Dog to Writer: Life Isn’t a List

Baby and LeeBaby Rae, my Australian cattle dog, is talking to me.

How do I know? She’s bringing me things, all sorts of things: dog-speak for, Hey, down here!  So far, she’s deposited a muddy ball in my lap, a sock from the laundry room, and remnants of the newspaper front page.

I get it: she has a valid point. I’ve been “missing in action” again, my head firmly up—watch it—in the air. Lost in the ether. Inside myself. Not part of the world.

I’ve been gazing at a computer screen the better part of a weekend, tying up loose ends and marketing stuff re my novel’s release (The Angry Woman Suite) at the end of this month; getting taxes out of the way, and trouble-shooting my husband’s long term care insurance reimbursements, grrrr (note: this is how insurance actually works: you pay the provider—much the same as you pay premiums before you’re ever eligible for benefits, on time—and then the insurance company gets around to reimbursing you at their leisure).

Leisure being the operative word.

But back to the point: Baby and I have a “contract.”

When I brought Baby across the border to the U.S., I vowed never to let harm come to her if I could help it; and to feed her, exercise her, give her rawhide treats, groom her, take her to the “puppy doctor,” throw balls for her to fetch, and sit with her in the sun, preferably for hours on end. And to sing “How Much is That Doggy in the Window?” before she falls asleep at night (don’t ask).

For her part, she shows up.

See how uncomplicated dogs keep things?

But this is what Baby keeps reminding me: Love isn’t a list. And neither is life.

Instead, it’s about showing up, sharing food, and not biting others. Pretty simple.

And I know this, but I sometimes forget. That’s why we need dogs, who teach by example, and so of course they never forget the lesson. And the lesson is that somewhere in the middle of anything is the balance for everything. And balance, not a list with everything on it crossed off, is the goal, the optimum—the whole point of sucking air.

Not that I can leave my lists behind. Or doing. You might as well ask me to make my tall self shorter.

But I can keep aiming for balance.

The muddy ball is back in my lap. And we all know where this is going.

I’m closing down the computer. Baby’s an excellent teacher: we’re going outside.

We’re going to be instead of do.

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Being and Doing

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Cover via Amazon

Before I pick up where I left off (about my mystery man, Lazarus, and publishing my book), I just have to share something that’s struck me funny. Publishers Lunch Deluxe is a weekly (or whenever they feel like it) report on all things happening in traditional publishing (like what publisher bought what book, and for how much, and which pubs and/or literary agencies are merging or quitting (aka running for their lives).

Okay, so here’s a direct quote from their November 9th bulletin: Amazon announced three more authors who have each sold a million Kindle ebooks or more, but we’re really not going to report on these releases any more.”

Serious? You’re really not going to report on “these releases” anymore? Here’s what I hear: “You Amazon people and this so-called new age of publishing (read: indie, who are over-populating the Kindle play list) are major pissing us off, so we’re not going to play with you again, ever. So there.”

Moving on . . . the three newest authors to join the Kindle Million Club are David Baldacci, Amanda Hocking (indie–you go, girl), and Stephanie Meyer. 

And now back to me. *smile* And Lazarus Bening (his spy name). But, first, a question:

How many of us, do you think, are doing/being what we pictured ourselves doing/being when we were, say, 17? Or 21?

I knew Lazarus Bening while I was still in high school. He was four years older, in college. He wanted to become a commercial pilot—he didn’t. He became a teacher instead (what I’d believed I’d end up doing, though I was never excited at the prospect). Because I was so unmotivated by the career choice picked by my parents, I became more of a “fritterer” than a serious college student, trying on all sorts of mindsets and people, and having way more fun than was legal. Along the way, Lazarus and I parted.   

Come to find out, Lazarus began writing. Essays and short stories at first, in-between teaching classes. He published a novel. He published two more. Fiction for men. He gained a following (while I was still frittering), all unbeknownst to me.

And then we met again after an embarrassingly long time, at a signing for his latest novel that my writer cohort-friend, Josh, dragged me to. And the first stupid thing I said to Lazarus was:

“I didn’t know you were a writer.”

He laughed a little (very little).

And the second stupid thing I said was (because this event was about his book, not mine, duh): “I have a book too!”

I explained about my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, and how my agent had left the book business for a new career in finance, and how I was now thisclose to going indie.

Lazarus’ expression had turned—quizzical, maybe? I couldn’t read him. He said, “I have two words for you.”

Uh-oh. Was he still that ticked over what had happened between us a thousand years ago?

I swallowed hard. I was a “grownup” now—I could take what was coming (and what, truth be told, I probably deserved). But I moved in a little closer to Josh anyway.  

“Telemachus Press,” Lazarus said.

“Excuse me?”

“Telemachus Press. Best there is.”

And then, “Steve Jackson’s the guy you want to talk to—a good guy; he’ll steer you straight. He’ll get your novel out there, and it’ll be done right; a class act.”

