Friday, July 31, 2009

Falling Out of Perspective

A word about perspective--the precious, elusive thing that it is. Like wisdom, it usually comes with age and almost always too late to do anything but nod your head with a wry smile and lament what you could have done better. I could give you a number of examples, but most of them are simply too personal for this blog, so let's take an easy one--my ill-fated move to North Carolina at the age of 26, the day after I graduated from law school.

Let's be clear--I am not the faint of heart when it comes to moving. The child of an Air Force officer, I'd had seven houses and seven schools by the time I was fifteen. You do the math. So showing up in a new place, receiving the stares, the whispers, eating alone, faking nonchalance, disinterest, confidence, ingratiating myself to strangers, learning who to ask questions and from whom to stay away--all this was bred into me as strongly as my love for all things coconut (other than car air fresheners) and Jim Croce music, which is why I braved the first move of my married life with, well, what I thought was perspective.

As my husband and I drove the Honda Accord and Toyota Landcruiser from Arizona to North Carolina, it didn't occur to me that I hadn't lived in the south for, oh, 18 years. That I had become, in my own mind, a native Californian, that even Arizona (where I attended law school) was a little too far from home and right of center for my taste. I won't bore you with details of how difficult the move was and I'll only briefly share something that happened while I worked as an assistant public defender in a small, rural, town on the border of North and South Carolina and, if you think there's not much difference there, you're wrong.

After months of losing cases, trying to help clients with problems neither I nor anyone else could likely solve, and feeling generally eroded by representing the indigent in criminal court, Mary Jane Bryant's case was called. She was in her fifties, dressed to the nines--meaning she wore a bra--and charged with larceny for stealing lipstick, lingerie, and condoms from Kmart (I'm not making that up). It was not her first offense and a conviction would mean jail time. Not a lot, but I'm not sure the amount of jail time is really any one's first concern. As I was heading to the courtroom for her trial, one of the probation officers came running in and said "Mary Jane Bryant done fell out again!" And there she was in the middle of the courtroom, pretending she'd fainted, trying to stop her eyelids from fluttering, waiting for the ambulance, or whomever, to pick her up and cart her away to another day of freedom. It was mildly funny at the time, but more than anything I was concerned with what the judge would say because, you see, Ms. Bryant had apparently pulled this stunt a time or two.

I don't know what happened to Mary Jane Bryant and her larceny case because I quit my job and moved back to California to take the bar and start my career here. I wanted to leave North Carolina quickly as I could, but once I arrived home, I found myself talking constantly about this place I'd just spent the last two years. And now, with 8 years behind me and yes, you guessed it, a little perspective, I wish I could have seen the situation for what it was--a brief, colorful period in my life that would produce dozens of ridiculously funny memories, not to mention be the inspiration (one of them) for our second novel, Done Fell Out. If it's ever published, I'll be dedicating my portion to Mary Jane Bryant.

Unrelated post script - please note for the record my dear friend, you know who you are, the change in title. You can rest easy that there will be no raised beach scenes or purple cursive writing on the cover of this novel.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Random . . .

I am vexed. Perplexed. It's like I have been hexed. (Straight outta 8-mile, yo). Bad rhymes aside, a few things are troubling me lately because of their nonsensical nature. Because they defy rational explanation. Because they are so random. Why, for instance, are there so many dead snakes on the side of the road I take to work? I get that snakes crawl out of the fields to the hot asphalt at night. I get that these unsuspecting, moonbathing serpents are likely hit by cars. But why do they end up on the side of the road, just on the shoulder? Are they flung there by car tires? Do they slither slowly off the road after a mortal wound, only to collapse and die once they cross the fog line? Is there a roving band of snake killers in python boots veering off the road to take them out while the rest of us sleep? Again, it vexes me.

Here's another one. I live in a small-ish town. I have a fairly tight circle of friends and acquaintances. Yet, I know at least five different women-bright, lovely women-who sell Mary Kay products. Do any of them really think they'll sell enough to earn that pearly pink Cadillac? Have they heard of market saturation? Yep, perplexed.
There's one more, and it's the most troubling, the most random, the most explanation-defying, the most likely to prompt an audible "WTF." I work in a nice office. We have cake each month to celebrate birthdays, baby showers for employees, and potlucks every now and then. We are courteous and professional to one another. We have adjustable office chairs, ergonomic keyboards and Vista on our 27-inch monitors. We don’t wear open-toed shoes, skirts above the knee, or bare shoulders. And yet, one wall of our employees-only bathroom (which is decorated like the public sector version of Las Vegas’s version of a cathedral, complete with faux-paint, stenciled border and tri-color light) is covered in . . . wait for it . . . boogers. I know, right?! WTF?

These things pain me. I need the world to make sense. I soak up order and patterns and logic. And, yet, I recognize our blog has had no discernible posting pattern. Sometimes we post twice a week, sometimes once a month. Well, no more! From now on, dear readers (all 5 or 6 of you), we post every Friday! Fictionlimbo Fridays are here!

