Half the Whole of It

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I posted a new food debacle on my other site, icantbelieveididthis, in which I confessed to the latest kitchen horror involving meatloaf. Maybe the suspense was too much about how I salvaged this hot mess:

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Or, perhaps, the blizzard conditions outside kept people inside bored crazy and reduced to scrolling through the internet for anything at all amusing. Whatever, I received a ton more likes from this than most of the Scraps postings concerning all my hand-wringing over writing and the story I’m working on now. Not only is the subject matter on I Can’t Believe This  different but the voice and style is, as well. If I’m honest with myself, these are factors in why my food writing found an audience while my straight writing remains obscure.

What can I say…both writings and blogs are equal halves of the whole of me. Every time I face the blank screen/page it’s like putting me in a paper bag, shaking me up, and be surprised at what tumbles out.

Moral of this story: Lighten up. Enjoy everything I do. Find humor after a day of slogging in the trenches. Not everything I write has to be serious.

Getting It Together

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This is the cover of the Clare and I collection on wattpad.com.

Publishing the book on-line has been a pain in the neck. I love the opportunity and the possibilities digital printing offers but, for each site I’m on, there’s a whole new layer of technical capabilities/directions/rules/kinks.  There’s probably very easy ways to do the things I want to do in these stories (see post below where I bitch about it).  I’m just not finding things as intuitive as I personally, in my very stubborn idiotic way, think they should.

All of which is to say–publishing is never easy.

I read an obit recently of a mystery writer who for most of his life had incredible success–big publishers, huge following, awards, etc. Fifteen years ago, he started to branch out, wrote scripts for his books, thinking they’d be a breeze to sell to some movie producer: didn’t happen. Meanwhile, he decided he was going to write something other than  mystery novels–no one bought them.  He never published again.  He shot himself.

There’s a lesson here to remember. I suspect I may never be commercially published again. I’ll never make my long-suffering agent ecstatic, never get a contract, another advance, an editor who loves me, a galley to proof,  the weight of a physical book in my hands, the readings and fan letters. For a length of time, these things were the measure of my worth and then, like any other job, something happened. Things changed. Passed me by.  I wasn’t able to figure out what was wrong.  Maybe it couldn’t be figured out. It just was, and everything I did before appeared to be a mirage, at best a fluke.

I know what that guy was going through.

There were at least two times when I either symbolically (i.e. threw/burned manuscripts) or in reality (drinking; a lot of pills; walking into the ocean off Brighton Beach)  was going the way the mystery writer went.  The first time was after eleven long years where I couldn’t for the life of me get published–rejection letters; phone slamming down; editorial laughter abound concerning nearly everything I sent out into the world.  The second was a year after finishing up my last book, with three well received books before it.

Since then I’ve sent handfuls of proposals to my agent and talked up a lot of ideas with friends. Nothing panned out and another darkness was always hovering two inches away.  There was nothing artistically romantic about all this. My writing was pretty much all I hung my hat on. Family, friends, all of the rest of life didn’t matter at all–useless to them, useless in the world, a walking illustration of a foolish dud. I was coming up against what we all come up against–the limits of our youthful beliefs and the discovery of what we will, or will not, endure.  Eventually the good husband kicked me  to someone who knew what to do, who gave me the drugs I faithfully take every morning. It took six wobbly months for my head to clear and begin to find a worth beyond a book with my name on it.

All of which leads to Clare and her friend. The stories are coming at a pace of once a month, including obsessive polishing, although my husband says they need more proof reading, too. There’s no vanity in putting them out.  For all the hard work I’m putting into them, they could all suck, but perhaps they don’t,  even though the average number of readers hangs around 20.  About That Night, though,  got up to 35–but there’s graphic sex and a suggestion of incest in that one, which always helps. I think maybe my sister may briefly check in but I’m pretty sure my agent or any editors haven’t.

What the hell, though.   The girls are out there.  Last week, I even decided I’m going to start sending them out to magazines of all kinds. I haven’t received rejection letters in a while so this should be fun. The difference is, they won’t matter.

And you never know.  It’s better than the alternative silence.

Just for fun, here are the stories.

The Fashion Of the Day

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Swans

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Parallel Dilemmas: The Things We Have to Do to Get Out of Here

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About That Night

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Moms At Rest

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Writing 101–Clare’s Progress…..ECK!

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One of the best things about writing the Clare stories is that I don’t really care if they’re ever read or not.* I really don’t. I care about creating them, untangling structure, making sure the girls are moving along in their way. I spent weeks, daily scrapping away, on the second one after I realized Clare and her friend were sticking around (see below: that’s the one with the seven readers, in case you’re interested). But the reality is, I’m writing them for myself, publishing them online by myself, and not really paying attention to the current eleventh ring of hell which is publishing today. **

The third story I’m writing now shows what not caring does for me. Clare thinks artistically; her friend imagines numbers. One is seeing the world through her ability to make something out of nothing through art. The other puts order to the world and understands its mystery and beauty through numbers. They are sixteen, soon enough seventeen and they think about being dateless or oversexed, straight, gay, bi, or even a whole other gender/species all the time. But in no way do they think of all this as much as they are beginning to think about art and mathematics.

