making a plan and sticking to it, X number of pages for X number of days. Well, twenty thousand words is eighty pages, so in theory ten pages a day for eight days is a novella. Key word here is “theory.” Because after that, I’ll have to rewrite it for two years, but still, a first draft in eight days . . .

Of course, this is a cousin to my, “I’ll lose two pounds a week until Christmas and be down to a healthy weight” plan. That never works either. But still, I am intrigued. And it’s a novella. (Just got an e-mail from Bob that said, in its entirety, “Timeline?” On WHAT, Bob? Agnes? Trudy? Charlotte? The writer’s workshop we’re planning? Getting the house cleaned before Val comes to spend the night and drink wine tomorrow?)

Where was I?

Right, the writing plan for the novella. I’m thinking a scene is usually around 2000 words long, give or take a thousand words, so maybe ten days, breaking the novella down into scenes. I don’t write in chronological order, but I can break it down into narrative chunks. The heroine is going to get three phone calls from her sister, so I could do those, set up the backstory and motivation there. The heroine is going to have three increasingly intimate arguments with the hero. (Just got an answer back from Bob: “Agnes.” Great, Bob. What kind of timeline on Agnes? On the proposal? The entire book? Writing timeline or plot timeline? There’s such a thing as taking laconic too far.)

Where was I?

Right, I could do the conversations with her sister, the arguments with the hero, the set-up and resolution scenes . . . this could work. Plus I love this novella idea. And I think I can do two thousand words a day. For those of you saying, “Two thousand words a day? Anybody can do two thousand words a day,” I’d like to point out that I’m not just typing this stuff, I’M MAKING IT UP. That takes thought. And we all know that when it comes to focused thinking, I’m not even in the also-rans. (This just in from Bob: “Outline and first scenes. Then we put it aside while you do Trudy and I finish Lost Girls and Avon. Also Charlotte is in there somewhere.” Trudy is the novella, Lost Girls is his sequel to Bodyguard of Lies [which is great, you should read it, and is Lost Girls a terrific title or what?], and Charlotte is my next solo book, about a home ec teacher who just wants to get married but ends up learning to belly dance and getting a tattoo. Why? I don’t know, I just write the damn things. But first I have to get my half of the Agnes outline to Bob. I told him he had an early Agnes scene he could use to get her right in his Shane scenes, so I’m off the hook there, but I have to get that outline to him today. I’ve had it for a couple of days, so he’s been very patient.)

Where was I?

Right, the novella plan. So if I make a plan on Monday, and then follow it for the next ten days, I should have a complete first draft of Trudy by Thursday the 29th. Factor in a day to take care of whatever disaster intrudes, and that’s Friday the 30th and the end of the month. I like that. Yes, I realize this is not going to work, but it’s a good experiment and besides– (E-mail from Bob: “Resend so I can get a feel.” I’m pretty sure he means resent the old Agnes scene so he can get a feel for her character, but if you think I’m going to let that one go by without a snarky comment, you don’t know me.)

Where was I?

Right, done by Sept. 30. And since Val is coming to stay tomorrow night, I can pour her a lot of wine and make her talk the whole thing through with me. (Val Taylor has been my critique partner since 1993. You wouldn’t believe the lousy drafts she’s waded through.) Val loves organizing stuff. This could be good. I’m going to try this. And to keep myself honest, I’m going to–(Bob just wrote back and said, “Whatever.” Not in a good mood this morning. That’s okay, I am. We have this deal, only one of us can get depressed at a time. Works great. Give me a minute here while I find that old Agnes scene and send it to him.)

(Okay, went back and read that scene and it was terrible, so I e-mailed Bob and told him I’d write him one from scratch. Which I should probably do today, except I have to get the laundry done so Val has clean sheets and get all my office stuff out of the kitchen which is where it ended up when I painted my office two days ago. And get the boxes off the dining room table so we can eat dinner there. In fact, I just have to get all the junk that doesn’t have a place out of the house entirely. And then maybe I can find another surge protector so I can plug in my printer so I can do these Trudy notes so I can–)

(Just got an e-mail from Bob: “ok.” Not chatty, that Bob. Gotta get that outline off to him fast. Which means I eat lunch at the computer again.)

