Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How to Write (the First Nine Thousand Words of) Your Novel *in Fifteen Months* “While Galavanting Around Paris”

So I’m writing a novel, and I passed the Nine-Thousand-Word mark today.  That makes me one-tenth finished.  During the fifteen months I’ve lived in Paris, this breaks down to 600 words per month, or 140 words per week, or 20 words per day.  Somewhere under my high school yearbook picture, it says “Most Likely to Underachieve.”  OK, it doesn’t say that.  It says “Most Likely to Break Everything Down by Numbers.”  No wait.  I mean, it says, “Thanks G.”  That’s because The Bestie has been warning me about the overuse of dangling modifiers, emphatic forms, and quotation marks for thirty-five years.  But I digress.

In reality, I’ve written well over fifty thousand words toward the completion of this novel (or closer to 3,500 words per month) while I’ve lived in Paris.  The thing is, up until this past January, I wasn’t writing chapters in sequential order, and my narrator’s voice was weak, and despite my twenty-two-year-old English degree, I didn’t know the first thing about what it really takes to write a 90,000 word novel.  Along the way, this literary “thing” somehow grew a theme, and became a story capable of reaching through time, and developed a voice that keeps me up at night, turning the details of my protagonist’s life over in my mind until I rise.  Then I race to my computer, and check my email, and post something to Instagram, and drink too much Nespresso, and eventually leave my apartment (wearing a scarf, of course) to meander the streets of Paris until I may or may not feel compelled to come back to my computer and jot some shit down.

I’m not the world’s fastest writer, but dammit, I know how to find the Mona Lisa within three minutes after entering the Louvre.  (Take the elevator, people).

Last week, I tried Coworking.  Let me set this scene for you.  I’m a nervous flyer.  When I walk into a café or restaurant or brothel coworking space for the first time, I stumble over my words, knock over chairs, fidget nervously, spill coffee on myself, scream Putain! obscenities, and mutter apologies for my ignorance.  Last Thursday morning, I packed my laptop and paced my Haussmannian hallway for two hours before embarking on an uneventful Metro voyage to the Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood, where I eventually stumbled upon Café Craft, took a deep breath, and rushed the front door.

Inside, I was greeted by a friendly Australian, who made me a perfectly delicious Cappuccino (I don’t know what he put in there, but I’m thinking nicotine-laced crack).  I sat at the long, central table intended for coworking, smashed between a designer and a technical writer.  On this particular day, Café Craft was full but manageable, and most folks were French, although English was the dominant language.  Several business discussions took place throughout the cafe; lively music played in the background; and the espresso machine consistently cranked out goodness.  Everyone enjoyed jovial, productive moods without paying any mind to moi.  I kept a low profile for an hour, or about five hundred words, then hightailed it out of there.

Today, I worked alone in the isolated hallows of my apartment.  I got as many words written, albeit over a longer period of time.  Both methods work, so I guess it depends on the day and my mood.  In fifteen months, I’ve learned I crank out more words at a faster pace from a coworking space or a library or occasionally (OK, once) a real Parisian café.  But the reclusive work I complete at home is better.

Solitude is underrated.

That is, the work I complete at home is better when my apartment isn’t being invaded by four Italian exchange students who demand snails on their dinner plates, race me up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower so they can “touch the twinkle” at 10 PM , threaten me at Nerf-gun-point to hand over all my money, and blow-dry their hair at six o’clock in the morning.  I don’t really miss those buggers.  The good news is, my teenaged stepsons are rolling back into town this week, and that means I’ll be super productive doing laundry, cooking meals, and buying liters and liters and liters of milk.

PS - I wrote my protagonist’s first sex love scene today, and suddenly I know him on a whole new level.  It’s a strange thing, this writing a novel.  It’s milestones like this one that only authors “get.”

PPS - My overzealous use of “quotation marks” in today’s blog post was fully intentional, and not idiotic.  Here’s a virtual cup of *nicotine-laced crack cappucino* just for you, Bestie!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

5 Best Things To Do in Paris Instead of Writing Your Novel

Wait for it, people.  Before I reveal the 5 Best Things To Do in Paris Instead of Writing Your Novel, there is one burning question I must address.  “Dîtes-moi,” you say, “How was the Solar Eclipse?”

::::: insert crickets chirping here :::::

The Arc de Triomphe in the Thick of the Solar Eclipse and The Eiffel Tower in the Thick of Paris Pollution / March 20, 2015 at 10:29 AM

Moving on:

- Visit the Maison de Victor Hugo at the Place des Vosges (He was a writer after all).

- Carry your laptop around the Palais Royal on the most beautiful day of Spring until you find an empty bench (I dare you).

- Throw a late-night soiree during which you’ll only serve wine and dessert and the last guest will leave at 3:30 AM (giving you the perfect excuse to sleep until 3:30 PM the next day).

- Get your makeup did at Bobbi Brown where you will be forced to sit in a chair with your eyes closed for three hours (while imagining your head shot on the back cover of your novel).

