Musings. Today: no parade–just a haul of books

I didn’t get to go down to Lower Greenville for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Drinking Festival. Everyone here is a party pooper. I did, however, go to the Firewheel Town Center, an outdoor mall that’s made to look like a 1940s downtown town square, and splurged on some books.

I got the “new” Phil Dick (they dug one of his mainstream novels up from somewhere, God only knows where), two mysteries, a Dilbert book, a new translation of _Swann’s Way_, and _Justine_ by the Marquis de Sade. Only kidding about that last one, but they DID have a new edition. I could read that and get the same kind of experience offered by “steamy” romance novels, only better, and I’d be reading a classic. The phrasing is beautiful . . . I did peek inside and found one of the humorous passages.

Ah, well. I *intended* to pick up the reprint of Sinclair Lewis’s _It Can’t Happen Here_. Shoot! I’ve never read it and always have wanted to. His other novels are mostly out there on Project Gutenberg, but not that one. (While you’re on Gutenberg, pick up _Winesburg, Ohio_, as well. You’ll see why my prose style is the way it is.)
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Skip this if you are not a writer, for here are further musings about the “failure” of my latest attempt at novelizing and Friday’s conference with the editor.

“I want you, as a reader, to experience what I experience, to let that other world, that imaginary world that I have created, tell you things about the real world.”–Terry Brooks, famous fantasy author

This is why I write the way I do. My characters don’t stay in the present moment. They make connections. If there isn’t resonance, then it’s fluff and quickly fades.

I did figure out why quips like “She found she couldn’t put any weight on that leg, even though she’d recently lost fifteen pounds” come to me. That is the voice of Robert Benchley, Dave Barry, Jean Kerr, or James Thurber in a quirky mood (“there’s a unicorn in the garden.”) It is something that Ellen DeGeneris or Robin Williams could say and get a laugh. It is Norm Crosby or Henny Youngman. But you have to share my sense of humor to like that kind of stuff.

I finally figured out how to articulate why I used that baking soda metaphor . I am in Whit’s mind/POV, and that is the kind of thing he would think of. NOT some kind of sweet little comparison. He is a crusty, sour, curmudgeonly cynic at heart. Perhaps I need to sharpen that up a whit (ha), but there you are. He wouldn’t think of some girly metaphor.

This kind of man also will not think of some sweet little descriptions for women the way romance heroes do. Men who are not gay for some reasonable value of not-gay (or men who are not so earthy, even if they ARE gay) DO NOT think like the men in those published romance novels. Those “men” think the way some women apparently wish men thought. Sorry, but they are from Mars. When you tell a woman about some awful situation, she is ready to commiserate and give advice and only then will offer solutions if you want them. Men assume that you are asking for a SOLUTION in the first place, and that is what they give you. Also, most men who are not gay do laundry because there is no underwear left without skidmarks. I’m not trying to gross you out here, but seriously. Felix Ungers are rare. **I am sure there are a goodly number of gay Oscar Madisons, but that isn’t the stereotype I’m trying to use in this rough comparison. I couldn’t think of any other dividing line–men who are not compulsive . . . men who are not like women . . . men who aren’t rednecks . . . substitute your favorite stereotype that’s the opposite of a crusty cowboy type. Maybe I should make Whit a Texas-ish cowboy.

Although I said he sounded like Garrison Keillor. Garrison Keillor actually sounds as if he’s holding his jaw funny, like a Bostonian. I listened to him this afternoon on NPR, and it’s true.

Has no one seen “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy?” Those lines I used would be at home there as tossed-off Homerisms or Peterisms. Now, wouldn’t they? Granted, maybe t’ain’t funny! But that’s the place those come from.

{EDIT: Oh, and I was thinking about in the opening how several people have asked why Kay doesn’t yell, “That guy tried to run me down!” Basically, that would take the story in a different direction. She’s not SURE, and she doesn’t want to sound like a paranoid by accusing someone who has already left the area. Nobody really took that much notice of the near-miss. She’s minimizing it, but later on the attempts on her will resume. I would put in a line about that, but I don’t want to interrupt the flow of the scene. The important thing is that she should be concentrating on getting inside and that she meets Whit.}

As I said, the editor’s experience of corporate life is quite different from mine. You can understand this when you realize that she has climbed the ladder to the top, while I remained the Dilbert sitting in the cubicle shaking my head at the folly of it all. I did become the one everyone came to for “what’s that word” and “rewrite this for me,” but that just irritated the grits out of my boss.

