I AM THE UNRELIABLE NOVELIST

Bonus Excerpt: Chew On This While I Move The Plot Forward

I’m sure you’re as sick of the stakeout as I am at this point. Let’s hit the fast-forward button! I need another week before I can get us to a new spot in the plot (ah the perils of writing beginning-to-end).

In the meantime, a little suspense…

Tess has finally spotted Neal outside 15 Romolo – along with someone she didn’t expect. She’s sending Kee in for the recon.

(Catch up on the plot here. Meet Tess and Kee here.)

********************
Tess’s project manager mode was in full effect. “There are two people I want you to keep an eye on in there. The first is obviously Neal. You’ll recognize him from the picture. He’s with two enormous dudes wearing awful Etro shirts. You won’t miss them.”

“Right. Who’s the second one?”

“A small, bitch-eyed woman with a sleek dark bob, red lipstick and a tattoo of birds flying across her shoulder. Strapless black dress. She looks sort of like Jennifer Aniston if she was a Marilyn Manson fan.”

“And what am I supposed to be watching for?” Tess was suprised to see Kee taking not just mental, but actual, notes.

“Sit as close to Neal as you can. Eavesdrop like hell. I want to know who he’s talking to, about what and where he’s going. As for Vic - that’s Goth Aniston - I want to know if she’s spending any time with Neal. And if she’s not, then what is she doing? Is she watching him? Or is she just on a regular old date and I’ve turned into a paranoid lunatic?”

“I have some of my own answers to those questions, but I will let the evidence speak for me.”

“Very funny. Now get down there.”

"You’re not a very bright person. I could tell you had no idea what a chaise lounge was."

How to End a Date – and the Week – and an Era.

The dialogue in this video is TOTES NSFW, so wear your headphones if you’re at the office or you don’t want your kids to ask you what “anal” is.

It’s completely irrelevant to novelizing, except that sometimes when you’ve glued your butt to your Herman Miller chair, allowing yourself to write what you know is vom-inducing prose (like so bad that your best friend will have to ERASE IT FROM YOUR HARDRIVE if you die in a freak accident) in order to hopefully, maybe, someday spit out something glorious, you need a good chuckle break.

Especially on the eve of welcoming both man and chaise lounge into your abode, turning your back on such dating follies forever.

PS Thanks JPatt! You know just what I like.

Moving Day

You might remember a few months back when my tiny apartment was featured on Apartment Therapy. Well, the day has come for this Hen Pen to become a Cohabitation Pod. Believe it or not, my dude is going to wedge himself in here with me for a few months while we foment our next plan to take over the world.

Which means:

a) I’m packing up my desk and moving it six blocks to a little office I’ve rented. Goodbye amazing view to stare at while I write! Goodbye whole days without wearing a bra!

and

b) A couple of laydeez are coming over tomorrow night for one last round of French 75s before this place is infected with boy cooties*. Lemme know if you wanna stop by!

*I love you, Honey.

Plot Poll #14: Tame the Tone.

(We’re still on the stakeout, if you can believe that. Catch up on the plot here. Meet Tess here.)

Tess punched the seek button for the hundredth time. Nothing but auto-tuned songs she’d never heard before and threadbare hits she never needed to hear again. She felt sorry for anyone who had to listen to this crap. Between Kee’s label releases and Sirius in her car, the soundtrack of her life was preprogrammed.

A welcome riff popped up somewhere near the middle of the dial. In an instant she was lying on the floor in her teenage bedroom, a beached starfish letting the weight of Beck’s maudlin lyrics press down on her. It was May, and she was certain she was the Lost Cause. Barbara’s knock was barely audible over the speakers. Tess registered the swish of air as her mother opened the door and quietly starfished herself beside her.

“It’s going to be okay, you know. Your father and I didn’t go to Ivy Leagues, and it hasn’t made us any less successful.”

“I just worked so hard. For nothing.”

“Oh but it wasn’t for nothing, Honey. What do we always say? Hard work…”

“…is its own reward. But it isn’t! It didn’t work! And now my plans are ruined.”

“Oh Tess, Sweetie. Plans can’t protect you from disappointment. In fact, most of the time they’ll guarantee it.”

“So what am I supposed to do then? Not plan? Fine. I’ll just be like, whatever, all the time forever.” Even she could hear how teenage she sounded.

