Terry Brooks, The Dark Side

Okay, that title is a bait and switch. Terry Brooks doesn’t have a dark side. Well, he’s not pretty when he’s mad, but he only gets mad for good reason, and I take good care not to be one of those reasons, so I’m here to tell you, Terry Brooks is not only a scholar and a gentleman, he’s a cupcake.

We all just spent the weekend at the Surrey International Writers Conference (or the Surrey Writers International Conference, I’m a little fuzzy on the details) which was a lot of fun, not just because the conference was well-organized,–although it was, very–but because there were such good people there. Like Terry and Judine Brooks. And Don and Carol McQuinn. And Jo Beverley and Don Maass and. . .

And it occurs to me that I really should get some friends who aren’t in the publishing industry. The thing is, I have to write all the time, and then, as part of the career, I go to writers conferences, so it’s pretty much publishing 24/7. Which can be a very good thing because there are so many good people out there, like the Brookses and the McQuinns and a terrific writer named Brooke, who showed up for her fifteen-minute critique appointment and said, “I love your books. Can we just make out?’ And you know, there just aren’t enough people who ask me that. So I said yes.

Where was I? Right. Surrey. So all I do is write and all I see are writers, but then I get to see the country, too, right? Or in this case, Canada? Well, no. I love British Columbia but I didn’t get to see much of it since it was all airports, highways, and hotels, your basic conference experience. Next year Bob and I are going to fly into Seattle and see people there (more writers, but enough name-dropping already) and then drive up because it’s supposed to be two and a half hours of gorgeous scenery with a time-out to get strip-searched by Customs at the border. Bob and I are pretty sure we can make two and a half hours in a car together without killing each other, although if he shows up at the Surrey hotel next year without me, do not believe any stories about me deciding to leave the trip halfway through, I will have been shoved out along the highway, screaming. Probably on the Canadian side; he’ll wait until after the strip search, just for the entertainment value.

So it’s always writers, which is probably not healthy but is definitely fun because we talk about work and about each other—here’s a surprise, writers gossip—and the big news this year was that Bob flew in early to do a master class and somebody stole his laptop. Because he’s Bob, he’d backed up everything onto the hard drive before he left, so he didn’t lose anything except a very nice Mac G4, but to add insult to injury, they took his teaching notes, too. And I realize later, a lot of rash e-mails from me that I am now praying will not end up on the internet. No, not that kind. The kind where I sob and scream that my career is over. The kind where I rage at Bob for something he’s done that was bad but not that bad. The kind where I say indiscreet things about people who are not Terry Brooks. That kind. But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t save my e-mails. Hell, he doesn’t even read most of them, especially the long ones. I can say obscene and terrifying things to him, and as long as I put them in the second paragraph, he’ll e-mail back and say, “OK.” For a while he was saying “PK” which drove me crazy because I didn’t know what it meant until he explained that it was a typo for “OK.” I figured it was arcane Special Forces code. It was quite a letdown.

Where was I? Right, in Surrey with Terry Brooks. Terry gave a great keynote about finding time to write. He was pretty vehement about it. He also asked the room to sing Happy Birthday to Bob (it was his birthday Friday) which I had NOTHING to do with. Much. My keynote ripped off Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, but I said it was a rip-off and mentioned Chris’s name loudly, so I think that makes it okay. And Bob compared writing to jumping out of an airplane and it was damn good. The best part about all three was that we all sat at the same table so we could heckle. And in Bob’s case, whine, because there was a program when I did my keynote because the awards had been given the night before so they printed up the winners for the night I spoke, which meant there was a piece of paper that said, “Keynote: Jennifer Crusie.” Bob decided if he didn’t get a program with his name on it, he wasn’t doing his keynote the next morning. I wasn’t worried; Bob has the short term memory of a fruit fly. Sure enough, the next morning he got up there and wowed the crowd even though there was no program. My writing partner: I think I’ll keep him.

So I got to talk to a lot of great people about their books and have breakfast with ten Cherries and brainstorm more of Agnes on Sunday afternoon, and now I’m home and I have to finish Trudy and write Agnes’s first scene and collage Mare and get Charlotte organized. So basically, it’s still writing and writers, 24/7. Fortunately for me, that’s a damn good life and a damn good bunch of people.

Especially Terry Brooks, who is wonderful. No dark side at all. Really.

Trudy: The Collage

So I made a collage for the Trudy novella, which I am stubbornly calling “Hot Toy” even though I’m pretty sure my editor is going to change it, and which is going to be in an anthology called Santa Baby, out in 2006. I did it this week because I’m heading for the Surrey Writer’s Festival this weekend where I’m giving a talk on collage as brainstorming for fiction, and I needed pictures to illustrate it. As craft topics go, this is the one that makes Bob twitch, so I’m not even going to discuss the huge box of stuff I have for the Agnes collage.

(Agnes and Shane are the hero and heroine of our next book. Agnes writes about food. Shane kills people for a living. Bob does the outline and blocks all the scenes out on a spreadsheet. I do the collage which he doesn’t want to see. Then we both write the book. Well, it works.)

