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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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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Rerun from He Wrote She Wrote: The B&B That Hates Us, October 12, 2006

So last night we stayed in a B&B, which was lovely, but a B&B is probably not the best place to put us because, not unnaturally, the proprietors want to know when we’ll arrive and when we’ll eat breakfast, and writers on tour don’t know those things. There’s a reason we’re booked into hotels with twenty-four hour room service. Planes arrive when they want to, traffic goes bad, and we work strange hours. We get there when we get there, we wake up when we wake up, and we eat when we’re hungry and we can find food. So the B&B experience, while fabulous for vacationers who love history, is not for writers who are on the tenth month of Living the Dream and are, as a result, a little testy. Well, one of us is. As Bob said last night when we got out of the car, “You be charming.”

We were standing in front of the Victorian B&B, and Bob looked up and down the deserted street—it was seven o’clock on a Wednesday night and there wasn’t a soul anywhere—and said, “My Cousin Vinnie.”

I said, “Oh, yeah, you blend.”

Then we went up to the doors which were beautiful, tiny square panes of glass in massive gorgeous wood, and met the proprietress, who said she hadn’t known when we’d be getting in and so she’d just run out to the grocery and then run back—she was breathless—and her husband had just gotten on the treadmill—we could hear the treadmill—because she hadn’t known when we were arriving, and then she looked at me as if I was supposed to explain (hotels never ask you to explain, they just say, “Give me your credit card, thank you”) and I said, “I’m sorry, we didn’t know, either,” because there was the plane and then I was supposed to pick up my new car which did not come in, which was made even more annoying because Bob had said in New York, “It won’t come in, they never come in when they say they will,” and I’d said, “But the salesman swore to me it would be in for this trip” and Bob had looked at me like “You poor, trusting dimwit,” and then it didn’t come in, and of course he didn’t say a word, but he didn’t have to, plus it’s a five hour drive from Cincinnati to Cleveland but Bob drove it in three, so even if I’d told her when, it would have been wrong . . .

Where was I?

Right. I did not need to hear, “We didn’t know when you’d be in,” on top of the new car debacle, so when she said she needed to know what time we wanted breakfast, I said, “Oh, don’t bother, we’ll just go to Denny’s whenever we wake up.”

Okay, wrong answer, I realize that now, she had probably run out to the store for breakfast stuff, but you know, I didn’t know when we’d be up and if she wanted people who were going to eat on a schedule, she shouldn’t have said, “Sure, send in the writers.” So she sort of gasped, and I would have said I was sorry but I was in so deep by then, that I just smiled apologetically. Well, what are you going to do?

Then she took us upstairs and showed Bob his room at the front of the hall, and there was a Roy Rogers bedspread and a teddy bear on the bed. I looked at Bob’s face and bit my lip. You should have been there. Then she took me to the back of the hall and said, “This is your room,” and she looked back at Bob, standing innocently at the other end, and pulled out a screen with lace panels and put it across the hall and said, “And this will keep him out.” Bob looked at the screen and it fell over. I said, “Really, he’s a perfect gentleman,” and she picked up the screen and set it up, and said, “I’ll have my husband bolt it to the wall.” It must have been the way he looked at the bear. Bob shook his head, and the screen fell over again, and I opened the door to my room and saw a huge white stuffed rabbit sitting on the bed and thought about saying, “I really don’t need the screen, if I put the stuffed rabbit in front of the door, he’ll run away screaming into the night,” but I’d already been so rude about breakfast, that I just shut up because I could tell she was already fed up with both of us. Well, I would have been, too. It’s a hellish job running a B&B, and then you get two jerks like us in there who just want a bed and wireless internet and have no interest in history or stuffed animals or breakfast, and it probably just makes you want to weep. But the important thing was that Kym aka romancyclist had already been there and left a HUGE bag of M&M peanuts on the bed next to the rabbit, so I got my M&Ms, closer be damned.