And that, my friends, between my writer friend Josh, and my computer guy, and old flame Lazarus is the more or less true story of how I came to know Steve Jackson at Telemachus Press. Steve Jackson is truly Mr. Wonderful. Every phone call and email is responded to quickly and thoroughly—and Steve makes me laugh. A BIG plus-plus.

Two big thumbs-up for Telemachus Press.    

The Angry Woman Suite will be out in a couple of months—I think. Maybe longer. Depends on how the editing goes—I think. And how the cover goes. (I’m picturing a black and white cover, because The Angry Woman Suite is largely a period piece, taking place between 1915 and 1968.) An amazing review of The Angry Woman Suite goes public on the Kirkus Reviews website 12/15/11, but you can read it here— it’s a link in the right column. 

And Lazarus?

Well, like it or not, first loves leave lasting marks on us. Maybe not big fat scars; maybe only scratches—but, whichever, we’re changed forever.    

But this is what grownups do when assessing our scars and scratches: we notice the parts we played, or didn’t, in all our relationships. We forgive others and ourselves, and we heal. We keep evolving—otherwise, the point would be??–and we stay open.

We make the positives a part of us, and store the negatives for future reference.

Reference for—what, you ask?     

Whatever comes along next—and, well, in this case, you’ve got to know that every player in my life story, and every take-away, is going to end up in a book someday (or a post)—or maybe already has. *smile*

Thanks for coming by! More later in the week. . . .     

 

Writing Sexy Scenes and Cutting Corners

I once heard John Grisham say in an interview that he runs away from writing sex-explicit scenes because the first one he wrote made his wife laugh.  

Which made me laugh.

Because I can relate.

I haven’t written much about my husband DDF, because his struggle is so heart-rending that even for a writer who naturally loves words, I’ve run away from the sad, powerful ones needed to adequately convey DDF’s journey from brilliant, athletic, curious and at the top of his game to, now, a fetal position most of the day, and unable to read or write, or speak coherently—a once beautiful man largely “trapped” by a progressive neurological disease.

But there’s a reason I’m writing about DDF now (instead of more about indie publishing and mystery men as promised, but we’ll get back to those later).

The reason is last night.

I do all my reading in bed, so last night’s pick was an indie novel someone told me I should take a look at. It has generated mixed buzz, but I started it with high hopes, because I love that every writer now has the opportunity to get his or her best stuff out there via the indie revolution; to share a dream with the world—and that we, the world, now get to experience all visions—nothing is closed off to writers or readers any longer.  

But I was so disappointed—and I wanted to take this author, who is such a capable writer by the way, by the shoulders, and tell her, “Please, please, please, no cutting corners. Use an editor or proofer next time out, because you lost me with this one—and you didn’t have to.”

The first lead she used incorrectly (instead of led), I chalked up to a typo—and I can live with typos. But the next dozen leads she used incorrectly all led to what the author must’ve considered a requisite sex scene, which for the life of me, I couldn’t see the point of, so mired was I in the misuse of a dozen freakin’ leads.

And that’s when I missed my old DDF—again. I wanted him back—I wanted to be able to elbow him and say, “Wait—listen to this passage,” or “Oh dear, what do you think of this?

It’s a funny thing about marriage.

Or any long-term relationship. The things you think about when it’s ending; things you already miss. Little things: a certain look, a half-smile, a cocked eyebrow. Intimate, intrinsic, positive “us” things—magic things that no one else in the world sees or hears.

Because it’s a shared “language” understood only by two.   

DDF and I’d have giggled in the old days, but not in a mean way, not at this author’s misuse of lead (which, unfortunately, undermine her credibility, and just ten pages into her baby)—but at me.

No cutting corners. . . .

To backtrack, DDF and I have known each other for forever; perfect at times and other times not, but even when we have been imperfect, we have loved each other. No cutting corners. We met unexpectedly through a friend, and discovered we shared a love for books. DDF introduced me to Gunter Grass and Vonnegut, and I introduced him to Michener and Wouk. We read Irving Wallace’s The Seven Minutes at the same time—different copies of course—and hardly came up for air during, and then talked non-stop over wine and dinner after. We had a “glue”: it was books. Not only novels. We read everything: art, history, biography, philosophy. When we weren’t working or biking or skiing, we were reading or browsing in book stores.

We’d read passages from books to each other, and I’d share ideas for my own writing, and he would chide me for not using an editor, because I thought I knew it all (ouch). Or I’d throw a sex scene in (which he’d laugh at), because, hey, doesn’t everybody do it? Isn’t it expected, even required? Doesn’t sex sell books, movies, music?

Sometimes, but it doesn’t feel manipulative when . . . 

. . . it moves a story forward, or offers a better understanding of a character or characters, or if the plot itself hinges on it.    

