Danger: Writer in Supermarket

I’m deep into revisions for my novel IMAGINARY GIRLS (don’t hold me to the title) and I am apparently a danger to myself and those around me. I wandered the supermarket aisle of my local Gristedes last night in search of tomato sauce and bread, juggling baby tomatoes and blueberries, both of which were not on the list, lost in thought while I reworked a scene inside my own head, almost knocking over a display of discount granola. I wandered toward the line and dropped all my stuff on the conveyor belt and it wasn’t until I’d turned around that I realized I’d cut the line. I apologized and the guy behind me kindly said I shouldn’t worry, it’s not like he was standing back there hating me. Thank you, I said. I paid, shuffled the stuff between a canvas bag and a plastic one when not everything could fit in the canvas, got told by the cashier to hit OK, again because I didn’t hear her hit OK, so I hit OK, and left, completely forgetting to sign and digging around in the bags at every street corner wondering if I paid at all and did they give me a receipt? Then I almost got hit by a cab in the street.

Writing is dangerous. I think this novel is going to be even better than before, if that’s any consolation.

Without Distractions… I Discover More Distractions

So I’m working. Lots of work. Work all month, work next month. Deadlines, freelance. Deadlines, writing—but those are the fun ones. Life though, it piles up. Woke this morning to THE FEAR. We know each other well, THE FEAR and I, but we’re not friends. The lack of a Twitter stream does help me, but I’m not cured entirely of my bad habits. Not yet.

My mom says it takes something like four months to change your daily routines. Must. Keep. Trying. It’s been, what? Not even a week?

For example, I’m right now (1) reworking some facts in chapter one of my novel while (2) listening to Space Oddity while (3) taking breaks to read Dear Sugar columns while (4) looking up old Liz Phair songs while (5) keeping a running list of possible title ideas while (6) looking up Borges stories while (7) checking in on Jezebel while (8) wishing a dear friend happy birthday while (9) mapping out my freelance schedule while (10) texting with my baby sister while (11) signing a book to send off at the post office while (12) wishing I’d brought a Band-Aid while (13) rereading chapter two while (14) IM’ing with E while (15) cracking my neck while (16) thinking of The Road, which I just saw and which I thought was the most brilliant dystopian while (17) wondering if I could ever write a story that important while (18) instead just writing this blog post.

It never ends, does it? Social networking is not the problem. The problem is dear old me.

For my next trick, I’ll shut myself up in a discarded refrigerator without cell phone or internet and… write a couple novels or something. When I come out, if I come out, I’ll be a whole new me.

I would like to learn to meditate. I regret not learning at Yaddo when I had the chance. You may think it’s simple, but for someone so addled it’s near impossible to sit still for a half hour not-thinking. It was recommended to me to try going here.

So add (19) wondering if I should learn how to meditate, if that would help?

Back to (1).

Weekend Inspirations

Here are some things inspiring me this weekend:

Tayari Jones always has a great honesty when it comes to writing and publishing that I tend to drink up from her blog. This post, “Tough Love from Tayari,” speaks to those insecurities that flutter in your gut and must be smashed for you to write the best you can. She says, “…Writing is what makes you a writer. And when you feel like a writer, you are less worried about the latest celebrity book deal. Your mind is on your characters, on your poetry, on your art.” Read the whole post here.

My editor has inspired me to reread a book I haven’t read in forever, The Haunting (or The Haunting of Hill House) by Shirley Jackson. Erase from your mind all thoughts of any recent movie and return to the book, to the words on the page, as I did, and you’ll find yourself caught up in the growing, crawling unease that breaks out into pure fear. The intensity, and the way it builds, is amazing. There is a moment in that book, which I won’t type up because I don’t want to spoil it, that had me gasping out loud in my empty apartment just the other night—terrified, absolutely terrified, though I had all the lights on. Now that this book has been devoured, what else should I read or reread for inspiration? A trip to the library is in order.

This is a post from some days ago, but I still love coming back to it (and you’ll see my response to it in the comments), where Molly O’Neill ponders what you can belong to and feelings of connectedness. As I pare down my life this summer, I keep thinking of this. Do I belong here, or do I belong elsewhere… maybe somewhere I haven’t let myself go yet? Her must-read post can be found here.

If you’ve come across anything inspiring, let me know. I’m starting up a collection from both real life and online. This summer feels like the time to do it.

Making Way for Something Amazing

As you may have seen hinted at in my romantic post all about “going dark” and thus learning the secret to becoming a writing genius (um, haha), I’m flirting with the idea of becoming a whole new person. Maybe. Just for the summer. Yes, I know part of being an author is learning graceful and confident and somehow not annoyingly intrusive ways of promoting yourself and your books (if you know how to do this, do tell), but I’m on a bit of a break here. My book isn’t out until next summer… It’s not the time to be promoting. I have this pocket of time where I can just focus on writing new stuff*, and so why am I reading blogs about publicity and worrying you’ll forget me forever and ever if I disappear off social-networking sites? Why do I spend so much time distracting myself with every clickworthy link on the internet?