Then she gave us keys and we went to dinner at the restaurant next door which was very good and our waitress was excellent, and we talked about the end of Agnes, and then we went back to our rooms and I powered up the laptop to go online because the B&B had wireless internet (see, it’s a very good B&B). Except I couldn’t get online. And I had this sudden vision of Bob with the bear in one hand and his Glock in the other, backing that poor proprietress into one of the needlepoint samplers on the wall, saying, “Wireless internet or the bear gets it,” so I went down to see, and the bastard had it in his room, so I got online in there. No, that is not a euphemism. Then I told him thank you very much and that I was going back to my room and to forget about trying anything later because I had my screen, and then I went back and worked on Agnes, and the room really was lovely and very peaceful, and I had an excellent night’s sleep.

The next morning, we went to Denny’s as planned and had breakfast and Bob had told me to take my key because we had to go back to the B&B to meet Kym there, so when we got back and found Kym, I took the key back in and scared the proprietress into fits because she thought we’d left and she’d already cleaned our rooms. I said, “No, no, it’s fine, I’m just bringing back the key, and I’m so sorry we’ve been so horrible, really, it’s all right, I swear, we’ll never come back.” Then I went out to the car to meet Bob and Kym.

Bob: Did you give her the key?

Jenny: Yes. And I apologized for how awful we were and I told her she didn’t have to worry because we were never coming back.

Bob: You told her WHAT?

Jenny: I told her we were never . . . oh. Probably the wrong thing to say, huh?

Bob: To somebody running a B&B, YES.

Jenny: I was trying to make her feel better.

Bob: Okay, for the rest of the day, I’LL be charming.

Jenny: What will I be?

Bob: Quiet.

Then we went to the Medina Country Club and met the nicest people at lunch, and Debbie introduced us for our talk and read my bio and all the way through it, Bob kept looking at me saying, “Really?” Really, you married your college sweetheart? Yes, Bob, I was married. Really, you have a masters in writing? Yes, Bob, in business and technical writing. Really, you have an MFA in Fiction? Yes, Bob, from Ohio State. Then Debbie read his bio and I knew all of it. He said, “See, I don’t keep any secrets from you.” I said, “She got it off my website, Bob.” And then we gave a talk that neither one of us can remember although of course we remember the things we did wrong, the post mortems are always fun, but the people were so lovely they applauded anyway. And then we did a cable TV interview with Tina who was terrific although I don’t remember much of the interview except for the part where Bob pushed me too far and I hit him with a copy of Don’t Look Down, so all of you in the Cleveland cable area, be sure to look for that one. Afterwards, Bob said, “You do that one more time, I’m going to hit you back,” which is fair, although I don’t think it would play well, so I’m going to stop smacking him. I suggested they cut that out of the final show, but somebody at the station said she thought it was charming, so evidently my charm has returned, although Bob and the lady at the B&B would probably like a vote on that call.

And my cold is better although I’m still blowing my nose at regular intervals, and we’re in Columbus where I gave Bob the wrong directions and landed us in rush hour traffic, and he never said a cross word to me which just goes to show you that he really is the perfect gentleman. Which is good because this hotel has no screens. But I did not tell the guy at the desk that we’re never coming back so, all in all, I think we’re ahead of the game.

Living the Dream, folks. It never ends.

2020 Note: More He Wrote She Wrote Reruns are here.

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Frenching AnneMarie or The Reason I Haven’t Blogged

I’m working on four books. Four freaking books at once.

No, it wasn’t a plan. Do I look insane?

I was supposed to be done with all of them and starting a fifth by now. I don’t know what happened. Well, yes I do.

There was Agnes. She was due August first. Trouble ensued. Now she’s not due until October first. I’m not even looking at her until Monday.

Then there was Mare. She was due April first. Trouble ensued. Then she was due August first. My editor gave birth and moved. She’d just as soon not see Mare right now until her head stops exploding so we have another week or so. We’re using it.

Then there’s Daisy. I wrote her ten years ago. She’s going to be re-issued. She needs spiffed up. Thinking that Agnes and Mare would be out the door by August 1, I promised that editor she’d be done by August 15. Not so much.

