The 3 Rs: Reading, Writing, and Rejections

Asses up: is burying my head in the reservoir the same as burying my head in the sand?

Recently I’ve seen a bunch of tweets/comments in the writing world about writing that strike me as…odd. That it isn’t the writing that matters, it’s the story. Umm, what? Yeah, yeah, I know, there are books/stories that are plot driven and those that are character driven, and there are different readers who read for different reasons. But. If I begin a novel and it doesn’t have a strong voice and or strong writing, I don’t care about the story and will stop reading. The opposite is also true, if the voice/writing is strong and the story sucks, I’ll continue to read and still love the book. Obviously, a great book will have it all, most writers strive to create it all, but many don’t. Including, yes, many published and sometimes lauded and/or bestselling stories.

But I’m also seeing the flip side– don’t-worry-about-publication, just write for the love of it, doesn’t matter if you’re ever/never published. Strangely enough, this statement is usually made by people who are published and don’t seem to be renouncing future contracts. Hmm. Yes, I understand where the statement is coming from: rep/publication will bring new pressures, doesn’t solve everything. Nothing does.

I do love to write, oh, the feeling you’ve nailed the phrase, the scene, the word. The other side is the lousy, practically adolescent (at 50,000 years old) angst of rejections. You have to have thick skin, they say. Heh. I’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul, fed my family more than once with a mostly empty fridge and cash scrounged from behind the cushions, seen both my husband and my daughter stop breathing, dealt with more ologists, advocating for my loved ones as a lay person most would love to ignore, actually seen Husband’s heart taken from behind all those nice protective layers of skin, muscle, and bone. The literal start to my day involves measuring the necrotic tissue on Husband’s foot, adding to the photo record of it to track the spread. Yup, my skin is plenty thick, thanks. None of this means I don’t care about my words. As I’ve said many times, for me, half of writing is being read. And nothing, nothing is equivalent to when someone reads my words and comes back to tell me they felt them.

I’m a reader who also plays with words and worlds of my own. I tend to enjoy reading books that are more in line with what I write (not exclusively, a good thriller or sff can be great fun to read, but my imagination doesn’t lean that way for wording). I’m a ferocious reader, a voracious reader, a fucking excellent reader who takes more pleasure in a great book than anything outside of those lovely but boring to others mama-moments. Seriously, half the time I trip over the kids’ names when more than one of them is standing in front of me, but a great opening line –hell, a great line in the middle of a novel– will stay with me forever.

Characters, oh I want characters who are fresh and raw and real. Who feel things deeply, who make me feel things deeply. It isn’t a fast pace, not even an imminent world war that’s going to make me feel, not a beautiful protagonist that will catch my reading eye, it’s the beautifully drawn world, even if, maybe especially if, it’s rich and dark and ugly; it’s the interesting narrative, sharp dialogue, it’s the words. Not is it realistic but does it feel/do these characters feel real?  Making me ache is cool, but making me laugh is better, both is best. Does it make me want to move to Alaska in the middle of winter like when I reread The Snow Child? Yes, I want those sentences so lyrical, so clear and ringing I do stop reading and say goddamn, how did the author do that? Is this really the same language I use every day? A great book will somehow take me out of my everyday with characters who are everyman/woman. Characters I see myself and my people in: those who are struggling and striving and failing and pissed off. Characters whose stories shouldn’t be remotely interesting yet are.

In a surprise to no one I, Mrs Fringe, write fringe characters, the people in the background brought to the fore. They don’t save the world, most of the time they don’t even save themselves. If I was smart, as someone who loves playing with words, has no MFA, and wants to be published, I would work on stories and characters that are more commercial. More exciting, more elegant, more sexy, more triumphant. I guess I’m more stubborn than smart. And every time I get feedback from a reader who says yes, I felt her, I know him, every time I get one of those dreaded close but no cigar rejections–you know the ones, they’re personalized, offer specific and positive details but say nope, can’t place it, or not this time, try me/us again, every time I read a novel that rings so fucking true, it frustrates me to no end but also gooses me not to stop.

I’m not everyone, but I’m not the only one, either.

Dear Dems: Please and

 

If you squint it says Thank You.

 

You know how infuriating and offensive it is when we hear the media and the GOP talking about real Americans, and by that they mean white, male, Christian, straight, cis, born in a cornfield, swaddled in the flag, and weaned on Bud/Coors/Pabst Blue Ribbon middle American farmers? Yeah, how about we stop doing that to ourselves.

We dislocate shoulders patting ourselves on the back for how diverse our party is. Cool. And it is. We are the party of looking forward, to growth and prosperity, equal pay, equal rights, equal opportunities and safety for all. We howl in outrage and anguish at the recent, systematic dismantling of our all too fragile democracy. Now how about we act like we mean it?

