Thursday, February 25, 2010

Creative Tourism

It was a mixed bag of creative influence this week:

I: wrote, saw Shutter Island, wrote, made a 'mac' appointment to get the dysfunctional "G" and "O" keys fixed on my computer, wrote, cancelled 'mac' appointment and am living with fewer "G" and "O" words, had nightmares about Shutter Island, wrote, wrote, wrote, saw my favorite Johnny Weir skate on You Tube, edited for friends, taught Gone With The Wind, wrote, read Kate Morton's yummy new book, found out that the first pass pages are done for EXIT THE ACTRESS and are lovely!, researched, wrote, deleted, researched, wrote, found the voice I was looking for, bravely left comments on two blogs of people I don't know, taught more GWTW (up to the barbeque at Twelve Oaks) had a wonderful birthday, and wrote.

My brain went to the Civil War, the Restoration, WWI, WWII, the Fifties, turn of the century Australia, fin de siecle Paris, and 2009 New Jersey. All the time I never left Hollywood. That fits.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Me: Did you read the pages I sent? (Keep in mind that my mom is my super wonderful, honey bunches of oats, never easy on me but extra nutritious editor).

My Mother: I really, really wanted to but the Olympic curling was on.

Me: Ummm, is it over? You could read them now...

My Mother: I would love to but the dog fell asleep on top of me and I cannot get up.

Oh dear...

17 pages written! No idea how much of that mud will stick. Her voice is showing up but then in that irritating way that voices do--leaving again, as if she has a better party to go to.

The great outline of '09-10 is still marching along. My grandmother used to say 'I'm dressed except for my dress'. I thought the outline would be like that--very structural with the writing just fitting neatly over it in a super tailored 1940's skirt suit sort of way. Not working out like that. The outline begins to wiggle and shift with the writing. I just need to trust all this research I have stuffed into my head and then let the outline wear whatever it wants to.

Friday, February 19, 2010

New Lines

New city (Los Angeles), new book (The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton), new hair color (more bronze less beach), new time zone (8hrs to London, 3 to DC, 2 to Kauai=messy), new shoes (no snow=flip flops), new first lines?

I like them. They feel sticky and sure of themselves as good words hitched together sometimes do. They have gumption and oomph and I hope I will still like them in fourteen months when I am supposed to finish writing this book (yikes). Last time the first lines arrived at the beginning and stayed to the end--literally as they open and close the book. Perhaps unimaginative but necessary. This time? Fingers crossed!

Monday, February 15, 2010


So I have been going back to check my some of my research. It sounds very academic and studious when in fact it is often hilarious. Eleven hours spent investigating what the bottom of a lady's shoe was made of--that sort of thing. But I did revisit some fun notes I made from the later part of Nell Gwyn's life that I thought, did not make it into the book.

Last summer receipts from Nell's household went to auction at Sotheby's in London. (They had a reserve bid of sixty thousand pounds.) The expenditures they document are for more than that--much much more. Nell spent money. Tons of money. And not her money--the government's money!

Her grocery bills sound like she kept the house stocked for a party (most likely because she had parties nearly every night). She ordered: oysters by the barrel, limes, lemons (imported from Spain and super expensive), cheese, macaroons, custard pots, rum, brandy, cakes, ices, snow cream and most exotic of all--vegetables.

She ordered clothes like nobody's business: gloves (in bulk), nighties, lace (called Venice pointe at this time and also super expensive), dresses and shoes (also in bulk and in every style--lacy, embroidered, satin, silk--very Carrie Bradshaw). She had fun. But she also kept track of every penny she spent. She gave vast amounts to charity but went into terrible debt. She spent lavishly but employed her sister to make her clothes as her sister needed the work.

I took notes for this period in her life and then forgot all about the notes. But as research can sometimes do, it hung around, wiggled its way in and helped to shape a character. Without ever actually remembering that I had this information, I used nearly all of it. My Nell is a study in similar contrasts. A spendthrift who is careful with her money. She dislikes conflict but often takes the side of the underdog. She is anxious to better her financial situation but she cannot be bought. She has parties ever night and eats... yep, vegetables.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Book

After working on the same subject for four years, the New Book feels so uncharted and fun and new and so, so... unwritten. New Book is another historical fiction--this time twentieth century--lots of new history to learn. I now see the infinite merits of writing another book set in the same period. But that ship has sailed. New Book is set in a period buzzing with innovation, communication, better records, photographs, shorter hemlines, living descendants, existing locations, telephones, telegrams, radio programs, ships, trains, planes, films, ferries and many, many books--yikes.

I am doing my timeline--my very big timeline. My timeline is taking me awhile and I can clearly see that I am fully capable of eating up the time I have allotted to write the book with just writing my timeline. No bueno.

I wanted to wait until the characters started to chatter in my head. But I think the characters, in real Pirandello style, are waiting for me to give them some lines. I think I will never feel fully prepared, or feel ready or sure about when to stop researching and when to start writing. I know from the first one that I will research my whole way through the writing process. I will still be researching in the editing process. I will be editing in the writing process. It will be a mess most days. Ok. The start whistle will never blow. The book fairy isn't going to leave it under my pillow. The only traffic light that will turn green is the one I build and set up in my mental intersection. Green light. Time to start.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Design Samples and Time Travel

They came! They came! The first draft design pdf-thingys of what the book will actually look like! It looked so official and so lovely! It was bizarre/surreal/fantastic to see the text that lived for so long in my little 'manuscript' folder on my laptop desktop all grown up and turned into proper book pages.

Because my book is written in a nutty, unexplained patchwork style, the layout is super design heavy. I wanted the story to be a run down a rabbit hole and into another time having no idea why sort of paper trail experience. All the elements (it turns out that there are about thirty of them--yikes) need to be distinct and the diary needs to be recognizable as the control group in this experiment. Tricky to do. And make it look like the period? And not strain the eye, confuse the reader, or in any other way be too much, too little or annoying? Wow, is that hard.

I really did not want to explain the bits of paper-- to do the young woman opens forgotten old chest in her attic and there are neat bundles of diaries/letters/recipes/playbills/newspapers/shoemaker bills and medical journals all relating to someone she finds out is her ancestor sort of story. Icky ick. That sort of tidy, discovery of right paper by right person paper stuff always drives me bonkers in historical fiction. I want to step into a place and not step out. Mysteries and thrillers I expect to be jostled around and pitched out of this or that century--fantastic, but in historical fiction I just want to go somewhere and stay there. The same way I like to travel--go somewhere and make friends with a place; set up shop, move in. I love having time in a book. If a book is too short I cannot commit to it as I know we will break up too soon.

Unless of course the time travel is done really well as in A.S. Byatt's Possession--brilliant and the discovery goes on and on and is the story or as in Wuthering Heights. Mr. Lockwood very conveniently hears the whole history of Cathy the Ghost who he is about to meet and wacky Heathcliff who is about to join her for an undead walk on the moors. Convenient but so good I can forgive all its convenience.

In other news, I went and got Meredith's book, If You Want to Cry, Go Outside. It is sharp, witty and a really fun kind of smart. My dad (who tends towards history, politics and P.G. Wodehouse) has also picked it up I noticed. And my book sold to Italy this morning! Royalties in euros--yipee!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book Release

IF YOU WANT TO CRY GO OUTSIDE by Kelly Cutrone and Meredith Bryan (my brother Nicky's girlfriend) is out this week! Congratulations!