Third Time’s A Charm

I’m currently writing my third novel. So far, that’s been comprised of repeatedly rewriting the first two chapters and watching a shit-ton of Netflix. I think I’ve watched every British crime series available and have found myself in awe of how, in all this time, the English are forever without an umbrella during a rainstorm, never seek shelter from it and talk on their bloody cell phones whilst standing in a downpour. Of course, these are fictional Brits, but still, it seems to be almost a fetish and it’s slightly galling.

Friends have noted how much I’ve talked about the watching (I have a long “recommend” list) but not so much about the writing. I get it. It sounds like a whole bunch of procrastination. Sometimes, it feels that way, too. But, while I’m making the most of my Netflix subscription, there’s another kind of work going on. The internal development is happening. Characters are taking shape, coming into their voices, scenes are evolving, dialogue exchanges noted. While I might appear slothlike, curled up on the sofa, I’m actually getting things done. A good portion of writing doesn’t look anything like writing at all.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of being at a book club where TEMPORARY served as this month’s novel. A few attendees asked me about my process and smiled, eyes wide with curiosity about how something like bookwriting is done. I gave them the Sorkin line: “Sometimes, writing looks a whole lot like lying on the sofa watching TV.” The smiles remained but I did see their enthusiasm deflate. “Really?” one asked. “Really,” I answered.

I went on to explain that the more I write, the more I find it to be like a pregnancy — from what I know about that in theory. In the early months, you are exhausted and slightly nauseated. You know there’s a long road ahead of you and you have to take care of yourself as well as this creature you’re creating. You can feel the quickening and know there are parts growing, developing into what you have envisioned and becoming something of its own.

Then, there’s the phase when you are full of energy. You cannot wait to do all the things you want to do…and there’s so much you want to do! That’s when the nesting starts; you don’t want to leave your home because you have to focus on this creation, spiffy things up and fortify its world. It’s a glorious time. However, unlike expectant mothers, writers don’t have shiny hair and glowing skin. This is where we get a bit pasty from lack of sunshine and couldn’t be bothered with hair and makeup and all that jazz because we are creating.

Finally, in those last few months, you simply want it over. Be done with it. You want to push, push, push to get it out get it out get it out because you are puffy with it, exhausted by it and you really want to get back to your real life. You sleep less, make hard choices faster and are sort of unpleasant to be around because, if you are around others, you tend to resent them because how dare they take you away from the push.

When these kind ladies asked how long it took me to write it, the eight months made even more sense and I was slightly chuffed at the anaolgy I just delivered. (They were all mothers and I can’t tell you how much I appeciated those ladies embracing a book about an unmarried woman with zero desire for kids.) Yet, I’ve come to find that when asking a writer about their process, those inquiring expect something other than how much “Broadchurch” you’ve viewed while tinkering with a page. What I think they expect, and sort of deep down want to hear, is, “Well, there is a bit of human sacrifice involved.” No one wants to hear how boring and isolating it is in between the elation and accomplishment.

What’s making this a bit different for me is that it’s the first time in a long time (twelve years) that I’ve written a book not based on something else I wrote. TEMPORARY started out as an idea for a telelvision series with three episodes written; so, basically, a fair chunk of that had been sorted. I’d done plenty of original screenplays in that time, but those have a lot more white on the page than a novel’s manuscript, a set page limit and strict structure. Screenplays are easy. Novels are a bit more of a pain in the arse. It should be comforting that I’ve had the story for Book Three in my head for nearly three years — I know where it’s starting, how it ends and key plot points to hit — but there are over twenty characters, three cities and a five-year time span, and it’s going to get complicated. Really complicated. See why I’d rather watch “Marcella”? But no one sits down to write a book because they want to do it. Writers write because we have to.

In some ways, this book feels charmed by those challenges. While I’ve been digesting “River” and “The Five” and “Paranoia”, the characters are coming to life, making some of their own choices (sounds weird, but it’s a writer thing) and the world is taking shape.  But now it’s time to get down to business and start crafting the chapters, put those words and worlds and people on the page. I’m rather excited to see where it takes me.

