Playing favorites

A couple years ago during NaNoWriMo, I wrote what is probably my favorite scene ever. My main character has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and her current husband, who is the first person narrator here, and her ex-husband have a pleasant little chat about it.

 

        I couldn’t think of a way to start this conversation that wouldn’t piss him off, so I figured I’d just jump in.

“I’m sorry.”

Kyle snorted. “Seriously, fuck you.”

“Okay.”

“You think you can apologize for what you did? Are you kidding me?”

“Of course I don’t think that. I was told to apologize, first of all.”

“Fuck Alex too at this point.”

“By all means, go ahead and say that to her. Just once, treat her the way you’re treating me.”

“You can’t tell me how to handle any of this, Noel. You ruined my life. I’m going to be angry, and you’re not going to talk your way out of that. Neither is she.”

“I’m not trying to talk you out of being angry at me. I’m hoping that I can talk you into being civil for the next couple of months. After that, you can hate me all you want. It’s not like we’re ever going to see each other again.”

“You’re right about that.”

“It hasn’t been easy for us either, you know.”

“I’m sure it’s been really rough.”

“It was months before she and I interacted as if we were a couple. Before we went on dates. Before we could even talk about what happened with you and her.”

“Oh my God. Seriously, I don’t care. I don’t care if your life has been a living hell for the past seven years. I don’t care if she’s fucking twenty other guys behind your back. I don’t care if it’s been hard for you. All I know is that it’s been impossible for me. I lost my wife, Noel. I lost my best friend. My children lost their mother. Do you have any idea what that must have been like for us? And you want me to feel bad because you and Alex didn’t sleep together until the divorce was final? Are you kidding?”

“We aren’t proud of what we did.”

“You shouldn’t be.”

“Alex has been hurting a lot since she left. In case you think it made her happy or something.”

“It made her happy eventually.”

“Well, not exactly. I mean, she certainly isn’t happy now.”

“She doesn’t deserve to be, Noel. Neither do you. You guys are truly horrible people. I don’t know what you did to her, because she wasn’t like that when I knew her. The woman I knew for thirty years vanished when you showed up. And you’re welcome to this one, because she sucks.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Of course I do.”

“Then why are you so angry with me? With her? If you really hated her that much, it wouldn’t matter that she left.”

“I don’t want your Alex back. I want my Alex back. She’s gone, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.”

“If it makes you feel better, I won’t have my Alex much longer.”

“Good.”

“You’re angrier than she thinks.”

“Probably, yeah.”

“Why don’t you say any of this to her?”

“She has fucking cancer, Noel.”

“Seriously? I hadn’t heard.”

His body twitched, and I realized that he was possibly about to spring across the room and strangle me for that one. Alright, now I knew where the line was.

“I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry.”

Kyle shook his head. “You’re not sorry. Alex isn’t sorry. If you were sorry, she could come home with me and forget all of this, the way she did with us.”

“Are you going to hate us forever?”

“Probably. I mean, I’m going to hate Alex until she dies. Because I’m not a couple months away from forgiving her. And I don’t really see a way for me to forgive you. So, yeah, I’m probably going to hate you forever.”

“Neither of us likes what we did.”

“Fine. I don’t like it either.”

“There was a long stretch of time when we regretted it.”

“Sadly, it wasn’t the four days she spent thinking about leaving me.”

Nor was it the thirty seconds I spent thinking about asking her to leave him. Then and now I told myself that I wasn’t asking her to leave him, I was asking her to let me go. I couldn’t watch her be married to him. I thought she’d send me away. She should have, really.

“Are you done?” Kyle asked. “I’d really like to get back to pretending that you don’t exist.”

“I told her I’d tell you that I’m sorry, I did that. So, yeah, I guess I’m done here.”

I don’t know exactly what it is about this conversation that I enjoy so much, other than that Kyle is very much out of character. He’s a staid, boring, old money type, and seeing him let down his carefully constructed façade is fun. Even the most straight-laced person would lose their mind if their spouse left them, so while it’s a bit unusual for him, it’s spot on for how a normal person would normally react.

