Monday, August 24, 2009

When You're A Celebrity ...

Cue the Brad Paisley song Celebrity.

In addition to my dayjob, in addition to my writing job, I've been writing a slice-of-life column for a small group of newspapers since about 1992. My picture (admittedly one of me that has a pretty good haircut and substantially less wrinkles and gray hair) is with it.

The column has given me some weird moments in my life. Complete strangers will come up to me and talk to me as if they know me -- and they reference details about my life, so they must know me, right?

But then they say something about my column, and I think, "Ah-ha!"

I'm flattered, believe you me. I'm not complaining. But it does create awkwardness.

For instance, yesterday I went to my mom's -- sans make-up, in need of a haircut like you wouldn't believe. Hey, at least I did change out of my yoga pants and into my jeans. Usually, I wouldn't, as my mom loves me for me, so I don't worry about what I look like.

As I was leaving, my mom asked me to take off her trash. No problem, I told her, there's a trash bin on my way.

Only, the powers that be had removed said trash bin. I went on home, resigned to dumping the trash at a bin near my house.

When I drove up, some folks were dumping THEIR trash. I knew I looked rather grim, but I girded my loins and popped the trunk latch. People didn't expect you to get all gussied up for a trip to the dumpster, right?

Just as I tossed the bags into the bin, one of the guys dumping HIS trash said, "Hey, you write that column, don't you?"

Guilty. I stood there while the very nice gentleman said wonderful things about my column. I don't think anybody prayed harder for the ground of a garbage dump to open up and swallow her than I did.

The ground did not open up. Instead, I got back in my car, looked in the rear view mirror and groaned. That guy was going to go home, tell his wife about meeting me and for sure say, "She doesn't look as nice as her picture in the paper."

Yikes. What are the odds?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Riding the rollercoaster

The last thing beaten out of most writers is the idea of turns and fairness. That usually happens just before they either quit writing or get The Call.

Writers, at least those of us in it for the long haul, view the craft of writing as an apprenticeship. You get in there, you write, you send it out to critique partners, you send it out to contests, you pitch it to agents, you read books on craft, you write some more. And somewhere along the way, if you're lucky, if you're good and working on getting better, you get your shot.

If you're part of a critique group whose members are intent on improving, the idea of "turns" takes hold when the first of you gets a partial request, and then a full, and then, praise heaven, an agent. And then it's swoon time when your bud gets The Call. You're happy! You're excited! Because soon it will be Your Turn.

And then comes another member's good luck and good writing and she gets The Call. You're still happy. You're still excited, maybe even more so, because surely, surely, Your Turn is next.

I have two friends, both who write so well it would blow your socks off. They've had so many close calls, it's not even funny. One writes women's fiction as well as any Marian Keyes book on the shelf. The other is the next Evanovich.

If they could only find the right editor.

Yesterday, my critique partner who writes funny, quirky, off-beat stories got the worst news. The editor at a big-time house who loved her voice ... passed.

It's happened before. They say the most amazing things about her. They compliment everything about her. She's funny, she's unique, she's got VOICE. Someone's going to be publishing her, and maybe it SHOULD be them, but ... it won't be them.

And I don't get it. Surely if it's anybody's turn, it's hers. She had a book deal, before I did even. She had a big-time agent that many in the biz would kill to get.

But the publishing house where she had her book deal closed the line -- JUST before her book was due out. And the Big Time Agent? Well, Big Time Agent did squat for her.

She fired Big Time Agent, went through the agony of getting another agent, which is harder, I think, than getting the FIRST agent. Her second agent is a wonderful woman who works her butt off for my friend. Things were looking up.

And then they WEREN'T. And then they WERE. And now they aren't again. And it's just no fair.

I don't know what to say to her. I just want her to be able to get off this rollercoaster from hell and someone hand her a publishing contract. Because I know, when she finally does sell, it's going to be HUGE. All those editors who passed now are then going to be scrambling, trying to find some wannabe writer who can write with HER voice, the voice THEY turned down.

Until then, well, it sucks to be her.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Now I know how editors feel

Karma is a witch. Well, that's the PG version, anyway.

Last night I wound up working with The Kiddo on an assignment for her class that drove me nuts. It seemed simple enough on the face of it: write a movie script about a boomtown (they're reading Boom Town in their class). But then I had to explain what a script looked like, and get her to write a story about it.

When she wrote it, I saw she had no clue about why a boomtown became a boomtown. I'm a writer, right? So I tried to help her by asking questions to focus on the holes in her story ... and she cried and said she had to start all over.

I felt like a heel.

