Thursday, December 21, 2006

Finding My Voice, Mark II

I've been trying to put my finger on exactly what my writerly problem is, and I think I had a moment of clarity. Sort of.

When I started taking writing seriously, in my mid-twenties, I was doing a lot of work that required me to mimic -- something that seems to be innate. I have a natural ear for voice (augh! and a natural gift for mixing metaphors!). This came in handy when I was ghostwriting middle-grade fiction for three different series, and helped a lot when I was freelancing or trying to get on staff at far-flung magazines. But when the time came to write for myself, I didn't know where to start. What was my voice? How did I write, when nobody was telling me they wanted x, y, and z, in that order?

It was so hard and awful to give birth to my on-page self, but eventually, out of the mess of journals and personal essays and weird unpaid web-postings, I found that snarkyself: Sassy-inflected, standoffish ironic commentary gently peppered with real feeling. Frankly, I sounded like a lot of my cohorts, but that's because we were all sort of alike under the skin anyway. We weren't being derivative, we were just infected by the same zeitgeist, and that was OK. And I did have my own pool of light. It was pink!

Little did I know that voice had a shelf-life. I'm (nnnduh) not the same person I was when I was 25. The past couple years saw me sort of vanishing, reformatting, growing, changing. The same old snark does not satisfy anymore, and the stories I told then are old news to me now.

Plus, I've got so much more life under my ever-expanding belt. I mean -- I can not buh-LIEVE the things I thought were tragic in my twenties. Had I known then what I'd endure, I'd have actually had reason to crawl under my covers, smoke unfiltered Camels and weep into my Wild Turkey. My skin is thicker now, I'm more tolerant and kinder, free of the tyrannic overcommitment of the insecure, and -- I actually know what I'm talking about some of the time.

Which means the old ways don't fit, the old phrases and words sound tinny in my ears. I have to do it again: write and "journal" (oh god, that does not work as a verb) and blog and dig up pals who curate readings so I can find out how I write -- and what I write about -- again.

It's not bad. It's what separates the Billy Joels from the Bowies. And it explains why I haven't just sat down and written in the past few months. Or so I hope.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Insanely Juggling Alternate Activities

Yesterday I missed my groovy improv workshop because I had to hunker down and do 5 hours of boring edit-y stuff that I didn't do on Friday.

Now I have to do a couple more hours of this editing, which is why I just took the time to post (over there, on the left. your left. YOUR LEFT. down. scroll down. there ya go) my two-years-ago appearance on an NPR quiz show in which I couldn't remember whether Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney had just gone to Iraq; hear my desperate vamping, be amused.

Stay tuned; I have two super seekrit video projects that will surely take the place of any other productive work this week. I've bought out almost all of eBay, people. Oh yeah. It's a big week for procrastination.

Monday, December 04, 2006


holy hypee that was way too long. sorry.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I like to say that I don't have an ego about my writing, and that's mostly true. For one kind of writing. My articles that I'm hired to write and send off to editors who are asking for them? Totally no problem. I send, they say "Change this!" or "I changed this!" or, well, they just change it, and pretty soon it hits the stands.

I barely look at the finished product until I put it in my clip file. I've compared my poor, abandoned/finished articles as discarded lovers to my Casanova: adoringly attended to, researched, fussed over, then forgotten as the next assignment looms into view. Once safely ensconced in my clip file, they can complain about me and find solidarity, I suppose.

When I give one of my articles a look-see, like when I'm about to post it here, I scan it for any sign of something I might have written – one phrase? A couple sentences? Whatever I find beyond my solid reporting is a bonus, and if that cute lede stayed in there, I'm over the moon. But there's no equivalent feeling of loss for all the phrases that didn't make it in. If there's something unbearably adorable that I feel must be seen, I'll send it to friends in an email or post it online here.

I do feel bad when I see a paragraph full of facts I didn't gather, guiltily imagining my editor Googling up some hard numbers after hours. And I never – NEVER – complain to an editor about something I think should have stayed. If an editor is kind enough to show me, pre-publication, what she's done with my work, I'm not going to crap on her by raising a stink over my now-lost agonized-over metaphor. Again, I know what it's like to have higher-up editors making their changes on top of yours, and I know how impossible it is to go back to them and say "The writer REALLY wants to keep XYZ." What? Are you kidding me? Tell that writer to take a fricking hike. Next time hire a kindergartener. Fuck no, thank you kindly!

But when we switch to the subject of my fiction, all bets are off. Probably because nobody's paying much for my fiction, even the writer-for-hire variety that paid my bills for so many years. (Books in which my name never appeared, which I was contracted to write according to storylines generated by committee.) Since I'm not taking orders in the first place, my feelings become much more involved, like veins through organs. Like veins through organs when you're about to get your period. LIKE LOTS OF VEINS IN ALL YOUR ORGANS. Okay, like testicles.

Wait, what?

Why would anyone have to edit me, anyway?!

Anyway: Here is a sad tale of my ego and my fiction. A gal I worked with, and had a sort of girly-crush on, began shining her attention-lamp on me. She said, "You write fiction? I want to see what Amy fiction is like. What is it like? I must know. You have to send it to me. Send me your fiction! I MUST SEE YOUR FICTION!"

I got, like, an email every two hours on this subject. "Have you sent it yet? There's nothing in my inbox. I want to see it. Please? Don't print it out, I've got a printer. I'll print it, just send it!" I didn't want to send it! I told her: It's not quite done. It's not really ready. It's a work in progress. It's crap! But she wouldn't hear of it: "Oh for god's sake, just send it already! I don't care, I just want to see it!" So I attached it and hit "send."

And then, silence.

Days, weeks, a couple months of silence. Finally, swooping out of the clear blue sky, she called to say she'd been invited on a press trip, she needed a pal, she knew I needed cheering up, I had to accompany her. (She can be quite the demanding gal, can't she?) I went on the trip and on one particularly chummy (read: drunken) night, we were out with some other journalists, and she made some sideways comment about the fact that I write fiction, and I teased her about never writing after she read my book, and she rolled her eyes and said, "When I asked to read it, I didn't realize it was going to be a young adult novel."

Italics hers, and dripping with disdain.

I am ashamed to say I was absolutely devastated. I didn't think of that novelette as YA! And what's wrong with YA? And what the HECK?

I've had people call my articles stupid, silly, fluff, sexist, and a raft of other insults. I've been the subject of a months-long thrash on the bulletin boards regarding an article I wrote in Maxim. (Or Stuff, I forget which.) I am usually spoiling for a fight when it comes to that sort of thing, and happily wave my paycheck in the face of all who mock me. But any word about my fiction makes me pout like a second-string cheerleader. It's so weird and stupid! But it may explain why my fiction's been on the back burner. Why stick my neck out when I have so much else to do?

Oh, but that back burner is bubbling and boiling, the more I try to ignore it. I can't avoid this forever. Shweee.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Writing Is A Responsibility!

Seriously. I was at the Apple store yesterday, waiting for my Genius, when a cute boy sat down next to me. I was giving him the subtle eyeball-scan when I noticed a tattoo on his inner wrist. Owie, on the most sensitive skin. It was words. I looked closer. It said "Hold On." As in, the refrain James Frey repeated throughout "A Million Little Pieces." I knew guys had had this tattooed on themselves b/c I saw one on Oprah. But this was the first actual person with that tat that I had seen.

So: this dude read the book when he thought it was a memoir, and was so inspired by Frey's tale of kicking addiction that he branded himself with the words Frey howled out of the very depth of his despair.

Never mind that it's not so bright in the first place to get a phrase tattooed on yourself, but I just really wondered how this guy felt now that Frey's been roundly disgraced. Did he tell himself, "Well -- the story still inspired me, even if it turned out to be fiction?" Does he wish he had the cash for some laser treatments? If he saw James Frey walking down Broadway, would he run up and punch him smack on the right temple till he fell down bleeding for real this time?

And how does Frey feel about all this? The first time he saw a "hold on" tattoo, did his heart plummet into his stomach? Did he feel guilty, or did he think, "oh man. I am the biggest rock star. Nobody's ever going to bust me, either."

Side note: I have to say I feel awful for Frey in all of this. He was just trying to illustrate for his readers just how hard it was for him to kick drugs. If you say "I had to kick coke, and it was so hard I thought I would die," people go, "Well, I'm not a drug addict, so I guess it was hard for you but I can't empathize." But if you say "I had to quit coke, and it felt as painful as a root canal without painkillers, as heartbreaking as having a girl you love hang herself, as wonderful as having a mobster who looks like Gene Hackman decide to be your extra father," people go, "Wow, that is really painful, heartbreaking, and wonderful! I get you, writer-man!" Given that, maybe the guy is still OK with his tat.