Then there’s Trudy. Trudy is done, but once a book’s in the pipeline, it returns in the form of copy edits which must be read and corrected. So I’m in Atlanta at RWA National, going out to dinner with the St. Martin’s people including a lovely marketing director, let’s call her AnneMarie, and I come down to meet her, full of goodwill and ready for a really expensive meal, dressed to kill and she hands me a padded envelope and says, “Here are your ‘Hot Toy’ copy edits.”

I said, “This is a joke, right?”

She said, “Unfortunately, no. I’m sorry.”

I said, “Did you bring the red pen?”

She said, “You don’t have a red pen with you?”

Later in the evening, during an entirely different conversation, she said, “You know, I’m not really one of those huggy, kissy people. People come up to me at conferences and want to hug and kiss, and I just don’t like it.”

I said, “I’m gonna french you over dessert.”

That evening turned out to be one of those delightful, delicious, bizarre meals. I love the people who were there, and the food was incredible, but as the wine was lavish, and as I am currently on medication that prevents me from drinking, it became more and more like a modern drama as they got happier and happier and I stayed stone cold sober.

At one point, my very adult and intelligent daughter frowned and said very clearly, “I don’t like beets.”

The entire table considered that, and then my mass market publisher nodded and said, “I DO like beets.”

I waited a moment, but they were all pondering that, so I said, “And right now, somebody is envying me because I’m having dinner with a bunch of elite New York publishing intellectuals.”

AnneMarie laughed so hard she choked, which she deserved.

Where was I? Right. Four books.

I’m just telling you this because somebody is going to say, “You know, she hasn’t blogged anywhere for awhile.” Yeah, I know, but trust me, I’m working. I’m diagramming structure. I’m e-mailing with collaborators, I’m double-checking things on the internet, I”m running spell checks, I’m rewriting like mad. Come late 2006, 2007, you’re not going to be able to spit without hitting a book with my name on it.

Of course, by then I’ll be curled up under my desk, sobbing and twitching, but by damn, I’ll have gotten these four books done.

In the meantime, if you see AnneMarie, give her a big kiss from me.

NOTE:
This just in from the infamous Needles, aka Kim C. of St. Martin’s Press:

“You should know that AMT handing you the page proofs at the conference was totally my fault. I figured why have them sit on your porch getting rained on and chewed on by wild birds when I could get her in trouble? Needles strikes again.”

I’d say, “If you see Needles, give her a big kiss for me,” but she’d enjoy it. Sigh. Never mind.

SECOND NOTE:
I just sent the Trudy galleys (not copy edit) to Needles. She was threatening me.
One down, three to go. (For those of you keeping track, it’s August 8th.)

THIRD NOTE:
Mare is out the door. (August 18th.)

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The First Crusie

I’m cleaning out my office and I’ve reached the Pleistocene Era. Well, I’ve reached 1977 when I was still married and Mollie was a toddler and I took a class on writing and illustrating children’s books at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY, one summer, writing on a TYPEWRITER, for God’s sake. I think I realized fairly early on that kids’ books were not going to be my forte, because the story I wrote . . . well, let’s just say it clearly was an early Crusie and not an early “Goodnight Moon.” And because I know I’ve neglected this blog shamefully, and because I don’t have either of the real blog posts done that I wanted to post here, I thought I’d show you the earliest Crusie. It’s called

(Helen was a pal in the class with me. Wonderful sense of humor, terrific artist. Wonder whatever happened to Helen? Something marvelous, I hope.)

Where was I? Right:

Helen was the coolest little rabbit in the forest. She had big velvety eyes and a cute little moist pink nose, but so did all the other little rabbits. What set Helen apart from the crowd was her insatiable lust for ice cream.

Helen’s mother warned her. “You’re going to get fat, Helen,” she said. “And sick. And your fur will break out. Nobody will want to go out with you. Eat some greens, Helen.”

“Pistachio or lime sherbet?” Helen asked.

Helen’s father warned her. “You’re going to hell in a sugar cone, Helen,” he said. “You keep hanging around all those seedy ice cream parlors, you’re going to take up with a bad class of rabbit. Eat some fruit, Helen.”

“Raspberry ripple or mocha orange swirl?” Helen asked.

