You Again Again

So I’m finishing up Agnes—ARGH—and looking ahead to the next book, which is actually my last book, the late, unfinished You Again.

For those of you not up to date on this saga, three years ago I gave my editor, who is a genius and a saint, 64,000 words of a work in progress called You Again. The book was under contract and past deadline, so I said, “Honestly, I’ve been working, here look,” and sent her the manuscript but I also knew that I was hopelessly, hopelessly lost. So we met in the tearoom at the Algonquin Hotel, and while the ghost of Dorothy Parker wept into her scotch in sympathy, my editor said, “Nope.” Well, first she and I talked about it, what was working, what wasn’t, but at the end of the conversation, she said, “Put it aside and start something new.”

I was so grateful, I almost wept right there with Dorothy.

Because I had been fighting that manuscript for so long, knowing the story was there but absolutely clueless as to how to fix, hell, how to find it, that I was almost suicidal. I’d even sent it to the guy I was collaborating with who insists he can fix anything. I gave it to him on a Monday; he said, “I’ll have it to you fixed by Wednesday.” On Wednesday, he said, “This is trickier than I thought, I’ll get it you to Friday.” On Friday he said, “This is going to take the weekend.” On Sunday he said, “What the hell did you do to this thing?”

So I put it in a drawer and moved on to Don’t Look Down, and “Hot Toy,” and The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and Agnes and the Hitman, all collaborations except for the novella because I loved collaborating (and I’m going to do it again, too). But now I’m done collaborating for a while and it’s time to fly solo again and I’m heading back to that bottom drawer to see if I can salvage You Again.

I have to. People keep asking about it. I showed it to too many people while I was working on it. “Whatever happened to You Again?” they ask. “Sixty-four thousand words? Hell, just sit down and bang out the last thirty-six and you’ve got a novel.” Oh, if it only worked that way.

Plus I really want to go back. I loved You Again. I loved the heroine, Zelda, and her best friend, Scylla (pronounced Cilla, and that’s going to cause trouble), and the hero was great, James, a good guy, and then there was Rose, the surrogate mother from Zelda’s past without a maternal bone in her body, and Quentin the butler, and of course the supporting cast which was . . . uh, large. And I loved the premise, it was going to be my version of the classic Agatha Christie because I’m a huge Christie fan, only probably more Margery Allingham because I’m an even bigger Allingham fan, with some Rex Stout thrown in maybe . . . . Well, you can see how the plot got away from me. And why the beta readers kept saying, “Who ARE these people? And what the hell is going on?” I loved the damn book but it was a mess, so much so that I’m not sure I can fix it even now. I just moved the file to my new laptop and it’s sitting on the desktop looking at me. The last time I opened it was May of 2005. It has digital dust all over it. I’m afraid.

So my plan is to not do it alone. I’m taking you all with me. I’m going to journal about trying to restart You Again and then if it doesn’t work again, I’ll let it go forever and start a new book, and if anybody asks, I can just refer them to this blog.

I figure the first thing I’ll have to do is reconceptualize it. Before I open it, I’ll try to remember what I loved about it, what’s stuck with me these three years, the things I can’t let go of. I’ll figure out what the book feels like—I’ve still got the collage after all—the emotional shape of it, and then I’ll get some touchstones in place so I don’t run off the rails.

After that, I’ll have to do the basic outline which I would explain here but I’m explaining my form of outlining in general over on the HWSW blog right now so go there if you’re curious. If not, I’ll be getting to it here in a couple of days.

And then I’m going to have to open that file and take a look. That’s when I’ll do the Twelve Days of Zelda. (Somebody out there is thinking, “Twelve days. If she did three thousand words a day, she’d have that novel done.” No.)

And by the time that’s done, somewhere after Valentine’s Day, I’ll know if You Again is back again or gone forever.

It’s a plan.

But in the meantime, this has to be cheering up writers all over the place. I have a contract with a publisher and I still got rejected, in mid-book no less. It happens to everybody. Publishing. Gotta love it.

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What I Learned On The Road

After spending most of 2006 crossing the country promoting a book, I have some deep insights on hotels and airports and painting your bedroom. For example, I knew the San Francisco hotel we stayed in was a good one because there were two separate bottles for shampoo and conditioner. Any hotel that cheaps out by trying to tell you that shampoo/conditioner in one bottle is a viable option is not a Good Hotel. I have many tips like this, which I hope will never be useful to me again.