Her mother’s eyes were soft. “There’s a happy medium. Making plans is important. But you have to be ready to adapt when things don’t go your way.”

“So like, have a Plan B?”

Barbara smiled at her daughter, tucking a defiant blonde lock behind her ear. “Something like that.”

The memory resurfaced again and again. Was it was because she had learned something important, or because her mother, for once, had been motherly? Where Tess made plans, her mother clung to beliefs. Barbara’s endless theory and rhetoric created an intellectual forcefield between them, one she used to deflect reality when it didn’t suit her.

She would shit if she could see Tess now. Barbara had never approved of Plan A (meet guy, fall in love, get married, live happily ever after), and a Plan B that included the additional steps of spying and what? begging? did not constitute persuasive selling points.

Tess had told herself that she just wanted to see Neal in the flesh, to know for sure that he was okay. But now reality presented itself like the giant sinkhole it was. What would she say to him? “Hi! I was just staking out your favorite bar, incognito, so we could talk about our relationship”? Or “Hey, um, that was sorta lame how you text dumped me”? Or wait! How about “That break-in at your apartment inspired a new career in home security”?

If she had climbed into a time machine and gone back even three days to alert Recent Past Tess that her Near Future self was about to beg a man for a second chance, there was no way RPT would have believed it.

**************

Ah, Tone. You sticky widget you. I started this novel with ‘lighthearted romp’ in mind, but many of the ideas and situations (esp those forthcoming) have turned out more substantive than originally planned. Basically, even a lighthearted romp, when written by me, is going to contain some heavy thinking. Since I trust your opinion, tell me please:

Things You Should Know, Week 21

One of the best secrets about writing novels is that reading novels is an official part of the job. That means I can spend a whole Monday morning soaking up Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning prose and not feel guilty about it AT ALL.

It’s oh-so-sneaky and delicious, as if I’ve found the world’s biggest loophole. Sorta like writing off the cost of said books on my Schedule C. But we’ll save taxes for next week.

Anyway, after two solid years of shuffling half-heartedly through genre fiction to get my bearings on the industry (spy, chick lit, YA, anything bestselling with a female protagonist), returning to my beloved literary fiction feels like I’ve discovered books all over again. Synapses are in overdrive, zapping open forgotten cubby holes in my brain. I’m haunted by sentences whose importance I haven’t quite parsed yet. And contrary to what I feared, reading her inimitable prose did not make me despondent about my own abilities. It made me want to aim higher. 

So there’s that. Only time will tell how it pans out.

Things You Should Know, Week 21

One of the best secrets about writing novels is that reading novels is an official part of the job. That means I can spend a whole Monday morning soaking up Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning prose and not feel guilty about it AT ALL.

It’s oh-so-sneaky and delicious, as if I’ve found the world’s biggest loophole. Sorta like writing off the cost of said books on my Schedule C. But we’ll save taxes for next week.

Anyway, after two solid years of shuffling half-heartedly through genre fiction to get my bearings on the industry (spy, chick lit, YA, anything bestselling with a female protagonist), returning to my beloved literary fiction feels like I’ve discovered books all over again. Synapses are in overdrive, zapping open forgotten cubby holes in my brain. I’m haunted by sentences whose importance I haven’t quite parsed yet. And contrary to what I feared, reading her inimitable prose did not make me despondent about my own abilities. It made me want to aim higher.

So there’s that. Only time will tell how it pans out.

Genre Research: Plot Synopsis of a Classic Chick Lit Title

Chubby girl is continually criticized and eventually abandoned by her father. Grows up. Feels inadequate … forever. Or at least repeatedly and at great length throughout the rest of the book.

She breaks up with a boyfriend who doesn’t sound that awesome because, presumably, she doesn’t think he’s that awesome. Regrets this decision … forever. Or at least repeatedly and at great length throughout the rest of the book.

Said ex writes a Cosmo article titled “Loving a Larger Woman”. This embarrasses her deeply, and yet, makes her want to get back together with him.

Meanwhile, she joins an experimental weight loss program led by a hot, nice doctor who is clearly attracted to her, but she fails to notice because no one can possibly love a fat girl.

Ex has moved on, but she somehow manages to get pregnant with his baby anyway.