There are threads that weave through each novel to connect them, and not just their ZIP code, but this is likely the last in the Venice series. The first novel was about success, the second was about failure and the third is about compassion. Keep an eye out for EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AT THE VENTURA COUNTY LINE early next year.

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Finding My Tribe

I’m the kind who will look for signs. A huge fan of omens, I’m always looking for a burst of neon to flash, “Yes! You are on the right path!” Sometimes, you just need that little cosmic hint. It could be something as simple as a Rhode Island license plate (a long story I’ll spare you here) or Journey shouting, “Don’t Stop! Be-lee-ee-vin’!” randomly while having a conversation.

There are times when it comes in the form of a dinner with a friend you’ve had for what seems forever, though you only met once a decade before, finally seeing each other for an overdue dinner that plants the seedlings of a collaboration. Or a stranger who sends an Instagram DM and a few days later you aren’t strangers anymore. A last-minute movie viewing ends up introducing you to two kindreds. All of these things, these signs, those omens, the little twists of fate that curve the road carefully so you can meet up with members of what is, and will be, your tribe. It’s rather a beautiful thing.

Tribes are important to have. They go beyond just your circle of friends to include colleagues, compadres and brutally honest mentors. These are your ride-or-dies and then some.

The month of June, so far, has been generous — despite its horrible losses. In the first ten days, I met nearly twenty new friends, three of whom are authors of the smart, funny, generous and open variety. All, but one, of these friends are women. My dance card has been full and I am wonderfully exhausted.

This came at a moment when I was somewhat frustrated in my attempts to get too many projects off the ground and feeling little support. (Trust me, I know I’m not alone in that.) They say writing is a lonely and isolating endeavor, but the times when writers tend to feel most lonely and isolated is when we are promoting our work. Not all of us enjoy that. Pushing your project and, in essence, yourself on other people isn’t fun. It’s Sisyphean at best. Friends are fantastically supportive, but even they can fall victim to battle fatigue when you are the kind who’s constantly writing a book while promoting another with a side project to piece together and plans for a podcast, and maybe — just maybe — starting a writers’ group or retreat. These good friends, who make up the heart of your tribe, try to figure out which part to champion because they can’t do it all, either. (Writers will wear you out.)

This is why it’s important to have a diverse tribe that includes creative natives who get the endless push, the mental lethargy and emotional exhaustion that comes with filling up a blank page.  You need those who are also paddling upstream while juggling grenades to help assure you that you are not alone, not even close. And that maybe — just maybe — you can get it (all) done.

“It’s nice to meet another writer who’s happy for other writers. So rare,” one new friend wrote.

That made me smile, but it also made me sad. There are still too many creative types who see it as competition. And that’s bullshit. (Allow me to point out that the two more successful writing genres are Romance and Mystery; those authors embrace each other in big ways.) Collaboration is much more fruitful than competition. There is room for everyone, so I say pry open the door, get your foot in and don’t be afraid to let someone enter before you. But, once you get in, reach back and grab someone else to lift up and through. That’s the best recipe for success. There is an unlimited supply of opportunity as long as we are willing to create more of it. Too often, though, folks close the door behind them. They don’t bother looking back, even to give a nod of thanks. They are greedy souls and no amount of success will fulfill them. While they might fight the urge to glance over their shoulders to see where their competition lies, they should really keep an eye out for karma instead. (And I know this behavior is not limited to writing/creative industries.)

“We have to stick together and support each other,” I told her.

“Totally agree with you!!!” she replied, followed by a series of empowered emojis. Yep. She’s in my tribe.