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Because all that is behind me now. I’m so glad to be home that, two months later, I’m still kissing the floor. When I can find it. I was making headway on getting back to normal, unpacking, doing laundry, walking from the office to the kitchen without an American Express card, and then I decided that after a year of somebody chanting, “Living the Dream!” in my ear, I needed to Zen out, which meant my bedroom had to become a retreat. It had been painted in a blue called “Cloudscape,” and decorated in violet and gold, lots of beads and tassels, flowers, candles, mirrors, which had made it pretty much your basic Ohio seraglio, definitely not serene. So I dragged everything out and bought new paint, soothing greens this time, for my bedstead, the walls and the ceiling. Om. Because the best thing to do after a stressful year on the road is to move everything in your bedroom out into the hall and open a lot of paint cans.

Paint colors. I don’t want to get on an airplane again any time soon, but I miss the shopping in airports, especially here in Cincy because Cincy has Toto and I love Toto. Coming home the last time, I saw this serene gray-green angel figure and bought her. I should mention, I’m not an angel person. I routinely spit on sparkly unicorns. If I see a tiny pink fairy winking at me on the path, I kick her into the underbrush. But this angel looked so calm, and I’d been so not, so I bought her and she’s what I based the gray-greens for the bedroom on. I saw her in a catalog the other day. She looked serene there, too. It was only when I got her home that she turned on me with the colors.
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I wanted an elegant iron bedstead, but money was an object, so I started with an old blond wood bed I had in the attic that was so eighties that every time I looked at it I heard “99 Luftballoons.” I picked out this fabulous earthy metallic dark green, gorgeous paint chip, which I chose to coordinate with the wall and ceiling color that matched the airport angel, just a Zen symphony, HGTV would be proud. Well, maybe not a symphony, a string quartet. Or one hand playing, I don’t know, I’m still getting the hang of the Zen thing.

The great thing about painting is, it gives you time to think. And I began to get really philosophical about all that time on the road. Well, it was over, so I could. And truthfully, there were many, many good things about it. Like the people in airports. A woman sat down beside me at LaGuardia talking on her cell phone. “I want to be closer,” she whined to whoever was on the other end, “but she’s just not a warm, loving person.” I thought, Boy, do I know you, lady, and sent all my sympathy to the non-warm-loving-person who was probably holding this wench off with a cattle prod. You can do a lot of character research in airports if you listen.

And of course I was traveling with my writing partner. He used to find the free newspaper for that community and read the personals to me. I remember one he read in Madison, the guy was looking for a woman. That was it. “Open-minded,” Bob said. “Good.” He has this theory that in any city’s personal column you’ll find some guy looking for some woman to do something strange, detailed and perverse, and at the end of the ad it will say, “No smokers.” Bob says, “Somewhere in that town is a woman who will do those things. But she smokes.” Yes, these are the highlights, folks.
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What with all the remembering and some additional thinking–I was trying to figure out how to finish a book I’d started awhile ago–the first coat went on pretty smartly, and then I stood back and looked at it from a distance and realized I’d painted my bed Army green. That was not the serenity on the paint chip, so I went back to the can to see what the hell color it was. “Rough Terrain,” it said. I’d painted my Zen bed “Rough Terrain.” You know, I’m sure somewhere in Montana, there’s a survivalist who’s saying, “Hey, Fred, here’s the perfect color for the rec room, ‘Rough Terrain,’ now all we need is a nice area rug and a lifetime supply of MREs,” but aside from him, exactly who were the paint-color-namers hoping to attract with “Rough Terrain?” Morons. I put three coats of a silver glaze called “Sparkling Stone” over it and now it’s . . . interesting. Yes, fine, go over there in the corner and snicker about how my Zen bed is painted in Rough Terrain. I don’t care. I am at One with the Universe. Damn it.

So I quit for awhile and watched a DVD to return myself to a meditative state. Here’s what I learned about movies on the road: Stick to animation. Animation rarely makes you want to kill yourself. I am helplessly in love with the bunnies in the BunVac6000 in Curse of the Were-Rabbit. If you get the DVD, stick around for the end credits because they have floating bunnies. Floating bunnies are Zen to the max. I kept referring to Curse all the way through The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and they kept telling me I had to explain the allusions. “You mean everybody doesn’t know about the Anti-Pesto logo? Well, they should.” Yes, I know if I were an intellectual it would have been Von Trier or at least Wes Anderson, but Nick Park does it for me. Best quote: “The bounce has gone out of his bungee.”