As harmful as it is to pretend there aren’t millions of voting Americans who support this administration (yanno, the whole thisisnotwhoweare), it is equally–if not more so–harmful to pretend the only Democrats who matter are your kind, whether your kind is progressive, moderate, or some other faction. If you are saying the only possible Dem candidate to take back the White House is the one you support, if you are preemptively spouting conspiracy theories about why your candidate won’t win the nomination and is being robbed by the establishment/socialists/whatever; please stop.

Please. If you are passionate about your choice for the Dem nomination, excellent. Campaign for them, brag about their accomplishments, vote for them, make your case about why you believe they are the best choice, buy them flowers, tell them you love them and call them in the morning. But don’t viciously rip the other candidates and their supporters, don’t bellow they are the same as those who support the current White House and GOP. They aren’t. You may not agree with them/their candidates about everything, or even most things. But they aren’t trying to take away your democracy, your right to clean air and water, your right to freedom of religion/speech/marriage equality/voting rights–your basic human rights.

But someone else is. Millions of someones are. And the GOP, by their Senate vote on impeachment yesterday, made it clear. They are all for a dictatorship, they’re done with equality and justice for all, the rule of law, this little experiment called America. I know there are some who will read this post and splutter, Mrs Fringe is romanticizing the America of 2015, she’s forgetting the ERA was never passed, voting rights have been under attack long before 2016, she’s forgetting Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland, and Flint Michigan, and stop and frisk, DREAMERS, the opiod crisis, children in cages, the school to prison pipeline, the imaginary weapons of mass destruction that got us into Iraq, and climate change, and mass shootings, and the working poor who have been living in their cars and in shelters for years, and unaffordable medicine, and why we need strong borders, and Israel, and the deficit, and on and on.

I promise, I am not. I am remembering. I am not imagining a pipe dream of who we are. I am remembering this. is. not. normal. It isn’t normal, but it has now become normalized. I am remembering the upcoming elections are our last shot for who knows how long to try and get this country back on the path of democracy. I know how this sounds. We’re taught–and we teach–to shoot for the stars, go for the gold, marry the person who makes your heart sing and your consciousness expand (or something, I dunno, I’m not a romance kind of gal). But we haven’t been taught–and don’t teach–to give up and starve to death if we don’t become movie stars and instead wait tables until retirement, lay down and die if we get a thanks-for-playing certificate instead of the gold, marry the person who beats you to death if you don’t marry the one who first broke your heart.

Be passionate. Be loud. Make your case and share your dream of our country led by your candidate of choice. When the caucuses and primaries are over, maybe your candidate will have come out on top. Maybe I’ll agree they were the best choice. Maybe not. Whether they were my first choice or not, I will support them, and I will believe even if they were my last choice, they are THE choice. I may not love them. You may not love them. We don’t have to. We’re choosing a President for four years, not a dictator who will in turn hand their golden scepter to their progeny, not a God (despite the current theories and apparent intentions on the right). I will know, whether it’s the most progressive candidate or the most moderate, they will not implement the hellscape currently being crafted by those in power today.

 

 

Let’s Chat, Shall We?

Come, sit, I’ve poured you a fresh cup of my favorite tea.

I was going to avoid political talk for a little longer, but that seems unrealistic these days, doesn’t it? Actually, it feels irresponsible to avoid it completely if you have any type of platform, no matter how small. I’m not going to address last night’s performance piece of a State of the Union speech, I’m going to focus in a bit more. On health care. Yeah, that old topic. You’d think we’d have exhausted and put it to bed by the year 2020, but far from it.

So. When I was a kiddo in the wilds of south Brooklyn, everyone knew one other kiddo whose dad had died in his thirties or forties–maybe when we were a little older, in his fifties–from a massive heart attack. Shoveling snow, working construction, running to catch the train, maybe eating Sunday dinner. “So young,” it would be whispered. It happened, and really, outside of the immediate family/friend circle, it wasn’t all that shocking, because it happened. Not frequently, but. Actually, it often wasn’t all that shocking within the circle either, because more than half the time you’d hear the same had happened to Grandpa/Uncle/Cousin. Genetics, though then we’d say “it runs in the family,” like freckles or broad hips.

We also all knew at least one someone whose Grandma/Grandpa lived with them, but you didn’t know until you’d been to their house or apartment twelve times, because Gramps was hidden in the basement or a back room. Gran was creepy, with an odd lurch to her step and slurred speech in the brief periods that she was awake and banging for dinner. Sounds like the setup to a gothic novel, doesn’t it? No, an elderly person post-stroke, with a poor or working class family who couldn’t afford home health attendants or a decent nursing home. There was social security and medicare, but it didn’t cover enough for many families who couldn’t supplement.

