Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Baby!

My baby was born this week!

Oh, also, I gave birth. ;)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Oh! My gosh. The "ruining my life" story has been done for over a week, and i haven't stopped in to congratulate myself. Well, of course not-- no project, no need to procrastinate, right?

well, of course I do have my next project on deck -- it'll ruin my life again, for sure. abotu 1500 words/week for 8 weeks or so. but man, what a payday, and it's a fun project, so yay.

but back to the point: i got praise! props! big ups!

I just finished reading the [REDACTED] feature...OMG, if we can publish something this well-written, well-reported, and well-designed every month, we will eat [COMPETITION] for breakfast by end of 2010, no problem.

THANK YOU for your amazing work on this feature--I am so impressed and so proud of this story, and the Dec issue in general.

which prompted this:

And this is a good opportunity for me to thank [MADFOOT] for her great writing (her snark complements mine) and what must have been insanely frenetic (and nerve-wracking?) reporting/interviewing.

now, I did not work on this feature alone -- not by a longshot. i split the work with my editor, but I did almost all the reporting and worked my hiney off.

this post has been sitting here waiting to be published for almost an hour b/c i can't seem to say "I'm proud." but if I were capable of saying it, I would!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Truth in advertising

Right now, I'm truly procrastinating. It's 12:46 and I have the afternoon clear to bang out several chunks of the huge story that has been RUINING MY LIFE! for the past 2 weeks. Hokay. I have the transcribed interviews, I have (detailed) directions from my editor, and I know what to do... but I feel like ASS. I"m exhausted. My feet are balloons. My brain feels cloudy. And my reward, when all this is done, is that I'l be totally exhausted when my husband and stepkids get home and will be a cranky lump.

Okay! Enough bitching. I'm off to work now. But man, freelancing on top of a full-time job when you're pregnant: it is not for sissies.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

"You love it."

I'm working at a frantic pace. I spend my days at my day job, getting up early and skipping lunch when i have to interview a subject. I get home and pound out a couple 500-word tips before bed. I charm cranky interviewees and reassure intransigent ones. I'm exhausted. What does my husband have to say about all this?

"You love it."

Well, so what if he's right. Jerk.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hating Your Sources, Part Deux

Ya know, I'm seeing there's a pattern in my last few posts. A leitmotif, if you will. A theme. And that theme is crabbiness. I come here to crab about how annoying my stories are, and why is that?! I love what I do! I'm so grateful to be making inroads back to super-freelance status. What is my damage, Heather?

I guess part of it is -- since I have such a strict policy against (a) blogging about blogging, (b) blogging about not blogging, and (c) blogging about my blog, I only show up here when I have an axe to grind. I suppose it would be possible for me to blog about how unbelievably psyched I am about something. I am! I'm psyched about the cover story I'm writing, it's totally fun and today I got to call the PR company that inspired the name of the Beastie Boys album "Hello, Nasty." Kick ass! I'm psyched that I have a second chance at the big-money toddler tips. Yay!

But I'm bummed that I emailed a very specific request to a nutrition expert, and her reply was to lecture me about how the basic premise of my story was stupid, and try to give me a NEW angle to my story. Oh, expert! How could you? How many times, Expert, have I called you or your ilk to say, "Quick! I'm on deadline! Give me five tops for maintaining Zen in a crisis!" or "Help! I'm desperate! Name three top mood-making interior design tips!" -- only to be given the lecture that (a) the story idea I was assigned, over which I have no control, is stupid, and I SHOULD be writing about this other thing that you feel like talking about.

Expert, it just ain't right. It's not how magazines work. If you worked at one, you would know, but you don't, so on this topic, can I just be the expert? The expert says, if I need five energy-boosting food with spurious science to support each one, just give it to me. We can figure it out together, even! (I've done this before with your opposite, the Awesome Expert!) But don't try to change what story I'm doing so it fits your philosophy. In the long history of publishing -- back to the invention of the Gutenberg press, and possibly as far back as cave-painting -- there has never been a subject of a story, or an expert cited, who said "You ought to do it this way," and voila, wahoo, w00t, the article came out exactly like that. Nope.