After some Bun Vac therapy and some sleep in my Zen Bed which was now sitting alone in the middle of my echoing bedroom, I opened the paint for the walls and checked the color in the sunlight. Gorgeous. Nothing military about it. Very peaceable. So I rolled it on the walls while I went back to thinking about the book I was working on, and just as I finished the first coat, I looked around and realized it was hideous. Zen it might have been in the can, but on the wall, it was avocado green, if the avocado had been with us for a while. I tried to give myself a pep talk—“No, really it’s lovely, very calming”–but it looked like a refrigerator my mother had had during my more unfortunate years. So I checked the can to see what color I’d bought this time. “Withered Moss.” No, honest to God, “Withered Moss,” just the color every fifty-seven-old woman wants in her bedroom. Or as my sophisticated New York agent put it when I told her, “Old lady’s hoo-ha.” (For those of you who are saying, “She’s making this up,” I swear to you, it’s a Lowe’s Signature Color.)

And I started to think about the morons who name these colors and I could imagine them, probably the same jerks I went to art school with in the seventies, sitting around some cubicle, blowing the same dope they had back then, going, “Oh, crap, another green, what’re we gonna name this one?” “I don’t know, how about ‘Old Lady’s Hoo-ha?” (Snort. Snort.) “Nah, we’ll never get away with that. How about, hey, I know, ‘Withered Moss!’” (Snort. Snort. SNORT.) “GOOD one!” (Phone rings. Picks up.) “Dave’s not here!” (Hangs up. Snort. Snort. Snort. Snort. SNORT. Hyperventilation followed by death.)

No, I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?

At that point, I quit to clean off my laptop, and I found a folder with about a dozen e-mails in it marked “Blog.” I thought, “Oh, good, I’ve salvaged something insightful from last year.” Turns out Bob had e-mailed me to tell me that Disneyland was fifty years old and I’d e-mailed back, “I’m older than Disneyland? Jeez.” He e-mailed, “Well the Parthenon is older.” I told him it was really better when he didn’t try to help. So he wrote back, “Then there’s the Coliseum.” Followed by another e-mail that said, “The statues on Easter Island. The Sphinx. The Great Pyramid,” and then another that said, “The Great Wall of China, Vlad the Impaler.” I wrote back, “Vlad is dead,” and he answered, “The Rolling Stones are older than you.” That was the last one. I guess when you get to “Vlad the Impaler and the Rolling Stones are older than you,” the conversation is over. Why I saved these e-mails, I’m not sure, but they’re a testament to what a tragedy it is that I lost the rest of them from last year. Clearly, deep thinking was happening, 24/7.

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Then I went back and looked at the bedroom again. The Old Lady’s Hoo-Ha was definitely clashing with the Rough Terrain, so I painted the walls again, this time with many coats of Sparkling Stone, all by hand because it turns out you can’t roll that stuff on evenly, but the good news is that silver glaze will fix about anything. So I moved on to the ceiling. Cautiously. I opened the can. Beautiful, pale, creamy green. I checked the name of the color: Fennel Splash. Not Zen, but not Withered Terrain, either. I poured it out into the pan. Still beautiful. I rolled it onto the ceiling above the angel, where it looked like the dirty cloud that gathered over the penthouse in Ghostbusters, right before Sigourny Weaver says to Rick Moranis, “Are you the Keymaster?” It’s lovely pale green in the pan, Cloud of the Keymaster on the ceiling.

At this point, I gave up. I could not face putting six coats of Sparkling Stone on the ceiling by hand. Into each life, some Fennel must Splash, and mine was hovering over my Zen bedroom. My bungee completely bounceless, I went to take a bath with peanut butter cups. Hey, you find Zen your way, I’ll find it my way.

One thing traveling did do was convince me of the need for a Great Bathroom. Hotels in general are wising up to this. Well, I’m finding that a lot of hotels are wising up in general. Like the Hampton Inn next to the convention center in Columbia, South Carolina. Great beds, Jacuzzi tubs, hot chocolate chip cookies in the lobby which you can then take INTO the Jacuzzi tub with you, and the nicest staff you could want to meet (NOT into the Jacuzzi tub). Only drawback: the weird wallpaper in the bathroom that looks like it has giant beetles on it if you squint. Not a place to be drunk in. Not that I was, it was chocolate chip cookies all the way. But the front door had “Hello” etched on it, so much friendlier than “Welcome,” although why, I do not know, and the rug inside said, “We’re glad you’re here.” I forgive them for the wallpaper. Also they had separate shampoo and conditioner and we all know what that means.