* Side note: I like calling my writing “stuff.” It sounds less intimidating.

I don’t yet know how I’ll handle this, but I feel like I could do anything with my time this summer. Anything at all. Do I want to come away from these next few months with a polished and awesome novel that my editor loves? With pages for my next novel? With a WHOLE NEW BOOK that you don’t even know about yet, but one that I have enough chapters of already and maybe it could even interest a publisher if I could just gather my wits together and write a synopsis?

Or do I want to know what all the authors and editors and agents I admire are tweeting?

I think I know what I’m choosing. I just don’t know how drastic I’m going to be about it yet.

I’m only thinking of trying out a little experiment this summer. What if my head’s more clear…? Will I, could I, might I write something amazing?

I’ll let you know.

I guess this is the warning that if I don’t answer your message on Twitter or Facebook, it’s because I’m not logging in. So email me or something.

If You Go Dark

If you go dark… If you slip quietly off Twitter… Change your password on Facebook… Unsubscribe from industry blogs and only read the blogs that inspire… Ignore all stories of book deals… Ignore comparisons to other writers who you aren’t…

If you go dark, what happens? Does your writing get better for it? Can you reach clarity? Does your pace quicken? Do your plots turn on a dime? Do you reach the level you think your novels could reach… if only there were less noise in the way?

Hmm. I wonder.

Anyone who has any thoughts on this, do say. Then again, if you’re doing it right, you’re not reading this post, are you?

Novel Confessions

Has anyone else had one of those catastrophic, apocalyptic dreams (mine, frighteningly, involved a city destroyed) and in the dream, during the panic, you’re running to safety and have no idea how you’ll stay alive or how you’ll get out and you think… you actually really think: Damn. The world’s ending and now my book will never be published.

Oh, yes. Welcome to the dream I had this morning. I hang my head in shame.

So right now there are three novels in various stages of undress that are flitting in and out of my life. My oldest and dearest is needing a lot of attention now, and I’m falling in love with her all over again, so she shouldn’t worry.

Another one is on hold, but she keeps pounding on my windows to be let back in and I’m going to have to unlock the fire escape sometime.

And the last is begging me to finish her synopsis. WHAT HAPPENS TO ME NEXT? she whines. Then she kicks my shins. She’s mad I spent all weekend finishing up a freelance project.

These three novels don’t want to become like the two I’ve buried in boxes under the floorboards, and who could blame them?

If you’ve had any good novel nightmares lately, do share.

I met some very inspiring people last month and one of them has a website called This Is Dreaming Also. I’ve been told to visit it at nighttime…

Where Authors Live on Clouds and Sip Pomegranate Cocktails

There was something I found comforting when I was feeling intimidated at Yaddo and, for that matter, the Writers Room where I go to write now that I’m home again: Every day, no matter who you are and how many brilliant books you’ve given the world, you and I, we both begin at the same place. We all—every single one of us, even those with Printzes and Pulitzers—have to start at a blank page.

Knowing that helped me confront my own blank pages. It’s not easy. It’s not easy for any of us. And why should it be? So I’m returning to that wisdom now when I’m sifting through all the pages I have and working to make them better.

It’s comforting for me to think how even the best writers don’t have their stories come out perfect at the get-go. Their words are revised. They, too, need to rethink. They need to readdress. They very well may need to take notes and notes and notes of ideas for ways to make their novel better, like I’m doing now. It is possible that they, too, wander the aisles of their local supermarket questioning their successes and their abilities and when they see a lumpy, scarred orange roll on the floor under the vegetable stand, they feel a deep connection to that orange because it may look dirty and messed-up on the outside, but maybe it tastes good on the inside. Maybe it’s better than you think. Maybe no one in the entire supermarket knows how good it could be (if it went home, and sat at its desk, and tried harder).

Um, yeah. And I don’t even like oranges.

Or maybe real authors don’t wander supermarket aisles questioning their worth. Maybe there’s a pillowy cloud in the sky where the successful, searingly brilliant writers go to celebrate their success and searing brilliance. They have pomegranate cocktails up there, don’t they? Maybe when they write up on their comfy clouds, plot flows out perfectly formed from their fountain pens. Their stories move at great speed and show no cracks. They learned how to write a good book a long time ago and now it’s way too easy so they play table tennis all day instead.

Maybe if we look up into the clouds, we can see their toes dangling as they lounge about, taking their writing naps.

I say, don’t look.

I say—to myself, not to you, unless you feel like listening—let’s not bother with looking at everyone else.

When I was a teenager, like 14 or 15, someone once found my diary where I had confessed to wanting to be a published author. This someone scrawled at the bottom of the page for me to discover later these words that have followed me around all my life:

“Why would anyone want to read what you write?”

Why indeed.

