Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Lies Always Get You In The End

It may come as little surprise that I've been working on a novel for some time now. Sadly, this time frame stretches 15 years which says a lot about my inability to follow through. Technically I have four WIPs (works in progress); I get an idea or I have a dream (my subconscious is a scary thing that I mine for ideas in my waking hours) and I go gung ho on it until it bores me or stumps me and I shelve it. When I was first out of college and working at a Sears regional credit center in Massachusetts, I wrote on steno pads in between answering customer phone calls about their credit cards. I thought I was going to die there, stifled in lost potential and a time clock . I was in my early twenties, a year out of Oxford, three months after graduating Gordon College and couldn't see a way out. So I wrote.

But the one I've been working on since my sophmore year at Gordon (long, long ago) evolved out of a lie I told at a women's choir bonding/rehearsal retreat. I know, I know, Christian school, Christian choir, Christian event, and I'm lying. Explains a lot, huh? We (the choir) were having this small retreat, spending Friday night and Saturday morning at the episcopal church in Hamilton, MA where we were going to rehearse and have dinner and play ice breaker games and bond, so that the old members and new members (mainly freshmen) could "get to know each other".

For the ice breaker we were supposed to write down one thing about ourselves that wasn't well known and turn that item in to my friend Melody (who was the president of the choir or something at the time) so that she could make up a list of all the unknown items. At the retreat everyone got a list of the items without the names that go along with them. The idea was to go around the room asking only one question of each person before moving on to the next person until you could match up every item on the list to each person it belonged to.

I could not think of a single thing about myself that would apply. Not that there weren't things that no one knew about me, but that those were things I didn't want them to know about me and anything else I came up with just didn't seem clever enough. Frustrated and stressed, Melody finally told me to make one up. So I did.

As I was not yet the (ahem) savvy, ballsy, outgoing, fairly fearless person in social situations that I am today, plus not so invested in the ice breaker either, I escaped participation by heading for the kitchen to help Melody who'd bitten off more that she could chew with the stuffed shells and manicotti she'd brought for the dinner. Melody thought she could just boil the shells and manicotti in 12 minutes flat like you can ravioli only to discover that shells and manicotti are frozen and have to be defrosted before being cooked for 45 minutes minimum with sauce, in a saucepan, in the church's ancient oven that would take at least half an hour to heat up. So she was going to be 1 hour late with dinner for 50 hungry women.

It is never a good idea to deny a group of women food when it is promised.

Melody of course knew that my "nobody knows" ice breaker item was total crap and she was busting on me about what I'd come up with while cooking and sweating and chatting and laughing. Then Heidi, a very sweet, smart junior with an air of innocence that I've never had, came into the kitchen to pitch in and in the course of conversation asked which were our items on the list - what was the thing that no one knew about us.

So I told her what I'd written: I had spent the previous summer hitch-hiking cross-country, hanging out with some bikers and truckers along the way. Keep in mind that this was the fall of 1991 when I was 19 years old. Melody snorted from where she was washing pans over at the sink at this patently absurd notion (my mother would have kicked my ass six ways to Sunday). Heidi, God love her, always ready to believe the best of people, nodded appreciably and said, "Wow" and "you must have met a lot of really interesting people." I remember blinking once at her and pausing to check if she was serious. Realizing that she was indeed quite sincere, I had a second to decide whether to confess my fib or go with it.

I went with it.

Me: "Yeah, I did. There's real people underneath those tatoos and leather. It really taught me not to judge a book by its cover." (I kid you not, the "book...cover" is a direct quote.)
Heidi: "I can totally see that. What a great experience."

At this point, Melody stuck a plate of something in Heidi's hands and sent her out of the kitchen.
Melody: "You are very bad."
Me: "I know. I can't believe she bought that."
Melody: "Are you going to tell her the truth?"
Me: "Where's the fun in that?"
Melody: "You are going to hell."
This all happened while we were totally cracking up of course.

The more I thought about it, the better an idea it became for a short story. But since I never wrote anything short in my life (which is why I suck at poetry - unless it's epic poetry) it wound up being more of a short novella. I submitted it to the literary magazine at Gordon and they rejected it (cliquey hussys) as they should because it was terrible. But I kept at it - mostly when I should have been studying - and it evolved into a novel and I figured one day I'd make amends for my horrible lie by publishing the book and adding a note for Heidi on the appreciation page or something.

Heidi - here's your note. Sorry 'bout the lies. Thanks for believing the best of me in spite of myself.

I finished the novel about ten years ago and it's still terrible. Since then I've had several life changes and a bunch of professional careers (including publishing) under my belt and frankly I prefer today's me to the 1991 version. She writes a hell of a lot better too.
(Though, I have gotten better at lying, which is bad, lying is bad, BAD I say, and I do NOT make a habit of it. Ahem.)

About a year ago, someone in the publishing realm that I work for from time to time said
that they loved my "voice" and would be interested in reading anything I've written. Of the WIPs I have, I went right back to this first one because, 1) it's finished albeit still horrible and 2) I have to let these first characters of mine finish their story and live their lives. So I've been massively rewriting it in the mean time, when not continuing my well-honed self-sabotage by dragging my feet and procrastinating (and my grandmother fell ill and died last year too, which tends to massively put a snag in writing time though it's great life experience for source material and I guarantee will someday show up in something of mine), plus I had my protagonist stuck in a garage for 6 months and couldn't get her out. But having finally finished the new first chapter Monday and gotten a huge brain surge in the car this morning of how to better start the second chapter revision, I believe (knocking so hard on wood it hurts) that I might be having writing flow here.

This is all a long winded way to prep you for info as it pops up here on what's happening in my seriously flawed writing world. Hope you're not bored yet.

BTW - something not too many people know about me? I alphabetize my cash money.


  1. how the H do you alphabetize CASH MONEY??!!

  2. It's a fading art now that they're eliminating the origin city from the newer bills. But on the old bills, there's a letter in a circle on each bill with the name of the city where the bill was printed. A is Boston, MA; B is New York City; C is Philadelphia, and so on. The farthest I've ever gotten is L, but I don't remember what city it's from. So I alphabetize the bills outside in so I spend the rarer ones last, although I always spend NYC bills first b/c they're so plentiful in my neck of the woods.

    OCD? Me? Jesu forfend.