• 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.
  • Archives

If You’re Happy And You Know It

Some irresistible questions  from yesterday:

Setting aside the normal caveats–everyone’s different, there’s no one way to write–what do you tell your writers about outlines?

One size does not fit all. Men tend to like outlines. It gives them a false feeling of control. Women like underwires. Personally, I hate reading outlines. Anything that isn’t the writing itself bores me. Oh, they can be useful. I’m more of an index card and bulletin board girl myself. I know a  bestselling thriller writer who starts with a 100 page document of pure plot. I tell my writers: do what works for you. Wear pantyhose. Floss. Avoid scallops. I also believe a writer caught without a notebook should be shot. 

After a novel tanks, is there anyway to squeeze a few more bucks from it? Can I throw in a few werewolves, search-and-replace the character names, and try to sell it as a new book with a new title?  All good ideasOr, for non-fiction,  you can revise and update your book, throw up a blog, whore around writers conferences and squeeze a few more shekels out of it that way. 

Barring any contractual language that covers this point, is there any way to get the rights back from the publisher after a book has stopped selling but before it’s officially out of print? I know agents sometimes ask for the rights back, and maybe get them, maybe just foreign, whatever–does it simply depend on the publisher’s mood that morning?  I worked for a publisher who wore a mood ring and based all of his editorial decisions on it; first prints and marketing budgets were decided by the eight ball he kept on his desk, and reverting rights were left to the Ouija board. 

What’s the downside to changing pseudonyms every three months and selling each book as a ‘debut novel’? (Until one hits the list, of course, and then retroactively claiming all the previous titles.) If you get caught you’ll have to make love with James Patterson and his battery of ghosts (some of whom I hear are quite toned), or enter the writer’s witness protection program which is akin to being a waiter at Breadloaf.

What is the big industry association, the AAP? Do they suck at lobbying? Are they underfunded, idiotic, or just focused on corporate profits instead of the health of the industry? Why do I suspect that that’s a stupid question? The American Academy of Pediatrics is dedicated to the health of all children, even you, our darling August. http://www.aap.org/  Thanks.

Today I want to do something different. Instead of a comment, leave one sentence from something you wrote this week, if you like.                               

96 Responses

  1. After about five seconds, two things – no, three – had become clear. 1. Middle school students are smarter than gorillas. 2. I was out of dress code, and, 3. The fact that I was a possible new teacher visiting the school out of dress code was the main topic of conversation.

  2. “You don’t see it as much as you did when I was 29 cuz I can put up the facade and say the no nevermind words, but in my mind, the bullet has gone out the back of your head and taken 92% of your brain with it. “

  3. Sometimes it seems like they only let us vote to add some legitimacy to their crimes against The People.

  4. “When I unfolded the sheaths of tissue paper from the fancy pink box and saw the thick, luxurious, pale blue cotton terrycloth, I knew I was loved.”

  5. I used to be a book slut.

  6. From an email I sent earlier today:

    “I saw on Bloomberg that Texas Governor Rick Perry lost the 2012 presidential election on his first full day of campaigning (yesterday), when he accused Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke of treason if Bernanke were to take any further actions to do his job as mandated under law; however, the good governor does not yet know that he has lost the election, and is expected to continue campaigning in the full spirit of bringing the circus to every town so everyone may laugh at the clown.”

    • Ouch. But, oh so true. W’s a genius in comparison. The Republicans and Tea Party will love him. As a Texan, I apologize in advance.

      • It’s okay. I understand. I’m a Texan, too, though for many years I would not admit it, until finally one cold snowy night just outside the decrepit strip mall where I was undertaking my seventy-seventh 144-step program, I sank to my knees in the slush and confessed to it and all my other sins, for all the good it ever did me. Though I left Texas when W was still a drunken cokehead scraping the puke off his polo shirts, I am still tormented by yellow roses, hooking horns, and the eyes that are upon me. And scrub every night though I do, I still can’t get the damn spot out.

  7. They scrimp and save to take workshops from other failed actors–again, a Hollywood trope: if you can’t do, teach–workshops that are long, grueling nights spent pretending to be trees and statues and whores, workshops that culminate in under-attended showcases where blasé mailroom clerks from The Big Three smoke cigarettes in the parking lot, with their Prada loafers and their law degrees, and text furiously on their iPhones: At a gay work thing. Drinx @ Hyde later?