Now we hear, “So young!” when someone dies at 75. Because health care is better, and more broadly available. Not for everyone, not enough, but certainly better. The 43 year old who has nausea and sharp jaw pain goes to her cardiologist and gets a stress test, the 38 year old with chest pains goes to the ER and has an angio resulting in a drug eluding stent placed to unclog his left anterior descending artery. True, pollution was much worse (in our air and water) and everyone smoked, but it’s now rare to hear of someone under the age of 70 who had rheumatic fever as a child leaving them with cardiac issues, and the number of people living with diabetes has skyrocketed. Oh, you didn’t know diabetes is actually a multi-systemic, devastating disorder?

When the Affordable Care Act was passed, things improved for many. Medicaid was expanded, adult children could stay on parents’ health care plans until age 26 (so important in this age of shrinking unions and gig economy), lifetime caps were eliminated. If you don’t think the elimination of lifetime caps is a big deal, congrats! Your life has been charmed. Annual caps were eliminated (also, a really big issue for anyone dealing with chronic disease). Insurers were no longer allowed to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions, insurers were no longer allowed to jack up the rates for those with preexisting conditions (making health insurance unattainable), preventative health care had to be covered, garbage plans that basically offered no protections were banned. Was the ACA enough? No. Was it still too expensive for too many? Yes. Are there too many doctors who don’t accept ACA plans? Yup. But it was better than what we had before. Much better for many, and a huge step in the right direction for all.

One of the first things this administration and GOP did was try to roll back the ACA. By the grace of John McCain (there’s a phrase I never expected to type) and the huge push of constituents nationwide, they were defeated.

Well, guess what? They’ve been successfully chipping away at it ever since. The individual mandate has been eliminated. States were allowed to tie work requirements to Medicaid (now in court, but so far tens of thousands have been kicked off Medicaid in Arkansas). Access to garbage (called short term or skinny plans) was expanded. And now, right now, this administration is in court, trying to take away protections for those with preexisting conditions. Of course, this President spews lies about this along with everything else. Why does he lie so much? Because he can. Because he gets away with it. Because of his supporters, many aren’t informed enough to know he’s in court trying to take away their healthy care–and savvy enough to tell SCOTUS not to hurry to hear the case, wait until after the 2020 election. A number of his supporters know and don’t care, they’d rather lose their own protections and health care than know one of those others is getting a bypass in the operating room next door.

My personal favorite (and by favorite I mean drooling/sobbing/ready to throw myself off the terrace) is when I see/hear people who continue to support this administration and President because who knows why, but they know it’s ok, and they’ll be ok, because they aren’t like those greedy libs who want entitlements. Sure they want and need their Social Security and Medicare, but those aren’t entitlements. Oops. But come November, they’ll still vote for him. Why? Because in the meantime he’ll lie, and they’ll swallow those lies because they want to, and really, when you think about it, maybe Uncle Joe’s had a good run after all.

Practice, Practice, Practice

That old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?…”

It’s showtime, folks.

Here I am, back home again. Not that I can’t blog from the hospital, I just didn’t want to. Husband has yet another brand new part, Art Child has a brand new diagnosis of walking pneumonia, and me? Well, I’ve got the same old pile of dirty laundry staring at me. Much like the file that holds the current manuscript I’m sort of kind of querying, I’m ignoring it. Every morning I get up, make my coffee, exchange emails with my writing buddy, squint at the newspaper while I try to pretend I’m not living through the death of American democracy, do my stretches, open the file intending to make notes for a synopsis (some agents require these when you’re querying), read a couple of paragraphs, weep, and close the file again.

Life has been pretty damned weird these days, and I feel like I’m…on the cusp of a new stage, or grieving, maybe both. I think those two things go together. Grief, not just for dinner dying anymore.

No, no, don’t get nervous, I’m not going to go on about health, hospitals, or death. We grieve a lot of things at different stages: loss of friendship, loss of marriage, job loss, major financial difficulties, leaving school, starting school, menopause (so I’ve heard–personally, I celebrated), children growing up, viagra prescriptions, a healthy planet, elected officials who understood the term public service, and dreams. Oh, those traitorous, treacherous fucking dreams. Mine, as anyone who’s been with Mrs Fringe for any length of time knows, is tied to my writing. A contract. Someone in the industry who believes in my words, my fiction, enough to think they and I could earn a dollar from them.

That clip above? From All That Jazz, my favorite movie, I honestly don’t think I can tell you how many times I’ve seen it. Gah! I was an adolescent during one of the golden ages of movie musicals. All That Jazz, Saturday Night Fever (I know, technically not a musical, but it was the soundtrack of my youth), Hair, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Grease, Fame, Yentl, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The Rose, Shock Treatment, Fame (yes, I wrote it twice), The Blues Brothers–there were a lot of them. They were all great fun and great tears with a message. If you had talent, determination, someone who believed in you, willingness to put the work in and put up with various setbacks and humiliations, booze and/or mind altering substances but didn’t OD by the time you were 30, well. You would make it. That or you’d be beaten by life and give up those stupid dreams for a house in the suburbs. Or financial security. Or you’d just be too busy with financial insecurity to care anymore. See above, “I acceeeeeept!” Whichever way the chips fell, there was definitely no soundtrack telling me I’d take a twenty year break from trying, wake up one day to hear the alarm ringing from Pink Floyd’s Time in my head and start writing again, and write and revise and write and revise and connect with other writers and learn about the publishing industry and get derailed again and then write and revise and submit, and write and revise and submit, over and over again until I was 50,000 years old, still care, and what’s playing in my head is no longer the alarm clock, but Clare Torry’s brilliant, wordless vocals. Yeah, I’d like to see that movie. It’s possible this manuscript is a version of it.

