Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On Hoodlums and Viking Funerals

Since my last blog post, I’ve received only one rejection.  I currently have somewhere between five and seven stories still out there awaiting responses.  That’s a frustrating state, but if no news is good news, damn, that’s some seriously good news.

In the past ten days, I’ve completed another short story which I’m not entirely stoked about, so that one is marinating in my computer while I work on other things.  There’s something decent about it, so I’ll come back to it before the end of February.  I began work on a second short story which I’d like to complete before the end of this week.  It’s more action-packed than the first, so with effort and determination, this is a realistic goal.  I’d also like to put that one out into the world before the end of February.  These two aforementioned stories take place in Paris, which has thus far not been the setting for any of my fiction in 2015.  I thought I’d give it a whirl, since I live here and all, but meh.

After these two short stories are completed and edited and sent out to be rejected, I will begin working on a short story that takes place in America.  This one will be about a modern day Viking Funeral.  The idea was inspired by a recent email chain with The Bestie, in which we argued over which one of us will die first (I will, no, I will), and then she gave me a deadline (for the story, not for dying).  Have I mentioned that The Bestie works for The Daily Planet?  Well, she does.

While it might sound as though I’m making progress, you should know I’ve put forth zero effort on my novel in the past ten days.  I have, however, walked under the Eiffel Tower, sat at a café in Saint Germain, danced well into the night on the Ile Saint-Louis, lallygagged along the Seine, dawdled in the Luxembourg Gardens, and drank margaritas in Le Marais.  It’s tough being a writer in Paris, what with so many distractions.

The following is not a short story, but rather a true account of my run-in with three French teenaged boys yesterday.  I was taking the Metro home from the Farm Show (yeah, I was at a  Farm Show) when this debacle took place.  It goes like this:

I was standing at a pole on Ligne 6, one of the few elevated Metro lines, with a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower, headed toward the swanky 16th Arrondissement, chatting with my American friend, when one member of The Motley Gang of Three French Teenaged Boys stood up and got in my face and said, "You speak English?" :::: :::dramatic pause here::: :::: I said "Yes?" (with the question mark), and they all laughed.  He sat back down and then the boys made loud, obnoxious jokes about "Tupac," “Kanye," and “Nike,” as if I couldn’t understand them.  When I made eye contact with them, they held my stare (particularly one of them who seemed the least afraid of me) for a good thirty seconds at a time.  (I always won the staring contest; I’ve been winning staring contests for decades).

In the meantime, the Metro Ligne 6 got more crowded at each stop between Passy and Étoile, and there were now several other adults standing with me and my American friend.  The boys continued to sit there making jokes, despite that French culture calls for them to offer their seats to more senior members of society.  While I certainly hate to think of myself as a Madame rather than a Mademoiselle, there was at least one senior standing among us who would have benefitted from a seat.

Finally, I had enough of this teenager bullshit (I have teenaged sons, people; I have lots of teenaged sons), and I surprised myself when I said to one of the boys (the one who seemed the least afraid): "Does your Mother speak English?"  I thought the boys were going to collectively shit their pants.  He said, "Yes."  I raised my eyebrows at him and he corrected himself, "Only a little."  So I continued, "Your mother is probably my age, right?"  He said, "Yes, peut être (maybe)."  And I said, "If someone were disrespecting your mother the way you are disrespecting me, would that make you sad?”  Something got lost in translation, so he looked at his buddy, who gave it to him in French, and then he said, "Yes, that would make me sad."  I offered the classic French Pppppffffttttt and looked away, noticing the other Parisian adults standing with me and my American friend were smiling, which doesn’t happen often in this city.  That was the highlight of my day.

No, that wasn’t the highlight of my day.  The highlight of my day was when the twenty-something adorable French cheesemonger at the Farm Show flirted with me and offered me delicious bries and bleus and comptés and chèvres to taste and take home (the cheeses, people, take home the cheeses).  Look, when you’re a forty-three year old married lady who gets crotchety with teenagers on the Metro, you get to pretend the 20-something cheesemonger at the Farm Show thought you were cute, ok?

No wait, that wasn’t the highlight of my day, either.  The real highlight of my day happened when I strolled past two firetrucks on Avenue Ternes, loaded to the gills with young, buff, motivated Pompiers, who were about to embark on a serious life saving activity which likely involved climbing six or seven flights of Haussmannian stairs.  This was the highlight of my day because have you ever seen Les Pompiers it reminded me that French teenaged boys who admit to being sad if someone were to disrespect their mother have a good chance of one day becoming a Pompier, so maybe I did Paris a service when I stood at a pole on the Metro Ligne 6 and put three would-be Americanized hoodlums from the 16th Arrondissement in their place.  After all, the world could always use another Pompier and one less hoodlum in the 16th Arrondissement.