Or maybe he has no frickin idea Frey has been debunked at all. A month ago I was in a bookstore and A Million Little Pieces was in the "staff picks" section with a rhapsodic description, including the terms "brave" and "memoir." Lacking in self-filtering skills as I am, I ripped the description off the shelf, brought it to the front clerk, and said "You have to not look this stupid. You can't recommend debunked memoirs without at least acknowledging the huge controversy that surrounded them." The front clerk, who bore a striking resemblance to Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, put his hands up and said, "Every memoir has some untruth." I think I sputtered something about and stalked out, in flabbergastment. There are people in total denial about the nature of memoir and the facts of this particular case. Maybe this guy's tattoo was fresher than I thought because he just didn't give a hoot about the veracity of the story, only the emotional truth of the moment; I know I just said that was okay, but it's not something to get a tattoo about.

All's I know is, if someone gets a tattoo of anything I write, I'm going to feel really weird about it. From now on, I'm going to write every word as if it could possibly be inked onto some cute young person's epidermis. Um... not really. If I did that I'd never be able to click "publish post." Cuz there's no "edit post" button on a tattoo.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Loving My Editors, Part I

I've been working my sizeable tuchus off for the past few weeks, to the point where I can't even post, for reals now. I finally finished a few days ago and now I just have to catch up with the other deadlines I missed while working on One Big Project. Yay. Dull roar of work rather than shrieking gale.

But that's not the point. The point is, my editor at one magazine just sent me this:

BTW ... our founder and EIC commented specifically on your
stories and said you were really good and funny. She never does that.
I love me. Yay yay for me. Starting the new year off with a bang. Woo!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

contents of my head: tumbleweeds, void.

okay! so. how many days have I pined for a gig where my job is to funny-up somebody else's writing? let's make that years. I haven't had a gig like that since my beloved mag staff-job. and. now I have it again. only. I'VE GOT NOTHING. there's no funny in my head. In fact, I can't remember ever being funny. I don't even know what the word "funny" means. I don't even know how to spell it. I don't know how that last sentence even happened. I'm forgetting how to type even. wfsfaf80e fado0IOJGAijoasdfg98342. OSIDFOIEW!!!! 002q34wsadfjaggggggg...

everyfunny hurts. sometimes. everyfunny cries.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

See, This Is What I'm Talking About

Sometimes I feel guilty about being a writer. Like, what I do is not supposed to be a job, and why do I (and other artists) feel entitled to be able to just do this thing and not have to also do other stuff? (Don't hate on me yet, people; I'm going somewhere with this.)

This article was just in the paper. It's about a highly educated novelist born of highly educated immigrants. He's writing novels that get great reviews, AND he is going to med school. This seems to be what practical people do: "I want to write, but I'm not going to ask for a GRANT for chrissakes. I'll write at 5:30 in the morning for two hours before I start work." This is the Stephen King thing I was ranting about a few months ago, this weird Protestant work ethic thing where I am wracked with guilt if I only write the things that make me feel happy and complete and good and like I'm actually expressing myself through the written word.

On days when I work on paying projects, I feel like, "Okay, good, I'm worth something today." On days when I work on possible-future-projects, or spec fiction, or anything that qualifies as art, I just HATE myself, even if what I wrote is really really good.

This is terrible!

On the other hand, I'm so awe-inspired at people who can do BOTH.

But I mean -- I don't know if I can do both! Unless I take a month at a time to ONLY do one or the other -- make a shitload of money and then coast (moneywise) for a solid month where I only do fiction. I have done that before, now that I think about it. It'd be better if I could divide my days up, but maybe I have to divide my years up instead, and just accept that that's how I work best. And then -- who's to say if I still have my fiction mojo? Maybe I'm killing myself working as hard as I do on the (relatively) lucrative journalism because I fear defeat. ouch, I don't like to think about THAT.

I have no answers, I just was struck by the article and consumed with envy.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Self-Googling PAYDIRT!

Check it out, my bitches! I'm somebody's literary high point!

bar nar nar, nar nar nar, nar nar. Bar nar nar nar. doo doo doo, doo doo doo.
(dancing like snoopy)

I have a whole thing I meant to write but I've been doing WORK instead, and then I misplaced the clip I was going to write about. so sorry. so very, very sorry.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

That's not writing, it's ... patchwork.

My last couple of articles feel like I'm not really writing them so much as compiling them. It's an interesting difference. If I'm writing something, I'm searching for le mot juste, I'm coming up with analogies, I'm quietly spending time with an idea and seeing where it brings me emotionally. I'm connecting dots, sorta. Connecting dots of EMOTION.

The stories I've been doing lately have been more reporting, ya know, so I'm taking stuff I learned -- by interviewing -- and fitting it together so it makes a cohesive whole. It's not bad, not at all; it's actually pretty satisfying when it's done and I see the tight little seams and pull on them and say "yep, okay, I can send this in."

I guess it's not fair to say that's not writing. They're both writing, they just feel like they use different parts of my brain.

All this is to say I was supposed to go through my notes on my "born-again virgin" piece this morning, and form it into a whole, and it's 3:44 and I still haven't cracked it. I know how I want to structure it now, so why don't I just put it all together? I think I'm worried it won't work with the interviews I've done and I'll have to do MORE. Which I can't stand to do for a sex story. Somehow I'm more mortifiable these days. But at this moment, it's really either do the story or pay bills. Which would YOU rather do?

(If the answer to that question is "I'd rather pay your bills," you should go ahead and do that! yeah thanks wow!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Satire For Fun And ... Well, Just Fun

Okay. So I realized I'm awash in deadlines, particularly for this crazy tequila story that's currently yanking my chain. But I saw an article in the Times today that reminded me of the most annoying thing I ever read, and that inspired me to (1) learn google pages and (2) use that knowledge to create a magnificent work of satire.

At the bottom of the page are the two articles that I mashed up to create my masterwork. Once you read the two links, the whole thing will become clear, I think... I hope so, anyway.

So you have to go offsite to read my brilliance today. But it is so worth it! Honest!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Deadlines A-Poppin'

Ha ha. Remember a few posts ago when I said I was going to get everything in early? That was funny. I completely forgot to enter a couple little deadlines into my iCal, which means I'm notified of missed deadlines by a worried-sounding email from an editor.

Also: sometimes when you tape things, the tape fades out after ten minutes and you have to reconstruct a 90-minute interview from memory.

On the upside, I've gotten assignments galore. If I can just keep getting crap done (after PUTTING SAID CRAP IN MY iCAL), I'll be in really good shape at the end of the month. But I'm juggling. Naked terror is keeping the balls in the air. So far, so good...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What Killed Nathaniel Hawthorne?

So it turns out no less an American luminary of letters than Nathaniel Hawthorne not only had writer's block, he died of it. Seriously. In last week's New Yorker, John Updike reports that in 1864, Hawthorne wrote in a letter (re: a book he had started):
I shall never finish it… I cannot finish it unless a great change comes over me; and if I make too great an effort to do so, it will be to my death.
And then? Twelve weeks later? HE DIED. Maria Callas died of heartbreak, Nathaniel Hawthorn died of writer's block. So don't push me, people: I'm in a delicate condition.

Actually, I wrote a personal essay two days ago. I took a big long hike and while I was wondering if I was going to die of the hike (I'm sure I could), I thought of a solid hook, and ran home and wrote the thing. It's about my long-lost Cartier Tank wristwatch but, as with most personal essays, it's really about life. Yep. I'm that deep.

Then I felt horribly guilty because I didn't have an assignment to write it, I just wrote it, which means I was not working on the things which have been assigned to me and which are horribly overdue. Then I thought, "What the hell am I doing, writing personal essays? Nobody publishes these. I'll send it in to the Times 'Modern Love' column and I'll hear bupkiss and that'll be that." After that came a lot of whirling thoughts that had to do mostly with what to have for lunch and howcome moldy cheese is okay but moldy bread is not.

Anyway, though, I wrote it and I love it, so the "Modern Love" column can bite me. OW. Hey, "Modern Love" column! I didn't mean that literally! Jerk.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Is writing fun?

