Exploiting You Again: Wild Names

I’ll get a real post up here as soon as I scrape myself off the floor. Quick updates: I turned 62, I’m back home, and that house I bought in NJ has to be completely gutted.

In the meantime, I need titles with “wild” in them. Shorter is better. Already used: Wild Night, Wild Ride, and Wild Child. So some more snappy two-syllable titles would be best although at this point, I’ll take anything. I need three of them. No you’re not going to see anything by these titles any time soon. The problem is taking up space in my brain that I need to write other things. So I’m moving it into your brains.


Sorry. It’s been a grueling month. And I’m old.

So, Wild Titles. Have at it.

Exploiting You Again: Subtitle Help

I have a friend who needs some help. I know, I know, it sounds like it’s really for me and I’m trying to be discreet and say “I have this friend, you know, and I, I mean she needs . . .” but I really do have this friend who needs a subtitle. But she wants to be discreet, so you can’t know who she is. She’s a shy little thing. I told you it wasn’t me.

So here’s the deal: she’s working on a kind of anthology blog project, a collection of related short pieces of fiction in which the dogs in a small town called Shelby Creek talk about what their owners are doing. It’s called The Dogs of Shelby Creek, and she’d like a subtitle/tagline for the blog and possibly book title. Her ideas so far have been: Continue reading

Kinds of Popcorn: Exploiting You Again

We’re trying to revamp the Popcorn Dialogues site, and it’s making us look at websites in general and PopD in particular in a new light. The current topic is “categories” as we try to figure out the best way to organize the site. We’ll be tagging the posts, so this isn’t about searching for a topic, it’s about how the overall organization of the posts work. The problem is that Lani and I define the site in different ways. Continue reading

You Again: Sticky Time

So Agnes went out yesterday, and then I dealt with some trauma which meant my head was anywhere but my writing, and then I woke up at the crack of dawn still upset and read a book by a pal that made everything better. Mad Dash by Patricia Gaffney. It’s not out until August, so this is cruel, teasing you like this, but it’s so wonderful, and I wept all over it in a GOOD way, because it’s just beautiful but not sad at all, just true. You know how it is when you read exquisite writing that just nails something you’ve known but couldn’t put into words? And then you weep because it’s so true? That kind of crying. Mad Dash, wonderful, wonderful book.

And of course reading great books makes me want to write. I’ll never be the writer Gaffney is, she’s a miracle, but I’m pretty damn good, and I have that Zelda file right there on the desktop looking at me. And now I want to write.

But not yet.

So my daughter calls and we’re talking about the Cranky Agnes logo (the logo Agnes has at the top of her newspaper column and on her promo aprons) and I tell her that now I have to find a new occupation for Zelda because she was a cookbook writer and now Agnes is a cookbook writer so Zelda cannot be one. Which is all right because I wasn’t married to that anyway. And I ask Mollie, “Any ideas on what Zelda should do for a living?” and she says, “Why would I have ideas?” and I say, “Because whatever she does is what you’re going to hang the marketing stuff on,” and she says, “OH.” Because she is business 24/7.

Mollie says, “She has a cable TV show,” and I’m thinking, “Uh, no,” and Mollie says, “About plants,” (Mollie was a landscape architect in first career), and I say, “Oh, well . . .” and she keeps going with ideas and hits “perennial expert,” and I say, “Oh!” and she talks about how you can’t plant perennials under walnut trees because the roots kill them, and I’m thinking, “Malcolm is a walnut tree, Zelda could look at him and think ‘walnut tree,’” (oooh, maybe I should change his name to Walter) and that certain perennials are really good together and that others are toxic to each other, and I’m thinking, “Hoo boy, symbolism there,” and then she says that many perennials are poisonous, and I remember there’s a murder by poisoning in the book, and what if Zelda is known as an perennial specialist, and all of a sudden, I’ve got Zelda’s profession and a whole new way into this book.

Because Zelda’s nemesis (although not necessarily antagonist) in this book is Rose, and Rose has a mother named Lily, and then I started thinking about how tough roses were, both to grow and then to get rid of, especially the wild rambling kind which have to be perennials, right? I don’t know, I haven’t looked yet. But is this not crunchy?