And that’s what DDF intuitively knew—and probably why John Grisham’s wife laughed too. If a writer’s uncomfortable with a subject, it’ll show—and if s/he’s throwing sex in “just because,” it will show. Gratuitous always shows.

And, second point: everybody needs to hire an editor before putting their stuff “out there”—even if you’re an English teacher, because: 

People, we cannot see our own screw-ups.

If you love your story, make it shine. If you don’t love it, holler for the cavalry. And I’m not talking just books here. Our bigger stories are our relationships–and we need to give those everything, because we can’t unring the bell. So, no cutting corners, and no assuming we know it all (even if we actually do). 

One other thing about DDF:

I haven’t read the big love-sex scene from my novel, The Angry Woman Suite, aloud to him, because today’s DDF would have to struggle to comprehend a scene and I don’t want to add to his frustration.

Yet, I think my old DDF would say it’s a pretty good scene. In fact, I see the old DDF with my mind’s eye (I see him a lot this way): the cocked eyebrow, the bemused half-smile, the pride in me. And I still hear this man who now has such difficulty speaking, because after so many years with someone, you can hear the unspoken, that contextual backwash of a long shared history. And this is what I hear him saying: 

“Well, kid, you finally nailed the damn scene. Took you long enough, but it’s honest and it was needed–and you’re not rubbing my nose in it. Good—no cutting corners.”

The man knew how to say stuff: brief, to the point.

“No cutting corners.”

I post on Thursdays and Mondays, and sometimes more, but sometimes less.

 Hello gorgeous

 

 

The Angry Woman Suite Comes In From The Cold

Happy Halloween! And thanks so much to all of you who sent encouraging emails and/or left comments at my Oct. 27th post.  

For those checking in with me for the first time, my back story is that I’ve written a historical-commercial novel called The Angry Woman Suite (about a double murder in the early 1900’s, in Pennsylvania, and subsequent fallout on two generations). The novel, both mystery and love story, garnered very good reviews, and a literary agent.

But back stories, like life, never have straight trajectories, and this one is no exception. In my case, my agent left the publishing business (I’d nothing to do with it, I swear! I’m not that powerful!) . . .

. . . though e-readers are. . . .  

And so my new paradigm became a sudden and succinct bottom line of no agent = no contract. The Angry Woman Suite went from promising, front and center, to Nowhere Land, out in the cold—and took me with it.

What to do next? Well, after some impressive dithering and waffling on my part, I met two men whom I’ve introduced via previous posts: potty-mouthed Josh, who looks a little like Ashton Kutcher on a bad day, with glasses (which is still an excellent look). Josh is a successful non-fiction writer who told me to get off the dime (and with the program, with digital publishing and a blog).

The other man is Tim, who’s a much shorter, much younger version of Obama (though I’d bet Baby Rae’s next chicken treat Tim’s never seen the inside of a business suit). Tim’s a rumpled genius. A kind, rumpled genius who put my blog together (and never once laughed or snickered, at least so I could hear, at my lack of computer skills).  

And now here I am—and if someone had told me a year ago I’d be a blogger, I’d have sniggered and said odds are I’ll strip to my skivvies and run half-naked through Balboa Park first—and we all know that’s never going to happen.  

Put another way, never say never.

My last post ended with Parts 1 and 2 of scary things to try before I die, so coming up next, naturally, would be Part 3 of what I now call The Angry Woman Suite Project—as in Manhattan minus the bomb stuff.

I pretty much thought I’d get at least ten blog posts out of the arts of dithering, waffling, whining and attendant nuances before moving forward with Part 3, which was to name who will format my baby (The Angry Woman Suite) and put it out there—but here’s what’s happened: another never.  

I met a third man. Actually, I met two more men. One I can’t talk about—yet. Mystery man.

(Hint: I knew him a long time ago, in school, and could never have predicted what he’s become since, or how it could affect the “project.)    

The other is Steve Jackson (aka Mr. Wonderful, and he is). Steve is the voice for Telemachus Press. I’ll be writing more about Steve and Telemachus as we go along, but for now my headline in the sky reads:

The Angry Woman Suite is coming in from the cold.  

So, Part 3 of the “project” has been implemented—already! I have a publisher, and I’m very excited at the prospect of working with Telemachus.

Know what’s odd? My entire writing life has been mostly shadowed (in a good way) by women; i.e., my mother, teachers, my critique group, my agent, my editor. But have you noticed that all the new people in my “project” story are men? Four—count ’em—four. And I’m just getting started.  

Poor me. *smile*     

Thought for the day, courtesy of Kristin Lamb:

“Learn to have a healthy relationship with failure . . . if we aren’t failing, we’re not doing anything interesting.”

Next post will be more on digital publishing and coming in from the cold; mystery men, and Telemachus Press.   

I post on Mondays and Thursdays, and sometimes more, but sometimes less. “See” you next time, and be good to yourselves.

Have fun tonight!