In any case, a lot of fun to write.

 

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NaNoWriMo

This is it: my 10th oops, make that 11th National Novel Writing Month!

I’m excited to get back to writing, to pretend that I don’t have this mostly-perfect piece that is mostly-ready to be something else. Right now I’m concentrating on this ready-to-be-written story, and these characters who are so ready for people to get to know them.

Ready set write.

 

 

Editing

I’m thinking about hiring an editor. Someone to take that close look at my novel and really see what’s wrong with it. Someone who would be doing that for money, not just because they’re my friend and they like me.

It’s scary business, turning my “baby” over to a stranger. Really, that’s what any of this publishing process is, so I don’t see the harm in taking this big step.

The trick now is to find someone I trust, someone that I know will do a good job.

 

 

NaNoWriMo

I’m an avid participant in National Novel Writing Month – the novel I’m currently shopping was my 2008 NaNoWriMo novel. I’ve done NaNoWriMo ten (WHAT!) times and Camp NaNo once, though I’m gearing up to do that again.

I’ve found NaNo to be a good experience, though I’ve heard that it is perhaps detrimental to others. Until I did NaNo for the first time (in 2006), I’d never finished a novel that I’d started writing. And I’d definitely started writing long before 2006 (a decade before, in fact). For me, it’s a deadline to finish – get those 50,000 words down before December 1!

I’m working on a piece right now that I dabble with – I might hop into the document and throw down a couple words here and there, but I’m not giving it the time or attention that I should be. Which is why I’m planning to do Camp NaNo in July. Hopefully by the end of the month, I can finish this first draft, so that I can figure out if anything worthwhile is happening there.

Of course, Cycling, that 2008 NaNo novel, is the only good one. So. Maybe NaNo isn’t the best thing ever. But at least it’s getting me somewhere.

 

Flogged

I love getting feedback on my writing. Positive, negative, whatever. Negative feedback makes my writing stronger. Positive feedback makes ME stronger. So it’s all good.

I submitted the prologue and opening chapter of Cycling to Flogging the Quill, and the feedback is mixed, as always expected.

If I have any readers here who want to weigh in, have at it!

Flogging the Quill

 

 

Slush

I worked in (non-fiction) publishing for almost five years at two different publishers. One of the things that I did at both places was manage the “slush pile”: the unsolicited manuscripts/proposals that came through the door. In other words, I did what the agents I’ve solicited do every day.

It doesn’t make the waiting any easier, nor does it make it easier when I get a no.

Many years ago (2005? 2006? Whoa, yeah, many years ago!), I read one of these unsolicited manuscripts. And I loved it. I would have read that book a hundred times, memorized sections of it, recited it back to people.

However.

There’s that word again!

There was an extremely limited market for this particular book. I happened to be part of that market, but I understood (as did my bosses!) that it simply wouldn’t sell, not in the numbers that a publishing company needed it to.

It was hard to tell the author no. I’d carried on a back-and-forth conversation with him for some time, and I was always up front. “I love this book, but.” And we didn’t end up publishing it. I think about it every once and a while, whether he found a publisher or self-published the book, or if it simply died, which would be a shame.

And I think about it right now, when I’m essentially at the end of my agent search – I have a few query letter hard copies to send out next week, and I’m waiting to hear from the agent who has my full manuscript, but otherwise I’m done. I’ve gotten one hundred rejections. Well, actually 113. I knew the number was up there, but it hurts to look at it. 113 people don’t think it’s good enough. Sure, there are still 60 others that I might hear back from, but I’m a ways into this, and it’s not been good.

But that doesn’t mean that the book isn’t good. Like the manuscript I read at work, it might be a great book that for whatever reason won’t happen.

I’m working on figuring out my next steps.

And keeping my fingers crossed in the meantime.