Ever? I mean do people have fun doing this? I'll admit to there being times when, ferinstance, I'll be in the shower and all of a sudden the perfect dialogue for a scene will bud in my head, and I stand there under the hot water zoning out till it seems to be, ya know, in full flower ... water dribbling down through my hair, fading the dye, pounding on my skull like it could actually knock the ideas loose. And twenty minutes later I'm wrapped in a robe with my hair sopping on my shoulders feeling like the computer should burst forth with booming chords of congratulations, because yes, hooray, I have done it, I have written The Perfect Scene and it pops and snaps with reality and familiarity and passion, and it's real, it's what I meant to say.

But then I back off from that, because "waiting for the muse" -- I mean, what else have I described? -- and waiting to be struck by the muse has nothing to do with my definition of being a writer, which is that writing is a job, it is a profession, and writers write, and even if it sucks and you feel like every word is being slowly hauled out of your guts on squeaky coal-mine train tracks, you are still Doing Your Job, following the next point in your outline, and unbeknownst to you, it may turn out that this plodding scene, on re-reading, is actually really good.

Here's why I create this snobbish distinction: Because I can't stand it when people act irresponsibly and then blame their artistic natures, as if good manners and great art are mutually exclusive. Pollack cheated on his wife and drank himself around a tree. Oh, but he made great canvases that ached with passion, so it's all right. It's not all right! You can't hurt people! You can ache with passion and still keep it in your fucking pants! When I've acted irresponsibly, it was because I was irresponsible, not because I'm a fucking writer. Those "guys who work in finance" are pricks too, and they don't make canvases that ache with anything, they make money. So? What's their excuse?

Here's what set me off tonight. I read my friend's new book, and it crackled with excitement. I could feel how much she loved writing it. She didn't have to tease out extra scenes to make it longer; hell, I had the feeling it was much longer, and she had to cut stuff. She inhabited her world in a way that I used to do and have not done in such a long time. My, that's a bit of truth-telling. It's a fact. I can barely remember what it felt like to write the best parts of my books, and even then, I had to be shoved back into my desk-chair by the encouraging words of my then-editor, who practically held my hand (a third hand, some invisible non-typing hand) the entire time.

What's wrong with me? Why do I fight writing on a good day, and utterly lose the ability to on a bad one? When I interviewed Eric Boghosian (do I sound likke Dick Cavett yet?), he said he had to "hate the book into existence." I knew exactly what he meant! And he's a good writer! So but... what is up with THAT?!

The easy answer is that like with any job, writing has good days and bad days. Ah, but I prefer to just assume I'm awful. That way I can keep myself away from the keyboard for one... more... day.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Vader Sessions

This is apropos of nothing, except that I have watched it about seven times, which means I've lost an hour of work time. But I truly think it is time well spent.

Monday, July 17, 2006

"Will there be snacks?"

Yesterday I heard A.M. Homes on the radio, talking about what it was like to accept a job working on The L Word rather than working from home, as she's done for even longer than I have. "I loved it," she said, "but I worried before I started there: Can I do a job? I have no skills. Will there be snacks? What if I get tired, will they let me lie down?"

My favorite job, the one I moon over endlessly with an ardor I don't even reserve for lost humans, did have snacks. And couches -- well-used ones. And the edge it had over freelance was that when I left, I was done -- no lying in bed, trying to ignore the siren call of my closed-but-blinking laptop.

Oh, for the halcyon days of Hearst. Oh, for a job like that now! The nineties are over. What will it be like if I get a job now? Is there an L Word for me? (Oh god, don't answer that -- I can think of all too many.)

Friday, July 07, 2006

Is this the secret to successful freelancing? I'LL JUST BET IT IS!

An editor who SRN (Shall Remain Nameless) was dishing to me about another freelancer. "She's not that good, but she gets tons of work, and I finally figured out why." Nu? "It's because she hands everything in three days early. Everything. Early."

Holy mother of mercy. Of course that's the secret. My entire career, I think I've stuck to, like, half a deadline. When I see the pink notation on my iCal that something is due today, that is my cue to start looking for experts. I see my deadlines as suggestions, silly ones. I've left more exasperated editors in my wake than James Frey. I've caused more tummyaches than green apples. I'm exaggerating, of course... a little.

Being early! I know bad writers who flourish because they're great self-marketers, but it never occurred to make myself the earlybird! That is effing genius!

In an effort to make my first deadline after this revelation, I included the due date in my article's filename. Where it stared me in the face the whole time I was working. SPLA-DAM. = I just handed it in on time. So. We'll see if that continues to work. If it does, I am going to be a LOT LESS POSTY in the very near future.

Sports writers have all the fun

God! Seriously! Whenever I read the sports pages or the official Mets web site, I think, "Jeez, I would love to be doing that, but I don't know a pick-and-roll from a hail-mary."

The Oscar Madisons of this world describe emotions, atmosphere, personalities. They rail against injustices. They develop themes that pop up throughout their articles, ending with a neat callback to the first graf. God! Sports writers do some fun writing.

I don't know, maybe the secret is to work for a daily paper where there just isn't time to scrutinize every word, or for hand-wringing over "hitting the right tone" or "voicing to our audience." You can't edit things to death when they're already halfway out the door -- or maybe this is just a romantic notion. I really have no idea, I've only worked in magazines.

I just would love to write like a sports writer, but about other stuff. Imagine? UCCCH, apparently I can't, as I just tried and the results are not, as they say, fit to print.

Hey, are you people as annoyed by I am by the popularity and endless emailability of that fricking Shamu story? What? Wasn't there a book about using dog-training principles in your relationships, like five years ago? Now she's going to get a book deal. I'm seven shades of green.

The not-nice part: "That's why I use it, too!"

Not so awesome was this one woman in the class who really sort of disproved all the encouraging stories I've been telling for the last few days. I know everyone has a good side or whatever, but this chick was just awful.

First of all, not that this matters, but she was morbidly obese. Her bulk was like a wall between her and the rest of the class; she would sit pushed back from the table, her notebooks and manuscripts fanned out around her, her face a mask of detached judgement, as if she was just waiting for the rest of us to say something that pissed her off.

Second, she was obsessed, I mean obsessed, with Irish culture. She was fully American and did not even have Irish heritage, but like a '70s-era hippie claiming to be emotionally half-Cherokee, she claimed Gaelic culture as her true heart's home. The thing was, she wasn't into, like, U2 and James Joyce and Dylan Thomas -- she was enamored with the kind of Irish trinkets you see going on sale at Hallmark stores in the week after St. Patrick's Day. She peppered her speech with references to "the blarney stone" and "Guinness." She named her cat Shamrock. Not Ceallach, not Meadhbh, not any other mysterious-sounding traditional Irish name -- SHAMROCK. Ach, begorrah, always after me lucky charms!

Third, and this is where it gets germane, her writing was Irish-themed, Dublin-based, yet weirdly absent of any actual Irish influence. The main character was a gal who worked in a factory and had lots of bad things happen to her. And lots of sexy things with long descriptions of slippery-this and firm-as-a-hurley-that. Worse, there were pages-long fantasies about delicate faeries, howling banshees, and fucking LEPRECHAUNS for god's sake. There was an Irish guy in the class -- by heritage, not by birth -- and he was all, "Have you ever been to Ireland?" and she was all "I took a tour once" and he was all "Cuz leprechauns don't really act that way in Irish folklore, that's kind of a Hollywood thing," and her face shut down even tighter.

Another night, she told us about her first unpublished novel, a searching, heartbreaking story about a poor boy's childhood of woeful misery that "got totally ruined when Frank McCourt's book came out and ripped off my whole story." "Uh ... wasn't his true, though?" the soap-opera writer asked. "Well, yeah," Shamrock allowed, and her face shut down again.

She hated criticism. When a classmate suggested she cut down the background detail of a minor character, she said, "But I put that in because someone in another class said I needed more background for him. Why did I bother?" The unexamined revision: plopping in prose because "I was just following orders"... good in a magazine article when your editor demands it, bad in fiction when your supreme editor should be your self.

Worst of all, though, for me anyway, was how much she hated her main character. "God, I keep rewriting this and making things happen to her, and she just won't stand up for herself," she complained. "I had someone beat her. I had someone rape her. I threw everything I had at her, and I could never get her to get angry and retaliate. She was such a wuss." WTF? How do you do that to a character? Just write her different! My god! It was like writing happens to the writer.

Writing is a JOB. You get the job done. You tell the story, it doesn't tell you. For God's sake, I thought, get a grip on your story!