So I’m up on my low-flying cloud (fine—I’m sitting in a squeaky chair), sipping water because I don’t see any pomegranate cocktail, thinking of ways to make my novel better. Now, if only there were someplace to take a break and play some table tennis… I’m terrible at it, but guess what? I still try. And, sometimes, I surprise myself and I’m better than I think.

Touching Ground

I’ve been home a week now. I’ve come back to responsibilities, and obligations, and stress, and static, and more static, and rejections, two of them, neither of which made me cry, but still: I’m disappointed. There hasn’t been good news in a while, it seems. I know I’m exaggerating, but sometimes the emotions take over and reality gets squished into a corner and you’re too taken up by the drama to let it out.

I’m just having a tough time. Blah, blah, boring.

Yesterday, I felt the weight of it all coming down on me so I did a terrible, evil thing. I napped. Toward the end of the day. I just didn’t want to have my eyes open anymore.

I had a dream.

I was back at the writers colony, my very last week there, and I discovered that there were two doors in my studio that I had never bothered to open. I opened the one on the left and discovered, to my great delight, that it led to a sweeping balcony all along the side of the house. I ran out into the open air, thrilled. Then I was immediately disappointed that I hadn’t bothered to check what was behind this door before this moment. I was about to go home and I’d only discovered it now. I was kicking myself.

Then I found, at the edge of the roof, this little contraption. A step to stand on and then a rope and pulley system to raise and lower it to another level of the balcony. I stepped on it and lowered myself to the second level of the balcony, but I couldn’t get it to stop. The rope plunged me down to the ground. Then I tried to raise it back up and stop at my floor, but I couldn’t get it to stop again and this time I rose up high into the sky, at the very tip top of the house, wavering in the bright blue sky.

I could go either all the way up or all the way down. There was no stopping in the middle so I could get back to where I started. I had no control over where I wanted to be.

The dream ended with me on the ground again, asking another artist if he knew how to get the thing to stop halfway. He didn’t. No one did. I was about to try once more—in the dream I was afraid of getting in trouble with the writers colony staff for messing up some antique lift system and mucking up its rope on the lawn—so I was just about to send myself soaring back upward, hoping I’d find a way to stop this time, hoping I’d find a way to get myself where I wanted to go… hoping, this time, I’d somehow know what to do.

Then E woke me up for dinner.

I opened my eyes and still felt the wind in my face, the beating of my heart as I sped up, up into the sky.

Slayed by Paragraph

Sometimes I’m reading a book and a paragraph just slays me.

I found one while reading in my writing room at Yaddo. I’d do this thing while I was there, this reward system: Read a story, go back to the desk and write. Write one scene, then I’m allowed back to the couch to read. Read one story, get up, write! Repeat.

Here is the paragraph, the opening paragraph of a short story, that slayed me:

Lately I’ve been thinking of that summer. We barely ever got off those ponies’ backs. We painted war paint across their foreheads and pinned wild turkey feathers in our hair, whooped and raced across the back field, hanging on their necks. Some days they were a pair of bucking broncos, or unicorns, or circus horses, or burros on a narrow mountain pass. Other days they were regal as the ladies’ horses, and we were two queens, veiled sultanas crossing the Sahara under a burning sky. We were the kidnapped maidens or the masked heroes. We braided flowers in their matted tails, dandelions and oxeye daisies that got lost in the snarls, wilted, and turned brown. We tore across the back field, our heels dug into their sides. We pulled them up short and did somersaults off their backs. We did handstands in the saddle. We turned on a dime. We jumped the triple oxer, the coop, the wall, the ditch. We were fearless. It was the summer we smoked our first cigarettes, the summer you broke your arm. It was the last summer, the last one before boys.

—From “Sweethearts of the Rodeo” a short story by Lydia Peelle, in the collection Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing

After reading that paragraph, my spine tingled. Memories surfaced. Something came to me. Something I wanted to write. No one even knows what this is, and it’s not so obvious at all when you read the paragraph, but when I read it back I remember it. My spine tingles again. I know.

What’s a paragraph that slays you?

Bid on a signed DANI NOIR & help support flood relief in Nashville

In response to the flooding in Nashville, three Nashville writers—Victoria Schwab, Amanda Morgan, and Myra McEntire—banded together to create “Do the Write Thing for Nashville,” a way to raise money for flood relief in Nashville by auctioning off critiques and more from your favorite authors, agents, and editors. It’s only day 2 of the auction and there are some incredible things on offer. To learn more and see where the money is being donated, see their original post.

Well, today I’m up in the auction! You can bid on a personalized copy of the hardcover of DANI NOIR plus a DVD of the classic noir movie GILDA, starring Rita Hayworth, and support flood relief at the same time.

You can go directly to bid for DANI NOIR and GILDA here.

And check out the main page for all the other items on auction—more coming in the next few days. For writers seeking critiques of your work, there are authors, agents, and editors offering their expertise to help support disaster relief.

So, go bid!