Hand-wringing, heartbreak, etc etc.

She sells her screenplay to Hollywood with the help of her new skinny famous actress BFF. Gets expensive haircut. Has pregnant hijinks with movie stars. Buys diamonds. Confronts father: he still doesn’t love her.

Runs into ex and his new girl at the airport, is mean to them, gets shoved, slips on kitten heel, hits belly on bathroom sink, wakes up with preemie baby who may turn out retarded and/or die. Oh, and no uterus. (No chick lit novel is complete without an emergency hysterectomy?)

She blames her ex (naturally), goes mildly insane, starts taking long walks and forgetting to eat and shower. Voilá! She’s skinny for the first time in her life. BUT SO SAD. (And smelly.) Because we all know that being skinny doesn’t make you happy.

Eventually she’s rescued by the hot, nice doctor who loves her soul. Gains weight back. Baby turns out normal. Said doctor proposes on last page. They’re a family! Everyone is so happy!

Oh, and she has a rat terrier with a discerning personality and her mom is a lesbian.

Oh, and I feel like my humanity just got sucked through a crazy straw and spit back into the cup.

THE END

Plot Poll #13: Cap the Madcap?

Because it’s been eons (because I am lame), let’s do a quick recap:

Tess has been text-dumped by Neal under mysterious circumstances.
She refuses to accept this ending, recruits Kee to fly up to SF for a stakeout.
They are wearing borrowed uniforms and driving home security patrol cars.
Kee is stationed outside Neal’s apartment in SOMA.
Meanwhile, Tess is outside 15 Romolo, Neal’s local watering hole.

Unsure what else should go down during a stakeout, I proposed some options.

You picked:
"One of them is approached with an unrelated security emergency and chooses to rise to the occasion."

Et (three weeks later) Voilá!

********************

Kee’s voice punctured the silence. “Dude, requesting backup! Emergency!”

“What?! Is there a sighting?”

“No time to explain! Just get your arse over here!”

“Housekeeping, tell me what’s going on! Housekeeping?” Tess could hear the rapid fire of Kee’s impractical footwear on concrete.

“Don’t worry, Darling! I’ll get him!” Kee responded.

The same mishmash of emotions Tess had been chewing all morning caught in her throat. They’d found Neal! Now what? But then Kee’s tone gave her a double take. Flirtation seemed to ooze out of every syllable.

“Get who? Kee? Kee! You’re supposed to stay in the car!”

No response. The heels continued their clattering pursuit.

Tess glanced at the door, considering her options. It didn’t surprise her that Kee had ignored protocol – to invite her anywhere was to invite a certain amount of chaos. But this was the first time she’d been handed the attire and weaponry to do official damage. And if it was Neal she was chasing, Tess sure as hell wanted to be there for the capture. She turned over the ignition and sped toward her friend.

Meanwhile, the running had stopped short. “Hold it, Turkey!” Kee announced, triumph in her voice.

“Kee! What the fuck is going on?” Again, no response. Was the button on her walkie-talkie stuck? Tess tried to imagine, while launching her Ford Focus over the crest of a very steep hill, exactly what kind of scenario could merit such Charlie’s Angels conviction.

Kee was panting fairly heavily now and mumbling to herself. “You’ve messed with the wrong cop, Bub!”

“You are not a cop!” Tess yelled back, crisscrossing lanes through an intersection. Oh god, just don’t pull out the stun gun, she pleaded telepathically.

A high-pitched “EEEEEEEEE!” was followed by the thud of body weight hitting pavement. Grunts and rustling. Then the same reedy voice screaming “Get orffa me, Lady!” If that was the Turkey, it definitely wasn’t Neal. Tess breathed a sigh of relief. Who was it then? Man? Woman? Clown? Muppet? In the good news category, Kee seemed to have the upper hand.

“Give…me…the…PANTS!” heaved a very out-of-breath Kee. The closer Tess got to the scene, the farther away she was from understanding the crime. Pants theft would be bizarre enough. But when Kee said pants, she meant British pants. As in underwear.

“They’re mine!” he shrieked. It was definitely a man, Tess decided, and he was definitely drunk.

“They are not! I saw you nick them!” accused Kee as Tess crossed Market Street.

“I was doing my laundry!” he replied, marbles in his mouth.