If it worked that way, it'd be a blog. Your expert blog. God, wouldn't it be awesome if I googled my expert right now, and found a fresh blog entry bitching about stupid reporters and their dumbed-down requests? that was be so meta! our blogs could meet like matter and antimatter and destroy the internets and all its tubes!

In other bummer news, I didn't get the awesome part-time gig I was up for. Man! The awesome part-time work-from-home gig is right up there with the editor-at-large title -- mysterious, elusive, precious. Ah well. The timing wasn't so great anyway. If all goes well at their end, they'll have room for me in a few months, when my time will be either more my own or completely NOT my own. We'll see. I like them, and they gave me the nicest rejection ever ("No, YOU're great! No, YOU!"), so I'm choosing to believe they like me and will use me eventually.

Monday, September 08, 2008

"how can you stand to write that crap?"

Since I've been pregnant, I notice that I've become public property. Everyone likes to touch my belly and ask when the baby's due and whether it's a boy or a girl and whether it's twins, because I'm so HUGE. Fortunately, i have no boundaries and am a middle child, so the attention is totally welcome. 

Not so welcome is the attention I've gotten since the mid-'90s, when I went from writing little smart articles for little smart (poor) publications to more mainstream article for big fat (rich) publications. People seem entirely content to look at something I wrote and say whatever shitty and insulting thing comes to mind, and every single one of them is burned into my brain. 

Just in case you don't believe me, here's a partial list:

  • "No offense, but your magazine's worse for women than Hustler." (nb: six months later, the same person was begging me to get her novel excerpted in that same magazine)
  • "I just can't believe you think it's OK to pump that crap out." (two weeks later, an email from this person asking how she could freelance for my magazine)
  • "Why not just write for Bust or Ms.?" (I was able to tell this person that, in fact, I was writing a feature for Bust that was paying me $150, while the Maxim feature she was bitching about had paid literally 20 times that)
  • "We don't want any more of these." (An agent, indicating the three-book arc I'd written about teens who become reality TV stars. My babies! We don't want any more of my babies?) 
  • "Well, how about this... is that stupid enough for your article? (This from an expert who was getting free publicity for her stupid sex-advice book via my stupid article)
  • "You mean there's a difference between Glamour and Self? I thought they were all just 'ten ways to get a guy to hand over his wallet.'" (I reserve comment.)
  • "I can not believe you got paid money to write... that." (Full disclosure: the story I had pulled out was really silly. On the other hand, fuck you. What did you ever get paid to write? Actual answer: "A lot of money.")
  • "No seriously, I'm totally impressed that you wrote books! This just isn't the kind of thing I usually read." (I've had 2 husbands and 2 serious boyfriends since I started writing books, and 0% of them has managed to plow through my prose. Granted, they're essentially Gossip Girl with less sex and more smarts, but how hard could it be?) 
  • "Good lord, can't you just write for the New Yorker?" (Yes, mom. I can, I just won't.)
Usually I take the criticism in stride. Yes, it's odd to me that, like lawyers and Catholics, I seem to be in a group that it's just considered OK to take pot-shots at. (at which it's OK to... oh, never mind.) Sometimes it rankles. What are you gonna do? 

No seriously, is there something I can do?! 

Sunday, September 07, 2008

it's bad to hate your sources!

Holy bananas! I'm doing a very simple article right now, the kind I've written hundreds of times before... simple premise, established bullet points, 3 experts. I had a short deadline, so I gathered a LOT of experts all at once, and wasn't terribly picky about them.

Well, I have to get pickier about one of them. 

How often do you interview someone and end up feeling offended to the very core? I'm not Keith Olbermann -- I usually don't write about anything soul-stirring or morally important. I write low-expectation stories for a mass-market audience, and since freelance rates have dropped in the last few years (and stayed at the same rate for the previous, oh, twenty years), I write them quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

But when I'm confronted with an expert spouting what amounts to ignorant, sexist hate-speech, what are my options? I can:
  • Decide not to use her at all, which feels impolite, since she did give me her time and thoughtful answers (soul-curdling as they are);
  • Use her less-offensive answers, which feels gross, because I'm giving her free book publicity, pointers to her site, and implicit approval of her worldview. 
And before you go telling me I shouldn't censor this poor beleaguered therapist, I just don't see how not using someone as an expert is censorship. Do I have to provide damaging advice based on shitty research to be p.c.? 