Helen took to hanging out around a particularly good trash basket outside Mother McClean’s House of Calories. On a good day, she could salvage two sundaes, a malt, and half a dozen cones before the melt got too bad. Every day was Sundae for Helen until the day she met Firebolt.

Helen first noticed Firebolt when he began hanging around her trashbasket one day. It was hard not to notice Firebolt. He was a foot taller than all the other rabbits and he wore a black leather jacket and swung a bicycle chain.

“Hi, honey,” he said to Helen.

“This is my basket, hyperthyroid,” Helen said. “Poach on my trash and I’ll rip your nose off.”

“Obviously, you are unaware of my identity, kiddo,” he said suavely. “I am Firebolt the Thunderbunny, and this is my slave, Zumpf.”

Behind him, a small brown rabbit waved at her nervously and nibbled his lip.

“I don’t care if you’re the heir to Baskins Robbins,” Helen retorted. “Touch my basket and your face will be shorter by a nose.”

“Here.” Firebolt handed Zumpf his bicycle chain and Zumpf began to swing it for him. He put his paw around Helen’s shoulders. “You still do not understand, my sweet,” he said. “Let me take you away from all this. Return with me to my pad in the storeroom of Mother McClean’s and I will feed you ice cream that will blow your argyles off. Have you ever,” he whispered in her ear as he stroked her soft furry shoulder, “tried rum raisin?”

“Rum raisin?” Helen weakened and was lost.

Firebolt took her back to his place and plied her with rum raisin and Harvey Wallbanger sherbet. From there it was just a short step to egg creams and ruin.

Helen’s argyles ravelled and she got fat. Firebolt dropped her in favor of a little black spotted job he’d found arguing with Zumpf over a discarded raspberry ripple. Now she plays cribbage there with Zumpf and waits with a hopeless passion for someone to pitch an egg cream at her.

It never happens.

Moral: If someone offers you an egg cream, rip his nose off.

Okay, like I said, it was almost thirty years ago, and obviously I was not cut out to be a children’s writer (or illustrator), but I can see the echoes of my later work. Helen is clearly the prototype for the Crusie heroine–angry, rebellious, and starving with interesting footwear–and I can see the genesis of my heroes in Firebolt the Thunderbunny, but I have no idea where Zumpf came from. Or went to. Or why the argyles. Really, I have no idea where any of it came from. I hate egg creams. Oh, and I apologize for egregious use of speech tags and adverbs, also for headhopping there with that soft bunny shoulder bit.

And now back to cleaning the office. God knows what I’ll find next.

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Rerun from He Wrote She Wrote: Bob Drives to Boston, April 5, 2006:

BOOK TOUR 2006 SIX
Wednesday, April 05, 2006

SHE WROTE:

Help.

I am trapped on the highway in a rental car with an insane person. No internet last night because my apartment was in the basement, none this AM because we had to go see Meg again and then pick up the rental car, at which point my rational partner, Bob, went insane. I’m now safe in a Panera on Rt. 90, but sooner or later I’m gonna have to get back in that car, and I’m telling you, it’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Bob. Continue reading

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Rerun: He Wrote She Wrote: On the Road with Bob and Moot, January 20, 2006

So you want to know how the drive to the Space Coast Writers Conference went? I think it’s best illustrated by an exchange we had close to the end. (As God is my witness, I made up none of the dialogue in this blog). Three hundred and fifty miles from Hilton Head, we were in Cocoa, and we saw a man walking along the intracoastal, muttering.

Bob: There’s a story there and we don’t want to know it.
(Short Silence)
Jenny: I might want to know it.
(Bob leans forward, fumbles with something on the dashboard.)
Bob: How do you turn this thing off?”
Jenny: What thing?
Bob: The passenger side airbag.

Okay, but up until then, we’d been doing pretty good. Right after we left Savannah, Meg called to say we had a deal with SMP for Agnes (a great deal) and Jen called to say how excited she was about Agnes (and we’re excited, too, although you can’t tell it by Bob’s face) and then we saw a big orange sign that said “Thirteen Foot Alligator, Souvenirs.”