So this is the thing: would Allan Ginsberg have encouraged Shamrock if she had approached him the way I did? Would it denigrate his encouragement of me if I found out he had? Are there people who should not be encouraged, or does Shamrock deserve the same ego-stroking as me? Is encouragement just one tool in the writer's toolbox?

Because I'm really awful. I don't want Shamrock to torture her characters or her classmates or her teachers. I don't want her doing what I do. I want her to stop. I want her to take up knitting. It stresses me out to think of all those words pouring out onto pages somewhere, piling up, half-cooked plots rubber-banded together in a box on a shelf surrounded by other boxes on a green-painted bookshelf in a rent-controlled one-bedroom in Gramercy Park. I want to scream at her, "YOU ARE NOT A WRITER! PLEASE STOP! YOU ARE USING UP ALL THE WORDS! AND FOR FUCK'S SAKE, CUT BACK ON THE CORNED-BEEF-AND-CABBAGE DINTY-MOORE STEW!!!"

Then again, I'm no Alan Ginsberg.

Turns out I'm not so nice (part 1)

Oh jeez. Meanwhile, after all these nice encouraging memories, I'm going to backslide into cynicism. I took a writing class a few years ago, a "finish-your-novel" workshop that I hoped would force me to do just that (and it did). The teacher told me to take something out of the novel, a major character thingee; she said it was a cheap gimmick and that I had enough meat in the story without it. "You used it to get you into the relationship between the girls, and now you can get rid of it in a revision."

It was a fine note, but I disagreed with it, as did the rest of the class -- seriously, they rounded me up after class to have drinks with them and demanded that I leave that little characterization in. It was so sweet. This one woman, who had written for soap operas for years and had also worked as a customer-service rep for a hair-color company with the lead singer for Living Colour -- told me a story about a boy who was a violin prodigy. He went to play in front of a maestro, who told him "you don't have it. You don't have the fire to be a professional violinist." The prodigy realized he would never be great and gave up violin and became a successful something-or-other and lived a mild but happy life.

Years later he came across the maestro again and asked, "How did you know I didn't have the fire?" The maestro said, "I didn't. I said that to everyone, figuring that if they really did have the fire, they'd take my criticism as a challenge to prove me wrong. By giving up, you proved me right."

Jeez! Okay! Anyway, the woman's point was, don't get sidelined by criticism. Take what you think you can work with and if something does not feel right, ignore it and do what your heart tells you. (My heart pretty much always tells me I suck, though, so I'm not sure that's the best advice for moi.) I remember her eyes widening as she told me to keep writing the way I wrote, that it was great, that it spoke to her, and that it was real. So that was pretty awesome.

The un-awesome part is getting too long, and I hate long blog posts, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

More on this age-factor thing

Literally the nicest writer I ever met was Allan Ginsberg. He wins the Madfoot Award for Greatest Kindness by a Total Stranger with a Literary Pedigree. I was working a gross "special sales!" job at Houghton-Mifflin. It was an awful secretarial gig, and the atmosphere was utterly high-school. My boss was the worst combination of thinks-she's-cool and is-an-anal-retentive-nerd. In fact, she bore a certain resemblance to a certain Steve Carell character... but that's another histoire. Let's just say it was awful and soul-killing and I was young and lost and mourning the death of Kurt Cobain.

So I trudged out for lunch one day (I had to eat at 2 so I could cover the phones while the cool kids had their lunch) and plopped myself down at the counter of Zen Palate in Union Square. My eye was caught by a beautiful light-skinned black man dressed all in white fluttering around someone next to me at the counter, who turned out to be Allan Ginsberg. Right next to me! At the counter!! I sat there for as long as I could (I can be very blase when I need to be, NYC is bursting at the seams with celebrities of every stripe) but finally had to say something.

The gist was this: "I know you were considered awfully scary in the fifties, but to me you're more of a beloved uncle, because my parents have taken me to see you read since I was in diapers." Then I told him that when I was at Columbia, we read an account he wrote about being on LSD on the South Lawn and seeing a giant hand coming out of the sky to grab him, and then we used to lie on that lawn and try to invoke the hand (though I, for one, was too chicken to drop LSD). He got a huge kick out of that, laughed and said "You're kidding!" and I smiled and turned back to my fried wheat-gluten stew when he asked, "But what about you, my dear? What do you do?"

"Ach!" I waved my hand. "Nothing interesting." "No, no!" he insisted, bending forward slightly, not letting me turn away. "Tell me what you are up to." This was how my parents' friends would talk to me, the ones who'd known me forever and were genuinely interested in how I'd turn out. Was Ginsberg just acting the part of an interested party because it fulfilled some inner need for attention? Did he just love acolytes? Who cared! He made me feel like I had a voice again.

I blurted out that I had tried to be an actress and standuppy-person, that it was too hard, that I'd given up and taken desk jobs, that I hated the desk jobs, that I couldn't fit in, that I didn't know what I was going to do, that I was writing kids' books and thought I could do that but wasn't sure... He took my hand in between his two and shook his head and clucked his tongue and patted my hand (patted my hand!!) and said "My dear, do you know that I worked in advertising all through my twenties? I hated it! Do you know how old i was when Howl was published? Thirty! There's time. Relax, you'll find your way."

At that moment I would have laid down my life for that man. Honestly. You know how people talk about meeting Bill Clinton and feeling the charisma roll off of him like heat off a jet engine? It was like that, only I honestly think he got joy out of making me (and my ilk) feel encouraged. It is such a generous way to be. It is so easy to be snooty and derisive, but makes the world a much more loving place to be interested, open, and kind.

I know that sounds completely retarded coming out of my cynical mouth, but it's entirely possible I have a soft side.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I know this isn't exactly a revolutionary statement, but...

Frank McCourt is a really good writer. And the thing is, he didn't start his first book till he was like 100. That is such a fricking important lesson for writers who are being bullied by non-writers or asshole-writers for not publishing anything of note before the age of 18 or 24 or 30 or whatever the cutoff age might be at that moment. In college I was working on a piece of short fiction for my Mary Gordon class when a lanky crew cockswain peeked her head in the door to ask what I was doing. "Why are you wasting your time?" she asked, oblivious to the very existence of Emily Post or her ilk. "Every story's been written. You're just part of the endless rehash."

That was just irritating, but it was downright damaging when a guy who somehow wormed his way into boyfriend territory interrupted my description of a really good fiction writer with a question along the lines of "what have you written lately, anyway?" Actually, his statement was a lot meaner and a lot quieter, and I'm not going to bother mulling it over here, but the utter inanity of it is what interests me. Unlike sitcom acting, unlike being a shortstop, unlike teaching, unlike childbirth, unlike lead guitar, unlike almost any other job or vocation or art or creative activity, writing is something you can legitimately hope to excel at even as your skin grows liver spots.

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to quote at length in a blog -- I'll try to keep it to below 250 words, like they do at magazines -- but like McCourt's students at Stuyvesant, I have trouble keeping compositions to a minimum:

In the world of books I am a late bloomer, a johnny-come-lately, new kid on the block. M first book, Angela's Ashes, was published in 1996 when I was sixty-six, the second, 'Tis, in 1999 when I was sixty-nine. At that age it's a wonder I was able to lift the pen at all.

Oh, that wasn't so hard after all. McCourt makes everything easy: reading, quoting. Such a nice guy. Of course, every aged accountant with a Dell isn't going to have an Angela's Ashes in his soul, but it literally doesn't hurt anyone for him to hope he might.

In my case (wtf? it's MY blog! Let McCourt start his own frickin blog!), I've written a crapload of books, three of them even in my name. Despite the dismissive attitude of the William Morris agent who briefly inherited me when the one who'd signed me left to breed, I like my little paperbacks. I think they are better than that Traveling Pants book he held in such high regard. (I'm not even going to dignify that title by italicising it. I am rebellious and eloquent.) Two of these books are even dedicated to the asshole from 2 paragraphs ago (he didn't like how I phrased the first one). So I have no worries that I'll hunker down and type out some brilliance relatively soon.

Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But shoon, and for the resht of my life.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Let's speak about the unspeakable. (Yay! Let's!)

There's a thing that writers won't talk about because the very mention of it might bring it on. We're a superstitious bunch. Like baseball players, but without a tan.

I'd never heard anyone admit to having writer's block until I was in college, when I was waiting for office hours with my favorite professor and the woman before me, whom I could hear through an open door, was explaining that she couldn't do her paper on time because she was "suffering from terrible writer's block." I can't remember what Professor Tayler said in response -- he was never insulting, unfailingly polite -- but I remember thinking, "You asshole. Do the effing work. Writer's block, my ass." Which is undoubtedly what Tayler was also thinking, but he didn't get to be Mr. Super Favorite Professor of Everybody by nakedly speaking his mind. A skill I could stand to learn. But I digress.