I have my Writers Workshop tonight in Le Marais.  I’ve really grown to love this thing.  I’m not sure I get anything out of it (No, I do), but somehow I feel more like a writer, as opposed to the wife of an American business executive, when I attend.  I’m required to read and critique three shorts before tonight, and I have to make a third trip to the Prefecture in the 17th to pick up my renewed residence card (those of you who’ve lived in Paris can make several guesses why it takes three trips, and any of of those guesses would be correct).

So, I’m not sure how much writing I can accomplish today.  The good news is, there’s always tomorrow.  And if tomorrow never comes, there’s always my Viking Funeral.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Overcoming Writer’s Block, This Week’s Procrastination Techniques, and 50 Shades of Karaoke

On Monday, I decided to write a 2,000-word piece of fiction.  I didn’t have any story ideas floating around in this noggin of mine, but I was determined to bang out a mini masterpiece.  I found a list of writing prompts, and one thing led to another, and by Friday, I had completed, edited, and submitted Quittin' Time to The New England Review.

I’m not sure how I accomplished this, as I spent the majority of the week galavanting around Paris.

But if I may say so, it’s one of my better short stories.  You know why?  Two reasons.  1.  I used my Dad as the character model for my protagonist, which was kinda fun, and 2. The more I write, the better my writing.


We discussed this during the Writer’s Workshop I attend on Wednesday nights.  Quality improves as a result of quantity.  This is universally accepted, and an interesting topic, although not as interesting as the topic of erotic literature, which was discussed as well.  No one dared to mention Fifty Shades of Grey, however, and thank God for that.  That brings me back to size quantity.  I announced to the group my goal of 52 short stories in 2015, which sparked others to reveal their motivation tactics, and somehow all that banter inspired me to finish Quittin' Time over the next couple of days.

Yay for me.  Productive, right?  Now let’s talk about my novel.

I was on quite the roll with a new plot (an epic tale!), a new viewpoint (straight up first person), and renewed self-interest in my well-developed characters who have become as much a part of my life over the past thirteen months as baguettes and foie gras.  But ever since I returned from Cannes last Sunday night, well, writing even five or six words of this piece of merde can take several hours.

Yesterday, I decided to start another short story, and although it couldn’t add verbiage to my novel, the task of writing anything at all could have universally awakened my creative senses.  I sat at my keyboard (with various interruptions… including a lovely walk through Neuilly-sur-Siene… in the rain… at 8:30 AM) for a total of eight hours.  And what did I write?


No, wait.  I added 211 absolutely atrocious words to my novel.  It’s forward motion, people.  Stick with me.  My point is:

I have Writer’s Block.  And, fuck.

I’ve been here before, of course.  Oh, how many times I have been here before!  I usually await divine intervention, but the beauty of having publicly announced my writing goals - within the pages of this blog and now to my Writer’s Workshop - is the expectation and the promise that I must keep going.

So, I’m taking a brief reprieve.  It’s Valentine’s Day Weekend after all.  I’m sure you’re dying to know what amazingly romantic event I cooked up for the world’s most repulsive holiday, but first let’s review last week’s Procrastination Techniques:

- An eight hour cooking class (aka: eight hours of eating and drinking)
- A day meandering the maze of Paris with three of my girlfriends, which included leisurely conversation at a café, a tour of the French Blind People’s Association (don’t ask), my first ever authentically Greek lunch, and a walk along the Seine
- An afternoon of cutlery shopping at the BHV

I should mention the cutlery was bestowed upon The Hubs as his Valentine’s Day present.  Both he and my youngest son found my gift choice not only strange but also morbid and perhaps a bit psychotic.  I never thought of it that way, but after they mentioned it, well.  It was a pretty cool idea, though, so give me props.

I also managed to procure two copies of Charlie Hebdo - one for me and one for The Bestie - and navigate La Poste so The Bestie could have her copy in her American hands and on her office wall faster than you can say “Je Suis Charlie” six-hundred-and-five-thousand times in a row.

As for my Valentine’s date, I did not request tickets to the opening of Cinquante Nuances de Grey.  (Try to hide your disappointment).  Instead, I arranged for The Hubs and I to have dinner with friends - seven other couples - on the Champs Elysees, where we devoured Korean delicacies, drank too many bottles of Bordeaux, and displayed world-class Karaoke skills by belting out 80s hits such as Gloria and Lucky Star with a real Japanese person who sang her selections in actual Japanese.  Tres tres tres magnifique!