But the best hotel was the Hotel Metro in Milwaukee (which Bob says is an old Indian word for “Land without Road Signs” but he was just bitter because there were no road signs). It’s an old art deco hotel that’s been restored and it’s absolutely stunning and comfortable and the room service was amazing and there were separate bottles of shampoo and conditioner in a bathroom that was ohmygod gorgeous. You’d think after weeks on the road, any hotel with clean sheets, a comfortable mattress, and a lock on the door would be fine, but you get so tired of hotels that when one turns out to be a work of art, you pretty much roll in it. The Hotel Metro. I might get on a plane again some day if I can stay there.

Where was I? Right in the tub with my peanut butter cups in my Great Bathroom, which I put myself in debt forever to remodel because I was seduced by hotel bathrooms. Except I haven’t quite got the hang of bubble bath and air tubs yet, so I put too much bubble stuff in the air tub and the bubbles foamed up over the edge and buried me and the peanut butter cup I had sitting there. But I think that’s pretty much the definition of “high class problem” and also, while it was frustrating, it was also pretty damn funny, so I took a picture of it and sent it to my friend Krissie who was looking for a laugh about then. Always a Sparkling Stone lining, that’s what I say.
I ate the peanut butter cup anyway, but I was still feeling put upon. My Zen angel had steered me wrong and now even my bubble bath turned on me. And then I remembered. I wasn’t on the road any more. I was home. Cheered me right up.

Which is when I also remembered that I’m one of the luckiest women in the universe, and that if I didn’t stop bitching about the little stuff, Karma was going to kick my ass, and if the worst that ever happened to me was a Withered Hooha and a Roughly Paved bed, I could count my blessings in my bubbles. And then the next day I found curtains in Sparkling Stone with gold dots the size of silver dollars, and when the furniture was back in and the quilt was on the bed and the lamps were in, the bedroom looked . . . well, I’ve still got Cloud of the Keymaster on the ceiling, but I don’t look up that much, except, you know, when I’m in bed, and the walls gleam quietly with Sparkling Stone, and best of all, I’m home where the shampoo and conditioner are always in two different bottles.

It’s very Zen.

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The Link That Made My Head Explode

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I’m an visual geek. Well, you probably guessed that from the collages. Words are great, I love words, and music soothes my savage breast AND beast, but visual . . .

Visuals are shiny. Visuals will make me stop what I’m doing and stare and think in other images. I started out as an artist, my college major was weaving, my first career was an art teacher, visual is my thing.

So when a pal on one of the lists I’m on (thank you, Teresa Hill) said, “Hey, this link is great for images,” naturally, I went.

And then my head exploded.

God bless you, Daily Kos. I may finally be able to find all the visuals I’ll ever need to make my collages and write my books. May. I’m not sure. But it’s definitely looking possible.

If you’re an image junkie, you gotta go HERE.

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Addendum: Memory Lane

So I went to my therapist today.

She said, “So what happened this week?”

(My therapist sometimes has popcorn beside her chair. During the worst of the tour this summer, when Bob and I were having the really colorful fights, she brought Junior Mints.)

I said, “Remember how we were going to do that book about the HWSW blog?”

She nodded. She was against it, having lived through it once.

I said, “Remember how I was going to go back through all my old e-mails?”

She nodded again. She was really against that.

I said, “I accidentally erased all of them.”

She laughed out loud. I mean she whooped. Then she put her hands over her mouth and looked stricken.

I said, “No, it’s awful, the last year of my life was on there.”

She put her hands down and nodded soberly, real sympathy in her eyes.

I said, “There was a damn good book in that, an honest book, it would have been cathartic to write it.”

She nodded, her brow furrowed, sharing my pain.

I said, “I was really looking forward to that, to making sense of that year, getting closure.”

She nodded, deeply interested, supporting me.

I said, “Oh for heaven’s sake, Leah, knock it off, you already laughed out loud.”

She cracked up again and laughed her ass off and said, “I can’t help it, I’m just so happy for you.”