She has written an amazing memoir and is in the midst of getting a television series off the ground. I couldn’t be happier for her. That is an incredibly hard feat and an emotionally arduous process. It’s like winning the lottery, but having to actually build everything you want — house, car, plane — all by yourself while other people stand around and watch, wondering why you aren’t enjoying it more. It’s not something you can simply celebrate until it’s actually on the air because, like playing Jenga on a fault line, without doing anything at all, it can simply fall apart (shout out to the writers of “House of Cards” for having to deal with that last minute jolt, and those hoping to revamp the reboot of “Roseanne”). I want this deal to come together for her, pray that the pilot is picked up and it goes for at least five seasons on a premium network. I want her to succeed and do so epically. Not only is she a nice person who has gone through a lot and deserves good things, her to success is a success for all female authors and every writer in that writers’ room. Any time a woman gets a TV series made, it’s a big fucking deal, people. Score one for the tribe, baby!

As the “likes” and follows, DMs and texts rolled in with these new friends/collaborators/colleagues/sisters, I felt more centered. It was nice to hear them extend their support for my projects. There was a sincerity in the, “Let’s get together soon!” exchanges rather than the breeze of polite blow-offs known to happen in L.A. Believe me, I’m not putting down my hometown, which I love more than I can express. Sometimes the best of intentions fall flat — it’s called traffic, something that doesn’t blend well with overpacked schedules. (You know I love you if I get on the 10 for you. Even more so if I hit the 101.) We are short on time, spread thin on effort. We are doing everything we can to get our own stuff done. We need some forgiveness if it takes a little longer to set a playdate…or we haven’t finished your book just yet. We are working on it. We are working on a lot.

I am fortunate in the tribe that I have, the OGs who have been there through the ups and downs of the Sisyphean hustle I’ve been dancing for so long. I am grateful for their support, which is instant and unquestioning. But few are writers and, by their own admissions, they don’t understand the process or the never-ending aspect of it.

“I don’t know how you do it,” one bestie said. “But you keep doing it and I’m so impressed by that.” This was said while I was sitting in her backyard sobbing over how everything was so fucking hard and I just needed one thing to be easy.

And then, that evening, one thing was. Like some weird magic. And it was all because of my wonderful and ever-growing tribe.

June is only half over and I have lots to get done before it goes. There are dinners to schedule, world domination to plan, side projects of friends to champion and potential collaborations to plot. Next month, my second novel will be in its first book club. That came about by another twist of fate — a Little Lending Library and an Instagram DM. The readers aren’t my typical demographic, which makes it even more fun. The door opens wider and the sisterhood of the tribe swells again.

Real work needs to be accomplished as summer begins, though. I’m only on chapter two of Novel Three, and I’m feeling the weight of not getting more done there. The rock is about to roll down the hill again and another big push is set to start. But those little omens keep dropping hints, lighting my path as I step through it. I see there are a few more members of the tribe to roll with me, others are there to cheer us on, more to give advice and warnings, some to provide opportunities. We all take turns playing the roles, giving support when it’s needed, taking it when we must. The best part is that we all want the best for each other — in it to win it, pushing the door open as far as we can and pulling others through it. The more the merrier. This is the tribe I have been wanting, the one I have been creating, and now the one I have. I’m so glad to have found them, and for them to have found me.

3 Things Never to Say to a Writer

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I don’t know about you but, when I meet someone new, I tend to be very reluctant to say that I’m a writer. This is both silly and self-protective. It’s silly because that’s what I am. It’s self-protective because there are certain responses to that admission that can make my jaw clench.

Folks seem to love and loathe writers in equal measure. Some see writing as a form of wizardry that only a special few are capable of (nope). Others see it as an affliction brought on by an abundance of spare time (nope). A few want to introduce you to other writer friends. And there are those who want to yank you down a peg or two by asking, “Have you written anything I’d have heard of?” Because, clearly, you’re not Stephen King or Gillian Flynn. I get it. Admitting that you are a ‘writer’ can sound a little arrogant. No matter what the reaction might be, I’d rather avoid it altogether. There are other things to talk about, right? Yet, even if I keep my trap shut, someone else might mention it, and the conversation will inevitably be dragged to the topic I was hoping to avoid. Writers just can’t win.

There several responses that writers hear again and again. Some of them are kind. Others are cutting. I’ve taken the liberty to make a short list of my personal favorites. Here are 3 things to never, ever say to a writer (or three ways to know you’re not one):

“I wish I had time to write.”

