When somebody is from Guam, do you say s/he’s…what?
Guamian? And if Guamian, does that then get anglicized into rhyming with, say, Bahamian, so it's Gwaymian?
Or.............is that person a Guamite?
I was completely taken by surprise when Book Bytes Reviews suddenly had my book up for Book of the Week, an honor they probably only bestow, oh, once a week or so, I imagine.
There were five books on the ballot, and the other four were all from authors with a dozen books, and gigantic and rabid fan clubs. I knew I would be utterly flabbergasted if I didn't come in dead last.
You can then imagine just how gasted my flabber was when I finished third. Woot!
Thanks to all who chipped in to save my ego.
I saw this exorcism movie once where the exorcist explained to his apprentice that if he (the exorcist) could trick the demon into revealing his (the demon’s) name, he (the exorcist) would have power over the demon and could tell him to get the hell out, so to speak. Apparently this technique works well with demons.
It also seems to apply to fictional characters. It’s really important to get the name right.
I was unutterably wretched in the early days of And the Next Thing You Know… when I was working, without much progress, on an outline about Jeffrey and this boy he’d met named—Toby.
Nothing was happening.
I was convinced that I only had the one book in me and it was stupid of me to try to write another. About Toby. I never liked the name Toby. So I flipped through a list of names I'd been gathering and there at the bottom was--Theo.
As soon as Toby became Theo—easy enough to do with the “Replace All” function—I knew who he was, I knew his bluster and his insecurities and I understood his strange, self-absorbed, amazingly unaware snarkiness. The book started to come together. It was weird.
I own more name-your-baby-books than any parent, and, as noted, I keep lists. I collect names, from life, from TV, from wherever. Old friends, kids I knew in grade school, Jeopardy contestants.
I have lists of cute, attractive names; I have lists of douchebag names. Names for both Messrs. Right & Wrong, respectively.
Theo is a cute name. Toby has gone back into the cute-guy hopper to be used another day. (Oddly, as I work on this little piece, that name keeps crooking its cute-boy finger at me, and Toby may show up sooner rather than later. We'll see.)
Douchebags: I’ve never met a Brad who wasn’t one (sorry if that's your name, I'm sure you're lovely); Darryl is the obligatory douchebag in a new book, as Madison was in the last one. In that book I also had a conceited off-stage douchebag that Madison was hitting on, for whom I’d tried a few different names. He started out life as Sawyer. I changed him to Pennington for a while. That handy “Replace All” again.
Then one day I was having my lunch at my usual spot in front of the public library on Fifth Ave., and there was this—like a sign from God. Or at least from the little guy selling lukewarm soda in the kiosk on 42nd Street:
I’d never heard of Tanner as a given name, but Diet Coke wouldn’t lie. Obviously it impressed me—I took a picture of it.
Anyone named Tanner was clearly destined to a life of douchebaggery.
I’m not crazy about talking about what I’m working on, but since people have been nice enough to be interested, I’ll tell you that mayyyyybe I’m working on a third book in this series, and mayyyyybe this one is Tommy’s story. Maybe. The cause for my reticence:
What if I promise it will be this fabulously funny book, and it ends up being a miserable tear-jerker?
What if I finish the thing, and it stinks so bad you have to open a window?
What if I can’t even finish it?
And what if I say I’ll write a book about Tommy, and I end up writing a book about somebody else?
I’ve also found that if you talk about a project enough—the need to write it withers.
So I only talk to the dog.
The bad thing in all this is, I should definitely have another book lined up and ready to go by now, but I don’t.
The first two books came to me in fairly quick succession. After I’d placed them with Kensington, I intended to move on and start working on a third—but the process of getting a book to publication, which was entirely new to me, kept getting in the way. And I got to go through it twice.
After turning in a final draft on the second book, I took a breath—and the first book came back from the copy editors. How exciting is that! Well, it turned out it was exciting and extraordinarily frustrating. When somebody starts to tell you where to put the commas you’ve very carefully placed…grrr. I spent two weeks putting things back and leaving increasingly rude comments in the margin for the copy editor. (“If I wanted a semicolon there, I’d have put one there, you toad.”) I made my changes, did some rewrites, added some new material (because that’s what I do) and as soon as I’d sent it off—there was the second book back from the copy editors.