Where was I?

Right, the plan. So on Monday, I’ll lay out the plan, and then I’ll do two thousand words a day every day until Friday the 30th. And to keep myself honest, I’ll do a blog entry every day about how it went. These entries will be short and boring, but they’re not for you, they’re for me, so feel free to skip them. And then a week from Friday, I’ll admit defeat and return to my regularly scheduled flailing.

So here are my new year’s resolutions:

  1. Get a writing process, starting with the Trudy Plan.
  2. Lose two pounds a week until Christmas.
  3. Be a better daughter.
  4. Get rid of all the junk in this house.
  5. Maybe lose one pound a week until Christmas.
  6. At least give up sugar.

Okay, the resolutions need work, too. The important thing is, I have a plan. And I’m sticking to it.


Bob’s Blog: A Correction

So I just went to Bob’s blog and found this post:

“Yes. Been back for several days. Maui was fun but tiring. Back in the real world now and really need to finish Lost Girls.
Also am roughing the outline for the next Crusie/Mayer, my working title HIT PARADE. Or DON’T LOOK DOWN THERE but that might be redundant. Had to cut one of my favorite characters, Dakota Lake, the ex-bimbo girlfriend of the mobster who becomes a stripper who moves to Sweden and becomes a sex therapist. At least in my version. But Jenny said: No sex therapists in the book.
No trips for a while. Just writing. Which is the hardest part of being a writer. If we could just not have that pesky part this is the best job in the world.”

The part that caught my eye was that accusation that I made him cut Dakota because she was a sex therapist. (Well, right after I puzzled out the misplaced modifier about the mobster who became a stripper). For the record, I loved Dakota. I actually don’t remember her being a sex therapist, but I loved her. We cut her because the plot was getting too complicated and Bob didn’t want to deal with her. But now sex therapists all over the world are going to think I discriminate against them which is so not true. Although I don’t quite see why Dakota had become one in Sweden. You’d think Sweden would be the last place they’d need sex therapists. Not an uptight country, Sweden.

So I would like to correct this on his site but his webmistress, per his instructions, has not enabled comments. Inkgrrl, where are you? I think it’s only fair that you enable comments on Bob’s blog so that I can right this terrible slander on my open-mindedness. And before sex therapists start showing up here to complain.

Oh, and as Bob rightly pointed out, Hit Parade is his working title. Mine is Agnes and the Hitman or, my real fave that nobody else likes, Cranky Agnes. God knows where he got Don’t Look Down There. I remember him saying in Maui that we should write Don’t Look Up and Don’t Look That Way, but Don’t Look Down There is just crying out for ridicule and innuendo. Geez. You know that whole working title thing is probably worth a blog. I remembering having a terrible time writing Charlie All Night, so I kept referring to it online as “that damn Charlie,” which became “f**king Charlie,” which then became “f**king Chuck,” which had a nice ring to it. Every now and then somebody from back then will refer to it as “F**king Chuck.” The good old days. Where was I?

Right. Bob’s blog is in error. I would never discriminate against sex therapists. Thank you.

Patricia Gaffney, the Dark Side

I currently have a houseguest, my close personal friend, Patricia Gaffney, who looks like a Botticelli madonna but isn’t. Pat is many things–beautiful, talented, funny, kind, intelligent—but she’s also a whacko. She sits there looking classically lovely and says strange things, and then everybody looks at me as if I’D said them because Patricia Gaffney couldn’t possibly say them, and I’m left with my mouth hanging open, looking stunned with nothing to say.