I want to accept. I say I accept. I think I’ve accepted. And then I don’t. Because even as I grieve the loss of my writing dream, the writing is how I get through, how I live, how I grieve.

The closing scene of All That Jazz is below. Kind of long but you should watch it, about the death of a dream realized, and also Ben Vereen is a god.

Where Have Those Damned Words Gone?

Sunrise over the East River

I’ll say one thing for all of our recent time in the hospital, they have the best damned views in the city. Most of my photos have weird shadows and reflections because of the double paned windows combined with my terrible photo taking skills when using the phone, but hey, I’ve woken up to worse.

Scary hospital stays are scary. How’s that for profound blathering? And when faced with these stays, we are a family that talks around things, jokes about them, because we do. I don’t want to cry any more than when I absolutely can’t hold it in, leaves me with one of those vicious migraines that have teeth and nausea every time, and hospital security gets really testy when you stand in the halls and scream profanities. In the past, I’d tell Husband I appreciated the vacation, but next time let’s pick a better hotel. These last few times, well. This is a fancy shmancy hospital, with tvs larger than the wall our living room tv hangs on. I told him it was the nicest hotel he’d ever taken me to. That was the joke, over and over with each new nurse, each new visitor. Not all that funny the first time, less so every time I said it, but again, wtf else am I going to say?

Words may be my thing, reading and writing them, but I lose them when I most need them just like a cab driver trying to explain in his third language that the crumpled fender of the car in front of his isn’t his fault.

In November I began reading a novel I had long been waiting for, and it’s truly rare for me to buy a book at full price. I wish I could more often to support authors, but my budget is limited and I read a lot. This one, though, I had to. Erin Morgenstern. There are many authors I admire for different strengths, and her strength is incredibly lush sentences I just get lost in. Nevertheless, I stopped reading once Husband was admitted because I just couldn’t relax into those opulent, fantastical dreams on the page. Nothing I can imagine myself writing.

Because my words are wrong, too raw. Too many shadows and distorted reflections that gauge their way out of my mouth with teeth and claws.

This morning I finished the novel. It didn’t inspire me to write anything beautiful, say anything beautiful, but I did bake an apple pie with all the cinnamon my heart desires, on top of a puff pastry crust with a layer of cheesecake in between, as close as I get to lush. Five minutes ago–as I was writing this–Husband’s doctor called, we’re looking at another inpatient stay next week.

Uncomfortably Numb

have you heard me screaming? I tried to do it quietly.

Well. Pretty much skipped 2019, didn’t I? Wish I could say that was true outside of the blogosphere, but life is what it is. Yesterday I saw this Tweet and this response and I thought, yes. Immediately followed by, maybe. I began this blog not expecting anyone to find it, and that was ok. I did it for me, and along the way gathered some followers, made some friends, connected with more than I had any right to expect. Mrs Fringe was a space for me to be not just mom/wife/dogwalker/reefer/writer/bitch/feminist/New Yorker, but the sum of those parts; a person (albeit a somewhat anonymous and edited one). It turned out great and perfect in all the ways for a long time, until it wasn’t, so I hit pause. I think I’m hitting the play button again, but life happens, so who knows.

How was your 2019? Mine was overall shit, with some wonderful bright spots. Art Child graduated from high school. Whee, I’m done, done, done with the public school system! That New Thing I was working on? I kept working, wrote to The End, and I’m pretty fucking proud of it. All the old qualifiers apply, no clue if anyone in the industry will like it/want it, but there you have it. I even went to a writers’ conference last summer and pitched it to a few agents, have done some limited querying, getting some interest. We’ll see. Hope for the best, expect the worst, blah blah blah.

The past couple of weeks on Twitter, reading my timeline I’ve just felt old. All these youthful, positive posts cataloguing the past decade in accomplishments, earnestly seeing the beginning of a new decade as something. There have been many New Years where my overriding thought has been wow, this past year kicked my ass. This year is not only not an exception, but I don’t even feel human anymore. When I tried to think about the decade gone, my mind started ticking off medical emergencies. The last 14? 15? years have been a twisted game of lurching from emergency to emergency, and 2019 will take its place up there in the top three. In the hospital with Husband, and then Mother-in-Law, and then Husband, and then Husband, and then Husband, and oh fuck the kids, MIL and I pretty much spent six months alternately holding our breaths and checking his, and then I spent most of the past two months inpatient with him.