Anyway, at first I figured that the editor was so upset about this “harassment” teasing because she must not have made the connection that Greg, the bossman who shows up, is the SAME Greg mentioned as the guy Kay is going with. On the other hand, she did say that it made her sick when Kay’s heart swelled at the idea of going to the banquet on his arm. Maybe if I put in a few lines when Greg walks in carrying that pile of work . . . lines about how he still takes Kay’s breath away and she can’t believe a guy like him is really still with someone like herself . . . y’know, because he’s the guy everyone is in love with in high school and she was not a cheerleader and they only went out with cheerleaders. Oh, wait, nobody thinks of high school! I could make that college or kindergarten. But anyhow, SOME kind of thinking, just a line or two.

The problem with “putting in a line or two to explain this or that” is that soon, your book is front-loaded with info that many readers have already intuited (although many have NOT and will not, it appears), and others start bitching about the pace and that there’s stuff they don’t need to know. In fact, the editor said that she doesn’t want to know any character’s backstory. That in a book she just bought (a sequel), the only thing said about one guy is that he’s a widower. She knew the backstory because of the previous book, but she said she didn’t NEED to. She seemed to think that it was extremely unprofessional and unlikely that anyone would “tell her life story to this consultant she’d just met.” If you haven’t read the excerpt, she was referring to a little outburst that Kay has when the guy has her at lunch and is questioning her about where she went to school and her credentials, and she decides to save him some time and tells him about her parents, etc. Not as clumsily as I am implying, I hope. But anyhow, *I* tend to say stuff like that. People tend to say stuff like that to *ME*. I seem to be a wonderful listener, probably because I have always been a peoplewatcher who enjoyed sitting on the sidelines watching the endless show of the ones who love the limelight. ANYway, that was another of her examples on how unreal this character was to her.

Now, I respected her point of view as far as the book she just bought and so forth, but I say that if you’re going to have the guy in your book be a widower instead of a divorced guy or a bachelor or a monk, you’re going to have damaged psyche stuff that can and will pop up. My brother-in-law is a widower, and he is different from guys who are divorced . . . though you wouldn’t know it unless you spent time with him. Time lends distance, but that never goes away. I think it makes for a different character. It’s a man who will, when his new wife is an hour late coming home from work, start dialing her cell phone and pacing the floor. Who might burst out with something inappropriate if she sneaks away from him during a vacation and he thinks she’s lost. Or whatever. And I believe that this stuff is going to come out of the character, even though we only see the tip of the iceberg. Is this making sense to anyone? Am I alone out here in the weirdo zone?

She *did* suggest that I start over with a main character who is a software engineer, a nonconformist, working in that industry. The trouble I foresee there is that every time I’ve done this in the past, it was off-putting to people who’ve never worked in Dilbertland. Or I’ve had to oversimplify techie stuff such that it irritated the knowledgeable and *still* confused the uninitiated. There’s almost a taboo against doing this. It’s like the rule at Harlequin that says, “No heroines who are singers or actresses. Nothing set in WWII or the 1940s/1950s.” These were actually on their “tip sheet” and guidelines sheets years ago.

Jacquidon is not a software engineer because I was told ages ago by Ruth Wreschner, who was an agent I briefly corresponded with ages ago (about one of my older failed works), that readers would not be able to identify with the heroine. If they felt that the heroine was too unlike them, they wouldn’t read the book. I made her sister a software engineer, though, and that way I got some techie stuff sneaked in. (Sandra Bullock’s character in _The Net_ did many laughably impossible and silly things, by the way. And if you use technology and can’t sell the story quickly, it gets outmoded fast and is unsalable because technology has changed. For example, nowadays your characters should have access to cell phones–you can have the batteries go dead or put them where the signal isn’t getting through, but you have to acknowledge that most people have them now. No more “the phone lines were cut” or searching for pay phones.)

More logic regarding how I must not be THAT bad off: Remember last year when I was convinced that a SuperAgent was about to offer me representation for _Camille’s Travels_ (basically because she e-mailed me to say she was going to call when she got back from her vacation/conference trip to talk about offering representation, which is how I got that impression), and even though I ended up running her off (either scaring her away with all my talk of various genres and so forth, or doing ALL the revisions EXCEPT ONE, and that because I didn’t realize it was a deal-breaker), she kept saying, “NO, don’t change your voice and style. NO, don’t change the opening.” Here’s the reveal (because why not . . . I have said only complimentary things about her-it’s ME who was the jackass.) This was super agent Miriam Kriss. If you know anything about her, you know that she does really great deals and she does not waste her time on junk or on people who can’t do dialogue. She “gets ‘er done,” as the rednecks say. Therefore, I am at a loss to explain why she would have even messed with my book at all if it wasn’t written professionally.

I mean . . . most of my rejections up until three years ago included the phrase, “You write at a professional level, and I am sure you will find a home for this elsewhere.” Three years or so ago, that all stopped. But my writing is BETTER than it used to be. This is a conundrum. Beating a conga on the conun-drum.


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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