I first met Pat many years ago at a writer’s conference at Penn State. I listened to her talk about plot, which mostly consisted of her saying, “I don’t plot,” and then I sat next to her in a lecture and she borrowed a pen and then gave it back to me saying, “That’s the worst pen I’ve ever used.” Then she invited me to dinner with Victoria Thompson and Sandra Hill, and Sandy brought a friend whose name I omitted to learn, and then we had some wine, and ordered excellent coffee ice cream, and I was just digging into mine when Pat pointed to Sandy’s friend and said, “I bet you don’t even know the name of that woman sitting right across from you.” And I looked at the poor woman who was nodding at me helpfully, and I had absolutely no idea who she was. Pat said, “Whoops,” but did she look insensitive and clueless? No, all eyes were on me while I stuttered and she ate the rest of my ice cream.

Naturally we became close friends and I put up her first website for her historical romances, a website which she wrote and I designed, the marvelous Passion Ann Heet’s Fan Site for the Insanely Great Patricia Gaffney (Passion Ann is the pseudonym I’m going to take when my career tanks; Pat is going to be Edith Peach-Pitt), but she has now abandoned Passion Ann for high falutin’ serious fiction, so Passion Ann floats aimlessly in cyberspace, abandoned. So sad. Well, I’m over it.

However, since the coffee ice cream and Passion Ann, I’ve learned that Pat knows many things, which she is inclined to share at the drop of a semi-colon, no transition necessary. Take, for example, the birds. The hero in her novel Flight Lessons was a bird expert, so Pat became a bird expert and she’s pretty obnoxious about it. When I stayed at her house, she was harassing the birds on her front lawn because they were singing backwards. “No, you idiots,” she yelled. “It not whit too, whit too, whee too, it’s too whit, too whit, too whee.” I said, “Pat? Honey?” She said, “They do it to taunt me.” (As God is my witness, this is true.) Somehow this slipped my mind, so yesterday, when a huge bird landed in a tree outside my window, I said, “Look!” She squinted outside and said, “That’s a vulture. Do you know how they keep cool? They throw up on their feet.” I looked at her and tried to think of a way to hold up my end of the conversation, but basically, I had nothin’. And it’s not just birds. Yesterday afternoon, we were doing a Q&A with my local chapter, and somebody asked about erotica, and I said that there was a pretty wide span and some of it was not to my taste, like the ones that featured German Shepherds, and Pat said, “Linda Lovelace made a porn film with a German Shepherd. It was called Dog F**ker.” And everybody looked at me because Patricia Gaffney, with her madonna smile, could not POSSIBLY have said “Dog F**ker,” and once again, I had nothin’. You’d think by now I’d see it coming, but she gets me every time.

But even worse was the time she asked me for help on a manuscript. I feel strongly that the only helpful feedback is honest feedback, but sometimes I am less than tactful, so after I e-mailed her my response, I got an e-mail back from her husband, Jon: Pat had read my critique and died. For the next week I got e-mails from Jon regularly about how devastated he was at his loss, about how all Pat’s friends were calling (“They forgive you”), about how beautiful she was going to look all laid out in her wedding dress (purple chiffon, which I think tells you all you need to know about Patricia Gaffney). And you know, there’s just no way to respond to that; even in death, she had me. Then came the last one. They’d been playing Pat’s favorite song, EmmyLou Harris’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,” at the funeral, and Pat had sat straight up in her coffin and said, “Where am I and why the hell am I wearing all this goddamn purple chiffon?” It was a miracle, Jon said. So I told him I could never critique her again because of the danger to her health. And what happens? She sends me the first two hundred pages of her latest work in progress, Mad Dash, and asks for feedback. And I tell her the truth: It’s fantastic. But even if it wasn’t fantastic, I’d tell her that because, frankly, I don’t need to hear about that damn purple chiffon again.

She’s out in the dining room now, drinking coffee, but soon she’ll come in here, smiling like a Botticelli madonna and say something and the dogs will look at me as if I said it, and I’ll have nothin’ again.