In the past, when I’d start thinking about a book, I’d tear out pictures and stick them around my computer to remind me of the world I was creating. Then some friends—Jo Beverly, Barbara Samuel, Anne Stuart, Susan Wiggs—started talking about collage and I thought, “You know, I used to love collage. I should do that.”

And then I lost my grip.

Long ago, I was an art teacher. That doesn’t leave you. And collage was always my favorite medium. So twenty years later, I got a piece of foam core board and start gluing things on for a book I was writing called You Again, and then I thought that since the book takes place in an old house, I should really put a roof and some walls on it, and then there was a stone terrace and, well, one thing led to another and I sort of built the house and then went nuts filling it with stuff and it was a huge help on the book (especially now that I’m going back to it after a hiatus of a year) and I will never again do another book without a collage.

I did a small collage for Bet Me (if you want to see it, go to the Bet Me page on the website) and a big one for Don’t Look Down, and then this week, as part of the collage presentation and also as part of writing the novella, I did the Trudy collage. As usual, it got out of hand.

I started with a really beat-up, splintery shadow box that I’d found in the mark down bin at Hobby Lobby. It was full of pseudo-Italian stuff, wine bottles and bread and yellowed posters and a corkscrew that was a real bitch to get out of the box because they’d screwed it in. I ripped out all that stuff and put it in the Agnes box because the Agnes book is about the Cincinnati mob. Yes, Bob and I know there never was a Cincinnati mob. That’s why they call it fiction, folks.

And then I had an empty, even more splintered shadow box. I liked that because the first image I had of Trudy was walking through this very old, dark toy store that had splintery wood shelves. I decided the box part would have the plot imagery—antagonists, goals, plot points, setting, motif and symbol, theme—and the frame would be Trudy. It worked really well until, as I said, I lost my grip.

There are two parts to brainstorming with collage. One part is gathering stuff, and that goes on for a long time. I’ve got boxes for four different books and another novella started, so whenever I see things that look like those books, I throw them in the box. This is easier than ever since the scrapbooking craze hit. You wouldn’t believe the great stuff you can find in craft stores now. And then there are magazines and catalogs, and of course, the Internet. And Goodwill. You know that big table full of miscellaneous little toys every thrift store has? Pure gold. I found a lot of stuff for Trudy, but I told myself I wouldn’t use all of it—it’s a small shadow box—but I’d collect all of it so I could pick and choose later.

The second part comes when it’s time to start the book. You lay the pieces out and construct the background and figure out what the structure is going to mean and start gluing stuff down. And as you glue things next to each other, they take on new meanings and give you more of the story, making visual connections. I can practically hear my synapses sparking when I glue the stuff in. So I started gluing things in for Trudy. and I couldn’t stop, and I put it all in and then got more, and now both the box and the frame are jam-packed full of stuff from the story, and it’s exactly right because this collage feels to me the way Christmas always feels, too dark, too loud, too crowded, too bright, too busy, and yet, you have to love it.

So when I get back from Surrey, all I have to do is play the four different versions of “Santa Baby” that I have on my iPod while looking at this collage, and I’ll know how to finish the novella. It’s all right there.

And because I did the twelve days of Trudy with you, I’m putting it all right here:

Bob will undoubtedly post something snarky here, but I’m telling you, this works.

Trudy 12: What Have We Learned From This, Dorothy?

And here it is, the Twelfth Day of Trudy. This has been a valuable experiment and I have learned many things.

1. I should plan to write about a thousand words a day. That I can do without any trouble. (I did 1500 tonight, which gives me about 13,500 words.)

2. Forget me writng to an outline. I really do need to just write what’s in my head and figure out where it goes later. All you linear people, go yell at somebody else. I tried it. I hated it. :p

3. But I do like writing what I hear in my head and then going back to the white board to see where it goes and what it does for the story. So I think working out turning points and listing scenes on the board in a kind of organic outline as I go is a good compromise.

4. The collage is crucial, and putting it together during the first push of the first draft is essential. (I actually found the pink kid’s nail file yesterday at Kroger’s. I couldn’t believe it, they actually do put nail files in kid’s toy manicure sets. So much for “no sharp objects in children’s toys.” Which is great because there’s a pink nail file from a kid’s manicure set in the story. Well, you have to be there to enjoy this as much as I do. Never mind.)

5. When things go really wrong outside the book, don’t even try to write, just deal. Tomorrow is another thousand words.

So I’m pretty pleased even if I didn’t get to 20,000. I’ll do Trudy updates as I get it finished, but this forced march gave me what I needed and I’m happy. And it’s looking as if there might be another novella on the horizon, so I may try this again with that one–her name’s Mariposa–if it pans out. Having to report here kept me honest, and that’s a good thing.

Although I realise this was probably not exactly riveting. Argh. Well, it’s good to set the bar low. Let’s lower those expectations, shall we? Thank you.