Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Right Place The Right Time

Laura and I embarked on our first research trip for Done Fell Out last Thursday at 12:55 am, returning home yesterday at 10:45 am. North Carolina and back in two days. Needless to say we are recovering and will write more than you'd ever want to know about what was an incredible, fun, and ridiculously helpful and productive trip in due course, but for now, you can follow our adventures in NC on twitter - just click here. We tweeted like mad women . . .stay tuned for next Friday's post.

Friday, September 18, 2009

It Takes A Village

We often think of writing as a solitary endeavor, picturing authors tucked away in some version of Walden Pond chewing on the end of a pen, or sitting alone in a dark room with only a computer for company while a highball sweats a ring onto the desk. Think Virginia Woolf in The Hours, William Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love, Mort Rainey in Secret Window (Don't know that one? It's based on a Stephen King novel about a disturbed writer, played onscreen by #1 on my laminated list, the delectable Johnny Depp. Psst, Johnny, call me.). And, yes, at some point every writer has to sit down without distraction and put pen to paper. But just scan the acknowledgements page in any novel, and it's clear "Writing" (with a capital W) is a collective effort.

So, even at the early stages, when your characters just begin to come to life, share them with others. We didn't do that when we first began writing The Pecking Order (fearful, I suppose, that this fragile little piece of art we'd carefully sculpted and polished and protected would shatter under criticism) and it was a lesson hard learned. Believe me, it's better to hear something doesn't make sense from a friend, over Pinot and manchego (and maybe some tangential discussions about Johnny Depp), than from a prospective agent declining to represent you. This time around, we're sharing chapters of Done Fell Out as we write it, and it's invaluable. So far, we've not only learned a pivotal plot point was confusing, but also that a peripheral character interested readers and may warrant a bigger part. And yes, in case you're wondering, just like every Kindergartener knows, sharing is easier said than done. You need to find encouraging people (family, friends, other writers) who are comfortable expressing their true opinions, but also gentle in their delivery. And, if you're the type of person who feels bad saying no to telemarketers, and thinks you've done something wrong if a stranger doesn't smile at you, you'll have to develop a thicker skin (although, if you 've been sending work out and receiving rejections for any length of time, your skin could probably already deflect bullets). Maybe start by reading to your dog. Most of all, you need to have a well-working internal filter, so you can take in the useful comments, and expel anything that is harmful or doesn't further your vision. Remember, all consumers of art have different tastes and, ultimately, it is your work.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Falling Short

Laura and I agreed we would blog every Friday. This week was my week. It's now Sunday. We also agreed we would begin a series of entries about what we've learned on the path to (almost) publication. (See You Might Learn Something When You're Not Looking) This blog entry is not about that. My son had timed math tests on Thursday and Friday last week. I knew about neither of them. I haven't yet finished the book selected by my book club, I forgot sunscreen last weekend at the beach and now my face is peeling off in large chunks, and didn't hit my half marathon training goals this week. And to top off the week, I went to the air show here in Sacramento today. Our tent was next to the Thunderbird tent and I sat within earshot and arms length of Thunderbird No. 9, their female flight surgeon. Hot, female flight surgeon. Did you get that? She's beautiful, a surgeon, and a Thunderbird. The coup de gras of a seven day streak where I seemed destined to fall short.

And here is where I should close with a smidge of wisdom, a modest life lesson, or at least relate this entry to the struggle to publish our work, which really seems like it would be simple enough given the theme. But, listen people, I may fall short on a lot of points, but consistency isn't one of them . . .

Friday, September 4, 2009

You Might Learn Something When You're Not Looking

We had our first speaking engagement last weekend at a working retreat for writers (notice I didn't use the term "aspiring writers." Writer = one who writes. If you write, you are a writer - embrace it, live it, shout it from the rooftops!) hosted by the Writing Loft, a writing school here in Northern California. (And I can say it's our "first" speaking engagement because we've just booked another. This is humbling and exciting!) We drove up into the hills and braved the sub-Saharan heat (seriously, it was 106) to meet a diverse and inspiring group of writers. In addition to speaking, we helped critique their works in progress, one of us ate far too much pasta with cream sauce, and one of us was stalked the entire time by the biggest, hairiest, most persistent cat to ever pad the Earth.

All in all, it was a good time. But in the days leading up to the retreat, we were somewhat anxious (I know, I know - us, anxious? Shocking.) about our talk. What in the world did we have to offer? How to write a rambling first draft with no discernible plot? Lessons in the art of getting ahead of yourself (also known as casting the movie and planning the book tour with only 10,000 words on the page)? A slide-show of our numerous rejections, perhaps one of the largest in the hands of private collectors? So we put ourselves in the writers' shoes and asked what we would have wanted to know five long years ago, when our children were still babies, we were toiling away at the law firm, and The Pecking Order was just a twinkle in our eyes. And--Eureka--we discovered we've actually learned boatloads about writing, securing an agent, the publishing process, marketing, and the state of the publishing industry. In fact, we realized we had so much to say, we had to leave some things out. (Lawyers with a lot to say. Again, shocking, I know.) In the next few weeks, we're going to post some topics from the retreat, in the hopes that someone, somewhere might find them useful. Because I don't know about you, but I'd rather hear about the process from someone who's learned through trial and error (emphasis on the error, in those early days) and late nights and hard work than someone who tells of meeting their agent when they were stuck in an elevator together. Unless you plan on stalking agents and orchestrating power failures at opportune moments (which I wouldn't really recommend, you know, from a legal standpoint), that's just not helpful.

So, check in next Friday for the first topic, "It Takes a Village." For now, I'll leave you with the story that opened our talk - our story. People are always intrigued by how we came to write together, and how we can write together. For us, it seems so natural now; we are extensions of each other. As one woman put it at the retreat, we may have husbands and families, but the two of us share a special, rare connection. Maybe the stars were aligned or God was nudging us in the right direction or the dice just rolled that way, but for whatever reason we both ended up at the firm at the same time, as the only female associates with babies. And it was hard. Like, my hair started falling out hard. Like, I once was so agitated the phone receiver flew out of my hand and gave me a black eye hard. Like, we both often contemplated, at the turn-off to the parking garage, just driving right on by and applying for a job at Starbucks hard. The work, while high-level litigation, wasn't over our heads, but the management of life was impossible--midnight feedings and 6am diaper changes and 8am marketing meetings and noon visits to the lactation room and 7pm preservative-laden microwaved dinners for the family and 8pm screaming at the kids to get to sleep and 9pm treks back to the office once they fell asleep. Yea, that was hard.

One night Kris showed up at the office late, and I was the only other one there, toiling away on some motion or brief. And, God bless her, she'd brought red wine. Lacking any fitting travel container (because, as new mothers/professionals, locating your thermos is about as likely as having sex with your husband, which is to say it's not going to happen), she'd brought the wine in a baby bottle. Needless to say, we became fast friends. We talked often during those late nights about how litigation and motherhood was a zero sum game, about being stretched to the breaking point, about the absurdity of the large law firm where we lost valuable billable time each day doing ridiculous things like waiting for our secretaries to finish making the partners' vacation reservations or securing their tee times before agreeing to look at our work, or taking the three elevators needed to get us from the parking garage to the 23rd floor (a stroke of architectural genius, that one). At some point we realized we both had dreams of writing more than legalese, and we decided to try our hand at a book--fictional, but based largely on our experience. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I've gone on long enough at this point, so I'll leave discussion of how we write together for another time. Have a safe, fun, and creative Labor Day weekend. See you next Friday.