I remember hearing someone -- maybe Toni Morrison -- but definitely on WNYC -- who was asked about writer's block, and she said, "I disavow that term." Oh, I loved that, and I used it. Her point was that even when you feel blocked, your brain is working, and it'll all come out in a big blob at some point, sort of like when you plateau on Weight Watchers for like three weeks and then all of a sudden, kaboom, you lose like 6 pounds all at once. It was a nice notion, but I've never actually experienced the -- what. The diarrhea of prose? The torrent of backed-up verbiage? I never got a spurt of creative payoff after a dry spell.

I've had few dry spells, knock wood. But the one I'm in is a doozy. I've owed book proposals to my agent for over a year at this point, and I can't make myself do them because then I'll have to write them. In addition, a very nice woman with a very cool project has asked me to write a series proposal for her (yes, for pay). When we were discussing it, I knew exactly what she wanted, and I got really excited about it... but I've been cravenly dodging her calls for weeks. Why?

I tell myself because I wouldn't have ownership of the series, and I know in my heart I don't want to be a writer-for-hire anymore. But that's not true, and I know it. The fact is I just can't face the prospect of sitting down, inhabiting these characters, and writing them. It feels like death to me. Death! Writing! How could this be?

So given that knowledge, I should call her and say "I can't do this project because I need to work on my own series proposal." But guess what? That feels like even more death!! It's the weirdest thing: I crave working on these books, yet there's something in me that equally, or more powerfully, is repulsed by the idea of them. When I think of South Jersey, I feel a pull to go there and immerse myself in research, and a simultaneous soul-level core of knowledge that I can not, will not do that. It feels like an illness. It feels like something bigger than me, that I can't understand, is working in mysterious ways. It feels horrible.

This is why people invented the idea of muses, capricious creatures who strike or don't strike, and thereby explain days when you can't produce. This is why people blame writer's block when the culprit is surely a more complex cocktail of depression, fear, and irritation. This is why people invented the Internet: so they'd have a reason not to throw their laptops out the window when they can't write.

Muse! Oh, Mu-use! If you're out there, could you slap me? Soon? Thanks.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Oh for shit's sake.

Here's a quote from the New Yorker magazine, May 22, 2006 (yes, I'm way behind in reading as well as writing):

Soyinka ... reveals that, after winning the Nobel Prize, he came down with writer's bock, "overwhelmed by the futility of everything I had ever done."

That's Wole Soyinka, people, the Nigerian playwright and activist. After he won his Nobel prize, he felt too futile to write. What the... WHAT IS WRONG WITH WRITERS? Do we ALL hate ourselves? And if he feels futile, what the eff am I doing with my fingers on a keyboard?


Monday, June 12, 2006

So far today I'm on track.

If only I could manage this every day. I got up this morning, put in about an hour of house-organization, and sat down to pitch. Excitingly, I did something I have NEVER done before: pitched a story cold, to an editor I do not already know. It was for a magazine that I've never worked for, but would LOVE to (not the least because I would fiiinally not be trying to relate to sex-obsessed 23-year-olds). So I'm reeeally hoping to hear back, but -- eh. Trying not to hope TOO much, as my Friday pitches are so far unanswered.

It just feels like so much wheel-spinning, because I don't get paid to pitch.

Another editor asked me to fill out a pitch I had made to her, and I've been doing that -- chasing down leads and getting some preliminary interviews -- but it also feels hollow, because this same editor asked me to do some research for a story for her last issue (she comes out quarterly), and I literally put in days at the New York Public Library poring over an archive that sounded interesting to her. I made the classic freelancer error: convinced there was a story in it, I did a ton of work for free, and when, in the end, she decided there wasn't enough for a story, I just ended up feeling resentful and awful.

Now, again, she asked me for story ideas and picked one to be fleshed out; as I interview people and chase down leads, I wonder if this is more enforced-volunteer work. I really have no patience for this crap. Having worked on a masthead, I know from experience that the best story ideas, the ones that fit into the lineup, are the ones generated in-house and assigned. Just give me the effing assignment, that's all. Don't take weeks of my life and drain them of earning potential. If I had that kind of time, I'd be spending it writing my novel, not asking searching questions about loft parties in Bushwick.

Ah yes, the novel. I had a revelation this weekend: I could do a three- or even five-book arc with the story that's been cooking on my back burner. In fact, I think it would work loads better if I spent more time on various aspects of my heroine's life that were glossed over in the original version. To write it well, I need to take a couple field trips down to South Jersey and really commit four hours a day to teasing out the storyline. For that, I need a genius grant...

Ugh! I don't mean to sound like a writing-pussy. You know: those people who say things like "I have a hell of a book in me if I could just find the time." To those people, I usually point out that Stephen King wrote Carrie on a manual typewriter that he balanced on his knees in a closet of the trailer he shared with his wife and small children, in the two hours of the morning (5-7) before he went to his job as an elementary school teacher. The old pull-yourself-up-by-your-typewriter-ribbon story, the Great American Novelist's dream. Oh, but it's hard to follow through on when it's you in that closet with the Underwood balanced on your kneecaps (figuratively, natch -- I have an ibook named Blanche). The myth inherent in this parable is that if you're a writer, you write, because you must; but in fact, sometimes you really need to clear your mind and have (emotional) room of your own before you can get the good stuff onto the page.

I'm so full of shit. If I just stopped blogging and started writing, I'd have a coupld chapters banged out by the 4th of July. I hate myself.

Anyway, the point is, today I got up, did work, did Yoga, and made myself lunch, which is how it's supposed to be. And yet I'm still filled with self-loathing. Good lord, what is the point, and why did I not go to law school?!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hey! Maybe I have a brain disorder!

So thanks to Anna David's excellent writing blog, yesterday, I learned that "working in the highly competitive, glitzy and sexually charged atmosphere of a celebrity-driven fashion periodical" pushed super crazy-o Peter Braunstein over the edge.

The hell you say! Maybe that's why I'm so unsatisfied with my freelance career. Maybe I became addicted to the glitz and sexual charges when I was working at a women's magazine, where my main responsibility was finding new and innovative ways to make fun of celeb paparazzi shots. I have a brain disorder! I won't be right in the head till I'm back on staff and referring to Tom Cruise as "Sir Hunky Nutcase."

Based on this self-diagnosis, I'm going to hire a lawyer and sue People Magazine for a spot on their editorial team. Watch me!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The tragedy of the unpaid invoice

What's a girl to do when she wrote a story over a year ago, but her editor left before it got edited?

Or the magazine folded before she got paid?

Or she's invoiced like three times to no avail, and her editor is too "slammed" to look into it?

According to my spreadsheet, I have $6,245 in unpaid crap from 2005. I remember, from when I was an editor, that all you want to do is get your copy in, and since you get a regular paycheck, you really don't think of things like how the check will get from you to your freelancer. I also remember that I had enough to deal with, what with office politix and deadlines and pitch meetings and brainstorming meetings and meeting meetings ... I didn't deal with the business end if I could help it.

But I'm dyin' here.

It's time for my dream gig to make an appearance. My day-job in shining armor and a 401K. I don't have the energy to pitch anymore; today I ran every errand on my list just to stave off having to think. Okay, so it was raining and I'm notoriously unproductive in the rain. But still. I crave a routine, a predictable day, a job that I can sink my teeth into without the distractions of chasing down the next gig and the last check at the same time. Woe is me! Meh!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

How I hate it when editors are right.

When I was a kid, I used to sneak-watch Lou Grant at 10pm on Friday nights. This was an odd show -- the only hour-long drama that I know of that was, essentially, a spinoff from a sitcom. Lou Grant, of course, was the curmudgeonly boss of Mary Tyler Moore on her eponymous show; on his eponymous show, he ran the newsroom of a daily paper in LA. (His boss, Mrs. Pynchon, was played by Nancy Marchand, aka the evil Livia Soprano.)

The cutest darn cast member on Lou Grant was Billie, a young, curly-haired feminist reporter who pretty much embodied everything I'd want to be at the time, except that I never saw her do the bus-stop. In one scene, she stands by as her editor, a crusty old guy named Charlie, pencils in his edits on a piece. "What are you doing? You're chopping it up! You're taking out the best part! You're ... making it better," she says, first complaining, finally admitting defeat. It was a fine lesson for a young writer, and one I've put to good use in the intervening years; I rarely object to edits when I respect my editor.