I’m somewhat thankful The Hubs didn’t murder me in my sleep with his new cutlery for subjecting him to the least romantic date ever.  Although, I’m curious just how sharp those French cooking knives really are.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Rejection Equals Inspiration (Especially When It Comes So Kindly)

Today I received Rejection Letter Numero Quatre. (That’s Number Four, my American friends).  What makes this rejection different from the three before it?  It’s personalized.  It’s specific.  And it’s encouraging.  Hobo Camp Review respectfully declined the opportunity to publish my short story, Lake Placid Rustic Café.  That encouraged me to change the title and spend two hours re-writing it.  It also reminded me I have potential as a writer, so long as I keep writing.

The Hubs and I enjoyed a sunny, childless, writing-less weekend in Cannes (despite the fact we picked up a stomach bug that had us fighting over the bathroom for the duration of Saturday night).  While everything (other than the constant puking) was beautiful, I was sad to separate from my novel.  Look, I’ve been writing since I could pick up a pencil.  I have always enjoyed the craft of narration.  It’s my calling.  But this is the first time I can remember feeling physically sick glum that I wasn’t writing.  It’s not that I missed my plot (always alive in my mind), but I know myself, and I know laziness begets laziness.

Truth be told, if it weren’t for my rejection from the hobos, I probably would have taken today as a recovery day (I did eject my entire insides in a twelve hour period, after all).  Believe me, it wasn’t easy to face my keyboard.  But I did manage to add 600 words to my novel, not to mention the serious revision to my short story, and its subsequent resubmission to a different literary magazine, one a little closer to home.  And let’s not belittle this here blog post.  Which brings me to my original theory: Rejection fuels me.

I wish I had more to say than that, but alas, I’m out of words.  Also, I just remembered that I recorded the mid-season premier of The Walking Dead on Slingbox last night, and I’ve got priorities, people.  Me and Zombies, perfect together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

It Snows in Paris, I’m Writing My Novel, and Pigs Fly Too

Let’s get this out of the way.  I loathe cold weather.  I despise cold weather the way I despised my-high-school-freshman-self when the popular girl laid into me one hormone-filled afternoon - and deservedly so - for being the ignorant, self-righteous bitch that I was - backed up by her high-haired, short-skirted cronies singing “Uh-huh,” “that’s right,” and “take that,” when the only thing that kept me from a tearful meltdown was the soft touch on my shoulder administered by our asexual, senior citizen gym teacher who said to no one in particular, “All of us here has reasons for doing the things we do.  How about we start over?”

Dammit, I really did hate myself that day.  Alas, I hate cold weather more.

It’s freezing fucking cold in Paris this week.  Which is not nearly as cold as my hometown Philly.  And for Pete’s sakes, not half as cold as the lovely little Olympic village in upstate New York where The Hubs plans to retire us someday.  But shit.  It’s cold.

Combine cold-weather induced depression with Adderall withdrawal, and people, that’s real ugly to look at.  Although I did wear mascara every day (The Bestie is nodding her head with approval right now), I was quite the Recluse.  Depressing, yes.  But a bad thing?  I’ll have to think on that.

I finished Stephen King’s On Writing and started Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.  I watched a dozen or so YouTube videos featuring my favorite contemporary authors discussing their habits, their muses, mentors, and emulators, their inspiration, their themes.  Even their own fatal flaws.  (My fatal flaw is cold weather.  Have we established that?)

I also wrote the first 2,365 words of my revised novel.  I know it’s not much, but I’m starting from scratch.  No, wait, I’m not starting from scratch.  I know my characters.  I know them deeply, intimately, and truly.  I have lived with them for the past thirteen months.  During bouts of Writer’s Block, I’ve written as them complaining about the author.  (We call this Metafiction, and thanks again to Dr. John Taggart for introducing me to it).  I have written, re-written, and deleted entire sections of this novel, only to completely understand this story, and the depth of each character, and the desires which drive them, and the pasts which haunt them, and the futures which petrify them.

Now, every word that I type is pure enjoyment, and the discipline of writing satisfies me like it hasn’t before.  And what I’ve learned during this (vehemently freezing cold) weeklong YouTube binge and within the memoir of a truly respectable novelist is this:  Don’t share.  Be reclusive when you write.  Close the door.  Write for the love of writing.  Don’t lose momentum.  Let yourself go and don’t allow plot to overwhelm you.

Voila.  It was that easy.  Starting Over - Wisdom dispensed by a high school gym teacher in 1985.  (Yes, in fact, I was alive in 1985).

Oh, but I almost forgot.  I did get another rejection letter at the beginning of the week, bringing my grand total to three rejections in 2015.  I also submitted more short stories to literary journals, so never fear!  I’ll try to keep the streak alive.  (I’m doing this for you, people.  I hope you know that).

Tomorrow, I’m riding on an airplane pointed somewhere warmer than Paris.  I won’t have time to write, and you can bet your ass I’ll be enjoying sunshine and wine where I’m going.  But yanno?  I might wish I was writing.  Huh.

Let’s not tell The Hubs I’m more productive when I’m cold.