“Liar! I’ve been watching that laundromat for six hours and you only just appeared!”

Tess zoomed around a corner, narrowly avoiding a MUNI bus.

“Why have you been watching the laundromat for six hours?” came a deeper voice, this one clearly male, sober and confused. And also not Neal.

“Oh! Well, I was handling some official, erm, police business…” Kee’s syrupy flirtation had reappeared, but this time it flowed more like molasses. Another thud landed very near the speaker, then more rustling. “Hey! Get back here!”

Now several sets of feet were off and running. “I got you once…” Kee declared. “I’ll get you…

BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

…Again.”

A single pair of non-stilettoed feet sped off. Then silence.

“Kee!” Tess yelled in vain.

The signal cut out for a terrifying three seconds. Then Kee spoke to her. “Barmaid, I hope you’re on your way, because I can’t carry this body by myself.”

Tess turned the corner just in time to see what she meant. Kee was standing over a disheveled-looking bearded man lying flat on his back on the sidewalk, stun gun in her hand.

Tess screeched to a halt and ran around the car. What she had assumed at first glance to be a homeless dude was in fact a blue-eyed, flannel-clad hipster. And there wasn’t a pair of underpants in sight.

“This is the Turkey?”

“No, it’s Rob. How do you know about the Turkey?”

“Your walkie-talkie transmitted the ahem, altercation, in its entirety.”

“Oh,” she said, staring at the device. “Well in that case, the Turkey got away. We were in pursuit, and I nearly nabbed him! But then I, erm, accidentally zapped the victim instead.”

Ten minutes later, “Rob” was slumped against the backseat of Tess’s patrol car, parked behind its twin in the alley across from Neal’s apartment – and opposite the laundromat where Kee had witnessed the theft of “Rob’s” “pants” from a dryer. She hadn’t actually met him, but after watching him expertly separate whites from colors, lovingly fold his boxer briefs and stare come-hitheringly at his laptop between cycles, she had decided not only that his name was Rob, but that he would be her next conquest.

“Well then maybe you stunned the right guy after all,” Tess suggested through a mouthful of gummy bears.

“Oh yes you’re a right laugh, aren’t you,” Kee mumbled while Googling the average recovery time from a 5.8 million volt stun gun.

**************

While fun to write, this scene’s a bit too Lucy and Ethel for me. What do you think?

Things You Should Know, Week 20

My grandma turned 90 yesterday. Firecracker though she is, I spent the whole lunch (on a rooftop terrace in La Jolla with no umbrella) worrying that she was going to get heat stroke. 

She didn’t! 
So therefore…

OMG FINALLY 
a full, undisturbed day of writing.

The last two (insane, overscheduled, traveltastic) weeks mark the first time since November that real life has gotten so totally and unavoidably in the way of this here novel.

I HATE IT.

Which, glass half full, is a good sign. 
Heyyyy avoidance: you have been replaced. By guilt.

Things You Should Know, Week 20

My grandma turned 90 yesterday. Firecracker though she is, I spent the whole lunch (on a rooftop terrace in La Jolla with no umbrella) worrying that she was going to get heat stroke.

She didn’t!
So therefore…

OMG FINALLY
a full, undisturbed day of writing.

The last two (insane, overscheduled, traveltastic) weeks mark the first time since November that real life has gotten so totally and unavoidably in the way of this here novel.

I HATE IT.

Which, glass half full, is a good sign.
Heyyyy avoidance: you have been replaced. By guilt.

Inside My Brain Right Now:

Must finish stakeout scene!
Must post to blog to prove I’m not dead!
Must avoid blog until finished with stakeout scene!
Must bang out client deadlines!
Must buy editorial assistant/cat litter!
Must eat baby carrots and hummus!
No! Put down the snacks!
Ooh what’s on Facebook!
Stop it! Focus! You’re so behind!
What if I fail?! 
What is the meaning of life?! 
Where do baby carrots come from?! Nyan Cat theme song!

BOOM. MY HEAD POPS OFF MY BODY. High-res

Inside My Brain Right Now:

Must finish stakeout scene!
Must post to blog to prove I’m not dead!
Must avoid blog until finished with stakeout scene!
Must bang out client deadlines!
Must buy editorial assistant/cat litter!
Must eat baby carrots and hummus!
No! Put down the snacks!
Ooh what’s on Facebook!
Stop it! Focus! You’re so behind!
What if I fail?!
What is the meaning of life?!
Where do baby carrots come from?!
Nyan Cat theme song!

