• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Birds In the Trees Seem to Whisper Louise

Coming home from Miami  last night, my daughter was reading Are You There Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea. A far cry from Are You There God, It’s Me Mags. And yes, I bought it for her. Look, she knows about periods. I’m a bad mother. But when I was thirteen I was sneaking Harold Robbins novels from my best friend Lisa Zimmerman’s mother. God, those books were fat and racy. You could feel yourself up reading them.

I was reading a revision of a novel that went from humming to singing. That turned a caterpillar into an ocelot, a cougar, a  raven, a bat. I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding than seeing your editorial notes be received like a pint of blood. To see an author address your notes and hit the pile of cards hard. It’s a dance, a dip, a bow, a kiss It’s lightening in a bottle. It’s that feeling that you have understood and you have been understood. I am so inspired by writers who take a sad song and make it better.

What book did you sneak? And, for extra credit, how well do you take to notes for revision?

40 Responses

  1. Chelsea’s book is pretty damn hilarious.

    Usually a writer knows there are plot problems or where something isn’t quite working, but we’re too close to it to get a firm hold… you know, that whole pesky forrest/trees thing.
    Notes/red ink from brilliant, tough CPs and editors equals fresh air, a sticky grip, vision repair. I’d say I take revision notes with excitement.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Betsy.

  2. Mommy Dearest when I was ten, but I’m not sure it was a sneak, exactly—Mom had to give permission for me to get an adult card so I could check it out. To this day, I don’t know if she knew what the book entailed . . .

    No extra credit for me. Someday . . .

  3. Can’t say I look forward to them. But I put my trust in my agent and she knows what she can sell. I listened, I read, I revised. The book is now on submission. Hope floats.

  4. Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight, and I love good revision notes. Love.

  5. In eighth grade my friend Jayne brought her father’s three volumes of The Happy Hooker to school in brown paper covers, and we all took turns reading them. My memory of them was very sex-positive — I was a sheltered 13-year-old and had no concept of the sex work industry (or the ghostwritten memoir industry). I just thought it all sounded like a lot of lighthearted dirty fun, and it was probably good for me in some subliminal way.

  6. Oh, and if the notes are right — you can tell — I embrace them much as Xaviera did her varied clientele.

  7. What book did you sneak?
    Flowers in the Attic

    And, for extra credit, how well do you take to notes for revision?
    extremely well (for future reference)

  8. Ooo there are some good ones here. I didn’t sneak books because I had a bad mother too – lol. I read Mommy Dearest also at around age ten. Flowers in the Attic, and many Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins books in high school.

  9. penthouse forum.

    i take edits like a professional. i’m not afraid of work edits from someone who is curious. i dislike envy edits, though.

  10. I started reading when I was 3 and I have never been happy just sitting…I have to have a book in my hands. I can still remember picking up a book in my older cousin’s bedroom, opening to the middle and reading the line “You’re just another girl that’s been balled by Tony Jack” in I think Valley of the Dolls (?). I took a dictionary under the bed when I got home to look up ‘balled’ to see what it meant. And was even more confused then (it was an old dictionary). It was another couple of years before I got the courage to ask someone.

    Frankly, I love revision suggestions. Four eyes are always better than two. And, if it’s something I don’t agree with, it makes me realize how important those words are to me as I make the decision as to whether to ‘do it anyway’ or fight for my idea.

  11. And what’s perhaps equally satisfying as a writer is seeing the satisfied reaction when I share the revised version with the person who gave me feedback. Recently I was encouraged to go deeper into one relationship in my memoir. The editor couldn’t figure out why one relationship had ended. I think I was afraid of being self-indulgent, but this gave me the permission to take off one more layer and really delve into the heart of where the relationship broke down and that opened up the whole story in a new way.

  12. When I was eleven, I used to sneak into my uncle’s bedroom and “read” his Playboys. By the time I was 14 I was reading Sydney Sheldon and Jackie Collns books. I think I read “Lucky” in one weekend.

    • And as far as revision goes, that’s the MOST FUN — yes, call me crazy — of the whole writing process. That’s when all those flat words-on-paper of the first drafts start to become what they were really meant to be. It’s such a kick to see that happen.

  13. Sybil … way too early.

  14. My grandmother had a novel called Water of Life, which was so hot and juicy (I was barely 13 when I read it) that I couldn’t leave it behind when our family vacation ended. I brought it home with me. Stole it, actually. I still remember passages and they still make me hot. I read and reread The Happy Hooker and Flowers in the Attic, but I didn’t steal them.

  15. Forever by Judy Blume when I was ten.

    I just received my first official revision notes from my agent and I loved it. Almost every one made solid sense. Now fixing the things…that’s gonna take a wee more time.

  16. My all-time favorite sneaky book was SUMMER OF ’42. I also watched the movie while babysitting at 13 (after the kids had gone to bed, of course.)
    All of the notes from my agents/editors have been useful and fruitful. Even if I didn’t necessarily agree, the comments always opened discussion that ultimately led to a better book. I don’t think writers can work in isolation…especially when the book if finished from the author’s point of view. You need a fresh set of eyes.

  17. I used to not take critique well, but 2010 has been the year of coming down off my high horse and embracing change. I have worked with several beta readers and taken their advice. The only trouble is when two readers disagree! I have to go with my gut.

    I remember reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and then choosing to leave my Grandmother’s romance novels alone. 🙂

  18. No one else in my family read, so I never had to sneak. I read anything by Harold Robbins starting when I was around 12. The city librarian saved Peyton Place for me when I was in high school because she knew how I read. As for notes, they’re like special gifts you have to work to open.