Anyway, I feel dirty having even spoken to her. To hear ancient bromides like "women cheat because of emotional needs; men cheat because they need sex, and aren't capable of thinking or feeling more deeply about it" made me want a Karen Silkwood shower. I don't think I can use the interview; if she objects, I'll fall back on the old "blame my mean old editor" response. If she gets that enough times, maybe she'll stop being such a reductive hater. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Oh yes. I remember this.

When I went from freelance to full-time at my Hearst job, I thought I'd be able to keep writing young-adult novels, no problem. I was used to doing a chapter a day and thought, with the amount of actual time I spent writing, that piling that on top of a full day's magazine writing and editing would be easy. There's a lot of what seems like wasted time in a writer's day -- and it seems wasted even to the writer wasting it.

What I learned then was that all that "wasted" time helped to gather stores of energy and focus for the actual writing, fingers on keyboard, eyes on monitor. You cannot do that half-assed. You cannot sandwich it between scheduled research and scheduled interviews. It takes its own time, and you have to allow the full amount of that time.

This is not to say that you have to wait for the Muse to strike, or that repeats of "Bonanza" are integral to the creative process. There is a sweet spot, a perfect amount of cushion before and after the actual writing; learning exactly what you need (as opposed to what you want, because in addition to being a hardworking writer, you are a big lazy bum) is about the most precious and helpful information you can put in your hopper. 

All this is to say that I got a disheartening response from an editor this morning, saying that a rough draft was way off the mark. I've gotten these before, and written these before, and still ended up with a triumphant final draft, but it is always a blow to the ego. It reminded me of my editor-friend Roz's response to me ten years ago: "This isn't the Amy-writing we're used to!" 

Back then, I could give up the freelance and commit fully into my equally satisfying day job. Now, I need to do both till I can transition to freelance full-time; I don't have the luxury of agreeing that this isn't the right project for me. I have to do better, which means working smarter, avoiding websites that suck the life out of my day, and allowing for the kind of rest that makes me work better, not worse. 

Good to know! Of course, I knew it already, but... Good to re-know! 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Back to freelance?

It is conceivable that I could go back to full-time freelancing. I'm up for that Holy Grail of freelancing, the permanent part-time gig, which would give me a reliable base-salary equal to what I made in my worst year of freelancing. (About half what I make at my day job.)

I could pile work on top of that and approach a reasonable facsimile of my current income.

So why am I so petrified at this idea?

1. It seems irresponsible. The regular paycheck, the 401K, the absolute knowledge that the work is there: How can I give that up?

2. Fear of running out of work. True, my friends have been almost literally banging down my door to hook me up with amazing contacts, and the work has been coming in. And the only reason that I fell out of freelancing before was that personal crises of various sorts made me less than dependable. But how do I know that won't happen again?

3. It's shitloads harder. When I freelance, I have a keener sense that any wasted time is money I'm not making, and I don't have a good constitution for that; I am the worst, meanest boss I've ever had. I remember the extreme, amazing relief I felt when I graduated college and started my first job, and realized that at the end of the day, I was done. Done. No looming deadlines, no worrisome unfinished business, nothing stopping me from sleeping at night: Done. You cannot put a price tag on something so precious; I'm bad at compartmentalizing, letting things go.

As each of his daughters moved out, our dad's empire expanded. He likes to have a separate workspace for every project, and he now has desks, piles of books, and stacks of folders piled around the house. I get it: I'm envious, and I also get the shudder-horrors at the idea of reaching total saturation on one article, getting up to clear my head, and wandering into another room, only to be confronted with an alarming amount that needs to be done on another one. I think that's what the inside of my head is like.

Well, but that's what they call a tangent. The point is, I'm weighing my options. Right now, my job is fine, but as I've noted, they're none too fond of pregnant ladies or mommies there. And I don't know how I could explain to my baby that what took me away from her was... the holiday promotion. I'm going to be working essentially two full-time jobs in the runup to this baby-happening; what happens after the fact is anyone's guess. Eeeeeek!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

McFly? Bueller?

