Argh: 2005

So the 2005 post are up again.

The first post in July 2005 talks about having problems with You Again (still not finished after it was rejected) and meeting Bob and starting Don’t look Down, so a lot has happened in fifteen years. There’s also a reference to Charlotte’s Book which is one of those things that just died on me. I can’t even remember what it was about. Fifteen years, people. Continue reading

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Questionable: Why Can’t I Write?

Deb asked:
I used to love to write fiction – fantasy and romance especially. I hoped to publish someday but mostly I just enjoyed writing and living in those worlds. I went through a divorce awhile ago and it rattled some of the carefree feel to my writing but I carried on, believing in the romance and fantasy and hoping for love again. Two years ago, my mom died and going through that and the fallout with my relationship with my dad just broke whatever it was remaining in me that could pretend or believe in the dream. I sit down and try to write fiction and it turns into memoir or how-to or similar. . . . [D]o you have any suggestions on getting my real/dreamer self back? I had resigned myself to the fact that this is the new me, like it or not, but lately I am mourning that loss and just not feeling okay with it.

First, what’s wrong with memoir or how-to?  I love writing non-fiction (as anybody who reads this blog knows, I LOVE the sound of my own voice) and I don’t see it as a second-choice genre at all.  If that’s where your inclination lies now, embrace it.

But you say you’re not okay with it, so my next question is “What is the story you have to tell that you can’t not write?”   

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Questionable: How Do You Start a Memoir?

Carol asked:
I have my MIL’s memoir draft. My question – Would it be a good opening for the memoir to have a “scene” of somewhat dramatic moment in her life? Then go from there. Make it a story of her story?

No.  Also no, and please no.  (I don’t quite understand “make it a story of her story” so I’m ignoring that for now.) Those flash forward teasers (on any narrative, not just memoir) are basically the author saying, “I know this is a really boring beginning, so I’m going to give you this to hook you, and then you’re going to have to slog through the rest.” 

The question I need you to answer before I can tell you how to start this memoir is “How are you structuring this?”

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Questionable: Is Collaborating on a Novel a Good Idea?

Danielle asked:
A friend recently approached me about collaborating. I think we could be great together but she is not a writer. She is a devoted reader and I trust her judgment. . . . What advice or resources would you have for someone taking on a partner? I don’t think she’ll be interested in the grunt work but in the plotting and world building.

In your case as described, I would strongly advise not to.  In fact, run away.

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Questionable: How Can the Concepts of Fiction Apply to Non-Fiction?

Debbie wrote:
I write nonfiction (for work). But I find that many of the things you focus on–particularly the importance of the first scene, and timing–are helpful for both my written work and my presentations. I’m not sure that’s a question, exactly, but it would be interesting to talk about how many fiction rules also apply to non-fiction.

Kelly commented:
I’d like to expand that question to how much can be applied to presentations too, unless that’s getting too far beyond writing?

Nonfiction and fiction are different, of course, but there are some parallels. 

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Zelda 5: Save the Cheerleader, Save the Book

I was supposed to be working today, and instead I caught up on all the back episodes of Heroes. People kept telling me it was wonderful and I kept saying, “I have no time, I must write,” and then my brains dribbled out my ears because all I did was write. So I thought, “Okay, I’ll watch the episode I have on my Direct TV Tivo which I am mentioning here because the damn thing is going out on me after only two years and now it sticks all the time, probably because it’s full of dog hair but I’m still mad at Direct TV.” Where was I? Right. I watched the first episode on NBC.com, but they didn’t have any more so I went to iTunes and downloaded the entire fifteen-episode season so far. It’s a damn good thing I don’t drink or do drugs because my ability to say, “No, really, that’s enough,” is non-existant.

Anyway, it takes time to watch fifteen forty-three minute TV shows (you do the math, i’m an English major) so all I got done today was one lousy table set up in Word with five of the major characters across the top, each with a plot or subplot and the nine plot points along the left–Beginning, Act One, First TP, Act Two, Second TP, Act Three, Third TP, Act Four, and Climax. Then I filled it in. And then I watched more Heroes. Extremely bummed about Charlie, but Hiro is the best. (Is it significant that there’s a Charlie and a Charles? I don’t think so.) Although that scene with Hiro’s father and sister . . . please. Lame. On the other hand, the scene where they’re lying under the van and the van drives away . . . . Keep that writer and fire the one who came up with “Really my sister is a better CEO than I am because I’m sensitive and she’s smart” which completely obliterates ten thousand years of patriarchy in Dad’s mind in one stunningly obvious and unrealistic move. I was praying Dad would say, “Are you insane? She’s a woman,” because I was not expecting that. Instead we got the expected. And the lame.

Where was I? Right. I filled out a table for You Again trying to get all the plots to mesh. And I worked on the plot for the Fun Book, too. But mostly, it was “We could be Heroes” all day. Jessica is turning out to be the Angelus of this show, so much more interesting than her good-two-shoes counterpart. Whining is not attractive, Niki. And then Dr. Who showed up and I was thrilled. Christopher Eccleston is just the best. Especially shoving Peter off a building even though I like Peter. Also I like Mohinder a lot, but could we lose the voiceovers? Voiceovers kill, people. And Adrian Pasdar owns this show whenever he’s onscreen. What a great face he has; when he smiles, he’s 95% teeth, terrifying everybody in sight range. Now there’s a character with some real ambiguity.

You know it’s amazing how well this show handles a HUGE cast of characters so that you really do know them all. I have a hell of a time with that, every one of my books always ends up with seventeen characters (oddly enough, not an exaggeration, I seem to bottom out at actual seventeen) and readers scream that they can’t keep them apart. You Again is no exception. Or it wasn’t until I cut two of them and knocked it back to fifteen. Maybe if I gave them super powers. Evil twins. Secret marks. White eyeballs.

Like I said, I watched Heroes all day today. So I am a sloth, but I’m a happy sloth with a new appreciation of action and a much better understanding of why Too Much Dialogue Is Bad, so it really has been good for the book. And tomorrow I’ll get back to work. Because there are no more episodes of Heroes to watch until Monday.

Although Mollie did say that the latest ep of Supernatural was terrific . . .

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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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