Same story, hit ‘send,’ and there in my in-box was the galley of the first book.
Also incredibly exciting. Now, I have to make clear, in case you don’t already know this (I didn’t), galley proofs are for corrections, not rewrites. This was explained to me repeatedly. I was expressly forbidden to make any changes to the text. Only corrections.
The thing is, I can’t stop myself—and the way I see it, if I make an edit, and that sentence is now better than it was because of that edit, isn’t that a kind of ‘correction,’ really?
I managed to slip some rewrites in anyway, and I dutifully turned in my marked-up galley.
Of course as soon as I sent it back…you see where this is going.
At each of these steps I would manage to make myself completely crazy with worry. What if I left something out that I shouldn’t have? What if I left something in? What if I think of a brilliant joke a week after the book has been published? (Which of course happened.) And each of these steps required at least one all-nighter.
Crazy or not, I’m glad I did all of that last-minute polishing.
For example, in the last round of edits on And the Next Thing You Know…, Enrique showed up in Jeff’s office to help with his left-handed mouse; and Theo, at brunch with Madison, turned to the neighboring tables to pull them into the conversation. Both new scenes turned out to be pretty funny, but they weren’t there until very late in the process.
This is my long and rambling excuse for not having a third book in the bag by now.
So. Maybe a book about Tommy. And here’s a secret for you:
Tommy is a crutch.
When I started writing the first book, I was utterly surprised when Tommy showed up, how specific his voice was, how he took over, and how funny he was without really trying.
When I started the second book, I didn’t really think I was going to be able to do it, so I dragged Tommy along. I knew if nothing else worked, Tommy would be funny. Tommy even had to change law firms, just so I could keep him around. And his reward? His own book.
We all know what happens to protagonists—they get put through hell. A happy ending has to be earned. It’s a rule.
That is, if I write a book about Tommy.
I want to thank everybody who said such nice things about my new book And the Next Thing You Know... in reviews, blogs and on-line comments in these last couple of days. It’s been overwhelming. I’ve spent two days just mousing and giggling.
It’s embarrassing really.
The dog finally had to leave the room.
I'm absolutely thrilled my second book And the Next Thing You Know... came out today. The reader comments on Goodreads have been crazy positive. I guess people really think it's funny, which is a huge relief.
When you're writing comedy, you're always asking yourself (or the dog) is that funny? Or just stupid?" In the theatre, of course, there are a few thousand people around all happy to weigh in and tell you what you need to change; and of course there is the ultimate test -- Previews.
Not so much with a book.
So you shoot blind, hoping that if you did anything really dumb, your editor would tell you.
So what a relief that people are getting the jokes.
What my kindle looked like when I got up this morning:
I don’t write sex scenes. Very nearly every gay romance I’ve read has sex scenes, some more explicit than others, but mine don’t.
Why? Because sex scenes bore me.
The truth is that when I’m reading, I skip the sexy bits. I just start flipping forward. They’re still doing it? Flip, flip…oh look, they’ve changed positions, flip…looks like we’re wrapping it up, flip…aaaand we’re having a chat. I start reading again.
Unless something untoward happens—a limp wienie, an outraged husband, and both of those are really tired clichés and I’m not going to read/write those either—I know at the beginning how the scene is going to end. I don’t need to hear the greasy details.
Which is why, in my own work, I dim the lights and discreetly end the chapter before anybody fumbles for that drawer in the nightstand.
The only time a sex scene has meaning, it seems to me, is when one or both parties are there for reasons outside of the usual love/lust. I can imagine that revenge sex, mercy sex, distraction sex, negotiating sex, could all have dramatic value and development. Otherwise? Flip, flip.
I just don’t care who’s the vase and who’s the flowers.
No, that’s not what Patricia Neal said to the alien robot to keep from getting incinerated.
An Explanation for People who Need Explanations
For the normal people among you who don’t spend your days staring at computer screens thinking of new and elaborate ways to torment a bunch of fictional people, I’ll explain—#NaNoWriMo is the hashtag for National Novel Writing Month, which is November. The month just past.