What do I do if an editor responded to a query, but never sent a contract or followed up on my follow-up questions? Eh, I'll probably just write it, because it's interesting to me either way, but I so hate when this happens.

I got a huge contract -- the per-word rate isn't so great, but the full amount is nice and hefty. This seems to happen every autumn -- I get a nice, fat project that allows me to pay my taxes for the year (hi, I'm disorganized) and keeps me on the "yes, I'm an active freelancer" map. 

The trouble is, when I moved, I set up my office in a room that just isn't mine anymore. Don't ask, it's annoying and complicated -- but I have to create a new office somewhere else in the house. So far, I've identified (a) the kitchen and (b) the bedroom. Either way, I need this workspace to have enough room for files and research materials, AND to close up when I'm not using it. Because again, somehow, after the move, my computer ceased to be mine (along with my workspace), and I am feeling really territorial about it all.

Anyway, I've been in the market for hideaway desks. I'm a bit tormented, because the armoire style might be annoying with the big ol' doors... but the Ikea Alve secretary-with-add-on is twice as expensive, not so pretty, and - you know what? I should just get the cheap armoire and leave it at that. 

It'll be a huge relief to have my own, private workspace, even if it is in the middle of chaos. Just to know my files will be where I need them, and my computer will have a safe spot away from the teeming masses... and I'll put a fricking lock on it if I have to! 

Oh! And my iPhone story will be in the September MacLife. Man, that thing was fun to write, and the perfect excuse to get an iPhone. and yes, iLove tYping all pOstmodern like that. Next up: getting a Get. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My debut on is posted, over there on the left! It's a funny story about what grandparents should do if they are uncomfortable with their grandkids being blogged about. Oh, how I desperately would have loved to interview Neal Pollack for that article! Instead, I talked to Stephanie Klein and Ben McNeill and their respective parents, who were great. But you know: no fuss, no recriminations, no fun. 

(Stephanie's having a tough time, by the way, so send her happy thoughts of her husband's recovery if you have any laying around.) 

The article was fun, right up my alley. And I got to work with my old parlor-games pal, Gary Drevitch, who's easy as pie to work with and a terrific editor. 

Now I'm off to revise the iPhone story. Watch for that soon! 

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Posted on 28 Jul 2008 at 05:23 UTC

I'm posting this from cellspin. For a story! I'm so awfully tired and there is so much to write.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

blank page

I hate that feeling when you first start researching a story and think, "God. Oh God. I'm such a fraud. I will never understand any of this, and I should not be in charge of anything!" 

The same thing happened in high school when I would buy a  new album: "I only know two of these songs! And they're both on Side 1! How am I ever going to get the whole album under my belt? How long will it take for me to know all the songs? Augh! Why did I buy this album? I should have just bought the greatest hits, I can't DO this!"

Or, you know, when I start a new relationship: "Who is this person! In what way will he disappoint me? This can't really be as fun as I think it is! I must be co-dependent!"

It doesn't happen when I start a work of fiction. Those start in an orgy of joy over some amazing paragraph I just came up with, most likely in the shower. It's three pages later, like clockwork, when I say, "Oh! God! Come on! What the hell am I writing? I don't know how to structure this. How long is a chapter supposed to be? This isn't shaped right. It's boring. I can't. I just can't, stop it, don't make me!"

Isn't it fun to be a writer? Barrels of monkeys AND laughs. I'm telling you. 

Monday, July 21, 2008

High Anxiety

And so the cycle begins again. In the wake of the wedding, I got behind on two deadlines. Know what doesn't help keep me up-to-date on those deadlines? Waking up at 2:30 am and staring at the ceiling, silently berating myself for not having done the research required for either story. It's not like I can work when I'm all bleary and hysterical. 

I'm annoyed with myself. And, of course, heading out to a lunch date with another potential client, because what makes a gal more inclined to make deadlines than more looming deadlines? Actually, I'm feeling really great about my freelance life these days -- things are really looking up, and I need to start saving up again, now that the wedding's over. 

If I can just get a decent night's sleep, I'll really get rolling! 