Patricia Gaffney. She’s not what she looks like.

PATRICIA GAFFNEY RESPONDS (because she’s staying with me and she insisted):

Wow, what a weird keyboard. Never tried one of these here ergonomic ones before. Feel like a lobster. Well! Jennifer has kindly allowed me an inch or two of rebuttal space, 25 words or less, which of course I am ignoring. Flouting, I might almost say, which reminds me that yesterday at the writers’ chapter meeting of which she spoke so eloquently, I reached a point in some brilliant remark when I needed to say “flout” (re. the so-called RULE editors and agents have made about multiple submissions), and for one awful moment I couldn’t remember if I wanted “flout” or “flaunt.” I stuttered only for a second, you’ll be glad to know, then came through. I don’t think anyone even suspected. Anyway, I do think Jenny’s blog was pretty accurate, no real revisions I’d suggest, except I noted with some wistfulness that she only said “Botticelli Madonna” twice, and I do think in this instance she might have followed the rule of three. (En passant, at first I misread, thought it said Bodacious Mama, which is actually much, much closer to the truth, but what are you going to do.)

Well, so here I am in Jen’s fabulous house, gazing out at the river—which is green today, dappled and energetic-looking, a source of endless inspiration, I’m sure. Gazing past the dog poop on the deck, I should add in the interests of full disclosure. Jenny says it’s because she’s been away so much lately, they’ve lost their minds, but I can’t help thinking its some sort of dog comment on houseguests. This is a beautiful house and I have a beautiful host and I just couldn’t be happier. She thinks I’m leaving tomorrow. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. By the way, I just finished DON’T LOOK DOWN and was blown away. Which of course I mean in a good way. So then I picked up BODYGUARD OF LIES by Bob Mayer (but writing as Robert Doherty for some reason), a book, frankly, I would not have thought of reading since it has guns or something on the cover, just not my cup of tea, but lo! It’s great! I foresee big things and a long, bright, shiny future for these two, and I am never wrong. Can’t wait for next May so the whole world can a) read the book, b) see how perspicacious I am.

Welp, time to eat more. Jenny and I have agreed to eat as much as we possibly can over this long weekend, because the diet starts Tuesday. I wonder if she’ll want to amend that when she finds out I’m staying.

Things I’m Not

I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling this year, and there are some misconceptions I need to clear up before I hit the road again.

1. I’m Not Pregnant

So here’s what happens when you hit middle age: your weight settles in your stomach and everybody thinks you’re having a baby. I’m assuming God intended the gray hair and wrinkles to offset the menopause bump, but since we don’t do gray hair and wrinkles any more, there’s a cognitive disconnect and people keep congratulating me. For about two years now, I’ve been getting invitations to speak at conferences that begin, “We can accommodate your pregnancy.” I had a woman at a conference say, “Whenever I see you, I expect to see your baby.” I said, “My baby is thirty.” I am not alone in this; I have a friend who actually had somebody pat her stomach and say, “And what is this?” She said, “A soon-to-be liposuction.” My worst was in a real estate office. I was waiting for my realtor and the receptionist said, “He’ll be right out.” I said, “Oh, no hurry.” She said, “Well, we don’t want you delivering in the office.” I told my critique partner, Val Taylor, about this and she said, “You need one of those maternity tops that say ‘Baby’ with the arrow pointing down, except yours can say ‘Fat’.” I’m considering that. Dave Barry gave good advice here: Never discuss a woman’s pregnancy unless you can actually see the baby.