All this time immersed in the world of medical interventions and I’ve learned four things really, really well. One: human beings aren’t designed for this level of sustained stress. Two: for every major medical intervention, there is a price to be paid–both physical and psychological–the more complex the intervention the higher the price, and you better believe this isn’t one of those no money down deals, they want that arm, leg, or kidney upfucking front. Three: I know who does or does not have real experience in the world of complex, chronic medical needs within ten seconds; by their understanding–or lack thereof–of what the actual, literal, monetary cost of our fucked American healthcare system is (if you’re reading this and you’re one of those mythical Americans who love your health insurance, all I can say is how nice for you, you’ve lived a charmed life with the luck of good genes), and what actually is/is not realistic to expect in terms of healing and recovery. In this skewed little corner of the world, out of the hospital doesn’t mean all better, it means the immediate risk/benefit of being inpatient tipped to the risk side, because nowhere harbors more antibiotic resistant bacteria than hospitals, so hey, congrats! Now you get to go home and do all this without a kitchen sending the patient three hot, fresh, reasonably nutritious meals a day, no nurses, no wonderful cart down the hall stocked with warm blankets and clean linens, and oh yeah, no teams of doctors coming to round, so multiple doctor appointments across the city weekly. What’s the fourth thing? I have the best kids in the universe, no shit.

I don’t know if any of my old faithful readers still check Mrs Fringe. If so, thank you (and hey, I’m not dead!). If not, that’s ok too. Maybe some new readers will find me. Mostly I’m hoping to blog my way back to the status of human, if that’s still possible.

PS: My camera has permanently decided it no longer wants to partner with my laptop, so for the foreseeable future all photos will be blurry cell pics.

Communication Breakdown

Hello all.

I know, it’s been a long time. What can I say, the world’s gone to shit, and somehow my rage at the daily news left me howling but without words. Honestly, the Kavanaugh hearings and subsequent confirmation did me in.

I’ve stayed on Twitter though, and that’s what prompted this post. A funny thing happened to me today. Funny-strange, not funny ha-ha. As a woman of a certain age, I’m used to a certain level of invisibility. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but there are other aspects to it that are kind of…pleasant. Peaceful. But I’ve been particularly enraged these past days as the US states have ramped up their attacks on women through abortion restrictions and plans to criminalize women. Note that I’m not, however, surprised. So when I logged on Twitter this morning, I saw #Lysistrata and #sexstrike trending. Yeah…no. Sure, I understand the idea behind it, and it seems clever–after all, it’s all about sex, and sex gets attention and sells, right? No. I tweeted my opposition to the idea, and offered an alternative, #spendingstrike, and lo and behold my little invisible tweet blew up. I don’t know that it falls under the going viral category, but considering I usually interact with the same little group of ten people or so, maaaaybe twenty if it’s a Big Thing, finding a tweet of mine with 1000 likes, over 200 retweets, and lots of comments is a big deal. Kind of nerve wracking, in a holy shit my phone is going to spontaneously combust from vibrating so much kind of way. I also had to locate and use the block button, because I was noticed by trolls. A nuisance, that, but meh. They’ll forget I existed by midnight.

You know what does feel like a big deal? How many people don’t seem to understand the point–why the whole sex strike thing is not a great idea in this day and age. Why maybe showing our fury and frustration about being told by other people what we can or can’t do with our bodies by telling each other what we can/can’t do with our bodies isn’t…logical. How maybe the idea of sex as a tool/weapon reinforces the whole patriarchy thing. That it reinforces that it’s “natural” (excuse me while I puke) for men to want sex and women not too. How it reinforces the falsehood that women are only valuable as sexual objects &/or incubating capabilities. How it reinforces the idea that only *certain* women (yanno, the straight, cis, childbearing age ones) are valuable, only certain women can take a stand against barbaric rules that threaten all of us. How it ignores the fact that most of these threatened and threatening male Republican lawmakers & voters are mostly having sex with threatened and threatening self-hating Republican women. Did I puke already this paragraph? I know, a nauseating concept, but it is reality, and for a hippy I’m quite the realist.

I’m not going to really talk about abortion or sex or babies here, because those aren’t the point, not of this post and not of these laws. This is about women and power and fear.

I have this idea that’s been floating in my head for a while now. What does make a difference? What gets attention? Money, of course. So I thought of a hashtag, #spendingstrike and posted my idea. What if all the non self-hating women didn’t make any purchases for a week? Women, collectively, spend a lot of money, power a significant portion of our economy. I’m not looking for anyone to hurt themselves or anyone else, so it would have to planned well in advance. We’d have to go into it knowing that a percentage wouldn’t participate because they do hate themselves enough to believe they should die before having a D&C, even if and when the fetus is not viable &/or they’ll die without the D&C. Fine, they’re zealots, brainwashed, whatever you want to say, no point wasting time and energy arguing with them. Another slice of women won’t participate because life is fucking hard and it’s all they can do to get through each day, they aren’t screwing around on Twitter; they’re either working or sleeping or taking care of their families or trying to find somewhere to sleep for the night. That still leaves a whole lot of us. A whole lot of dollars not spent.

