body language and failed novels about beagles

Listening to: Foo Fighters, Bird and the Bee

I was planning to post tonight but instead I have to give some thought and time to questions a journalist asked me about my ex-husband, who is about to be the subject of a profile in the New Yorker.

Here’s a picture from the Heal the Bay benefit I went to last Thursday night:

I find this image kind of interesting because I’m talking to this guy named Joe. I remember that conversation: we were talking about the banks, the federal government and Wall Street: fun, cheerful stuff. You can see his enthusiasm for the subject in his animated hand gestures. I am listening intently — if caught by surprise by the camera — but my body is clearly angled toward the person on my other side. My arm is propped up between Joe and me, creating a kind of barrier, not because I want to block Joe but because I’m creating a private zone of space for myself and the person on my left. Said person, of course, being Dude.

Anyway, here’s another excerpt from one of the things I am currently working on. It’s called, tentatively, I AM MY OWN REBELLION: Notes from a Writer’s Journey, and it’s going to be a free ebook you can download from my new website which should be going up early this summer. This bit is from a larger bit about practice novels, in which I list and briefly describe my own failed, unpublished novels — I prefer the term ‘practice novels’ — before I finally sold my first novel BLOODANGEL to Roc/Penguin.

NIPPER.

The first ‘book’ — and I use the term loosely — I ever wrote. I was in fourth grade and I wrote it in longhand in a yellow spiralbound notebook. It wasn’t a novel but a series of anecdotes about my father, ‘Terry’, the beagle he had when he was a boy and their adventures together. The way it came about was this: I wanted a dog and my parents kept refusing me in what I considered a cruel and heartless manner, so to compensate my father would talk about the dog of his own childhood, named Nipper.

I showed the work-in-progress to my teacher, who had me read it to the class. The kids loved it and wanted more. It was my taste of commercial success. It was heady stuff indeed. From that point on, I had an identity within the classroom, and then the school, and then the community, as a writer and storyteller.

I’ll be honest. I continued to work on Nipper and I wrote many other things, but it wasn’t for the love of the exercise. At that point, I didn’t want to be a writer when I grew up; I wanted to be a vet or an actress on a soap opera (SANTA BARBARA was to have a big impact on me, and more importantly on my hair, which I grew long like Robin Wright’s, the young actress who played Kelly Capwell before she went on to become the Princess Bride and the on-again off-again love of Sean Penn. I still love her. But I digress). I wrote because for whatever strange mishmash of genetic, psychological and environmental reasons, writing came easily to me.

I did it for attention and praise. I was your basic eight-year-old hack.

SECRETS OF THE CRYSTAL UNICORN

Sixth grade. Don’t remember much about this manuscript except that I typed it out on a little white electric Olympia typewriter, which would be my main writing instrument for many years and help me acquire a typing speed so impressive I would become the county typing champion for several years straight (while barely managing to pass the subject itself, since I would spend class typing poems instead of the deathly tedious and incredibly boring actual assignments).

I assume from the title that influences at the time included Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, etcetera. Unlike Nipper, this book had an actual plot. I just can’t remember what it was.

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