2. I’m Not Sleeping with Bob

I hadn’t intended to address this EVER, since, like my gestation status, it’s really nobody’s damn business, but it’s reaching critical mass. I have never seen Bob naked. I am never going to see Bob naked. We don’t do that. I’m reporting this so I won’t get any more e-mails congratulating me on “making great books and having great sex with Bob.” Or after I’ve said that writing books with Bob is wonderful, having any more workshop participants yell out, “How’s the sex?” Or having a friend say to me after a presentation, “You might as well sleep with him; after people see you talk they think you’re doing it anyway.” I could go on, but basically, the number of people I don’t know who are discussing my sex life with me has just exceeded the number of people I don’t know who are discussing my pregnancy with me.

So I’m in Maui on a stage wearing a long flowing dress and in my bare feet because, hey, it’s Maui, and giving a lecture on revising. And at the break this darling man comes up and says, “I have to leave to go to an appointment, but I wanted to tell you that with the light behind you, I can see right through that dress and I’ve really enjoyed it.” Him, I like. Then a woman comes up after the next hour and says, “That was a great lecture,” and I say, “Thank you,” and she says, “And boy, that Bob,” and I say, “Oh, yeah, that Bob,” and she says, “He knows how to keep his women: barefoot and pregnant.”

I laughed. Well, I pretty much had to, it was too damn funny.

3. I’m Not Sleeping with Bob and Pregnant.

So I went out into the hall and Bob was out there and I said, “You owe me a drink, you bastard,” and he said, “What did I do?” and I said, “You knocked me up.” And he said, “How?” and then I told him, and he said, “Where is she? I’ll kill her for you,” and I started to laugh again because it really was funny. And then he started to laugh, too, and we went out to the pool bar and he bought me a drink with a little umbrella, and we laughed harder. Then the usual gang showed up, and John Saul said, “What’s so funny?” and we told them all, and after they all gasped, they started to laugh, too. John said, “That’s a compliment, considering how old you are. And you know at your age, multiple births are common.” And Bob said, “Damn right. I want twins. Boys.” So we had another round of little umbrellas to celebrate the boys. Then they offered me another drink, and I put my hand on my stomach and said, “I really can’t. It’s not good for the twins,” and Andy Cohen, who had just walked up behind my chair, looked down my cleavage and said, “The twins look pretty good to me.”

To recap:

  1. I’m not pregnant, I’m fat.
  2. I’m not sleeping with Bob.
  3. The twins look pretty good.

Let’s try to remember all that, shall we? Thank you.

The Maui Effect

So I’m here at the Maui Writer’s Conference and I know I haven’t blogged in a while, but this place keeps you hopping, plus I’m hitting the wall. The problem with the Maui Writer’s Conference is that it comes right after the Maui Writer’s Retreat. The Retreat is pretty damn cool: We teach dawn to dusk going sixty miles an hour and then we hit the presenter’s lounge and we party, not until dawn because most of us are middle-aged, but into the night. Then we get up at dawn and do it all over again.

And here’s the thing about dawn in Maui when you usually live in Ohio: It comes at noon. Six hour time difference. So although I do not do mornings in Ohio, I am up at the break of day in Maui, walking the cliff path along the ocean, wide awake and full of energy, swinging my arms, laughing too loud, feeling like a Natural Woman, the Maui Effect. Which is why I hate the cell phones.

Maui, in case you’ve never been here, is spectacularly beautiful. The path along the rocks overlooks perfect beaches and tide pools and gorgeous flowers and aggressively cheerful birds. And along this path stroll the rich and richer, and then also the people like me who got a free ride because they agreed to teach their butts off for two weeks. Hey, I can be bought. And most of us are just happy to be alive walking through paradise, but every now and then, you see somebody on a cellphone, making deals, gossiping, whatever, and they’re always looking at the path and frowning. God’s best ocean is on their right, but they’re yelling at somebody in New York, probably ruining lunch. I will give a free pass to those who are standing on the bridge over the little ravine saying, “My God, Margaret you wouldn’t believe how gorgeous this place is, let me take a cellphone picture and send it to you.” They can live. The others, though, I just want to rip the phones out of their hands, fling them onto the rocks, and say, “Fetch.” Because you know that lava rock is brutal.

