Friday, November 30, 2007

Does Your Character Know Gym-speak?

I hadn’t been to the gym since the day after Halloween. When asked about my workout routine, the fictional response is, “Oh, yes, I go three or four times a week.” But the non-fiction version would be “Well, there was that week last summer when I did go three times--in a month.”

Revved up on a Monday, I’d planned to listen to A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon on my iPod (if you haven’t read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, the audio version is great), but when plugging the buds into my ears, noticed my best friend had lost its charge. And as luck would have it, I’d just finished reading the emergency backup paperback and the spare tucked in my car.

So, I joined the other midday fitness-geeks and hopped on an elliptical machine in front of the wall of flat screens. No sooner had I punched in my erroneous weight to track my erroneous heartbeat, then an elfish blonde hopped on the elliptical right next to me and said, “Hi! How are you?”

So shocked at hearing her voice, I nearly slipped off the foot pads. People don’t talk to each other at the gym. They listen to music, read magazines, watch the tube, or stare through a sweat induced stupor at their sculpted bodies in the mirror. But they don’t talk. Ever.

Anyway, she asked me about my remaining time and I confessed to having just launched toward a goal time of twenty minutes—since it had been a while, you see. She’d just returned from vacation with her husband and two-year-old (she looked young enough to be returning from sleep-away camp) and was aiming for her usual ninety minutes. I’m not exaggerating. She was trying to fit into her favorite size 0 jeans. “Good for you,” I said.

Normally I don’t share private information with strangers, but before the phrase none-ya materialized in my brain, this little imp had me offering up the name of my son’s school, his football position and my daily carpool schedule. I didn’t encourage her; swear on my stack of writing-bibles. I clutched the heart-sensor handles, encouraged my calorie counter, wiped the drip of sweat off my forehead, and offered the minimum requisite responses.
She asked if I worked (when you exercise in the middle of the day, certain assumptions are made. 1. You don’t “work” and 2. When you’re not at the gym, you’re shopping—but that’s another complicated topic involving the difference between a 1980 size 6 and a 2007 size 6) and I smiled and said, “I’m a writer.” (Because it’s oh so fun to declare that!) She’d never known any writers, but she had picked up a book last Christmas (by an author whose novels are written by inserting new names into a best-selling template) and was almost finished with it (ten months later!). How ambitious of her. I fought my reclusive instinct to dash for the exit and caved to my writer’s curiosity to stay and gather interesting character traits for my next novel.

She continued to yammer about her needing to return to daycare to pick up her child. If she’s late, even a minute, they’ll strike a big red check in the record book. She’d begged the teenager to stop the clock on the time-counter for the five minutes she’d been summoned to change her child’s diaper, but the teen-in-charge disagreed. This baited me, I don’t know why, but I asked, “They call you to change his diaper?” Well, this of course invited a discussion on which category of diaper deposit required a call back to the hive. And the method used to determine which category of deposit said diaper is carrying.

And before I could cover my ears and shout, “La, la, la, la, la, la, la…” (since diaper deposits are not my favorite topic of conversation), I had trudged past my twenty minutes and was nearing the twenty-five minute mark. I politely excused myself before she could ask for my phone number, address or bra size and made a mental note not to enter the gym between 12 and 2. At least not without a properly-charged iPod.

I hurried home, recorded her quirky traits and began plotting a book to put her in. As you can imagine, I’ll be entirely too busy writing to get to the gym.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Book Futures

Not being a techie, visits to the big-box computer/entertainment/stereo store always led me to smaller sections of familiar items such as books and DVDs. I’d anticipated a recent night of shopping to be no different, actually looked forward to the pre-holiday bustle. After scanning the movies, and miraculously walking away without picking any up, I slid by the end cap of latest rap CDs and meandered toward the book aisle, murmuring coordinates to my husband who pointed toward his destination, namely the “serious-person’s speaker sector.”

Though not usually first-run or best sellers, this big box could be counted on to house a few titles destined for my must-read list. But upon my approach, I scanned the shelves to find three formats of video games, one on display with the guitar-joystick that has ensnared legions of players—some my age!

I marched through the box-maze, inspecting the shelves, wondering to which area my precious books could have been moved. Confused, not even stumbling upon a how-to manual for a cell phone, I trudged toward my husband and the stereo aisle, where I was asked to choose the best resonance from two identical sounding speakers. “Wow, that’s tough,” I said. “This one has a slightly tinny sound.” By now I knew the lingo, even if my ears failed me, and I knew months of online research would take place long before he’d commit to and purchase a set. Did I mention the professed tinny-sounding speakers were eight feet tall and resembled the Egyptian pyramids?

Checking out with my conciliatory candy bar, I nonchalantly asked the twelve-year-old behind the counter, “What happened to the books?”

Not knowing that his words would demean my very existence, he said, “We’re all about the future here.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To Pitch or Not to Pitch

Maneuvering my book-stuffed carry-on by the first class seats on an airplane is always nerve-wracking for me. First, I imagine I’m sprawled in one of these seats, sipping a scotch on the rocks and hiding the wince at the sting on my throat while pretending it was my drink of choice. Then, I try to avoid eye contact so the man yelling into his blackberry doesn’t get the impression that I wish to be as important as he thinks he is. But this time, after waving to the (hopefully) sober pilots, my eye caught a familiar sight–8 ½ by 11 white sheets, one-inch margins, twelve-point font, and name and page number in the right top corner. The black-clad, funky-eyeglassed, spiky-haired woman flipping the pages could only have been an agent or an editor, right? I strained my eyes to read the name on the manuscript but, not having received my new not-funky-eyeglass prescription, the letters were blurred fluff. Time for my pitch.

Before attending a writer’s conference, we’re told to practice our elevator pitch. That one line that will sum up the brilliant novel I’ve agonized over for ten years. As I walked past the wide, cushy seats that day, words rolled around on my tongue, curling into a wave that would spill out onto the publishing gatekeeper’s tray table. But then I realized that cornering an agent on an airplane would be as rude as following her into the ladies room and offering toilet paper under the stall—with my pitch scribbled onto it. So, I swallowed my words, joined the herd and squeezed into my seat in the back of the plane.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Read and Write

My first blog post: Normally, when traveling, I stuff my carry-on with layers of books – you never know when you’ll be held hostage by an airline on the tarmac, say, for twelve hours, and have to crack open your third novel. But having more free time than expected during my stay, I’d read three and a half out of the four novels I’d packed. Sarah Stonich’s The Ice Chorus, a touching book I would have been happy to reread immediately, was packed in my luggage, hopefully somewhere in the belly of the plane, as was another beauty, Ann Packer’s Songs Without Words. Another I’d discovered I’d read years earlier and while an enjoyable, light read, it was clearly forgettable. So, I boarded my almost three hour flight with about 150 pages remaining in How to Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward. I finished half-way over Tennessee and liked the tragic story and honest prose, but was not in the mood to flip back to page one. So, I’m doing what my father would have advised had he still been alive. I put down the book I’d just finished and started writing, in this case my new blog.