Guess what? So does every writer on the planet. Kids, we don’t have time; we make time.  We squeeze it out of the day. We wake up early, stay up late, give up weekends and vacations and holidays to get it on the page. Writers sacrifice. That’s the only way to get it done, because there’s never enough time.

The version of this I most enjoy is when it’s delivered with an emphasis on the second I, making it sound as if writing were a vacation on the Isle of Capri with all expenses paid. If only. Writing is work. Excruciating labor that eats personal time and pleasure for fuel. And I wish I had more time to do it.

“I have a great story idea; I just need someone to write it for me.”

Here’s the thing: I believe everyone has at least one great story in them. Everyone. It’s a gift given at birth by the gods of words. The rub is that you have to get that story from deep within you onto the page. Writers spend years working on that skill. Sometimes it’s shockingly fast and easy. Other times, it takes ages and drives you to the brink of insanity. That’s the thing about the story; you never know how it’s going to come.

Buyer beware: This gem may come with the dreaded hint-drop — the lingering stare given as they wait for you to say, “Sure, I’ll write it for you! I have nothing but spare time!” A fun fact that seems to go overlooked is that writers and typists are two totally different animals. If you need someone to write it for you as in “type”, there’s an app for that (many, in fact). Treat yourself to a Dragon and dictate away! But what is usually implied is, “I have the kernel of an idea that I have no idea how to flesh out and it would be great if you would do that hard work for me…because you have all that spare time.”

There is a myth that should be busted wherein writers are always suffering writer’s block and need a story idea to come to them, thus this offer to serve as typist/ghostwriter is really a blessing. Nope. Writers have an endless supply of story ideas and the “block” is usually a cluster of ideas that have bottlenecked as they vie to get out. Writers don’t have time for all the stories we want to give life to. Write your own!

Another fun fact is that the person who actually writes the story owns the copyright. If you want someone to write for you — ghostwriter or typist — you really need to pay them…and a lawyer to be sure that everything is clear.

“So, anyone could do what you do [self-publish].”

Absoflippinglutely! In theory, anyway. Anyone, who — as Hemingway put it — sits down at a blank page/screen and opens a vein, can. But that brings us back to Things Never to Say to a Writer #1 and #2. Only a few people are willing and able to carve out the time to sit down and write, and pry that story idea from your brain then assemble it onto the page. So, if you’re that brand of “Anyone”, we independent authors will champion you along the way, giving you our advice on what to do and avoid, and wish you the very best/huge success. We know there is plenty of room for everyone at the table. Just be prepared for the toil involved. Because, once you get it onto the page, your real job begins. You have to format it, get it covered, have it proofed, put it up on each and every platform available to reach the widest audience, market it, market yourself, research the market and all of its changes, interact with readers and other writers, make friends with bookstores and do all this while working on your next book because you are a writer and writers write.

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No writer thinks they are special (unless they are an arrogant asshat, but those exist in all aspects of life and we just have to deal with them). We are geeks and dweebs and introverted recluses with vitamin D deficiencies. Writers know the only thing that makes us different is the driving urge to get words on a page. When I meet another writer (usually by someone else introducing us as that), I shake their hand and say, “So, you have the curse, too.” This gets me a knowing smile because I can see, like me, there’s a story running in the back of their brain, and they can’t wait to get those words out. We want to go home as soon as possible and start typing. But, instead, we participate in polite conversation all the while wondering how much longer we have to stay, because there’s a story pushing its way out and we need to birth it. That’s why writers can appear arrogant, distant or disinterested. We don’t mean to seem rude; there’s just a bunch of people in our heads talking to us, nagging us to give them our undivided attention. But we want to appear normal, so we get another glass of wine and a bit of nosh and do our best to be sociable because that’s the polite thing to do. More often than not, we are rewarded for that with the opportunity to craft future characters from those we meet. And that’s something to keep in mind when you interact with writers. There’s a saying (or is it a caveat?) that, put in a more decorous manner, goes:

Be kind to writers…or we’ll describe you.