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.