Jenny: We have to see that! It’s Moot!
(We have a one-eyed alligator in DLD called Moot, about which more later).
Bob: What?
(Exit goes by.)
Jenny: Never mind.

About thirty miles down the road, there was the same sign: “Thirteen Foot Alligator, Souvenirs.”
Bob: It’s probably the same gator. They just truck it back and forth.
Jenny: Turn here. Turn here!
Bob: It’s really only an eight-foot gator. It’s trapped in the pen going, “I’m only eight foot!”
Jenny: Turn here! TURN HERE!
Bob: Except it’s a male gator so it’s okay with being called thirteen foot.
(Exit goes by.)
Jenny: Never mind.

Another thirty miles down tbe road, there was a sign: “Thirteen Foot Alligator, Souvenirs, Dog Track.”

Bob: There’s our exit.

So we pulled up and it was a gas station with the souvenir shop from hell, which is just my cup of tea. I LOVE souvenir shops. We got out and Bob started to fill the rental car with the gas.

Jenny: Where’s the gator?
Bob: Probably around in back. If I don’t see you again, it’s been great.
Jenny: I’ll check inside.

Inside was a dream. Big shell mobiles, a shelf of comic gators one of which was sitting under a palm tree with sunglasses and a coconut drink (of which more later), a shelf of mermaids (which is necessary because Meg collects mermaids and we owe her for negotiating the great contract), and a shelf of shell sculptures of clams playing poker.

Then I saw it. The thirteen foot gator.

Stuffed.

I wanted to take its picture with Bob but he refused. I did, however find Alligator Bob’s Smoked Alligator Jerky. No, I’m not kidding:

So I bought the jerky for my dad and a mermaid for Meg and the alligator under the palm tree that looked like Moot (about which more later) and I really hesitated over the clams playing poker but Bob was looking at his watch so we paid and left.

About ten miles, down the road, I couldn’t stand it.

Jenny: Turn around and go back. I have to have those clams playing poker.
(Silence for a couple of miles.)
Jenny: It’s not going to happen, is it?
Bob: Nope.

Then Bob got sick from talking so much yesterday (he’ll write about that, I think he’s trying to forget the drive) and we stopped at a CVS in Cocoa where a great guy named Dwight helped me find the throat lozenges. And I took them out to Bob, who was suffering.

Jenny: I got honey lemon Cepacol, black cherry Sucrets, and some of those cherry strips you put on your tongue.
Bob: What?
Jenny: They’re thin sheets of medication and you put them on your tongue and they melt so you don’t choke on the lozenge.
Bob: What?
Jenny: You put them on your tongue.
Bob: What?
Jenny: They’re suppositories. Bend over.

But the big creative discovery of the day was the Moot-under-the-palm-tree I bought. I put him on the dashboard of the rental car and got the Great Idea:

Jenny: You know what we can do with this? We can take him with us everywhere and he can be like those gnomes that travel all over, we’ll take his picture wherever we are on the road, won’t that be great?
Bob: (Thinks: A million romance writers in the world and I had to pick her.) Great.

And now I have to go read the latest draft of Agnes because Bob has finally realized that I haven’t read anything he did last week. And he’s taking me to the airport on Sunday and I need that airbag.

But I shoulda bought the poker-playing clams.

Note: About two days after I got home to Ohio, I got the poker-playing clams in the mail from Bob.

2020 Note: More He Wrote She Wrote Reruns are here.

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Trudy and the Woman With A Lot On Her Mind

I’ve figured out why that Twelve Days of Trudy process didn’t work: I need steeping time.

I’ve tried to describe my process to people and I usually get the same reaction that I did from Bob the first time he heard me explain it: “That’s daft.” The best I can come up with is that I know who the heroine and hero are, and I sort of write in their world for awhile, doing snatches of dialogue, sometimes whole scenes, getting a feel for the place. And then when I’ve got about 50, 000 words (on a 100K book), I take the scenes and put them in order and see what I’ve got and try to figure out who the antagonist is and what the goal is, and I move them around and I think. I think about what it means and what they want and why I had to write it and it’s like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box.

