Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life Is Chock Full of Characters

This week The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pan answered questions about where writers get their characters.  The answers were insightful and entertaining, but in my experience, when someone other than another writer asks this question, they mean something entirely different.

When Redneck Goddess was published, the first question men friends who bought and read the book asked was some variation of:

“Where’d you get the idea for the stud your ‘main character’ couldn’t keep her hands off?”

By which they meant,

 “I know I’m the stud and the book is your public confession of your long time and barely concealed hots for me.”

Many of these men, bless their hearts, weigh well over three hundred pounds, are bald and have never heard of a nose hair clipper.  Okay, I made that part up, but, seriously, the love interest in Redneck Goddess is a hot young Latino with the personality of a sexy saint.  Come on guys, really?

Women, always more subtle, whispered some variation of:

“I don’t appreciate something I told you in confidence being put out there in black and white for the whole world to read."

Here’s the thing, the protagonist is a hot twenty-eight year old with flaming red hair and legs all the way to her ass.  I’m not sure why you think the book is about you and the waiter at the Mexican cafĂ© who poured an extra shot of Padron in your margarita when you tipped him a Franklin on Cinco de Mayo? 

You get the idea. The need for friends and family to define the book by their influence on you just seems universal.  It’s the same conundrum as that old query, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

It is difficult for friends and family to look past ME to see the book, the message.  I don’t know why that surprises me.  

 For twenty years didn’t I hear the surprised exclamation, “Wow, your boys are really smart?  Is their dad a major brain?”

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen

Writing is a solitary addiction.

Because of my craving for writing time and solitude, I’ve never been a person to have many friends.  I held people at a distance, my emotional force field protected the real me. Like any addict, my addiction was my life.  

So, imagine my surprise when I found, not one, but four women to share my writing journey.  From agonizing over plot, through the publication process and the challenge of marketing, these four ‘sisters’ have eased my pain, sharpened my skills and just generally made my life more joyful.

A few months back, we officially became The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. Our first speaking engagement was yesterday at the NW Arkansas Writers Workshop Conference.  Our hope was to get our message across AND to entertain.  I think we accomplished our goal.  

Ruth Weeks started us off by acting the part of a humble, frightened writer trying to pitch her work to a snooty agent.  Thirty seconds in, she flung off her jacket and revealed more bling than Liberace.  And cowboy boots.  Hot damn, those boots of hers.  Ruth strutted a demonstration of stepping out, believing in yourself, and making the magic happen in your writing career.  I mean, the woman showed us how it was done.

Once Ruth had folks fired up, it was my turn.  

I pointed to my tiara. Yes, you read that right. Touched the giant, gold star hanging around my neck, whirled my feathery pink boa.  I held my book over my head danced and yelled, I’ve been published!  My sisters yelled and stamped their feet and threw confetti. The celebration lasted approximately thirty seconds when Ruth, holding a sign that said Reality Check stepped up and, foot tapping, demanded my lovely glittery crown and my adorable star.  The bitch even took back my lovely pink boa. I spoke on the reality of having a book published and likened the experience to running a small business.

Next, Jan Morrill acted out a skit she’d written about how, while the rest of The Sisters took that fork in the road marked Small Press and skipped happily to publication, she choose the road to New York Publication and spend a year waiting for the phone to ring.  This presentation came complete with the song Let it please be him. It must be him.  It must be him bursting forth into the conference room to demonstrate her reaction each time the phone rang while she waited and waited to hear from her agent.  My favorite part was when she skipped down the path to stardom in her sunglasses, the frames of which were in the shape of glittery gold stars. 

In stained chenille robe, pajama bottoms and soft, fluffy slippers one of her dogs may have chewed, Claire Croxton demonstrated what happens when you sit down to write, but first, just for a minute, you check your email and your favorite blogs.  Social Networking is vital to building a platform after all!  As Ruth moved the hands of a giant clock, Claire tapped on her laptop, commented on blogs and just networked her little heart out until the clock showed eight hours had passed and she hadn’t written a word on her new novel.  Claire spoke on managing your time.

Linda Apple stepped up with a rubber snake around her neck which, like Marlin Perkins with the giant Anaconda, she successfully wrestled into submission.  Her opening line was “Most people would rather wrestle a poisonous snake than speak in public.” She then beautifully demonstrated how to speak in front of an audience with ease and grace.  Linda spoke on the importance of building your platform as a writer.  

Lord, did we have fun.  Who’d have thought that a lifetime of living in my own solitary little world, mainlining words and struggling to reveal the truth through fiction–who would have even suspected that this would bring me into the glorious company of a sisterhood like this?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Times Change

I have three sons.  They’re all grown men now, but in the 1970’s, from the time the oldest was about three up until they discovered girls, the older two boys were obsessed with the question:
Could a person jump from the Empire State building into a pool of Jell-O and live.
Answering this burning question required many trips to the local library where they learned, serendipitously, thousands of interesting answers to questions they hadn’t even thought to ask.  
A professor of physics at Humboldt State University met with them, talked about interesting stuff like variable terminal velocity and demonstrated the practicality of math and physics.
They sent a letter to the Jell-O’s headquarters. The company didn’t have an answer to the boy’s question, but they did send a coupon for free pudding.
Basically, my boys still argue about this burning question (though admittedly now it’s mostly after a beer or two) and the only thing they’ve ever agreed upon is that the first to try the jump should be their youngest brother.
Here’s my point.
Today, a child would find the answer to this interesting puzzle on the internet.  She or he would learn a lot of miscellaneous information while ciphering the answer.  Of that I have no doubt.  But, almost certainly, the child would do this research alone, in his or her room and any interaction with people would be through tapping on a key board.
And that’s a shame, I think.  Not just for the kids.  But for the parents who miss out on these adventures in learning with their children.
Well, times change and every generation bemoans the loss of the past. 
The other day I stopped at a garage sale on the way home from Walmart and an old couple was selling one of those blood-red sets of Encyclopedia Britannica.  One whiff of that book glue and dust and the feel of those old pages under my fingers and I was transported back to a simpler past.  A time when the world was a place I discovered every day, right alongside the most important people in my life