I always think of this little poem from Rudyard Kipling.
Going into WWI, Kipling was a hugely pro-war idiot. That was until his son was killed at the Battle of Loos—the kid was only 18—and RK realized how wrong he was. I think that makes this little poem that much more devastating.
From Kipling’s Epitaphs (1914-1918):
If any question why we died,
Tell them—because our fathers lied.
File under “New York Stories.”
Late one Sunday morning I was on my way in to work—it happens—and I was walking down a largely deserted Sixth Avenue. Tourists were over on Fifth for the shopping, or over on Seventh because of Times Square, etc., but Sixth was quiet and all locked up.
And I could hear bagpipes. Bagpipes? The sound got louder as I walked, until there, in front of a building set back from the street and up a few steps, stood a young guy with his pipes. He was probably around 20, totally cute, and all kitted out from the silly hat and the kilt, right down to the socks and the wonky shoes.
The Scottish boy wasn’t playing at that moment because he was busy posing. A tourist couple (judging from the bows, they were Japanese) were taking his picture, and the kid really threw himself into it. He puffed his chest out and tossed back his head with these red curls, and the couple took several pictures.
And then, amid more bows, they gave the young bagpiper his phone back and went on their way.
In this era of selfies, I probably shouldn’t have been that surprised—but it still made me laugh.
I recently read a horror novel, nameless here forevermore, that was, to put it mildly, not terribly good. I was slogging my way through this thing, having a really hard time keeping my eyes open for more than a couple pages at a go, and I was hoping I was close to the end of the thing, when the book finally scared me.
I turned the page and my blood ran cold.
There, in bold print, stood the terrifying words:
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:
WATCH THIS SPACE.
Chase Taylor Hackett, a budding novelist chock full of witty and insightful observations on writing. And other stuff.