Think about it. No purchases for a week. No grocery shopping, no cars, no phones, no Metrocard. If planned for it could happen. Some people saw my hashtag and tweets, and misconstrued them, thinking I meant women shouldn’t go to work for a day (or a week, whatever). No. Again, I’m not looking to hurt anyone, and a lot of women don’t have the luxury of saying they won’t go to work because Hear Me Roar, their bosses would respond with Don’t Come Back. I’m not looking to hurt any one industry, or the people of any one area, with a prolonged strike. It isn’t about deprivation. Choosing deprivation is again a luxury that many don’t have, and these laws will hurt just about all of us–the exception, of course, being the uber wealthy who will be able to afford to go wherever they want/need for safe health care, and hey, if they do get arrested because some judge doesn’t believe they didn’t cause their own miscarriage, they can afford great lawyers. It’s about getting attention–yeah, yeah, I seem to be confused about the whole attention whore thing–and making a point. THE point, that they may not value our rights or our lives, but I’m quite certain they value our money. Congress has the power of the purse. Guess what? We do too.

Beach Bits

Yesterday for the first–and likely only–time this summer, Husband, Art Child and I made it to the beach together. This means we didn’t take the train to my beloved Brooklyn beach, but went to New Jersey. The water is colder, the waves rougher, you have to actually pay and get a little bracelet/badge thing to step onto the sand, but Husband prefers it. Sure, the sand in Brooklyn is finer and softer, but the Jersey shore doesn’t have chunks of glass sprinkled throughout. No, I don’t mean collectible beach glass, I mean bits from leftover broken bottles. Husband’s got those diabetic feet, extra care must be taken. Me? I’ve got feet like a goat, toughened from childhood and teenaged days walking on those Brooklyn beaches, and nights spent on the boardwalk–which, at the time, was not smooth and sanded like someone’s backyard deck. I’d get home each evening and spend twenty minutes with a pair of tweezers, removing splinters I hadn’t even felt going in. Do goats get splinters?

We’d only been there a little while and were standing at the shore debating the waves when a young couple walked by–twenties? thirties? and the man stopped to compliment Husband. If you’re someone who pays attention to that stuff, it makes sense, Husband appears very fit. To tell the truth, I didn’t notice the couple until I was seeing their backs, and his back looked like a guy who spends some time working on his body. But yanno what they say, looks can be deceiving. I was a young teenager when I met Husband, he had 6-pack abs and was all buff, has stayed that way through  the decades. All these years, never saw him do a sit-up, he never went to a gym, etc. He’s got whatever it is that makes some men go bald early and develop a new muscle from a vigorous sneeze. Good genes. On the outside. His insides? Not so much. Which has had a toll on the outside. It isn’t like the man thought my husband was twenty years younger than he is. No wrinkles, but his beard and chest hair are white, he’s got scars running down his chest and across his abdomen from open heart surgeries and various drainage tubes, a continuous glucose monitor planted in his side, and pretty much permanent bruises from the multiple insulin injections he gives himself daily–because needles and blood thinners aren’t a match made in heaven–and he’s much narrower than he used to be, muscles shrank some after that first open heart surgery. Do those twenty pounds count as lost if I picked them up and kept them for myself? But he still looks damned fine, and it’s reasonable for anyone seeing him on the beach to assume he spends regular time at the gym.

Husband was amused by the compliment, probably forgot about it a minute later, because it wasn’t a big deal, no long interaction. I kept thinking about it–prompted no doubt by the young women sunbathing behind us having a loud and running conversation about planned plastic surgeries and the horrors of aging and pregnancies on women’s bodies. I was tempted to shake my saggy bits in front of them. For whatever progress has been made in our society, the marriage of ageism and misogyny is alive and well. No one is likely to walk up to a woman of a certain age who looks her age and tell her what great shape she’s in. Women can and will be complimented on the shape they’re in only if they also look younger than they are. Women aren’t supposed to look their age, and if they do, if god forbid it’s remarked upon, it’s an insult. Why is that? Unless we’re in positions of power, women on the wrong side of the aging hill are largely invisible. If you are a woman in a position of power, you’d best look younger than you are, get those Botox injections or you’ll be pilloried and lose that position. The weird thing about all this? For a non-public, non-powerful regular gal, it can be a relief. Because as women, a compliment from a stranger can’t be taken without an assessment of whether that compliment is actually a dis or worse, a threat. I like to think of aging as nature’s invisibility cloak, woven of gray hair and gravity.

Practical Dreaming?

Perfection

The only thing better than a beach day is a beer on the beach day. Sadly, this photo is from last month, and I’ve only made it the beach a couple of times this year. Life.