And while I’m doing that, I tell myself the story over and over and over: “This is a story about Trudy who . . .” and at some point it gels. It’s difficult to explain, but the story just starts to get thick. Gelling isn’t quite the word because there’s a point when it turns a deeper color, like a great tea does when it’s steeped long enough. Or like cookies do when they’ve baked long enough that they crunch when you bite into them, but they’re still moist and warm. And there’s a click aspect to it, too, when the pieces suddenly lock into place and it’s just Right. Yes, I know, I’m mixing metaphors, it’s an intangible. But I really know the story’s there when it starts to glow in my mind, the whole thing turns golden in my brain and all of a sudden, I’ve got a world that makes sense and people I care about.

The problem is getting to that point. And I can’t outline to it. I have to listen to the voices talking in my head and write a lot of stuff and then play with it in my brain to get to the click, the gel, the gold. This is why Bob screams, although he’s doing his best to adapt, bless his linear little heart.

But it’s not what you’d call an efficient process. And for somebody like Bob or Terry Brooks who outlines in detail first, it’s a nightmare (I know this because they’ve told me). So I really tried writing to an outline with Trudy—well, you saw me try—and it just didn’t work. I ended up with 14,000 pretty good words, but the story didn’t make sense to me. So I’ve spent the past month walking around thinking about those words, those people, trying to figure out exactly what it was that was important about them, about what they mean and how they fit together and why the Thing In My Brain made me write them.

And now for a brief autobiographical note: Everybody collects something and I collect Mexican folk art. Yes, I also collected Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper and Walking Ware while I was writing Fast Women, but that ended when the book ended. I also had a boatload of snow globes from Bet Me which all went to friends when I was done except for the vintage Mickey and Minnie globe that started it all. That’s different, that’s research, this folk art is just for me. But “Mexican Folk Art” is a pretty wide field, so I focus on three things: alebrijes (wooden animals), antique nichos of the Virgin of Aquila, and low fire terra cotta sculptures of women by Josefina Aguilar. My favorite Aguilars are in her vendor series, six-inch figurines of women with long skirts holding wares in their arms with something sitting on their heads. I’m bananas for these things, so I’ve made it a rule that I can only buy one when I’m so insane for it, that I can’t stop myself. (You can get these on eBay, usually for around $25.) To me, every one of them is a Woman With A Lot On Her Mind, and each one has a story, and I’m pretty sure I see a different aspect of myself in each one. Which brings us back to writing Trudy.

The Josefina Mindful Woman that I keep in my office is there because it nails my creative process. She has a peacock and a cat in her arms—my hero and heroine—and they’re colorful and darling and curled comfortably against her, completely in her control. And then there’s the thing on her head. It’s this insane, wild, screaming monster, tentacles flying in all directions, and it’s colorful and moving and completely disorganized and it’s pretty much what the story in my head feels like before Golden Time. Well, here, see for yourself:

One of the things I like best about this figure, and there’s a lot there to love, is the expression on the woman’s face. She has this screaming thing on her head, but she’s not worried. She knows that if she just lets it be up there, eventually it will calm down and pull itself together and become a thing of order and reason without losing any of its color and energy. She’s not happy but she’s patient, and she doesn’t have her foot on its neck, she’s letting it scream. That’s my process right there, cuddling my weird-ass heroine and hero while the story explodes in my brain as it tries to work itself out. And my goal is to be as patient as this Aguilar Mindful Women during that process, to stop beating myself up because my head is exploding.

But the good news is, the Hot Toy explosion is over and Trudy is crunchy and golden. I can tell you the story now. I have it sorted out. The structure makes sense. I love it.

Of course, my head is going to explode again with Agnes and Mare and Charlotte and Zelda (fingers crossed for Zelda) and now I’m thinking about Petal, but that’s okay because looking at this Mindful Woman figure, I’ve realized something else. There’s a real beauty in that hot, disorganized chaos, that’s where the energy comes from, that’s why the story is crunchy, because the story starts out as a monster I can’t control and makes me learn it and love it before I can finish writing it.

So I’m not inefficient at all. I’m a Woman With A Lot On My Mind.

And depending on what my goddess of an editor, St. Jenderlin, says next week, Trudy is done.

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