So when I started a piece for a first-time-for-me magazine, and my editor (whom I knew from elsewhere) required a list of my experts before I even started interviewing, I was fine with it. Then, when I submitted my rough draft and was told my experts all stunk on ice, I got horribly irritated and put the project on the back burner for waaay too long (sorry, editor-who-I-hope-will-never-read-this). I finally sought out experts more in line with this magazine's requirements, interviewed them last week, and am finally putting their quotes into the piece, which was mostly OK structure-wise.

Oh gosh. Oh god damn. Oh, Billie! These new experts are sooo much more on the money. I was being horribly, stupidly lazy with my first round of experts, doing the usual search on Amazon for recent books on the subject, then calling the publishers' PR departments for contact. A recent book does not an expert make, especially when that expert doesn't have a graduate degree or clinical/research experience. My revise is going to be about fifty times better than the original, all because my editor was RIGHT: my old experts stunk on ice.

Lesson learned. Note to self: quit being a lazy little fruit-pie.

I'm Starting to Enjoy My Spam

In a sure sign that I'm much too isolated, I've started noticing the nice names and cute titles of the various bits of spam littering my inbox. This latest flurry -- I have been remarkably good at keeping my inbox free of spam, but lately, probably because of this blog, there's been an upswing -- has incorporated a new, dovetailed strategy of (a) making up real-sounding names and (b) providing interesting-sounding subject lines.

When one pops up in my inbox, I pretend, for a millisecond, that it's a real bit of mail from someone new and interesting. Here, courtesy of my Mail program's "trash" folder, are some of my new, interesting milli-friends:

Elijah Moon
Joachim Phelps
Lucia Leary
Cornelius Horn
Maxwell Stephenson
Rudolph Vickers
Lottie Lozano
Lorenzo Flores

I mean, these are GREAT names. One of the stupidly difficult things about writing fiction is making up character names that don't sound like fanciful made-up nonsense that you doodled in the margins of your notebook. Somehow, probably with the help of a randomizer and a baby-name site, these spammers have come up with perfect candidates for "the vice-principal guy" or "the boyfriend from a dozen years ago that still haunts the main character's memory." I mean, Rudolph Vickers! Didn't he woo Bette Davis' character in Now, Voyager?

As for the subject lines, who wouldn't want to read about these?

blackout day
imbibe blister
mutter leash
fortuitous luxurious

It reads like found poetry. Well, I guess by definition, it is found poetry. It reads like a random line from a book of Kenneth Koch. (I still don't know what a fricking bluet is.)

Of course, my personal favorite, yet saddest, random subject line -- which says volumes about the perceived audience, about the loneliness of inboxes, about the grasping needs of spammers -- is this slivered slice of genius-cheesecake:

You're not ugly

Anyone who can resist clicking on that deserves the cleanest, spam-free inbox the world has ever known.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Getting edited on a bulletin board

So annoying. My enthusiastic and effusive nature is too enthusiastic and effusive for TWoP. I've been edited and warned (by a moderator) for using too many exclamation points and admitting that I hadn't read the most recent posts, because I "just had to get this out there." It's bothering me more than it should. Which means I really have to get back to work...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Revise notes I thought I could only dream about

Okay, so this is on a tiny profile, not a Vanity Fair feature, but here's something I love to hear from editors:

I think you can feel free to have more fun with this.

Oh, my darling, and I think you can feel free to hire me every issue, for the rest of my life. Smoochy, smoochy, SMOOCHES!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I am spending time thinking about the Best Novel Ever.

Today has been an interesting process of writing maybe 200 words of a story due tomorrow, then spending an hour doing something else entirely, such as reading my gossip newsfeeds or posting about Big Love on Television Without Pity. It looked like I had exhausted all procrastination methods (including! cleaing the bird cages!! all three!!!) until my mom emailed me a New York Times article about the best novel of the last 25 years. Before I opened the email, I said out loud, "Beloved, by Toni Morrison." Sure enough! There was Ms. The Bluest Eye herself, at the top of the list! I felt like a genius, a cultural know-it-all with her finger firmly up the ass of popular culture, for a good 30 seconds.

When I read Beloved, it was part of a senior-level class at Barnard called "The Modern Novel" or "The American Novel" or some such. It was taught by the kind of elegant, grey, tweedy, Connecticut-ty professor that are manufactured expressly to supply women's colleges with professors. I couldn't tell you a single other book I read in that course, but I. Remember. Beloved. It was everything to me. I re-read chapters the minute I finished them, trying to parse out the poetic references, the different voices, the homages to Faulkner ... I was astounded that any one person could produce a work that went so deep and wide into the dark soul of American history, into love, into cruelty, into flashes of joy so sweet you wonder if they were worth having, because everything is more drab in their absence. I'm -- I mean -- The flush hasn't worn off. I reread this book every once in a while and it wrecks me each time. Wrecks me. Each and every time.

The funny part is that after I read it, I stopped writing for like three years. My idea being, "Well, now that this has been written, nothing else needs to be said. Or if it does, I'm sure as shit not going to be able to say it." That's sort of horrifying in a way, but really, did the world need more navel-gazing fiction from a 21-year-old? No. And, I mean, I eventually picked up my, er, cursor again. Toni M. forced me to -- well, to dovetail this story with another making the rounds today, she forced me to NOT feel entitled, to realize that, shit, this is what real brilliance looks like, and I just don't shine in that way. Not yet, maybe not ever. Maybe Kaavya Viswanathan could have avoided her mess if she'd just read the same book. And, you know, taken some notes in class.

The next thing I learned, as I worked backward through the Toni Morrison oevre, ending with The Bluest Eye, is that you can start off non-brilliant (er, downright crappy) and work your way up. I went on an orgy of reading my favorite novelists' first or almost-first novels: Surfacing, by Margaret Atwood (who at the time hadn't even broken through to her best writing); Meridian, by Alice Walker (want to be depressed? seriously depressed? in the middle of the summer while working as a camp counselor in middletown, ny? WELL, DO YA?). What a relief: It's OK to not be brilliant. It's normal! I can write several crappy books before I get brilliant.

Of course, none of this explains why now, at my advanced age, I am still writing crap and am about as brilliant as a swarovski-crystal body-tattoo, but... well, it meant a lot to me at the time. So yay for A.O. Scott and yay for the New York Times Book Review and yay for Toni Morrison. Yay.

Monday, May 15, 2006

What is my DEAL? Or, My Love-Hate Relationship with Freelancing

Wow. I've done it again. Searched for, pursued, and applied for a job; interviewed; gotten considerably high in the process; and now ... I'm frantically hoping that I do NOT get it.

I play with the birds, and mourn for their livelihoods if I desert them for 10 hours per day.

I pick up my Mr., and worry about our codependent relationship and his well-being if I have to work till a later hour than he does.

I work on my projects, and realize that if I just actually committed to 8 hours a day of solid work, I would make money as good as I'd be getting at this gig.

The fact that I could get out of debt within a year or two, get my cavities filled, and probably drop fifteen pounds pretty fast doesn't enter the picture when I'm in this state. I'm just paddling about in a festering pond of anxious horror at the idea that I'll get a great gig.

I'm astounded and annoyed. At myself. As usual. You too, huh?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Excellent advice from a cheapskate

MediaBistro recently reported this nice little nugget from publisher emeritus (??) of The Nation Victor Navatsky:

Navasky also urged publishers to "overpay your writers" despite the inherent contradiction of that advice coming from a magazine "notorious for underpaying" theirs.

I'm all for anyone saying writers should be paid more, though the idea that getting more than the stinking $1 a word we've been getting since 1985 is somehow "overpaying" us is almost as infuriating as his admission that he paid Calvin Trillin "in the high two-figures" for his column.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Turns out I'm an inadvertent fraud.

I'm more upset about this than I should be. I'm rewriting horoscopes for someone; that is, I'm given raw content, and then I re-voice it for my client. I just found out that they're publishing these on days other than the original raw content specified. Presumably (and I'm not sure why I'm using words like "presumably," but I'm feeling a little stressed out), someone did the actual celestial research that I'm writing it from, and now it's going into random days. So basically, the advice I'm giving is random, like a fortune cookie.

This upsets me.

Why? Do I believe in astrology? No, but what if?

The same thing was done at the women's magazine where I worked. If the actual research wasn't sexy enough, the horoscopes were just rewritten to be sexier, and all that boring stuff about missed communications was edited out.