I sighed and nodded.

Then she took a handful of popcorn and settled back in her chair and said, “So what else happened this week?” and we pushed onward into 2007.

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There Goes Memory Lane

I just wiped out my past. I’ve been trying to get my computers switched over to the new high speed system which involved switching e-mail providers which involved making sure the new e-mail account worked just fine on both computers, and then without thinking I deleted the old account from both computers. And lost every e-mail I ever sent or ever received on that system including every single e-mail Bob and I exchanged during the last year. The e-mails that were going to remind me what really happened for the book we were going to write based on the 2006 He Wrote She Wrote Blog. The e-mails that I was going to put into the book to show the behind-the-scenes stuff. Those e-mails. They’re all gone. I deleted them. There were hundreds of them. Most days we’d do fifty or sixty. Even if we were on the road together, there’d be twenty or thirty once we were in our rooms for the night, working on something, catching up on things, trying to figure out what city we were in. Most of them weren’t memorable, but some of them were. All the stuff we didn’t put in the blog, every negotiation, every fight, every minute of brainstorming Agnes, every detail was in those e-mails. I deleted every damn one of them without thinking. In fact, I think I just deleted our book. I e-mailed Bob. Yes, I see the irony. He e-mailed back, “Nothing but good times ahead.” I think maybe he’s thinking, “Thank God.” A lot of that stuff he probably didn’t want to relive, and he probably didn’t want me reliving it, either, sending him e-mails out of the blue, saying, “Oh, yeah, now I remember THIS, you rat bastard.” Maybe I don’t, either. That was a tough, tough year, worth every minute of it, but still it damn near killed us. Maybe stumbling down a memory lane full of craters from all the bombs that went off the last time we went that way wasn’t the best idea to begin with. It would have made a hell of a book, but on the other hand, who really wants to know what two writers did for a year? We thought it was fascinating but it was about us, of course we thought it was fascinating. And now that’s something else off my To-Do list. I haven’t read over the blog, maybe there’s still a book there without the e-mails, but I doubt it. Anybody who wanted to read it, read it the first time through. There probably wasn’t a market for it anyway. And I have fiction to write. My subconscious probably made me delete it since I did it on both computers in the space of about thirty seconds. I cannot believe I deleted our book.

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My Address Book, the Dark Side

I’m staring off the new year with a new e-mail address. Well, I had to. A wireless high speed system finally became available in my area (THANK GOD) and I had to change from my old dial-up provider, so I sent out e-mails to people telling them. And because it was the new year, I sent real e-mails, saying “Happy New Year,” thinking that would be nice, forgetting who was in my address book. I got several invitations to dinner and drinks the next time I was in various cities, that was lovely. I got two requests for book quotes, but I was asking for that one. I got one “you never write, you never call,” but that’s what I get for sending one to my mother. And then there were the ones like my pal, the producer whom I adore and to whom I had promised a story:

Darlin,
Congratulations on your new email address and HAPPY NEW YEAR! Hope 2007 brings you as many smiles and belly laughs as you can handle and that it brings me YOUR SHORT STORY in the first quarter. I can’t wait.
Big, fat, juicy, wet kisses to you.

Hollywood. You can’t trust them to have a moment without a motive.

And then there was my pal on the West Coast. I’m chalking this one up to too much salt in the air where she lives:

“Well, that makes me feel so special that I’m sending you this fabulous new year’s diet tip:”

Don’t think about that one too long.

And finally, from one of my favorite authors who is also an award-winning quilt maker and the publisher of a small press. After she thanked me for the new e-mail and wished me a happy new year, she caught me up to date on her life by saying:

Apparently my face is warmer than the feather-bed mattress topper so Critter has taken to just crawling up there and sleeping. Apparently he doesn’t understand that if he smothers me in my sleep that there will be no more catnip:

Apparently she has also not realized that both her cats are possessed. I told her I was going to post this on my blog as a Guess the Author Contest (made her scream in e-mail), but then I realized I’d have to mess around with tabulation and mailing prizes, so this is just here for your pleasure. In fact you can try to guess all three, although that first one is going to be a stumper. (Hint: he was working as an agent when we were in Maui a couple of years ago).

So this’ll teach me to send out change of address notes. Next time, they can just find me on their own. But I did laugh.

I have such great friends. There’s a resolution: Take very good care of very good friends in 2007.

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