  8. “Why, set fire to the paper napkin of course! I would have stopped it sooner, but I was a little incredulous.”

  9. “I just shotgunned my mother, dude.” That sentence pretty much stands out over the past week or so. http://tinyurl.com/3gyjnwv

  10. The PTA mom sitting across the conference table looked at me like I’d brought a gun to the meeting when I said that being a mother wasn’t necessarily the most important job in the world, “I mean, it really depends on who the kid is.”

  11. He wrestles the monster to the ground, and then bashes its head in with his foot.

  12. “For her, quite likely, writing the memoir put a cap on the rest of her efforts, was a way of encapsulating her past, reducing its potency, guaranteeing her break with the family way, for having written and published this, she can no longer, if she were ever tempted, resume the pretenses that the rest of them still live with.” (From a short review for Goodreads, not quite finished yet, of Laurie Sandell’s _The Impostor’s Daughter_)

  13. I just learned there is a movie of THE SOUND AND THE FURY. With Joanne Woodward. I’m kind of in shock. Did you people know about this?

    Today I wrote this note to my husband. My brain is mush. So it’s the best I’ve got:

    “I’m guessing I’ll be home by 7. The dogs have been fed, no matter how much they pretend I’ve starved them. The puppy has not pooped a 2nd time, so you might watch for that.”

    • Shit. You guys are smart. I should’ve made something up. Reality’s a funny thing.

      P.S. I was thrilled, by the by, to read the outlines-are-dull-expose. I detest outlines. I detest the idea of having to create an outline. I’d rather pick my teeth with with George Bush’s dirty golf tees. Even when all those roman numeral lists were required in school, I’d write the research paper first, then fake the outline.

  14. I could never say where I came from in a single word like most people did: a place name, like a last name, defining a specific location, recognizable on a map.

  15. no comment. Techy problem. Sorry.

  16. He put his meaty paws all over me—the parts that were mine, the parts that were manufactured. It didn’t matter, we had blurred into one great connected ball of light. “Boss me!” I whispered breathy in his ear, “Tell me what to do. Tell me what you want to do to me.”

  17. Yeah, the thing about Misfits is it’s a great concept, funny, etc (the mainish guy is a British Shia LaBeouf which might get trite) – but as sometimes happens with concepts, they’ll need continuous high stakes or emotional stories to keep up with the expectation and having watched three episodes back to back, now’s the time to wow me, people.

    (Yep, that’s how my sister and I stay in touch. We talk TV. Excerpt from one of the emails I sent here today.)

  18. Judith slid onto the barstool adjacent to his, facing the impressive selection of single malts, single casks, and small batches lining the wall underneath unframed oil caricatures of the Rat Pack and the Summit– Sid, Swifty, Norman, and Peter included.

  19. Blank walks up the long, curving driveway. He moves through the shade of tree branches that meet above the road, a flickering cathedral. He rounds a final corner and there is the house. It is white with a gray tiled roof and a wraparound verandah, and faces the South China Sea.

  20. “All weekend I had been rattling around like an empty can in the back of a pickup truck and finally, someone had picked me up.”

  21. I am old. Very old. And on the whole, my life has been unhappy.

    But I surprise even myself when I realize, after 86 years, I am still not ready to die.

  22. Then there was the hunky advertising executive in Texas who used to get a kind of glazed-over look in his eyes and stare at my mouth and say, ‘Oh, you have such beautiful teeth’, in a low growly voice that meant a whole lot more than admiration of my teeth.

  23. You make sounds in the night
    like a child blowing on a glass bottle,
    and when the baby next door wakes at 1am,
    the two of you conduct a conversation
    like neighbours over the back fence.

  24. “And to top it all off this week, no more than 5 doors down the hill from the housette, you’ll find an ultra right wing, wacky, misogynistic CNN/FOX news political pundit bastard freak guy. As you can see this peaceful life of French funemployment has rendered me serene and free from judgement of others. I haven’t met him yet but I’ve seen him a couple of times now through the scope of my rifle. Oh now I’m just kidding. It’s a water gun.”