This is my memory of being a sixteen soon enough seventeen year old girl. My friends and I struggled harder to understand what our abilities were–and thus our worth–than our angst over sex, and what to wear, and who’s saying what about you and to whom. This is the age where the awareness of something else other than the outside world begins to push forward inside you and for girls it’s a make or break moment. Teenage girls have nothing and everything to lose and the outside world will either impede them or support them but they don’t know that yet. They’re on a high-wire and beginning to have dreams that will bring them balance or a fall.
Now, I could tell this third story straight but really it’s a complicated, loaded situation because it’s all in the girls’ heads and few outside themselves are aware of what is going on inside them. And yet, what happens to them now will factor into their eventual fates. Prose just doesn’t seem enough to me to explore this fully. So I’m using graphics and illustrations, clip-art, some photos I’ve put together, and am now contemplating embedding a vine, all strung along from one to another on sentences–clothe lines to pin them all together. Collecting the visuals and placing them together in logical sequence has been absorbing, confusing, and tricky. I am now about a week into it and I have to tell you, there’s no talking to me lately because I’m always trying to figure out the true way of portraying what is going on in Clare and her friend’s heads. ***

I’m hoping to tell the story of two girls diving into their real desires and realizing the shape of their true character. These two certainly will have a lot to overcome–as any child does–so whether they survive and preserve who they are is the real meat of these stories. I don’t think this is a profound thought or such an original observation. It’s the way I find to tell it that hopefully will put a different spin on girls growing up. ****

Yeah, self-publishing. It surely allows you to try all kinds of way to tell stories. I’m seeing about a month to complete it. Let’s hope it comes out. *****

*Disclaimer: Yes I do. I check the site where they’re on–usually in the dead of night or in the middle of the work day–and cringe: only 15 people, only 7 for the other!! What the hell!!!! Aughhhhhhhh!!!!!
** I once had a student that gave his high-paying job six months notice that he was quitting because that was when he expected the book he was writing would be sold for a gazillion dollars–including movie rights, of course. His story had everything, even a little sensationalism, notoriety and talent. That was five years ago. He has twenty drafts in his garage and he now works as a consultant. I tried to warn him but, you know, you have to get to this point all by yourself.
***I’ve been close to several budding artists, but I have no talent whatsoever that way. And I’m math illiterate–beyond illiterate, I’m actually an imbecile. This means I’m pretty much buried in discarded drawings and equations, and doing research on where Clare and her friend would be in their skills and what that may entail. As I said above–confusing and tricky. Oh, and very very anxious. This is a good portrait of me right now:

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****Seriously, that sounds so pretensions! So full of myself. What do I know–I’m an old lady. I can’t remember what it was like at forty, let alone sixteen soon enough seventeen. All I have is a box full of overheated diary/journal entries from high school that my mom mailed to me when she was cleaning out my room. Have you ever tried reading what you wrote when you were a teenager? It’s both embarrassing and fuel for a second martini. They’ve helped, though. I’m just waking up at night because of troubling memories and panic attacks over what was then and what is now.  Oh, wait, that’s the Clare stories right there in a messy ball–and they’re not even autobiographical, heaven’s no, not memoir either! Don’t say that!

***** You can weigh in on that one. But then you’d have to read it when I’ve uploaded it.

Writing 101: Can a Memoir Be About a Liar?

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One of the most pointed comments I ever received from an editor upon reading “The Invention of Marriage” is that it would be hard for readers to believe me if right off the bat it is revealed what a liar I’ve been.  I mean a big time whopper teller for much of my life with nearly everyone around me. I got away with so many lies that they became truths for me, my own actual facts about who I was. It was an addictive rush  to get people to believe me which, in turns, is the why my life became so tenuous and eventually led to a daunting crisis. It took me a long time to realize the damage my lies caused me and how they had warped almost every relationship I have ever had, most especially with my husband.  My marriage is the memoir’s scaffolding upon which I display what I have to lose if  I ultimately do not come to understand how bad the situation I created was.  It is the most basic tenets of storytelling–revealing what is at stake for the protagonist and how high the stakes are for her survival. The revealing has to come to some kind of resolution–not necessarily all tied up neatly but absolutely clear in its impact.  Why did I lie? How much chaos did it create? Will I loose the closest person to me? How will I begin to resolve even overcome this dilemma? This is my memoir.

I tell my students all the time that the power of memoir is in making a truth about life comprehensible. To accomplish this the reader has to trust  that you’re not manufacturing events, cutting corners, blowing what happened out of proportion.  The reader has to bond with you so your experiences becomes their own. The reader requires you to reveal enough of yourself to make them understand something about themselves.

Given this, I have to have a lot of faith that my reader will trust “Invention” enough to stay with me to its ultimate resolution.  That’s the risk for me–my reader’s belief of what I tell them about the cost I paid and what it took for me to find who I really am.  Forget the fact that family and friends will be horrified, may never forgive me for all those years of falseness. They either will or they won’t and I’ll have to come to terms with what I have done. But my reader has to care about me enough to look past my transgressions and keep her faith in me. This is why I confess to  the first lie I told my husband in the beginning section of “Invention” I posted a couple of weeks ago.  I want my reader to know  that I won’t cover up my faults, or make myself more likable in my deceptions, nor shy away from bloody repercussions.  I felt it was imperative I  stated up front what was the first lie I told my husband because I  want them to know I am telling the truth.

This second “Invention” section starts showing what a  fault line lying is already creating between me and the man I am falling in love with.

Fact or fiction: you have to believe me that this is a fair subject to explore in a memoir.

Check #2 out at:

http://www.patwillard.com/the_invention_of_marriage_105143.htm