I bought a ticket to the world

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On the advice of the wise and wonderful Ginger, I got myself a subscription to Writer’s Digest magazine. The first issue arrived and, despite the fact that it looks like it was delivered by bored, rabid ferrets who were building an addition to their nest, it’s exactly what I need right now. It’s all about the beginning … the first sentence, the first chapter, and so on. Since I’m pretty much reinventing the book, I have the opportunity to craft a stellar beginning. I liked my original one, but I absolutely understand why it was bogging this thing down.

In beginning my story on what was once page 129, I have the incredibly challenging task of incorporating back story — which was once, simply, “story” — into my new beginning, and there’s an article on that, too. The main takeaway from this article is that back story needn’t be spelled out as explicitly as one might think; it can be hinted at in the way characters behave in the present, in their motivations, wishes, fears, and so on.

I’ve written before about “killing your darlings” — and in this case, I’ve outright massacred mine. But this does not mean their lives were in vain: I needed to write out 129 pages of ponderous, stagnant back story in order to learn who my characters are and why they are that way.

Now my task is to tie it all together into something that bears vague resemblance to a book. With a plot. And an arc.

What have I gotten myself into?!

In addition to the print version, a subscription to WD includes access to a wealth of content on their website. One of today’s pieces was on fact in fiction, on how, if one is well-versed in a particular topic, and a fiction writer has not done his/her research, it can be hard to accept the rest of the world that he/she has created.

A lot of creative folk had a hard time writing/painting/sculpting/dancing/singing about 9-11. I read a fair amount of contemporary literature in the years after it happened, and it was quite a while before I read a book that referenced it. The first one I did was The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud, which came out five years after the fact.

I loved the way she touched on 9-11 … nothing gratuitous, nothing repetitive to those who lived through it. She wrote elegantly of the mood in NY in the hours and days after the planes, and I appreciated the way she handled it.

However … there was one “fact” she ignored, and I hesitate to say that because there is no wrong in fiction. But it struck me then and has stayed with me.

The night of 9-10-01, one of her characters goes on a helicopter ride around Manhattan and sees the lights and the city and I don’t recall what else. Anyone who lived here then will recall that on the night of 9-10 we had a torrential downpour. A deluge, the kind that upends umbrellas and ruins shoes and is enchanting to those of us who love rain, no matter how inconvenient. And so it was especially stunning how perfect the next morning felt, how crisp and clear and bright the skies. And then, they did their thing and you know the rest.

So add to the myriad reasons it takes me so long to get through a paragraph in this book I’m trying to write the fact that I do not want to take such a liberty. I’m already doing so by making the summer of 1999 a particularly rainy one and throwing a massive power outage in for good measure. (and to further the plot). But where very tangible specifics are concerned, I’m getting in my own fiction-writing way.

Any excuse to keep from churning out another draft from which to create the final one.

My bestest friend and I are writing a tv pilot loosely based on our awkward, misfit selves in the 80s. This is a breath of fresh air from the book. It’s work, it’s challenging, it requires letting go of ego and perfectionism and impatience and indulging in the process. And we’re doing it together, which is the best part. There’s strength in numbers.

Book-writing’s a lonely business. Bear with me while I figure it all out.

 

 

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Misty water-colored memories

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Now you, too, can have that song stuck in your head.

I am going through boxes upon boxes of family memorabilia that have been in storage since the Enlightenment. It’s amazing the things we hold onto. Three of the four members of my immediate family have packrat tendencies, with me quite possibly leading the charge.

It has been very satisfying to throw away/recycle decades’ worth of papers and photos and things we kept for rainy days. Photographs of people whose names I’ve forgotten. Blank cards I thought I might someday use. A notebook from college about the Protestant Reformation, with one-sided conversations scrawled in the margins to whomever was sitting next to me.

Throwing away that stuff made it possible to unearth other mementos that are worth holding onto, like my dad’s birth certificate, a war rations book, a ribbon from the 1956 New York World’s Fair. Letters my dad wrote his parents from the army. Cards my mom wrote to my dad before they were married (n0t to worry, I didn’t read them). Homemade gifts and cards from my sister and me. My birth announcement. My childhood autograph books. A program from the pinnacle of my theatrical career: June 22, 1980, 3:00 pm, The Westchester Children’s Theatre Workshop Presents “The Music Man” (with 9-year-old me playing Amaryllis). A script to an episode of “Different Strokes” signed by the inimitable Conrad Bain. (Actually, it’s just the cover, and yes you may have it.)

These boxes have been sitting by my desk taunting me for months, and I finally went through them and discarded more mercilessly than ever before. I feel lighter. I want to do a lot more of this.

I have set a goal of finishing this next draft by the end of June – forgive me if I already mentioned this. After that comes intense copyediting, than I start pitching the thing in August. Exciting, terrifying, unwieldy. Since I can’t run off to New Orleans every week, and I need a space to work on this, I’ve applied to join a writers’ room in town for the month of June, with the option to extend. I had a trial day there on Tuesday and it was great – space for about 60 people, good lighting, quiet except for the sound of typing (in the workspace; there’s a lounge area/kitchen where one can “conversate”, as my Uber driver said yesterday).

That said, in streamlining the storyline, I will be expanding certain elements, including the New Orleans section. So I was wrong, I do need to get back down there soon.

Miss those moss-covered vines, the tall sugar pines, and all the rest. Including the best iced coffee I’ve ever had, at Café Rose Nicaud.

Last night I dreamt I was in a park trying to meditate and was interrupted by a bear (I dream about bears a lot), then an ostrich, then some elephants. I said to my meditating partner, “If we see a hippo I’m out of here.” And that was the end of the dream. Feel free to analyze.