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I said-a mony mo-mo-mo!

Oh, this is a ridiculous and cool chain of events:

I have a website for my recent wedding. Apparently, the accounts-payable department of my books' publishing company has been looking for me, and this made it easier for them. (I thought this blog came up when you searched for me, but... eh, I had a big burrito for lunch and don't have the energy to self-Google.) So I got a comment thru my wedding site that they're looking for me. I drop them a line and lo and behold, my books have been translated into German (??!!) and I have "monies" coming to me. Any bets on how much it'll be? My guess: $350. 

But I love monies, they're my favorites! So I'm happy for all of those monies to come my way.

I'd get a lot more of them if I'd just get my new iPhone and write the two (2) articles currently looming over my head. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Countdown to iPhone!

I love it when my professional life enables my overspending habit. All I want is an iPhone, and lo and behold, an assignment lobs itself my way. Best of all, my mom can't give me crap about buying a silly phone because now (a) it's a tax deduction and (2) i'm getting paid enough to cover the cost for... a while.

Rock on, freelance life!
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Magazine quirks that make me crazy

There's this particular pop-culture-technology magazine that's frankly notorious for being THIS CLOSE to being good. Since it's now one of the few local publications I could write for, I am trying, trying to work out a détente with my opinion of this magazine. My fiancé loves it. The information and reporting seem fine. But the execution has so many sloppy little errors and such sophomoric editing that I find it unreadable. I can't get to the good stuff because it's all covered in a fine veneer of errors.

We'll just ignore, for the moment, that their copy-editor left "shoe-in" in a dek for an otherwise interesting and engaging story about iRobot. That's the kind of thing that might have happened just before everything went to the printer.

But there's also a funny bit by Steve Carell, detailing how to get smarter. Cute. Very cute. Until I got to this:

Carrots are very good for the eyes, but they absoutely must be baby carrots so you don't chew too much. I don't think I have to explain crunchwaves to people who read TITLE REDACTED. They already know that when you chew something too hard, the vibrations fire up those crunchwaves, which shake the neurons in your brain. Do that too much and those brain cells shake loose and die. I usually gulp my food, and you should, too.
Joke Hitlers. They killed the joke. They looked at the joke, decided they knew comedy better than Steve fricking Carell, and murdered the joke in cold blood. Rule #1 of not being a hack: Do not spell it out. Do not. Spell. It out. Your audience will follow along if you let it. Spelling out jokes only encourages comedic flabbiness, and everyone's funnybones end up looking like the flabby pod people in Wall-E.

Take a note, comedy-challenged editors:

Carrots are very good for the eyes, but they absoutely must be baby carrots so you don't chew too much. I don't have to explain crunchwaves to people who read TITLE REDACTED. Whenever possible, I purée or gulp my food, and you should, too.

I'll spell it out for you. If you say you don't have to explain it, don't explain it. That's where the funny lies: in allowing the randomness to be random, and the reader's imagination to fill in. This is one case when fewer words equal bigger funny.

Wow. I feel better now that I've gotten that off my chest. And ensured that that magazine will never hire me now. But since they haven't returned my calls for going on two years now, I'm not going to mourn that loss too hard.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Phew! Something about getting my most recent story out of my inbox has awakened some long-dormant part of my brain. Now I've pulled out my assignments spreadsheet and updated it. Maybe I'll even get paid for those stories I did for Chow two years ago... oh, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Anyway, it seems like more stories and contacts and other opportunities are starting to trickle across my transom. It's a huge relief. I mean, it's a fine thing to sit here and complain that writing breathlessly about book clubs doesn't thrill my reporter's soul. It's quite another to dust off my skills and, y'know, come through with some interviews, meet some deadlines, and actually do some critical thinking. It feels pretty great.

Next up: writing about my divorce for a Jewish newspaper of note. It's going to be a great clip. Nobody outside New York will care, but since when has that bugged me? I mean, there's an outside of New York?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sentimental Journey

My last freelance assignment before leaving New York a couple years ago? An article for Good Housekeeping about guilt. It just turned up on MSN. (I put it over there, on the left -- take a looksee.)