A couple of weeks ago was the Mrs Fringe blog-o-versary. I celebrated in Fringie style by intending to post about running this blog for the past six years, but was distracted by life and there went that.

Here’s the thing about living with chronic bouts of medical mayhem. It doesn’t take much, doesn’t take long to have all the doctor, specialist, emergency room visits meld into one long this-is-the-entirety of life. And it isn’t knowing too much about what’s being said in medical-ese, it’s the sneaky tidbit that comes from behind you and smashes you upside the head with an anvil. Like knowing exactly which bathroom is likely to be the emptiest/cleanest at any given time of day at your most visited ER.

I was joking with one of my writing friends last week, and told her to send me a rejection email so I could feel like a person. She didn’t, but the writing gods were with me and I did get one from an agent a few days later. Sounds a bit crazy to say that, eh? Not just because rejection, but because querying, in and of itself, can often feel dehumanizing. But rejections can be ok, they’re a reminder of person-hood and productivity. And this was a lovely one, personalized, complimentary, and brief. Well, maybe it is a bit crazy to talk about good rejections, but it’s a crazy business.

In addition to commentary on all the political muck, there’s been a lot of industry muck going around recently on social media, stories of agents who aren’t ethical, etc. I follow, pay attention, but don’t say much because I have no personal experience; I’m unagented and have never been strung along by a shmagent. I’d like to say the latter is the result of my sophisticated New Yorker radar, but that would be nonsense. It’s luck. I’m no different than any other wannabe who plays with words, knowing exactly how slim the odds are, and yet investing hours and days and weeks and months, sometimes years, into creating fictional people and living in their worlds, because it could happen. I could get signed, one of my manuscripts could get picked up. I want to think I wouldn’t get suckered, but I can see exactly how and why that damned hope could override any warning signs.

Yesterday there was an interesting thread on the writer’s forum, it’s been discussed many times before, and I don’t think what it became was the original question/intent, but it was a plot vs writing thread. Which is more important to readers, likelihood of being picked up, that kind of thing. Yah, yah, the best novels have both, but most novels aren’t *the best,* and have one or two strengths, not perfection. I enjoy a broad variety of books, literary and genre (nonfiction, too), but if I had to pick one, I lean towards the literary. I can forgive/ignore a lot of plot holes for an interesting character. As a reader, that’s fine, there are always many fine novels to choose from.

As someone who plays with words with an eye towards publication, it couldn’t be a poorer choice. If I was smart–practical–someone who wanted to improve the odds of their dream becoming real, I would work on a tightly plotted thriller with an intern who saves cyberspace, or an epic dark fantasy with a fairy who saves the world, or beautiful, eternally young vampires giving fangtastic blowjobs to shapeshifters–while saving the world.

I’m not that smart. The New Thing I talked about in my last post? I’m still working on it. Took a week off because of the medical mayhem, got back to it the other day. I’m not a fast writer, but if I’m in it, I’m in it, and will average 1000 words every writing session. I’m all in with this angry, unlikeable and unapologetic older woman. This morning I woke intending to open the file and begin the next scene, but instead sat and thought about how thoroughly impractical this story is if I care about finding an agent. And/or being published. There went the day’s words, eaten by angst and shoulda woulda couldas.

There is such a thing as a practical dreamer. I wish it was me, but it isn’t. I I love this story–even though most of it is barely more than a shadow at this point, and I am having too much fun with this character. When my words aren’t lost to practicality and medical mayhem.

What the hell, might as well go all in on the angst:

it was a Dark and Stormy Night

Hmmm

Ok, maybe it was more of a sunny but stormy morning. I like contradictions, the unexpected, the bits that make you say, wait, what? And I love the feeling when a new character’s voice gets strong and clear enough for me to begin putting fingers to keyboard.

And so, here I am. 22 pages into a New Thing. This many pages and it isn’t a short (for me, I know many write long shorts, I’m not one of them) but while the main character’s voice is clear in my head, and I’ve got a shadowy silhouette for the narrative structure, I don’t yet have enough of a story to know this can be a full length manuscript. I’m excited.

I know some who play with words are always excited by their new characters and stories, but I’m not one of those people. I always like them well enough–or, more accurately, not always like but am intrigued by them. But I’m not always excited. As a general rule, the more marketable (hah! as if I understand what’s marketable) the characters/story seem to be, well, the less tied to my words! my sweat! my opened a vein through the keyboard! I am. This is not a given, everyone’s process and experience is different. I’m sure I’ve blogged about this in the past, when I talked more about writing. I’m just not someone who feels each manuscript is a baby I’ve given birth to. I don’t feel any manuscript is a baby I’ve given birth to. Everyone has their own parenting style, but if I don’t feel a limb of any given kiddo is as perfect as I could have made it, I don’t chop it off.