Please send my sweet Lou a telepathic happy birthday wish! He’s 14 today, or 98, depending on who you ask …

 

 

Leaving on a jet plane

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Posting from 30,000 feet in the air. The future is now. The revolution will be Instagrammed.

Another beautiful visit to a city I must have lived in in a former life … I love it so much I miss it while I’m there. I get sentimental for moments the moment they pass.

In some ways this was my least New Orleans-y visit yet, and in more ways my most. No jambalaya, nary a po’boy, neither crawfish nor oyster (raw). But live music almost every night, a feeling of comfort and home-away-from-homecoming, communing with nature (stray cats and tree frogs), and absolute certainty that I will be back sooner than later.

I got a lot of editing done. Not a lot of writing, but I’m not there yet for draft three of Unnamed Book. I did a lot of research and I spent time with friends I’ve known for decades and others I’ve just met. And the beauty of this (that) town is the serendipitous encounters with strangers I’ll never see again, like the gal in the restroom at (what was the name of last night’s Bywater bar?) who had just lost her dad and who needed a hug, or the server at Muriel’s who’s about to move back to the town where I went to college.

In the overhead bin is my notebook, which contains words and quotes and fleeting impressions about this past week. I will curate and share.

And now back to my other urban love, New York, New York, the city so nice they blah blah blah.

So, the book. Needs a title. Suggestions welcome.

Putting my seat back in the upright position. À bientôt, mes cheris.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And you wanted to dance so I asked you to dance

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It’s been suggested that I increase my social media footprint so as to amass legions and legions of followers who will bode  well for the potential publication of this book. Ergo (yes I did), if we run in the same circles on Twitter and Snapchat and Friendster and Grindr and What’s App, you may find me repeating myself. Find me repeating myself.

Last night I had dinner with good friends who live down here. When we made this plan a couple weeks ago, they mentioned that friends were playing at One Eyed Jacks. It came up a couple more times with no more specificity. I was on the fence about going out after dinner and they added that, oh yeah, their friends are Eagles of Death Metal.

Talk about burying the lead.

As you probably know, Eagles of Death Metal are the band that was playing the Bataclan in Paris during the horrendous events of last November 13. I was not at all familiar with the band or their music, but of course I knew of them, and of course I felt some kind of self-indulgent kinship toward them because of the whole Paris thing. And the whole human thing. I didn’t know that they had ties to New Orleans, too, but there you go.

Eagles of Death Metal and I have so much in common.

So we went to the show after dinner and we were on the list and we got to hang out upstairs and visit with my friends’ friend – the handsome fellow 0n the left – and the show was excellent.

It had never occurred to me that I might see them someday, and I’m grateful that the fates allowed me to.

Today I got a friends and family discount because I recognized the woman at the shop from the show last night

Eagles of Death Metal basically bought me a lipstick.

More music tonight, more book tomorrow.

Laissez les bons temps, etcetera.

 

Down in New Orleans

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This’ll be a quickie as the day’s gotten away from me … but I’m back in this lovely town for a short writing retreat. I had every intention of writing between visits, and it just didn’t work out that way … all of my writing energy went into the book and another project, about which more later, as my mama would say.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here in May and this is my first time visiting during “termite-swarming season”. According to my dear host, said swarming takes place around 8pm, but doesn’t last too long. At 8pm last night I was blissfully tucked away at Three Muses, on Frenchmen Street, eating dinner and hearing great music … can’t recall the name of the trio and don’t want to break the momentum to look it up but I’ll get back to you on that detail.

The good news is I’ve missed “Bucket Moth Caterpillar season” wherein, according to the aforementioned host, large caterpillars spin and drop from the trees, stinging whomever they land upon in the process.

It’s a town full of colorful characters, of the two- four- and 600-legged varieties.

Every season is cat season, and one can easily get turned around should one decide to follow a group of stray cats and take photos. Happened to a friend of mine.

So  the book … major changes are in the works, which is daunting and exciting. I won’t bog you down with the  details but there is going to be extensive chopping and moving and killing of darlings before this draft is through. Turns out my story begins much further into the current plot than I’d intended … and according to my coach this is often the case, that first-parts-of-books wind up on the cutting room floor.

I am attending a writing conference in August, my first ever, and will have the terrifying opportunity to pitch the book in what is essentially speed-dating with literary agents. So I will  be immersed in it between now and then and will probably babble about it a fair amount.

I had lunch at the friendly and haunted Muriel’s yesterday . Dined at the bar and chatted with the same bartender I met last time around, the one who filled me in on the ghostly happenings there, including one involving her departed mother. She remembered me and I told her that I’ve thought of the story about her mom a bunch since then. A few minutes into our conversation, one of her mom’s favorite songs came on the radio—an obscure tune by a one-hit wonder (her words) whom her mother loved and saw live once. I assumed it was her own playlist but no, she explained calmly,  it was the radio—her mom had been around a lot lately, to the point of occasional distraction. Still, she said, her worst fear is not being able to feel her anymore—a line that went straight into the book. Not being an expert on these matters I don’t know what the chances of this happening are, but I hope for her sake that it doesn’t.

The gentleman sitting next to me told me that he, too, had a ghost story from Muriel’s. Seems this fellow’s sister was in town and he took her there for lunch and showed her the seance room upstairs. They took photos of one another and in all the photos of him, there was a mysterious glowing orb hovering, which was likely Antoine, the restaurant’s shimmering resident ghost. I asked to see one of the photos and didn’t have the heart to point out that it was a selfie he’d taken in the mirror. With flash.

Whatever gets you through the night.