But I don’t because I’m a nice person. Well, I’m a nice person when I arrive. By the end of the retreat, I have become one of the Grunts.

Here’s the thing: By the time the conference starts, we’ve been teaching our brains out at the retreat for six days. We were neat and clean and perma-pressed when we arrived, but by Thursday night, we’re wrinkled and sweaty and rowdy and toasted. I don’t drink, there is no alcohol in my house and I never order it when I’m out because I don’t like the way it tastes, but in Maui, it tastes good. It may be the little umbrellas. We were supposed to go to a speech the other night but I ran into a literary discussion—Karen Joy Fowler, Gail Tsukiyama, Gail Parent, Dale Burg, John Saul, Mike Sack, Janie Foley, and then Andy Cohen because you never know when you’re going to need an agent—and we were having this deeply intellectual discussion about the worst pick-up lines anybody had ever tried on us, and by the time Bob found us, I had three little umbrellas in my hair. He said, “That’s not good,” but you know, it FELT good. And I checked in the mirror later and it turns out I look DARLING with little umbrellas in my hair. But probably only in Maui.

So anyway after a week, we look like we’ve been rode hard and put away wet, and then the Conference instructors come in to join us at the introductory meeting, all neat and clean and perma-pressed. Now at this meeting, we are all supposed to stand up and tell what we’ve accomplished that year. And the shiny new people, most of whom are editors and agents, get up and tell about all their successes and name drop and establish their professional presences and pretty much pitch the room. Meanwhile, in the back of the room, the Grunts are growing restless. Occasionally we hoot. We are not pretty. Which means none of those agents and editors will ever work with any of us again, but by then we don’t care. We’ll care when we get back to the real world, but now we’re in Maui, so screw ‘em if they can’t take a joke, pass the rum.

So everybody tells what marvels they’ve been all year, and then it gets to us. Bob stands up and says, “I’m Bob Mayer and I write books,” and sits down again. This is a major improvement over last year when he stood up and said, “I’m Bob Mayer, and I can kill you with my little finger,” so the general consensus afterward is that collaborating with me has made Bob a kinder, gentler Surly Bastard. Then I stand up and say, “I’m Jenny Crusie and nothing interesting has ever happened to me.” And the Grunts all boo so that tells you how much love I get here. Then Elizabeth George stands up and says, “You probably don’t recognize me because I’ve had massive plastic surgery in order to escape the paparazzi, but I’m Angelina Jolie.” Then Karen Joy Fowler stands up and says, “No, I’M Angelina Jolie.” Then Gail Tsukiyama stands up and says, “No, I’M Angelina Jolie.” Then Jane Hamilton stands up, turns to Elizabeth George, and says, “And I’m Jennifer Aniston, YOU BITCH.”

Well, you had to be there.

So now it’s Sunday, and we have to do a TV interview and then I have to teach for two hours and then we’re going to work on the book (Agnes) and then go hear Gail Parent talk which I can’t wait to hear because she may be the funniest woman on the planet and she’s definitely a spiritual sister. We were talking about being divorced and she said, “Sometimes I go home and look at that big king-sized bed and think, ‘How did two people ever sleep in that?’” and I laughed and then went upstairs to my king-sized bed and thought, “My God, she’s right, how could two people sleep in that?” so she’s not only Funny, she’s Insightful.

Of course it hasn’t all been working and drinking and talking about king-size beds. I walked the path the other day and passed a woman who was NOT on her cellphone and who looked exactly like Jayne Ann Krentz. And then I stopped and thought, “Wait a minute. That IS Jayne Ann Krentz,” so I said, “Jayne?” and she said, “Jenny?” and we both looked around to see if SEP was there because neither one of us had a stitch of make-up on.

So anyway, I know haven’t blogged in awhile, but as you can see, I’ve been busy. And now I have to go listen to another speech. Possibly with a little umbrella.

And aloha to you, too.