Now, don't get me wrong: I love it when my stories pop up again. It makes me look super-productive, as people drop me emails to say they saw my byline, and especially since I run with so many non-journalists these days, it's also impressive and ups my Google Fight chances. But it's not like I get an extra check for this.

Used to be, when my stories would run in Hearst magazines (even when I was on staff at a Hearst magazine), being published elsewhere meant a surprise! bonus! check! Okay, so it was generally for phone-bill money, but it was a happy fun-time bonus nonetheless. I know that in the wake of the writers' strike it's passé to complain about not being compensated for your published work being repurposed as online content, but... come on! srsly? I already write for the web for free, it's called MY BLOG! Pony up, suckers!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Early-morning interviews

If I don't get up and do these interviews before work tomorrow, I'm sunk. It's bad enough I had to admit to my editor today that I wasn't going to make the deadline -- again. My job is busy, my health is ... not bad, but I'm having a few interesting issues, and my wedding is careening off into disaster territory. I have to get this done.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

uch no

it's really bad. i can't get this story finished. uch. 

Monday, June 16, 2008

sorry. brain not working.

I said "a post per day for thirty days," so here's your post. But after a day in the salt mine, followed by therapy, followed by grocery shopping, followed by rug unpacking, I'm spent. My words are all sleeping.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Advice to a young intern

Someone asked me if I had any advice for his sister, who was up for an internship at my old magazine. I had a funny little sentimental journey through the veils of my nostalgia as I told her who was a dumbshit, how to imitate the structure of old heds and deks to write new one, and not to try anything too innovative. It also made me feel pretty oogy. I loved that job and would love to be writing for that title, and the masthead is full of people I know. But I burned too many bridges.

I don't know what else to say about that. I feel like a bit of a stooge, but I know I can't do anything about it. Seems a bit unfair, considering my stupid ex, who behaved way worse than I did, is still in the industry, in a great job, while I'm out here on the wrong coast pouting on my blog. Ech.

All right, tomorrow I get my expert lined up, interview one more blogger and his mom, and then I write the thing tomorrow night. The end's in sight, and then I can start the next one. Moving forward.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

interviewing is like bungee jumping

right before I make the call, I panic. Then it goes fine, and I become irritated that I didn't do it earlier. I am entirely too old to still have this problem.

of course, i don't bungee jump, so I could be wrong.

Friday, June 13, 2008

New Contacts

I'm so astounded when people make new contacts. I was chatting with an old pal today, complaining about the many contacts who faded away during my "lost years." She is so polar-opposite from me. "The great thing about editors is, there's a new crop every couple of years!"

This threw me for a loop! That's the great thing about editors? I thought that was the horrible thing about editors! Just when you get one to trust you and worm your way into her rolodex, boom, she moves somewhere else (maybe taking you, maybe not) or quits to start an alpaca farm. (Or to stay home with her kids. But alpaca farm sounds so much better.)

My friend sent me a bunch of contacts, saying "there's plenty of work to go around," and that's why I love writers. Especially since I had just written a lengthy email detailing the inside scoop on my old magazine to an aspiring intern. Today, what went around, came around.

Of course, having a contact is just the beginning. I have to then send the right clips, make the right pitches, and meet the right deadlines. But I feel ten percent closer to being back in my freelance saddle right now. Sure, it's a saddle that can slide out from beneath me at any time, that carries no health benefits, and that makes me treat houseplants like coworkers, but dammit, it's my saddle, and I love that dang saddle.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cruelty to Characters

I’m thinking about my reaction to the Annie Proulx story. I took a class (well, several) with Mary Gordon in college, and I remember her scolding us: “Stop trying to think you have to tie up your stories with a pretty, pink bow. You can’t. You have to allow things to happen, even if they’re bad, even if they break your heart. You have to be honest about what happens to your characters. You can’t protect them.”

That is just so unfair.

I mean, you can’t protect your children – sure. They have to grow up and live in a world that’s going to push them around, and you have to get them ready for that. But your characters don’t have to do any such thing! They’re going to live in a goddamn book! What’s the point of putting them through such hell?

The answer, of course, is that those books are just going to sit unread if all I do is make nice-nice stories about pretty-pretty funtimes. So, you know. I get it. I do have to be honest.