  25. Hoping the thunder in my chest would be lost on the tank-size beasts before me, I prepare to shoot the big-horned creatures.

  26. I keep telling myself that she was thinking “Good for her, she’s taking a moment to commune with Mother Nature.” But I think we all know what she was really thinking: “That crazy kookoo pants just took a picture of her feet.

  27. If I wasn’t genetically predisposed to a gambling addiction, I might just take you up on your suggestion; I can’t even pass a nickle slot machine without my heart starting to palpitate.

  28. “How about a Lego tie-in novel, do you think we could sell _that_?”

  29. “The third will be the “Bongo Edition” where I basically replace the name of the protagonist with the word “Bongo”.”

  30. “You want to stay out of her way when she’s on the bustle,”

  31. Fight or flight, I sprouted wings.

  32. May 17, 2011
    To whom it may concern:
    My name is Jennifer Lynn Barker. I’m thirteen years old. I’m writing all this down in case I get killed before I grow up and make a name for myself. I don’t mean a famous name. I just want to be somebody like a mother or a teacher or a Dunkin’ Donuts lady—the kind that smiles and calls everybody hon.
    If I do get killed and you find this, please send it to my mother, Rudy Barker at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women at 247 Harris Road, Bedford Hills, NY 10507.
    My mama probably won’t remember me, but she might. Maybe she’ll even cry a little.
    Yours truly,
    Jenny Barker

  33. Dear Day Job Coworker:
    Yes, I’m well and like you feel that summer break is much shorter than I recall from my own elementary days. As to your request–I spent several hours this morning combing dusty files that no one seems to have updated in the previous three years. I’m happy to say that the file you requested to help with what will surely end up a pressing legal fiasco was unearthed. However, despite the dearth of useless data and unnecessary paperwork that said file contained, the single document you are needing to protect your ass was nowhere to be found. I did manage to find several print outs of personal email correspondence that, quite frankly, you would be embarrassed to know still exist and in all likely hood complicate your case further. Please let me know if there are any other once-a-year-here’s-your-free-coffee-kick-off-the-new-year events I can forgo in order to help sort out your past years of incompetence. You know I love to help people.

    All the Best,
    The girl who didn’t write any fiction this week because she is frantically trying to organize her new office and get to know an entire school full of faculty.

  34. Dusty lies were told in broad daylight between women of a certain age, for no one wanted to spend their time consoling her about her son, in a dimly-lit diner smelling of

  35. Dusty lies were told in broad daylight between women of a certain age, for no one wanted to spend time consoling her about her son in a dimly-lit diner smelling of cheap, rose-scented perfume, old grease and the rampant failure saved for those old enough to get the early bird special.

  36. ”And of course if some people didn’t put themselves before everyone else in the shelter, it’d make a raid on the co-operative farm a lot easier to pull off–but then, we’re not all reading from the same page, are we, Taryn.”

  37. “According to Norman Vincent Peale, to be successful, I have to be Christian.”

  38. “Amid the clutter my eyes landed on a tube of toothpaste, its cap off, rim and tube streaked with the sticky blue stuff, still on the dresser where she had left it before rushing out that last morning for a ride in a friend’s small plane.”

  39. “I learned you’re not supposed to abbreviate the word association as a-s-s.”

    • (laugh) Actually, I think you may be onto something – I have worked and/or volunteered with several such organizations claiming to be associations, but “ass” is a more accurate description!

  40. “If I were to become pregnant again, it is not autism I fear.”

  41. “I will tell you about the final days–giving her morphine that my father wouldn’t give her because it wouldn’t make her better, changing her soiled clothes and bedding, cutting her underwear off her because I could barely move her by myself when my father threw his back out, dabbing her lips with water when she couldn’t swallow, holding her hand and saying she was a great mother and grandmother, because dying simplifies relationships, telling her she could go when she was choking on her final breaths, her eyes glazed over and staring off into the unknown, my father begging her to stay while I told her she could go, we would be ok, there was nothing to worry about anymore.”

  42. Anton Chekhov had a theory that if there’s a rifle hanging on the wall in a book’s first chapter, by the second or third chapter it will be fired, and I have a corollary theory that if a book has a dog as one of the main characters, whether it’s a novel or nonfiction, by the end of the book that dog will die.