After supper, I realized that my attempts to define a script had failed. I pulled out a copy of My Fair Lady (very dog-chewed because my now-in-doggie-heaven Lab had devoured it). The Kiddo and I read over it, with her taking Eliza's part and me doing my best Higgins impersonation. She laughed a lot and wants me to finish it up for her.

So then we went back to the script idea, and The Kiddo scrapped what she had and began acting out the play. I wrote down the lines she came up with -- it was pretty funny, and a little more polished than a teacher would believe came from an 8-year-old. She had to incorporate her vocabulary words in it, and that took some doing.

We got done about 9:30 (after doing a focus group presentation on the DH and a friend of the family). At that point, she wanted us to do a performance for my sister. So I called her up and put us on speaker phone and we did a radio broadcast. It was a lot of work, but The Kiddo had fun, and she learned more than she would have using the traditional approach.

I went to bed thinking that this must be how it is for editors and the agents who edit for their clients (not all do, from what I understand.) How do you tactfully say, "Um, this needs work," without crushing the dreams and aspirations of the writer? It doesn't help that we writers tend to be thin-skinned -- I have grown tougher skin over my writing career, but it still hurts when a VIR (very important reader) doesn't get what you're trying to accomplish.

My poor editor. I think she deserves a hug and a drink, and not necessarily in that order!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Toothaches, Wrecks and Movies

My poor Kiddo wound up with a toothache over the weekend (we had a LOT of soup), and it was a tooth that had a filling already in it.

The dentist worked her in this morning and found that a permanent tooth was coming in and dislodging the baby tooth and the filling -- so the simplest solution was to just go ahead and yank out the baby tooth. Ai-yi-yi, but it hurts to see your baby scared in a dentist chair. And then to have to send her back to school?

Other than that and not much writing getting done over the weekend, the only exciting thing that happened was how we (me and the Kiddo) narrowly escaped getting killed or badly injured -- literally. We were returning from shopping, coming home down the interstate in horrendous rain. An extended cab pick-up in the oncoming lanes lost it and went spinning over the median -- I thought the truck was going to cross into my lane. Thank goodness that the vehicle came to a rest right at the edge of the median.

The DH brought home two movies to watch (the reason I didn't get much writing done), New In Town and Gran Torino. I liked both very much, but was completely blown away by Gran Torino. Talk about "show, don't tell!" I haven't had a chance to look at the deleted scenes from Gran Torino, but I can't wait to see what Clint Eastwood decided wasn't necessary to tell his story. I always look at the deleted scenes, though. For me, it's a great way to learn the art of revision. (Or so I tell myself as I try to justify watching movies instead of writing.)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Editing a Southerner takes twice the effort

I love the South, don't get me wrong. But I feel for my editor when she has to take a sharp knife to my writing. She once pointed out that one of my favorite "repeat" words was "little." I will not embarrass myself by confessing how many times I found the word littering up my last novel -- suffice it to say it was more than a little bit. :-)

"Little" is one of those words that we southerners use to take the sting out of whatever we say. It is as reflexive as a "bless 'er heart" after a veiled insult. Since we pride ourselves on manners, we use the word a lot. "It's just a little trouble," we'll tell someone. "Or I got a little upset." To lengthen it out still longer, we will insert another word: "bit."

"It's not but a little bit of trouble," we'll tell someone who is asking us to move the world at the last second, without the benefit of a place to stand or so much as a crowbar to pry it into its new orbit. Later of course, we'll grumble, "I'm just a little bit upset about it."

I once watched a PBS special called, "Do You Speak American?" Fascinating stuff, for a writer. It left me curious to hear more regional idioms, like how New York's residents stand ON a line, not in it, or how in Philadelphia, if I'm remembering correctly, all red spaghetti sauce is referred to by natives as "gravy."

What idioms does your part of the world use?

Friday, August 14, 2009

26% done!

BeBe has got to be the slowest book I've ever written -- well, I take that back. There are a few that I started way back when, before I finished my first novel, that still aren't done. Not finishing a book really irks me. I have one that is not finished, mainly because I've been told it straddles genres, and I am still trying to figure out its identity crisis.

Back to BeBe. Regardless of how slow I'm writing -- about a thousand words a day, at half my usual pace, I'm still 26% done. That's the first draft. There are things wrong with this draft, but as Nora Roberts has been oft-quoted, you can't fix a blank page. I keep hoping I can fix a full page.

On the personal side, as I face a weekend of laundry and grocery shopping, the Kiddo is finishing up her first week of third grade. Third grade is hard already. We are learning how to study, and we are not having fun. I'd forgotten, after all my years in formal education, that "studying" doesn't come naturally. It has to be taught. Here I am, a mother with a degree in education, and I still find myself pulling my hair out, trying to figure out what works for the Kiddo.

The plus side is that the science textbook that we have tussled with so far has pictures of dinosaurs at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. The Kiddo was delighted that she recognized the big dino skeletons. She's already planning on taking our vacation pix to show to her class -- that is, IF I can figure out how to get them off the digital camera.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

This is just too dang funny!

My thanks to Janet Reid's blog ... not sure where it originated, and I'm hoping I can make the link work.

We're writing, we're writing, we're writing ...

Remember that scene in Dave, where the White House tour guide is walking backwards and leads the group by saying, "We're walking, we're walking, we're walking?" If you haven't watched Dave (and who hasn't?? Only one of my favorite movies!), then you can also see the Progressive Girl in action on one of those addictive tv commercials that are better than some of the sitcoms.

Well, I'm writing. Thank you, God. It's a scary thing when you know something is wrong with your efforts. For non-writers, the closest sensation is that feeling you get when you've left for a 17-day/8-European-countries tour ... and you can SWEAR you forgot to do something really, really important ... like turn the stove or the iron off or drop Fido off at the pet-sitter's.

I will not be done with my first draft by August 18 unless someone gets hold of God's remote control and presses PAUSE for me. But I did write a thousand or so words last night.

Of course, sensitive Princess-and-the-Pea writer that I am, I may be completely de-railed by a wonderful audio book I'm "reading": THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett.

Some books irritate you. They are poorly written. You weep for the trees these books caused to be sacrificed in vain. Their characters are thin. Their plots are so filled with holes that they resemble a mouse-nibbled piece of Swiss cheese. Books like that motivate me. I think to myself, "Self, if XYZ can write this tripe and actually get paid for it, heck, even get on a best-seller list, there's hope." (I try not to think that maybe my readers read my books and get similarly juiced, but hey, I'm sure it happens.)

THE HELP is NOT one of those books. THE HELP is the sort of book that is so good, I say to myself, "Self, back away from the keyboard. Back slowly, slowly away from the keyboard, and you won't get hurt."

If books that irritate me are all "tell," then THE HELP is all show. And what a wonderful, marvelous show it is. I'm only on Chapter Three, but oh, my Lord, this book is better than Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino. I am praying, "Please, please, please, Kathryn Stockett, don't let me down. Keep all this good writing coming." The last time I felt like this was when I read GODS IN ALABAMA by Joshilyn Jackson.

My book is nothing like Kathryn Stockett's (or Jackson's, btw), even though it is Southern, even though it is women's fiction. I hope that "nothing like" counts only toward plot. But in my deeper, darker moments, I find myself wondering if I'm ever going to be that good.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Writing in the Gaps

People who know me always ask, "When do you find time to write?" The honest answer lately is, "Whenever I can."

I'm like so many writers -- heck, so many PEOPLE -- these days, with way too much stuff to cram in the scant few hours between putting my feet on the floor and laying my head on the pillow at night. There's the kiddo, who needed school supplies and back-to-school clothes. There's the dayjob, with two crisis-mode, "I need 'em yesterday" back-to-back projects. There's the poor neglected hubby, who would love for me to actually converse with him rather than simply grunt, "Writing. Can't talk now." There's the fact that a family can't survive on anything less than actual food, and budgets don't really stretch to eating out a lot, even if I liked that sort of thing. And laundry. OMG, don't get me started on laundry.

And then there's the kiddo again, with insomnia brought to us by Wizards of Waverly Place's flirtation with Zombies and Vampires. (Yes, we should have exercised our parental authority and switched off the tube, but how were we supposed to know that the kiddo who was laughing while she watched it would turn into a blithering, "Mommy, the Zombie's LEG fell off while he was DANCING! His leg was GONE!!!!")

You hear writers talk all the time about writing at their children's practices or in the car pool lane or dictating chapters into a tape recorder. I admire them, but I can't do it. I have to have a block of time and quiet to write. I have to listen to my characters, and dadgummit, they whisper.

But a writer writes. If she doesn't, well, she's not a writer.

So last night, in desperation, cranky from being stretched in so many different directions with no writing time, I found a gap for writing. After she'd interrupted me with pleas about insomnia remedies (this is Day 2 after Wizards and Vampires and Zombies, and still she can't sleep) I grabbed my laptop and went into the kiddo's bedroom.

"You gonna work in here, Mommy?" she asked as I snuggled in beside her.

I started typing away. "I will as long as you go to sleep."

"Okay." She curled up beside me and started reading over my shoulder.

"Go to sleep."

"I will."


But by then, the only sounds were her little baby snores and my fingers, finally, blissfully, clicking away on my keyboard.