But I’m still not really on board for this idea that there is a story out there, and I just have to be true to my characters and it’ll unearth itself like one of those worms in Tremors. I knew a woman in a writing class who said she hated her main character: “She just won’t stand up for herself. I had her beaten, raped, I made her have a baby – she just won’t stop whining and crying.” Buh. WRITE IT FOR HER. I mean, there has to be a middle ground between “I control my characters to the detriment of everyone’s entertainment” and “I’ve substituted fictional characters for the flies I used to pull the wings off of, isn’t that a step up?”

I struggle with boredom when I work from an outline, but the project I’m working on now is stalled because I don’t know what happens next, and I’m scared I’m going off in a wholly wrong direction. I hate feeling so at sea, but this is part of being brave and finding out what my characters want to do. And then telling them that’s really nice, but we’re only going to show about one-tenth of that. And teaching them to deal with their disappointment.

I can’t tie it up with a pretty pink bow, but there’s no way I’m going to let my characters tumble tits-up into a ditch. Unless the New Yorker says I have to. Hey, we all have a price.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Notebook

I have something like four notebooks in my pocketbook and I write in exactly none of them. One's for my therapist: an emoooootion diary. In an effort to rid myself of distorted thinking, I am supposed to write down every time I say "God damn, I'm an idiot!" and then track back to see what the triggering event was, and what emotion I felt when I talked down to myself.

I think I kept that for a week. It has a windmill on it.

Another one is a checkbook-sized book where I'm supposed to track my outgoing cash. Ha.

A third one -- this one's actually funny: the first page says "The things that I don't know could fill a book," and on each page there's something else I didn't know, that I learned sometime after moving here in 2006. For instance:
"I do not know the way to San Jose. There are signs all over the place, but I'd really have to check Google Maps."

"I have no idea what an ESTUARY is. 'A small estuary?' I don't even know what a big one is."

"I didn't know people still used hot water bottles!"

"I had no idea how sad an object a cold hot water bottle is."

"Grits? Polenta? Same shit!"
It peters out after that. I started putting rehearsal notes from a show I was in on the next few pages. I also have a shopping list, but that doesn't really count.

The point is, when I was doing standup, I had a notebook with me constantly. All the time. And anything that struck me as funny went in that notebook, and every day or so I'd go through it and spin some of that straw into pure comedy gold. I've had so many sweet little moments that could go into my fiction, and sometimes I have the impulse to run to the computer and jot them down... but usually I just think "eh, I'll remember it" and -- blort. It's gone.

Even when I DO jot it down, it goes into a file that somehow migrates away from my desktop so that, probably, my hard drive is littered with documents with a single line like "girl who's so anxious not to fall that she stares too hard at the ground an walks off a cliff" or "character has the odor of panic attack."

hm. i did say comedy gold, didn't I? I suppose there's comedy bronze and silver as well... and a little lead...

anyway maybe i should jot stuff down more often, is my point.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What's the Haps?

I was talking to Mr. Cutiepants the other day about how hard it is for me to make friends. I don’t think it’s the old saw about not wanting to join a club that would have me as a member – I think it’s more about my not believing the club actually wants me as a member. The club is just being nice, and I don’t want to impose by taking the club up on its offer.

Anyway, he said he’s got the same problem, except for when he’s in therapy. And I was like, OHRLY. Because honestly, for me, therapy is what keeps my wooden head barely above water. Actually having a positive improvement? I dunno – maybe I get that, but I’m not aware of it.

So I ran to my awesome therapist (who I love and recommend, and who has just added a day to her private-patients roster) and was all “I want concrete, positive results!” And she was all “What would be a concrete, positive result?” and I was like “Writing more. Being productive. Not procrastinating. Getting my agent back. Mostly writing more.”

For the past while – more than the past year, which I could chalk up to my day job – even assigned articles have been a challenge. I used to run to them like beloved amours. Lately I dodge them like embarrassing party-makeouts. Is it a failure of nerve? Was I burned out? Is it because I’m not doing it for the money anymore? The last theory holds no water at all – by all rights, I should be working on my fiction if I’m not doing it for the ducats.