- Watch March Madness in The Great Canadian because dammit you’re American (!!!).

And yes, I did those things between my last blog post and this one.  The good news is, Paris Pollution didn’t go to my head (although public transportation was free for several days), and I somehow managed to spend time at my keyboard ( i n v e r y s l o w m o t i o n ).  I’m delighted to report I haven’t received any rejection letters this week, and my novel has grown to 7300 words, (and my use of parentheses is at an all time high).

That's it.  I need more bath towels.  I'm taking the Metro to the BHV.

Friday, March 13, 2015

I Underestimated the Sting of Rejection

Didn’t I say I’m motivated by rejection?  Well, I am, I think.  But dammit, last night I got rejected for the eighth time in two-and-a-half months, and I wanted to throw my keyboard into the Seine and watch it sink and then spit on the spot where it went down.  I suppose I underestimated the sting of rejection.

So I’ve been busy.  Well, I’ve been mesmerized by the glorious, sunny weather that marks the beginning of Springtime in Paris, and I’ve logged dozens of miles in my Nikes this week.  I could have been writing short stories and submitting them to reputable magazines, too.  I mean, there’s no law that says I can’t bring my Mac to a park bench like all the Frenchies do, although I’m not sure how they get any work done after their second or third bottle of wine.

But fuck.  When District Lit emailed me a rejection letter for “Snakeheads” yesterday, I felt like a gigantic sack of literary merde.  I hadn’t written a new short story in two weeks and still hadn’t finished the last short story I was finishing when I said I was going to finish it.  And my novel?  Ha.

So today is Friday and after I dragged my ass out of bed, after I schlepped my youngest son and his buddy to school in an Uber at 6:30 AM so they could catch a bus and then a train to Geneva for a basketball tournament, and after I walked two miles from their school to my church so I could attend the 8:30 AM Mass where I begged God to let just one journal find my stuff worthy of publication, and after I walked back to my apartment to pay my French-Maid(-Who-Is-Actually-Asian) at 9:30 AM (Are you feeling sorry for me yet?), I gently reminded myself that the world’s most acclaimed authors received gazillions of rejection letters before they hit the Big Time.

And then I packed up my writing shit and went looking for an inspirational place to write in Paris :::::::::: Insert Collective Eyeroll Here ::::::::::

In the past two hours, I brought my revised and rejiggered novel up to a total of 4794 words.  I particularly like the “94,” a mere six words from 4800, because it’s a proverbial cliff hanger.  That means I have to write again tomorrow, a rather exuberant feeling.

Never-mind that my outline calls for this epic tale to clock in at over 100,000 words.  As I tell my teenagers when they are bawling over school projects, “Take little bites, my little friends.”

I don’t have Internet access where I’m sitting, but I’m packing it in for the day and will soon return home, where I do have Internet access (on a good day) and this blog post will magically appear on the Internets.  I’ll also retrieve my email from my apartment, probably even before I pee, because I’m dying to know if I’ve gotten another rejection letter, so I can further celebrate my artistic unworthiness.

Then again, part of me is thinking - well - it would be rather nice about now for just one fiction editor to type the words, “Congratulations.  Your work is awesome.”

This is how I feel when I play the lottery.  I sit on my tickets for weeks after the numbers have been drawn.  Because there’s always the possibility that I won, and why would I want to give that up?  If public restrooms were easy to find in Paris, I’d find one, and then I wouldn’t have to check my email until, like, dinnertime.

Alas, if you’re seeing this blog post, I’m surfing the Internet, and I’ve checked my email, and I’m still an unpublished writer.  Have a great weekend, Blog Stalkers!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Notes on Ireland, Taken for The Bestie

Accessing mobile data and public wifi is a real bitch in Europe.  Picture yourself on the dawn of Y2K.  No really.  Close your eyes and remember it.  Feel The 1999.  This is my life.

I visited Ireland for the first time this past weekend.  It was an experience forty-three years in the making.  The Bestie is Irish too.  I wanted to text and call and email her every time I turned a corner, however: see above.  So I jotted some notes into my Smartphone instead.  Voila the Copy/Paste:

Irish people still speak Gaelic.

Irish people speak Gaelic to me.

Irish people have red hair and blue eyes.  Like, all of them.  And legs as big as tree trunks.

I’m wearing my hair curly.  Fuck it.

My friends are yelling across the bar to me.  They call me “Cokk-lin.”  I just met them.  I think they like me.  I think they are also friends with my cabbie from earlier today.

There are seagulls in Dublin.

Our ancestors crammed onto tall ships called Famine Boats and traveled eight weeks across the Atlantic Ocean to find a better life in America, that is, if they survived.  Twenty percent of them died at sea.  I knew this, right?

Don’t tell Irish people in Ireland that you are “Irish.”

If you should decide to fly to Europe, fly to Ireland and I will meet you there.  Don’t rattle your nerves trying to see Paris.  I’ll always send you lots of pictures and provide plenty of tales about Paris.  Ireland is a place to see for yourself.  Because you don’t see it.  You feel it.