And that’s when I realized that you could get a second go round on Sticky Time.

Sticky Time is that period at the beginning of a book where you keep tripping over things that need to be in it. You’re not looking; it’s just that everywhere you go, suddenly you think, “I can use that.” I used to think that everything stuck to the book during Sticky Time, but then I realized that I was seeing and hearing thousands of things during that time, but only the stuff that the book wanted registered. It was like the book knew what it needed, and turned sticky for those ideas.

But I always thought it only happened at the beginning of the book. Oh, sure, sometimes things come along later, like Wonder Woman in Don’t Look Down, but the stuff that stuck in the beginning determined the shape of the book. Only now it turns out that if you go away from a book and then come back, you get a new Sticky Time.

Well, I’m thrilled.

So now I’m looking at perennial books and googling and making notes, and Zelda is coming through strong again. The work a character does is so important, it says so much about who she is, that getting that right can sometimes bring the entire character into focus.

Plus did you know that if you don’t separate perennials every few years, they start to strangle each other? How’s that for a metaphor for family? I’m LOVING this Zelda-as-plant-specialist idea. Mollie does it again.

And—how crunchy is this—Strop is right, YoU AGAIN type does look like it has small vines or something growing on it. That’s A Sign.

Excuse me while I go find things that stick to my book.

You Again: She’s a Type A

First, thank you all very much, I had a great time reading the comments. Still not sure what Zelda’s deal is that gets her hooked, but I have plenty of options now.

Then I played with the type and thought about Zelda, and she has to be this one:

Zelda Final Type

Because it looks like her, that why.

I know many of you were seduced by Fireside Chat, but the problem there is that it has such a strong identity already, before a book is even attached to it, that I think it overwhelms what I want the book to be. I love that font, but it’s just too classic Christie, and I’m looking for classic Crusie. On the other hand, the Archive type that’s so perfect for Zelda is too heavy and threatening for this story. So I think this is it:

You Again Title

This I like, now that I’ve calmed down that awful staring “O” in the middle of the “You” by making it lower case. This is formal and old-fashioned but it’s got that whacked-out undercurrent to it. I’m pretty sure this is what the book I want to write looks like.

And the fact that the Zelda font doesn’t match the world-of-the-book font? Symbolism, baby. Yep, these are my choices.

I still haven’t opened the file because I’m still working on Agnes but I’m really close now. I’m taking tomorrow to cut 5, 584 words from it (argh) and then I’m done. Forever.

And shortly after that, I’m opening that file. Well, I might take a break. But really soon . . .

You Again: What Was That Story About, Anyway?

I am oddly loath to open that You Again file, and I think it’s because I’m afraid I’ll end up drowning in it again. So, in homage to Bob’s One Sentence Idea, I’m thinking that I should get a good idea of what the story is about straight in my head first, the things I remember, because the things I remember are going to be the One Sentence Idea aspects of it, the things that made me want to write it three years ago. I’m not going to have a One Sentence Idea, you understand, just the sense of it.

Start with the protagonist always, so that’s Zelda. Zelda’s a tough chick, she’s been making it on her own, and now she’s coming back to where she spent her teen years and all of that is going to swamp her again. But back story can kill a book, so it has to stay in the now, with what Zelda wants now, very modern, and that was always to find out who her father was, a very old-fashioned goal. So tension between classic and modern, old and new. Except the motivation for that goal was weak, I remember that, she wanted to find out who he was because he was her father, not because she needed anything desperately in the now. He’s been a mystery all her life, why does she need to know now? So there’s something I have to think about: Who is Zelda and what has happened now that makes her decide to find her father? She’s also got a simple elegance to her, I think. Very controlled, but underneath very sensual. So how does all of that, of who she is, play into the goal and the motivation and the story as a whole? Because who Zelda is will determine what You Again is.

Then the antagonist. I know who the antagonist is, but You Again is a mystery, so I’m not telling you.