Anyway, the very idea of writing about my therapy on my blog makes me want to just get it over with and actually take up residence in my navel. But I’m really starting to kickstart something here, and if acknowledging my extreme neurotic resistance to said kickstartage might help, well, I’ve got to give it a try.

Oh, and Annie Proulx seriously let me down. She did NOT have to do that. I’m shitcanning the rest of this week’s New Yorker, as my mom advised.

Monday, June 09, 2008

I finished reading Haruki Murakami’s New Yorker essay on being a runner and a novelist, and all I have to say is: Fuhuuuuuck youhoooooou, Haruki Murakami.

Here’s my summary of his essay:

I flunked out of college and decided, on a whim, to start a jazz club. It really took off! Then I woke up one morning and thought, Huh. Novelist. I ditched my successful business because I don’t like doing more than one thing at a time. It really took off! Then I started running. What does this have to do with writing? Not a fucking thing. But like my novels, this essay is pointless and leads you in several different directions before dropping you, flailing, into a tar pit of irritated confusion. And my running? It really took off!

Haruki Murakami makes me feel stupid. I suppose this means I should like him, and that my failure to do so means I am, actually, too stupid to accept a mental challenge. I don’t care! My mom gave me “Kafka on the Shore” to read when we were on our family-reunion-vacation two years ago. I got sucked in, entranced by the characters, and read like a demon… only to be expelled from the story, unceremoniously and without warning, when the book ran out of pages. What uh… what happened? How come the teacher passed out and had that heavy period? Were the cats real? Who was the old guy? And the answer came back: Sorry, stupid reader. If you actually read books hoping for resolution of plot-points, you are too lowbrow for the Murakami.

My mom, of course, loves him. This is because she has no attention span anyway, so not having a resolution to a plot-point is not a problem for her. Oh! Oh, I’m going to hell. But it’s true: having a conversation with my mom is like hanging on to the caboose of a runaway train. Hang on tight, and maybe you’ll recognize the landscape when the story’s over.

I don’t know why I’m so irritated by this essay. I guess because to me, it reads like a disingenuous gee-whillickers, aw-shucks screed. Not for a moment do I believe that anyone would mail off a handwritten first draft to a writing contest, without keeping a copy for himself, and win. On UrbanBaby, we used to call that a VBA – a veiled brag alert.

To whit:

Oh, my child is already more fluent than his French tutor, does anyone have a recommendation?
But it’s true, he’s 4 and reads French at a 5th-grade level!


8 weeks pp and I still have 2 pounds to go! How can I lose them?
But didn’t you hear me? I still have 2 pounds to lose!

You get the idea. Ersatz complaining about things that are neither complainworthy nor relatable: just a fancy way to say to everyone reading, “Jettison the last of your self-esteem, because you are not the shit. That job has gone to me. My shit has eaten your shit’s milkshake.”

Sorry about that. I mean about mentioning shit and milkshakes in the same paragraph. But once again, the idea is gotten by you: as far as I can see, Murakami’s just being a showoff. And a liar. And boring! Writing a novel isn’t something you just decide to do and then do. It’s hard to stick to, and even if you write something amazing, getting it published is not a given. That he claims to have had such an easy ride makes us all look stupid.

And that he’s apparently never had a moment’s self-doubt, difficult time, bout of existential angst – I can’t just chalk that up to cultural differences. Murakami is like the guy who had a great time in high school, and can’t wait to get back to the 20th reunion to see all his boffo old pals! Come on, Ha-shmucki: Not a moment’s doubt? You go running every morning, and never get sick? And the best thing about becoming a novelist is… waking up early? Not receiving copies of your book in the mail, not getting letters from your readers, not hearing yourself quoted on NPR… it’s getting up with the sun?!

You bobbleheaded little twit.

I’m so annoyed. Fortunately, I spy an Annie Proulx short story mere pages later, so the New Yorker shall be redeemed (and I know it is panting with relief to hear that).

Oh crap, I just spoke to my mom on the phone, and she says this issue of the New Yorker is the most depressing she’s ever read. So much for the Annie Proulx story; I was pulling for the main character. MOM!