On the other hand, I had an editor, years ago, who delayed sending me a contract for a week because the company astrologer, who was kept on retainer, said it was a bad time to make decisions, or something. Maybe that branded the whole astrology thing onto my editorial brain.

I just feel bad and guilty and messed up about the whole thing. Which is probably just a tactic to keep me from actually working on the horoscopes, which are fork-stabbingly boring to do.

When the mooooon is in the seventh houuuuuse...


The second editor? The one who didn't respond? Well, she finally responded, and she bought a small story and asked for a tweak on a big one's pitch. Yay yay yay for me. Maybe I can pay for my health insurance this month.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Job listings that make me homicidal

Here's a little note from the "requirements" section of a job listing:

Please do not contact us until you have made yourself familiar with the magazine.

Okay. You know what? I send out 2-3 resumes each day, and every single one of them is for a job that I really think I would like. Some of them, I can't believe what a fantastic match I am for the described job, and I think, "Wow, these lucky people are going to plotz when they see my resume." One job, I sent my resume through a person I knew in the company, AND through the job-listing website, AND directly through the company's HR department. Another job, I was ASKED to submit for.

I do this all the time, and I almost NEVER get a response. Not even an email confirming that I applied for the job. I spend hours putting together the perfect cover-letter, highlighting the many ways in which my experience overlaps their desires. I'm pithy and amusing and my resume is eye-catching and solid. AND I HEAR NOTHING. Virtual tumbleweeds roll around in my inbox.

So for this guy to get all snippy about how I shouldn't even dirty HIS inbox until I've read, critiqued, digested, and basically mated with his publication... I mean, frig you, buddy. You let me know if you like my resume, and THEN I'll spend a couple hours paging thru your precious periodical. Mmmkay? Because for frig's sake, if I sat around mulling over every magazine that I apply to, I'd do nothing but mull. I'd be Martin Mull. I looked at your site, the mag looks great, and I'll cross the "getting to know you" bridge when and if I come to it.

I mean, really.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Now I'm feeling really unpopular.

Here are some things that happened today:

1. An editor wrote back in response to pitches, saying they were all bad.
2. Another editor still didn't write back in response to pitches.
3. A job that I thought I was overqualified for, but would get, was given to someone more qualified.
4. My agent didn't email me back.

I did, however, hear from an editor who wants a revision. So I've got that going for me, and that's nice.

Also nice: the continuing reaming of Alloy because of the "How Opal" scandal. People that I personally hate, because they personally effed over me and my friends, are getting mentioned, a LOT, in print. Unfaaaavorably. So I can sit in my comfortable chair of schadenfreude, by Ikea.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Sometimes editors don't play fair

If an editor asks me for pitches, saying she's desperate for ideas, and I deliver an email with like five of them... doesn't she at least owe me an acknowledgement?

If an editor gives me a great email with a list of stuff she'd like to see, and I give her 2 emailed in-depth pitches within a week... shouldn't she at least let me know if she's considering them?

Pitches are me, working for free. On spec. Plus, at the moment, money is dreadfully tight, and I want to line up some work. What does a gal have to do to get some positive affirmation?

I know I sound whiny. That's because I'm whining. Sigh.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sometimes when I'm working, I get sidetracked

For instance, today, I was looking for relationship books so I could get story ideas. As I trolled publishers' sites, I came across one that had a book on mini-meditations. I've done enough "100 Ways To..." stories to know that mini-ANYTHINGS can come in handy.

Then again, is this mini-meditation something that I really WANT to come in handy?

Going to the Toilet

It’s quite relaxing to go to the toilet. At least one sphincter has to relax completely or it’s not worth going there at all. When you let one muscle go, others can relax in sympathy. Furthermore, the toilet may be the only place where no one will disturb you. You can always grab a few extra seconds there and no one will complain.

The Buddha was the first person to recommend urinating as a meditation object. This is a practice that is at least 2,500 years old. A psychologist friend reminded me of this recently. He says he goes to the toilet in the five minutes between clients, and lets everything go along with the urine. He gets so relaxed in those few seconds he says he can barely hold his balance.

In Western literature, it is surprising how often the toiled is regarded as a suitable place for deep thought. You sit down and settle into your body. You relax and wait, and randomly survey the state of the nation. Not surprisingly, bright ideas can arise and you feel relaxed for minutes afterwards. An excellent meditation!

Going to the toilet

* As you approach the toilet, sigh in anticipation.
* Get out of your head and into your body. Feel the pressure in your bladder.
* As you urinate, close your eyes and sigh deeply.
* Feel all the muscles of your body loosening in sympathy.
* Don’t hurry to finish. No one will disturb you.
* After the last drop, stay motionless for a few seconds more. Enjoy that space with nothing to do.
* Walk away with a smile on your face."

Source: Flip the Switch, by Eric Harrison

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bad Spelling Also Fills Me With Fury

This is pulled from an actual job listing on MediaBistro:

"Pay is commiserate with this kind of responsibility and opportunity."

Yes, I'm sure it is. I'm ... sure it is.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Everyone is more successful than me. I. Whatever.

Yesterday I went to take a look at one of those freelance-workspace thingees, where you rent a cubicle and force yourself to be in the company of other writers. The guy who ran it not only freelanced for a really good paper, not only had book contracts, not only had it together enough to run the workspace, but had also spent 5 months restoring the place himself, clearing the walls all the way down to the exposed brick and the floors down to the hardwood... floor.

Not only that, he told me a lot of people pay for the space and only use it, like, every other month.

Not only that, when I visited another place a week ago, the impresario there said everyone was working full-time on FICTION.

Who are these people? Where do they get their money? They work all day on novels? They never have to take a gig writing cell-phone horoscopes just to pay off their credit cards? They can work on fiction with that kind of concentration, without sitting back and yelling at the ceiling? (There was a hush in both places that made intensive care units seem boisterous.)

I'm the worst freelancer EVER.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Guess What Cures My Procrastination?

An hourly rate. More when I milk this cash cow dry.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Um... no

I told them to take their job and shove it. They made me feel horrible about it, but you know what? I'd rather be actually bankrupt than morally bankrupt.

Pfff. That was dramatic!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Choose life

So I got a job. The pay is scads more than my last job, it has great benefits, and the hours are regular. I should be happy.

Ah, but when has a "should" ever interfered with my ability to find the cloud attached to every silver lining?

The job is web editor at a non-magazine, non-media website attached to a product owned by Murdoch. I have left the magazine world. I can't even pretend to be on a masthead at this point.

At first, I saw myself in a little digital movie, in homage to the final seconds of Trainspotting, my face in closeup like Ewan Macgregor's as my voice, sans cute Scots brogue, recited, "Fuck magazines. Fuck Hearst. Fuck Conde Nast. Fuck Reader's Digest and its quaint Pleasantville offices. Fuck Cathie Black. Fuck the beauty closet. Fuck stilettos, a pair of which I've never seen on a magazine editor's feet. Fuck sample sales. Fuck Mahnolo Blahnik. Fuck cocktail parties. I'm on to something greater and better. I'm like the rest of you. Indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing the gutters, getting by, looking ahead, to the day you die...

Then, in my little pretend digital movie, I ran smack into a glass wall, broke my nose, and fell down. Because what was I running towards? A stoogey job at Newscorp. What the hell am I so happy about?!

And didn't Irvine Welsh only leave heroin addiction to tumble into a 10-year romance with / dependence on ecstasy?

Anyway, it's a gig. Allegedly, I'll be able to keep freelancing while I'm doing it, because the writing is so mind-numbingly easy. Of course, the last time I had a job that was mind-numbingly easy, my mind actually became numb and I wrote exactly one goose-egg the whole year. Plus, as my friend Judy para-said, "If you're not hungry, you get lazy." But uh... worst that happens, I pay off my credit card debts, right?

I'm going to put "Anyway, it's a gig" on a t-shirt. Then I'm going to put on the t-shirt, sit in the middle of Times Square, commit hara-kiri, and set myself on fire. Maybe I'll make it into Gawker!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Why is it bad to do what you love for money?

It sounds like a blessing, to be able to take the thing you're really good at it and make a living at it, and I'm not going to be ungrateful enough to poo-poo my good fortune. That being said: poo poo!