    • I understand, JJ. No one in my family read either. I checked adult books out of the library and read them right out in the open. Nobody even noticed. If the librarian raised an eyebrow, I just said they were for my mother (who never read a book in her life).

  19. Helter Skelter and then later No One Here Gets Out Alive. Yikes, hope my girls will be sneaking Chelsea.

  20. Sixteen living with very Christian couple–in my foster father’s den bookshelf I found Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and devoured the thing under cover and in the precious to me privacy of my own room.

    I take notes and I run with them happily and warily I go.

  21. I’m looking forward to notes. So far I haven’t received anything workable. My stuff is either absolutely wonderful or someone is picking at something like ‘I grew up around roosters and no one would have been able to get close enough to hit one over the head with a shovel.’ Really? Or ‘The word seem is so unsure.’ Exactly. But, there are um, 79,999 other words… Anything else? Anything at all? Either I’m a genius or suck so badly that the task is too daunting. Where to begin?

  22. Then Again Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume. I got into a mess of trouble by asking my childhood friend if he had wet dreams, his mother called mine, I was banned from his household for a while, hilarious.

    Any revision notes would mean I had an editor, someone who knows way more than I know about writing. My only response would be “yes my queen, you are the ruler of all things”.

    • Just the word ‘notes’ fills me with revulsion. Since when are they ‘notes’? Are we on the same page? Is there a spine and a break into Act II?

      How well do I take notes? I take notes like I’d take my wife posting my picture on mockmyhusbandstinydick.com. Anyone who gives me notes is a cretin, the whole -concept- of ‘notes’–notes, like you might pass to a friend in homeroom or plink on a piano–is ‘look what happens when I stick a thumbtack into your toddler.’ They’re not ‘notes,’ they’re poisoned daggers, and not because I can’t take criticism, not because I’m oh-so-sensitive–which I’m not, I’ve got skin like a rhino, ask my dermatologist–but they’re not criticisms of how I dress or cook or fuck, they’re criticisms of the quality of my mind and the value of my life. Because that’s what’s on the page. Me. The only me that matters, and some shitwit in an office whose primary skill in life is not editing but getting a job as an editor is tattooing all my flaws and failures on my fucking medulla oblongata in the fifteen minutes between lunch and tweeting, while daydreaming about working with a literary author, on a project that, y’know, matters. They misspell a single word, that’s proof eternal that they’re incompetent amateurs. They don’t understand the sequence where the chipmunk loses his handkerchief? That’s fucking Shakespeare, that’s what elevates Chubby Chipmunk at the Circus above other breakfast-cereal tie-in novels to the level of classic fucking children’s literature, that’s the sequence that proves I’m basically Roald Dahl reborn, except without the anti-Semitism. Okay, with the anti-Semitism, fuck you. And that’s for -good- notes.

      For bad notes, I get upset.

      At least that’s how well I -take- them. What I do with them is something else.

    • I’m sorry, Bobbi, that wasn’t intended for you personally. I got a little carried away. (All I wanted to say is that editors are often good at identifying problems, but always terrible at identifying solutions.)

      • you want them to write the book for you?

      • If identifying solutions were synonymous with writing, I’d be a happy man.

      • And if I knew the difference between ‘were’ and ‘was,’ I’d be a successful one.

      • Interesting topic. Because on some level, it seems any solution has to be organic to the writing and therefore the writer. But on the other hand, maybe if an editor were/was really tuned into the particular piece, they might have an idea of solutions. I know I’ve been pointed in the right direction which is a big step towards a solution. I wonder what a writer should expect from an editor. I’d be happy if they could just disable my internet.

  23. Manchild in the Promised Land.

    Ball Four.

    I can take notes. Sometimes an editor can see that thing that barely registered, but as soon as he or she points it out, I can see that, yes, that was where the splinter was. Hell, sometimes it’s no splinter, it’s a two-by-four and I think, Holy Mother of Muses, how did that get by me, I’m so embarrassed.

    Other times, if I think I’m right, I’ll make a cogent argument for my position. If I can’t make it clear to myself why I made the choices I made and deployed the language in the manner I chose, then right off, before I even try to make my case, I know the editor’s onto something and I’d better pay attention, rotate the object, find a way in to resolve the difficulty or at least tease the splinter out. Or tear down the structure and rebuild if that’s what’s necessary. The end result is the thing–the shining, pure object. Doesn’t matter what it takes to get there.

    A mother who tells her daughter the truth is not a bad mother.

  24. Forever by Judy Blume….

    I love notes. Very few people can give good notes. It’s harder than finding a relationship….

  25. Erle Stanley Gardner books at age 12. I checked them out of the library in our very small town, and the librarian called my mother to make sure she knew what I was reading. I shall look forward to my notes and comments with great anticipation, because that will mean that I will have finally finished my book. Or at least the first draft.

  26. The Godfather by Mario Puzo. I was twelve or thirteen and bored to death during summer vacation.

  27. Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret (Blume)
    Forever (Blume)
    Oddly fascinated by biography of George Washington Carver, which I read about 10 times between the ages of 9 and 11 or so (didn’t have to sneak, though!).
    And this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Darkness

    If the edits are on target I’m good at accepting them.

  28. I got into a physical tug-of-war with my mother over Nabokov’s Lolita. And won.

  29. Good old Harold Robbins. I remember him well.
    On my teen reading list:
    Fear of Flying
    Flowers in the Attic series
    Go Ask Alice
    I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
    LIttle Birds
    The Women’s Room
    Heavy Metal, Oui, Cracked, Mad, National Lampoon (where I first learned about quaaludes and would then drawl “Luuuudes” whenever something struck me as funny)

    Notes are just fine.

  30. My mother took “In Cold Blood” from me when I was 8.

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