And now that you can breathe that huge sigh of relief, I'm interested to hear what vexes you . . .

Friday, July 17, 2009

Vomiting with Precision

So I've been boycotting my own blog. I'm not sure why. Maybe I should have known it was coming considering the last, bitter entry I penned, i.e. Pity Party. The party, however, seems to be over and I thank Laura for continuing to post on our behalf. Good woman, that-not-quite-a- cougar-but-she-will-be-all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips-in-five-years (see Choose Wisely) dear friend and writing partner of mine. Now, onward.

During my blogging hiatus, I observed at coffee shops, read interesting books, took my son and a friend to Folsom Lake (yikes), all of which could have inspired a blog entry. For example, I sat down to begin an entry about bumper stickers after I saw a quintessential, silver 1980’s Fiero (did they actually make them after the 80s?) with a spoiler and a bumper sticker that read “I’d Rather Be Driving a DeLorean ”. Awesome. There were so many things to say I had no idea where to start with that one, so I didn't. (But stay tuned, I still think there’s valuable stuff to mine on the topic of bumper stickers).

Where I will start is the same old place we always start—writing. Last week, I was editing the first two chapters of our second book, currently entitled Star Struck, when I noticed that we used a certain word three times. This happens when two people write together, whether it’s subliminal, by happenstance, or because we are of the same mind when it comes to choosing words. Whatever the case, it happens more often than we even realized. Take vomit, for example. Laura has mentioned (Warning! This Post May Self-Destruct!) that we couldn’t seem to get enough of vomit in the Pecking Order and, as it turns out, there’s not a great substitute for vomit. Puke is too coarse, throw-up is awkward, hurl is too colloquial, and so on and so forth.

In the first two chapters of Star Struck, we used the word precise twice and precision once. And as I was pondering a good alternative (I have yet to come up with one, by the way; precise sounds so crisp and neat its hard to replace), I realized that the difference between the words vomit and precise captures the difference between our first and second books, not only in terms of the style in which we're writing, but the way in which we're writing it. The genesis of The Pecking Order was two vignettes - one that discussed a giant fruit of the type a farmer ties to his flatbed truck to haul down to the county fair for the big blue ribbon prize (or something equally ridiculous); and a second about being lost in the grocery store in the middle of the day. After these two vignettes, which had nothing to do with one another (both were cut from the final draft), Laura and I proceeded to upchuck (see, I've learned my lesson) all over the computer screen, trying to cleanse our souls of the big firm litigation experience by writing about it. Upchuck writing: cathartic, yes; glimmers of brilliance, certainly; plot producing, no. So, and you know the story by now, we cleaned ourselves up and set about making a book of it.

We've done things differently with Star Struck, which, as an aside, is a title subject to change (a dear friend of mine scrunched up her face and said "Jackie Collins" when I told her). Before putting proverbial pen to paper, we toiled over the plot, sketched out major and minor characters, giving them birthdays and histories and quirks and hangups, and debated tone and point of view longer than you'd believe and definitely for more than several Sponge Bob episodes. Dare I say, we've approached it with--wait for it--precision. And it shows in the writing and the ease with which we edit and move on to the next chapter. The writing gods willing and the creek don't rise (method writing, I suppose - some of Star Struck is set in the south), we'll be finished in five months rather than five years. And while we might repeat the same word every now and then, we definitely don't feel like vomiting.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Choose Wisely

A few words about word choice, inspired by my weekend.

I attended a wedding last weekend. In the evening. With my husband. Without my kids. With a full bar. So, you know, nirvana. I actually shaved my legs, plucked my brows, bronzed and glittered and coiffed, and poured myself into a far-too-expensive-but-worth-every-penny spaghetti-strapped cocktail dress. After dinner and cake and champagne, the dance floor opened. I didn't even care that my shoes hurt and I couldn't get very "low low low" in my tight dress. But after the fourth country song in a row, I did need a change of music. I shimmied up to the adorable DJ, and requested something rocking. I believe the exchange went something like this:

Me: Hey, Mister DJ, how about something rockin'? How about some KISS? (I may have actually stuck out my tongue and given him the "rock on" hand gesture and head bang. It's a bit fuzzy.)
Cute DJ: KISS? Who's that? I'm only 22.
Me, slightly slurring, patting aforementioned cute DJ on the arm, batting my eyes: I'm only 23 and I know who they are. Please?

So, back on the dance floor, what do you know, the DJ started playing Rock and Roll All Night. All of us of a certain age hooped and hollered, and the group I was with gave me high fives for asking. And then, it happened. Over the loud speaker, across the dance floor, the DJ said, "THIS GOES OUT TO THE 23 YEAR OLD COUGAR!"

Oh. No. He. Didn't. Cougar? Really? By definition, I believe a cougar must be in her forties. Me? I'm a young, perky 35. And I take issue with the characterization. In writing, and on the dance floor, for the love of women everywhere (and my ego), choose your words carefully. MILF would have sufficed, thank you very much.