BOOM. MY HEAD POPS OFF MY BODY.

Dumpling Research

Say there’s a Russian picnic somewhere in your novel.

Perhaps you want your protagonist to enjoy a tasty portable food product from said region. Like, say, a dumpling type item.

Here’s what you’ll need to know:

a) Pirozhki are the most common option – little baked or fried dough pockets filled with deliciosity.

Think the original Hot Pocket(TM).


b) These are not to be confused with Pierogi, Polish dumplings which are boiled before the bake/fry cycle.

Think potstickers.
(image from girlsguidetobutter.com)


c) Which are not to be confused with Pelmeni, a Russian dumpling traditionally served in broth.

Think wonton soup.
(image from foodinmouth.com)


d) And don’t try to dodge the P altogether by choosing Vareniki, because although delicious, these dumplings originated in the Ukraine.

Think vehicle for sour cream.
(image from shesimmers.com)


Upshot:
You should probably pick the Pirozhki, even if it means giving up that good joke you wrote about Russia’s universal condiment.

Word of Advice:
We sampled three out of four at the delicious Katia’s Russian Tea Room. In the same evening. I recommend don’t do that.

Things You Should Know, Week 18

Hale and Hearty Greetings, my friends!

This week I’m coming to you from Lancaster, PA, home of the Amish! (The Amish totally merit an exclamation point!) It’s like, seriously pastoral here. I’ll be hanging with a longtime client during the workday and novelizing into the wee hours.

Speaking of whoopie pies, I was ecstatic to have a little ditty on The Hairpin last week. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out for a rare glimpse into the gene pool that produced yours truly, and some sage advice for proper usage of the word TITS.

Tomorrow(ish) I’ll post some more stakeout action, per your votes. Speaking of which, have you voted yet? If you’re new here (hi Hairpinners!), here’s the fastest way to figure out WTF is going on:

Get the abridged version via Catch Up on the Plot. 

Cast Your Vote(s)! will pull up every excerpt to date, starting with the most recent poll. So scroll to the end if you want to read in chronological order. 

Thanks y’all! I’ll take pictures of farmland for you. 

Unreliably yours…

Things You Should Know, Week 18

Hale and Hearty Greetings, my friends!

This week I’m coming to you from Lancaster, PA, home of the Amish! (The Amish totally merit an exclamation point!) It’s like, seriously pastoral here. I’ll be hanging with a longtime client during the workday and novelizing into the wee hours.

Speaking of whoopie pies, I was ecstatic to have a little ditty on The Hairpin last week. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out for a rare glimpse into the gene pool that produced yours truly, and some sage advice for proper usage of the word TITS.

Tomorrow(ish) I’ll post some more stakeout action, per your votes. Speaking of which, have you voted yet? If you’re new here (hi Hairpinners!), here’s the fastest way to figure out WTF is going on:

Get the abridged version via Catch Up on the Plot.

Cast Your Vote(s)! will pull up every excerpt to date, starting with the most recent poll. So scroll to the end if you want to read in chronological order.

Thanks y’all! I’ll take pictures of farmland for you.

Unreliably yours…


Now I’m daydreaming about the skills I would add to my repertoire.

If you could choose a superpower, a kick-ass skill or even just some super accessories, what would they be? 

Obvi, taking possession of Salman Rushdie’s writing brain is first on my list. 

But on a more practical level, I could use the shit out of Wonder Woman’s personal grooming spin. Two slow-motion twirls and BANG! my hair is salon styled and my sweatpants and sleeping tee shirt have been replaced with an outfit of justice (support bra included). 



I mean, talk about useful.

Now I’m daydreaming about the skills I would add to my repertoire.

If you could choose a superpower, a kick-ass skill or even just some super accessories, what would they be?

Obvi, taking possession of Salman Rushdie’s writing brain is first on my list.

But on a more practical level, I could use the shit out of Wonder Woman’s personal grooming spin. Two slow-motion twirls and BANG! my hair is salon styled and my sweatpants and sleeping tee shirt have been replaced with an outfit of justice (support bra included).

I mean, talk about useful.