But don’t fly into Dublin.  That is a really fucking scary experience.  (Maybe Shannon is better?)

I’m back in Paris now.  I visited the American Ambassador’s Residence today, and then had lunch at an Irish pub with my American friends, and met some Arabs on the Champs-Elysées.  I got a rejection letter from Corium Magazine for “I Never Minded Public Transportation.”  All in all, I’d call it a successful day.

I miss Ireland though.  And I miss The Bestie, too.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Please, Les Gars, I Didn’t Actually See the Sun Rise Over the Seine on Saturday

“Guess what?” I exclaimed to The Hubs as we stumbled meandered along the cobblestones of Paris.  This I said on Friday night, after we shared a bottle of wine, and beef tartare, and a duck cooked in its own fat, while watching live jazz in the Latin Quarter, and before I rocked a creamy banana rum cocktail in a chilled martini glass somewhere in Saint-Germain, where I took The Hubs’ darling face into my hands and declared that I wanted to stay out all night and watch the sun rise over the Seine.

“What?” he asked, swinging an umbrella from one arm while holding me up embracing me with the other.

“I haven’t gotten a Rejection Letter all week!  I have a bunch of stories on Submittable marked In-Progress.  That’s gotta be a good sign, right?”

“Maybe they’re just In-Progress”  He’s a genius, that guy.

As he pulled his wallet out of his jeans to pay the Thirty Euros cover to enter another jazz club in Saint-Michel, I continued, “I submitted this pretty fucking awesome story to The New England Review a while ago, and it’s still marked In-Progress, and I kinda need them to send my Rejection Letter pronto, because I’d like to enter that same story in Glimmer Train’s Emerging Writer Contest, which deadlines tomorrow, but wouldn’t it be a bitch if they both accepted the story and I had to decline one of them?  So, I really don’t know what to do.”

The Hubs said, “Just submit to both and forget it.”  Then he motioned for the bartender.  “Got any Red Bull?”

The bartender looked at me, then back at The Hubs, and nodded enthusiastically.  “You’re going to need it, fella,” he replied.

I felt my phone buzz in my purse and quickly exhumed it, as there could have been any number of emergencies needing my immediate attention on a Friday night.  My oldest son attends a military boarding academy in the USA; my youngest son was skiing at Mont Blanc; my Slingbox was on the fritz.  But when I examined my illuminated screen, I found ::: ::: wait for it ::: ::: Rejection Letter Numero Six.  (Yep, we spell Six the same way in English and in French).

“Oh, look at that!” I yelled over the band.  “[PANK] Magazine just rejected me.”

“Is that the one you were waiting for?” asked The Hubs.

“Nooooo, this is something different.”

“So many rejections,” he said.  “I can’t keep track.”

“Me either.  Buy me a glass of wine, woodja?”

The truth is, I was hoping to have more rejection letters than six at this point in the year.  But I’m a piddler.  Earlier on Friday, for instance, I ignored my self-imposed Viking Funeral deadline to flâneur around Montmartre.  I’m sure The Daily Planet wasn’t too stoked about that.

On Thursday, I enjoyed a four-hour lunch (four hours!) with five American women (well, one was an Aussie) to celebrate a 50th birthday (not mine, people, not mine).  On Wednesday, I stood in line at the Prefecture for two-and-a-half hours (hours!) outside (outside!) in the rain (in the rain, people!) to pick up my newest Carte Sejour.  OK, that wasn’t my fault, and I did read like a hundred and some odd pages of The Secret History while standing there (standing!), balancing my Kindle under my umbrella, cursing under my breath, and desiring the entire time (TWO AND A HALF HOURS!) to bum a cigarette from the chain smoker behind me (I didn’t).

Here’s what I have accomplished, however.  On Sunday, I completely re-outlined the entire Book 1 of my novel.  This is progress, trust me.  It took all afternoon, and I feel good about it.  Mainly, I don’t have any excuses for Writer’s Block now that I have a clear image of what happens next, every step of the way.  Yesterday, after dragging my ass to church at 8:30 in the morning, I spent hours finishing the first draft of a short story about waffles on service stairs.  (Spend a day in my brain, I dare you.  It’s a swirly, colorful place).  I have also spent a decent chunk of time almost every day reading about writing, watching tutorials about writing, researching writing, and essentially embarking on an MFA program for myself that doesn’t include the MFA.  I won’t deny myself this part - It’s been work.  I’m committed.

Last night, I submitted a previously rejected and revised short story to Cleaver Magazine, which is published in my hometown Philly, and since the story setting is Central Pennsylvania, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that someone at Cleaver has a modicum of nostalgia and says, “Hey, this story is really flipping good.”

Today, I started my day bright and early, placed my portable home office in front of a very large French window overlooking a lovely Parisian avenue, and got straight to work on my novel.  I wrote exactly 500 words.  I’ve been sitting here for six hours with a short lunch break.  That’s less than 100 words per hour.

But hey, I finished this blog post too, which is something, n’est pas?