 

Original Draft

This novel that I’m working on has gone through many iterations. I originally wrote it in 2008 for National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve spent a lot of time and effort tweaking it since then. This is the original opening, which no longer even exists. I think all the characters are still part of the current (end?) product, but the scene bit the dust somewhere in the edits I made after comments from my writers’ group. I hope you enjoy reading it, even though it’s kind of a mess.

“Do you have any children?”

Ugh. I hate that question. Is there ever a point when it is socially acceptable to ask such a thing? The questioner, a slim redhead who could not be more than thirty years old, had run through a series of other, more appropriate questions already. She knew I worked, and what I did. I had hoped it would cut off the kid question. Sometimes it worked. You tell people that you have a demanding full time job, and they just assume you are a “career woman” rather than a “mommy.” Despite the leaps and bounds towards equality for women, people still seemed to draw this distinction.

But mostly, I had hoped people had learned that asking others about their reproduction was a private question. We had plenty of relatives who did not know what we were going through. Why did this woman feel like she had the right to know?

“Uh, no,” I stammered. “We do not have any yet.”

“You should hurry up!” she squealed. “Having kids is the best thing that can happen to you. I have two.” And then she placed a hand on her belly. “Well, two and a half.”

And then I noticed that she was holding a glass of ginger ale, rather than the cocktail most of the partygoers held. She was still so thin that her belly curved in rather than out, and yet she was blabbing the news to a near-stranger.

I cringed inside, wishing I was anywhere but stuck talking to this woman. Nothing in the world pained me like talking to newly pregnant women who were telling everyone. She had probably peed on a stick that morning. And already shouting to the world that another baby was on the way.

Some women in my position are put off by new babies. Others cringe whenever they see the protruding belly that screams, “Baby on Board.” But for me it was the optimists. The women who are one day late, and get a positive test, and tell everyone they know. I had been them, once. I had lost my first pregnancy at twelve weeks. I had seen my baby, watched his heart beat on the ultrasound screen. I told everyone I knew, I even told strangers on the street. I was so excited to let the world know that I was finally having a child. And then he was gone. Because I had been so naïve, like this woman at the party, I had had to deal with questions about my baby for months. My son, Daniel, who was “chromosomally normal” according to his post-mortem exam. A few months later, when I became pregnant again, we told no one, deciding to be more cautious this time. And when I lost that baby too, only six weeks along, there had been no one to tell, and no questions.

I smiled tightly at the redhead who had made me think of the worst times of my life. I clung furiously to my martini, taking a few sips as I glanced around the room, trying to find my husband. He was talking to his boss, hopefully thanking him for throwing such a nice party and telling him that we had to leave unexpectedly. When Ben caught my eye, he excused himself and began making his way across the room to me.

He took my elbow. “Hey, El. Hello, Laura.” This to the redhead. “Sorry to pull my wife away, but we need to be getting home.”

The redhead smiled and waved her fingers at us as we maneuvered our way out of the party. I felt a rush of relief to be away from her and her questions. And her pregnancy.

“Are you okay?” Ben asked gently.

“I have been better.”

“I should not have made you come.”

“It was an important company function,” I said automatically.

It really was not an important function, just a start of the semester party to welcome the faculty of Ben’s department back from the summer. But I hated to be absent from these get-togethers. People asked questions, and I hated questions.

“And you would have had to explain why I was not here,” I added.

“I could have just said you were sick.”

In a way, I was. I had failed another pregnancy test, the third since we had started IFV again after the second miscarriage. While I was not physically sick, I was heartsick. Now we had to decide whether to move forward, whether to keep up the poking and prodding and needles and…invasion. Or whether we could be happy without a child, after all these years working for one.

“I am sorry,” I said. “She was going on and on about her third pregnancy, and I could not take it. Not after everything.”

Ben squeezed my hand. “No need to apologize. I understand.”

He had been so good to me through this whole mess. I felt like a complete reproductive failure. It meant everything to me that he stuck with me, and held my hand, and gave me my shots. We moved through this as a team. And I could not do this without a team.

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