I have no idea whose idea this was or where it came from, but the goal for those who take part is to start from scratch (more or less) on Nov. 1, and have 50,000 words by the time Dec. 1 rolls around. Since thirty days hath November, you need to be averaging 1,666.66… words/day if you want to ring the #NaNoWriMo bell. (Slightly more if you plan to take a day off in the middle for Thanksgiving, but obviously only a wuss would do that.)
Sixteen hundred words a day isn’t all that rugged, provided you don’t do a whole lot of editing as you go. I am just such a writer. I just want to get it down and get on to the next bit.
If I’m clanking away at something, thinking “this really needs to be set up somewhere back in chapter 2.” I don’t go back. I make a big ol’ note right there, a note I can’t miss (bold, italics, flush right with a fat red box around it): “Set this up in ch. 2.” And I keep on rattling the keyboard, moving ever forward, laying down words like railroad track.
I might even be banging away, thinking “Hell’s bells, this stinks so bad.”
I do not let that stop me.
My motto: “Write through the garbage.” I figure I have the rest of my life to come back and fix it.
That said, 1,600 words/day is easily do-able, which is probably why whoever set this challenge up set it up that way.
When I’m drafting, I actually budget a mere 1,500/day, knowing I’ll make it easily. I regularly exceed 3,000. A glance through my journals shows I once cranked out 5,200 words in a day and I felt like Barbara frigging Cartland.
Accomplishing the daily wordage is, for me anyway, no big woop.
But here’s the thing—I don’t start a novel by sitting down at my desk and typing Chapter 1. That way lies madness. I start a novel by having an idea, and then I stare out the window, hoping for more ideas. For weeks. I need a good chunk of time to gather thoughts, imagine events, steal stuff, discard stuff, and refine the stuff I keep.
Given that I’m writing romantic comedies, I have an obvious target to write toward:
Everything that might happen in between goes on 4x6 cards, and I push those cards around until I have a sequence that makes sense, that gets me logically, credibly and amusingly to Point Z from Point A.
Only when I have that loose outline do I begin the process of drafting.
If I actually started from nothing on Nov. 1, the word total come December would be somewhere around zero-point-nil.
And I can knock out those high daily word counts only while I’m drafting—which I do for about six weeks before I find myself dabbing at my eyes with a tissue, typing the last lines of the book.
After the eye-dabbing and last lines and self-bestowed back-pats, the second part of the job begins: Rewriting all the crap in that first draft.
The problem with polishing is that it can’t be measured in word counts. I changed “ran down the stairs” to “rabbited down the two flights.” The net word gain was minimal. The improvement was huge.
I spent six weeks writing my first book, and then spent the next nine months rewriting it. During that second period, I would duly note the word count at the start of each day, and generally I would have picked up 100-150 words on the previous day. My point being: You can’t (or least I can’t) write 1600 words a day, every damned day.
Back to #NaNoWriMo
The idea of setting yourself that 50,000-words-in-a-month goal is fine, at least for the drafting phase. The biggest problem I have with it is the month has been randomly picked for you.
What if November’s there and you’re not ready to start drafting?
What if you’re ready to rock and roll in April? Do you sit on your book until November, just so you can be one of the hip #NaNoWriMo kids? That makes no sense.
I don’t want to take anything away from anybody here. If #NaNo is a helpful tool for you, terrific. If it gets you to move from thinking about a book to writing a book—cool beans.
For most novelists, writing is a lonely business. We sit alone all day listening to people in our heads. I’m lucky—I have a Scottish terrier to bounce ideas off, which is obviously beyond awesome—but lots of writers don’t (sad, but true).
So somebody invented #NaNoWriMo to give a sense of community (no matter how artificial or arbitrary it might be) to a bunch of people, who otherwise work in lonely isolation; a place to tweet your daily word tally and maybe get a few hearts for it.
But I don’t think I’m ever going to play along. Trying to schedule a book to happen in November—and only in November—doesn’t make any sense to this little writer-boy.
And the dog agrees with me.
If you're not absolutely certain of the difference between the verbs 'to lie' and 'to lay' in their varying (and confusing) tenses, forgodsakes ask someone who does know. Because you look really dumb if you get it wrong.
And if you think "between my wife and I" is correct, maybe literary work isn't for you after all.
Just a thought.
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Chase Taylor Hackett, a budding novelist chock full of witty and insightful observations on writing. And other stuff.