Then the overall genre, the kind of book I want it to be. My version of the Christie mystery, but still a Crusie. So the big house, people trapped inside by a snow storm, and then they start dropping like flies . . . Actually I’m semi-trapped in my house my snow right now, so this is a good time to do this. So a mystery with a love story, traditional but not. Twists along the way. Sex. Drugs. Rock and roll. A dog. (What was the dog’s name? Great dog. Began with a P. Plum.) But keeping that traditional mystery flavor strong because that’s the backdrop, while not letting the story get strangled in clues and “you’re probably wondering why I call you together” infodump.

And then just the mood of the story within the genre, the way it feels as the reader turns the pages. I want it to have a bit of a timeless feel, I think. These people are from three generations, but they’re cut off from the outside world. That’s going to make them a community unto themselves and maybe that will give it that Christie vibe. But it’s still modern, snarky, a cast of contrasting characters. I don’t want a romp or even a comedy; it should be a mystery/romance about people who have good senses of humor rather than zany situations. I hate zany situations.

Then I did what I always do when I’m trying to get a feel for something. I went to visuals, back to the collage and it’s still the book I want to write, but there’s no one thing that stands out, Zelda is just part of the overall story instead of owning it. Which means I need to move Zelda front and center there, and as I remember, that was a big problem with the book. She didn’t own her story. Which makes sense since I haven’t really worked out completely who she is.

So I went to myfonts.com and looked at type. Hundreds of fonts, trying to find one that seemed to fit “Zelda,” that felt right for “You Again.” And I found three I liked, Erehwon (yes, that’s the way it’s spelled), Fireside Chat, and Archive Lightface. Then I tried the key words in them to see how they felt. Here’s Zelda:

Zelda Type

I like all of these, they all feel right for a Zelda, but only one of them can be the Zelda in the book. I like the clarity and the no-nonsense elegance of the first one (Erehwon). I love the sass and personality and the femininity of the second one (Fireside Chat). And then the third one, still elegant but grittier, kicking butt and taking names (Archive Lightface). They’re all serif types and they all have some swash to them (Zelda has swash) but not cute; they have presence. And looking at them, I’m thinking about which one of those Zeldas is going to power my book. I’m leaning toward that last one. She looks like a take charge kind of woman.

But she’s just the key to the book, the book overall has to have a feel, so what does You Again look like? I tried it with all caps first:

You Again All Caps

I love the first one. It’s stark but elegant, almost a Gorey feel to it, but still there’s humor there. But that O is staring at me pretty hard; don’t want to do that to a reader. Then the Fireside Chat version, very period looking, very Christie, but not, I think, very Crusie. And then the Archive version that’s practically an assault on the reader. No, not that strong. The title should look like an invitation.

So I tried it in lower case:

You Again Lower Case

These are invitations to the book, but they’re invitations to three different books. The first one is modern, no nonsense but feminine, a little sense of history to it, very clean. It’s probably the Crusie-est of the three. The second is just beautiful and fun and very elegant. Maybe too elegant. And the third one says, “Jack the Ripper in the house,” which isn’t far off the truth but may be a little more brutal than I was looking for. They all emphasize different elements that are in the book. The question is, which book do I want to write?

And then to get a feel for the story in general, I did Chapter Ones:

You Again Ch Ones

The thing it’s going to come down to, I think, is exactly what kind of story Zelda would find herself in. She’s not in a Fireside Chat story, no matter how beautiful that type is. So is she mostly elegant or a little bit rough? She’s the illegitimate daughter of the former housekeeper: did she work hard to raise herself up in class and inhabit the world she attained, or is she defiantly up front about her blue collar roots in spite of having success in her field? (She was a cookbook writer, I’m just remembering now, but that’s what Agnes is, so Zelda is about to find a new profession.) And is she maybe a different font from her story? Is she such an outsider that I need one font for the story world and one or Zelda? Or do all of these fonts fit, some for supporting characters, some for the story and other characters, and just one for Zelda, the outsider?

So that’s where I am now. Still trying to get a sense of who Zelda is and what I want the book to be before I open that file and get confused by the words I wrote three years ago. Classic. Elegant with snark. Danger and sensuality. And Zelda, taking no prisoners.

I’m thinking here. No point in rushing into anything. I’ve still got the last of the Agnes rewrites to do. But I’m closer, closer . . .

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.