That said, there are a few pieces I’ve been quite attached to, with 210% faith that weird or not, they were damned fine work, with a to-be-found audience that would pay money to read and not feel ripped off at the end, despite my fondness for killing characters. A couple of years back I swore I wasn’t going to write any more of those. Too consuming, too crushing when there was interest but no offers.

So what the hell am I doing with New Thing? It isn’t speculative fiction or magical realism–it’s been years since I’ve written anything over 3000 words that didn’t fall into those categories. Don’t misunderstand, it isn’t like I’m excited by a character or story that’s practical (read, marketable). No romance, no coming of age, no heartwarming friendship story, no thriller or cozy mystery. I’ve got a caustic, no-holds-barred 73 year old woman with early-onset age-related word finding issues, thoughts that skip around like a heart that needs a pacemaker, a love of bourbon, a greater love of cursing, memories of a family she abandoned close to 35 years ago, with no apologies for who she is and certainty that she’s going to die within the next two weeks. She’s offensive.

I’m using 1st person (I instead of she/he) for the bulk of it, which I’ve rarely done and am not particularly fond of, but it feels right for her. I’m using a framing device for the narrative (story within a story) which I’ve never done, and the frame is written in 2nd person, which no one is particularly fond of. It’s, I’m pretty sure, going to be, satire, which no one wants unless you’re Chuck Palahniuk, or Kurt Vonnegut, or John Kennedy Toole. All three are male, two are dead, and I’m neither. Sometimes you see Jane Austen on those satire lists, and I’m pretty sure the only thing my words/stories share with hers is that we both draw/drew from the English alphabet. But I’m kinda sorta falling in love with this bitch of a character. Bitchy, not snarky. I read the opening chapter to Husband (I always read my opening chapters to him–he’s a good sport, supportive of my words, but it’s more an exercise in me needing to read it aloud *to* someone than belief that he’s going to want to hear/read more), and he likes it. Genuinely laughed in all the spots I would hope someone would laugh. This is fucking terrifying.

Instead of a song/youtube vid, I’m closing this with the last few pages of the first chapter. Good, bad, or indifferent, Fringelings, feel free to share your thoughts:

Ha! You make me choke, think I learned to cook in the restaurant. Rest-o-rant-ay. I learned the restaurant to cook. No, I didn’t. I brought my secret in with me and took it when they closed. I’ll learn you to cook, if you want. Otherwise it’s just gonna go with me to the grave. No. Not learn. What’s that word? But I can’t start with cooking. Or the restaurant. If you want to hear my story, you gotta know there’s more than one. It’s a whole lotta stories, like everybody. Even you. You got one story in you? No, you gotta buncha em that brought you here, and a dozen more will chase you into your grave. But you don’t want those. You want what they tell you to want, one long happy ending. Because we’re women. 

Men are supposed to have lots of stories. But women? Women are supposed to learn one thing, and learn that one thing to their children, and then sit quietly in their rockers and knit booties until it’s time to go. I say fuck. that. I seen too many knitting needles used for other things. Them spindles on those rockers hurt my back, I’ve lived too many stories to take that. 

Take this. 

Oh, now, don’t get all offended. It’s just a finger. You sit the rocker if you want, I’ll keep the recliner. See, it fits my body just right, cloth rubbed smooth from my fingers, crooks and all. 

Where did I learn to cook? In the mountains, from my grams, same as most. Told ya, nothing dramatic. Bet ya didn’t know the Appalachian mountains go all into Pennsylvania. I know, most people think of Kentucky when they think Appalachia, but it’s a whole lot more than that. And don’t leave here cracking wise about banjos and moonshine. Sure, a little splash of bourbon is ok now and then. In fact, go ahead and top me up from that bottle in the cabinet next to the stove. No, no danger in mixing it, I told ya, I ain’t takin that damned medicine. A smoke, a tea and a splash, that’s all the medicine I need. Anything else is snake oil. 

What the hell did they learn you up there in the Bronx? No cooking, no stories, too much medicine. Thank the lord I didn’t move up there. My husband wanted to, in the eye-talian section. Where they got those salamis hanging in the windows like shlongs looking for their shriveled owners and pastries laid out like communion wafers. No, Frankie ain’t Italian. He just wanted to be, thought those sharkskin suits and slick-haireds were the way to be men. He’s German-Irish, but not like me. He got all watered in with New York-ese. He mooned over Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin more than I did. I was more of a Bob Dylan gal, myself.

Teach! That’s the word. I’ll teach you to make my dumplings. But now I’m tired. Is something wrong? Nothing’s wrong, I’m old. Heh, who told you 73 wasn’t old? Musta been one of them rich women you visit, someone with a fancy dog and a book club. Women like me with stories and crooked fingers, we’re old. And we’re tired. 

If you come back be useful. Bring potatoes and buttermilk, I’ll learn—I’ll teach you the secret. My gram’s dumplings and the restaurant’s guknockys. Both kinds but the same secret. Also bourbon.