The trouble is -- okay. Remember when you were in college, and you had to read so much for class that the very thought of reading for fun seemed ridiculous? I never got to that point, fortch, and I remember when I was reading an Ann Tyler novel I was roundly mocked by my snobby-snoot boyfriend and his über-competitive suitemates for doing for fun what I had to do anyway. (For him, the only acceptable forms of recreation were (a) listening to mid-career Miles Davis while sipping bourbon in a darkened room, (b) mocking the earnest efforts of others, and (c) finding excuses not to have sex with me, but do I judge? Nay! And I'm clearly over it.)

Anyway, where was I. Right, crapping on my good fortune. The deal is, you get paid to write stuff, but you're not paid to, you know, reminisce about your college boyfriend or make fun of passersby; you're paid to write 1200-word front-of-book articles about tattoo trends or pre-date rituals. So you learn to do this in the blink of an eye, because the quicker you can produce a high volume of words, the more money you make. You learn to nail it on the first draft so there are minimal rewrites. You learn to nail your pitches, too, so that you don't waste time pitching things that won't sell. In fact, you come to see any time not spent earning a dollar a word as wasted. And that's where the worm starts to turn.

It's so scary not knowing when your next assignment will come in. A slow month means your credit card gets stretched to ridiculous proportions. A good month means you don't sleep at night because you're thinking of all the things that are due on the same day. And every pitch that doesn't fly, every proposal that you have to rejigger, every short story that has no hope of making it into the New Yorker makes you see the opposite of dollar signs.

Which means you never write for yourself. Which means you only write for The Man. Which means you crap on people who write for themselves, because they don't get to put "writer" as their occupation on their passports. Which means you slowly forget that thrilling feeling of getting a germ of an idea in the middle of a shower, hopping out, and getting lost in blissful thrilldom of typing while your hair dries funny. Which means you slowly but surely forget what it was you loved about writing in the first place. And you forget what you wanted to write about when you thought you'd never get to write for a living. And you live in a rut for a loooong time till one day you start a blog.

That's what I'm hoping, anyway.

Gosh, I'm earnest today. What WOULD my college boyfriend think of me. (Answer: (D) I don't give a tinker's shit.)

Cleaning Day

I finished the 2 things I had to yesterday. Today, I could be working on a book proposal (no due date) or, I dunno, my NOVEL (really no deadline). Instead I am cleaning the house. I am a clean, clean person. scrubby scrubby scrubby.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Typos fill me with fury

But in the New York Times weekly email, they make me apoplectic:

Boite: The Password Is Birthday
Fontana's, which opened a few months ago between the Lower East Side and Chinatown, is they type of bar you go to hang out, shoot pool and have birthday parties.


Damn you, Craigslist Rants and Raves!

I just spent an HOUR answering this poll! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

childhood memories poll - my answers
Reply to:
Date: 2006-03-15, 12:30PM EST

1. current age: 38

2. town/city where you grew up: a biggish town in NJ

3. siblings? where do you fall in the order?: 3, I'm 3rd out of 4


4. favorite toy: a white poodle I named "Fluffy dee Dumpty"

5. first crush: Harpo Marx

6. first fight: not till like 10th grade, an awful girl at my school.

7. best birthday memory: One summer me and my friends threw surprise parties for everyone's bday. They were all really fun in their own ways. Tons of roller skating, slumbering, and ouija boards.

8. most memorable 'outfit': I had these awesome HUGE bellbottoms with my name on a patch on the knee. Oh wait, the summer of 1976 I wore the same cutoff shorts with a rope belt and a tank top that said "Spirit of '76" as often as my mom would let me, which was a lot, her having four kids and all.

9. favorite meal: Takeout from the chicken place, which stapled 2 plates together with the chicken and french-fries inside it so everything was really steamy. We would get this when my parents were going out for the evening. Terrible that this is my favorite remembered meal, because my mom was a great cook, but nothing beat the excitement of fried chicken and french fries on a stapled plate.

10. nostalgic snackfood: Black-and-white cookies

11. music i heard in my house: Beatles, the Weavers, the Incredible String Band, whatever classical music was on QXR, Arlo Guthrie, Brewer and Shipley, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Loggins & Messina ... amalgam of my parents' taste and my older sisters' taste.

12. best friend: Heather

13. favorite cartoon/show: Gumby & Pokey

14. memorable scent: Pine needles from when we went to Maine each summer

15. craziest relative: My uncle Robby, who would pay my cousin $5 to sneak him beers because he wasn't allowed to drink at family gatherings because he'd always get shitfaced and racist/nasty.

16. my famous phrase: "Pump-kin pie. Pump-kin pie. Stick your head in a pump-kin pie."

17. imaginary friend? remember their name? Yes, her name was Tele, pronounced "tuh-LEE," and my mom really missed her when she stopped showing up.

18. funnest vacation: Disneyland the summer I turned 5!

19. one of the times you laughed until you cried: When Mariette stuffed green grapes in her mouth till it was so full she couldn't close it, and then she DID, and the grapes exploded and the juice dribbled all over the ground. The same summer, she also whispered "Loose niiiiight" into Fran's ear while Fran was drinking milk and eating apple pie and she spit it all over the table. My sisters would make me laugh until I could not breathe on a daily basis, but I can't remember what they exactly did; I think it involved imitating our parents... we were all completely insane.

20. favorite grade? school subject? I hated school because I was one of those kids who got teased. I guess 3rd grade was OK because Miss Wandrasko was nice. My favorite subject was always reading.

21. most embarrassing moment: Too awful to contemplate.

22. best sneaky tactic: I'm a horrible sneak. I can't get away with anything. Seriously.

23. what did you "want to be when you grow up": A fantastic ACTRESS!!!

24. how close are you to that as an adult: Not very!!! I'm a writer, which is exactly what my mom predicted I would be.

25. warmest childhood memory: Fire in the fireplace, my sisters banging one of those cylinders of dough against the bricks so we could make biscuits. OMG, that makes us sound like suburban hillbillies!!

* no -- it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests


Who wants to get the worm, anyway?

Not me. That's why I'm not the early bird. I was dropping off The Bear this morning and just thought, "I'll run errands now instead of later. I'll be home by 10 and working on all that stuff I forgot about yesterday,and I won't have to worry about knocking off at noon to do this stuff." So now it's 11:18, the coffee is finally brewing, and I'm already overwhelmed at the number of things that have to be done by 4:15.

Not to mention that yesterday, after I recommitted to this particular method of avoiding work (as opposed to, say, asking the people of Craigslist why there's no shopping on Sunday in Bergen County, or puzzling over the lyrics of Echo and the Bunnymen, or praising the joys of microwaved grits and poached eggs in the Weight Watchers forums, or cooking and freezing two weeks' worth of individually wrapped chili portions), I was overwhelmed with the clever and witty things I would comment on today, when I returned to my blog. Of which I can remember exactly zilch.

When I was a teeny tiny twenty year old standup comic, I used to walk around with a li'l notebook and write down stuff that would later become funny. Do I really need to do that again? Because there's something very gaytarded about the whole exercise of pulling out a notebook and scribbling "donuts look delicious." I still have those notebooks and, when I re-read them, I have no idea what I was talking about half the time. Kind of like when I re-read my senior thesis. Still, the fact that these days, it's one of those long n' slim, maxipad-sized reporters notebooks (designed to stick out of stuff so people notice and think, "oh, there goes a journalist -- I wonder if she's gonzo?) might lend the whole scene a little more gravitas. Maybe I'll give it a shot.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Rededication to the cause

Wow, that was some hiatus from wasting time. I had a temporary gig launching a website for a really cute magazine. I won't say what it was, except to ask, "How profitable was that?" The answer: Pretty profitable, till the deal changed and I had to commute to Westchester for the gig. Then it was just painful. Have you ever dealt with the Saw Mill Parkway? It's very picturesque. Picturesque being about #943 on my list of things I look for in a gig.

So here I sit, all broken-hearted... no wait. Here I sit, back in my the Dungeon of Clutter, with several stories due. One, in fact, due last night. All my interviews are done. I simply have to take the assignment, mash in quotes, and spit it out. It should, by all rights, take 1 hour to do and 1 hour to revise into the English language. Wouldn't it be great if I were actually doing it?

The above paragraph -- originally I wanted to do some weird take on Hegel re: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, but I couldn't make the "antithesis" part right. Which reminded me of a story: I knew someone who worked on Northern Exposure, and in the final episode, the Aidan guy was supposed to say something about "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis," but as a joke he said "Reese's pieces." Which prompted a lady in the catering department to quip, "Oh darlin', you really are a dim bulb, aren't ya."

Could there be higher praise for someone as stupidfunny as myself? I think not. Hail to you, Aidan-guy.