    • Your theory is correct. It’s called The Ol’ Yeller Syndrome.
      Which also leads to another example of the syndrome when Lassie never came back. She fell in a well and Timmy didn’t understand what all the barking was for so he didn’t run home to June Lockhart and warn her. Timmy ran off with June Cleaver because, frankly, he loved the Beaver. But that’s another story.

  43. Benitez went into the E.R., shaking his head and cursing whatever god was responsible for the end of the Cold War and the consequent military downsizing that had reduced his dreams of battlefield glory to a life of dispensing menstrual aids to the homeless women of Manhattan.

  44. After losing the appetizer competition by the heartbreakingly narrow margin of three chalupas, Ken swore revenge.

  45. “Buy a new wardrobe two sizes up, so you have something to fit your ballooning ass after all the time you spent sitting on it.” — from a banal blog post entitled, “How to Write a Book,” which I wrote instead of writing a single word of my book.

  46. Her pretty voice lifting up the name of the Lord the way fluff comes off old dandelions in a breeze.

  47. Wicker and velvet at sunset with wine
    was all she’d ever wanted, gazing now above the red and white of carnage as the xeric altitude
    chaps her lips, the taste is bile, and she knows the kisses will always hurt.

  48. Ooh! Thanks for this.

    “He was a foreshadow, and then a shadow, and then…
    He was three gaping black eye holes and a nose and a grotesque grin of too-big teeth and too-little lips.”

  49. Mitch liked to say that only fools rush in and that was why he only sauntered whenever he entered a room in a kind of half-assed dippidy-do that was somewhere comfortably between effiminate and off-the-charts flaming.

  50. “Two cocktail waitresses carrying trays filled with drinks pass between us and Gil says, ‘I’ll teach you Black Jack, it’s the only game where the player’s odds are as good as the house,’ and one of the waitresses laughs.

  51. So now the question is do I still trust my twenty six year old self to make that decision on the behalf of my twenty nine year old self?

  52. “With T-fal Actifry, you can create healthier and delicious meals for your family, using just one tablespoon of oil.”

    • So of course I blocked and copied T-fal Actifry and took it to Google right away, where it scored about 210,000 results, some of them with pictures. The things you can learn from Betsy’s blog!

  53. In the last several months, it seemed that my son’s unhappiness had intensified. “You’re so stupid, you wouldn’t even be able to make it through preschool!” he yelled at me one afternoon. I resisted the urge to laugh, knowing he wouldn’t see the humor. But part of me recognized something familiar in his anger, the fury of his powerlessness.

  54. Is this just a test to see if I wrote anything this week?

  55. And in the early days, she’d enjoyed his scrutiny. A running commentary – you look good in yellow – that made her feel noticed in ways she hadn’t before or since. The critique grew bolder over time. Leave your hair down. Wear a belt.

  56. Nathaniel dug deep inside the crack of his ass as he walked, desperate to scratch at a rash that only the combination of skin tight leather pants and ninety percent humidity can create.

  57. Strange expressions appeared from nowhere yet from a deep grunting place that was almost an abstraction weren’t it also so recognizably primal.

    Does it make sense? Is it what they call purple?

    Strange expressions appeared from nowhere yet from a deep grunting place that was almost abstract were it not so recognizably primal.

    Is this version better/worse? I felt it worse because it wasn’t the way the thought appeared in my head.

  58. We regarded one another for a moment before the irony of it hit me; he looked like an axe murderer, yet I was the one holding the axe, which I’d just used to decapitate my dinner for tonight.

  59. “The bright color distracts from my hair net.”

  60. “Her name is Louise.” Marcia did not pose this to Angela as a question but spoke it as statement to herself about answers to prayers unuttered, about signs and portents.

  61. “Having a father who owns a bank is not like having a daddy who owns a candy store; you cannot simply walk in and help yourself to the safe.”

  62. So many people ignored the “one sentence” requirement.

  63. Great, I gotta sit here on the patio sweating like a dancing Baptist while Charlene stuffs her big-ass feet into green heels with three margaritas under her considerably loosened belt.

  64. Waves of harried insects wash across the path, fleeing the fire, and I feel as if I’m walking through the end of the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: